Why I won’t buy another Apple product

I’ve used the impressive iPhone 4 for some months now and I have to admit that I truly enjoy the integrative features.  But because it was an Apple product, there was only one reason, however, that I bought the iPhone 4 over other products and that is because Logos Software has an “App” that works with it, and that gives me access to an extensive theological library.  But here are my beefs with Apple, things that make the beefs that people had with Microsoft pale by comparison, at least at the retail level where I live.

(1) The iTunes store is monopolistic.  It is a real time monopoly on the sale of applications and no other retailers are allowed to sell.   I shudder to think of what I would do if I wanted to resell an app.  I’ve only ever purchased a single app at $2.99 and iTunes so bungled the sale that I would never ever buy an app from them again.  Here is what happened.  They quoted a US price.  So I used my TD US Visa.  Then, iTunes charged my card in Canadian $$ and my credit card charged me in US dollars. So I was charged three times for the exchange rate (once by iTunes, by Visa, and by my bank when I went to pay).  I WILL NEVER PURCHASE ANY THING EVER AGAIN FROM THE ITUNES STORE.  A $2.99 app cost me $3.49 CDN.  I don’t know how many laws they break every day at the iTunes store, but I will not allow myself to be treated like this ever again.

(2) The people who make the iPhone must be democrats.  You know the kind that don’t believe that want to ban the incandenscent light bulb.  I cannot delete a song from the iPhone itself.  I cannot delete it from iTunes on my computer either.  Why?  Because a few weeks ago I gave away my old computer to which the iPhone was “synced”.  I’ve become physically ill trying to get this damn thing just to delete a song from the iPhone.  I never had a problem like this with an MP3 player, and I’ve own several.  You can change things on MP3 players from any computer–most store the songs as a universal USB storage device.  Even the Creative Zen allowed you to sync with more than one computer.  I don’t know what kind of sick Nazi control-freak mentality goes into restricting clients from deleting songs from the iPhone, but this is something that I just can’t live with.

When this iPhone dies, I won’t be buying another unless Apple fixes these problems.  But then I don’t hold out any hope at all.  But by the time this phone dies, Logos software will be available on other smart phones.  I honestly don’t understand the Apple craze.  Sure the product itself is nice and reliable.  But I can’t be treated this way.  Yet millions of people who are repeat customers are like lemmings walking into the sea, compliant customers who allow a company to mistreat them.

Au revoir Apple.

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Havilah, where there is gold : a post-Sinaitic theology of gold

The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. Genesis 2:11-12

Economist Nouriel Roubini says that gold has no intrinsic value.  He like many others, including Warren Buffet, take a utilitarian approach whereby the value of something is only what the market will bear at any given moment.  So in a Black Swan event, such as when all are dying of famine, a bag of gold could potentially buy a loaf of bread to stave off starvation.  In such cases, gold is only worth what people are willing to trade for it–so the thinking goes.

Others argue that silver is a better investment because at least silver has an industrial use.  But the gaping hole in this entire utilitarian argument is it misses an important aspect of gold: its aesthetic value.  Now, aesthetics is about an appreciation of beauty.  The gold-has-no-intrinsic-value cult thus downplays the ornamental and the artistic value of gold in jewelry, in works of art, and in religious artifacts. But since the dawn of history, these qualities have made gold one of the most desired elements in creation.  I would argue further, that God actually created gold to have this aesthetic value.  But let’s not make the opposite mistake as Roubini et al. and downplay the utilitarian value of gold.  Genesis 2.11-12, the first mention of gold in the Bible is making an implicit statement about why God created gold.

My very first undergraduate class in Bible was on the Pentateuch.  Prof. Darrel Hobson at Northwest College taught that the theology of the entire Pentateuch was post-Sinaitic.  If Moses is the essential author of first five books of the Bible–a traditional view–then he wrote everything from the vantage point which occurs after the Exodus and after his experience of God’s presence at Mt. Sinai.  The Creation narrative tells us that God made the heaven and the earth and everything which is in them.  He thus made the gold of Havillah and that gold was good–like everything else he created (see Gen 1).

