Sean King

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Can This Be? I Thought They Had Socialized Medicine?!
Inequalities in mortality in Britain are greater today than those during the 1930s economic depression, according to a new study.

Researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Bristol have built on previous research using updated population estimates and more accurate ways of measuring poverty.

They found inequalities continued to rise steadily during the first decade of the 21st century, and could become worse.

Despite government initiatives and efforts to close the gaps, differences in health inequalities have widened over the past 10 years, which the researchers say reflects widening inequality in wealth and income.

I cannot even imagine the outcry...

...if a white Republican (or Libertarian) wrote this.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Wish More Christians Were So...Rational

Rachel Held Evans had a choice while growing up in Dayton, Tenn., site of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Believe the Bible or believe evolution.

"I was taught that if you don't interpret Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then you don't take the Bible seriously," said Evans, 29. "I held on tightly to that for a long time."

Evans says creationism — the belief that God created the earth around 6,000 years ago in six days — was commonplace in her town. Unable to reconcile science with her faith, Evans embraced evolution.

"I learned you don't have to choose between loving and following Jesus and believing in evolution," she said. She chronicled her personal journey in a new memoir Evolving in Monkey Town.

Evans is part of a movement of mostly Protestant writers and scientists trying to reconcile faith and science, 85 years after the trial ended. Instead of choosing sides, some prefer the middle ground of intelligent design, which claims God designed how life evolved. Tennessee gubernatorial candidates Ron Ramsey, Zach Wamp and Mike McWherter all advocate teaching intelligent design in schools.

Respectfully, so-called intelligent design does not teach that "God designed how life evolved." Rather, it holds that the broad biodiversity observed upon the earth and in the fossil records resulted from specific, separate acts of creation and not by evolution from common ancestors. It teaches that the species are "immutable"--that is, that one species cannot evolve into another.

And yet, as was recognized by a conservative, Bush-appointed, Christian judge as recently as 2007, intelligent design is not science. This is not a statement of opinion or dogma, but of demonstrable fact. As I have previously noted, science is that body of knowledge which results from application of the scientific method. Intelligent design, as an explanation for biodiversity, cannot be science because it cannot be falsified or, said another way, it does not make any testable predictions.

UPDATE:> Stephen Jay Gould explains further in his essay Evolution as Fact and Theory.

A $35 Tablet Computer

Courtesy of India.

Another example of the Law of Accelerating Returns, and deflation, in action.

Have you heard of the JournoList scandal?

If not, Jonah Goldberg brings you up to date. I'm guessing there will be more to come.

Saudi man chained in basement for five years...

...because his father thinks he's possessed by a female genie.

"Possessed by a genie." I hate it when that happens.

The Tax Tsunami!

I plan on ridin' the wave.

Any small business owners out there who are interested in learning how to avoid some of these taxes should contact me.

Well, Bully for Him
Sen. John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in Congress, dodged a whopping six-figure state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring her in Newport, R.I.

UPDATE:> Well, there's no fixin' stupid, I suppose:

Kerry to pay yacht tax in effort to cast off controversy.

North Korea Makes Threats

This weekend, and the next many months, could get interesting on the Korean peninsula.

Robot Walks 14 Miles... 11 hours.

Big Trouble in Little Vatican

A gay priest sex scandal has rocked the Catholic Church in Italy today after a weekly news magazine released details of a shock investigation it had carried out.
Using hidden cameras, a journalist from Panorama magazine - owned by Italian Prime Minister and media baron Silvio Berlusconi - filmed three priests as they attended gay nightspots and had casual sex.
The article describes how the reporter was assisted by a gay 'accomplice' as they 'gate-crashed the wild nights of a number of priests in Rome who live a surprising double-life.'

Full story here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jung's Little Red Book
For more than 25 years, pioneer psychologist and seeker Carl Jung's Red Book was hidden away inside a Swiss bank vault. A huge lovely volume bound in red leather, also known as Liber Novus (The New Book), the book is essentially Jung's personal journals written in calligraphy and gorgeously illuminated during a very strange period in his life. The Red Book is finally available to everyone in an oversize clothbound edition published by WW Norton & Company. My friend/IFTF colleague Bob Johansen kindly shared his copy with me and I was quite blown away. The Red Book is a breathtaking travelogue from Jung's journey into his unconscious, and best enjoyed in small, powerful doses.

Read the whole thing. I'm a huge fan of Jung's works on psychology. They are very dense, but very, very enlightening.

More on Jung's fascinating and freaky life can be found here.

Why Plate Tectonics Works

A new "breakthrough" theory.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Happiest Countries in the World

Costa Rica is the happiest in the Americas. Gotta go there some day.

Rodney Johnson explains...

...Build America bonds. What a farce.

Reason Number 1001 Why Living in California Would Be Hard for Me
When AT&T wants to add a new cell tower in Texas, Jobs said, it takes about 3 weeks. But adding a new cell tower in San Francisco has an average turnaround time of 3 years.

But dang, it's beautiful!

