In American academia, there is a tendency to move many social sciences towards quantitative analysis. It started with economics, originally a branch of philosophy, trying to rebrand itself as a hard science and has been spilling into political science for almost 30 years. Economists really want to be mathematicians; political scientists really want to be economists. I could tell you how bad of a leader Trump is (granted, I could define “bad” without using philosophy), but why he is bad, or how to fix him? Yeah, sorry, no-can-dosville baby-doll. I was trained as a political scientist, notapolitician. Economists claim to have all the answers because society loves how they combine statistics with money theory.
Disclaimer: I’ve taken economics, stats and math courses here at the College, abroad, in high school and at The University of Michigan — the policy school most famous for its use of quantitative methods. My I.S. is all quantitative analysis. One of my favorite podcasts is “Freako- nomics.” I’m not saying we need to flush out math people and economists from policy circles or abolish the use of statistics in social science. I am not saying all economists and financiers think this way or are bad people either. I don’t even necessarily blame them for making normative claims. I blame the society (that we live in) for putting them on a pedestal. My main claims are that economics is overvalued in society and economists are given authority over areas that aren’t economics.
I find, in my experience, that economists feel that their status as the chief social scientists gives them authority over topics outside of economics, namely ethics. A basic example: the philosopher claims that the wage Foxconn pays its workers is too low to sustain a decent living and therefore, immoral. An economist would respond that the worker voluntarily agreed to the wage offered by Foxconn, both are mutually benefitting from this arrangement, it is irrational for Foxconn to pay higher than they need to and that an unskilled worker can only get so far in a saturated labor market. All of that is 100 percent true, but guess what? That has absolutely no bearing on the morality of the wage and living conditions of the worker. Efficiency does not equal moral permissibility nor is a system built on rationality and voluntary association infallible. Now, one must decide if they value efficiency or morality over the other. Just because some- thing exists or is rational or is optimal or is arrived at via a market system does not mean anything about the morality of that thing.
In my humble view, I think economics needs to look in the mirror and decide if it really wants to be like a hard science or take a step back towards its philosophical roots. If economics is a hard science, as it wishes to be, then its ability to make moral claims is very weak. But if it moves back to its roots in utilitarianism, then it has some ground to stand on. I think it’s high time economics goes back to its utilitarian roots or incorporates other philosophers like Marx into its canon. Marx, though not right about everything, pretty much predicted how capitalism would destroy our planet, divide our society and fail to serve the common people — but nobody wanted to listen to an economist who wasn’t a mathematician. Or perhaps it was because he was a wee bit radical. You decide.
So often, what is true is conflated with what is right, and that just ain’t it chief. When all you have are economists advising you, every problem starts to look like a matter of supply and demand. We will always need economics, and I think it’s a valuable discipline that I want to continue studying after undergrad. It’s like the famous economist Jim Burnell PhD. of America’s Premier College for Mentored Undergraduate Research often says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Economics is theory. Theory is an abstraction. Theory is not truth.”
In my last year and a half here at The College of Wooster, I have begun to notice a trend. Everywhere I looked, edgy brunettes were slowly making their way to the much riskier side of the hair color spectrum: bleach-blonde. Now, I am going to start by saying that I ended up bleach-blonde on accident. I wanted to dye my hair purple, and asked my friend to help me lighten my hair, which did not go immediately as planned. When I tried to cover the patchy orange with a mix of purple dyes, it only got worse and it became clear that desperate times were going to call for desperate measures. So, I marched into Sally Beauty for the third time that week, bleached my hair a second time and used as much
Wella toner as I could fit onto my head (if it’s good enough for Sophie Turner, it’s good enough for me). The result was a pale grey-blonde, and it kind of slapped, if I do say so myself. I did dye my hair purple eventually, but it seemed that blonde was my hair’s final form, and who am I to argue with destiny.
