Sean King

My photo
Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Time to Up the Social Security Age!

Chicago Sun-Times:
Life expectancy for Americans by 2050 will surpass government projections by as much as eight additional years for women and five for men, with disastrous implications for a country unprepared for an explosion of elderly, a new study released today says.

Forty years from now, women will live 89.2 to 93.3 years; and men, 83.2 to 85.9 years — driven by ongoing advances in both treatment of major fatal diseases and slowing of the aging process — according to the report in a journal of health and health policy, The Milbank Quarterly.

U.S. government projections for life expectancy by 2050 now stand at 83.4 to 85.3 years for women; 80 to 80.9 years for men.


And these estimates assume a linear increase in life expectancies! But as more and more medicine becomes digitized, increases are likely to be exponential.

Cracking the Cancer Code

Scientists Crack Genetic Code of Two Common Cancers

Now This Should Give Scientists Something to Think About:

NYTimes.com:
Decode scientists have found one such instance. They report in Friday’s Nature that a DNA variant increases a person’s risk of Type 2 diabetes by 30 percent if inherited from the father, but reduces the risk by 10 percent if comes from the mother.

Because the two effects tend to cancel each other out, they have not been picked up by the standard tests that do not identify the parental origin of each section of DNA.

DeCode found that five of seven variants tested made different contributions to disease depending on the parent of origin. In most cases the effect was of differing degrees of severity, depending on the parent involved.


How odd! I can't imagine why this is the case.

Hmmmmm

sciencedaily.com: Childhood obesity is directly related to how close kids live to convenience stores, according to the preliminary findings of a major Canadian study presented at the Entretiens Jacques-Cartier in Lyon, France.

It's in the Genes

UPI.com: The discovery of a gene linked to a form of hearing loss primarily in males could lead to early treatment, U.S. scientists said.

Christian Pedophiles

A North Carolina judge has ruled that laws limiting a sex offender's ability to attend church are unconstitutional.

Nanotech News

Healthnews.com: Nanosensors Can Successfully Detect Early Signs of Cancer with Simple Blood Test

LATimes.com: Scientific efforts to engineer artificial blood components took two big strides forward this week. On Monday, researchers from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Michigan published a study describing their synthetic red blood cells, which are capable of delivering medicine, oxygen or MRI contrast agents throughout the body.

Avatar in IMAX 3D is...

quite simply one of the most amazingly beautiful specticals I've ever seen. The story line was a little weak, and I thought its portrayal of men was almost comically stereotypical, but the overall visionary experience makes up for it.

If you get a chance to see it, make sure you see it in 3D, and in IMAX 3D it is just...mesmerizing.

Oh, the trailers don't do it justice, so go see it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Colby Cosh profiles...

Steve McIntyre.

Boomtime for Federal Workers

USAToday:
The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.

Societe Generale Tells Clients How to Prepare for Global Collapse

Telegraph.co.uk:
Société Générale has advised clients to be ready for a possible "global economic collapse" over the next two years, mapping a strategy of defensive investments to avoid wealth destruction.

Their basic premise is the same as mine: Debt has achieved unsustainable levels, things won't improve markedly unless we suck it up and deleverage, and there's much that governments can do to screw things up royally in the meantime.

But, "collapse" will only happen if governments are foolish and screw things up (not that this gives much comfort).

Deric O. Cadora critiques...

...the Banking Reform Bill of 2009 that recently passed the House.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ridiculous

Climagegate scientists receive death threats.

That's just nuts. Cummon' folks, this isn't China.

Friday, December 12, 1930:

Bank of the United States was closed by New York banking regulators.

WSJ:

Consumer debt continues to shrink at a record rate.

Rodney Johnson contemplates the significance.


UPDATE:> Barry Ritholz offers some interesting analysis.

Are You REALLY Unemployed?

Watch this to find out:



Sad but true!

Regulating Financial Markets the "China Way"

China executes rogue trader.

Glenn Reynolds scrutinizes...

the Left's increasing use of the "America-has-become-too-big-to-govern" narrative.

But, truth be told, the United States were never really meant to be "governed", at least not in the manner that today's Left uses the word, and at least not by a centralized, federal government. So, to the extent that the country seems so "ungovernable", things are working as intended, I would say.

Steven F. Hayward:

One of the several scandalous revelations of the Climategate e-mails is that this claim of consensus is a lie. Never mind the skeptics: It turns out many of the scientists in the CRU inner circle had doubts and disagreements about their data, methodology and conclusions, and often bickered with one another about defects in their project.

Climategate:

Not just a scientific scandal, it’s a journalistic one.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Healthy and Wealthy Offered Lower Annuity Rates

FT.com:
Pre-retirees living in affluent areas are being urged to shop around for an annuity if they smoke or have a medical condition, as more pension providers introduce postcode ratings.

Canada Life this week became the latest provider to use postcode pricing on its annuity range, with better rates being offered to people who live in less affluent areas because of assumptions about their shorter life expectancy.

Steven Dubner asks...

...why the US ranks 29th in life expectancy.

I think it might have something to do with the fact that, in general, we are far fatter than most, we use illegal drugs far more often, we murder each other at far higher rates, and we drive far more miles per capita per year in automobiles.

Banking Problems

Freep.com:
About 20% of all Michigan-based banks are considered problematic or worse by the bank ratings agency BauerFinancial Inc., another sign of the toll that the deep recession is taking on the state's financial institutions.

At the end of September, 29 of the 141 Michigan-based banks rated by BauerFinancial were considered to be problematic, troubled or worse than troubled. Of those 29, 15 or about half were rated as worse than troubled, BauerFinancial's lowest rating.
***
Bank difficulties aren't limited to Michigan. Nationwide, more than 130 banks have failed so far this year and 552 others have been labeled problem banks by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Here's and excellent post explaining...

...why the historical warming numbers matter, and therefore why Climategate matters.

A teenager and his father...

...demonstrate the urban heat island effect:



And with no budget!

It's in the Genes

British and German scientists believe they have discovered a gene that maintains the function of the ovaries, according to the UK's Daily Mail.

When the gene was switched off in adult female mice, another gene became active, literally changing ovarian cells to those found in testes, which also led to the production of testosterone in the mice.

BusinessWeek compares...

...Kindle v. Nook.

Everyone makes mistakes...

...but when governments do so, the costs/consequences are enormous:

Two months ago, we pointed out in our story on flu in The Atlantic that the antiviral drug Tamiflu might not be as effective or safe as many patients, doctors, and governments think. The drug has been widely prescribed since the first cases of H1N1 flu surfaced last spring, and the U.S. government has spent more than $1.5 billion stockpiling it since 2005 as part of the nation’s pandemic preparedness plan.

Now it looks as if our concerns were correct, and the nation may have put more than a billion dollars into the medical equivalent of a mirage.

Dinosaurs orginated in...

...South America.

Maybe This Explains Why Married Men are So Appealing to Some Women:

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene:

Pope Apologizes for Priests

Pope Benedict XVI on Friday once again apologised for sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, this time directing harsh words to Irish clergy cited in a damning report.

The pope "shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland (over) these heinous crimes," the Vatican said in a statement.
***
The meeting followed the publication last month of the report concluding that Dublin archbishops concealed clerical abuse and failed to inform police of their crimes over a period of more than three decades.
***
The pope has already apologised on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for the actions of paedophile priests in the United States, Australia and Canada.


Apologies are nice, but defrocking the priests and bishops involved would go a long way toward showing that he means what he says.

Ya Don't Say

ABCNews.com:
A new poll finds Americans are doing a tremendous amount of personalizing – picking and choosing from a diverse variety of religious traditions. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, nearly six in 10 Americans from all religions blend their faith with New Age and Eastern beliefs, like astrology, reincarnation, and the spiritual – not just physical – benefits of yoga.

"What we're really finding here that we haven't known before is how much Americans mix and match their religious beliefs and practices. That is, how often people who are regular churchgoers also believe in things like astrology and reincarnation," said Alan Cooperman of the Pew Forum. "Individual Americans hold within themselves elements of diverse religious traditions. And they practice in many cases, more than one faith."

Krauthammer Gets It:

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques.

