Homeless people, empty office buildings. What to do?

Premise 1: There are lots of homeless people in the downtown area.

Premise 2: Since office workers got used to working from home during the height of the COVID pandemic, many of them prefer not to return to the office, and as a result we have lots of empty or half-empty office buildings . . . downtown.

Conclusion: Therefore we should continue ignoring the homeless problem, and force office workers to go back to their cubicles.

Pretty obvious, really.

Update: Here is an article detailing all the issues involved in converting offices to residences, written by a couple of people who actually know what they are talking about: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/analysis-heres-what-it-would-take-to-turn-empty-office-buildings-into-residential-housing.

Removing gender from athletics

A conversation today got me thinking about the current controversy in the U.S. and in international athletics about transsexual women and girls being banned from competing in women’s and girls’ teams and competitions.

Here’s my question: Why do we still have gendered athletic competitions at all? The standard answer, of course, is that most women and girls, in most sports, will not be able to compete successfully against men and boys, who in general are bigger and stronger. But is the current norm—separate teams and leagues based on gender—the best solution?

In the case of school team athletics, for example, why not simply have First Tier teams, Second Tier teams, and Third Tier teams? Placement would be determined by performance, not gender. The current nonsense of classifying athletes by gender identity and testosterone levels could be put aside. All interested students could participate on teams suited to their skill levels. Girls, boys, and trans students skilled enough to compete against the best athletes in the First Tier could do so; those lacking the skills to make the First Tier could still enjoy playing in the Second or Third Tier.

The same idea could be employed in individual sports like tennis or swimming or track and field. In the Olympics, for example, instead of male swimming competitions and female swimming competitions, why not have First Tier swimming, Second Tier swimming, and Third Tier swimming? If your performances reach a certain level, you qualify for the First Tier. Otherwise, you compete in the Second Tier, or the Third. The objection, undoubtedly, would be the same argument used in favour of gendered competition: many women and girls would be excluded because they would not be able to compete successfully against men and boys, even at the Second or Third Tier levels. Dishonest individuals who could not win in the First Tier would deliberately underachieve so they could be relegated to the Second Tier, where they could then capture all the gold medals.

Maybe. But measures could be taken to mitigate against unfairness. And fears of cheating are overblown. Cheating is already a part of every sport, and every sport has rules and sanctions to minimize dishonesty. Most athletes, however, want to test themselves against tough competition. Winning against opponents whose skills are clearly inferior would hold no satisfaction or pleasure for the vast majority of competitors.

I am “thinking out loud” here, and perhaps I have not thought hard enough or carefully enough about these issues. It does seem clear to me, however, that banning and stigmatizing transsexual athletes is cruel and unsustainable. There has to be a better way.

The Five-Year Marriage: My Brilliant Idea

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”

I was reminded today of one of my more brilliant ideas to improve the world by these two paragraphs about Britain’s exit from the European Union:

Every five years, the UK and EU will review the agreement, supplementary agreements and any matters related to it. That corresponds to the standard five-year political timetable in Brussels and Westminster. In other words, each new Westminster parliament, or Council president, or European parliament, is going to have their own Brexit, their own appraisal of the relationship.

This is a pulsating, living deal. The metaphor of a divorce no longer really holds. It’s like a couple splitting up but then buying a new much smaller home where they’ll meet up at weekends. Maybe they’ll be sickened by each other whenever they arrive. Maybe they’ll start to remember what they saw in each other in the first place. Divergence or integration.

—Ian Dunt, “Never-ending story: Deal unveils next Brexit arguments”


This “five-year divorce,” with both parties obliged to reconsider the terms of their separation twice a decade, parallels my own idea, the “five-year marriage.” 

The five-year marriage is a simple plan. Every marriage would have a five-year term that must be re-negotiated by the two parties, and then either renewed for another five years or ended, in which case they shake hands and go their separate ways.

It’s an idea bound to be ignored, of course, because when two people are on the verge of marriage they are definitely not inclined to be considering seriously the terms on which their marriage might end. Only the super-rich have lawyers and pre-nuptial agreements. Moreover, the five-year marriage would have to be adopted by an entire society, or at least by a large group of people, to make it work. Nevertheless, let us consider the possible advantages.

First, marriage “until death do us part” immediately encourages bad behaviour. Why not leave your dirty socks on the floor, or leave the cap off the toothpaste tube? You have a lifetime deal that can be broken only by extreme measures: a messy, complicated, and expensive divorce. In a five-year marriage, you would think at least twice before leaving those dirty socks to annoy or even anger your partner: do you want to risk a good marriage over dirty socks? 

Similarly, if a marriage “until death do us part” is going badly, one or both parties may be tempted to cheat on their partner, leading to all the drearily familiar and ugly consequences of infidelity. On the other hand, imagine being three-and-a-half years into a five-year marriage that is not working out. In that case, why risk all the lies and hurt and anger of infidelity, when you can just wait eighteen months for your freedom?

Second, the five-year marriage plan recognizes a simple truth: we change. Naturally, the chances of two people changing over several decades and yet remaining ideal partners for each other are . . . remote. Most marriages that last, let’s face it, last for other reasons: the kids, the cost of divorce, the fear of change, simple laziness, etc. The five-year marriage, at least, takes the fear and shame and surprise out of separation. (And, if you decide to stay together, you get a new wedding every five years! Florists, caterers, wedding reception musicians, are you listening?)

I offer the world this brilliant idea satirically because I know that almost no one will take it seriously. And yet, I am serious. I am convinced that the five-year marriage would do wonders to improve the quality of our relationships and our lives, not to mention our emotional well-being. When I ascend to a position of sufficient authority, the five-year marriage will be one of my first decrees.

Castles in the air

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”