Friday, June 30, 2006

Whole Food for thought.

On May 13, 2004, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, spoke at FreedomFest in Las Vegas. His critique of the freedom movement (Winning the battle for freedom) created a controversy. Here is an excerpt on how he discovered that "leftism" does not work:
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. ... Were we profitable? Not at first. ... Despite the loss, we were still accused of exploiting our customers with high prices and our employees with low wages. The investors weren't making a profit and we had no money to donate. Plus, with our losses, we paid no taxes. ... 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.

He offers insight into the appeal of "leftist philosophy":
... material prosperity, by itself, does not create happiness. We have higher needs, as expressed in Maslow's hierarchy [of needs], and the freedom movement needs to ... consciously create a vision that addresses meeting the[se] higher needs.

That is the secret of the success of the Left, despite its bankrupt economic philosophy. The Left entices the young with promises of community, love, purpose, peace, health, compassion, caring, and environmental sustainability. The Left's vision of how to meet these higher needs in people is fundamentally flawed. But the idealism and the call to the higher need levels is magnetic and seductive, nonetheless. The irony of the situation is that the Left has idealistic visions of higher human potential and social responsibility but has no effective strategies to realize its vision.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Excessively Sorry

I am sorry. You are sorry. We are all sorry. All the time. At the drop of a hat. The word has almost lost its meaning.

One guy thinks it is because we have stage fright in everyday life -- too self-conscious and tongue-tied to react any other way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Training is a waste of money and time...

Can management skills really be taught? Here are some thoughts from David Meister, management guru, writing in "Why (Most) Training is useless".

“Business,” as a subject, is about things of the logical, rational, analytical mind: concepts such as ‘the value chain’ or the numerous P’s of marketing. Even when it’s analyzing and discussing people, business is often treated as an intellectual process of analysis and discussion: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the characteristics of great leaders, etc., etc. Business, at least as it is taught in our business schools and most training programs, is about understanding and knowledge.

These are, of course, both very important. However, managing is a skill, and (as it transpires) has nothing to do with rationality, logic, IQ, or intelligence. Whether you can manage is a simple question of whether or not you can influence individuals or organizations to accomplish something. It’s about influencing people, singly, in groups, or in hordes.

No amount of understanding, knowledge or intelligence will help if you are not able to interact with people and get the response you desire. I know a lot about management from my education. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at doing it.

The same tension between knowledge versus skill, and rational versus emotional development, exists in many other developmental areas.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Book summary: Freakonomics

Fundamental Ideas:
  1. Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.
  2. The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
  3. Dramatic effects often have distant, even subtle, causes.
  4. Experts use their informational advantage to serve their own agendas.
  5. Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so.
Trivia: The US spends as much money on campaign finance as on chewing gum -- 1 billion dollars per annum.

Chapter 1: Incentives lead to cheating.
  1. When people pay a nominal fine for picking up their kids late from a Day care center, they lose the moral incentive to be on time, and are willing to trade this for a small amount of money, so the introduction of such a fine increases the number of such incidences. The withdrawl of the fine does not lead to a corresponding reduction.
  2. Statistics reveal cheating by school teachers in promoting grades of children to enhance their own image, and also among sumo wrestlers to throw a match to let the opponent hang on to privileges.
  3. Paul Feldman's bagel business shows that only about 87% of people obey an honor code based payment system. Smaller communities are more honest than bigger ones, whether offices or towns.
Chapter 2: Information is power.
  1. Stetson Kennedy "outed" the Ku Klux Klan's secrets on Superman radio shows, leading to its demise.
  2. The internet reduces information assymmetry - eg for term life insurance quotes.
  3. Real-estate agents don't look out for a client's best interest -- 6% on the difference between an average and a good price is a paltry amount.
  4. Voting data from TV program "Weakest Link" show that discrimination against Hispanics ("poor players") and the elderly ("can't stand ya"), and none against women or blacks.
  5. People say one thing and do another, eg, internet dating ads.
  6. Conventional wisdom is cooked up by journalists, experts and such like.
Chapter 3: On Crack dealers.
  1. A crack gang works like a standard capitalist enterprise: you have to be near the top of the pyramid to make a big wage.
  2. Any glamour profession is like a tournament -- one must start at the bottom to have a shot at the top.
  3. Crack dealing and crime devastated black neighbourhoods and set the community back by a decade.
Chapter 4: On Reduction in Crime.
  1. (J K Galbraith) The two key factors contributing to the formation of conventional wisdom are the ease with which an idea may be understood and the degree to which it affects our personal well-being.
  2. More policemen implies less crime.
  3. Legalised abortion, Roe v Wade, prevented unwanted teenage criminals from ever being born.
  4. Question: Is the trade-off of higher abortion and lower crime worth it?
Chapter 5: On Parenting.
  1. (Peter Sandman) Risk = Hazard + Outrage. When Outrage factor is low, people tend to ignore the risk. Risks that one does not control and that are unfamiliar have a high outrage factor.
  2. A good school is important to a child's education. Good peers matter a lot.
  3. It isn't so much a matter of what you do as a parent; it's who you are. Parents matter a great deal, but mostly in ways that have been strongly determined well before the child is born.
Trivia: Chance of baby drowning -- 1/10k, chance of baby being shot -- 1/1MM, which is 100X smaller.