Politically it's an idea of genius, engaging at once every left-wing erogenous zone: rich man's guilt, post-colonial guilt, environmental guilt. But the idea of shaking down the industrial democracies in the name of the environment thrives not just in the refined internationalist precincts of Copenhagen. It thrives on the national scale, too.
***
Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

Beware the Enviro-Fascists

Diane Francis, writing in Canada's national paper, calls for governments around the world to impose a "one child policy":

A planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate currently, which is one million births every four days.
***
Ironically, China, despite its dirty coal plants, is the world's leader in terms of fashioning policy to combat environmental degradation, thanks to its one-child-only edict.

The intelligence behind this is the following:

-If only one child per female was born as of now, the world's population would drop from its current 6.5 billion to 5.5 billion by 2050, according to a study done for scientific academy Vienna Institute of Demography.

-By 2075, there would be 3.43 billion humans on the planet. This would have immediate positive effects on the world's forests, other species, the oceans, atmospheric quality and living standards.

-Doing nothing, by contrast, will result in an unsustainable population of nine billion by 2050.
***
The fix is simple. It's dramatic. And yet the world's leaders don't even have this on their agenda in Copenhagen. Instead there will be photo ops, posturing, optics, blah-blah-blah about climate science and climate fraud, announcements of giant wind farms, then cap-and-trade subsidies.

None will work unless a China one-child policy is imposed. Unfortunately, there are powerful opponents. Leaders of the world's big fundamentalist religions preach in favor of procreation and fiercely oppose birth control. And most political leaders in emerging economies perpetuate a disastrous Catch-22: Many children (i. e. sons) stave off hardship in the absence of a social safety net or economic development, which, in turn, prevents protections or development.


These Malthusian catastrophe scenarios, which envision populations expanding exponentially while the resources to support them don't, have been discredited so many times that few scientists today take them seriously. The fact is that, as I often chronicle on this blog, advances in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and solar energy production will solve the next Malthusian resource crisis just as surely as fertilizer solved the last one. They will do so by making physical resources (and not just information technology) subject to Moore's Law. Thus, by the end of this century, the world will be able to easily sustain populations double or triple those about which Ms. Francis worries, though it almost certainly won't have to do so (since population growth naturally subsides with prosperity).

On the other hand, declining populations and failure to expand prosperity would be disastrous for the world's economy and environment, as people like Harry Dent often note and as politicians in Japan, Russia, Italy and any undeveloped country already realize.

Thus, the solution to the problems about which Ms. Francis worries lies in more innovation, more technology, more industrialization, more prosperity, more people with plumbing and cars, and yes...more people to make all of these things happen sooner. Her fascist, luddite proposals will only lead to more misery and environmental degradation, not less--always has and always will.


UPDATE:> Maurice Vellacott responds to Diane Francis' fascist idea, making many of the same point I do above, only with more particularity.

UPDATE2:> Diane Francis is mother of two. Geez.

Steve McIntyre provides...

the enlightening context in which "Mike's nature trick" was employed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chris Mooney...

writes propaganda defending global warming orthodoxy.

It's all very disappointing--short on facts and long on misleading assertions. Whether his statements are the result of startling naiveté or an intent to decieve, they are unacceptable regardless.

Take, for instance, this quote from the above link:

But the skeptics were lying in wait. They didn’t need good science to make another sally: Their strength has always been in communication tactics anyway, and not scientific exactitude or rigor.


I suppose Chris means the type of rigor that led to the CRU to loose raw temperature data while preserving only the "value added" data? While it seems that some of this lost data may serendipitously be preserved in other data-sets custodied at other institutions, is it really the CRU's "scientific rigor and exactitude" that we have to thank for that, Chris? I don't think so.

So, perhaps you mean instead the type of scientific rigor that caused CRU head Phil Jones to admit intentionally destroying data in defiance of Freedom of Information Act Requests while pleading with his colleagues to do the same?

Or maybe you mean the rigor that lead Michael Mann to create the famously discredited Hockey Stick Chart that Al Gore used so successfully in his movie on climate change? Yes, perhaps. But, you couldn't possibly mean the type of scientific rigor employed by climate skeptic Steve McIntyre, who demonstrated statistically that the computer code used to create the chart would generate a hockey stick shaped graph ninety-nine out of one hundred times, even when fed random data.

So, perhaps instead you mean the type of scientific exactitude that caused paleoclimatologist Ed Cook to conclude:

[W]e can probably say a fair bit about <100 year extra-tropical NH temperature variability (at least as far as we believe the proxy estimates), but honestly know fuck-all about what the >100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know with certainty that we know fuck-all).


Or maybe it's the exactitude that Phil Jones secretly employed when he used "Mike's nature trick" to "hide the decline" in temperatures suggested by tree ring data since 1960?

Or, maybe you mean the rigor that led to almost 90% of surveyed surface temperature stations being sited on or next to parking lots, roof-tops, exhaust vents, airport runways, sewage treatment plants or other areas likely to overstate temperatures due to the urban heat island effect?

Or perhaps you mean the scientific exactitude that prompted the CRU to hire a self-admittedly incompetent programmer to write code for its climate models?

I could continue ad nauseum, but more of your gems await:

The new skeptic strategy began with a ploy that initially seemed so foolish, so petty, that it was unworthy of dignifying with a response. The contrarians seized upon the hottest year in some temperature records, 1998—which happens to have been an El Nino year, hence its striking warmth—and began to hammer the message that there had been “no warming in a decade” since then.

It was, in truth, little more than a damn lie with statistics.


And yet, this "foolish" and "petty" lie, the one that was "unworthy of dignifying with a response" was apparently told so compellingly by those tricky, statistic-loving skeptics that, at least in their private correspondence, many of the world's most prominent global warming alarmist fell under its spell:

From: Kevin Trenberth
To: Michael Mann
Subject: Re: BBC U-turn on climate
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009 08:57:37 -0600
Cc: Stephen H Schneider , Myles Allen , peter stott , “Philip D. Jones” , Benjamin Santer , Tom Wigley , Thomas R Karl , Gavin Schmidt , James Hansen , Michael Oppenheimer

Hi all

Well I have my own article on where the heck is global warming? We are asking that here in Boulder where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record. We had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it smashed the previous records for these days by 10F. The low was about 18F and also a record low, well below the previous record low.

This is January weather (see the Rockies baseball playoff game was canceled on saturday and then played last night in below freezing weather)
.

Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 1, 19-27, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [1][PDF] (A PDF of the published version can be obtained from the author.)
***

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.***



In light of Trenberth's email, it's clear that you "doth protest too much" on this point, Chris. Well...either that or else Trenberth is simply "foolish" and "petty" and his contention that recent cooling isn't wholey explained by 1998's El Nino is a simple "statistical lie" intended to deceive rubes.

But Trenberth isn't the only one. There's also Tom Wigley, who rebuked Michael Mann for creating yet another deceptive graph, this one designed to back up Wigley's own hypothesis that recent cooling was still consistent with the theme of overall continued warming:

On Oct 14, 2009, at 5:57 PM, Tom Wigley wrote:

Mike,

The Figure you sent is very deceptive. As an example, historical runs with PCM look as though they match observations—but the match is a fluke. PCM has no indirect aerosol forcing and a low climate sensitivity—compensating errors. In my (perhaps too harsh) view, there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC. This is why I still use results from MAGICC to compare with observed temperatures. At least here I can assess how sensitive matches are to sensitivity and forcing assumptions/uncertainties.

Tom.


Well, Chris...if the last decade of cooling is so easily explained by 1998's El Nino event, then why were these esteemed scientists, as recently as the last few months, mystified by it, and why were they offering competing explanations for it? Heck man, all they needed to do was to call you! You had it figured out all along: "It's the El Nino, stupids." You'd think they would have listened.

Again, I could continue on this point, but the hits just keep on coming. You proceed to say:

Whether we will recover some necessary momentum in Copenhagen—a formal United Nations venue for deliberation where scientific expertise is respected, and where misinformation will likely have less power—is up in the air.


