Fair Trade At Work

“Someone explain fair trade coffee to me,” my boss said as way of getting our weekly meeting started, “because it doesn’t make any sense to me.” There was a smattering of laughs and some grins from my co-workers. This is how all of our meetings started: with my boss asking us a leading question about an issue, not for the sake of learning more about it, but for the sake of a lead into mocking that thing.

“Well, it’s a way of ensuring that workers aren’t exploited for their labor…” one of my co-workers started hesitantly.

“What, like they’re slaves or something? They get paid!” My boss’s boss cut in. “All trade has to be fair trade, or else it isn’t trade!” He confidently asserts. There’s laughter and murmurs of agreement, some more condescending remarks about Chinese made clothes- despite most of our clothes coming from Bangladesh-  and a statement about fair trade chocolate being “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted, if that’s what fair trade does then they don’t deserve to be paid more.” Laughter. Derision. And moving on with our lives.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the ways that these comments are highly condescending and revealing of an incredible lack of empathy for the suffering of other people, and even not talk about the intentional ignorance my co-workers live in, but instead talk about power imbalances. See, the part that really bothered me about this whole exchange was when my boss’s boss said that people don’t engage in trade unless it is fair, non-coerced, and non-exploitative. It probably says something about the management of my company that they don’t recognize that not all trade agreements and exchanges are made equal.

If my boss approaches a client and says “I need you to sell me [product] at [price], and you will do so because I will buy ten-times more than any of my competitors,” the client will probably accept those terms, as our company has an advantageous position of being able to purchase in such quantities that the price reduction is covered- and more- by the quantity being sold. Conversely, if a smaller company said the same thing to the same client, but could not put up the same numbers as us, they would have a weaker bargaining position- they wouldn’t get the discounted rate. (Most likely.) This is something any businessman who is half competent knows, hell it’s something know and I’m not even close to a businessman. Not all negotiations have equal power balance. So why doesn’t my boss get that this is true at any level, be it interpersonal or international?

The people of Bangladesh, or the government for that matter, can’t simply refuse to work until they get better pay. The corporations that are giving them their wages can and will move to another country that is willing to work for the wages they set. Why bother dealing with strikes and wage spikes when you can just move everything and setup shop somewhere friendlier to how you run business?

Of course, according to my boss, fair trade is just for ‘lazy brown people’ anyway so I can’t see why he would possibly want to be nice to them. It’s a wonder he didn’t call them a few racial slurs and tell them to just get a better job.

Why are humans allowed to exist?

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Moving the Furniture

It’s patently absurd how much happier you feel about your living space when you just rearrange some of the furniture. It’s not like the old configuration of furniture is bad or oppressive, or inefficient, but the simple act of moving a desk from the living room to the bedroom makes fall in love with our apartment all over again. Suddenly there’s more space for socializing in the living room, and my own little corner in our bedroom for writing and displaying things!

Of course, I had that writing space and that desk before we moved it to the bedroom. It’s not like the desk wasn’t physically able to be used until it was moved into the bedroom. But the act of moving it away from a room where video games, TV, movies, and music exist to a room associated with relaxation has freed it- mentally- from all those things in the first place. The desk is no longer a place for games but a place for writing. It’s no longer a place for endless sessions of reading while downloading movies, but a place of expressed emotions and desires. And all just because we moved the desk into a different room.

My advice for today is this: find something in one of your rooms, it doesn’t matter what, and move it somewhere new or rearrange how it faces. Rotate your bed, move the TV to a different angle, move a desk to a different room, something, anything, and marvel at how much fresher your living space suddenly feels. And if you don’t like it? Nothing stopping you from just moving it back.

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The Value of a Single Scientist

Science is an accumulative process. While the press may make ridiculous claims of miracle cures and future tech. from tentative experimental results, science is always conservative and always waits for more information to say a claim is true or false. And part of the process of science is for people to challenge what has been accepted as truth, to see if there is a truer, better, or more accurate version of accepted truth. The naysayers are, in many ways, just as important as those who contribute to commonly accepted science. It just doesn’t make the naysayers right. GMOs, climate change, vaccines, these are topics that are very controversial in the public sphere despite being more or less non-issues in the scientific community, and part of why these issues continue to linger in the public’s mind is because of these nay-saying scientists.