This says something implicit about the function of gold in Moses’ time.  In those days, gold had its obvious aesthetic value to make beautiful things.  But it was also used as money.  Therefore, Genesis 2.11-12 implies that the utilitarian function of gold as a intermediary of exchange and a store of value, i.e., the monetary use of gold was good and an aspect of the creational purpose that God had for gold.

Anarcho-Socialism vs. Anarcho-Capitalism

[This is cross-posted at City of God]

In the wake of the emerging church movement, new attempts to grapple with a Christian approach to economics have become more intensely discussed and put into practice. One of the most popular “third-way” economics, at least in theory, seems to be anarcho-socialism. While, as with most things intellectual, there are variations on this position, there seems to be one or two positions that these variations all hold in common: (1) a labour theory of value, and (2) a dislike of economization and the price-system.

Lurking within many of these positions is a deep suspicion of “private property”. Of course, as with general view of anarcho-socialism, so in the case of private property, there are variations on how it is opposed. Nevertheless, if any sense is to be made of the “socialism” part of anarcho-socialism, some degree of opposition to private property must be present.

Part of the suspicion of private property comes from (1) above. That is, a labour theory of value, most fundamentally, believes that the value of any product must be the same as the value of the input of labour that produced it. By implication, this means if a labourer is paid less by an employer for the production of a good than the employer will make by selling it, so that the employer makes a profit off of the labourer, the labourer is actually being defrauded by the amount that the employer makes in profit. For, as was explained, if the object is worth however much the labour was worth, then there is no room left for an employer to make a profit, unless the employer is simply underpaying the labourer, or else is defrauding the customer.

Austrian economists, the consummate free-marketeers, in response, developed what is called the subjective theory of value (otherwise known as marginal utility theory). The subjective theory of value argues that the value of any product is determined by individual according to their preferences, and that market prices therefore are simply what the buyer and seller can agree on as a mutually beneficial compromise between their two value schemes, leading both to agree that economic exchange is more worthwhile than not exchanging. This fundamental view of value has many implications. It implies that wealth is not a zero-sum game. In any voluntary exchange, in fact, both parties believe they are actually increasing their wealth, simultaneously. It is a win-win situation, because both are getting something they prefer in exchange for something they prefer less. This means that real wealth is created every time a voluntary exchange occurs. It also means that the labour theory’s criticisms of profit are misguided.

The fact is, the existence of profit-making by an employer does not imply that the labourer has been stolen from, because it is entirely possible for a labourer to voluntarily prefer a fixed wage lower than the market price of a product rather than the chance of making the higher profit along with the attendant risks of being an entrepreneur. The labourer prefers a guaranteed wage now to a possible profits in the future, whereas the employer prefers potential higher profits in the future to a more secure income in the present. In the end, some people voluntarily prefer to be employees and have a more reliable source of income, and some people prefer to be their own employers and take on higher risk for the chance of a higher income. In situations like this, employers and employees have a mutually beneficial relationship; no one is being stolen from. Rather, the employer’s profit margin is higher than wage rates because the employer is the one risking his or her own capital; the labourer is not.

Some socialists have also issued criticisms of the principle of economy and of the price system. The former principle basically means just this: it is just a fact of existence that resources are scarce, and so rational agents will act to meet their ends with the least amount of waste possible. Waste, the destruction of wealth, is ultimately a harmful thing in a world where we do not have infinite goods to meet our needs. Rational people perceive this, and so act to avoid unnecessary waste. The converse of this point is that they act in the way they believe is the most efficient to achieve their ends. The price system is simply the social outworking of this principle. As was explained above, prices are just agents communicating to other agents what they think the value of a product is. When a price is agreed upon between a buyer and seller, both are convinced that the product has been appropriately valued, and they believe that they will be benefitted more by what they are receiving than what they are giving away. Socialists (again, as far as I know, some, though perhaps all) have criticized these principles as inhuman. Murray Rothbard, in a 1970 article, “The Death Wish of the Anarcho-Communists”, quotes one socialist making this point:

