Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kool Aid is the answer

For some time now I'd been considering a question — not exactly an earth shattering one — which I've only just realized has been answered since long before I was born. The answer is Kool-Aid. You may think that any question whose answer is "Kool-Aid" would be a silly question, but it's merely a geeky question.

I am a fan of flavored water. In our house we drink filtered tap water, bottled flavored water (usually store brand), coffee, and a few juices. After going through a bout of intensive cola drinking after moving from Hungary to Britain in 1994, I simply stopped drinking the stuff in 1998 when my daughter was born. As a household we simply shifted to plain old ordinary water.

A few years ago I discovered unsweetened flavored bottled water. The flavoring (particularly any citrus-like flavoring) made the water seem more refreshing. So each time we go shopping, we pick up a dozen or so plastic bottles of flavored water. It is a regular staple of our household, and the only reason that I don't go through dozens of bottles of it a day is that I don't want to buy that many.

Now let me make it clear that I am not a particular fan of bottled water. I like water in a bottle, but the idea of buying water that gets hauled around in trucks for 1000 times the price of the built-in water delivery system that is in my house just offends my sense of efficiency. (I have neither training as an engineer nor as an economist, but I share their distaste for waste. So I like to think that I think like an engineer or economist.) You can think of this inefficiency in terms of money it costs you or in terms of environmental damage. In this, as in other cases, it works out to be the same.

So, I thought, wouldn't it be nice to just be able to purchase the distilled flavoring that is used for flavored water. It would be much cheaper/efficient to transport and store, and the water I would mix it with would be much fresher than that in a purchased bottle of water. So why doesn't someone go into the business of selling just unsweetened flavoring that I could add to the water at home? Well, Kool-Aid has been around since 1927 doing exactly that. Of course they add food coloring, which I could do with out. But I can live with a little food coloring to save on consuming stall transported water.

So on my next shopping trip, I'll be picking up a few ounces of Kool-Aid instead of a few pounds of water. It will take some experimentation to get the mixture right, and there is always the possibility that no Kool-Aid flavor does the trick, but I suspect that the flavoring that is used in Kool-Aid is pretty much the same flavoring that is used for flavored water.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Voters do need an explanation

One of the many astounding things that Governor Palin said when she announced that she would not be completing her term as Governor of Alaska was,

I think of the saying on my parents' refrigerator that says Don't explain: your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway.

What Palin seems to have failed to grasp is that the world is not divided up simply into enemies and friends of Sarah Palin. There are people who voted for her as governor who may not fall into either category. They, along with every other citizen of Alaska, need an explanation. And more importantly to her future, everyone who will face a ballot with her name on it deserves an explanation.

This failure to try to address people who don't initially agree with her, but aren't (yet) dead set against her will, in my view, be her political undoing. She has a substantial and extremely committed group of supporters. But they are in a minority. She needs to stop insulting east coast elites or everything that isn't part of her vision of the real America if she hopes to win any votes there. Todd Purdum's profile of Palin in Vanity Fair includes many suggestions that she takes an if you're not with me, you are against me approach to people.

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy — and thought it fit her perfectly.

I am not for a moment saying that I agree with these anonymous interviewees. People have a strong inclination to attribute kookiness to those we end up in conflict with, particularly if they have strong personalities. But I do quote that text to suggest that Palin has tendencies in those directions. She tends to divide people up into enemies and friends more than most of us do; and she is lacking in a kind of intellectual empathy, the ability to understand how a reasonable person could hold a different view.

We must remember that she is the person who took an innocent question of where do you get your news from? to be an attack on the remoteness of Alaskans. Righteous indignation is not the appropriate response to questions like that, yet that appears to be how she responds to anyone how offers any kind of challenge to her. Yet that is exactly what we would expect to someone who sees enemies everywhere and can't understand that some challenges to her are in good faith.

I believe that unless she learns to overcome these habits of thinking, her political career is doomed. She may count on a strong base of support from people who don't have to work with her, but she lacks what it takes to build a broader coalition beyond that base of support. And she will find fewer and fewer people willing to work closely with her. Please keep in mind that I am not talking about her successfully reaching out to people like me. We are too far apart in too many ways for anything like that to happen, but she needs to reach out within the GOP. Her no explanations stand will not help her with that.