Sign of the Times

I was recently invited along on a family trip for three days of rafting in the Grand Canyon followed by a couple days in Las Vegas.  Among other things, while in Vegas my wife and I did some sight-seeing and visited the Hoover Dam and The Neon Museum.  The museum is “dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic and cultural enrichment.”  It’s an interesting place to visit as you are able to learn some of the history of Las Vegas as told through the signage.

Photo courtesy of: http://www.neonparadise.com/Pages/TheBoneyard.aspx

The Green Shack Sign (Photo courtesy of: http://www.neonparadise.com/Pages/TheBoneyard.aspx)

Although there were many intriguing pieces in “the boneyard”, the one I found most compelling was the oldest member of the collection – the sign for The Green Shack Restaurant which opened in the 1930s.  By the time it closed in 1999, it was the oldest restaurant in Las Vegas.  The sign itself is rather unremarkable, but what really caught my attention was the story behind it.

The Boneyard (Photo courtesy of Marjorie)

The Boneyard (Photo courtesy of Marjorie)

As we were told by our tour guide, the restaurant got its start when Mattie Jones, a recent widow, began selling lunches (and bootleg whiskey) out of her kitchen window to the men building the Hoover Dam.  Demonstrating that savings and investment is the true path to prosperity, Mattie was able to accumulate enough money to eventually open her own restaurant.  This simple entrepreneurial act, so common in years past, sounds like something out of fairy tale today.  I mean, kids can’t even sell lemonade to their neighbors anymore without getting shut down by cops.

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Because of the massive regulatory state that has been erected over the past several decades, it is nearly impossible for poor people to improve their condition through the type of initiative shown by Mrs. Jones.  As John Stossel puts it

Street vending has been a path out of poverty for Americans. And like other such paths (say, driving a taxi), this one is increasingly difficult to navigate. Why? Because entrenched interests don’t like competition. So they lobby their powerful friends to erect high hurdles to upstarts. It’s an old story.

Now, growing local governments are crushing street vendors.

The city of Atlanta, for example, has turned all street vending over to a monopoly contractor. In feudalist fashion, all existing vendors were told they must work for the monopoly or not vend at all.

“Vendors who used to paying $250 a year for their vending site must now hand over $500 to $1,600 every month for the privilege of working for the monopoly,” wrote Bob Ewing in The Freeman.

The arguments attempting to  justify these regulations usually rest on the tired canard that they are necessary in order for the government to ensure public safety.  These protectionist measures, often written by lobbyists solely for the benefit of their business interests, offer only a veneer of security but with no real substance.  As an example, my wife came down with a nasty case of  food poisoning during our rafting trip after partaking in a Vegas buffet.  This was not from some shady street vendor, but at a first class casino/hotel.  A number of our fellow rafters on the trip empathized with her situation because they had once gone through the same thing.  Why have so many people contracted food poisoning if the government is truly keeping us safe?

Fortunately, the internet is enabling an end-run around these stifling restrictions by providing people with a method by which to take part in the sharing economy.  From taxi services to teacher lesson plans to home restaurants, the sharing economy is transforming the ways in which people contract for services in the digital age.  ReasonTV has an excellent video series highlighting the pioneers who are inventing better methods for connecting customers to providers while the government and their cronies do their best to try and shut them down.  Governments hate progress.  They are forever trying to maintain and regulate the past while the market finds new ways to bring people together for mutual benefit.

I recommend watching all of the videos, but embedded below is the one that is most relevant to this discussion.  Maybe the next Mattie Jones will develop their skills and reputation though Eatwith and then use crowdfunding to raise the money for their own restaurant.  The potential of the this new technology is tremendously exciting.  Hopefully it isn’t crushed by the heavy hand of government.

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Kelly Thomas

It’s been a few days now since the Kelly Thomas murder case concluded with the jury’s acquittal of the two cops charged.  Their justification for this decision comes down to the following:  the cops were simply doing what they were trained to do.