The anti-rational spirit of anarcho-communism was expressed by Norman O. Brown, one of the gurus of the new “counter-culture”:

The great economist von Mises tried to refute socialism by demonstrating that, in abolishing exchange, socialism made economic calculation, and hence economic rationality, impossible … But if von Mises is right, then what he discovered is not a refutation but a psychoanalytical justification of socialism … It is one of the sad ironies of contemporary intellectual life that the reply of socialist economists to von Mises’ arguments was to attempt to show that socialism was not incompatible with “rational economic calculation” — that is to say, that it could retain the inhuman principle of economizing. (Life Against Death, Random House, paperback, 1959, pp. 238-39.)

But, in response, Rothbard argues that it is in fact the denial of this system that is inhuman:

The fact that the abandonment of rationality and economics in behalf of “freedom” and whim will lead to the scrapping of modern production and civilization and return us to barbarism does not faze our anarcho-communists and other exponents of the new “counter-culture.” But what they do not seem to realize is that the result of this return to primitivism would be starvation and death for nearly all of mankind and a grinding subsistence for the ones remaining.

And it seems hard to deny this counter-argument. For, if an agent did not act in a way that attempted to be efficient with the use of scarce resources, they would lose those scarce resources through continual waste. And if a community of agents could not, or would not, signal to each other what they thought would be the most valuable/efficient use of a particular object would be through a price system, they would have no way of collectively acting in a way that would economize their scarce resources. And eventually, the continual waste of scarce resources would indeed lead straight into “starvation and death for nearly all of mankind and a grinding subsistence for the ones remaining.”

Thus, in the end, it seems that a capitalist understanding of wealth and property is necessary to prevent poverty and death; the principle of scarcity and the need to plan accordingly can be ignored only at our own peril.

With these criticisms made of socialist versions of anarchism, though, there is one valid criticism to be made of some forms of anarcho-capitalism. It seems (at least in my limited forays into their literature) many anarcho-capitalists (usually of the atheistic variety), believe strongly that there exists only one moral wrong: aggression. This means that letting another person starve to death, when you could prevent such an end, and there was no reason not to prevent it, would be perfectly morally licit. Obviously, this sits in stark contrast to the Bible’s command to “love your neighbour as yourself”, especially when it is seen in light of Jesus’ interpretation of it in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is quite clear that our Lord interpreted this fundamental axiom of the Law to require compassion and charity. This does not mean that everyone is required to share their goods in an absolutely equal fashion. In a situation where two people are both well off enough not to need charity, but one is richer and the other is poorer, there is no moral obligation for the richer person to share with absolute equality all of his goods with the poorer person. Absolute economic equality is not a requirement of natural justice. But, that said, human beings have a moral obligation to help our truly needy neighbour, insofar as it is possible for us to help them; this is matter of justice, of the Creator’s moral law, not subjective preference. God will not accept the rationalizations of the atheistic anarcho-capitalists on judgment day.

And so, one could perhaps argue that the only morally permissible type of anarchism is one which affirms two counterbalancing propositions: (1) the ultimate choice over what to do with property should lie with its private owner, not with a community acting coercively, but (2) private owners of property are still morally obligated to help their neighbours when it is possible for them to do so. The decision should ultimately be left with the individual (in the sense that the community should not use violence against them or their property), but the individual is obligated by God to show charity.

So, what does one call this kind of anarchism? Is it capitalistic, because it opposes coercion in exchange, supports the principle of private property, and denies an absolute moral imperative to voluntarily create total economic equality? Or is it socialistic, because it opposes an inhuman disregard for the suffering of others in affirming a moral obligation to show love to our neighbour? I tend to think that, because of the possibilities available for the meaning of the term “capitalist”, it is in fact capitalist. That is, because not all capitalisms deny there are moral obligations to help our neighbour, this “socialistic” principle does not rule out the appropriateness of the term. But maybe others will disagree. I think, however, in the end, this is just a semantic disagreement.