Chapter 6: Quantifying Culture.
  1. Children's names strongly reflect the socio-economic background of their parents, and the latter is correlated with their eventual achievements.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

30 is the new 20

Immaturity Levels are Rising in society as people achieve mental adulthood later in life, if ever.
... a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth. As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry. Among scientists, the phenomenon is called psychological neoteny. The theory’s creator is Bruce Charlton, a professor in the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Spoiled children aren't merely immature, they're sheltered and unprepared for maturity.

On Kohlberg's stages of moral development, what stage do most people get to? What stage do today's institutions, especially public education, want them to get to?


... academe appeals particularly to introspective, narcissistic, obsessive characters who occasionally suffer from mood disorders or other psychological problems. ... these difficulties go untreated because they are closely tied to enhanced creativity, as can be the case with obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, and the kind of high-functioning autism known as Asperger's syndrome.

-- The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nutty Professors

Friday, June 23, 2006

Guide to Hiring Women

Compare this hilarious Guide to Hiring Women from 1943 and this behavioural guideline from 2000.

The problem with Pascal's wager

"... since rainstorms are either caused by A) water vapor in the atmosphere or B) aliens who want to drown us, we should start working on B in case it isn't A. If it's A and we work on B by creating a multi-billion-dollar network of space defense lasers, then we profit from being able to stay alive. If it's B and we assume A, then the aliens drown us all, take over our planet, and make it into a global resort/spa for the Pangalactic Federation."
-- TooMuchEspressoGuy, slashdot post.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Economics for fifth graders.

Arthur Foulkes from the Mises Institute brings us a great and simple lesson in basic economics.

Lesson 1: Trade
Lesson 2: Money
Lesson 3: Savings
Lesson 4: Competition
Lesson 5: Price

"But when are you going to get to the economics?"

It was the end of my first day volunteering to teach "basic economics" to a group of fifth graders. The teacher looked bemused as she asked the question.

"That's what I'm doing," I whispered a little curtly in reply.

Realizing her offense, she quickly explained her meaning: "You know, with all the graphs and big words and stuff."

I realized this teacher was under the common misperception (perpetuated by most economics professors) that economics is about math, models, and strange lands where a complete lack of real competition is called "perfect competition" and it is possible to visualize (and measure) human happiness using "utility curves."

Go read it all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Can society be stateless?

Excepts from a recent article on the stateless societies:
In pursuing his vision of freeports at sea, Werner Stiefel put into motion in a practical way a plan for a wholly proprietary, nonpolitical public authority. Here was his answer to the question of how to have public administration and yet each and every person be fully empowered over his own person and property. He believed that humankind would outgrow government as we know it today. Perhaps what is most intriguing and heartening about his formula for an internally consistent, open social software is that it is not conjectural, but is extrapolated from a century and a half of empirical data gleaned from observation of the marketplace.
-- Spencer MacCallum, Werner K. Steifel's Pursuit of a Practicum of Freedom.

Read about efforts to establish the framework for a civil society consistent with liberty and natural rights, in this intriguing book: The Law of the Somalis.

Political correctness: "challenged"

The unfortunate thing about using the word "challenged" when referring to a disabled person is, it won't change the nature of their disability, nor is it likely to change peoples' feelings toward them.
-- Phil, rec.humour.funny

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How could God allow that?

Interesting excerpt from Unquestioned Answers, where Nonconspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin takes aim at the official 9-11 story:
... Griffin's background in "process theology". Process theology is specifically designed to answer such post-Holocaust questions as, how could a loving God have allowed such a thing to happen? Griffin has written or co-authored a dozen books and articles on the subject, and roughly the answer is this: We, as creations of the Creator, have free will to choose how and what we create in this life. This very often results in what we call "evil." On the other hand, our greatest power as human beings is to bring that loving God to earth by creating good instead.

To those who assert "God is dead," process theology says no, Griffin reasons. The loving God is alive in our thoughts and words and deeds. God doesn't intervene to set things right unilaterally. Rather, that spirit--through us--embodies divine love. In other words, the world changes--if we change it. Divine power, he says, is "persuasive, not controlling."

Friday, June 16, 2006


You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

-- Bobby Henderson, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Are you training your kid to be a garbage sorter?

Do you seek atonement for the sin of excess? Recycling is the answer!

Check out "Recycling is Garbage", the highly controversial NYTimes Magazine article.