Of course, Chris, how could we have been so foolish?! The United Nations, a fundamentally political organization, is the perfect place for honest scientific debate! The UN has a long history of being an honest broker on sensitive issues like this. It's ability to set aside political agendas in favor of an honest pursuit of truth is...well...legendary. Plus, it's never been susceptible to corruption or anything.

Silly us. The UN said it: Ipse dixit. It's determinations should be sufficient for any true scientist--well, at least those that aren't foolish and petty liars, right Chris?

"Massive" TSA Security Breach

The Transportation Safety Administration has posted its secret airport screening methods online:

In a massive security breach, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inadvertently posted online its airport screening procedures manual, including some of the most closely guarded secrets regarding special rules for diplomats and CIA and law enforcement officers.

The most sensitive parts of the 93-page Standard Operating Procedures manual were apparently redacted in a way that computer savvy individuals easily overcame.

The document shows sample CIA, Congressional and law enforcement credentials which experts say would make it easy for terrorists to duplicate.


Never fear, the Feds will do much better when it comes to protecting our private health data, I'm sure.

The Smoking Gun

If this is right, then climategate is just the tip of the iceberg.


UPDATE:> More evidence of perhaps unwarranted temperature adjustments (or "homogenization"), this time with data from Nashville, Tennessee. The net effect was the same as at Darwin: The adjusted data showed a warming trend where the raw data showed a cooling one.

Such adjustments may be warranted, but the burden is on the AGW alarmists to demonstrate so. But, until recently, they have shown remarkable reluctance to release the raw data that would make such a demonstration possible.

Andrew Bolt...

...spanks climategate scientist Tom Wigley.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Copenhagen

Fighting climate change with 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges.

An amazing email from...

...paleoclimatologist Ed Cook to the CRU's Keith Briffa:

Hi Keith,

After the meeting in Norway, where I presented the Esper stuff as
described in the extended abstract I sent you, and hearing Bradley's
follow-up talk on how everybody but him has fucked up in
reconstructing past NH temperatures over the past 1000 years (this is
a bit of an overstatement on my part I must admit, but his air of
papal infallibility is really quite nauseating at times), I have come
up with an idea that I want you to be involved in. Consider the
tentative title:

"Northern Hemisphere Temperatures Over The Past Millennium: Where Are
The Greatest Uncertainties?"

Authors: Cook, Briffa, Esper, Osborn, D'Arrigo, Bradley(?), Jones
(??), Mann (infinite?) - I am afraid the Mike and Phil are too
personally invested in things now (i.e. the 2003 GRL paper that is
probably the worst paper Phil has ever been involved in - Bradley
hates it as well)
, but I am willing to offer to include them if they
can contribute without just defending their past work - this is the
key to having anyone involved. Be honest. Lay it all out on the table
and don't start by assuming that ANY reconstruction is better than
any other.

Here are my ideas for the paper in a nutshell (please bear with me):

[Ed Cook describes his idea]

Without trying to prejudice this work, but also because of what I
almost think I know to be the case, the results of this study will
show that we can probably say a fair bit about <100 year
extra-tropical NH temperature variability (at least as far as we
believe the proxy estimates), but honestly know fuck-all about what
the >100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know
with certainty that we know fuck-all).



Amazing. These guys admit privately that they can't say anything meaningful about the environment looking back more than 100 year ago, but yet some of them state publicly that they are "dead certain" that continued CO2 omissions will be the end of us.

Hat tip: Bishop Hill

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Unbelievable!

Just...unbelievable.

UPDATE:> Climate heretic Pielke responds.

Mark Sheppard explains...

...what "hiding the decline" really means. Very informative.

Shock!

Bias at the AP.

Michael Silence thinks this AP "news story" should be labeled "analysis."

It's yet another example of the AP failing to live up to its own "statement of values."

A Famous Scientist You've Probably Never Heard Of:

David Bellamy.

Myron Ebell:

Obama’s Science Adviser Confirms the Scandal — Unintentionally

Programmer's Unflattering Self-Assessment Confirmed

Apparently, the person asked to write the code for the CRU's climate models wasn't a professional programmer and wasn't very confident in his own abilities. Here are some programming notes he left behind in the code:

Something is very poorly. It's my programming skills, isn't it.


and
So, once again I don't understand statistics. Quel surprise, given that
I haven't had any training in stats in my entire life, unless you count
A-level maths.


and
and.. yup, my awful programming strikes again.


and
So, good news - but only in the sense that I've found the error.
Bad news in that it's a further confirmation that my abilities are
short of what's required here.


Apparently, professional programmers who are now getting a look at the code for the first time (thanks to Climategate) agree with this unflattering self-assessment.

Question: If you're writing a program that will provide some of the primary support for the claims of the IPCC report and that will be used by governments across the world to justify draconian restrictions on CO2, why not at least hire a professional programmer?


UPDATE:> To their credit, the BBC covers the story:

Brendan O'Neill:

Rushing to the front of the race for the prize of Most Vomit-Inducing Environmental Initiative Ever Devised, the UK’s Optimum Population Trust — which counts such grandees as David Attenborough and Jonathon Porritt among its supporters — has just launched PopOffsets. This quirkily named campaign is actually deeply sinister: It invites well-off Westerners to offset their carbon emissions by paying for poor people in the Third World to stop procreating.

In short, if you feel bad about your CO2-emitting jaunt to Barbados, or the new Ferrari you just splurged on, then simply give some money to a charity which helps to “convince” Third World women not to have children, and — presto! — the carbon saved by having one less black child in the world will put your guilt-ridden mind at rest.


Remember what I said about the dangers of pursuing the "common good" directly?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How To Get Free Sex in Copenhagen

SpiegelOnline:
Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards to city hotels warning summit guests not to patronize Danish sex workers during the upcoming conference. Now, the prostitutes have struck back, offering free sex to anyone who produces one of the warnings.

Pelosi Blames Bush for Stimulus Failure

Silly Polosi, everyone knows it failed on account of global warming.

The Right to Bear Arms

Washington Post:
A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the owner of a Virginia security company to sue the District for seeking to arrest him on charges of possessing unregistered handguns.

Why Most Scientists Are Liberals

Steven Hayward has written an excellent summary of Climategate that includes much history about which I was previously unaware, as well as previously-unknown-to-me details of the leaked emails.

And interestingly, Steven's summary includes the following comment:

In 2004, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Most scientists are, at a minimum, liberals, although it is by no means obvious why this should be so."


Respectfully, I beg to differ with Mr. Lewontin (and Hayward to the extent that Lewontin speaks for him). It is obvious why most scientist are "at a minimum" liberals: Successful scientists working at prestigious academic or research institutions often perceive themselves (sometimes rightly) as being among the "best and brightest" in the world. And, people convinced of their own intellectual superiority are particularly susceptible to the totalitarian temptation--that is, of coming to believe that everyone's interest is best served (i.e., the "common good" is realized) when the smartest people make the most decisions. And, since the less intelligent among us are not likely to just hand their life over to these luminaries, the luminaries need government to intercede to require them to do so. Hence, big government advances these scientists' worldview.

Add the above to the fact that, by virtue of their chosen profession, scientists are generally not opponents of modernity and progress (i.e., they favor social evolution and don't cling to the past), and what you find is that, almost to a man/woman, scientists are what I call "Collective Modernists" or what society today calls "liberals" or "progressives". These are people who believe that society works best when experts make decisions for the "common good" (i.e, they are "collectivists" in that they value the common good above individual liberty), and that society needs to evolve progressively (i.e., away from tradition and towards something newer and better).

And, if you think about it, it couldn't really be any other way: For few "brilliant" people are possessed of sufficient humility and self-discipline to realize that the common good can ever only be an emergent property. ;-)

Stephen Shankland:

Google edges toward Rosetta Stone status.

Now Available on Google Street View:

Pompeii! How cool.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Real, Sad Legacy of Climategate

Daniel Henninger:
I don't think most scientists appreciate what has hit them. This isn't only about the credibility of global warming. For years, global warming and its advocates have been the public face of hard science. Most people could not name three other subjects they would associate with the work of serious scientists. This was it. The public was told repeatedly that something called "the scientific community" had affirmed the science beneath this inquiry. A Nobel Prize was bestowed (on a politician).