The issue I’m seeing on campus is, that although we attend America’s Premier College for Mentored Undergraduate Research, our peers are failing to utilize those research skills when it comes to hair care and color. Though it could be said that blondes have more fun, stiff, lifeless, uneven and/or orange hair is less than enjoyable. For the wearer, yes, but also for my eyeballs. You don’t want to stand out because your hair is a trainwreck nobody can look away from, you want to stand out because your new ‘do looks shiny and cool, and because you clearly are an interesting person who takes risks with their life, evidenced by the risks you’ve taken with your head. I can’t guarantee that the latter is fully achievable, especially since I have gotten no more stylish or fascinating since I started chemically burning my scalp repeatedly, but at the very least the former could be avoidable.
So in conclusion, I am including below a “Do’s and Don’ts” of going blonde (from painful experience). DO try to figure out what tone of blonde will look best with your skin tone. Cool blonde doesn’t look good on everyone, but — especially if you have very dark hair originally — the natural color your hair will go to after only being lightened is likely to be very yellow, or orange, and that doesn’t look good on anyone. DON’T try it without an experienced friend or hair colorist. Bleaching your hair is the “cutting your own bangs” of this decade: it seems like a great idea alone in your bathroom, but maybe not in the harsh light of Lowry. DO be willing to spend money. Even if you aren’t dropping stacks on a professional, please (and I mean please) Google the best lightener for what you’re trying to do, and be willing to invest in getting the correct developers for your lightener and toner (unlike with cereal, the matching name brand does actually make a difference). DON’T mistake blonde hair for a personality trait; you have to get at least one literary tattoo before you can rise above the pink- and blue-haired dream girls of the world. Lastly, DO be prepared for it to sting. Beauty may not necessarily be pain, but broadcasting that you listened to Halsey in high school definitely is.
I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been losing sleep — losing sleep over the start of primary (or caucus) season. It started when a number of candidates larger than my biggest political science class decided to run. The field started to narrow slightly when most of the ambitious white guys dropped out, but then two old white-guy billionaires jumped in the mix while the most promising candidates of color dropped out. Then the moderate old white guy front runner was replaced by the most liberal candidate who happened to be an older white guy. And all of this was before the lead-off Iowa Caucus which really put the “IA” in disaster. What is happening?
The Democratic Party and their candidates claim to have the same main goal: “Beat Donald Trump!” However, I can’t help but feel a total lack of cohesion. Sanders has (pretty much) won the first three states, so I think maybe that means he will drive people to the polls, but then I go on Twitter and see some of his supporters stoop to Trump-like levels of antagonization against other Democrats. Warren is fishing from the same pond as Bernie, and it seems like most of the fish are taking his bait. Buttigieg lacks support amongst minority voters, which is a major red flag. Biden does better in this department, but are voters really going to mobilize around him in November? His showing in early states has not been all that convincing. Klobuchar seems the most reasonable moderate in my eyes, but her national polling average is so low that a come- back seems unlikely. Don’t even get me started on Bloomberg. Every anti-Trump conservative newspaper columnist think he’s the best thing since New York sliced rye bread. Yeah, that’s what I want — to replace an old, white, racist billionaire with an old, white, racist billionaire. No thanks!
But this election isn’t about what I want, it’s about nominating the candidate who can beat Trump no matter their flaws, right? It would be less of a problem if I didn’t read an article everyday about how the Democratic Party is terrified of Sanders and how he must be stopped at all costs; or reading about how “Bernie Bros” will defect to Trump if their can- didate isn’t nominated. This is ridiculous. How the hell are we supposed to make a decision?!
As a straight, white, upper- middle-class 20-something male, my life doesn’t change that much based on who’s in office. There- fore, it is my responsibility to cast my vote for the lives that are affected the most and who cannot afford to face four more years of Trump in power. Tbh, this is how everyone should vote. But this year must be weighed differently because the incumbent has really gotta go. So far, that candidate seems to be Sanders, but if I’ve learned anything this election it’s that anything is on the table. All I want is the assurance marketed before this wacky situ- ation — whoever the Democratic nominee is must be supported.
