We’re staying home more so it would make sense that we would create more trash, 25% more according to an estimate by the trade group, Solid Waste Association of North America. In Alpharetta, Georgia, for example, one worker there said he used to pick up about 17 or 18 tons of trash a day, now it is 22. In fact some of the bins overflow and despite robotic arms can be hard to pick up upsetting some trash workers who may need to pick up what falls and because of the virus are particularly concerned. The virus also is behind the fact that offices tend to be emptier than they normally are and those bins are not very full. Somehow the way trash removal is set up it is not usually possible to reshuffle routes and workers. One problem is that some routes may be done by subcontractors which city sanitation departments cannot reschedule in the same way. Another is that in many localities particularly in the East, alleys behind buildings are too narrow for many trucks and specially designed trucks are used to remove trash there. If these new patterns continue, then changes will have to be made. They will entail shorter days, shorter routes and will then all be more manageable. Trash workers say that the upside for them is that people are now beginning to realize that what they do is a hard and dirty job. They suspect that being home more means they are more likely to see the trash trucks, be more aware of trash removal. As a sanitation worker in Georgia put it, “the world would stop if we stopped picking up.” Indeed sanitation workers are like first responders, nurses and doctors and the army of delivery people, those who make our adjustments to the virus that much easier. They ought to be on our list of those we are grateful for.
Digital ads on billboard that you may encounter as you drive can now spy on those who look at them. It’s not called this, it’s referred to as a radar, but spying is in essence what it is. It has to do with the technology that tracks your phone. You are driving and you look at an ad, and they know much about you through the data they collect. I don’t understand all of it, so I can’t tell you how they do that, but it is now possible. It is based and focused on the signals which are emitted from our devices, or I suppose whatever electronic systems such as GPS are in our cars. The problem, and to me and certain privacy advocates it certainly is a problem, is what is being done with the data that is collected. It’s all sort of new, and it’s all opaque. And I am not sure that time will necessarily add to transparency. Clear Channel Outdoor has been using this technology in the US including Los Angeles for the last four years, and is now ready to use it in Europe. What I thought was important was that the article describing its US usage added the word, quietly when describing their practices. The problem is that private companies, the names of which are not all known, are using the information for their own profits and purposes. The technology is the same as that used in surveillance and privacy experts are concerned that a commercial surveillance network is being built and given that so many companies are involved, it makes the practice even scarier. Of course Clear Channel says this is to help advertisers better understand consumer behavior and advertising campaign effectiveness.
Whatever reasons all the business concerns may give, it is difficult to see how advertising that utilizes surveillance technology can be benign to consumers. I don’t know if consumers can manage to stop the practice, but I know that it is something we need to know more about.
We know there is hunger in the United States. We know that the virus has made this hunger worse. But rarely, safe for very few of us, think about the persistence of hunger. Photographer Brenda Anne Kenneally did, she grew up in difficult circumstances and right before the virus wanted to photograph the people and places where there is persistent hunger. When it hit in March she just went ahead, because she said, “The situations that define a life of scarcity were becoming democratized.” The NYT published her photographic essay, America at Hunger’s Edge”, while Adrian Nicole LeBlanc wrote an accompanying article summarizing the history of helping the hungry. The point LeBlanc makes is that hunger has been treated as an emergency, as something temporary, not as something systemic, and therefore the causes of hunger have not been addressed. Lineally found that in Houston in 2019 the Mamie George Community Center gave 567,000 pounds of food—understandably a number almost matched from March to July 2020. During the Depression our awareness of hunger started with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother”, a mother whose face is a poignant depiction of hunger with three of her children, a picture which increased popularity for New Deal programs. The Federal Surplus Commodities program grew out of the Depression, but hunger persisted and in the 60’s when it came to the fore led to the beginning of food stamps. The program has undergone several changes, and had led to offshoots with several names, but usually leaves out many of the hungry, or else covers only a portion of the food needs.
We are more and more aware of economic inequalities and their consequences, and looking at hunger as a symptom and in its socioeconomic and political contexts is overdue. The causes are systemic and addressing them falls into the realm of moral imperatives.
Nextdoor for those of you who may not know is a web service organized by neighborhoods where one can ask for recommendation about plumbers or painters or post questions and grievances. A few days ago a woman posted that she came home to find 2 men rummaging through her trash, and what upset her was that they wore no masks. Somehow the post took flight. A man with a Hispanic surname (thus debunking many stereotypes one may have about Hispanics) said that trash picking was illegal, they were stealing from the county who would otherwise benefit from the sale of the recyclables. Someone else agreed. Then someone said the trash pickers were like environmentalists recycling what we threw away. Someone then posted it’s like the French revolution, Marie Antoinette wanted them hungry people to eat cake because they were hungry and had no bread; he explained, these are hard times, people are scrounging to survive. Someone then replied how she felt for those people. The person with the original post said I just wanted them to wear masks, so someone said, then maybe leave some masks out for them. Then a new person wrote they were criminals and another answered if it is illegal, do you want these people prosecuted? Is that how you want your tax dollars spent? It’s a very small fraction of the crimes occurring, that would be a misuse of scarce public resources, that person added. And many agreed.
Rare is the neighborhood who doesn’t have people rummage through the trash bins for recyclables, things they can reuse, or maybe resale somehow. I remember a documentary about a couple who rose at 4am to rummage through the trash, and that is how they made their living. What a hard job it is, what an unpleasant one, thus my respect for people who rummage through our trash. Yes, they usually don’t wear masks, they leave the bin’s lid open, they can have loud music, but they are to me a part of modern life, a benign one at that. What was striking to me about the Nextdoor postings, was how divided the exchanges were, how many people were willing to condemn the practice, and how many reacted with no compassion. But If I had to put a percentage to that portion, it would be 40%. The rest reacted and defended the original offenders. It all left me asking, does the incident represent the state of the nation these days, condemning people trying to survive and showing no compassion, versus those who strove to understand? And if it does, then compassion won! There’s hope. Let’s take heart!