Global warming enlisted the collective reputation of science. Because "science" said so, all the world was about to undertake a vast reordering of human behavior at almost unimaginable financial cost. Not every day does the work of scientists lead to galactic events simply called Kyoto or Copenhagen. At least not since the Manhattan Project.

What is happening at East Anglia is an epochal event. As the hard sciences-physics, biology, chemistry, electrical engineering-came to dominate intellectual life in the last century, some academics in the humanities devised the theory of postmodernism, which liberated them from their colleagues in the sciences. Postmodernism, a self-consciously "unprovable" theory, replaced formal structures with subjectivity. With the revelations of East Anglia, this slippery and variable intellectual world has crossed into the hard sciences.


Read the whole thing.

The lessons seem clear to me:

(1) Scientists and other "experts" are people
(2) People are motivated by perceived self-interest (even in acts of altruism)
(3) Hence, experts' "opinions", even if they represent a "consensus", are helpful in exposing their self-interest but mostly useless in determining "truth."
(4) Truth (or rather UN-truth) can only be determined via the disciplined application of reason and the scientific method.

In short, the opinion of an "expert" or a "scientist" should be given no greater weight that that of the average schmuck, unless it is anchored in reason and confirmed by diligent application of the scientific method. In the case of Climategate, the "Hockey Players" actively sought to subvert diligent application of the scientific method by refusing to publicly disclose much of their data and methods (except to like-minded scientists who they knew in advance would be supportive of their conclusions).

As a caveat, I will emphasize that this doesn't necessarily make their conclusions wrong, but it does make them unscientific.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By This Definition, Most Global Climate Models Are Not Science

American Physical Society (via Instapundit):


Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the universe and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.

The success and credibility of science are anchored in the willingness of scientists to:

1. Expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others. This requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials.

2. Abandon or modify previously accepted conclusions when confronted with more complete or reliable experimental or observational evidence.

Adherence to these principles provides a mechanism for self-correction that is the foundation of the credibility of science.


I assume that the APS deems "open exchange" to include more than just sharing data and methods with like-minded scientists while withholding it from skeptical ones.

Guess Who Said These Words:

“…the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”


No, it wasn't Nostradamus predicting Climategate.

(via Instapundit)

Scientists seek men in their twenties who have never viewed porn...

...and fail.

John Stewart Talks Climategate




ROFL.

Hardly a Ringing Endorsement

David Coursey concludes that AT&T's wireless service is "not as lousy as everyone thinks".

I agree, though I've been using it for so long I don't have much against which to compare.

A New Theory...

...on why women live longer.

Lord Monckton...

...has compiled a summary of Climategate.

Many of his conclusions are admittedly biased, and he often assumes nefarious motives when perhaps mere incompetence would suffice, but the undisputed facts do speak for themselves and, given the secrecy employed, it's hard to explain some things merely by assuming incompetence or lack of diligence.

Much Obliged

Bluto of The Dread Pundit Bluto fame was kind enough to leave a comment on my post here saying some good things about some comments I had previously made on this post.

Much obliged, Bluto.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sometimes I think...

Charles Johnson is brilliant, and sometimes I'm convinced he's simply a troll, albeit one operating his own very popular blog.

Today, it's the latter. Take, for instance, this post criticizing as "right in your face" racist a newspaper ad comparing Congress, the Courts and the Media (not Obama!) to three monkeys who "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil".

Seriously, Charles, there's enough to criticize about this ad without you just making stuff up. Wake up and smell the coffee!

(Oh wait, I said "coffee". Coffee is black. Maybe I'm racist?)

Steve Keens explains...

...everything you need to know about the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

Strange things are afoot...

at the Circle K CRU.

Today the UK Ceased to Be An Independent Country

Really!

Steve McIntyre...

takes on the increasingly common "we-didn't-provide-the-data-because-every-time-we-did-ignorant-skeptics-couldn't-understand-it-and-kept-asking-for-more" excuse.

And Ouch Again!

Steve McIntyre:
If North is going to issue pronouncements on Jones’ trick, then he should at least know what Jones’ trick is. If he doesn’t know precisely what it was (as he obviously doesn’t), then it’s better to say nothing than to pretend that he knows what it was.

Ouch!

Instapundit:
Rosin also writes: “It is impossible to imagine Tiger [Woods] occupying the same cultural brain space as Rihanna, with Nordegren playing Chris Brown. If Tiger had been chasing down his wife with a golf club and she had shown up with bruises, even if she had cheated with, say, K-fed, we would be a lot less ambivalent and complacent.” That’s probably correct, for certain values of the word “we,” but why is that, exactly? Cheating men deserve to be beaten, even with weapons, while cheating women do not?

Or could it be, you know, sexism? But that’s not possible, because Hanna Rosin can’t be sexist, and neither can those who agree with her. If you’re Hanna Rosin, “sexist” is a name you call other people. You know, bad people who believe in stereotypes and stuff.

I'm Sure This Will Turn Out Well

FoxNews.com:
A government caseworker outlined a plan calling for Rifqa Bary, 17, and her [Muslim] parents to listen to each other's views on religion.

Bary needs to hear out her parents' explanation of their beliefs when she goes home, according to the proposal filed in Franklin County Juvenile Court. In turn, her parents must listen to Bary explain her newfound Christianity.

The goal is for both sides to better understand why the teenager ran away to Florida over the summer and stayed with a Christian family she met online.

Again, the Passive Voice Proves Useful

Robert Gibbs: "[C]limate change is happening."


Yes, Robert, and water runs downhill. Thanks for cluing us in.


UPDATE:> Stonewalling with stupid.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Well, They are a Bit Phallic

Swiss women see minarets as "male power symbols".

Almost three out of every...

four jobs lost during the Great Recession was held by a male.

Only in Academia Could This Happen

Shannon Love:
Recent revelations that the peer review system in climatology might have been compromised by the biases of corrupt reviewers miss a much bigger problem.

Most climatology papers submitted for peer review rely on large, complex and custom-written computer programs to produce their findings. The code for these programs is never provided to peer reviewers and even if it was, the peer climatologists doing the reviewing lack the time, resources and expertise to verify that the software works as its creators claim.

Even if the peer reviewers in climatology are as honest and objective as humanly possible, they cannot honestly say that they have actually preformed a peer review to the standards of other fields like chemistry or physics which use well-understood scientific hardware. (Other fields that rely on heavily on custom-written software have the same problem.)

10,000 Unnecessary Cancer Death's in Britain Each Year

Or so says the UK Guardian.

Top 10 Green Living Myths...

...can be found here. The first one points out explicitly how the Law of Unintended Consequences applies even to cap-and-trade.

Did CRU delete the raw data...

...or not?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mark Steyn:

Who peer-reviews the peer-reviewers?

An Excess of Certitude

Even in light of Climategate, James "Prosecute-Coal-Company-Executives-for-Crimes-Against-Humanity" Hansen is dead certain of the future:

Science reveals that climate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control.


Oh geez. When has climate ever been within anyone's control?

Indeed

Christopher Booker in Telegraph.co.uk:

The reason why even the Guardian's George Monbiot has expressed total shock and dismay at the picture revealed by the documents is that their authors are not just any old bunch of academics. Their importance cannot be overestimated, What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Hmmmm.

An interesting timeline of data deletion at CRU.

Lest We Forget the Real Goal of Many Climate Alarmists...

some are kind enough to tell us explicitly:

Hotel guests should have their electricity monitored; hefty aviation taxes should be introduced to deter people from flying; and iced water in restaurants should be curtailed, the world's leading climate scientist has told the Observer.

Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that western society must undergo a radical value shift if the worst effects of climate change were to be avoided. A new value system of "sustainable consumption" was now urgently required, he said.

"Today we have reached the point where consumption and people's desire to consume has grown out of proportion," said Pachauri. "The reality is that our lifestyles are unsustainable."
***
Pachauri caused controversy last year by advocating, in an interview with the Observer, that people should eat less meat because of the levels of carbon emissions associated with rearing livestock.
***
He said that he also believed car use would have to be "curbed": "I think we can certainly use pricing to regulate the use of private vehicles."



That's right, Pachauri would have us believe that the only thing that can save the world is fascism--though he prefers to think of it as a government-imposed "radical value shift" that remakes Western culture. In my book, that's a distinction without a difference.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dr. Judith Curry:

What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.


Ya think?!

Charles Sizemore Makes a Good Point:

The continued fall in prices despite the increased interest is disturbing, and the tax credit has a way of understating it. Let’s think about this for a minute. At a median price of $177,900, an $8,000 credit amounts to a 4.5% discount on the price of the house. Prices have “only” officially fallen by 7.1% year over year. But if you assume that buyers calculate the affect of the tax credit into their purchase decision, you have to assume that the “real” price at which the house would have changed hands would be approximately $8,000 less. This means that, year over year, prices in the absence of the subsidy would have been down nearly 12% — a devastating blow to the typical mortgaged homeowner.


In other words, the official statistics are hiding the true extent of the decline in housing. Thanks to a government subsidy, many homes have changed hands over the last year at a price that is $8,000 higher than they would without the subsidy.

Chris Horner:

"Scientists lied, Kyoto died."


I sure hope so, but I'm not confident.

An Excess of Certitude

George Will: [T]he greatest threat to civility—and ultimately to civilization—is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what—who—created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures—even if violence—are required.
*
It has been well said that the spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure that you are right. One way to immunize ourselves against misplaced certitude is to contemplate—even to savor—the unfathomable strangeness of everything, including ourselves.



Though these words were written years ago and were directed primarily at religious fundamentalists, they apply equally to scientists in the age of Climategate.

The Alarmists Doth Protest Too Much

Why did it take leaked emails and documents for the average liberal to realize that something was rotten in the state of Denmark climate science? Shouldn't the strict secrecy over the data and models used by these alarmists, combined with threats like these, have been sufficient:

NASA's James Hansen has called for trials of climate skeptics in 2008 for "high crimes against humanity.” Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. lashed out at skeptics of 2007 declaring “This is treason. And we need to start treating them as traitors” In 2009, RFK, Jr. also called coal companies "criminal enterprises" and declared CEO's 'should be in jail... for all of eternity."

In June 2009, former Clinton Administration official Joe Romm defended a comment on his Climate Progress website warning skeptics would be strangled in their beds. "An entire generation will soon be ready to strangle you and your kind while you sleep in your beds," stated the remarks, which Romm defended by calling them "not a threat, but a prediction."

In 2006, the eco-magazine Grist called for Nuremberg-Style trials for skeptics. In 2008, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki called for government leaders skeptical of global warming to be thrown “into jail.” In 2007, The Weather Channel's climate expert called for withholding certification of skeptical meteorologists.
A 2008 report found that 'climate blasphemy' is replacing traditional religious blasphemy. In addition, a July 2007 Senate report detailed how skeptical scientists have faced threats and intimidation.

In 2007, then EPA Chief Vowed to Probe E-mail Threatening to 'Destroy' Career of Climate Skeptic and dissenters of warming fears have been called 'Climate Criminals' who are committing 'Terracide' (killing of Planet Earth) (July 25, 2007) In addition, in May 2009, Climate Depot Was Banned in Louisiana! See: State official sought to 'shut down' climate skeptic's testimony at hearing.



Many more examples provided at the above link.

Another Domino Falls

Zorita wants Mann, Jones and Rahmstorf banned from the IPCC, and for a very important reason.

It's looking more and more like...

global warming was man-made after all. Well, at least the claimed extent of it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not Just Willful Blindness

Reuters: Ireland published a report on Thursday saying church authorities in Dublin covered up child sexual abuse until the mid-1990s.

South Korea Looks at Japan, and Doesn't Like What it Sees

LifeSiteNews.com: The Republic of Korea has signaled its willingness to work to reverse a heavily pro-abortion culture through various measures, including beginning to enforce an abortion ban that has technically existed in the country for decades, in order to address the severe demographic implosion that threatens the country's economic stability, Korean sources report.

The pro-birth effort was announced on Wednesday by the Presidential Council for Future and Vision, and includes proposals to expand benefits for single mothers and provide greater benefits to families with more than two children.

"We have been a society that promoted abortion," Kwak Seung-jun, leader of the Presidential Council, told reporters. "There are few people who realize abortion is illegal. We must work to create a mood where abortion is discouraged."

According to the Korean journal JoongAng Ilbo, the abortion ban - rarely enforced for decades, and even flagrantly violated in the 1960s and 1970s as part of official policy to combat what the government had deemed a "population explosion" - will now be more strictly enforced as part of an overall plan to increase the birth rate and incentivize more women to carry their pregnancies to term.

Wowsa

HALF of all Australians born this century will live to 100, experts predict.


I think they are wayyyyy underestimating the future impact of gene therapy, stem cell therapies and nanotechnology.

Who Knew?

Your skin can hear.

2010

Year of the e-reader.

Megan McArdle:

[I] think most people--including me--missed the biggest part of the climate emails story. Sexing up a graph is at best a misdemeanor. But a Declan McCullough story suggests a more disturbing possibility: the CRU's main computer model may be, to put it bluntly, complete rubbish.

Ouch

Lorrie Goldstein: If you're wondering how the robot-like march of the world's politicians towards Copenhagen can possibly continue in the face of the scientific scandal dubbed "climategate," it's because Big Government, Big Business and Big Green don't give a s*** about "the science."

They never have.

What "climategate" suggests is many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't either. Apparently they stifled their own doubts about recent global cooling not explained by their computer models, manipulated data, plotted ways to avoid releasing it under freedom of information laws and attacked fellow scientists and scientific journals for publishing even peer-reviewed literature of which they did not approve.

Now they and their media shills -- who sneered that all who questioned their phony "consensus" were despicable "deniers," the moral equivalent of those who deny the Holocaust -- are the ones in denial about the enormity of the scandal enveloping them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

People that are much smarter than me...

...are getting a look at the actual computer code (and programmers' notes!) that comprise the climate models which scientists have relied on for years to make their predictions, including those contained in the now infamous IPCC reports.

And, not surprisingly (given previous refusals to subject the code to peer review), both the program itself and the data that populates it is a complete and utter mess. And that's not just my opinion, but the opinion of the very programmers hired to build the model!

Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.

Is This How Peer Review Works These Days?

The Washington Times: In another exchange, Mr. Jones told Mr. Mann: "If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone" and, "We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind." Mr. Jones further urged Mr. Mann to join him in deleting e-mail exchanges about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) controversial assessment report (ARA): "Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re [the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report]?"

In another e-mail, Mr. Jones told Mr. Mann, professor Malcolm K. Hughes of the University of Arizona and professor Raymond S. Bradley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst: "I'm getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don't any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!"

At one point, Mr. Jones complained to another academic, "I did get an email from the [Freedom of Information] person here early yesterday to tell me I shouldn't be deleting emails." He also offered up more dubious tricks of his trade, specifically that "IPCC is an international organization, so is above any national FOI. Even if UEA holds anything about IPCC, we are not obliged to pass it on." Another professor at the Climate Research Unit, Tim Osborn, discussed in e-mails how truncating a data series can hide a cooling trend that otherwise would be seen in the results. Mr. Mann sent Mr. Osborn an e-mail saying that the results he was sending shouldn't be shown to others because the data support critics of global warming.

Repeatedly throughout the e-mails that have been made public, proponents of global-warming theories refer to data that has been hidden or destroyed. Only e-mails from Mr. Jones' institution have been made public, and with his obvious approach to deleting sensitive files, it's difficult to determine exactly how much more information has been lost that could be damaging to the global-warming theocracy and its doomsday forecasts.

Phil Jones

Was he lying then, or is he lying now?

"Hide the Decline"




ROFL!

Secrecy corrupts...

and absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Dominoes Begin to Fall

First, noted global warming alarmist George Manbiot admits:

It's no use pretending this isn't a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I'm dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.



And now, Tim "Global-Warming-Is-Settled-Science" Flannery, Chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, is backtracking:

We’re dealing with an incomplete understanding of the way the earth system works… When we come to the last few years when we haven’t seen a continuation of that (warming) trend we don’t understand all of the factors that create earth’s climate...We just don’t understand the way the whole system works… See, these people work with models, computer modelling. So when the computer modelling and the real world data disagree you’ve got a very interesting problem… Sure for the last 10 years we’ve gone through a slight cooling trend.



Given their past zeal as defenders of the IPCC, CRU, etc., both of these gentlemen are to be commended for eating crow.

As a side note, I don't think anything that's come to light so far completely undermines AGW theory. But, the fact is that even most "skeptics" have always admitted that humans were contributing to global warming. The debate has not been whether the earth has warmed over the last century, but how much of that warming was caused by humans, how much it is likely to warm in the future, and therefore how many liberties humanity should be prepared to forfeit to combat it.

Alarmist have relied on models produced by CRU for the IPCC to argue for draconian controls over CO2 production, cost and consequences be damned, while so-called skeptics have argued that the science is not clear and therefore a more measured and less invasive approach is appropriate. Now, in light of climategate, even some of the most ardent alarmists are starting to sound like skeptics.

The Fix Was In

If you've not been following the Climategate scandal closely, Robert Tracinski has a wonderful summary of what we know so far.

"Scandal" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

First Female Head of National Institutes of Health Says to Ignore New Guidelines on Mammograms

Foxnews.com: The first female to head the National Institutes of Health said Sunday she is advising women to ignore new recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which last week changed guidelines for mammographies from annually starting at age 40 to every other year starting at age 50.

"I'm saying very powerfully ignore them," former NIH director Dr. Bernardine Healy told "Fox
News Sunday."



Yah, me too.

Update on Climategate

Bishop Hill has a post summarizing some of the details he's garnered from publication of the recently hacked (or leaked) emails and documents of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU). If true, the information discloses highly unethical (and perhaps even illegal) activities by some of the world's top climate research scientists.

For important background that will put these disclosures in context, see here and here.

While some of the CRU's defenders rightfully point out that this information may have been obtained illegally, the fact is that much of it is apparently subject to the Freedom of Information Act (or the British equivalent) and therefore should have been released years ago in response to numerous requests by Steve McIntyre and others. Thus, some of it may have been withheld illegally in the first place.


UPDATE:> Washington Post coverage of this story can be found here. The most troubling aspect of this post story is the apparent attempt by the world's leading climate scientists to boycott scientific journals that post scholarly articles by AGW skeptics, while chiding those same skeptics for their inability to get more articles published. Shameless.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Update on the US's Strategic Calorie Reserve

The CDC has released nationwide statistics on obesity and diabetes rates on a county-by-county basis. Here's a map summarizing the results:





Scary stuff.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Witnessing evolution...

...in real time.

Of course, nothing will satisfy evolutions detractors until they see a bird transform into a dog right before their eyes.

And, of course, evolution doesn't work that way.

We're with the government, and we're here to help...

you save energy.

Stolen Emails Excite Climate Skeptics

The evidence does seem to suggest in places that the fix was in when it comes to measuring temperature.

But, my question is this: Why was it necessarily to obtain this information illegally? Shouldn't science be conducted in the open where both it's methods and its conclusions are subject to scrutiny and peer review?


UPDATE:> Much more on this available here and here.

Muslim Hating

This type if idiocy can't be met with silence.

While it might be possible for one to make a nuanced argument that the Bible is superior to the Koran in matters of morals, statements such as these by Mike Devine (from the above link) can't go unchallenged:

Nowhere in the Bible will you find admonitions from God or anyone else to prospectively kill. You will find some history of past admonitions at particular times and places in the OT. Moreover, nowhere in the Bible will you find any calls to convert or be killed.
The Koran can make no such claim. For this reason, Islam will always be a danger. Words matter.


Is his ignorance of the Bible really that vast? He must not recall the words of Deuteronomy 13 which state:

6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 11 And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.


Or those of Deuteronomy 20:10:

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. 12And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 13And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. 15Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: 17But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: 18That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.


Heck, I've only cited one book from the Bible and I've already refuted his premise (and, where the premise if flawed, so is the conclusion).


Yes, words do matter, Mike. Learn them.

What's Going on in Farragut?

A couple of month's ago our house was robbed at gunpoint (no injuries, thankfully), and now police have made an arrest of a suspect in a shooting at the Farragut Kroger.

Geez.

IBM Simulates a Cat's Brain on Computer

Well, kinda.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds ponders the significance of this event over at Popular Mechanics.

Obama Makes Decision on Afghanistan!

Really?

No, not really.


But the White House wants you to rest assured that he's still fixin' to commence to begin making a decision.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Knew?

newsok.com: Oklahomans have a life expectancy 10 years less than those in the rest of the country, and a big factor for that is poor health choices, a House committee was told Thursday.
***
Oklahoma’s life expectancy for women is 72, compared with 82 in other regions of the country, Figart said.

For men, Oklahomans’ life expectancy is 66, compared with 76 nationally.
Figart said the state might as well put up a sign that says, "Come to Oklahoma and die.”

Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, chairman of the House Common Education Committee, called the statistics "absolutely horrifying.”



I'll say.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Do Christian Pedophiles Have to do With the Fort Hood Massacre?

There's a big debate over at the dallasnews.com opinion blog about a Muslim's central role in the Fort Hood massacre. The general sentiment seems to be that the government overlooked far too many "warning signs" of Hasan's extremism and that this oversight was due to a culture of political correctness that overvalues diversity and refuses to acknowledge the "Muslim threat". Most posts lament the government's failure to "take action sooner" against Hasan.

Now, followers of this blog know that I don't usually defend the government, but in this case I'm not sure when exactly these critics would have had the government act against Hasan and what exactly they would have had it do? Until the day of the shooting, Hasan had never committed any known crime. True, he spoke critically of US policy toward Muslims, but so do lots of people. He apparently articulated some radical ideas on occasion, but it was often not clear whether these ideas were his own or whether he was simply informing others of the enemy's thought process as part of his duties as any army psychologist. Yes, he had contacts with some radical Muslims, but these contacts could also be explained in part by his job duties.

In short, although I favor racial and religious profiling (for obvious reasons), we must never forget that one's race or religion is only one factor to be considered as part of an overall profile. It certainly is not determinative. And government cannot "take action" against a person based on his or her racial or religious background without compelling justification.

To illustrate the point, consider the following: Why aren't all these people who are so alarmed about "Muslim terrorists" in our midst equally alarmed about all the "Christian pedophiles" among us? I mean, think about it for a minute: Most every high-profile case of child sexual abuse or pedophilia over the last fifteen years has involved...Christians. The biggest example is probably the the hundreds of catholic sex abuse cases, but there are many, many others. The kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart was motivated by his Christian religion (yes, Mormons consider themselves Christian). As was David Koresh, and Warren Jeffs, and Tony Alamo.

And whether or not they were specifically motivated by their faith, a great many other Christians seem to find young children irresistible. Consider this massive collection of news stories of Christians abusing children on church premises or at church functions. And now it turns out that three of the seven members of the Mohler Family were lay ministers.

So, given this history, and if we are to apply the same standard to Christians as Muslims, shouldn't we be prepared to "act sooner" and intervene anytime a Christian exhibits "warning signs", such as...oh...regularly volunteering to lead a youth group or to teach children's Sunday school classes? Shouldn't we have church or government spies monitor such persons' activities for a year or two to insure that they have no ill intent? (I'm being facetious, of course)

An offended Christian might argue that Muslim Jihadist are different than Christian pedophiles because the former do their terrible acts in the name of their religion. But, didn't also Brian David Mitchel and Warren Jeffs and Tony Alamo and David Koresh and many others also justify their sex crimes by their interpretation of Christianity?

An offended Christian could argue that pedophiles aren’t “true Christians”, but many Muslims can (and do) argue that terrorists aren’t true Muslims. (Regardless though, such arguments are indicative of the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy and are therefore completely unpersuasive).

An offended Christian could argue that most terrorists attacks these days are committed by Muslims, but Muslims could persuasively argue that most acts of pedophilia or child sex abuse (at least in the US) are committed by Christians of one variety or another.

An offended Christian could argue that Jihad is officially tolerated by elements within Islam, but pedophilia has been officially tolerated by certain elements within Christianity (witness again the churches of Warren Jeffs and David Koresh and Tony Alamo and even the Catholic church’s “willful ignorance” of priestly abuses). Such behavior is not overly difficult to rationalize on biblical grounds: A variety of Christian sects simply argue that pedophilia cannot exist within marriage, so marry 'em young and you're fine! After all, the Jewish patriarchs did it that way.

I could continue, but the long and short of it is that, if we are going to permit racial and religious profiling (and I believe we should because they are effective), we must always remember that the race or religion of the profiled is only one factor to be considered. In short, we should be no more or less paranoid about Muslim terrorists than we are Christian pedophiles. Those who would have had the government "take action sooner" against Hasan should remember that.

The Family that Rapes Together Stays Together

This story is just sick.

Even the French are Getting Fat

Bummer. Their thinness was one of their few commendable qualities.

Genetic Medicine is Here

Los Angeles Times: Injecting a gene into thigh muscles of a monkey's leg greatly increased muscle mass and strength, a finding that could have potential application in a variety of human diseases that involve muscular weakening, researchers reported this week in the new journal Science Translational Medicine. The effects have now persisted for as long as 15 months and no side effects have been apparent, according to the researchers from Ohio. Clinical trials in humans are expected to begin next year.


More gene therapy news here.

Big Progress on Aging

webnewwire.com: A team led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has found a clear link between living to 100 and inheriting a hyperactive version of an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres – the tip ends of chromosomes. The findings appear in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Telomeres play crucial roles in aging, cancer and other biological processes. Their importance was recognized last month, when three scientists were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for determining the structure of telomeres and discovering how they protect chromosomes from degrading.



Read the whole thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Calling Out Jay Adkisson

Jay Adkisson of the law firm Riser Adkisson, LLP is one of the foremost authorities on the subject of captive insurance companies. For a description of captive insurance companies and their purpose, see here.

While I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Adkisson and the legal work he does, I do take umbrage with his approach to marketing--that is, using scare tactics to drive business to his firm. Reading over portions of the Riser Adkisson website, to which I link above, one could be forgiven for concluding that Mr. Adkisson believes that only his firm is competent to guide clients through the complex web of laws governing captive insurance companies, and that anyone else trying to do so is shyster.

Take, for instance, this web page discussing captives that invest in life insurance. On this page alone, the word "shady" appears twice. "Bogus" appears four times. "Sham" appears five times. "Scheme" appears ten times. "Tax shelter" appears seventeen times. And "promoter" appears twenty-one times. Unfortunately though, none of these terms are used in their narrow, legal sense (to the extent that one exists), but rather as a way of scaring the public away from any advisor but Riser Adkisson.

And, the tarring of other professionals doesn't stop with his choice use of scary words. In fact, he explicitly warns the public not to respect the considered opinion of other professionals:

"Don't be fooled by the promises of the promoters, and the dubious opinion letters of their affiliated pals (remember: Son of BOSS had some of the thickest and most detailed opinion letters of all, and it didn't help)" [hyperlink added].


Apparently, Adkisson would have the reader believe that Adkisson Riser is the only firm qualified to offer its opinion on captive insurance companies, that any opinion from any other firm is dubious--equivalent in quality and substance to those related to the Son of BOSS scandal. I don't think Mr. Adkisson would ever say such offensive things explicitly to another professional's face, but he seems to have no problem doing so by not-so-subtle implication. Very unprofessional.

Furthermore, even when we get to the substance of his website, much of of it is short on analysis and long on conclusions, and invariably those conclusions are overly broad and intentionally alarming. Sometimes, they are even incorrect. To illustrate my point, I will continue analyzing several quotes from this page discussing the advisability of captive insurance companies investing in life insurance.

Adkisson begins by noting that "[s]ubject to the tax restrictions, a captive can invest in pretty much any life insurance policy from any company, so long as there is enough cash value in the policy to meet the reserve requirements -- taking into account all the other assets of the captive." This is true, except that his implication that there are "tax restrictions" on the ability of captives to invest in life insurance is erroneous. No tax authority of which I am aware has published any restrictions or even guidelines on captives investing in life insurance.

He then asserts that if a captive invests all (or substantially all?) of its assets into life insurance, "the IRS might label the entire arrangement to be a 'sham'". First of all, the IRS doesn't have authority to conclusively designate any transaction as a "sham." It can certainly assert that any given transaction is a sham if is so desires, thereby denying the taxpayer the relevant deduction, but the taxpayer is not required to acquiesce to the IRS's characterization and retains the right to challenge the IRS's position in court. So, except for those taxpayers who rollover, it's ultimately a court that decides what is a sham and what isn't, not the IRS.

Second, the word "sham" has a limited meaning in a legal and tax context, and simply purchasing large amounts of life insurance doesn't make something a sham in the absence of significant additional facts. Thus, provided that there are are non-tax reasons for creating the captive insurance company and for it to invest in life insurance, provided that the taxpayer chose to create the captive and invest in life insurance based primarily on those non-tax reasons, and further provided that those non-tax reasons are demonstrable to the IRS (or to a court if the IRS proves unreasonable), the taxpayer need not be overly concerned about the transaction being labeled a tax sham. While investing a significant portion or even all of a captive insurance company's assets into life insurance is one fact that could tend to suggest that the captive was created merely or primarily for purpose of purchasing life insurance with tax favored dollars, such a conclusion isn't required and numerous other facts may completely undermine the assertion.

In fact, as anyone familiar with the benefits and attributes of captives and modern life insurance policies can attest, there are multiple, compelling non-tax reasons to create a captive and invest in life insurance. Both captives and life insurance existed as a popular risk protection and asset accumulation vehicles long before either enjoyed favored tax status. Perhaps in a later post I shall count the many non-tax ways that captives and life insurance benefit the public, but Adkisson's apparent ignorance of them doesn't make those who are familiar with them simple "promoters" of "tax shelters".

Next, in explaining why small physician practices allegedly can't benefit from a captive insurance company, Adkisson says the following:

The principal risk that the physician faces is medical malpractice liability. Usually, the physician doesn't want to move that coverage to the captive because (gulp!) there actually might be a claim. Plus, hospitals may require a certificate of insurance from a rated insurance company as a condition of extending hospital privileges to the physician.

So, the physician wants the big deduction for a captive, but doesn't want to give up their existing medical malpractice coverage. So what does the physician have left that will support a six-figure premium payment to a captive? Nothing!


Oh, really? Nothing?! I suppose physician's don't need administrative actions insurance to protect their practices or their labs in the event of audits by OSHA, CLIA, or other regulatory agencies? And I suppose physicians can 't benefit from business risk indemnity insurance? Or failure of computer operations and/or data restoration insurance? Or contract cancellation insurance, or kidnapping and ransom insurance, or employment practices insurance, or intellectual property insurance, or trademark/servicemark infringement insurance, or terrorism insurance, or insurance for any number of other risks that either aren't typically covered under standard third party insurance policies or which contain numerous exclusions and limitations when they are?

Of course physicians could benefit from such coverage! Purchased for risk management and asset protections reasons, each one of the types of insurance mentioned in the prior paragraph is perfectly legitimate and relevant to most any business owner, including doctors. Furthermore, by purchasing all of the types of insurance noted above, and potentially several more, it's not difficult at all for total premiums paid by a small practice physician to a captive insurance company to legitimately reach six figures, Adkisson's silly assertion to the contrary notwithstanding. Any business, including a physician's practice, that engages in comprehensive risk management and asset protection planning would be crazy not to consider the impact that such contingencies could have on its operations and plan accordingly.

So, why doesn't Mr. Adkisson mention any of these risks as appropriate forms of insurance for a physician to purchase from a captive? Well, I have no benign explanation for this oversight. Perhaps Mr. Adkisson thinks that the benefits of a captive should be reserved only for those large corporations that are his clients, and that smaller businesses (especially if they work with law firms or advisors other than his own?) are likely to just screw things up for everyone. (Normally, I would be reluctant to impute such impure motives to someone I haven't personally met, but Mr. Adkisson never hesitates to assume the worst of insurance agents and other attorneys/advisors that work in "his field", so I'm just returning the favor).