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It is unlikely they were trained to “smash his face to hell” with the end of a Taser as Jay Cicinelli could be heard boasting in the video after the beating.  But more importantly, what kind of fucked up principle is that!?  As long as they are “trained”, beating a mentally disabled homeless man to death is suddenly OK?  Terrorists are trained to kill people – are they justified because of their “training?”  The difference speaks to the state idolatry that had clearly infected the jury:  because the cops were trained by the state, their actions are somehow legitimized.  People usually understand that murder is wrong, but for some reason, when done by a state-sponsored actor it is perceived as OK.  It’s not.

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Clearly cops aren’t very intelligent, but this does not mean that they should be treated as mindless drones who are slaves to their programming.  They should be able to understand right from wrong and when they fail to do so, be held accountable.

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To come to their verdict, the jurors would have had to subordinate their own innate knowledge of human decency and morality to the doctrine of the state-uber-alles. I believe that getting people to do this is one of the primary functions of government schools.  Just as military boot camp breaks a person down to then rebuild him as a killer, government schools train students to disregard their own values and instead be obedient servants of the state and to defer unquestioningly to authority.  As long as the murderers were clad in official fashions and wore the appropriate costume jewelry, all is well, nothing to see here.

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It’s important for people to understand that the job of a jury is not simply to judge whether or not a particular law was broken or if a government official followed procedure, but also to follow their conscience to  judge whether a particular law or procedure is just.  This is one of the most important ways in which the average citizen can have their voices heard – it is called jury nullification.  This jury failed in their duty.

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Contrasts

It is amazing to me that certain otherwise rational adults actually believe that the police are there to protect them and are willing to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the security of themselves or their loved ones.  They maintain this child-like delusion despite numerous court cases establishing that police have no duty to protect individuals.  Besides, when you call the police, you are basically just hoping that the violent thug that comes is less of a problem than the thug you called them to deal with – sometimes, this isn’t the case.   Even if all cops were angels and wanted nothing more than to protect you, what happens when they can’t get there in time or there are none of them to send?

Compare this story:

With this one…

…this one…

…. and this one (911 Audio):

You might be asking yourself, “Why are proponents of civilian disarmament so heartless?  Why do they believe a disarmed populace is the ideal when that invariably means that innocent people are left to the mercy of those stronger than them?”  I have some thoughts of my own, but let me know what yours are in the comments.

The Beauty of the Free Market

My wife and I recently took a trip to the Meijer Gardens near Grand Rapids, Michigan – it was part of her idea for a nice anniversary weekend getaway.  Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I figured it would be largely similar to other botanical gardens we’ve visited in the past – moderately interesting unless you are a true botanophile.  I’m happy to report that the Meijer Gardens are much more than just a collection of plants – it is a beautiful mixture of architecture, sculptures, and masterful landscaping that exist synergistically to make this a very enjoyable place to visit.

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The Meijer conservatory. Photo courtesy of Meijer Gardens.

As we explored the grounds, I couldn’t help but think how perfectly this place represents the difference between the public and private sectors.  The Meijer gardens, like The Henry Ford (my favorite museum), operates without any government funding.  Their revenue is provided entirely by privately funded grants, foundations, and individual and corporate gifts.  Because they don’t accept money that was taken through coercion, they must ensure that the product they are offering is compelling enough that people would be willing to freely part with their money for the experience.  To that end, they have found a way to integrate artwork into the landscape in a way that enhances each.

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Beautiful landscaping enhances the artwork throughout the park. Photo courtesy of Meijer Gardens.

Further highlighting the difference between public and private, in the fall, when the flowers are no longer out, the gardens are transformed by the addition of glass sculptures.  Instead of packing it up and calling it a year, they’ve found a compelling and creative way to extend the visitor season.  In addition, the gallery adjacent to the conservatory features works by different artists on a periodic basis while the outdoor amphitheater offers evening musical entertainment generating an additional revenue stream.

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Moving sculpture changes with the wind.