People latch onto those scientists, credible or not, who are doing work to support the view of these publicly controversial science arguments as proof that the issue is still up for grabs, or that the scientific community is being paid off, and other nefarious schemes. The problem? All of these science produced by these nay-sayers is generally garbage science. Science needs to be repeatable and falsifiable before it is even vaguely considered to be a challenge to existing theories. Even then, the new science would need to be tested for a huge range of variables to see if there wasn’t something else causing the results besides what was hypothesized. Claiming that a single scientist who found something unusual ‘topples’ existing though about GMOs/evolution/gravity doesn’t prove anything.

And I don’t think you want it to.

Otherwise we’d have ‘scientists’ like those who work for creationist centers ‘proving’ god exists, or others proving homosexuality is ‘evil’, or that white people are genetically superior to all others, which seems like a really awful world to live in, doesn’t it?

Science not proving or showing you what you want to see is no reason to go and put your belief in the first quack with a lab and their science. If their science is true, it’ll come out one way or the other. If it isn’t- and the vast majority of hypothesis aren’t true- then you’ll at best look like a fool who doesn’t understand science.

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Today Is Phoenix Wright Day

Today is the day that Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies arrives on 3DS. I do not care if this blog post is nothing but gushing about how amazing Phoenix Wright is, and I don’t care that- as a 27 year old man- I am going to be as excited as this for anything else in my life at the moment.

Do not care.

Because Phoenix Wright is the silliest and most wonderful game series to exist. For anyone not in the know, it is a game about defense lawyer Phoenix Wright in a weird Japanese/America hybrid nation. In the game you investigate crimes and then defend your clients from getting the death penalty. It sounds absurd and it totally is.

Phoenix-Wright-DLC

 

You see that? That whale is accused of murder and becomes your client. How amazing is that?! You get to be a defense attorney for a damn orca whale!

If the new Phoenix Wright is anything like the others it will have hilarious wit, absurd scenarios, ridiculously wonderful pun-names, and so damn much more that my mind will positively explode with joy and excitement.

So. Go play it. It comes out today. For Nintendo 3DS. Yes.

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Bitstrip and Artistic Elitism

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Most comics that come out of Bitstrip are awful, let’s not kid ourselves here. But that’s sort of the point, they’re a silly way for people to make awful in jokes and comment on the weird things their friends do by making poorly drawn (and super awkwardly posed) comics out of each other. It’s about as harmless as someone drawing stick figure doodles of their friends during a class. But there’s also a very harsh backlash against Bitstrip, not for being spammy and annoying on Facebook walls, but because ‘Professional Artists’ (whom shall remain nameless)think that it is undermining the artistic integrity of art in general, and specifically comic strips, that Bitstrips are made people who don’t care about doing comics with any skill, professional polish, or comedic/writing skills to which I say, well, yeah. Duh. That’s the whole point.

Look, Professional Artists, you don’t have a stranglehold on art or comic strips. Just like the best authors don’t have control over what should be written about, or musicians what should be sung about. People sometimes just want to draw or make a stupid little comic strip about their friends and that is okay. They aren’t trying to pass their Bitstrips off as the next great webcomic, they aren’t trying to make a living off of doing it, and they aren’t doing anything more than just having a good time making things. Yes, it doesn’t require a ton of skill but so what? People choose where to invest their time and skills, and making a choice to not invest in drawing doesn’t mean that now those people should be banned from doing anything drawing related ever again. It’s like saying only professional authors should be allowed to have blogs because, well, they’re the only ones who know how to write well or care enough about writing to do it right.

And that’s where the Professional Artist’s big problem with Bitstrip lay: they think there’s a right way to do art. I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t. Bitstrip is an artistic expression of people communicating comedy and shared experiences with each other. Yes, it is low quality, insular, narrow, myopic, and generally uninspired but that doesn’t mean it isn’t art and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be able to do it. Being a Professional Artist does not give you the right or authority to dictate who should be allowed to participate in drawn art, or in what way. When you whine about the plebeian masses making things like Bitstrips and saying it’s not ‘real art’ and is ‘lazy and skilless’ what you’re really telling the world is that you’re so insecure in your artistic skills and talents that you think people making comics from fucking clipart are a legitimate challenge to your own comic skills.

If you think Bitstrip is a legitimate threat to your artistic career, you may need to reevaluate your position in life.

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Forgetting Food

Today is going to be a long day because- fuck– I forgot to bring food to work today. So my best bets for sustenance until I get home around 4pm this afternoon are: coffee, water, four day old bagels, and cream cheese. Not exactly thrilling prospects for the day. But it does lead to an interesting, if mundane, observation about my world: the amount of eagerness with which I approach a day is directly related to how excited I am about the food I have to eat.

