Category Archives: Commentary

No More Water In Restaurants! California Outdoes New York City In Feelgood Law Contest

For many years, California and New York City have been competing about who can pass the craziest feelgood nanny-state laws and regulations in America. To qualify, such laws must keep bureaucrats and politicians ostensibly busy, so it appears as though they are actually performing a valuable public service. Bold and fearless, our superhero politicians are fighting to save us from one urgent social ill or another! Bonus points are awarded for laws that are unenforceable and inconsequential. Double bonus points if the law’s effects cannot be measured, rationally examined or fiscally accounted for in any way.

New York City was clearly in the lead with the NY SAFE Act of 2013, which among other things prohibits the possession of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. (No official word yet on how many of New York’s criminals have turned in their now illegal gun magazines). The law also required that only 7 rounds could be loaded in each 10-round magazine. (New York gets one point deducted because this provision was struck down by a federal judge in 2013. According to rumors, the court’s concern was that many of New York’s criminals would not be able to count to 7 even if they tried).

This week, I am pleased to report that California is in the lead once again!

We first pulled equal with New York by creating a law requiring porn actors to wear condoms while acting their acts. No word on how this should be enforced, but perhaps “Motion Picture Genital Inspector” will soon be an actual job title. Or maybe law enforcement agencies will need special condom enforcement squads. The future will tell.

But it gets even better! This week, California took the lead by adding a new statewide ban on glasses (or cups) of drinking water being served in restaurants – unless the customer specifically requests it. (You must say: “Waiter, may I please have a glass of tap water?” Waiter: “Certainly Sir, I’ll bring it right away” or “Sorry dude, we’re out of tap water today. How ‘bout some bottled water?”)

Yes, you read that right. Of course, we have a drought here in California. Big draught, big trouble. (But not big enough to induce the state to reexamine its crazy stance on immigration, and its equally crazy industrial agribusiness). You see, California’s industrial, export-oriented agriculture consumes 80% of the state’s water. And, the state has been adding about 1 million new residents per year without actually creating more water resources.

California is North America’s biggest producer of almonds, avocados, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, grapes, lettuce, milk, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, walnuts, and dozens of other commodities. (Source: 2012 Department of Agriculture report (PDF). Only a tiny portion of this stuff could grow naturally in California’s ecosystem – and most of it is exported to other states. This means that drought stricken California is actually exporting huge amounts of water to the rest of North American, and even to Asia.

Someone calculated that for the amount of water used for the irrigation of California’s almond trees alone (they produce a cash crop mostly for export), someone like me could take a 10-minute shower each day. For 86 million years.

Relative to the overall water consumption, water imbibing in restaurants is a microscopically tiny portion. Even if totally prohibited, even if we all stopped drinking water altogether and only drank imported beer – it would make no difference whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, eating out in restaurants is a much bigger culprit, because the restaurant industry is extremely wasteful with water (and food) when compared to home kitchens. And in fact, the law might even have the opposite of the intended effect. If it induces people to order bottled water instead, then there’d be a net increase in drinking water consumption. That’s because filtering and bottling water actually wastes a lot of it. For instance, reverse osmosis, a commonly used process to produce bottled table water, wastes up to 86% of the feed water – only 14% ends up in the bottle.

Well played, California. How can you trump that, New York? Your move!

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Valentine’s Day? Just Say NO!

Love is more important than things.
Kisses are more delicious than gourmet meals.
Relationships are more valuable than mansions.
Peace is more fulfilling than possessions.
Say “No” to Valentine’s Day …
if it is all about expectations and consumption.

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Sunrise in Egypt?

Like most journalists, I have been glued to the news, following the amazing events as they were unfolding in the Middle East (while secretly wishing I was in Cairo myself).

As a technocrat, I believe that this movement, sweeping over an entire region, was only made possible by the new information technologies. There were many factors, but the biggest of all were Internet-enabled, camera-equipped mobile phones in the hands of masses of young and tech-savvy people. The power and consequences of this technology is only now beginning to dawn on the older generation.

It took 18 days to derail a regime of 29 years.

I think the wave’s origins can be traced back to the Iranian elections of 2009. Although the massive protests afterwards were ultimately not successful, this event was a watershed moment and served as a “proof of concept”.

After Mubarak’s ouster today, people were not only celebrating in Egypt. According to BBC reports, there were people dancing in the streets of Tunisia (where Zine Ben Ali’s regime had been forced out weeks earlier). In Lebanon’s capital Beirut, people are setting off fireworks and flying the Egyptian flag. And in the Palestine, people are on the streets, singing the Egyptian anthem, and crowds are flocking to the streets in Jordan. As I am writing this, an avalanche of celebratory text messages is lighting up mobile phones all over the Middle East.

This information-driven movement is clearly not limited to one particular country, nor can it be contained by national borders. It would be a mistake to assume this is the end of it.

What will be next? Who will be next?

For now of course, the military has taken power in Egypt. The question is now whether this will lead to free elections and an independent government chosen by the people, free from foreign influence, based on the rule of law and subject to well regulated checks and balances.

Only then will we know if today’s events were a new sunrise or a sunset in Egypt.

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Calling For Eddie Eagle

In a most tragic incident in the Los Angeles area, a 15-year old girl was shot in the head by an accidental gun discharge on Tuesday. She remains in critical condition and will be marred for life. The same bullet also wounded another student in the neck. It appears that the gun had been brought to school by a classmate, and gone off inside the student’s backpack.

Whenever we have a horrible event like this, it is fashionable to blame the schools, the “easy access to guns”, and to bash gun owner advocates — especially the National Rifle Association (NRA) — for allowing this to happen.