Every candidate has flaws, but we cannot afford a repeat of 2016 where a voter refuses to vote for either. You may think both nominees are evil (boo corrupt U.S. politics), but the guy running for reelection will always be worse. The reason I’m losing sleep is because I feel the need to pick the right person; I’m not convinced that people and the Party will rally around the nominee. The solu- tion? Look at the bigger picture. Support the candidate who gives the most hope to voters and keep supporting them till November
When I went to get my morning coffee from Old Main last Tuesday, I stood in a line of around 20 people. The woman behind the counter was alone, trying her best to take orders and quickly make coffee for these caffeine-dependent students. Her hands were shaking, visibly stressed, but she still greeted every customer with a smile. After successfully getting through the majority of the line, the barista stopped with about five people left to start making more coffees to catch up.
As she walked away to start the espresso machine, a customer in line started to complain, saying, “It is 9:27, I have class at 9:30. Are you really going to stop taking orders? I am going to be late…this is ridiculous.” The employee heard the customer but did her best to ignore the criticism. She handed me my iced chai with a smile, and told me to have a great day. I told her the same, and she replied, “Thank you. I needed to hear that today.”
I thought about that Old Main barista for the rest of the day. How many students treat her this way? How many students fail to appreciate the hard-working people who help our days at this college run smoothly? I would guarantee that you (yes, I am talking to you) haven’t thought much about the people who work behind the scenes to clean your bathrooms, serve your meals or make your latte.
From the moment I stepped on this campus in August of 2017, I was in awe of the tolerance that most College of Wooster employees have. My first late-night adventure to Mom’s on a Saturday night was one of the first times I witnessed students taking their accommodations here for granted. People were leaving trash on the floor, spilling beverages and smearing condiments on tabletops. Without a peep, an employee came by with a broom and washcloth and cleaned it up. More students were drunkenly stumbling up to the counter, yelling at the worker to make their milkshake on time. Although they were being ridiculed, the cashier stoically swiped the customer’s C.O.W. card and kept the line moving. Almost three years have passed since this incident, but I’m sure if you’re in Mom’s this weekend you’ll have a similar story to tell.
I hope I am not the first person to tell you this, but thanking someone for their efforts could make their day. Wouldn’t you want to be appreciated for your hard work? This cam- pus would not function without our dining staff, so I aim to treat them with the utmost respect. Please remember that these people are not invisible. They have families to spend time with and lives to live, so don’t have them waste their time cleaning up after your drunken mess and distasteful behavior.
Unfortunately, there is another kicker to add — these employees are not paid a living wage to deal with students’ foolishness and poor at- titudes. But alas, that is for another time and another Viewpoint. For now, I simply urge everyone on this campus to thank any employee you see, whether they helped you directly or not. Thank the maintenance worker who just fixed your squeaky dorm room door. Show your gratitude to the custodial worker who just cleaned your bathroom. And please, for the love of God, give the Old Main baristas a break
“Why aren’t pizza boxes recyclable?” “Plastic bags have the recycling symbol on them … why can’t I put them in the recycling bin?” “Why don’t they take glass anymore?” I hear questions like these all the time across campus. Recycling seems like it should be simple, but the truth is more complicated.
Before anything else, you need to understand that recycling is a business. Recycling handlers are not taking your tin cans and cardboard out of the goodness of their hearts. They have to clean and sort our waste prod- ucts and then turn around and sell them as raw materials, or their business model fails.
What is and isn’t recyclable is not just a technological question, it’s a logistical and economic one, too. For example, the technology definitely exists to turn a plastic fork, or a plastic bag, or a yogurt container, or the cap from your water bottle back into plastic pellets, and reform it into a new piece of plastic. But is it logistically feasible? Will their giant sorting machines catch these tiny items?Go to YouTube and search for “single-stream recycling facility” and you will see what I mean: they are huge facilities with whirring belts and cogs and giant magnets, processing massive mounds of materials every day. A plastic fork is going to literally fall through the cracks and end up as waste. Plastic bags can bind up the machines and cause a shutdown.