Money in Ancient Egypt

In my study of gold, I’ve tried to find out something about the metal in the most ancient texts.  In doing so, I googled “Gold in Egypt”, and the first hit was a aldokkan.com that made the following claims about ancient Egypt:

The Egyptian government did not maintain or needed any gold treasury, civil servants were paid in food and gifts, money did not exist until the Ptolemaic Period.

The general population did not use any gold in their daily life, and the metal had no economic importance for them.

J. T. McGee has urged  me not to believe everything I read on the Internet, and so I’d better verify the above claims.  The first text that I read that would suggest that money existed in Egypt is Genesis 47:14 (RSV):  “And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought; and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.”  The term for money is keseph (כֶּסֶף), silver, and many ancient Near Eastern texts refer to the monetary use of silver, often measured in shekels–though apparently this was before the invention of coins.  So money existed in Egypt at the time of Joseph many hundreds of years before the Ptolemaic period.

For those skeptical of the historic worth of Genesis, in The Journey of Wen-Amon to Phoenicia (J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET), 25-29), a text dating to the 11th century BC, Wen-Amon travels from Egypt to Phoenicia to buy timber, but has his gold and silver stolen while harbored at Dor to buy provisions.  So clearly, silver and gold had already become money in international trade.  In The Expulsion of the Hyksos (ANET 233-234; 15th cent. BC) , a relatively common ship’s captain recounts his military exploits for which he received on seven occasions a reward of gold.  It would appear from these texts that gold was monetized in ancient Egypt, in the sense that it served as: (1) payment; (2) intermediary of trade; (3) store of value.

Jonathan Lebed and the National Inflation Association: On ending ad hominem attacks

In my last post, “Why Warren Buffet is Wrong about Gold”, which was published first by Mich at Beating the Index, I mentioned that the National Inflation Association (NIA) had decried the massive silver short position that banks, especially J. P. Morgan, had taken. J.T. McGee, 21 year old blogger and college senior, wrote:

The National Inflation Association is a joke, and it is run by a man who has been convicted on pumping and dumping stocks. He’s back at it again, this time he just takes in fees to pump stocks to his newsletter subscribers. Do a search for “Lebed.”

I knew that NIA was using its position to pump their stock choices, mostly junior silver miners.  Whether they are guilty of pumping and dumping is nevertheless unverified and there have been no convictions.  You may as well put me, Mich, and especially Eric Nuttal–for that matter just about every financial blogger in jail because we’ve all pumped our stock choices, and we make decisions to dump–which just means to sell–based upon our target prices.  We all hope that our stocks go up and that we can sell at a huge profit, and if our promotion of the stock helps, well, ain’t that just too bad?

Nevertheless, I did some research on Jonathan Lebed and his relationship to NIA.  Lebed is famous because  at the age of fifteen he settled out of court with the SEC who accused him of a pump and dump scheme whereby he would promote stocks on his website and through Yahoo bulletin boards (pump) and sell them after the suckers who read his recommendations bought in and pushed up the price (dump).  The SEC settled with him for a $285,000 of his earnings but let him keep $500,000.  In a well-researched and balanced article about the subject, Michael Lewis brings up some serious questions about the Lebed case.  He portrays Lebed as a kind of wiz-kid investor who was trading himself to a fortune already as a teenager but whose techniques of promoting his picks drew the ire of the SEC.  The article is an entertaining and informative read.  At one point Lewis asked for a statement from Lebed about the SEC accusations and their attack on him; Lebed responded with a four-page e-mail that began:

I was going over some old press releases about different companies. The best performing stock in 1999 on the Nasdaq was Qualcomm (QCOM). QCOM was up around 2000% for the year. On December 29th of last year, even after QCOM’s run from 25 to 500, Paine Webber analyst Walter Piecky came out and issued a buy rating on QCOM with a target price of 1,000. QCOM finished the day up 156 to 662. There was nothing fundamentally that would make QCOM worth 1,000. There is no way that a company with sales under $4 billion, should be worth hundreds of billions. . . . QCOM has now fallen from 800 to under 300. It is no longer the hot play with all of the attention. Many people were able to successfully time QCOM and make a lot of money. The ones who had bad timing on QCOM, lost a lot of money.

