Thursday, June 15, 2006

Whole Foods Republicans

First, there were Bobo's.

Then, South Park Republicans.

Now, could there be "Whole Foods Republicans"?

Admirers of Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey seem to think so.

Whole Foods Market, which calls itself the world's leading retailer of natural and organic stores, boasts 184 upscale grocery stores across North America and the United Kingdom. A frequent customer, I believe that the opening of a Whole Foods is an asset to nearly any community. Yet, it seems an odd petri dish for a new kind of Republican. The left-wing publications that fill the stores' magazine racks prove that there is a dissonance between the political views of the stores' CEO and the views of the customers who have helped make him rich.

Mr. Mackey has a vision to change that. Mr. Mackey recommends improvements in the "positioning and branding" of the "freedom movement." Mackey says that, although he supports the legalization of drugs, pornography, and prostitution, the freedom movement should devote less attention to these decadent and unpopular goals. Unless the movement wishes to remain "small" and "unimportant," the movement should focus instead on issues that are not only more appealing, but also far more critical to improving the country: "creating educational choice, privatizing social security, de-regulating health care, and enacting meaningful tort reform."

Now, Mackey certainly wouldn't describe himself as a Republican. As one of the few libertarians who actually votes for Libertarians, he is an unlikely leader of Whole Foods Republicans. Nonetheless, on each of the four issues he highlights, his views fall squarely on the Republican side of the aisle. Moreover, he explicitly rejects the Lefitist philosphy of his "naive" and "idealistic" youth, and observes: "Despite the unbelievable horrible track record of Leftist ideology, millions of young Americans continue to migrate to an intellectual bankrupt Left because the Left still seems to be idealistic, and that idealism is magnetic to the young."

Although I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, I provide the following excerpt for link-o-phobes:

At the time I started my business, the Left had taught me that business and capitalism were based on exploitation: exploitation of consumers, workers, society and the environment. I believed that "profit" was a necessary evil at best, and certainly not a desirable goal for society as a whole. However, becoming an entrepreneur completely changed my life. Everything I believed about business was proven to be wrong. The most important thing I learned about business in my first year was that business wasn't based on exploitation or coercion at all. Instead I realized that business is based on voluntary cooperation. No one is forced to trade with a business; customers have competitive alternatives in the market place; employees have competitive alternatives for their labor; investors have different alternatives and places to invest their capital. Investors, labor, management, suppliers—they all need to cooperate to create value for their customers. If they do, then any realized profit can be divided amongst the creators of the value through competitive market dynamics. In other words, business is not a zero sum game with a winner and loser. It is a win, win, win, win game—and I really like that.

However, I discovered despite my idealism that our customers thought our prices were too high, our employees thought they were underpaid, the vendors would not give us large discounts, the community was forever clamoring for donations, and the government was slapping us with endless fees, licenses, fines and taxes. Were we profitable? Not at first. Safer Way managed to lose half of its capital in the first year—$23,000. Despite the loss, we were still accused of exploiting our customers with high prices and our employees with lower wages. The investors weren't making a profit and we had no money to donate. Plus, with our losses, we paid no taxes. I had somehow joined the "dark side" — I was now one of the bad guys. According to the perspective of the Left, I had become a greedy and selfish businessman. At this point, I rationally chose to abandon the Leftist philosophy of my youth, because it no longer adequately explained how the world really worked.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

"Hey, no fair. You're trying."

If you're a parent of a child in a Connecticut high school, and had been reluctant to allow your child to play on your child's lousy varsity football team for fear of the psychological effect a thorough whooping by a rival team would have upon your child, worry no more. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has hurried to the rescue. Starting this fall, if an opposing team has the gall to outscore little Johnny's team by more than 50 points, the coach of the victorious team will be automatically suspended for the next game. The CIAC has couched its new tax on effort as a "score management" policy.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Don't Hold Your Breath

In 874, the lone great-great-great-great-great grandson of Muhammad disappeared without a trace, thus ending Muhammad's lineage. Today, devout Shiites, who refer to Muhammad's twelve direct male descendants as "imams," still await for this last imam to return and liberate the world from evil things. You know, like music. Or, dogs and monkeys. Or, Israel. "Twelfth imam, we are waiting for you," Iranian posters read.

This is just one story from Matthias Kuntzel's excellent article about the ideological roots of current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even for those familiar with Islam ideology (perhaps readers of Bernard Lewis' outstanding books), Matthias Kuntzel's article merits reading. Those unfamiliar with Islam ideology, meanwhile, will likely find the article shocking. In either case, it approaches "must-read" status. For skeptics, consider this excerpt:
In one of his first TV interviews after being elected president, [Ahmadinejad] enthused: "Is there an art that is more beautiful, more divine, more eternal than the art of the martyr's death?" In September 2005, he concluded his first speech before the United Nations by imploring God to bring about the return of the Twelfth Imam. He finances a research institute in Tehran whose sole purpose is to study, and, if possible, accelerate the coming of the imam. And, at a theology conference in November 2005, he stressed, "The most important task of our Revolution is to prepare the way for the return of the Twelfth Imam."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jane Galt Revisited

Megan McCardle's April 2, 2005 post on gay marriage is such a worthwhile ten minutes of reading that I am not at all hesitant to link to it more than a year later. Perhaps because tonight's dram of rum didn't accompany my original reading last April, the post seems even better this evening. Even if her post were not such a measured and entertaining deliberation of a common argument regarding gay marriage, it would be worth wading through just to find this nugget from G.K. Chesteron's The Thing:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an
illusion.