And does it make sense economically? For example, even if we could get perfectly clean glass bottles to the recycling facility, the price currently being paid for crushed recycled glass is very low. When you combine that with the difficulty of dealing with broken glass, it just doesn’t make sense for our handler to take glass anymore.
The idea behind single-stream collection (which we use across campus) was to remove the inconvenience of sorting and allow us to throw any recyclable object into a recycling bin. But that has made us lazy, complacent or perhaps oblivious. We throw all kinds of things into the recycling bin that are not recyclable. The thin plastic wrapping around your package of crackers is not recyclable. Plastic bags are not recyclable via single-stream. Pieces of pound cake and banana peels are not recyclable! Yet all of these items regularly get deposited into recycling bins around campus (I know this because my students do annual audits). They contaminate the entire load of recyclables, which causes it to be diverted to the landfill — all that work for nothing! — and causes our handler to hit the College with a hefty fine.
So what can I do?
Be aware of what is truly recyclable, or, what Waste Management accepts in its single stream bins. This means, at present: No glass, no food waste (clean those containers out), no plastic bags (yes, this includes garbage bags!) and no plastic wrappers (candy bars, crackers, shrink wrap).
What you SHOULD recycle is:
Aluminum cans, paper and clean cardboard (no pizza boxes), and clean, empty plastic bottles (labels can stay on; lids should come off).
We have to move away from what the industry calls “wishcycling” – just tossing in anything and assuming it’ll magically get sorted out. Instead, if you’re holding that bit of waste and wondering if it goes in the blue bin, remember the new slogan:
If in doubt, keep it out!
Contamination is the problem. The solution is literally in our hands.
For this piece, I was asked to write about a topic that excites me outside the classroom and which I think students should pay attention to. This question reveals a common perception, namely, that a professor’s life is split between what happens inside the classroom and outside. The reality for me (and, I suspect, my students) is that the things which excite — and trouble — us outside the classroom have a way of working themselves into the classroom. So, for this piece, I will discuss something I am always thinking and talking about, no matter where I am: Singapore.
I grew up in Singapore and am a Singaporean citizen. In class and outside, I talk constantly about Singapore — partly because I teach and research the political rhetoric of South/East Asia, and partly because, like many immigrants, I find talking about my home comforting because it makes me feel a little like I am at home, when really my home is several continents away. My husband and daughter are U.S. citizens and I am not; I hope I never need to give up my Singapore passport because doing so will feel like the final severance from a home I see rarely.
I love Singapore — I love the life I had there as a child and I swell with pride when I see headlines praising its people and government. Singapore’s government has created the most efficient way in the world to detect and contain the COVID-19 virus (the coronavirus). Singaporean graphic artist Sonny Liew won international acclaim for a whip-smart graphic novel allegorizing Singapore’s his- tory. Singapore’s street vendors win Michelin star awards.
Yet, my country also frustrates me. The government’s efficiency at combatting epidemics is enabled by a system capable of great surveillance into the lives and movement of its people. When such control saves lives, I am filled with gratitude. However, when the same control seems to extend to curbing speech, I become troubled. When Liew’s prize-winning novel on Singapore was first published, the National Arts Council withdrew its grant funding for the novel, averring that, “the retelling of Singapore’s history in the work potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy of the government,” an authority, we are to assume, that ought never be undermined. This is not, in my view, Sin- gapore at its best. Singapore is filled with hardworking administrators, successful entrepreneurs and ardent government supporters; it is also home to activists, artists, immigrant workers and people who disagree with government policies. All these people are Singaporeans. All of them are patriots.
And here’s the thing: I talk about Singapore all the time because I believe it is possible, even necessary, to both love your country and be critical of its government. I confess I find it strange to read the news in the United States today and watch as critics of an administration are shown the door while those who show their support by railing against all who differ, are honored. Patriotism is not a shiny medal; it is a pledge to love and cri- tique. Indeed, patriotism is an act of love through critique. I love my nation, I am critical of its government and I would not have it any other way.
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