This perceptive response from 15-year old shows remarkable insight into a problem.  The real issue is to ask the question why the SEC was going after some high school kid who used alternate media to promote his stocks, when big names on Wall Street do the same using major media outlets and made billions of dollars?  Is it just because he’s a kid and therefore is not allowed to inform others of his opinion?  We all love Eric Nuttall, but every time he goes on BNN and promotes his stock picks we notice on the next market day a serious surge in the share price of his longs and a painful plunge of his shorts.  Shouldn’t he be fined and imprisoned for expressing his opinion?  Yet by all accounts, his pump and dump has many times greater effect on the oil and gas market than anything Lebed could have done on Yahoo boards and with his pathetic little website.

There is a principle in law that goes back at least to Jesus–one should not go after minnows when there are whales to be caught–or as Jesus himself said while criticizing the Pharisees and the legal experts of his own day (Matt 23.24):  “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”  Nowadays, there are so many laws that governments could probably throw us all in jail and throw out the key, as Stalin’s chief of police said, “You show me the man, I’ll find you the crime.” It is incumbent upon government to show self-restraint and wisdom in the application of the law, lest we all find ourselves in federal penitentiaries.  But perhaps it is time for people to rise up and to curtail this arbitrary and capricious power that governments have to whimsically go after anyone that they feel like, while leaving true crooks free to exploit and game the system.  Just a few days ago, I find out that a marathon runner, Charlie Engle, who bought a couple houses goes to federal prison while the folks at Country Wide, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae get a pass.  And why?  Because an IRS agent saw him on a running program on TV and decided that he had reason to suspect that the man had lied on his income taxes!  Beware of fame!

The NIA writes about their association with Lebed,

Jonathan Lebed learned at a young age of 15 years old from first hand experience why Americans should never believe the propaganda that is in the mainstream media. His life experiences made him uniquely qualified to write ‘End of Liberty’ and we believe he did a very good job.

End of Liberty is well-done indeed, and it points out how Americans’ constitutional rights are being abused.  I too have become a victim of the US Federal government, which is currently being run as a criminal organization.  So I have great deal of sympathy for Lebed’s opinions.  Is Lebed a good man?  I don’t know him.  Is he guilty of pump and dump?  Probably, but then so am I, Mich, and Eric Nuttall.  Do I recommend the man?  No.  Do I recommend NIA’s videos on inflation?  Yes indeed, because they are telling a very important story about how the US is going down the tubes.

So I commented to J.T. as follows:

The National Inflation Association does promote stocks. I get their e-mails. I never buy the stocks or even look at their suggestions. I found that there is the broad accusation that they pump and dump but no proof and no convictions. So I will consider your criticism ad hominem guilt by association: The logic is basically that my view is wrong because I cited NIA, which has an association with Jonathan Lebed, and both the NIA and Lebed pump and dump and therefore their information can’t be trusted. But it doesn’t deal with the substance of the issue, i.e., how big is the short silver position of the banks.

I find that many people today feel that its ok to shoot down your position by simply associating it with some kind of nefarious or criminal activity–this is classic case of ad hominem and guilt by association.  I would simply respond that when it comes to NIA, you’re gonna hafta do better than that.  When you should be attacking their views on gold and inflation, you instead attack their character.  J.T.’s argument was not substantial on this point but even after I pointed it out, he denied the logical fallacy and continued in his line that they were fear-mongering about inflation.  Well, I happen to agree with NIA and the fear-mongering, for we all need to prepare for Weimar America.

In conclusion, Monty Pelerin writes about ad hominem: “Ad hominem attacks are not refutations of ideas, merely the refuge of scoundrels promoting a logically indefensible agenda.”  Those like NIA, who offer opinions against the mainstream media and the criminals in Washington, will be subject to character assasination.  This should not bother us if our opponents cannot refute the basic arguments.

So without further ado, here is Jonathan Lebed’s (writer) video, The End of Liberty: