Friday, March 11, 2011

Where's the money?

I gotta admit, I'm not a big finance or economics sort of person. I'd fall into the general demographic of people just trying to survive, people like you, the reader, you know what I mean. We go to work, get paid, pay our bills, make sure there's food on the table. That's life, right?

So this movie/documentary is made for people like us. The Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, Inside Job, was made so that we understand a little better what's happening to the global economy, how the financial meltdown happened and who's responsible for it. I may not know much, but I definitely have an instinct when things are not the way it should be, and reaffirms the facts that I've known all along, that large corporations are the real criminals and they have the ability to rewrite laws to work in their favor.

For example, when you put your hard earned money in the bank, shouldn't the bank have a responsibility to keep your money in the bank since they are entrusted to do just that? Not anymore. These days with deregulation, the line between banks and investment banks have blurred, meaning they can take your money and invest in wherever they see fit. I always found that to be a problem because as with all investments and their fine prints, they will always state that it is subject to market conditions and their projections are not indications of actual profit. That's how they protect themselves, but who's to protect you?

So when they make money, they issue billions in bonuses, and what happens when they don't? They still issue billions in bonuses. Thanks to large government bailouts. So that means that they lose billions of dollars in taxpayer's money, are not brought to justice, get bailed out, then issue even more bonuses to themselves.

Don't you think there's a better use for that money that can be used to eradicate hunger or develop new vaccines or something other than to line the big fat pockets of these corporate criminals? Don't even get me started on insurance companies that I think fall into the same category. Think about it, you pay insurance so that in case anything happens you are 'covered'. But what happens if nothing happens? Shouldn't they pay you back? Have you ever tried submitting an insurance claim? Let me tell you this, they will try all means and manners to not pay you back, they'd even bring in religion into it, by classifying something as an Act of God, try telling them you aren't religious and see how that goes. It makes sense, because naturally as a large corporation the goal is to retain as much profit as you possibly can, who really cares about you? The average Joe, working day after day just to survive, hoping for the best.

Sad to say when something does happen, Joe's on his own. They may say that economics is a complicated study that we will never be able to understand. But I think at the end of the day if you understand whats right and wrong, that's something these bankers ought to learn from you instead.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Are we ready for mutant fish?

Did you know that they are in the process of building another rare earth refinery in Kuantan, Pahang? What is rare earth, and should we be concerned? Rare earths are elements such as Neodymium that are used to produce electronics, energy saving light bulbs up to your so called 'green' hybrid cars that uses up to 12 to 15 kilos of that stuff. Should we be concerned when they start doing the refinery process here? Definitely. The refinery process produces tons of radioactive waste that they say will be stored in sealed tanks until they can be carted away - but as I quote NY Times '...carted to where? That is the open question.'

Our last refinery operated by Mitsubishi Chemical in Bukit Merah is still the site of the largest radiation cleanup in the rare earth industry (click the link above). Contaminated material that has seeped 25 feet into the ground is still in the process of being cleaned up even after the factory has been closed since 1992. Radioactive material. Have we not learnt our lesson yet?

Taking a look at the corporation's website, you will notice how they deceptively word their company profile. They talk about sustainable development, and a greener environment, but what it really means is that they can sustain the workforce from the generous profits that they will no doubt reap from the industries surging demand for rare earth, and of course their edge is that their materials create products that are eco-friendly, but at what cost?

They estimate that once the facility is up and running they will be able to meet a third of global demand for rare earth, that has until now been dominated by China. So what are their plans to dispose of the radioactive waste? They will mix it with lime, into concrete blocks called 'tetrapods' to build artificial reefs for fish at sea. That according to them will 'comply with environment, and community standards.' But what does that mean? Environment standards are loosely based because there is no governing body that regulates the disposal of this radioactive waste, until of course something catastrophic happens and other agencies step in, and you talk about community standards? The residents are all but too happy to be receiving fat paychecks and an increased quality of life without thinking too much about the after effects of radiation poisoning at their own backyards - so much for community standards.

In a couple years when you catch something weird on your fishing trip, don't say you haven't been warned.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Two is one, one is none

While some might find my state of readiness bordering on a slight extreme, I'm meeting more and more people who share the same train of thought. The fact of the matter is that we cannot be prepared enough, no matter what we do, all we can hope for is that we did our best and that we didn't have our heads in the sand.

By acknowledging that we are not perfect individuals, and understanding that from the get-go, we will essentially have placed ourselves in the correct mindset for success. Centuries ago, Socrates said that 'The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing' and that holds true today in a world where everybody thinks they are the best, that they are superior, but where did that mentality come from? Perhaps we were taught to be competitive at an early age. Schools, sports, competitions train us to be better than the other person so that we can excel in life - but at what cost?

We end up becoming uncaring, selfish, and in the end feel as if we are more superior because of our achievements. But if we really are that great, then where is the failure point? You see, by not acknowledging that we have a failure point, we stop testing ourselves, we stop believing that things will go wrong, because we think that we can overcome anything. The truth is, everyone has a failure point, everyone breaks, and realizing that sooner rather than later, might be the most valuable lesson in life.

No matter if we are talking about people or devices, everything has a failure point, its Murphy's law that everything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point. Thus the saying, two is one, one is none. But what does that really mean?

It's a saying that applies mostly to military or law enforcement officers who rely on their duty gear everyday, but it can apply to us as well. Think of something that you need to use everyday that will be carried with you wherever you go, and then think about what will happen if you lose that item. Will your life, or quality of life be severely affected if such a thing were to happen? If so, then carry two of them. For example, if I need to use a pen everyday, I will carry two. I will use one pen, that will be my primary pen, and the other one will be a backup pen. The primary pen will serve me well, but the variables of failure will be if I lose it, gets broken, or I run out of ink, at which point, the backup pen will be there as a supplement. So you see, two is one, and one is none.

While that may seem trivial to us civilians, I find that adopting this mentality helps as we operate at a higher efficiency level. While other people rely on this philosophy to save their lives, we can always see how we can implement it accordingly. Perhaps one day it could prove to be a lifesaver too.