- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Rich and poor

“Every rich person I know hates Wal-Mart. Every poor person I know loves it. They love the cheap milk, the heavily discounted toys, the DVD players they can buy for $30. In fact, in some poor communities, Wal-Mart has actually raised the standard of living by lowering prices so dramatically. …

“Funny thing is, Wal-Mart — whose employment practices are the shame of the retail business — treats their workers much better than a lot of householders treat their domestic workers. Wal-Mart is required by law to pay overtime; most nanny employers don’t do that. Wal-Mart is required by law to pay Social Security taxes on its employees; most nanny employers don’t. Wal-Mart is required by law to provide maternity leave; most nanny employers don’t do that. Wal-Mart’s health-care benefits are shameful — yet I’ve never once met a nanny employer who purchased or contributed to any kind of health-care benefit for her domestic worker. In fact, compared to a lot of professional class women with servants, Wal-Mart is a real prince.”

Caitlin Flanagan, writing on “Wal-Mart vs. Feminists with Servants,” Friday in Slate at www.slate.com

Science of love

“Over the course of history it has been artists, poets and playwrights who have made the greatest progress in humanity’s understanding of love. Romance has seemed as inexplicable as the beauty of a rainbow. But these days scientists are challenging that notion, and they have rather a lot to say about how and why people love each other.

“Is this useful? The scientists think so. For a start, understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people’s ability to form relationships. All relationships, whether they are those of parents with their children, spouses with their partners, or workers with their colleagues, rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties.

“Defects can be disabling, and become apparent as disorders such as autism and schizophrenia — and, indeed, as the serious depression that can result from rejection in love. Research is also shedding light on some of the more extreme forms of sexual behavior. And, controversially, some utopian fringe groups see such work as the doorway to a future where love is guaranteed because it will be provided chemically, or even genetically engineered from conception.”

from “I get a kick out of you,” in the Feb. 12 issue of the Economist

Modern souls

“As traditionally understood, the soul is something that is both within us and yet superior to us, a repository for the most precious (or in some accounts ‘divine’) aspects of us. …

“The idea that we have a soul should, if we can manage to believe it, stop us feeling quite so sad that we must die. …

“As Christian ideas waned in the 18th century, so the theological understanding of the soul underwent a revolution. If the most important part of a person was their soul, but God was receding in significance, then to what would the soul now be devoted? For scientists and doctors, the answer was simple. For most of them, the soul … came to be seen as a touching myth, but nothing more. …

“When Marilyn Monroe wished to show up the moral bankruptcy of the film industry, she articulated a now classic modern understanding of the soul by claiming that Hollywood was, ‘A place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and 50 cents for your soul.’”

Alain de Botton, writing on “Our eternal self, whatever it is,” Feb. 16 in the London Telegraph

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