Sean King

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States

Monday, June 28, 2010

Big Victory for 2nd Amendment Advocates

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has finally ruled in the McDonald case, finding that the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies not only against the federal government, but against meddling states as well.

Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts:

[I]t really is interesting how much emphasis the majority, and Justice Thomas’s concurrence, put on the racist roots of gun control. See this article and this one by Bob Cottrol and Ray Diamond for more background. And isn’t it interesting that this is happening on the same day the Senate’s last Klansman went to his reward?

It is interesting, but not surprising. The sad truth is that of the federal and state governments' over-reaches, from bans on guns to minimum wage laws, result from a majority seeking to deny certain rights to minorities, originally on racist grounds. What the majority never seems to remember at these times is that once the government is armed in unconstitutional ways, it's only a matter of time before it seek to turn those arms against everyone, majority included. "First they came...."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tomorrow is a Big Day At the Supreme Court

The biggest news is likely to come when the court issues its decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, finally putting to rest the question (after more than 200 years of American history) of whether the 2nd Amendment prohibition against governmental bans on firearms applies to the States or only the federal government.

Lyle Denniston has a complete preview of the day.

How Far We've Come

More on the origin of this story and photo can be found a Frank Munger's Atomic City.


Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
Fed watchers say Mr Bernanke and his close allies at the Board in Washington are worried by signs that the US recovery is running out of steam. The ECRI leading indicator published by the Economic Cycle Research Institute has collapsed to a 45-week low of -5.7 in the most precipitous slide for half a century. Such a reading typically portends contraction within three months or so.

Key members of the five-man Board are quietly mulling a fresh burst of asset purchases, if necessary by pushing the Fed's balance sheet from $2.4 trillion (£1.6 trillion) to uncharted levels of $5 trillion. But they are certain to face intense scepticism from regional hardliners. The dispute has echoes of the early 1930s when the Chicago Fed stymied rescue efforts.

"We're heading towards a double-dip recession," said Chris Whalen, a former Fed official and now head of Institutional Risk Analystics. "The party is over from fiscal support. These hard-money men are fighting the last war: they don't recognise that money velocity has slowed and we are going into deflation. The only default option left is to crank up the printing presses again."

It won't work, at least not until deflation has run its course. Printing money does not spur growth if the excess liquidity is just used to pay down debt or purchase treasuries rather than being placed at risk. And, the factors that cause us to choose safety over risk--higher taxes, increased regulation, aging demographics, unprecedented levels of debt, and a declining social mood--will not soon change.

Check out the funding status...

...of the nation's 100 largest private defined benefit pension plan's here.

Sadly, the private sector is in MUCH better shape that the public sector. Many state and municipal governments continue to make promises to their employees that they simply won't be able to honor.

More Guns Equal Less Crime

Or so says John Stossell.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

That's Cozumel in the distance (on the horizon).

Coming Clean?

One afternoon last month, a rare thing happened in Rome’s main courthouse: for perhaps the first time ever, an Italian bishop took the witness stand in the case of a priest accused of the sexual abuse of children.

Soon after, another rare thing happened. The leader of the Italian bishops’ conference acknowledged at a news conference that it was “possible” that bishops in Italy had covered up abuse, while his deputy said that in the past decade, 100 Italian priests had faced church trials in connection with the sexual abuse of minors.

The remarks were the first time the bishops’ conference had ever publicly quantified the number of Italian cases — and one of the few where it answered reporters’ questions on the matter.

UPDATE:> Things turn ugly in Belgium.

Wish I Could Afford One

Greece is now selling islands to pay debts.

Artificial Intelligence

“Our young children and grandchildren will think it is completely natural to talk to machines that look at them and understand them,” said Eric Horvitz, a computer scientist at Microsoft’s research laboratory who led the medical avatar project, one of several intended to show how people and computers may communicate before long.

Read the whole thing for examples of how it's already happening. I find it ironic that the first example offered is a "virtual" doctor. I've been saying for some time that GP's should start considering other occupations since we now have computer programs that can diagnose most diseases with greater accuracy than any human. Why must we go see a doctor when we suspect that we have a sinus infection? It would be much simpler to simply input our symptoms and vital signs into computer which could then diagnose our condition and automatically call in a prescription.

Larry Hurtado...

...contemplates various Christian understandings of the resurrection. It's an old article, but it's interesting. Not sure how I missed it before.

Recessions Often Lead to Violence

And, depressions often lead to war. Which is one reason why I'm not optimistic about the Eurozone.

Apparently, I'm in good company.

UPDATE:> Peter Osborne on why he's going to be very careful where he puts his money this summer.

Genetically Altered Salmon


Anybody Noticed that...

Guantanamo is still open?

Those Amazing Stem Cells

A regenerative treatment that uses stem cells taken from the patient's own eyes is helping some blind patients see again.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California. California is the "epicenter of vaccine refusal" in the United States.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

How To Make a Lung


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More on the Public Pension Problem

Baltimore Sun:
The ability of police and fire fighters to retire after just 20 years on the job is one of the main drivers of the pension system’s cost. The average life expectancy for a 20-year-old who joined the force this year is about 75, meaning he or she could work for 20 years and receive a pension for 35. As life expectancies steadily increase, that ratio becomes more and more lopsided. The city’s pension reform bill takes a small step toward changing that by increasing the minimum to 25 years of service for all employees who now have less than 15 years on the job.

Well, it's progress, I suppose.

Important New Fossil Discovery

The ancient male, an ancestor of modern man, lived approximately 3.6 million years ago in the plains of Eastern Africa, according to several dating techniques. Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who led the team, says the skeleton offers some major new insights into the species.

The skeleton has been nicknamed "Big Man" as it towers at 5 to 5½ feet tall over the much shorter 3½-foot-tall Lucy, who lived 3.2 million years ago.
While confusing perhaps in context with Lucy, the conclusion that ancient hominids were not chimplike is consistent with the analysis of the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus hominid that was conducted last year.
Professor Haile-Selassie states, "Whatever we’ve been saying about afarensis based on Lucy was mostly wrong. The skeletal framework to enable efficient two-legged walking was established by the time her species had evolved."
These discoveries add to the aforementioned recent discovery of "Ardi", the discovery of Australopithecus sediba, and the completion of an early draft of the Neanderthal genome. All of these wonderful discoveries have helped to blow away the fog of uncertainty surrounding human evolution and offered a much clearer picture of how man arrived at its current form after a slow process of evolution that took millions of years.

Lots of Buzz About the Singularity Lately

For instance, here, here and here. Oh yah, and here.

Not sure why it's getting so much attention. Perhaps it's due to the debut of Kurzweil's new documentary at the Breckenridge Film Festival, The Singularity is Near: A True Story About the Future.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Listening to Mozart Might Make You Happy

But, it doesn't make you smart.

What's the Number 1 Book on Amazon?

Hayek's The Road to Surfdom.

Perhaps there's still hope for America after all!

Why We Do Science

A New Tool to Track US Migration Patterns

Forbes has developed an interesting tool for tracking in-migration and out-migration for any county in the United States.

Using this tool, TrogloPundit was able draw some interesting inferences.

Barry Ritholz...

...has some thoughts on preventing unhealthy speculation:

While researching Bailout Nation, I did discover one group of Wall Street firms whose senior management took a very measured approach to managing risk. They managed to engage in risk taking and speculation in a fashion that was responsible, and avoided trouble.

The group? Wall Street partnerships.

There is a simple explanation for this: Unlike corporations, Partners have “joint and several liability.” Every partner is fully liable, up to the full amount of the relevant obligation, for the actions of every other partner. This has the effect of focusing the minds of management on exactly what the worst case scenario of their behavior can wreak.

I hadn't thought of that, but it's a great point.

If Only Climate Scientists Operated The Same Way

Today, data sharing in astronomy isn't just among professors. Amateurs are invited into the data sets through friendly Web interfaces, and a schoolteacher in Holland recently made a major discovery, of an unusual gas cloud that might help explain the life cycle of quasars—bright centers of distant galaxies—after spending part of her summer vacation gazing at the objects on her computer screen.

Crowd Science, as it might be called, is taking hold in several other disciplines, such as biology, and is rising rapidly in oceanography and a range of environmental sciences. "Crowdsourcing is a natural solution to many of the problems that scientists are dealing with that involve massive amounts of data," says Haym Hirsh, director of the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems at the National Science Foundation. Findings have just grown too voluminous and complex for traditional methods, which consisted of storing numbers in spreadsheets to be read by one person, says Edward Lazowska, a computer scientist and director of the University of Washington eScience Institute. So vast data-storage warehouses, accessible to many researchers, are going up in several scholarly fields to try to keep track of the wealth of information.

Persuading scientists to fully embrace the age of big data, though, will require a change in academic reward structures to give new currency to papers with more authors than ever and to scientists who spend their careers crunching other peoples' numbers.

"The culture shift is the sharing of data," says Mr. Lazowska. "And the astronomers have led the way."

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

10 Benefits of Expatriation

Here's the first five. And here's the second.

I'm not to that point. Yet.

UPDATE:> Ben Wright, writing in the Wall Street Journal, offers some thoughts on a related subject:

American expatriates are fast becoming the world's financial refugees. Onerous legislation from the U.S. government is making it too difficult – and too expensive – for banks to service U.S. citizens that live abroad. Expats are being left with a fast diminishing range of options. An increasing number are taking the most drastic step and renouncing their citizenship.

What An Ugly Picture:

Some good commentary and analysis on the above chart can be found here.

The Global Financial Crisis is Not Over!

Steve Keens, one of the very few economists to predict the Global Financial Crisis in advance, has published on his blog a paper that he recently submitted to the 2010 Australian Conference of Economists. As usual, his research is exemplary, and his ideas are very clearly explained.

