Monday, February 18, 2008

That frond is not yours...

From what I've read in numerous places online, there seems to be rampant American disgruntledness (is that a word?) regarding Dubai's exorbitant wealth in specific and the decadence of certain Gulf societal segments in general. I first noticed it a little over a year ago when a certain email was forwarded to me. This was one of those emails that is of such interest to people that it is forwarded thousands of times and makes its way seemingly around the entire internet. As proof of its popularity, I have received the same email (with slight variations) about half a dozen times since then, from contacts that have just now seen it and are continuing to forward it on.

Anyway, the email I am referring to is about the Dubai megaprojects. All the big poster-projects that have put Dubai on the map are listed in this email, including The Palms, The World, Dubailand, Burj Al-Arab, Burj Dubai, The Waterfront, Ski Dubai, etc etc etc. For each project, there is a picture (usually an artists rendition) and a small caption detailing the hype and fascinating statistics of the project depicted above it. So, as you read through the email you get a taste for the stunning things going on in Dubai and the projects are indeed so ambitious and impressive that the result, I believe, on many people is to make them... jealous. When certain Americans see these amazing things being built not in the great United States but rather in some unheard of "emirate" in the Middle East, there is a notable component of jealousy in their reaction.

At the bottom of the email, after one reads about and sees all the incredible projects in Dubai, is always some commentary. This commentary is very sarcastic and elitist, and reads something to the effect of, "you're paying $3 per gallon so the Arabs can ski in the desert!" While this snide remark is obviously made in jest, the inference is that the only reason all these amazing projects are happening is because THE AMERICANS are spending so much money on oil.

This allows the jealous Americans to feel that they are still somewhat responsible for the blossoming oasis that is Dubai. By tying all of Dubai's success to oil profits, it removes credit from the numerous individuals and corporations that actually built the projects and gives credit back to the Americans. It lessens the guilt Americans feel for not building these megaprojects themselves (to understand why America is not building great things, read my other posts). Whenever a new skyscraper goes up in Dubai, Americans waive it off by pretending its really their own money with which it was constructed. Every floor of the latest 110-floor tower equates directly to the last several refills at the pump. One can almost point to a specific frond on The Palm Jumeirah and claim, "that's the one I paid for!"

Well I hate to break it to you, America, but you didn't pay for that frond. You paid for a barrel of petroleum. You bought a product, a gallon of gasoline refined from oil, and you paid a specified price to obtain it. The deal ended there. You got your gasoline, the refinery made some profit (as did the gas station and a thousand others in the supply chain) and thus the deal concludes. All you can claim credit for is the gasoline you acquired and the resulting benefits you derived from it.

Credit for the megaprojects in Dubai should be given where credit is due. The investors who risked millions on crazy ideas, the entrepreneurs who opened up new avenues of business, the artists and architects who designed the projects, and the Government in Dubai which has realized - more than the American Government - that open trade results in great things.

So, Americans, keep enjoying your Dubai megaproject emails. Sit back in your comfortable mediocrity, keep allowing the US Government to rob you of your wealth, and keep pretending it will move you forward. Meanwhile, places like Dubai, which increasingly allow markets to operate without the interference of the misguided democracy, will simply pass you by as Obama coaxes you into serfdom. The frond is not yours.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

American Wahhabism

The term "Wahhabism" refers to a sect of intensely strict Islam, most famously practiced in Saudi Arabia (although it is not isolated to that one country). Wahhabism was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, who preached against "moral decline and political weakness." The result is that in places like Saudi Arabia there is a governmental "Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice." The name well describes the purpose.

So, in light of the above, I was reading an article on CNN's World edition about how this Virtue and Vice committee bans Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia. Not only is it illegal to celebrate the holiday, but it is illegal to sell any red or pink Valentine's items (such as cards, balloons, flowers, candy, etc.) Non-marital "love" is seen as wrong, and thus the Saudi Virtue Committee bans any symbols of love for Valentine's. Pretty crazy, huh? Realize that this is not just a case of the Government not recognizing a holiday, but rather SENDING TO JAIL those who celebrate the holiday in any way, no matter how discreetly and privately.

