Trolley Dilemma Refined

I once had an on-line conversation concerning the Trolley Problem where my interlocutor made an attempt to leap through the horns of the dilemma.  His stance was simply that doing nothing, not getting involved, was the most moral position because he could wash his hands of any deaths which resulted.  Let us leave aside the moral problem of refusing to get involved (I’m looking at you, eye-witnesses who won’t talk to the police) and test a slightly different version of the problem.

I present for you a version of the Trolley Problem with narrowed horns.

You are walking along the sidewalk when a distinct ka-chunk sounds and you are stopped in your tracks as a monitor comes to life to reveal the following situation.

You have actuated a plate in the sidewalk which has aimed an approaching train at a group of, say, five persons, who will all be killed if the train reaches them.  If you step off of the plate on which you are now standing you divert the train back to the former track where it will in fact kill one person.

What is your decision?

This modified version of the problem can be further modified in all the usual ways the former Trolley Problem has been modified (number of persons, status of persons, &c) for testing further moral nuance.  I trust though that this version will eliminate at least one avenue of attempted escape for those who would rather not contemplate the epically tragic and thus flee between the horns of this dilemma.


Use -min to Indicate One-Who-ness

First I should say that this is not meant to solve all the issues.  This is just one piece in a larger framework, a piece which is both linguistically relevant and an improvement easily accessible to native and new speakers.

Currently, we take a person who chairs and we call that person a chairman or (if we are confronted with gender) chairwoman or chairperson or some other ad hoc well-intentioned solution.  They usually sound clunky by comparison.  Kludgy.  Inelegant.

And that doesn’t even address the pluralization issue.  Chairman, chairmen, chairwoman, chairwomen, chairperson.  Confused?  Let’s simplify.

Most folks never actually articulate chairmAn or even less so chairmEn.  It’s softened to something more like chiarmIn (like chair-in with an m).  So let’s just roll with that.  We can use it as a non-pluralizing noun (like sheep or fish) so that it’s one chairmin, two chairmin, red chairmin, blue chairmin.  If we move forward with this -min suffix as both gender and number neutral we get a host of words such as follow here:

  • chairmin
  • spokesmin
  • ombudsmin
  • foremin
  • linemin
  • businessmin
  • fishermin
  • congressmin
  • longshoremin
  • newspapermin
  • upperclassmin
  • salesmin
  • policemin
  • marksmin
  • Scottsmin
  • clergymin
  • draughtsmin
  • weathermin
  • aldermin
  • garbagemin
  • militiamin
  • horsemin
  • stuntmin
  • groundsmin
  • highwaymin
  • middlemin
  • freshmin
  • herdsmin
  • helmsmin
  • laymin
  • trashmin
  • crewmin

You get the basic idea.  Take it forward:  the suffix -min is gender and number neutral and means (roughly) one who.



Tequila, Limoncello, and Honey Syrup

A friend from work braved the quarantine to visit me for a cocktail and to talk shop and talk talk talk because no one is talking today because the fucking quarantine is killing me slowly.  What?

Anyway, I made a cocktail from spare parts and thought I’d share.

  • 1 shot añejo or reposado tequila as you prefer
  • 1 oz limoncello (I make my own but any ought to do)
  • .5 oz honey syrup (just a simple syrup made with honey)
  • orange bitters
  • finish with grenadine (again, I make my own)

Put everything but the grenadine in your shaker and shake vigorously.  It’s fun!

Pour into cocktail glasses and finish with some grenadine.  Enjoy!



