Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Future is Closer Than You Think

Michael Anissimov discusses the "Top Ten Transhumanist Technologies". All of them seemed like pipedreams only a decade ago. Now, to many in the know, most of them are all but inevitable, and sooner than most are prepared to believe.

Anyone who has compared the amazingly realistic graphics of today's electronic games or animated motion pictures to those of just a decade ago will have no problem believing this prediction by Anissimov:

Sometime in the 2020s, reality simulations will become so high-resolution and immersive that they'll start to get indistinguishable from the real thing.
***
In the mid-to-late 2020s, I expect full-body, high quality haptic VR suits to be affordable to the average person in developed countries, obtained either from your local Wal-Mart or perhaps printed right out of a desktop nanofactory after payment of a fee. For more on this, here is one scientific paper, "Towards full-body haptic feedback".


Read the whole thing.

Those Amazing Stem Cells

Curing paralyzed monkeys with...stem cells. Truly amazing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm Hoping This Pans Out!

Fastcompany.com:
The tobacco mosaic virus is a destructive beast infecting over a hundred different species of plants, including tomatoes. But it may have a weird eco benefit: Incorporated into lithium batteries, it can increase storage capacity ten times.
**
This has all sorts of implications for mobile technology. Imagine every lithium battery in every mobile device you own lasting up to ten times longer. That would mean Apple's new MacBook Airs could hang on in standby mode for 10 months, and Amazon's Kindles may only require charging once every year. Smartphones could have useful call times extending up to a week, and as well as changing how we think about our tech this could have an eco upshot--you'd probably not leave your charger plugged in, sucking down vampire power as much as it does right now.

Alternatively, batteries could be made with the same capacity that they have now, only ten times smaller--freeing up designers to create all sorts of practically useful gadgets that would be impossible at the moment. Micro-batteries are also possible, meaning rechargeable batteries could replace disposable ones in devices like hearing aids.

And this was kept secret...why?

Wikileaks cables show that Texas company "helped pimp little boys to stoned Afghan cops."

Yah, that's a worthy "state secret", for sure. Makes you wonder what's in Julian Assange's widely-distributed-but-256-bit-encrypted "insurance" file, huh?

Senator Corker's "Nuanced" Response to my Letter Regarding TSA Body Scans

Recently I contacted my Senator, Bob Corker, regarding the intrusive nature of the largely useless TSA airport body scans. Here's his response:

Dear Mr. King,

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office with your concerns regarding the new security screening policy instituted by TSA. Your input is important to me, and I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts.

As you know, the new security procedures at airports include the use of full-body scanners and enhanced pat-down techniques. Full-body scanners are currently in use at about 58 U.S. airports and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has adopted rules intended to protect anonymity of passengers and to prevent the storing of images. Enhanced pat-downs were recently implemented as an alternative to the scanners and in instances where an unusual object is detected. While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with securing America's borders and protecting the American people from those that would do us harm, I share your concerns that civil liberties must be safeguarded as we confront the many evolving threats to our nation.

As Congress reviews these new security techniques, the invasive nature of the scanners and pat-downs must be considered along with their cost, safety and effectiveness. Again, while I have great concern with the serious threat faced by our country, particularly with regard to the clear commitment of terrorists to target air travel, I believe Congress should examine carefully whether these practices are necessary. Please know, I have experienced both the full-body scan and pat down procedures, and I will certainly take your concerns into consideration should any legislation reach the full Senate.

Thank you again for your letter. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me.


Sincerely,

Bob Corker
United States Senator


I would have preferred that he actually, you know, take a position on this topic, even if it be adverse to my own. But, maybe that's too much to ask these days.

UPDATE:> Lest I paint with too broad a brush, I must note that not all legislators are as nuanced as Mr. Corker. Though I often disagree with my Congressperson, John Duncan, I respect him greatly. I have written him on a variety of contentious topics over the years, and he never fails to stake out a definite position, responding intelligently to specific criticisms where I have disagreed. Thus, I admire him even when I disagree with him. By contrast, I struggle to find anything truly "admirable" in Senator Corker's letter quoted above.

Senator Corker, you can do better, and I'm betting you will.

The Gore Effect is Back in Action

Record low temperatures observed during the global warming meetings in Cancun.

The Age of Cyber War Is Here

Stories of all out cyber-warfare were all over the place this week. First, FoxNews reports that the previously identified Stuxnet computer worm is still spreading within Iran's nuclear program, with virtually no possibility of it ever being eliminated. The worm just so happens to be perfect at sabotaging centrifuges. We can only hope that's true, and that is represents the end of Iran's near to mid-term nuclear ambitions.

Then there's the growing cyberwar between opponents of Wikileaks and its defenders. The latest round seems to have gone to Wikileaks' opponents.

Interestingly, attempts by opponents of Wikileaks' to cut off its financing sources is potentially facilitating the emergence of a new "virtual currency" (called "bitcoin") which, due to its decentralized nature, cannot be traced and is beyond government control. Though such a currency stands little chance of going mainstream if used only by crypto-anarchist hackers, there are reasons to think its popularity may well expand well beyond the hacker community. For instance, because both the creation and transfer of such a currency is beyond the control of governments and central bankers, its value cannot be inflated away like that of fiat money can, it cannot be readily confiscated, and access to it cannot be easily denied its owners, making it attractive to those concerned about hyper-inflation and/or the government's eventual confiscation of other currency alternatives like gold. Suspiciously, though not surprisingly, the official bitcoin website (from which one can download the bitcoin software) was down when I tried to access it this morning, making it yet another likely casualty of the cyberwar.

And this was secret...why?

OFFICIALS have held secret talks about dumping the Royal Family as the head of the Commonwealth. That, according to the WikiLeaks cables.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Wish I'd Thought of This

Safeguard your junk while asserting your rights in this fetching line of underwear featuring the 4th amendment - the one about unreasonable search and seizure - emblazoned in metallic ink. The maker claims the words are readable on TSA scanners. "Let them know they're spying at the privates of a private citizen," reads one of their slogans.

Breakthrough in Computing

The new technology could accelerate the performance of supercomputers a thousand times, taking us from the current 2.6 petaflops (1015 or quadrillion operations per second) Chinese Tianhe-1A supercomputer to an exaflop (1018 or a quintillion operations per second) supercomputer in just 8 years (“flops” stands for “floating point operations per second”).

And that means a supercomputer that runs 100 times faster than a human brain operating at peak capacity, currently estimated to be around 1016 operations per second by Ray Kurzweil and others.

Full story here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Congress Helped Big Businesses Meet Their Pension Obligations by Stealing Yours

WallStreetJournal.com:
More than 90% of employees opt for a lump-sum payout from their pension plan when given the choice. That could be a mistake.

Under rules that became effective in 2008 and that affect millions of workers, companies such as AT&T Inc., Chevron Corp., and Dow Chemical Co. have been quietly changing the way they calculate lump-sum payouts from their pension plans—phasing out their use of a Treasury-bond rate to calculate lump sums and replacing it with a higher composite corporate-bond rate.