Now, you probably think it is absolutely absurd that the Saudi government has made the celebration of Valentine's day illegal. And, if you are thinking this, you are correct! It is completely absurd and utterly immoral. But ask yourself, why do you think it's absurd? Why is it wrong for the Saudi government to criminalize Valentine's Day, pink balloons, and love cards? Think about the answer to this question for a minute before proceeding.

The reason that I personally think Valentine's persecution is wrong and absurd is because I don't believe the Government, any Government, has a right to enforce morality on people. At first, most Americans would agree with me. But unfortunately, most Americans also support an American Government that is engaged in the EXACT SAME ABSURDITIES as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

While America calls itself a "free country" and chastizes Saudi Arabia for enforcing moral codes, the reality is that the American Government enforces numerous moral codes itself. It is hypocritcal for Americans to condemn the Saudis for moral policing when, in America, it is illegal to swear on the radio, it is illegal to study stem cells, it is illegal to clone humans, it is illegal to smoke marijuana, it is illegal for women to walk around topless in public, it is illegal for gays to get married, it is illegal to eat trans fats in New York City, and even the very currency states that it is "In God" which Americans trust. All these rules and standards are nothing more than moral codes enforced upon the public by the Government, just as in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps it is a majority of people who support these American rules and thus what right do I have to decry them? Well... perhaps a majority of Saudi's support the banning of Valentine's day and the stoning of women who commit adultery? The assertion that rules are valid simply because a majority of people support them is ludicrous. Certainly the majority of "bad" rules throughout history had popular support at one point or another. Was slavery ethical simply because most people voted that way?

The only ethical standard by which "right" and "wrong" should be judged is the extent to which involuntary exchange has (or has not) taken place. Whenever there is an involuntary exchange, there is a crime. The extent of the involuntary exchange should dictate the extent of the punishment. Voluntary exchanges are not crimes, because no person has been harmed by anyone except, perhaps, by themselves... and no person has the right to punish another for damage they do against themselves.

For example, stabbing someone should be a crime because the victim was involuntarily forced to give up his health. Stabbing yourself should not be a crime, however, because the loss of health was voluntary. Rape should be a crime because the victim is involuntarily forced to give up part of their body. Stealing gasoline should be a crime because the exchange of goods is not voluntary. Buying gasoline should not be a crime, however, because the exchange was agreed upon by both parties.

Judging by this standard, none of the above American rules should be considered crimes and thus they are simply "moral codes" being enforced by the Government (funded, ironically, by involuntary exchanges in the form of taxation). Likewise celebrating Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia should not be a crime, either.

Whether a Government is forcing citizens to not marry if they're gay or not buy pink balloons because they're not married, it's difficult to deny that both are simply the enforcement of moral codes upon the population. When gays marry, no involuntary exchange has taken place. Likewise, when pink balloons are purchased, no involuntary exchange has taken place. No crime has been committed in either situation, yet the Governments of America and Saudi Arabia insist on regulating the activities.

If you oppose the jailing of pink balloon salesmen and the stoning of Saudi women, in order to be logically consistent with yourself you must also oppose the jailing of marijuana salesmen and the censorship of radio language. It may be uncomfortable to realize this, but hypocrisy is uncomfortable for a reason. Both America and Saudi Arabia have a Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Both America and Saudi Arabia practice their own form of Wahhabism.

Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student and blogger in Riyadh, in response to the Valentine's article, told CNN:

"I think what they are doing is ridiculous," said Al-Omran, "What the conservatives in this country need to learn is something called 'tolerance.' If they don't see the permissibility of celebrating such an occasion, then fine -- they should not celebrate it. But they have to know they have no right to impose their point of view on others."

Brilliantly stated, Al-Omran. Unfortunate that it is so hard for people, both in Saudi Arabia and in America, to accept it.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rhetoric and Meaningless Blathering



As we head into Super Tuesday, all candidates are campaigning in full force (force is a fitting word to use when discussing politicians). In New Jersey, on Monday, Obama was making an appearance for this very reason. Here is a quote from this appearance, taken from CNN.com:

"I have said repeatedly that this campaign is about bringing people together. And for me to be able to bring a Patriots fan to the Meadowlands the day after the Super Bowl is like bringing the lion and the lamb together," Obama said. "We can bridge all gaps and all divisions in this country."