The paper is technical but can be understood by anyone with an introductory knowledge of economics, provided that they understand the basic differences between the various measures of money supply in the economy--M0, M1, M2, and M3. M0 measures the amount of actual, physical currency (paper dollars and coins) in circulation and in bank vaults. But, as we all know, only a very small portion of our "money" can be found at any time in the form of physical cash and coin. The vast majority resides in the form of simple bookkeeping entries--e.g., credits to our bank accounts. To account for this, economist calculate M1 which includes both paper currency and coin as well as demand deposits (checking accounts) at banks or similar institutions. Thus, M1 is a "broader" measure of money supply than M0. But, not all money is held in cash and checking accounts. Some is held in less liquid vehicles like savings accounts and CD's, so-called "time deposits". M2 thus includes all the components of M1 but also includes savings accounts, CD's and other time deposits. Finally, M3 includes everything that M2 does, plus even less liquid forms of money.

The key point to understand is that the Federal Reserve has almost direct control over M0, but significantly less influence over M1 and very little influence over the much larger M2 and M3. The Fed can create money but it can't control what happens to that money once it leaves its hands, and it's this latter factor that most influences M1, M2 and M3.

With this in mind, here are a few choice quotes from Mr. Keen's paper analogizing the situation in the 1930's to today:

Since M1 (and more expansive definitions of the money supply) is determined by the actions of the private financial system as well as the Federal Reserve, the public and private money creation systems were working in opposing directions in the 1930s. For the first eight years, the private sector’s reductions in credit overwhelmed the public sector’s attempts to expand the money supply. By mid-1938, when the USA’s private debt to GDP ratio had fallen to 140 percent of GDP (from its deflation-enhanced peak of 238 percent in 1932), substantial increases in M0 were able to expand the aggregate money supply and increase economic activity by enough to cause unemployment to fall.

This interpretation brings us to the debt-driven analysis of the Bezemer-Fullbrook Group, applied in this instance to the Great Depression. From this perspective, both the boom of the 1920s and the slump of the Great Depression were caused by changing levels of debt in an economy that had become fundamentally speculative in nature. Rising debt used to finance speculation during the 1920s made that decade “The Roaring Twenties”, while private sector deleveraging when the speculative bubble burst caused a collapse in aggregate demand that ushered in the Great Depression in the 1930's.
As is well known, a major topic in mainstream macroeconomic debate was explaining the sources of “The Great Moderation” (Bernanke (2004); see also Davis and Kahn (2008) and Gali and Gambetti (2009)). Now the focusing is on explaining—and hopefully escaping from—”The Great Recession” that followed it. From the point of view of the Bezemer-Fullbrook Group, these two events have the same cause, as did the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression before them: a debt-driven speculative boom, followed by a deleveraging-driven downturn. As an aside, there is no doubt that Ben Bernanke is applying the lessons he took from the Great Depression in his attempts to avoid a second such crisis. Figure 10 shows the annual rate of change of M0, M1, M2 and M3 (which the Fed stopped recording in 2006) over the two decades since 1990. Growth in M0 is off the scale from late 2008 until early 2010, as the Federal Reserve more than doubled the level of base money (the average annual rate of growth of M0 over this period exceeded 100%). However, as during the Great Depression, broader measures of the money supply are failing to respond as dramatically. While there has been growth in M1, it has been one sixth that of M0 (and measured M0 now exceeds M1); M2′s growth never exceeded 10 percent and is now close to zero; it is likely that growth in the now unrecorded M3 is either anemic or negative.

Indeed, though the Fed no longer reports M3, private economists still track it and its growth is indeed negative. A recent article the UK Telegraph reports the following:

The M3 money supply in the United States is contracting at an accelerating rate that now matches the average decline seen from 1929 to 1933, despite near zero interest rates and the biggest fiscal blitz in history.

So long as M3 is contracting, deflation, rather than inflation, is the concern. I only wish more "mainstream" economists understood this.

State Pension Debacle

You can't make this stuff up.

Will Obama Be the Next Jimmy Carter?

Der Spiegel contemplates.

If the economy goes the way I think, I'd say that's the best he can hope for.

Glenn Reynolds...

...contemplates the rather lamentable state of cyber-security.

Few give this subject much thought, just like few considered the potential consequences of drilling for oil in 6 thousand feet of water. You'd think we'd learn.

UPDATE:> To be fair, NASA has warned us explicitly:

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years.

Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa's Heliophysics division, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

UPDATE 2:> And others are warning us as well.

Bank Failures Rise

The FDIC is closing banks at double last year's astounding pace.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Progress on Artificial Intelligence

For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords. Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide.

With Watson, I.B.M. claims it has cracked the problem — and aims to prove as much on national TV. The producers of “Jeopardy!” have agreed to pit Watson against some of the game’s best former players as early as this fall.

Read the whole thing. It's long, but fascinating.

UPDATE:> See Watson in action here:

This is absolutely astounding, but I predict that, like with Deep Blue, humans will quickly become dismissive of it in a vain attempt to reassure themselves of their continuing relevance.