The result: substantially lower payouts to employees who are changing jobs, being laid off or retiring—anywhere from 10% to 60% or more, depending on age and other factors.
***
The changes are part of the Pension Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) and signed into law by President George W. Bush in August 2006. Employers had complained that the Treasury rate was so low that departing employees were getting a windfall and asked Congress for relief.
***
Companies had been using the 30-year Treasury bond rate to calculate lump sums since 1994. Before then, they were using a lower rate, and complained that employees taking lump sums were getting a windfall. Companies persuaded Congress to let them replace it with a then-higher 30-year Treasury rate, which at the time was about 8%.

The change to the then-higher rate angered employees, who realized their payouts would be reduced by tens of thousands of dollars. But the current change has received little notice. Unlike other moves that reduce pensions, employers aren't required to notify employees of the change, and most financial advisers are unaware of it.


Read the whole thing.

Anatomy of a Smear

Turns out that Julian Assange isn't wanted for rape after all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is Julian Assange...

...holding some things back as "insurance"?

Gee, I'd sure hope so. The threat of even more information coming to light is probably all that's keeping him alive these days, so he'd be stupid not to hold some things--some really big things--in reserve.

He does not strike me as a stupid man.

The Middle Class Tax Hike that You Might Have Missed

Your paycheck is about to shrink.

The housing problem...

... in three pictures.

Finally!

I found somebody (Glenn Greenwald) who thinks like I do regarding the latest WikiLeaks controversy. I'm particularly sympathetic to this point:

It is a "scandal" when the Government conceals things it is doing without any legitimate basis for that secrecy. Each and every document that is revealed by WikiLeaks which has been improperly classified -- whether because it's innocuous or because it is designed to hide wrongdoing -- is itself an improper act, a serious abuse of government secrecy powers. Because we're supposed to have an open government -- a democracy -- everything the Government does is presumptively public, and can be legitimately concealed only with compelling justifications. That's not just some lofty, abstract theory; it's central to having anything resembling "consent of the governed."

But we have completely abandoned that principle; we've reversed it. Now, everything the Government does is presumptively secret; only the most ceremonial and empty gestures are made public. That abuse of secrecy powers is vast, deliberate, pervasive, dangerous and destructive. That's the abuse that WikiLeaks is devoted to destroying, and which its harshest critics -- whether intended or not -- are helping to preserve. There are people who eagerly want that secrecy regime to continue: namely, (a) Washington politicians, Permanent State functionaries, and media figures whose status, power and sense of self-importance are established by their access and devotion to that world of secrecy, and (b) those who actually believe that -- despite (or because of) all the above acts -- the U.S. Government somehow uses this extreme secrecy for the Good.



I'm astounded at just how many of the "secret" documents are of the mundane variety, completely unrelated to issues of national security or diplomatic privilege. I can't help but think that many of these documents were classified simply to advance some insider's political agenda, to conceal the source and/or nature of the attacks against a political opponent, or to protect some favored vested interest. Such things should never have been secret in the first place! Why is there not a greater outcry about this?

Fewer Americans Buying Life Insurance:

The percentage of U.S. households with life insurance coverage is at its lowest in 50 years, leaving millions of families without a safety net, industry experts say.

Only 44% of households have an individual life insurance policy, and 30% have no individual or employer-provided life insurance, according to a recent survey by LIMRA, an industry-sponsored group. Some 11 million households with children younger than 18 — viewed as families with the greatest need for coverage — have no life insurance.

Full story here.

Term life insurance is dirt cheap these days. Buy it if you need it. It's cheap peace of mind.

Fareed Zakaria...

...has joined Warren Buffett in whining that the rich don't pay enough taxes. Glenn Reynolds reminds Fareed that there's nothing keeping them from doing so:

"Hey, Fareed: The Treasury accepts donations. Make one, and post the receipt."

Never fear, the government is here...

...to help us with our gambling habit:

Earlier this week, reports emerged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) was floating a proposal to regulate online poker in the US – a proposal that was intended to pass (or attempt to pass) in the current “lame duck” session.
***
The bill is about 75 pages long.


And, with backing up our cars:

The Transportation Department proposed rear visibility rules that would, in effect, require backup cameras in all cars and light trucks by the 2014 models. The DOT estimated the systems -- a rear video camera and interior display -- would add about $200 to the cost of a vehicle.


Well, I hate to appear ungrateful as I appreciate the government's constant meddling in my affairs to insure my well-being. I mean, I do realize that it only wants what's best for me. But, dear government, if you really knew me, you'd understand that my real problems aren't with gambling or backing up my car. No, my problem at the moment is with toilet paper. Seriously, the toilet paper at my health club is that useless single-ply type. It takes about half a roll for a single wipe! I much prefer double-ply toilet paper, don't you? And, shouldn't every American, not just the rich, have a right to thick, plush, soft toilet paper, dear legislator? I mean, this is America, after all!

So, why don't you be a chap and pass a federal law mandating that all toilet paper sold in the US be at least double-ply, okay? Oh, and also, while you're at it, you might as well require that it also be quilted too. One's toilet paper can never be too soft, ya know.

Thanks in advance.

Your faithful constituent,

Sean

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Building the Bible

bpnews.net:
A major evangelical organization which supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood says the newest translation of the NIV Bible is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the TNIV, although the group says it still cannot endorse it because it contains many of the same problems.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement Nov. 19 stating that the NIV 2011 has many of the same flaws that prevented the TNIV from gaining in popularity among the evangelical community. CBMW, though, did applaud the translators for the "openness and honesty" of the translation process.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Surprises Me

Farragut ranked the second most business friendly city in TN.

X-Ray Crazy

NYTimes.com:
Because children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to radiation, doctors three years ago mounted a national campaign to protect them by reducing diagnostic radiation to only those levels seen as absolutely necessary.

It is a message that has resonated in many clinics and hospitals. Yet there is one busy place where it has not: the dental office.

Not only do most dentists continue to use outmoded X-ray film requiring higher amounts of radiation, but orthodontists and other specialists are embracing a new scanning device that emits significantly more radiation than conventional methods, an examination by The New York Times has found.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Foreclosure Fiasco

Treasury department says the foreclosure process is "more F'd up than we thought." Okay, they didn't actually say it that way, but that's what they meant.

Glenn Reynolds:

"Of course...[Obama's] not a Muslim. If he were a Muslim, he’d have to believe in something greater than Barack Obama."


Ouch.

Benjamin Powell:

The pilgrim's real thanksgiving lesson, and how private property saved them.

Stephen Green...

...repeats the false "debtors love inflation" meme.

As the folks over as Daily Reckoning have noted, this is only true for those very few debtors who actually retire their debts with the increasingly less valuable cash. But permanent debtors, such as the United States and most other sovereigns, not to mention many consumers and businesses, never pay down their debt significantly. Rather, they simply refinance it as it matures. Thus, with the prospect of sufficient inflation, that refinancing will happen at much higher rates of interest. And, given our current debt load, rates at even 1990's levels would be enough to sink us.

This idea that inflation benefits debtors has got to go.



UPDATE:>At the end of his post to which I orginally linked above, Mr. Green responds to my critique as follows:
When ten trillion dollars pays off half the national debt, or buys a pair of shoes, who gives a good got-dam about the interest on the re-fi?


I'm not sure that I understand his point (which is undoubtedly more of a reflection on me than him). I believe he is saying that, once the price of goods reaches a certain point, interest on the re-fi no longer matters.

But I think it does for the simple reason that, in a severely over-leveraged economy, skyrocketing interest rates will prevent prices from approaching the levels he supposes in the first place. When private sector leverage is great, spiking interest rates results in massive defaults by those debtors who can't print their own money (i.e., debtors in the private sector). And, where that private sector debt is significantly greater than government debt, such massive defaults can only be deflationary as money "disappears" in a reverse multiplier effect.

For instance, as Robert Prechter has noted, between September 2008 and June 2010 (or the period of QE1), the Fed (here in the US) purchased $2.46 trillion of bonds with money that it manufactured out of thin air. And yet, this increase by Fed was more than completely offset by deleveraging in the private sector such that total US debt outstanding declined by nearly $300 billion during the same period. In other words, the private sector paid down or wrote off nearly $2.75 trillion of debt during a period when the Fed was only able to "create" $2.46 trillion of new debt money to offset it. Most of this decline in total debt was due to write-offs and not pay-downs, so had interest rates spiked during the last year rather than continuing their decline, the numbers would be far, far worse.

However, in defense of those who argue that "inflation is good for debtors", it must be noted that there are some limited scenarios (which don't seemingly apply to present day Europe or the US) that might be the case. One such scenario occurs when government debt as a percentage of GDP is quite high, but where private sector debt levels (business and consumers) are much lower--for instance, where government debt is running, say, 100% of GDP, but total business and private debt only accounts for maybe 50% of GDP. In this scenario, governments can "steal" productivity from the private sector through modest inflation.

They do this by having the central bank purchase the government's debt with invented (notice I don't say "printed") dollars. These newly invented dollars, used to buy government debt, find their way to banks where they are subsequently loaned out to productive entities (businesses or those who work for them) time and again via the multiplier effect. Businesses and consumers readily borrow the available money from the banks under these circumstances because their current debt burden is modest and easily serviced. Thus, taking on more debt gives them an opportunity to grow their business or finance their lifestyle without significantly raising the odds of default. This multiplier effect results in the supply of dollars in the economy increasing at a much faster rate than the supply of goods, bidding up the price of goods and creating inflation. People's incomes and spending rise (in dollar terms if not in true spending power terms) as a result of this inflation, and this increases tax revenues in dollar terms. Thus, government receives more dollars with which to retire and/or service its debt, at little or no cost to itself, all thanks to this inflation which acts as a hidden tax on the public.

But, this scenario isn't possible where the productive sector of the economy is so debt laden that it already struggles to service its current debt load, and this is undoubtedly the situation that US and much of peripheral Europe finds itself in today. Private sector debt in the US (and much of Europe's periphery) dwarfs government debt many times over. The private sector in these countries is already struggling to service existing debt levels even with interest rates a unprecedentedly low levels (as evidenced by record high defaults, foreclosures, and bankruptcies and subsequent bank failures). Thus, in the present scenario, any additional liquidity injected by central banks through monetization of debt won't find its way into the economy via new/additional loans and therefore can't create inflation via the multiplier effect. This will be true for the EU for the foreseeable future regardless of whether Germany decides to go it alone or not.

That is, unless these governments do away with a central bank altogether and begin to truly print their own money, in the literal sense, using this new money to retire or service its debts (as in the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe). While such a move to directly print money is possible and is certainly not unprecedented, even talk of it would instantly trigger fears of hyper-inflation, resulting in an almost immediate spike in interest rates in any newly issued private sector debt. This spike in rates would in fact likely precede the actual introduction of the printed money into the economy, or at least would coincide with it. Thus, increases in money supply due to the government actually, directly, and literally printing money to pay its debts would be immediately offset by drastically higher rates. While this rate spike wouldn't matter too, too much to the government (which can simply print even more money to pay its interest), it would have catastrophic consequences on the still over-leveraged private sector of the US or EU, both of which would be required over time to refinance already unmanageable debts at the new skyrocketing rates.

Unable even to make the necessary interest payment on the debt under these conditions, private sector defaults, bankruptcies and foreclosures would become the rule rather than the exception. Banks would fail at an even faster rates. Government expenses would increase drastically, (due to the cost of bailouts, funding the social safety net, etc.) while its tax revenues would collapse as the economy shrank (due to failed businesses going bankrupt). This would trigger the need for the government to print yet more money to pay its bills, which spikes rates further, resulting in a vicious cycle that decimates the private economy.

And, because the private economy's debts dwarf the government's, the money/credit exiting the system as a result of the collapse of the private sector dwarfs in dollar terms, at least for quite some time, the amount of new money printed by the government to pay its debts/bills. The result is a massive, write-off driven deflation of the entire economy.

Thus, unlike in the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe examples, runaway inflation is all but impossible where the private sector is already over-leveraged (as is the case in the US and EU today) before the government intervenes. In short, before inflation could even gain a foothold in these countries, their governments would be faced with a deflationary collapse of their entire economies due to a collapse in the private bond market.

Depending how these governments react to such a deflationary collapse, runaway inflation might surface once things hit bottom--that is, once the vast majority of currently outstanding private debt is written off or paid down--but only once this happens. Thus, the key insight is this: When the private sector is as severely over-leveraged as it is in most of the Western world, inflation, if it comes at all, only does so after an extended period of deflation. And, this fact won't change for the peripheral EU nations regardless of whether or not Germany bails on them, and no matter how much they "quantitatively ease".

And so, I stand by my original statement: The idea that inflation is "good for debtors", at least overextended debtors, has got to go. Fortunately, significant inflation is a virtual impossibility in over-leveraged economies, as I have explained, but a government-generated fear of it (in the form of higher interest rates) may very well turn what would have been a slow, bearable, deflationary slide (a la Japan) into an outright deflationary collapse (a la the United States in 1930's, or worse). Thus, with all respect to Mr. Green, interest rates on the re-fi do matter in an over-leveraged economy, for they are the very thing that will prevent governments from taking (or at least successfully implementing) the inflationary measures that he anticipates. We need not worry about $10 trillion shoes anytime soon, at least not until AFTER a deflationary collapse (be it gradual, which is preferred, or sudden).

Should we really be spending our time...

...and money charging people like 77 year-old country singer Willie Nelson with possession? Er...seems like we've bigger fish to fry.

Did Stalin Commit Genocide?

So asks Ilya Somin.

Well, he did systematically kill millions and millions of people from undesirable ethnic and/or religious backgrounds. But, hey, that's not genocide, Ilya. Stalin was a Leftist. Genocide is when those on the so-called right systematically kill millions and millions of people from undesirable ethnic and/or religious backgrounds.

How Law Pivot Could Disrupt the Legal Field

Well, the legal field is ripe for disruption.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing the establishment will attempt to use ethics rules to preserve the status quo.

Regulation Benefits Big Business

In this case, big agribusiness.

TSA Giving You a Hard Time About Photographing or Filming a Security Checkpoint?

Here's some advice that might help.

The Right to Bear Arms

Woman killed man who shot husband during South Knoxville home invasion robbery attempt.

Ten Questions for Ray Kurzweil:

UN Seeks to Ban Free Speech

readwriteweb.com:
In a move that will give states and other parties who are offended by free speech precedent to further restrict it, the United Nations has again passed the resolution forbidding "defamation of religion."

This is its third time through the Byzantine U.N. voting process. Allegedly put forward to protect religion from, well, people saying mean things, the resolution was tellingly put forward by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, not a group renowned for its defense of minority religious practice.

So, take any stupid idea and call it a religion and, presto, no one can criticize it. Brilliant!

It's Like the Big Bang All Over Again

Physicsworld.com:
Circular patterns within the cosmic microwave background suggest that space and time did not come into being at the Big Bang but that our universe in fact continually cycles through a series of "aeons". That is the sensational claim being made by University of Oxford theoretical physicist Roger Penrose, who says that data collected by NASA's WMAP satellite support his idea of "conformal cyclic cosmology".

Contagion

The world is waking up once again to the fact that the European Union is on the brink.

In just the last few days, both Spain and Portugal have implemented severe austerity measures, insisting that they won't need a bailout. Gee, where have I heard that before? Let's see, maybe it was in Greece just days before they took a bailout? Or was it Ireland, which just two weeks ago insisted that it didn't need a bailout?

The problem is that no one believes the lies anymore, and so they are taking rational steps to protect themselves. With Spain's economy alone being more than twice the size of Greece's, Portugal's, and Ireland's combined, it's getting increasingly difficult for the EU to stem the tide.

And, pretty soon we need to start talking about Italy which, like many European nations, was immersed in anti-austerity rioting this week.

It's only a matter of time before Germany decides to bail on these guys, and then it's all over for the Euro.

UPDATE:> More than 100,000 march in protest of Irish budget cuts.

Forget the Demons, Fear the Demon Hunters!

vibeghana.com:
A 72-year-old grandmother suffered one of the most barbaric of deaths when she was burnt alive by a mob at Tema Site 15 after being accused of being a witch.

A student-nurse, who appeared on the scene, attempted to rescue the old woman from her ordeal but the woman died of her burns within 24 hours of arrival at the Tema General Hospital.

Five people who allegedly tortured and extracted the confessions of witchcraft from Ama Hemmah before drenching her in kerosene and setting her ablaze have been arrested by the Tema Police.

But the suspects, including an evangelist, denied the crime and claimed that they were rather praying to exorcise the evil spirit from the deceased, Ama, when the anointing oil they had applied to her body caught fire.


Read the whole thing.

And then there's this:
Okay, this isn't exactly one of those warm and fuzzy stories that we enjoy so much around this time of year. In fact, it's the complete opposite. It's creepy, chilling, and just downright heartbreaking. Last night, actor Michael Brea, who had appearances on the hit TV show Ugly Betty, brutally murdered his own mother.

And it's not even the fact that he murdered his own mom that's the most disturbing. It was how he explained it afterwards, saying that it was an act of God and that he wasn't killing her, he was killing the demons inside of her.


Again, read the whole thing. Freaky stuff.

Big Sale Over at 23andme.com

Learn your deep ancestry and genetic health risks for only $99 (plus $5/mo for updates). Normal price is $500, so this is a big deal. Makes a cool Christmas gift.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Megan McArdle goes "down on the farm"...

...in China:

There is nothing to cure you of the romance of farming like a visit to a poor farming community. As someone whose grandparents came off the farm, I have a healthy respect, even a reverence, for what farmers do. But it is hard, backbreaking work, unremitting and too often unrewarding. Rice cultivation is even more labor intensive than the produce-and-animal-husbandry of my ancestors. Anyone who can force themselves to get up in the morning and spend all day in a rice paddy deserves your utmost respect.

The farmers we visited are, we're informed, about average for China these days. They have running water, electricity, and cable television. Each person farms about 1.5 mu, or roughly a quarter of an acre, with three seasonal crops: two of vegetables, one of rice. The fact that they can get three crops out of that little amount of land tells you why China has so many people.


Read the whole thing.

Gene Therapy

Complete melanoma remission in mice was achieved with gene therapy to turn up the immune system against the cancer.

Wow!

Chinese government...

...worries about the price of bread in China.

Deflation

New home sales fell to near record low in Oct, and the average price is lowest in seven years.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Climategate: One Year Later

Anthony Watts:
Sitting here now, one year later, it’s becoming difficult to remember the importance of that release of information, or even what information was actually released. Many were only introduced to the scandal through commentary in the blogosphere and many more came to know about it only weeks later, after the establishment media had a chance to assess the damage and fine tune the spin that would help allay their audience’s concern that something important had just happened. Very few have actually bothered to read the emails and documents for themselves.


Few have browsed the “Harry Read Me” file, the electronic notes of a harried programmer trying to make sense of the CRU’s databases. They have never read for themselves how temperatures in the database were “artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures” or the “hundreds if not thousands of dummy stations” which somehow ended up in the database, or how the exasperated programmer resorts to expletives before admitting he made up key data on weather stations because it was impossible to tell what data was coming from what sources.

Few have read the 2005 email from Climategate ringleader and CRU head Phil Jones to John Christy where he states “The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.” Or where he concludes: “As you know, I’m not political. If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences. This isn’t being political, it is being selfish.”

Or the email where he broke the law by asking Michael Mann of “hockey stick” fame to delete a series of emails related to a Freedom of Information request he had just received.

Or the email where he wrote: “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. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.”

Or the other emails where these men of science say they will re-define the peer review process itself in order to keep differing view points out of the scientific literature, or where they discuss ousting a suspected skeptic out of his editorial position in a key scientific journal, or where they fret about how to hide the divergence in temperature proxy records from observed temperatures, or where they openly discuss the complete lack of warming over the last decade or any of the thousands of other emails and documents exposing a laundry list of gross scientific and academic abuses.

Supercomputers will "fit in a sugar cube",...

...IBM says.

Liberty is Just Too Dangerous To Entrust to the Common Folk

PopSci.com:

The Obama administration is considering disabling cell phones in American cars, aiming to cut down on distracted drivers and cell-phone-related road deaths.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the nation’s preeminent anti-distracted-driving crusader, said in an interview on MSNBC yesterday that federal officials are looking at technology to disable cell phones inside cars.

“I think it will be done,” LaHood said. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.”

Peace and safety first. Liberty last.

Cyborgs?

Scientist develop an artificial retina that's more capable of restoring normal vision. It's got a ways to go, but given the Law of Accelerating Returns, "bionic" vision will be here before you know it.

Follow the first link above for some cool pictures.

Hell Freezes Over

First the Mormons give a little on homosexuality, and now the Pope gives a little on condom use.

Whodathunkit?

Mogambo Guru makes a point...

...that I've made previously:
You can tell that I am scornfully dismissive of anybody who says that “inflation reduces the burden of debt,” because such a scheme only works for a debtor whose income keeps up with inflation AND who pays down the old debts with cash.

Otherwise, I can’t imagine how it would work, and nobody has ever explained it to me, as I would really, really, really like to know how I can borrow money at 5%, and then “reduce the burden of my debt” by borrowing money at 10% (interest rates having gone up in response to the inflation) to pay off the 5% debt just because inflation is high! Wow! Must be part of the “new math”!



Fortunately though, unlike Mogambo Guru, I don't think inflation is in the offing anytime soon, the Fed's best efforts notwithstanding.

Read more: The Madness of Inflating Away the Debt Burden http://dailyreckoning.com/the-madness-of-inflating-away-the-debt-burden/#ixzz15wVZ0QC0

The Bailouts Continue

This time, it's Ireland.

My question is which US state will be the first to fall? California is the obvious choice. Maybe a little too obvious.

If I Hadn't Seen It, I Wouldn't Have Believed It

TSA strip searches little boy in line at airport:



What kind of a fascist state are we living in?!

To make matters worse, there's apparently no reliable way of identifying pedophiles among TSA agents!

On a related note, John L. Smith bemoans the constant searches of his disabled, wheel-chair-bound daughter.

And then there's this heart-breaking story:
A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

“I was absolutely humiliated, I couldn’t even speak,” said Thomas D. “Tom” Sawyer, 61, of Lansing, Mich.

Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. “I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes.”
On Nov. 7, Sawyer said he went through the security scanner at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “Evidently the scanner picked up on my urostomy bag, because I was chosen for a pat-down procedure.”

Due to his medical condition, Sawyer asked to be screened in private. “One officer looked at another, rolled his eyes and said that they really didn’t have any place to take me,” said Sawyer. “After I said again that I’d like privacy, they took me to an office.”

Sawyer wears pants two sizes too large in order to accommodate the medical equipment he wears. He’d taken off his belt to go through the scanner and once in the office with security personnel, his pants fell down around his ankles. “I had to ask twice if it was OK to pull up my shorts,” said Sawyer, “And every time I tried to tell them about my medical condition, they said they didn’t need to know about that.”

Before starting the enhanced pat-down procedure, a security officer did tell him what they were going to do and how they were going to it, but Sawyer said it wasn’t until they asked him to remove his sweatshirt and saw his urostomy bag that they asked any questions about his medical condition.

“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”


These stories are truly outrageous. I predict things will get violent sooner rather than latter if more reasonable heads don't prevail.

The UK Gets It

Charles Sizemore:
Mr. Cameron is giving Mrs. Thatcher a run for the money as the biggest revolutionary to hold office in Britain in the past 30 years.

While the United States under the presidency of Barack Obama continues to post astronomical budget deficits that put the long-term stability of the country at risk, Mr. Cameron is unleashing austerity measure on Britain that would make him look like a villain in a Charles Dickens novel. Bah, humbug!

The UK’s planned budget cuts of £81 billion ($128 billion) over four years are the equivalent of 4.5% of projected 2014-15 GDP. These are just the cuts, mind you, not the budget itself. The Financial Times calculates that similar cuts in the United States would be about $650 billion, equal to the projected cost of Medicare in 2015!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tyler Durden:

For us, the Fed’s decision to initiate a second round of quantitative easing was not really motivated by a desire to lead the United States and the world out of the current economic crisis, but rather from the need to save US banks and their top officials from the consequences of an unimaginable mess (or deceitful system), which was built up over at least the past decade. The only deliberate thing here is the decision to sacrifice precisely the very same Fed itself. This was decided not only to save big financial corporations and their leaders, but also to lay the ground for either a world Federal Reserve, a sort of SuperFed, or (if the former fails) at least one for a North American Fed that would rise out of the ashes left by the existing Federal Reserve, now destined to explode as a result of hyperinflation.


Read the whole article, "Currency Wars And The Fed’s Demise".

"Don't Touch My Junk":

Mormon Church Liberalizes Position on Gays

It seems that homosexual thoughts and feelings are now tolerable, but not actual gay sex acts.

Robin Phillips has some thoughts on the Mormon church's long and interesting history with sexuality, and he is disturbed of its evolving sense of morality.

Not to be overly defensive of the Mormons or critical of Robin, but evolving morality is a complaint that could be levied against every major faith. At least in this instance, the evolution in question is toward tolerance rather than less.

Chinese government...

...worries about the price of bread in China.

We're with the government...

...and we're here to help make sure that you don't kill yourself drinking:

Four Loko, a popular alcoholic energy drink, has been a hot topic for quite some time in media reports, which linked at least one fatal incident to drinking the beverage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter on Nov 17 to request four companies to stop selling caffeinated malt alcoholic beverages including the one producing Four Loko.

The FDA said the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an unsafe food addictive.

I'm pretty sure that last word should be "additive", not "addictive."

But anyway, given the tragedies that result from people doing stupid things, it's hard not to be sympathetic to such laws at the gut level. But then our brains should kick in and we should remember that if we are not free to be stupid, then we are not free. As Ronald Reagan said:
"Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves."

UK to Relatives of Deceased Nuclear Workers:

Hey guys, UK government here. We're really sorry for secretly mutilating the dead bodies of your relatives over a 40 year period in order to avoid any possibility of cancer lawsuits.

Why Am I Not Surprised?

CNBC.com:
Despite a long and deep recession, the collective personal wealth of congressional members increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to a study released Wednesday by the Center for Responsive Politics.


Well, membership has its privileges, I suppose, such as a blanket exemption from insider trading laws. Sweet deal, if you can get it.

Two Medical Breakthroughs This Week?

First, a new drug is amazingly effective at decreasing LDL and increasing HDL.

Second, a simple surgery may cure those with chronic, drug-resistant high blood pressure.

Both look promising, but more studies are needed.

This Chart Should Worry the Short-Term Hyper-Inflationists:



Inflationists argue that the Fed's continued "printing" of money must lead to inflation--i.e., more dollars chasing fewer goods equals higher prices. But, that's not necessarily so since the Fed isn't actually printing anything. We constantly here about "Helicopter Ben Bernanke" being able to "drop dollars from helicopters" at will, but that's not actually how the Fed acts (or can act). Rather, the Fed can only indirectly to impact money supply by seeking to expand the amount of credit in the system, which it has tried to do with all its might for two years now without much success.

The Fed influences the amount of credit in the system by purchasing US Government securities (or in extreme cases other assets) with money that it is legally allowed to create from thin air. But this money doesn't belong to the US government or the private sector free and clear (as if it had been dropped on them from a helicopter). Rather, the bond that the government sold in exchange for the money must one day be repaid to the Fed with interest. So, all the Fed has accomplished in buying the bond is to increase the total amount of debt outstanding in the system beyond the level it would have been without the Fed's intervention.

That's all well and good, but it doesn't necessarily expand the amount of money/credit in the system to inflationary levels--that is, it doesn't necessarily result in more dollars/credit chasing the same amount of goods. For instance, as Robert Prechter has noted, between September 2008 and June 2010 (or the period of QE1), the Fed purchased $2.46 trillion of bonds with money that it manufactured out of thin air. And yet, this increase by Fed was more than completely offset by deleveraging in the private sector such that total US debt outstanding declined by nearly $300 billion during the period. In other words, the private sector paid down or wrote off nearly $2.75 trillion of debt during a period when the Fed was only able to "create" $2.46 trillion of new debt to offset it. And, this decline in total debt was mostly attributable more attributable to write-offs than debt being paid down.