Now, I understand that this was probably said during a lighthearted introduction, helping Obama break the ice whereafter he followed up with meaningful discourse. But, come on! His campaign is about "bringing people together???" And this is something he says repeatedly? Is this one of his platforms... bringing people together?? What a bunch of mindless rhetorical garbage. And what does that mean, to bring people together? Does it mean that Obama has helped individuals who used to have differing opinions to now unite under one set of specific policies? Or, does it simply mean that Obama is so vague in his platforms that few people can honestly say they disagree with anything he says. I don't predict that Obama will ever be able to "bridge the gap" that I feel with him and all the other politicians who yearn to "help" me precisely because they want to use force, not voluntary choice, to do rediculous things like "bring people together."

Obama, of course, is not alone in this type of meaningless feel-good slurry. All the politicians do it to some extent (Ron Paul least of all). Obama and Hillary are the worst on the Dems side and Romney the worst on the Reps side. Interesting that those candidates are also the frontrunners. I guess the public just wants to feel good when they listen to politicians. They want vague, comfortable messages that are uncontroversial and friendly-sounding. Oh, and let's follow up the "bringing people together" line with a Super Bowl referrence to back up our point! You can't argue with the Super Bowl.

When half of our wealth is forcefully confiscated by the Government, the fact that people sit around smiling contently as they listen to comforting rhetoric from charismatic politicians is just disgusting to me. It's easy to tell a group of your fans that you're bringing people together. But it's the politician that tells me he'll leave me alone that will get my vote.
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Monday, February 4, 2008

Wal-Mart Thoughts

This poster should read:

-PROPAGANDA-
"Hippies pretend it's bad but can't wait to use it themselves"

To properly discuss the dynamics and impacts of Wal-Mart, much more than a blog post is required. But I wanted to at least write down my fundamental contentions with those who spend their time hating, what is essentially, capitalism. Wal-Mart has become an icon for everything people want to hate about capitalism and the more successful Wal-Mart becomes, the easier it is for disgruntled individuals to despise everything it does.

To those unfamiliar with the battle raging over Wal-Mart, there are two major branch issues. In this post I will just be addressing the first one.

1) It destroys small town-life and puts “Mom & Pop” stores out of business.
2) It treats its employees so poorly that outrage is required.

The story goes that first Wal-Mart gets it’s greedy sights on a new town. It then moves in, taking up a huge lot, and within months it puts numerous stores out of business because they cannot compete. Then, the workers at those closed shops must now find new jobs, and the only company hiring is Wal-Mart, so they are forced to work there in close to slave conditions. In this way, Wal-Mart destroys the town, putting family businesses out of work and then paying the population close to nothing.

It’s a sad tale, to be sure. It was also a sad tale when all the ancient cave diggers were put out of business by the humans who started building houses. Likewise, when big butter conglomerates came along, all those poor family-run butter-churn producers were forced to look for work elsewhere. It was sad when coal miners lost their jobs as machines took over and it was sad when whalers lost their jobs when new lamps no longer used whale oil. It was sad when the medieval scribes lost their jobs due to the printing press, it was sad when the typewriter factory was shut down, and it was sad when giant IKEA undercut all the local furniture stores in Europe. Perhaps you’ve also noticed how sad it is that 99% of the farm families have lost their jobs to mega-corporations. Almost everyone used to have a nice, cushy farm job until efficiency and innovation eliminated those jobs as well…

Look, competition is cruel and harsh. It forces everyone to be constantly afraid of losing their jobs and their customers. The result of this over time? Innovation, efficiency, quality, option
s, and WEALTH. The world is made wealthier every time someone loses their job due to a competitor undercutting them. When Wal-Mart comes into a town and puts everyone else out of business (because consumers choose to shop there, I might add) we should cheer and celebrate. It means the town has become more efficient as it is now able to deliver more goods, at lower prices, with fewer people working.

When more wealth is created in society, through innovation and efficiency increases, investment capital becomes available. Entrepreneurs seek out the capital and start entirely new businesses, hiring people to help them build further wealth. For each job lost to efficiency, two more are gained somewhere else. Remember the Earth now has over six billion people, and unemployment in developed, capitalistic societies is generally quite low. Almost everyone that wants a job has a job, regardless of the fact that huge megacorporation are out there undercutting everyone and putting them out of business all the time! In reality, it is in fact DUE to the megacorporations’ ruthless greed that our growing society is able to keep creating more jobs and more wealth seemingly out of thin air. We should all take a moment to thank Wal-Mart, for the economic blessings it provides to society… and all through voluntary interactions (which is more than any “benevolent” Government program can claim).

This brings me to my final and most important point:

If you don’t like Wal-Mart, don’t shop there. It is their choice to offer their product at any price they see fit and likewise it is your choice to purchase or avoid it. If you want Wal-Mart out of your town, perhaps you should take your picket signs over to your neighbor’s house and explain to her that you’d prefer she pay more for her products and spent more of her time running errands. I promise, Wal-Mart will stay out of your town if the population doesn’t ask it to stay.

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[Subject: National ID/Real ID - Political email sent to family 23.01.08, written within context of illegal immigration issues]
---------------
Koert, Kristen, and others,

Regarding a National ID card, it is one of those things that sound so appealing on the surface, but then if you project into the future how such a thing may be used it becomes increasingly frightening. All in all, if there were a National ID
card and it was OPTIONAL/VOLUNTARY, then I wouldn’t be very upset about it. It may help a lot of people and could be a good thing for society. This is true so long as the card STAYS optional. But the purpose of the National ID card when speaking about immigration is totally void if the card is optional. So, you can either have a mandatory National ID card that will help control immigration or you can have an optional National ID card that won’t help immigration issues at all. Usually, the card is spoken of when discussing immigration… so I see little possibility that, if introduced, it would be optional. After all, how many government programs are really optional?

To get into it a bit more philosophically:

The reason the card sounds so good upfront is that as a law-abiding citizen, with “nothing to hide,” there couldn’t possibly be any problem with the Government keeping tabs on you. Hell, if it saves one life, right? The problem is this- If the Card is instituted, and mandatory, then it will grow and grow in the amount of services and situations in which it is used. This is not paranoid “evil-Government” talk. The Card WILL grow and will contain more and more personal information on it. Ever heard of a Social Security number? This number, when introduced, was PURELY to keep track of social security benefits (as the name suggests). However, as with ALL government programs, the SS number grew in importance and was used by more and more government agencies to keep track of more and more information. There was no evil, sinister stuff going on here… just many consecutive advances and probably always with noble intentions. Now, in today’s world, you MUST have an SS number to get a job, a drivers license, a bank account, health insurance, car insurance, home insurance, cable television, online payment accounts, eBay accounts, etc etc etc. I think I even had to provide my SS for a Blockbuster movie rental account. Does anyone think these uses were even contemplated back when SS was introduced??? If you had told people back then that this would happen, they would laugh at you and call you a crazy conspiracy nut.

A National ID card is not so much a perfected drivers license, but rather a perfected Social Security number. It is a perfected method for keeping track of every person. It will start with a name and phone number, maybe some medical information, then it will contain your bank account information, your income information (wouldn’t want anyone cheating the IRS!!), your family history, your purchasing habits (better not buy too many books about terrorism on Amazon… watch out anyone interested in learning anything!) The card will contain more and more and more. Each time a new piece of information is added, it will swiftly pass through congress because “if you aren’t doing anything bad, what harm will it do?” You know what… some day you may do something that is illegal but you may do it for a good reason, or because you think the law is immoral, or because the LAWS CHANGE! Just because you think our laws are fine and dandy now doesn’t mean they will stay that way. For God’s Sake… trans-fats are illegal in New York City now!!!