A testament to the success of this model is the fact that as other museums have come begging, hat-in-hand, to the taxpayers for help, the Meijer Gardens is in the process of a major expansion.  Construction is currently under way for a massive Japanese garden area scheduled to open in 2015.

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Guns at the Movies

If you see a gun:

  1. STOP!
  2. Don’t Touch.
  3. Leave the Area.
  4. Tell an Adult.

These are the four steps taught to students of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program and is good advice that every child should be made aware of.  Whether you are a firearms enthusiast or abhor the very mention of the word “gun”, the reality is that these tools are ever-present in our society and as such, we have a responsibility to teach young people how to stay safe around them. 

“But I would never allow my child to be in a place where they might be around guns!”, I can almost hear the anti-gun people saying.  Well, even the most fervent proponent of civilian disarment will typically argue that only police and military should be able to carry firearms.  As long as police are able to freely carry, you have the possibility of one of them leaving a loaded gun in a place easily accessible to children

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Fortunately, the nine-year-old boy who found a cop’s loaded gun in the bathroom of a movie complex knew what to do.  As his father is a concealed-carry permit holder and clearly more responsible than the average cop, I have no doubt that this topic was previously addressed with his son.  I highly encourage all parents to talk to their kids and teach them the four steps listed above – you never know when they may be useful.

Update 7/9/13:

New York trooper leaves gun in a park bathroom.

Pennsylvania cop leaves his duty belt containing his duty gun, taser, and spare magazines on his truck as he drives off.  Gun and taser go missing.

US marshalls lose at least 42 guns in five years.

GMO – Government Mandated Obedience

A common criticism of free-market capitalism is the supposed tendency for large corporations to trend toward monopoly to the detriment of the consuming public.  To the contrary, Austrian school economists have shown that an enduring monopoly cannot possibly exist in a truly free market.  As long as there are no legislative barriers to entry, a privileged firm is always at risk of losing it’s position due to new entries into the field.  In reality, monopolies are formed through carefully crafted regulations or legislation that shields favored companies from competition and creates barriers to entry for newcomers.  As Murray Rothbard points out, the original definition of monopoly, as articulated by seventeenth-century jurist Lord Coke, is:

A monopoly is an institution or allowance by the king, by his grant, commission, or otherwise . . . to any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate, for the sole buying, selling, making, working, or using of anything, whereby any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate, are sought to be restrained of any freedom or liberty that they had before, or hindered in their lawful trade.”  – Man Economy and State, pg 668-669

Far from being the consumer’s advocate, government, itself a “monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area”*, is actually the great enabler of nefarious corporate interests.

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An example of this dynamic has recently been demonstrated when the president signed the Monsanto Protection Act in late March.  Monsanto, already the recipient of government-granted monopoly privileges (a.k.a. patents), has enhanced its favored position by successfully lobbying for protection from lawsuits related to its GMO seed products.   It’s a delicious irony that see those crunchy Obama supporters who have been sounding the alarm over GMOs, and are normally enthusiastic cheerleaders for government force, attempting to resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by this latest governmental overreach.

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Incidentally, there is a name for an economic system in which the “government administers a capitalist system with an immense bureaucracy” and “quasi-private companies enjoy vast privileges at our expense.”  See here.

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* Murray Rothbard, Anatomy of the State

Additional Reading:

Leaked cables reveal that US diplomats establish policy based on orders from Monsanto.

Psychotropic Drugs and Violence – Is There a Better Way?

Unless you are completely incapable of recognizing patterns and have instead been diligently absorbing typical mainstream talking points, you no doubt have noticed the striking correlation between psychiatric drug use and violence.  Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, and former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, have attempted to bring attention to this phenomenon.  The number of cases of extreme violence committed either after beginning these drugs, or after stopping them, are legion.  In every one of the recent well-publicized shooting incidents, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, even Columbine, psychotropic drugs appear to have played a role.  But the question remains, with the risks of SSRIs being well established, are there any alternatives that are effective but safer?

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As with any problem, it helps to first understand the mechanisms underlying the issue.  SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.  In a very basic sense, these drugs attempt to boost circulating levels of the serotonin neurotransmitter by preventing its reabsorption in the brain.  What are the symptoms of low serotonin?  From the Mood-Type Questionnaire in The Mood Cure by Julia Ross:

  • Do you have a tendency to be negative, to see the glass as half-empty rather than half-full? Do you have dark, pessimistic thoughts?
  • Do you really dislike the dark weather or have a clear-cut fall/winter depression (SAD)?
  • Are you often worried and anxious?
  • Do you have feelings of low self-esteem and lack confidence? Do you easily get to feeling self-critical and guilty?
  • Do you have obsessive, repetitive, angry, or useless thoughts that you just can’t turn off – for instance, when you’re trying to get to sleep?
  • Does your behavior often get a bit, or a lot, obsessive? Is it hard for you to make transitions, to be flexible? Are you a perfectionist, a neatnik, or a control freak? A computer, TV, or work addict?
  • Do you really dislike the dark weather or have a clear-cut fall/winter depression (SAD)?
  • Are you apt to be irritable, impatient, edgy, or angry?
  • Do you tend to be shy or fearful? Do you get nervous or panicky about heights, flying, enclosed spaces, public performance, spiders, snakes, bridges, crowds, leaving the house, or anything else?
  • Are you hyperactive, restless, can’t slow down or turn your brain off?
  • Have you had anxiety attacks or panic attacks (your heart races, it’s hard to breathe)?
  • Do you have facial or body tics, or Tourette’s?
  • Do you get PMS or menopausal moodiness (tears, anger, depression)?
  • Do you hate hot weather?
  • Are you a night owl, or do you often find it hard to get to sleep, even though you want to?
  • Do you wake up in the night, have restless or light sleep, or wake up too early in the morning?
  • Do you routinely like to have sweet or starchy snacks, wine, or marijuana in the afternoons, evenings, or in the middle of the night (but not earlier in the day)?
  • Do you find relief from any of the above symptoms through exercise?
  • Have you had fibromyalgia (unexplained muscle pain) or TMJ (pain, tension, and grinding associated with your jaw)?
  • Have you had suicidal thoughts or plans?

These seem to be pretty common problems, no?  With a large pool of potential customers, is it any wonder that heaps of money are poured into the marketing of these drugs?  As I mentioned, SSRIs are thought to boost serotonin levels by basically recycling old serotonin.  But why try to keep the old stuff circulating around?  If the body is failing to produce adequate quantities of serotonin, why not enable it to make what it needs?  To do this, first you must start with the amino acid tryptophan which comes from protein-rich foods.  Tryptophan is first converted into 5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which is then converted to serotonin which is eventually converted into melatonin at night to facilitate sleep.  Supplementation with either tryptophan or 5-HTP has been shown to be more effective in boosting serotonin levels than SSRIs and they do it with far fewer if any side effects.  From The Mood Cure (my comments added in italics):

  • In studies comparing 5-HTP with Luvox, a potent antidepressant drug similar to Prozac but more popular in Europe, (1) 5-HTP improved 68 percent of depressed patients as compared to 62 percent of those on Luvox, (2) both 5-HTP and Luvox improved depression levels about 50 percent, but 5-HTP has an 11 percent lower failure rate than Luvox.
  • In another study, 5-HTP eliminated anxiety symptoms in 58 percent of patients as opposed to 48 percent on Luvox.
  • In terms of side effects, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft cause sexual dysfunction in 50-75 percent of users, while 5-HTP studies show no sexual dysfunction and few other side effects.  In one study, 5-HTP had fewer side effects than the placebo!
  • 5-HTP raised serotonin levels 540 percent, compared with Paxil’s 450 percent and Prozac’s 150-250 percent.
  • Between 50 and 60 percent of former SSRI takers relapse into depression, OCD, SAD, PMS, insomnia, bulimia, aggression, addiction, anxiety, and panic unless adequate tryptophan is made available.
  • Exercise alone can raise serotonin levels nicely.  A ninety-minute walk can increase levels by 100 percent.  A daily forty-minute walk prevents relapse into depression (after a successful round of SSRI taking) twice as well as does taking Zoloft.  Because the working muscles can use other amino acids for fuel and repair, but not tryptophan, exercise works by increasing the concentration of tryptophan in the blood and allowing it to pass freely through the blood-brain barrier.