Furthermore, the Fed's ability to purchase debt is not unlimited. There are practical, and more importantly political, constraints that limit just how much government debt it can purchase.

In short, QE1 failed to inflate the economy, and there's no reason to think QE2 will turn out differently. In fact, there are reasons to think the opposite, such as the chart above comparing US core inflation since the start of the burst of its real estate bubble in 2004 to Japan's core inflation since the start of the burst of its own real estate bubble in 1989. Like the US, Japan has engaged in "quantitative easing" many times over the last decade (and on a scale that dwarf's the US's), with the only result being...disinflation and even deflation, not inflation. This is because Japan's private sector deleveraged at a faster rate than the government could sell debt to Japan's central bank to offset it. The same thing is now happening in the US, and based on the above chart, the US appears to be right on track for a "lost decade" of deflation like Japan.

And, this is what one would expect when debt has reached a saturation point. With total US debt around 300 percent of GDP, debt servicing cost is a great burden even with crazy-low interest rates. The private sectors isn't clamoring for more loans these days, not matter how cheap the Fed makes them. It realizes that even a minor shock to the system, such as interest rates returning to the rather modest early 1990's level, would be enough to trigger massive defaults and involuntary deleveraging throughout the system. The only way to protect themselves is to hoard cash, which is exactly what both corporations and private individuals are doing. Hoarding and/or loan defaults can only be deflationary as less money/credit chasing the same amount of goods/assets must ultimately mean lower prices.

We are constantly told in the press that deflation is bad--far worse than inflation in fact. But I suppose that depends on who you are. If you are a banker who has overextended credit, you'd (contrary to popular belief) much prefer moderate inflation to moderate deflation. With inflation, the bank is at least likely to get repaid, albeit with less valuable dollars. The lower value of the repaid dollars will reduce the net rate of interest that the bank originally anticipated earning, but at least it gets repaid! Like all lenders, banks are concerned about the return on their money, but they are even more concerned about the return of their money. Inflationary environments typically result in fewer loan defaults than deflationary ones, which is one reason why Central banks, contrary to popular belief until recently, seek to create modest inflation rather than prevent it.

But, if you are an over-extended debtor, a deflationary environment is far better. Deflation will lower interest cost and reduce your debt burden. Deflation lowers your operating costs or cost of living over time. And if you're one of the unfortunate ones who gets laid off or goes out of business, your debts will (painful as it is) be forgiven in bankruptcy and you'll get a fresh start (a la General Motors).

In short, when credit has been overextended as it undoubtedly has over the last 15 years, inflation benefits bankers and hurts debtors, and vice versa for deflation. This explains why the Fed desires inflation. Fortunately, if Japan is any example, it will fail.


UPDATE:> For another look at just how ineffective the Fed has been at increasing money supply despite all its "money printing", see the blue line on this chart.


ANOTHER UPDATE:> Annual core US inflation drops to lowest rate ever in October.


YET ANOTHER UPDATE:> This video pretty much explains things in an informative and highly entertaining way:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Calling Out Lance Wallach

Some time ago I called out attorney Jay Adkisson for unprofessionally marketing his services by: (1) terrifying the public into thinking the IRS is out to get them, and (2) suggesting that his firm was the only one who knew how to keep them out of trouble. Regrettably, such marketing tactics are becoming more and more common.

Consider, for example, this article by Lance Wallach titled "The dangers of being 'listed'". The article is clearly designed to be alarming. For instance, the opening sentence begins, "Taxpayers who previously adopted 419, 412i, captive insurance or Section 79 plans are in big trouble." He tells us the purported reason in the next sentence: "In recent years, the Internal Revenue Service has identified many of these arrangements as abusive devices to funnel tax-deductible dollars to shareholders, and classified these arrangements as "listed transactions." He goes on to impugn the motives and competence of other professionals who assist the public with such plans by remarking "[t]hese plans were sold by insurance agents, financial planners, accountants and attorneys seeking large life-insurance commissions." Mr. Wallach clearly attended the Jay Adkisson school of self-promotion.

Would any fair person reading the headline and opening paragraph of Mr. Wallach's article conclude that it is only certain types of 419 plans, 412(i) plans, captive insurance arrangements, and Section 79 plans that are "listed"? Maybe, but I doubt it. Reading the opening sentence again, it seems clear the article was written to cause anyone "who previously adopted 419, 412i, captive insurance or Section 79 plans" to think that they are now "in big trouble" thanks to greedy advisors who have led them down the primrose path.

Mr. Wallach would also seemingly have us believe that other professionals are conflicted while he is objective. But, simply reading the virtual "autobiography" he provides at the end of the above-linked article shows that his own motivations in writing the article are hardly selfless:


Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters. He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and his side has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007,wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxadvisorexperts.org or www.taxlibrary.us.


Mr. Wallach is clearly a self-promoter extraordinaire. Once we understand this, and once we understand how Mr. Wallach makes a living (he tweets that he is in the business of "[d]efending & protecting businesses & financial professionals from IRS audits, insurance & brokerage firms..."), then it becomes clear why he fails to emphasize in his article that not every 412(i) plan is a listed transaction, nor every 419 arrangement nor every Section 79 plan. In fact, contrary to his implication, 831(b) captive insurance companies are not listed transactions at all! Why does he not make these facts plain?

The reason is obvious. This article, and others like it, are clearly designed to drive inquiries to Wallach's firm. The more people he alarms, the more inquiries he receives, and the more likely he is to develop business.

Don't get me wrong, I have no objection to self-promotion, and I don't blame Mr. Wallach for pursuing his own self interest. But I do resent the alarmism that results from Mr. Wallach's lack of full-disclosure on these points, and I especially resent his implication that other advisors were improperly motivated by commissions whereas his own fee-based (?) motives are somehow purely benevolent.

Mr. Wallach is clearly a knowledgeable and respected professional, one who shouldn't need to engage in such unseemly marketing practices.

If Mr. Wallach or his defenders would like equal time, they are free to reply via comments to this post. I will be sure to post any such reply.



UPDATE:> Heavens to Betsy, when I said above that Mr. Wallach was a "self-promoter extraordinaire", I was understating things considerably. His self-promotion borders on megalomania. This from his website:

"Lance Wallach, Managing Director, is the nations [sic] leading expert on employee benefit plans, tax problem resolution and IRS audit defense."


That's a bold statement by itself, but that's not the half of it. Under the "life insurance" tab on the same website, I find this:

"Lance Wallach, Managing Director, is the nations [sic] leading expert on life insurance, annuities,
retirement & financial planning for business
executives, sports figures, entertainers, affluent
families and successful entrepreneurs."


Wow! And to think I've never heard of him till recently.

The only thing we can say with certainty that Mr. Wallach is not the "nation's leading expert" on is...grammar. (Oh wait, that last sentence wasn't very grammatical, was it?)

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Think They Get It!