Normally I have a protein shake/breakfast shake/whatever the hell you want to call them in the morning. That’s a baseline level of excitement, they’re not bad, they not amazing, they’re middle of the road and a day that starts like that will start just fine. A day on which my Graze.com box shows up and I get to have a shake and nuts or a granola bar is off to a much better start and my mood lifts accordingly. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I get to have raspberries as well and then it’s like, time to start dancing in the streets because today is going to be amazing.

For lunch it’s usually leftovers from dinner the previous evening which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds because, well, we don’t eat shitty food. Some of it isn’t as good the second day, some of it is better the second day, but almost never do we make something at home and not enjoy it. I’ve nothing against eating delicious food two days in a row, so despite this being the norm for me it actually has me in a generally good mood come lunch time just because the leftover food I make is generally better than anything anyone else has for lunch. (Seriously, most of them go to Whataburger while I’m here eating green curry with coconut rice.) Sometimes I also splurge and get a sub from Jimmy John’s because, hey, I really like their sandwiches and they have chips I really enjoy! That’s a good way to get me to work through the day, because the thought of a delicious sub eagerly anticipating being in my belly is a thought worth having.

But today. Today I’m going to drink a ton of water. Woo. This puts my mood somewhere between ‘please god let it end’ and ‘look at me cross and I’ll cut you.’

Tuesdays.

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Clawing at the Gates of the Rich

Sometimes I like to listen to conservative talk radio in the mornings, the combination of bigotry and delusional world views is as good as strong cup of coffee for getting your day going. Of course, ‘talk radio’ is a bit of a misnomer these days- the amount of time any one pundit spends on the air seems to be about a 50/50 split with their advertisers. And, hey, I’m not faulting them for that these pundits aren’t spewing bigotry, cherry picking quotes, and generally being assholes because it amuses them (well, except maybe Michael Savage) but because it pays well. Sure, the market they’re in is pandering to (mostly) white people’s fears about being marginalized and they generally have the same effect on on reasonable discourse that a kick to the temple does, but, hey, it’s a free country. What’s really interesting to me about these talk radio pundits, and their advertises is the bias they show toward the rich, or, as the pundits would put it, the ‘American dream’.

One of the commercials on my local conservative talk radio station this morning was for diamonds. Rings, bracelets, necklaces, you name it- they’ve got it. Pretty standard commercial, with all the trappings of the sexist ‘it’s the only way to make your loved one [woman] care about you’ nonsense. But what really got me was the tagline as the commercial was ending ‘five hundred dollars or five million, everyone deserves a diamond!’ Let’s set aside the absurd notion that everyone deserves, wants, or needs a diamond piece of jewelry for the time being and focus on the fact that this company’s tagline basically reads ‘hey poor people, we’re doing you a favor by making cheap diamonds, come get ’em! Rich people buy these, so you should want them too!’

That’s what so many of these companies do. They say that you– yes you- can afford part of the life of a rich person. ‘Do the rich spend five million dollars on a diamond? Well, sure, you certainly can’t afford that but, hey, we have this nice five hundred dollar diamond and doesn’t it look a lot like that super expensive one? See how easy it is to be like a rich person?’ Of course the diamond sellers are selling a luxury item, and I’m not saying that luxury items should be cheap (though, well, maybe I am but that’s another story all together) but that there’s a definite bias toward the perception of being rich in advertisement that doesn’t spell anything good for the future of the middle class. 

It isn’t just the ads targeted at getting people to buy luxury items they can’t really afford- because apparently a marriage isn’t legitimate unless a diamond is involved, right?- but that the end goal of everything you do, say, read, learn, or buy should be for the purpose of being rich. You don’t get a diamond ring to make your partner happy- no- you get it because rich people want do. You don’t go to Harvard for the sake of a great education, you go there to learn to be a rich person. (And incidentally you get a great education.) No, the advertisers tell us, you don’t want to do things that will let you lead a normal and ordinary- but happy!- life, you want to work yourself into an early grave so you might get rich. Don’t advocate for a better wage, just work harder and then you too can be rich and powerful! Also, while you’re at it, buy gold coins. They’re totally a secure investment for the future and in no way massively benefit the rich over the poor.

Right.

None of this is to say there’s anything wrong with wanting a diamond ring, there isn’t. But make sure you’re doing the things you do and spending your money where you do for something that is little better than burning it on your stove- the rich give no shits about your tiny diamond ring. Their gates are locked, barred, and fortified and rarely open for anyone at all. Trying to impress them with your willingness to sacrifice yourself on the altar of excess is like trying to impress a trapeze artist by walking on the road-side curb: in a single day they live better than you have your entire life. Stop trying to live for them and start living for you.

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