Here now I’m telling about the most important person in this whole story and the best.  I’ve noticed how most of my fellow writers all seem to “hate” their mothers and make big Freudian or sociological philosophies around that, in fact using it as the straight theme of their fantasies, or at least saying as much—I often wonder if they’ve ever slept till four in the afternoon and woke up to see their mother darning their socks in a sad window light, or come back from revolutionary horrors of weekends to see her mending the rips in a bloody shirt with quiet eternal bowed head over needle—  And not with martyred pose of resentment, either, but actually seriously bemused over mending, the mending of torture and folly and all loss, mending the very days of your life with almost glad purposeful gravity—  And when it’s cold she puts on that shawl, and mends on, and on the stove potatoes are burbling forever—  Making some neurotics go mad to see such sanity in a room—  Making me mad sometimes because I’d been so foolish tearing shirts and losing shoes and losing and taring hope to tatters in that silly thing called wild—  “You’ve got to have an escape valve!”  Julien’d often yelled at me, “let out that steam or go mad!” tearing my shirt, only to have Mamère two days later sitting in her chair mending that very shirt just because it was a shirt and it was mine, her son’s—  Not to make me feel guilty but to fix the shirt—  Though it always made me feel guilty to hear her say:  “It was such a nice shirt, I paid $3.25 for it in Woolworth’s, why do you let those nuts tear at your shirt like that.  Ça pas d’bon sens.”  And if the shirt was beyond repair she’d always wash it and put it away “for patching” or to make a rag rug with.  In one of her rag rugs I recognized three decades of tortured life not only by myself but herself, my father, my sister.  She’d have sewn up the grave and used it if possible.  As for food, nothing went wasted:  an odd potato half eaten ends up delightfully tidbit fried by a piece of later meat, or a quarter of an onion finds its way into a jar of home-pickled onions, or old corners of roastbeef into a delicious homey burbling fricassee.  Even a torn old handkerchief is washed and mended and better to blow your nose in than ten thousand crinkly new Brooks Brothers Handkerchiefs with idle monogram.  Any stray toy I bought for her “doodad” shelf (little Mexican burros in plastic, or piggy banks or vaselets) remained on that shelf for years, duly dusted and arranged according to her taste esthetically.  A minor cigarette hole in old jeans is suddenly patched with pieces of 1940 jean.  Her sewing basket contains a wooden darner (like a small bowling duckpin) older than I am.  Her needles some of them come from Nashua 1910.  As the years go by her family write her increasingly loving letters realizing what they lost when they took her orphan money and spent it.  At the TV which I bought her with my pitiful 1950 money she stares believingly, only a battered old 1949 Motorola set.  She watches the commercials where the women primp or the men boast and doesnt even know I’m in the room.  It’s all a show for her eyes.  I have nightmares of her and I finding pastrami slabs in old junkyards of New jersey on a Saturday morning, or of the top drawer of her dresser open in the road of America showing silk bloomers, rosaries, tin cans full of buttons, rolls of ribbon, needle hassocks, powder pouffes, old berets and boxes of cotton saved from old medicine bottles.  Who could put down a woman like that?  Whenever I need something she has it somewhere:—an aspirin, an ice bag, a bandage, a can of cheap spaghetti in the cupboard (cheap but good).  Even a candle when the big civilized power blows out.  

For the bathtub, the toilet and the sink she has big cans of deterring powder and disinfectants.  She has a dry mop and twice a week is reaching under my bed for gobs of dust which are rapped out the window sill, “Tiens!  Your room is clean!”  Wrapped somewhere in moving carton is a big basket of clothespins to hang out the wash wherever she goes—I see her with basket of wet wash going out with clothespin in mouth, and when we have no yard, right in the kitchen!  Duck under the wash and get your beer in the icebox.  Like the mother of Hui Neng, I’d bet, enough to enlighten anybody with the actual true “Zen” of how to live in any time and just right.

Tao say, in more words than one, that a woman who takes care of her home has equalized Heaven and Earth.

Then on Saturday nights she’s ironing on the battered ironing board bought by her a lifetime ago, the cloth all brown with burns, the creaky wooden legs, but all the wash comes out ironed and white and to be folded away in perfect paper-lined cupboards for use.

At night when she sleeps I bow my head in shame.  And I know that in the morning when I wake up (maybe noon) she’ll already have walked to the store on her strong “peasant” legs and brought back all the food towering in bags with the lettuce at the top, my cigarettes at the top, the hotdogs and hamburgs and tomatos and grocery slips to “show me,” the pitiful nylon stockings on the bottom apologetically admitted to my sight—Ah me, and all the girls I’d known in America who dabbled at blue cheese and let it harden on the sill!  Who’d wanted taxis for their milk!  Who’d groaned on Sunday without roasts!  Who’d left me because I complained!

The trend nowadays is to say that mothers stand in the way of your sex life, as tho my sex life in the apartments of girls in New York or San Francisco had anything to do with my quiet Sunday nights reading or writing in the privacy of my clean homey bed room, when breezes riffle the curtain and cars shirsh by—  When the cat meows at the icebox and already there’s a can of Nine Lives for my baby, bought by Ma on Saturday morning (writing her lists) —  As tho sex was the be-all of my love for the woman.

–– Jack Kerouac from Desolation Angels p 334-336