Christian Science Monitor:
Representatives of the loosely organized tea party movement urged GOP leaders in a letter released Monday to abandon their fronts in the culture wars – issues such as gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion – and instead focus their new electoral power on individual liberties and "economic freedoms."
***
"If the Tea Party wants to remain true to its limited government principles, then it strikes me that the default position would be less government and more personal freedom, whether the issue being dealt with involves economics or so-called 'social issues,' " writes Doug Mataconis on the Outside the Beltway blog. "At some point this unnatural split in the GOP's view on freedom will have to be reconciled."


Yes it will. And fortunately, there's no reason why doing so should be all that difficult. The trick is simply remembering that the purpose of government in a free society is not to compel people to behave in ways you want, but to prevent people from compelling you to behave in ways you don't.

This means that we must be prepared to permit individuals to do things that we find ill advised or even morally or religiously abhorrent so long as they don't directly harm others in doing so. The only way to insure that government doesn't interfere with the way that we want to live our lives is to prevent it, as much as possible, from interfering with how others live theirs. A government powerful enough to impose our world view on others is, by definition, also powerful enough to impose some other world view on us.

Thus, I agree that conservatives should abandon the political culture war in favor of broader principles of liberty. But, that's not to say that we must remain silent on contested matters or ignore behaviors that we perceive as immoral or unjust. Rather, we must simply take the war to the streets and fight it block by block, or rather individual by individual, rather than in the halls of government. We must recognize that, if we are to convince others to adopt our way of thinking/acting while remaining true to our principles, our criticism must be so reasonable and so compelling that it is effective even without the aid of governmental coercion. We can no longer allow governmental compulsion to substitute for the hard work of persuasion. When we have abandoned this principle (and we too often have), we become just another of the many thugs fighting over the same governmental gun.

The only way to avoid such fights while still protecting ourselves from thugs who won't is for conservatives to disable the gun--that is, to shrink the influence of government drastically. A tiny weapon is hardly worth fighting for and can't do great damage even if won.

And, the only way to shrink government is for true conservatives to maintain a strong and lasting majority in Congress, not to impose our will, but to prevent the thugs from doing so. Conservatives cannot do that without building a big tent.

Fortunately, the way to build a big tent, as the last elections have shown, is to oppose government in almost all areas, even areas where we might prefer it to act, and doing this has the additional benefit of shrinking the gun. For instance, why do Americans permit government to become involved in the issue of marriage at all (gay or otherwise)? Shouldn't marriage be between a person and his/her betrothed, and perhaps his or her God or church? Why does the state get a say? By removing the state as the final arbiter of marriage, and returning that responsibility to individuals or religious institutions where it belongs, conservatives can both shrink government and build a big tent party without sacrificing their moral or religious principles.

All this is to say that, if conservatives are to long govern, they must agree to move the culture war from the political battlefield to the social one. Conservatives must take up the hard work of persuading individuals to voluntarily behave in their desired ways, rather than seeking to force them to do so through governmental action. Taking this approach, conservative culture warriors can vehemently oppose abortion, and support adoption, but they cannot advocate that the state should compel all pregnant mothers to carry their babies to term. They can favor individual school prayer, but they cannot advocate that the state compel people to pray a specified collective one. They can discourage stem cell research in a variety of ways, but they cannot insist that the state forbid it. They can oppose gay marriage (if they wish), but they can't seek to ban it.

Only when conservatives disable the gun will they long control it.

A near-earth black hole that's only...

...31 years old. Wowsa.

Farragut Gets Term Limits

Yippee!

Retail Sales Climb More Than Expected in Oct

Or so says the Commerce Department.

Curiously, the Consumer Metrics Institute's Daily Growth Index shows just the opposite, with sales bottoming in Oct. How this divergence resolves itself over time will be telling.

Glenn Reynolds...

...was right again:

MY PREDICTION ABOUT AMERICA SUDDENLY BECOMING “UNGOVERNABLE” IF OBAMA FAILED has certainly been borne out. Now Newsweek asks: Is the Presidency too big for one man? Nope. Just for the inexperienced guy with no management experience that we elected. As Jay Cost wrote a while back “America is not ungovernable. Her President has simply not been up to the job.”


The dude is like psychic or something.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whence Farming?

DNA evidence sheds light on the origins of European farming.

Msgr. Charles Pope...

...argues that the Universe's order is evidence of God's existence. This is a common argument, but as many have repeatedly noted over the years, orderliness cannot logically be evidence of a "first cause". For if God created an orderly universe, it must be because some part of God is orderly. And if the fact that something is ordered is evidence that it was created or designed, then God himself must have been created or designed. Thus, if we accept the "argument from order", we must conclude that God was created, as was his creator, and its creator, etc.

The "argument from order" simply kicks the can down the road. As with most logical proofs of God's existence, it results in an endless regression that ultimately explains nothing.

That's not to say that there is no God, only that he/she/it can't be proven through logic.

Licensing Madness:



I found the above video via Instapundit, and I was immediately reminded of this quote from Atlas Shrugged:

“Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull rather than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed."


No, I'm not suggesting that barber licensing laws are harbingers of the end of the world, but when one in three Americans must obtain a license from the government in order to work, we clearly have a problem.

Monday, November 1, 2010

High Tax Rates Benefit Big Business

Why? Because they don't actually pay them, while the rest of us do. So high rates create yet another barrier to entry and give larger businesses another competitive advantage:

By employing strategies known to lawyers as the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich," Google cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the past three years - moving most of its foreign profit through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda.

Google's income shifting helped reduce its overseas tax rate to 2.4 percent, the lowest of the top five U.S. technology companies by market capitalization, according to regulatory filings in six countries.


Is it any wonder that Google's founders (and most other billionaires) are big Democrats?

Something tells me that my small business couldn't employ the "Double Irish" or "Dutch Sandwich" strategies, and would probably be hounded by IRS agents if it tried.

The End of Liberty:



This video is a little too...propagandistic for me, but the facts it puts forth really aren't in dispute. And since the facts are frightening enough by themselves, I think the video would be even more effective without the scary soundtrack and sometimes over-the-top narrative.

One thing it does really well is demonstrate how/why increased regulation benefits big business at the expense of smaller, family-owned ones.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deflation News

Here's nine widely used items that cost less now than a year ago.

Have you noticed...

...that there's been open talk recently about the possibility of Civil War in the US? Even Time Magazine discusses the issue. And then there's this story.

I hope civil war is highly unlikely, though secession is a very real possibility if the economy turns down again.

I Toldja Big Government Benefits the Wealthy Establishment!

As the nearby chart shows, by almost every measure, the middle class hasn't benefited much at all over the past two years – the number of employed has fallen while wages, disposable income and home prices have pretty much flatlined.

At the same time, Wall Street and big business have made out like bandits. The Dow is up 30 percent since Obama took office, and corporate profits have shot up 42 percent.

Meantime, companies are sitting on so much cash -- nearly $2 trillion worth -- they don't know what to do with it all. The non-financial companies in the S&P 500 index have seen their cash stockpile climb 26 percent over the previous year. Apple alone has amassed almost $26 billion in cash.


Read the whole thing.

I don't know why this is so hard to understand: Regulation and high tax rates act as barriers to entry, reducing competition and favoring those businesses that have already achieved economies of scale. A big business with reduced competition is able to charge higher margins, increasing profits.