So thoughtful supplementation and exercise are more effective than prescription medications that have potentially dangerous side-effects.  You might be wondering, if it’s really that simple, why don’t more people know about this?  If there was any money in marketing cheap supplements and strolls around the neighborhood, I’m sure they would.

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Dietary Considerations

It’s very trendy nowadays to adopt a vegan diet for its purported health benefits.  A complete refutation of this diet is beyond the scope of this article, however, it should be clear that if one of the primary raw ingredients for serotonin production is tryptophan, a diet that is low in quality sources of protein has a high likelihood of causing deficiencies.  In addition, vegan diets are typically low in quality fats and cholesterol.  As Lierre Keith explains in The Vegetarian Myth, this is also poses a problem:

Without fat, our neurotransmitters literally can’t transmit.  Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain, the brain that is made up of over 60 percent saturated fat.  The brain’s glial cells play a primary role in cognitive function:  they provide “a substance that allows…synapses to form, and function.  Without this substance your brain would be almost entirely useless.”  The name of this wonder substance?  Cholesterol.

Low cholesterol also means low serotonin levels, which mean depression.  Cholesterol is essential for the brain’s serotonin receptorsIn fact, people on low-fat diets are twice as likely to die from suicide or violent death.  Dr. Beatrice Golomb did a detailed review of all the studies published since 1965 that examined a potential link between low cholesterol levels and violence.  In her opinion, the correlation is causal.

It is now known that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, was a vegan and was likely taking psychotropic drugs.  It’s not a great intellectual feat to recognize the probable sequence of events – vegan diet leads to depressive symptoms,  depressive symptoms are diagnosed as low serotonin, low serotonin is treated with any number of the available psychotropic drugs that have been linked to violence…

Gluten

Another potential cause of behavioral issues is gluten intolerance.  For over 60 years, researchers have observed a link between gluten grain consumption and schizophrenia.  In addition, newer research is showing that  “children born to mothers with abnormally high levels of antibodies to gliadin had nearly twice the risk of developing non-affective psychosis later in life.”  Better add mental health to the growing number of reasons to avoid gluten.

Other “Bad-Mood” Foods

When discussing methods of optimizing health through dietary interventions, it is often more important to focus on what NOT to eat.  In her book, Julia Ross identifies what she call “Bad-Mood” foods.  She provides compelling justification for each food’s inclusion on the list, but for the sake of brevity, I will simply list the primary offenders here:  sugar, white-flour, gluten grains,  industrial seed oils (corn, soy, canola, cottonseed,…), and soy.  In addition, she includes common food additives that are potentially problematic:  caffeine, colorings, aspartame, MSG, and pesticides. 

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is not to claim that supplementation can solve all mental health problems or that psychotropic drugs are incapable of helping in certain situations.  However, it should be clear that when faced with any problem, it is always best to understand the mechanisms involved and attempt to address the root cause.  Based on the preponderance of evidence, I feel that the best way to do this is to first ensure that your body is receiving adequate levels of the nutrients and substrates it needs to maintain health.   It’s my fervent belief that following the evolutionary template by adopting a mostly Ancestral/Paleo/Primal lifestyle will get many people most of the way there.  For the tougher cases, other interventions may be necessary, but low hanging fruit should be picked first.

If you are interested in utilizing any of the supplements mentioned in this article, please read The Mood Cure or seek expert guidance for dosing recommendations as improper use can make certain problems worse.