Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What is humanity’s greatest invention?



There are many reasons to like being a professor; I have a great job. But one of my biggest frustrations is that my work life has no boundaries. There is always more to do, and because so much of my work is done at home, it is easy to let it eclipse everything else. One study shows that professors work an average of 45-55 hours per week. (There is a newer study that breaks down these numbers according to university level, but I can’t find it.) In short, many professors will tell you that there is a constant level of guilt when they take time off because they “should be working.” This is especially true in the summer. 

To manage the guilt and pressure, my wife and I decided to commit to a very old practice. About a year ago, we started observing Shabbat: the Jewish day of rest. For Christians, the Sabbath falls on a Sunday, but for Jews it’s Saturday. And, since Jewish days run sundown to sundown, our rest period ends up being Friday night to Saturday night. We light candles to commemorate the beginning, as is our religious tradition, and we have a big dinner for some friends. We devote all of Saturday to family activities, and some odds and ends around the house. We are not super-observant. We handle money on Shabbat, do our laundry, and do many other things Orthodox Jews would frown upon. There have also been Saturdays where, for one reason or another, we had to work. But these qualifications are not the point. The point is, for those 24 hours, we honor ourselves by resting as best we can. That moment when I’m done cooking dinner on Friday night and I really get to exhale, that may be the best moment of my week. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy sixth anniversary to Why? Radio – please help us have a seventh.




Last Sunday’s episode of Why? Radio got rave reviews (http://www.philosophyinpubliclife.org/Why/previousepisodes/episode64.html). It was just another example of the outstanding and unique programming we provide every month. It also marked our sixth anniversary. As unbelievable as it might seem, for six years now, Why? Radio has brought you in-depth discussions that respect your intelligence. No gimmicks, no flash, just high-energy conversations with some of the world’s best thinkers, brought to you with humor and clarity by the show’s host Jack Russell Weinstein.

But we need your help more than ever. Why? Radio has to be “self-sustaining.” We have to raise our own money and pay our own bills; we get no money from the University of North Dakota. Not surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of grants for philosophy out there and there are even fewer for public philosophy. We rely almost entirely on our listeners. So, today we are asking you to please donate. Your contribution is tax deductible, and because Why? Radio is so inexpensive to produce (every guest volunteers his or her time), your donation goes a long way. A very long way.

We would also like to offer you an incentive.

For gifts of $25 or more, donors will receive the world jazz CD Lua e Sol from Mark Weinstein (while supplies last). This is the album that contains all of the wonderful music that makes up the show’s soundtrack.

For gifts of $100 or more, donors will receive a handful of his CDs, remarkable music from Brazil, Cuba, and some straight-ahead jazz. You can visit Mark’s website and listen to his other music at http://jazzfluteweinstein.com/

Donations of $250 or more will get the CD’s and you’ll be named on the air as an episode’s sponsor. You’ll be a role-model for all of our listeners.

So, please visit our website to donate: http://www.philosophyinpubliclife.org/donate.html

Because really, if you won’t support philosophy, who will?

Thank you for your support and thank you for listening to Why? Radio.





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Monday, February 10, 2014

What does public philosophy do? (Hint: It does not create better citizens.)


I am pleased to announce the publication of the new issue of the journal Essays in Philosophy. I guest edited it and, not surprisingly, it is about public philosophy. The journal is free and all the articles are available online as PDFs.

The issue is, as far as I know, the first extended academic look at public philosophy as a sub-discipline and contains theoretical and practical discussions. Most of the pieces will be more suited to those with more academic sensibilities, but none of the articles are too difficult for general readers. I encourage you all to take a look and see if anything interests you.

Readers of this blog will no doubt be interested in the two pieces I wrote, a short introduction to the issue and a full-length article.  Here are the direct links:

"Public Philosophy: Introduction"

"What Does Public Philosophy Do? (Hint: It Does Not Make Better Citizens)"

Do cities create their own unhappiness?




This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was "The Urbanization of Happiness." You can hear the whole episode online here.

I have to admit that when I think of cities, I almost always think of major tourist destinations: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, Rome, Vienna. I rarely think of the megalopolises around the world that are struggling with infrastructure and overpopulation like: Sao Paolo, Kinshasa, Lagos, Mexico City, and the smaller cities struggling to hold their own like Tijuana, Ulaanbaatar, and Semarang. 

I’m also fairly blind to the parts of the cities I don’t see—the transitional neighborhoods and slums, the industrial zones with homes sandwiched between highways. This is odd, because I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood with a pretty scary crime rate, but even with that history, I don’t know what it’s like to live in the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, or to build an apartment out of spare parts and attach it, precariously, on top of someone else’s home. I’m one of the lucky ones. I can decide to make poverty invisible to me. I can turn my back.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

SUNDAY: Next Episode of WHY? Radio: "The Urbanization of Happiness" with guests Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman.