"Junk Science"

Sometimes "junk science" really is junk science. More often, Roger Pielke argues, "junk science" is just a label used to dismiss politics or policies with which one disagrees.

Reason Number 1,023,456,023 that the U.S. is Better than Iran

Midget Kiss-Tribute Bands

United States 2

Iran 0

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Where the Money Went

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

George Best, 1946-2005

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

"Happiness is not having what you want. It's wanting what you have."

That's the old saw. And now it's proven. Sort of.

Esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman has spearheaded an effort to study the science of happiness. The bad news is that we're not wired to be happy. The good news is that we can do something about it.

Dorothy Wade writes: "By trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness."

The ability to feel negative emotions derives from an ancient danger-recognition system formed early in the brain's evolution. The pre-frontalcortex, which registers happiness, is the part used for higher thinking, an area that evolved later in human history . . .

Modern humans, stuck with an ancient brain, are like rats on a wheel. We can't stop running, because we're always looking over our shoulders and comparing our achievements with our neighbours. At 20, we think we'd be happy with a house and a car. But if we get them, we start dreaming of a second home in Italy and a turbo-charged four-wheel-drive.

This is called the "hedonic treadmill" by happiness scholars. It causes us to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted. The more possessions and accomplishments we have, the more we need to boost our level of happiness. It makes sense that the brain of a species that has dominated others would evolve to strive to be best.

Our difficulty, according to Daniel Nettle, is that the brain systems for liking and wanting are separate. Wanting involves two ancient regions — the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens — that communicate using the chemical dopamine to form the brain's reward system. They are involved in anticipating the pleasure of eating and in addiction to drugs. A rat will press a bar repeatedly, ignoring sexually available partners, to receive electrical stimulation of the "wanting" parts of the brain. But having received brain stimulation, the rat eats more but shows no sign of enjoying the food it craved. In humans, a drug like nicotine produces much craving but little pleasure.

At the Royal Institution, Nettle explained how brain chemistry foils our pursuit of happiness in the modern world: "The things that you desire are not the things that you end up liking. The mechanisms of desire are insatiable. There are things that we really like and tire of less quickly — having good friends, the beauty of the natural world, spirituality. But our economic system plays into the psychology of wanting, and the psychology of liking gets drowned out."


What to do about it? Don't cry over spilt milk.

Since the days of Freud, the emphasis in consulting rooms has been on talk about negative effects of the past and how they damage people in the present. Seligman names this approach "victimology" and says research shows it to be worthless: "It is difficult to find even small effects of childhood events on adult personality, and there is no evidence at all of large effects."

The tragic legacy of Freud is that many are "unduly embittered about their past, and unduly passive about their future", says Seligman. His colleague Aaron Beck developed cognitive therapy after becoming disillusioned with his Freudian training in the 1950s. Beck found that as depressed patients talked "cathartically" about past wounds and losses, some people began to unravel. Occasionally this led to suicide attempts, some of which were fatal. There was very little evidence that psychoanalysis worked.

Cognitive therapy places less emphasis on the past. It works by challenging a person's thinking about the present and setting goals for the future . . . The focus of most psychotherapy is on decreasing negative emotion. The aim of Seligman's therapy is to increase positive emotion.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Too Close to Call

Eugene Volokh reports on a recent survey of black people. I mean African-Americans. I mean blacks.
Of the 2,382 respondents to whom the question was asked, 1,146 (48.1 percent) voiced a preference for "black," 1,173 (49.2 percent) said they preferred "African-American," and 63 (2.7 percent) declined to express an opinion.

Do I have to go through orientation?

Last week, the Oakland A's fired manager Ken Macha.

This week, they replaced him with . . . Ken Macha.

I hope he does better than that last bum.

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Some say critics of Harriet Miers are sexist. Some say critics of Harriet Miers are elitist. I say: Who cares?

In the assessment of Miers as a potential Supreme Court candidate, the personal characteristics of those involved in the debate are irrelevant. For example, there might exist a Miers supporter who takes pleasure in fricasseeing kittens. On the other hand, there might be a Miers critic who founded the Society for the Advancement of Scratching Chalkboards. Does it really need to be said that these facts would have nothing to do with the soundness of nominating Miers as a Justice on the Supreme Court?

Sexist, racist, elitist, "anything"-ist. It doesn't matter. Debating the characteristics of the debaters is a time-waster that diverts intellectual energy from the real debate: Would Harriet Miers make a good Supreme Court justice?

Of course, the Miers nomination is not the only public debate poisoned by ad hominem attacks. They are everywhere. The Nation seems particularly fond of them. In an article currently on The Nation website fearlessly titled The Young Chickenhawks, Clarisse Profilet exposes the not-so-shocking lack of military experience among the leadership of the Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans. She concludes:
Conservative campus groups like YAF and College Republicans are growing in strength and numbers. And since the start of the Iraq War, these outfits have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush to support the war, but they have not stood alongside the soldiers doing the actual fighting and dying. They want someone else to do the hard work.

If the proponents of these arguments merely intend to denigrate their opponents, they may in some cases be successful, but are always petty. If, on other hand, the proponents of the arguments sincerely mean to address the underlying debate, the arguments are not merely unsuccessful, but prototypes of logical fallacies.

Some Miers critics are elitist.
Therefore Miers would be an excellent Supreme Court Justice.

Some supporters of the war have not joined the military.
Therefore, the war in Iraq is unjust.

QED?

It's All Religion's Fault

Is religion to blame for America's societal distress?

Greogry S. Paul says: Yes.

(And, in his closing sentence, pats himself on the back: "It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.")

Theodore Dalrymple says: Uh . . . no.