But what I hardly see mentioned is that the NRA is running a superb program warning kids of the dangers of guns. Continue reading

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Why We Must Hire Robots, Not Minimum Wage Workers

I encourage you to watch the following video entirely before allowing me to present my point of view:

As you can see, almost the entire manufacturing process in this film is handled by sophisticated machinery: robots.

I have long argued that instead of exploiting cheap Third World labor and lenient environmental regulations abroad, and instead of importing low wage workers en masse, the European Union and North America should focus on developing robotic manufacturing techniques for all consumer goods. Japan, unwilling to open its borders to foreign workers, is making great strides in this direction and will probably dominate the robotics industry, which it expects to see huge growth over the next few decades.

Robots could free mankind from the burden of most cumbersome, dangerous and boring toils. This would permit a restructuring of society to grant each individual more time for intellectual pursuits and pleasure. This in turn will fuel the education, media, travel and entertainment sectors of our economy, all of which are extremely difficult to outsource to cheap-labor countries.

Continue reading

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Inciting Violence – Who’s Talking?

After the horrendous shooting in Tucson, we now see great hand wringing and tear shedding on Capitol Hill and in the media. All quarters are lamenting the “loss of political civility” and the “culture of violent rhetoric”, which may have a tendency to “incite violence”. No kidding!

Well, folks, here is a selection of quotes from the last month or so. To my knowledge, nobody got fired (or even in trouble) for making these comments:

“Headline: Assassinate Assange? Body: Julian Assange poses a clear and present danger to American national security … The administration must take care of the problem – effectively and permanently.”
JEFFREY KUHNER (Washington Times columnist) [Link]

“Julian Assange is not an American citizen and he has no constitutional rights. So, there’s no reason that the CIA can’t kill him. Moreover, ask yourself a simple question: If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?” – JOHN HAWKINS (Blogger) [Link]

“Headline: The CIA Should Kill Julian Assange” – JOHN HAWKINS (Blogger) [Link]

“Julian Assange is a cyber terrorist in wartime, he’s guilty of sabotage, espionage, crimes against humanity — he should be killed, but we won’t do that.” – RALPH PETERS (U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and author) [Link]

“I do not believe in leaks. I would execute leakers. They’re betraying our country.” – RALPH PETERS (U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and author) [Link]

“Folks like Julian Assange should be targeted as terrorists. They should be captured and kept in Guantanamo Bay, or killed.” – STEVE GILL (radio host) [Link]

“Back in the old days when men were men and countries were countries, this guy would die of lead poisoning from a bullet in the brain.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (radio talk show host) [Link]

“This guy Assange could have been stopped, come on, folks. People have been shot for far less than this.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (radio talk show host) [Link]

“(laughing) Ah, folks, even Greg Palkot of Fox News interviewed Assange, which means that Roger Ailes knows where he is. Ailes knows where Assange is. Give Ailes the order and there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.” – RUSH LIMBAUGH (talk show host) [Link]

“Why can’t we act forcefully against WikiLeaks? Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are?” – WILLIAM KRISTOL (Editor of the Weekly Standard) [Link]

“This fellow Anwar al-Awlaki – a joint U.S. citizen hiding out in Yemen – is on a ‘kill list’ [for inciting terrorism against the U.S.]. Mr. Assange should be put on the same list.” – G. GORDON LIDDY (Former White House Adviser, talk show host) [Link]

“If convicted, [Bradley Manning] should be placed against a wall and executed by firing squad. (If extradited here, Assange deserves the same sendoff.)” – DEROY MURDOCK (Columnist for National Review) [Link]

“I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? …Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago? It’s a serious question.” – JOHAN GOLDBERG (Editor-at-large of National Review Online) [Link]

“I won’t think twice if Julian Assange meets the cold blade of an assassin, and apparently a significant number of others don’t care for the guy.” DONALD DOUGLAS (Blogger) [Link]

Julian Assange should be targeted like the Taliban.” – SARAH PALIN (Former US Vice Presidential Candidate) [Link]

“A dead man can’t leak stuff…This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” – BOB BECKEL (FOX News commentator) [Link]

“[Assange] should be underground — six feet underground. … He should be put in jail or worse, hanged in a public forum.” – ERIC BOLLING (FOX News commentator) [Link]

“Assange is a terrorist, an enemy combatant, and needs to be traed as such.” TODD SCHNITT (Radio Host) [Link]

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Natural Disasters: Prosperity, Technology Save Lives

Only a few days after Hurricane Katrina had washed away New Orleans, its evil sister Rita sent 2.8 million people running from the Houston area. But in the end, Rita turned out to be a dud. The storm refugees (including some personal friends of mine) are already returning.

The nation’s response to Katrina and Rita has been much debated and will be scrutinized for a long time. One wonders how a nation which prides itself on its wealth, technological expertise and power may be reduced to chaos and incompetence in the face of disaster. On the other hand, to put things in perspective, one needs to look at the havoc caused by tropical storms in other parts of the world. In 1942, a hurricane in Bengal, India caused 40,000 deaths. In 1991, a cyclone in Bangladesh killed 139,000. The same country was hit by a cyclone in 1970, which cost 300,000 lives.

While the economic loss from “Katrita” will be gigantic, the loss of human life will be relatively small for storms of this size. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved by the communication system, the traffic infrastructure and above all, space technology which allows the remote tracking and forecasting of storms and makes timely evacuations possible.

Lives saved means survivors who need to be supplied with shelter, security, medicine and food in the short term, and jobs and housing in the long term. These are problems Bangladesh didn’t even need to deal with. There, 300,000 deaths also meant 300,000 fewer people to feed and clothe.

In the case of Katrina and Rita, science and technology have not been able to completely prevent the loss of life. But at least it was minimized dramatically.

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