La Jolla:

La Costa:

Deflation News

LA Times:
U.S. bank repossessions increased 38% in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier for a record total of 269,952, according to Irvine research firm RealtyTrac. That was also a jump of 5% from the previous quarter. If that pace continues through the year, the number of homes taken by banks is likely to top 1 million by the end of 2010, said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac senior vice president.

And that's before this summer's massive round of mortgage resets takes effect.

Train the Brain

Brain fitness program study reveals visual memory improvement in older adults.

Michael Barone Bemoans...

...the mattress economy.

To be fair, Americans aren't actually hiding their money in mattresses. Well, at least most aren't. What they are doing is paying down debt at record rates:

U.S. consumers shed some of their debt for the fourth month in a row in May, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. Total seasonally adjusted consumer debt fell $9.15 billion, or a 4.5% annualized rate, in May to $2.42 trillion. Economists expected a decline. The series is very volatile. April consumer credit was revised sharply lower to a decline of $14.86 billion compared with the initial estimate of a gain of $1 billion. The decline in May was led by revolving credit-card debt, which fell $7.32 billion or 10.5%. This is the 20th straight monthly decline in credit card balances. Non-revolving debt such as auto loans, personal loans and student loans, fell $1.82 billion or 1.4%. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, consumer credit has declined in 18 out of 20 months.

This decline in consumer and business credit/spending has dwarfed increases in government debt/spending designed to help offset it, resulting in higher unemployment and deflation.

Deflation is nothing more than a decline in the total amount of money and credit in an economy. Less money/credit chasing the same amount of goods results in lower prices. Most believe that inflation can't happen here because the Fed can simply "print money". What they fail to grasp is how exactly the Fed goes about getting that money into the economy--that is, by so-called "quantitative easing", a fancy phrase for using the Fed's newly invented/printed money to buy US government bonds. Notice that, after the Fed buys these bonds, the total amount of money and credit in the economy hasn't actually changed! The Fed simply changed one thing (credit) into the other (money). If nothing else happens, the effect is neutral on prices since prices are determined by the total amount of money and credit available to buy goods.

Now, unlike credit, money can be lent multiple times over. Thus, assuming that the newly printed finds its way into banks and is ultimately lent out, the Fed can increase the total supply of money and credit in an economy, and therefore create inflation, by "printing" money. But, this is a huge assumption, and one that history shows doesn't automatically follow.

In fact, history is replete with examples of times when changes in social mood and/or demographic factors conspired to thwart this assumption--that is, times when people preferred to not to take on more debt but rather to use free cash flow to retire debt or build savings. During such times, the Fed's newly printed money isn't lent out, at least not to the productive (i.e., "risky") segments of the economy (i.e., businesses and consumers).

When do such times occur? Well, they are not common, fortunately. But, they are known to occur when:

(a) the population has aged considerably and is therefore inherently more risk/debt adverse; or

(b) debt (measured as a percentage of total economic output or GDP) reaches unsustainable levels; or

(c) the collective social mood (which runs in somewhat predictable cycles called "Elliott waves" turns significantly negative.

Japan experienced a couple of these conditions over the last 15 years. The result was the "Lost Decade", which is quickly turning into a lost 20 years. However, Japan's deflationary experience was buffered by the fact that the rest of the developed world was still booming at the time. Exports sustained Japan in a way that they can't/won't the rest of the developed world.

The developed world is now as aged as Japan was in the early 1990's. Despite the debt pay down of the last 18 months, developed world debt measured as a percentage of GDP is still near historically unprecedented levels (and nearly twice as high as before the Great Depression), and no one can doubt that social mood has turned decidedly negative since 2000 (a good measure of this the number of terrorist attacks over a period of time and, in the United States, the rise of "third parties" such as the Tea Party). In short, almost the entirety of developed world now faces all three deflationary forces all at once, and at historically unprecedented levels. The result will be a Great Deflation that will remake the world over the next decade.

New Fish Found Under Great Barrier Reef

Some of them look quite freaky.

This Time is Different

Great Mankiw has a few thoughts on the above.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Catholic Country Among First to Legalize Gay Marriage



Healthcare overhaul mandates free preventive care.

Blind Mice Can See


It's About Time!

State governments, one of the last bastions of guaranteed pensions, are increasingly taking a page from the 401(k) plans that dominate the private sector.

Some new state workers in Michigan and Utah will soon begin to receive part of their retirement benefits from a 401(k)-type plan, after lawmakers there recently voted to adopt plans that combine a 401(k) component with a guaranteed benefit.

It doesn't seem to go far enough to me.

The Vatican Really Needs Some PR Help
On Thursday, the Vatican issued a document making sweeping revisions to its laws on sexual abuse, extending the period in which charges can be filed against priests in church courts and broadening the use of fast-track procedures to defrock them.

But while it dealt mostly with pedophilia, it also codified the "attempted ordination of a woman" to the priesthood as one of the most serious crimes against Church law.

The inclusion of both issues in the same document caused a stir among some groups around the world, particularly those favoring a female priesthood.