Hence, regulation and high taxes favor the well-to-do. After all, why do you think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and George Soros and you-name-the-billionaire are all big-government "progressives"? Do you really think its because they feel sorry for the "little guy"?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Somebody needs to remind...

Brad Gardner that defined contribution retirement plans are for the little people. I mean, we can't seriously expect public sector employees to get by like the rest of us do with only a 401(k) plan.

Get real, Brad!

Foreclosure Fiasco

Ben Popken:
It's hard work signing thousands of documents a day, even if you don't have to read them. Your hand can cramp like something awful!

So, to reward his fastest robosigners, one foreclosure mill operator drenched them in gifts, raining down jewels and fancy cars. He even made their monthly mortgage payments for them. Dates were changed, notary stamps were shared, and signatures forged in a secret system designed to lube the gears of the foreclosure machine to turbo speed.


Details, including links to the affidavits, can be found here.

When What's Good for the Goose...

...ain't good for the gander:

As the Journal has shown, dozens of public servants on Capitol Hill (and sometimes their spouses) actively traded during the financial crisis—buying funds that profit in a falling stock market, using options to bet against shares of home-building companies, even trading in and out of stocks that stood to benefit from government interventions they helped oversee.

Such trades are legal, since prohibitions on insider trading generally don't apply to Congress.


As Church Lady would say: "How convenient!"

Google's CEO:

"The Laws Are Written by Lobbyists".

"The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists" to protect incumbent interests, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Atlantic editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum. "It’s shocking how the system actually works."


I've been harping on this topic for a while because it's so important. Of course laws are written by lobbyist! And since only the wealthy establishment can afford lobbyists, or at least lobbyists who stand a chance of corrupting the system, laws and regulations are written to protect or favor this or that establishment group.

Our only hope for salvation is that sufficient numbers of people will realize that this is true for all laws, even those that they themselves would favor. It's true of environmental laws, so-called "consumer protection laws", healthcare laws, social justice laws, anti-discrimination laws, laws establishing holidays, laws designed to "punish" Wall Street, etc. Almost all laws benefit the establishment!

That being the case, the only solution is to elect people who will insist on fewer laws and more limited government. More and more the "elite" today are so not because they have earned it, but simply because the system was rigged by the government to favor their interests. Take away the government's protection by reducing regulation, and many elite organizations and people will fail. Heck, maybe most of them will. That failure will be painful for all at first (change and dislocation always is), but ultimately it will result in greater freedom and more opportunity for each one of us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Japan's lead in robotics might be attributable to...

...its religion. Or, at least one of them.

Regulation Isn't Free

Associated Press:
Bank of America, which does business with half the households in America, announced a dramatic shift Tuesday in how it does business with customers. One key change: Free checking, a mainstay of American banking in recent years, will be nearly unheard of.

"I've seen more regulation in last 30 months than in last 30 years," said Robert Hammer, CEO of RK Hammer, a bank advisory firm. "The bottom line for banks is shifting enormously, swiftly and deeply, and they're not going to sit by twiddling their thumbs. They're going to change."

In the last year, lawmakers in Washington have passed a range of new laws aimed at protecting bank customers from harsh fees, like the $35 charged to some Bank of America customers who overdrafted their account by buying something small like a Starbucks latte.


So, in order to keep latte-sipping elites who can't manage to balance a checkbook from paying extra charges, we all will.

Regulation may improve the service we get from this or that regulated entity, but it ultimately does so only by increasing our cost. Shouldn't we be free to choose between a high-service but expensive model and a low-service but cheap one?

Deflation

Used Car Prices Fall for First Time Since Cash for Clunkers

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm Sure They'll Do Much Better With Our Health Records

Bureaucrats Abuse Gov Databases, Snoop On Neighbors And Lindsay Lohan.


Poor Lindsay. She just can't catch a break.

Robert Green:

Six Lessons I've Learned Since I Started Working for Myself

I would add the following: Variable expenses are to always be preferred over fixed ones, even if you end up paying more for a given service.

And They Didn't Even Have PhotoShop!

A famous 1914 photo showing a young Adolf Hitler in the thick of the crowd at a First World War rally – which the Nazis later used as a propaganda picture – was probably faked, German media said Thursday.


Just goes to show ya, never trust a Nazi, or any fascist for that matter.

Has Michael Mann Been Truly Exonerated?

You be the judge.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Needs Health Insurance Then?

Scientists call it the “Hispanic paradox”: despite high rates of poverty and relatively low rates of health insurance, Hispanics in the United States tend to outlive African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites.
Related

A government report last week provided statistical confirmation of the phenomenon. It found that as of 2006, the life expectancy for Hispanics at birth was 80.6 years, 2.5 years more than for non-Hispanic whites and almost 8 years longer than for blacks.

The finding is all the more surprising because Hispanics have lower median family incomes and a higher poverty rate than whites, and are less likely than whites to have a college education — all factors associated with better health. They also have high rates of obesity and diabetes.

So what accounts for the paradox?


Well, here's one theory.

Glenn Reynolds:

Comparing the Soviet Union to the Nazis only makes the Nazis look better if you don’t understand the truth about the Soviet Union. Communists are as bad as Nazis, and communist sympathizers and apologists are as bad as Nazi sympathizers and apologists.


Amen.

While I'm bashing banks today...

...I thought I'd post a couple of videos that do an excellent job of explaining money--where it comes from, what it is, and what it isn't. The videos were produced by a friend of a friend, Damon Vrabel, founder of the Council on Renewal. I think that some of Damon's conclusions are a little too conspiratorial, but his explanation of the source of money is dead on.

Here's video 1:



And here's video 2:



More people need to understand that the Federal Reserve is not the same as the federal government, and that our government does not print or "coin" money, despite popular belief to the contrary. In fact, the government gets money the same way that the private sector does: By giving the Federal Reserve an IOU in exchange for it, or by getting it from others who have given the Federal Reserve an IOU in exchange for it. Thus, all money, and I do mean all money, enters the system in exchange for an IOU to the Fed. All the nation's wealth and capital is thus held for the benefit of the Federal Reserve. We are merely all paid portfolio managers!

So long as we manage the portfolio well--that is, so long as we put the money lent to us to productive use, or at least a more productive use than the next guy--money is taken from that proverbial "next guy" and is allocated to our management, and we seemingly prosper. This reallocation of money from unproductive debtors to productive ones keeps the both from seeing that, with the latter's increase in money, he is but now a larger debtor! The latter feels "wealthy" while the former feels "poor", in the same way that the emperor's palace guard feels "wealthier" for living in the palace than those on the street, but ultimately all belongs to the emperor and the guard owes more than the beggar!

Because money represents a claim to property, or at least the ability to purchase property, and because all money is ultimately owed back to the Fed, then the Fed is the ultimately beneficiary of all the nation's assets. This is demonstrably true as a matter of logic and, that being the case, it's easy to see how Damon gets conspiratorial at times. Perhaps he's right!

Not surprisingly, this situation is clearly not what Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution contemplated or requires. When our Constitution was created, money was real money, not just debt. Money was either coined in gold and silver (i.e., it was "real" money), or at least represented a claim to actual gold and silver held in vault for the bearer's account. Regrettably, neither is any longer the case.