WHY? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life presents:


"The Urbanization of Happiness"
A discussion with Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman.
Sunday, February 9, 5 p.m. central time.


Help us track listenership and RSVP on Facebook:


To listen live from anywhere in the world, go to www.whyradioshow.org. To listen via broadcast radio in North Dakota, tune to 89.3 in Grand Forks, 91.9 in Fargo, 90.5 in Bismarck, and to other Prairie Public radio stations across the state. In East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, and other parts of Northwestern Minnesota, tune in via Pioneer 90.1 FM.

Should you tip your professor?



I was thrilled to see the volumes of comments on yesterday’s post asking if tipping a server is a moral obligation. Needless to say, people passionately disagreed with one another and no single answer has been found. 

Here is a comment from someone on Facebook who adroitly summarizes the “yes” position. [Be advised, there are some curses in the post, a topic we have talked about before.]

“I don't give a shit who you are. If I am busting my ass to provide you with good service you should be tipping me. If you can't afford to tip, then you can't afford to eat out. Period.

Servers work hard for their tips, and not getting tipped is really fucking shitty. You should tip your tattoo artist, your hair stylist, your cab driver, your server. Anyone doing YOU a service. I tip exceptionally well when I go out to eat unless the service was unbearably terrible. Because I know what it's like to be so nice to someone and they not tip.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Are restaurant customers obligated to tip their servers? (And if they don’t, should the server do something about it?)



This is one of my favorite cartoons. If you can't read it, the sign on the table says "Your tip so far."

 
A friend posted an interesting question on Facebook:

“What do you do when you have a regular who NEVER tips. He comes in at least once a week and pays with exact change. It's not like he is a horribly rude guy, but seriously I don't want to wait on you anymore. I make $4.86/hr you seriously can't even spare a damn dollar. ughh.”

There were a lot of responses to this and, not surprisingly, they divided into two camps. The vast majority remarked that the server should say something to the customer because they only reason someone works in a restaurant is for tips. In contrast, the (tiny) minority said that that the server needed to shrug it off because that’s the nature of the service industry—a server should always do the best job she or he can do, regardless of the compensation. One of the commenters added that if the server was making less than minimum wage, the restaurant is required to make-up the difference, although, some cursory research shows this only applies to the work week, not any individual day.

Who decides if something is offensive?



My last entry asking whether pin-ups are always sexist led to a variety of interesting conversations. One of the threads brought up a scenario in which a student walks into a professor’s office and finds a photograph offensive. The examples cited were photos of Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, and a painting by Gauguin. If that happens, the professor may be under an obligation to remove the art. Should the student’s personal standard be enough to make this happen?

It is clear that being offended is a psychological issue; some people are offended by images that others regard as benign or beautiful. But is there not a difference between someone finding something offensive and something actually being offensive? Can we objectively say that someone is wrong to be offended by an image (or wrong to not be offended), or is offensiveness only in the eye of the beholder?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Are pin-ups always sexist?




Yesterday, the owner of my favorite local Japanese restaurant gave me a calendar as a gift. As he handed it to me, he whispered “a pretty young actress” and smiled with male camaraderie. It was a very sweet gesture and if you’ve ever spent any time in Asian restaurants, you’ll know exactly what the image looks like. It’s an airbrushed portrait, not very revealing, and I’m sure he got a box of them from his food supplier. This style of image is very common and I saw plenty of them in China.

My first thought was that I had no place to hang it, even as a piece of kitsch. But my second thought was about how different the world outside of my work is. As a college professor, my office must be completely void of anything that sexualizes women, and when sexuality is discussed in class, it must be depersonalized. I would never ask a group of students about their sexual lives or suggest that I found any of them, male or female, attractive. If I gave that calendar to a student, as tame as it might be, I would be risking my job.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

[Reader Question] Is protecting your privacy your job or your fundamental right?



Every day brings new revelations about how our privacy is being diminished. Whether it is the NSA hacking into our computers and recording our telephone calls, or websites selling our browsing data, it is clear that much of what we took for granted as private is as public as it gets. And, perhaps worse (or perhaps not), it isn’t just that our information is out there, it is that our information is a commodity. Lots of people are making a great deal of money off of our lives, but most of us don’t see any of it. This is complicated by the fact that opting-out of the data-mining trade is virtually impossible for most of us. To do it, one would have to opt-out of most other things as well: always pay cash, always anonymize our internet activity, and pull ourselves largely off the grid. It doesn’t feel like there is much choice at all. People, companies, and the government will know about
what we do.

This brings us to reader Jay’s question: “Is protecting your privacy your job or your fundamental right?” It is, I think, a really interesting formulation. It assumes, first that there are just two options, the first is that protecting our privacy is our own responsibility, and as a consequence, if data about us gets “out there,” we are somehow negligent. It is our own fault.