What WILL happen with a National ID card is this: The Federal Government will end up having essentially limitless information on every person in the nation. They will be able to keep track of your movement, your behavior, your purchases, your interests, your everything. The technology doesn’t even need to get better for this to be a reality. And above all, if the Federal Government saw you as contrary to its intentions in some way, it could simply push a button and erase your entire life. No more bank account, no more house, no credit cards, no cell phone, no internet, no way to prove who you are. In our digital age, it is just that easy. And as the Government grows (which it undeniably will) and we get closer to the Orwellian totalitarian situation, those who finally start waking up and trying to resist will simply be erased from the grid. All because they entrusted their entire life to the Government, one small, well-intentioned step at a time.

If you think I’m being paranoid, take a step back and follow the logic. If you support the idea that you have a right to make your own decisions, so long as you don’t hurt anyone else, then you CANNOT be in favor of a National ID card, not matter how pretty the package is in which it’s delivered. Unfortunately, the National ID card looks like a great idea at first… and most people won’t bother with a thought beyond that.

-Erik

PS to Koert-> If you despise scarves and window tint so much, you should consider the amount of evil done behind closed doors. Should we all get rid of doors as well? Many people have tinted car windows to prevent thieves from seeing valuables within. Anonymity is simply a tool for protection and like all tools it can be used for good or bad purposes.


Wikipedia Article - Real ID Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_ID_Act
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Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Global Warming Hysteria

First of all, check out this screenshot I took to the right. Be sure to open it in a new window so you can read the relevant text. The irony, of course, is that this is a CNN article about the worst blizzard in China and they have a banner ad for their "oh no Greenland is melting" article.

More and more people are accepting Global Warming as a reality and, more importantly, as a GLOBAL CRISIS OF EPIC PROPORTIONS! While it is unfortunate that anyone who questions the mainstream theory on global warming is labelled an "ignorant conservative," I must state my current opinion on the issue. I have not yet been convinced that Global Warming is a threat at all, let alone a CRISIS warranting Government intervention, and here's why:

The MOST imporant element of this issue is that there are actually several different questions that must be addressed. One can find evidence to support both sides of any of these three questions (though that doesn't mean the evidence is always evenly balanced).

Question A) Is the Earth getting warmer?

Question B) Is MAN the primary cause of the increasing temperature?

Question C) Is a warming Earth a bad thing?

The problem with the global warming "debate" is that people don't discuss one of these issues at a time, but rather mash them all up together and spew out whatever statistics sound scary. For example, Pundit A will have evidence showing that the Earth is indeed getting warmer (Question A) and yet Pundit B will respond with evidence showing that Man has little to do with warming (Question B). What needs to happen is for there to be a debate about Question A and ONLY Question A. Once that is resolved, we as a society can move on to Question B, and then Question C only when Question B is resolved. I do NOT want to see another Newsweek cover about the global warming CRISIS until there is first a cover dedicated solely to Question A.

I used to believe that Question A had, in fact, been answered. The scientific consensus seemed to be that the Earth was indeed warming. I had already moved on to Question B, regarding Man's role. However, NOW it seems that there is evidence showing that the Earth has been COOLING since 1998 or so!!! While Al Gore uses statistics showing that the average temperature has increased since 1900, within those same statistics the average temperature is DECREASING since 1998 (though Gore fails to mention this discrepancy). So now I'm back at Question A and will continue to listen to both sides of the argument.

My thesis, if I have one here, is that the world is NOWHERE NEAR ready to be making Governmental policy decisions about global warming. For the Government to take tax money and regulate the world for the sake of "global warming" it must first show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that all three Questions are answered with a "yes." Until then... I don't want to hear any more B.S. about the U.S. not signing the Kyoto Protocol or about fuel standards. The fact that public figures, pundits, and politicians do not discern these very separate questions is why I despise the global warming issue. Only after all three Questions can be answered in the affirmative should we discuss what to do about the "problem," if there even is one.

By the way, to throw in some meaningless anecdotes, Dubai has been quite cold and China is of course having it's worst snow storm in memory. There seems to be plenty of cold in the world... but I'm sure once the snow starts melting in China the Al Gore's of the world will be quick to point out that GLOBAL WARMING must be melting the snow!!!

Global COOLING?!?! AHHHH!!! - http://ibdeditorial.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=287279412587175

-Erik

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