Cecil Adams at StraightDope has a more pragmatic view:
... the fact that something can be recycled doesn't mean it should be. Forget the esoteric arguments about externalities, finite resources, and so on--in the end recycling will (or won't) work because it is (or isn't) cheaper than throwing stuff away. This varies with the material being recycled. As a general proposition, any manufactured product that is (a) heavy or expensive in relation to its bulk, (b) homogeneous, and (c) easily separable from the waste stream by consumers can be recycled economically. Metals, notably steel and aluminum, are the obvious examples; both have high recycling rates. Surprisingly, so does newsprint. The poor candidates, at the moment, are plastics and mixed paper (including magazines). Plastics are too light and heterogeneous, while mixed paper contains too many contaminants. In the end we may conclude that this junk is best consigned to landfills. But given the advance of technology, who knows?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dynamic Typing for careers

The European approach reflects the old idea that each person has a single, definite occupation-- which is not far from the idea that each person has a natural "station" in life. If this were true, the most efficient plan would be to discover each person's station as early as possible, so they could receive the training appropriate to it.

In the US things are more haphazard. But that turns out to be an advantage as an economy gets more liquid, just as dynamic typing turns out to work better than static for ill-defined problems. This is particularly true with startups. "Startup founder" is not the sort of career a high school student would choose. If you ask at that age, people will choose conservatively. They'll choose well-understood occupations like engineer, or doctor, or lawyer."

"... most kids graduating from college still think they're supposed to get jobs, as if you couldn't be productive without being someone's employee. But the less you identify work with employment, the easier it becomes to start a startup. When you see your career as a series of different types of work, instead of a lifetime's service to a single employer, there's less risk in starting your own company, because you're only replacing one segment instead of discarding the whole thing."

--Paul Graham, Why startups condense in America

Monday, June 12, 2006

Green Paper Flight

An excerpt from Reasons to Worry -- An article on how the US is exporting greenbacks and getting itself neck deep into debt:
The most important lesson to be drawn from the history of debt is this: It's not the absolute size of your borrowings that matters. It's not even the relative size in relation to your income. The crux is whether the interest payments you have to make are more or less than you can afford to pay. And that, in turn, is a function of whether or not the rate can move, whether or not your income can change and whether or not inflation can help you or hurt you. On this basis, both subprime American mortgage-holders and a distinctly subprime administration may find the months ahead more painful than they anticipated.

Wow! Read the first three lines again. The advice is to perpetually re-finance debt to adjust cash flow. Brilliant. That way one never pays off the debt, just juggles it around. From the NYT, in an article denouncing debt, no less!

Edit July 27, 2006: Is there any wonder that the USA is headed towards bankruptcy? So claims an article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, July/August 2006.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Scientist and artist

The beauty that [an artist] sees is available to other people -- and to [scientists] too. Although [the scientist] may not be quite as refined aesthetically as [the artist] is, he can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, he can see much more in the flower than [the artist] sees. ... There's beauty not just at the dimension of one centimeter; there's also beauty at a smaller dimension.
-- Richard P. Feynman, "What do you care what other people think?"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The appeal of gmail

Gmail from google is perhaps the first e-mail service to have many of the features of CLI email readers e.g., mutt, features such as threaded views; while at the same time, allowing the user to work easily with a GUI.

No wonder power users accustomed to the customisability and speed of CLI interfaces find it to be a frustrating experience -- why is it so difficult to delete a single message, how does one change the basis for threading, etc. -- but at the same time typical users, accustomed to silly and clunky webmail interfaces until now, tend to love it.

Edit: July 30: Business users, on the other hand, find it extremely inconvenient, per this WSJ article.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Don't call

From the 2005 June 27 issue of Fortune, article title How I make decisions:
Some things today - cellphones and e-mail - are not healthy for growing leaders. Before cellphones, if the boss was away, the next person in line had to make a decision. It was either right or it was wrong, but you had to accept responsibility. You learned and grew from that. Now it's too easy to call for advice. Senior leaders have to start saying,"Look, if it's not dying or burning, don't call me."

What is the government doing to our wealth?

One gets richer (i.e., increases one's future supply of capital goods) by saving (i.e., by investment in capital goods) and not by consumption (i.e., by current exhaustion of capital goods).

This is obviously true of men. And it is just as true of nations.

Unfortunately, modern governments established under the care-taker model of democratic nation-states do not have an incentive to pursue long term savings at the expense of short term politically motivated spendings. Witness modern-day Robin Hood policies, a.k.a., coercive extortion at gun point -- subsidies to inefficient producers, reservations on the basis of caste and class, tax-funded handouts in the name of social equality -- transferring wealth from the productive to the non-productive, just about everywhere in the world.

The present dollar is worth some 10 cents of the 1970 dollar and is bound to lose ever more in the future.

Indeed, What has the Government done to our money?