Mr. Adkisson then goes on to criticize professionals who may use "risk pools" as a means of satisfying relevant risk sharing and risk distribution rules. In this regard, he states:

To create the appearance of third-party risk, a shady captive promoter may establish a "risk pool." Each client of the promoter makes premium payments for some questionable risk to an insurance company that is owned or controlled by the promoter. The risk pool then buys reinsurance from each client's captive, thus giving the appearance that each captive is deriving at least 50% of its premiums from third-party risk.

These sorts of risk pools are a sham on several levels.


I have a few questions for Mr. Adkisson: Are there ever times when non-shady people establish risk pools? Do risk pools ever insure anything other than "questionable" risks? Are all "risk pools" shams?

The obvious answers to these questions (well, obvious to anyone who knows anything about the captive insurance industry) are as follows: Yes, yes, and no. So, why doesn't Mr. Adkisson distinguish legitimate arrangements from bogus ones rather than implying that all "risk pools" are suspect?

Finally, under the heading "Problems with Life Insurance", we finally get to what appears to be Mr. Adkisson real concern:

Real insurance companies typically buy little, if any, life insurance as an investment. Instead, they generally hold more traditional and relatively liquid investments like stocks and bonds.

Owning a cash-value life insurance policy in a captive reduces the captive’s liquidity, and thus its ability to pay claims as they arise. It's just not something that a real insurance company would purchase as its principal asset.

The fact that the IRS has never issued guidance that says that a captive insurance company cannot invest in a cash-value life insurance policy doesn’t mean that it’s not a bad idea. Captive owners have worked hard over the years to gain the IRS’s begrudging acknowledgment of the validity of legitimate captive insurance arrangements for tax purposes.

Using a captive as a device to buy cash-value life insurance with pre-tax funds makes it look much less like a bona fide insurance company, and much more like a tax shelter.



Unfortunately, as is so common in this particular article, both his premise and his conclusion are flawed. Highly regulated entities such as insurance companies and banks regularly invest huge amounts of money in life insurance. Nearly seventy percent of Fortune 1000 companies fund their non-qualified deferred compensation plan for their senior executives with life insurance.

And, life insurance doesn't necessarily materially impact an insurance company's liquidity, as Adkisson implies. Modern high cash value policies have a very modest impact on liquidity in the early years and actually greatly enhance potential liquidity in the "out years." Whether such arrangement makes sense for a given captive is determined by the captive's risk profile and expected flow of claims. And, where a captive insures primarily "black swan" types of risks, future liquidity is probably more important than short term liquidity, and life insurance may therefore be among the most appropriate investments it can make (for reasons that have little or nothing to do with taxes).

While it is true that most "real" insurance companies don't invest the vast majority of their assets into life insurance as some captives do, there are very practical reasons why that's the case, none of those reasons have anything to do with the fact that the IRS might consider it a sham if they did, and most all of those reasons don't apply in the context of a closely held captive. To illustrate the point, let's engage in a thought experiment: Assume that a publicly-traded company was structured in such a way that it was economically advisable to invest one hundred percent of its assets into life insurance. Would doing so constitute a sham? Of course not! There's simply no way that the IRS could ever make a case that an existing, publicly held company investing its assets in life insurance is a tax sham if it were otherwise economically advisable for it to do so.

Which really brings home the point: There is nothing inherently wrong with a captive investing in life insurance, and there is no IRS litmus test for how much life insurance is appropriate under a given set of circumstances. Thus, the real question is not whether or how much a captive invests in life insurance, but whether or not the whole captive structure is simply a ruse to purchase on a tax deductible basis assets that could normally only be purchased on an after-tax basis. If so, then what does it matter whether the captive invests in life insurance or something else? Either way, it's a sham! And, if not, then same question: If the captive is legitimate, what does it matter whether it invests in life insurance or something else? Either way, it's not a sham.

Thus, where the taxpayer's pure motives in creating the captive are clear and well documented, I would suggest that limiting investments in life insurance to some "small percentage" or arbitrary limit, as Adkisson suggests, is absurd if business considerations dictate otherwise. Any legitimate company should ultimately invest its assets so as to best achieve its overall business objectives and not merely to satisfy some paranoid fear that the IRS will consider a legitimate arrangement to be a fraudulent one merely because life insurance is involved.

Intrestingly, to his credit, Mr. Adkisson admits as much. At the beginning of his article and at various places throughout, he lays down the the real rules, noting that there are no limits on captives investing in life insurance. But, regrettably, he then attempts to muddy the water through scare tactics in an attempt to dissuade people from contemplating significant amounts of life insurance as an option. Why?

Well, he eventually does tell us why:


"Captive owners have worked hard over the years to gain the IRS’s begrudging acknowledgment of the validity of legitimate captive insurance arrangements for tax purposes.

Using a captive as a device to buy cash-value life insurance with pre-tax funds makes it look much less like a bona fide insurance company, and much more like a tax shelter."


In short, Mr. Adkisson makes his money creating and administering captives, presumably for larger corporate clients and not small business owners like "small practice physicians". Large companies have little to no risk of being accused of employing captives as shams, but smaller companies, especially those run by that favorite target of the IRS, doctors (gasp!); and even more those that choose to invest in another favorite target of the IRS--life insurance (gulp!)--are admitedly more likely to use captives in abusive ways. But does Adkisson attempt to distinguish legitimate arrangements from abusive ones? No!

Why? Because if the IRS finds some captives to be abusive, they may seek legislation or propose regulations that would limit the benefits of captives even to the larger companies that Adkisson serves. After all, the IRS has a well-known history of performing delicate surgery with a sledge hammer.

And, should that happen, should the IRS crack down on captives in general, then Mr. Adkisson's business would be adversely affected. As a result, his website makes clear (if only by implication) that he'd rather only "big companies" gain the benefits of captives.

So, small business owners of America, please, please, for Adkisson's sake, run from captives and their "promoters" as fast as you can! This is especially true if you're a "small practice doctor" (gasp!) being approached by a life insurance salesperson (oh, the horror!) Just know that the benefits afforded business by captive insurance companies aren't for the likes of you, and no one else is qualified to "promote" captives other than Adkisson himself. In fact, just pondering these benefits too long could subject you and your tiny business to accusations of fraud(gasp!), or of participating in a sham (gulp!), or of "promoting tax shelters" (yikes!), and this is doubly true if you ponder these arrangements without the assistance of those captive omniscients at Riser Adkisson. In that case, they may even be the ones to throw the first stone at your captive!

Adkisson's public hostility toward the use of life insurance with captives insurance companies, as noted on his website, is all the more mystifying since he personally spoke at the 2009 meeting of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting ("AALU") and gave a presentation that included a discussion on the benefits of combining life insurance and captives in various ways. During this presentation he even spoke favorably of the particular structure with which I am most familiar. So, why does he speak so broadly negatively of life insurance and captives on his public website when he spoke so positively about it in private at AALU? Perhaps it's because his talk at AALU focused on his way of doing life insurance with captives? If so, this would be consistent with his apparent position that only he knows how these things should be done. In his mind, the rest of us are just self-interested "promoters", but Jay Adkisson is looking out for the public good!

So, now that you know Adkisson's motivations, you should also understand my own: A small but significant portion of my income results form selling life insurance policies to entities affiliated in one form or another with captives (gasp!). Yes, like Adkisson (and everyone else in the world), I am biased. The difference between me and most others, Adkisson included, is that I don't pretend otherwise.

Beware the "unbiased" advisor, for he is not! And now that all biases are on the table, I'll let the reader judge who has the better argument on this particular issue, Adkisson or myself.

Finally, now that I have vented my frustrations, I will offer my apologies to Mr. Adkisson for the tone of my criticism herein. Perhaps he might consider offering his own apology to all those dedicated, knowledgeable, professional captive advisors (attorneys, CPA's, insurance agents, insurance managers, etc.) who he has (inadvertently?) slandered by lumping them together with ignorant or dishonest "promoters" of simple "tax shelters" in his article?


DISCLOSURE: IRS regulations require me to inform you that this post is not intended or written by the me to be used (and cannot be used by you) for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed with regard to the tax consequences arising from any matters discussed in this message or for the purpose of promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this message.