Posted by: bkivey | 9 April 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of the things I notice as I walk around town, or anywhere else, is the amount of litter laying about. Those of a certain age will remember the TV commercials with the teary-eyed Indian as he observed mountains of trash and outflows of untreated industrial waste. Whatever happened to “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute”? At that time there were enormous environmental challenges facing our nation. Anyone who was around Pittsburgh or the Great Lakes or the Hudson River in the late 60’s and early 70’s knows what I’m talking about. A classmate of mine actually contracted hepatitis after falling in the Hudson River. It really was that bad.

Now one would be hard-pressed to find any habitable place that is noticeably polluted. This is in no small part to some very stringent environmental protection laws (and their attendant cost) and to the fact that we have outsourced a fair percentage of our heavy industry to other countries. I have to believe that the folks who complain about the quality of the air and water today either can’t or don’t remember how bad things use to be or can’t let go of the past and need to keep fighting yesterday’s battles. The cynical or uncharitable might suggest that the increasing refinements of EPA pollution standards have less to do with protecting human life and more to do with budget justification and turf-building.

It seems to me that as the large collective battles have been won, that there has been a corresponding decrease in individual  awareness and responsibility for their environment. It seems that as large social structures regulate air and water quality that in the minds of some individuals it becomes more and more acceptable to be personally irresponsible. And as a society, we let this happen.

My childhood was concurrent with the growth and awareness of the environmental movement. As a Boy Scout and later as an adult I’ve picked up my share of trash along roadsides and trails. I’ve been known to stop the car if a passenger throws trash out the window and I leave campsites cleaner than I found them and I pick up my brass when I shoot. I recycle, not because it’s required (it’s not, yet), but because it’s a better idea than throwing resources away. The point is that I don’t do these things out of some sense of moral superiority but that it is inconceivable to me to throw my trash on the ground. And yet on a daily basis I find trash on benches and sidewalks, sometimes mere feet away from a trash can. What!? What kind of mindset finds it acceptable to just throw stuff on the ground? It seems to me to be the height of immaturity and irresponsibility to think that it is okay for someone else to have to clean up your mess. Do they think that the Trash Fairy comes out at night to clean up after them?

Concurrent with the rise in trashiness on the landscape has been the rise in graffiti, particularly on rail cars. Now, trains aren’t the most beautiful objects in the world, but a graffiti covered string of boxcars is an outright eyesore. If you look at photos from 40 years ago you will see nary a graffito on a rail car but now it’s difficult to find any railcar with a flat surface that isn’t covered with cryptic and misbegotten runes. It isn’t like spray paint is a recent invention. Do these people really think that some random person is going to see their ‘tag’ and say “Hey, there’s so-and-so’s tag, that’s really cool!”

I have to wonder why litterers and graffitos make a conscious effort to degrade their community environment. Is it a protest, conscious or not, against increasing regulation and manipulation of private lives? People don’t like to be meddled with, and as institutional meddling increases, people are going to push back. It is to be expected that not all forms of protest will be beneficial to society.

As a society, though, we have to understand that some forms of behaviour need to be regulated through social pressure rather than legislation. If you want to trash your personal space, that’s fine. But it’s not OK to trash public spaces or private property. So send a message: put your trash in the can, and keep a lid on your spray paint.

The Worst Math Joke in the World

Good math jokes, or any math jokes, really, are hard to come by. This is my favorite, although it requires a passing acquaintance with a subject not commonly taught anymore.

After the Ark had grounded Noah sent the creatures out, two by two, to spread across the Earth and be fruitful. And so they did, going forth to bring life to a barren land. After a while, Noah went forth to see how things were going. He found that life had spread across the land, as the sheep and the lion, the elephant and the mouse, and all of God’s creatures had gone forth and been fruitful.

Then Noah came across a pair of snakes. He noticed that there were no young about, and the snakes were despondent. Noah asked “Why have ye not had young, and spread across the land?” And the snakes replied “Noah, if you will cut down these trees, we will be able to fulfill the Lord’s directive.” Noah was puzzled, but did as the snakes asked, and cut down the trees and piled the wood around them.

A few months later Noah again went out, and came across the snakes for which he had cut down the trees. Now he was surprised and pleased to see many snakelets slithering about, and the parents looking happy and proud. Noah said “I am well pleased that you have been fruitful, but pray, why did you need to have the trees cut down?”

The snakes replied “Because we are adders, and we need logs to multiply.”

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