It's almost like these guys want to court controversy.

Why Americans Love Yoga
Yoga is a triumphant American survivor. Where other esoteric or foreign-born spiritual practices have veered off course, endured only in the margins of society, or failed altogether, yoga has thrived. Theories abound as to why Americans have taken to yoga. Maybe it's because yoga, with its quiet poses and careful breathing, provides the perfect ballast to stressful American lives. Maybe it's because yoga offers a cure for American body-hating Puritanism. Or maybe it's because yoga offers spiritual transcendence, an hour at a time, all within the confines of your yoga mat.

Maybe it's just me, but I think it's because of the form-flattering yoga pants.

Read the whole thing.

Viewing Human Evolution in Real Time

Well, kinda.

Christian Pedophiles

A MARRIED maths teacher started a sexual relationship with a girl when she was 14.

Richard Taylor, 39, regularly sneaked off with the youngster he had met at the Aberdeenshire Christian group he ran.
Paul Kearney, prosecuting, told the High Court in Glasgow the girl was "made to feel quite special" about the attention she received from Taylor.

Mr Kearney added: "She deeply trusted the accused and regarded him as a spiritual adviser." Taylor soon began sending the youngster text messages and meeting her regularly.

As a reminder, here's why I go to pains to chronicle instance of Christian sex abuse against children.

Benefits of Deflation
Brandon Klein has done what few Floridians can: go weeks without driving his car.

The 26-year-old tax accountant walks three blocks from his condominium tower on Biscayne Bay in Miami to his office at Deloitte LLP. On weekends, he and his friends hang out on the pool deck or share a cab to a local Irish pub.

He lives in Downtown, a neighborhood where young people are renting condos built during the 2004 to 2008 boom to attract second-home buyers. Thanks to the housing crash, Klein and two roommates pay about $900 a month each for a wraparound balcony, water views and access to a gym, spa and steam room.
The 7,000 unsold condos in Miami’s core -- a symbol of a building boom that collapsed and dragged the city into recession -- are filling up and giving life to neighborhoods that previously closed after dark. New, year-round residents are cramming into restaurants, nightclubs and bars that didn’t exist a few years ago, and enjoying a lifestyle made possible in part by developers and banks seeking to recoup losses by renting luxury dwellings until the market recovers.

Everyone panics when they hear the word "depression", but a depression/deflation has many positive side effects (if you're one of the people who still has a job).

Human Sperm Gene 600 Million Years Old

Times of India:
A team at Northwestern University has found that the sex-specific gene, called Boule, which is responsible for sperm production, has remained unaltered throughout evolution and is found in almost all animals.

The research has also revealed that Boule is the only gene known to be exclusively required for sperm production -- from an insect to a mammal.

Deflation News

Things are getting cheaper for consumers.

And, for producers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Have You Noticed How More and More People Are Starting to Use the "D" Word?

As in "Depression", that is.

First there was nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times:

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression.

Then there's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the UK Telegraph:

With the US trapped in depression, this really is starting to feel like 1932.

And then there's this headline over at CNBC: Dow Repeats Great Depression Pattern

There have been others as well, though I don't recall where I saw them.

The Perplexing Power of Paradigms
There may be few things more fundamental to human identity than the belief that people are rational individuals whose behavior is determined by conscious choices. But recently psychologists have compiled an impressive body of research that shows how deeply our decisions and behavior are influenced by unconscious thought, and how greatly those thoughts are swayed by stimuli beyond our immediate comprehension.

In an intriguing review in the July 2 edition of the journal Science, published online Thursday, Ruud Custers and Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands lay out the mounting evidence of the power of what they term the "unconscious will." "People often act in order to realize desired outcomes, and they assume that consciousness drives that behavior. But the field now challenges the idea that there is only a conscious will. Our actions are very often initiated even though we are unaware of what we are seeking or why," Custers says.

Read the whole thing. I offer a few thoughts on a related subject here.

You Know It's Bad...

...when Dems can't raise money in NYC.

Kaili Joy Gray...

...calls out the Libs over gun rights over at Daily Kos:

And while liberals certainly do not argue for lawlessness, and will acknowledge the necessity of certain restrictions, it is generally understood that liberals fight to broadly interpret and expand our rights and to question the necessity and wisdom of any restrictions of them.

Liberals can quote legal precedent, news reports, and exhaustive studies. They can talk about the intentions of the Founders. They can argue at length against the tyranny of the government. And they will, almost without exception, conclude the necessity of respecting, and not restricting, civil liberties.

Except for one: the right to keep and bear arms.

When it comes to discussing the Second Amendment, liberals check rational thought at the door.

Ouch. Read the whole thing. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Treating HIV...

...with gene therapy. I note once again how important stem cells are to this type of research.

The Plato Code

It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel, but a scholar in Manchester, England, claims to have found hidden code in the ancient writings of Plato. If true, the secret messages would have made the ancient philosopher and mathematician a heretic in his day.

Jay Kennedy tells NPR's Guy Raz that his discovery was partially luck. Looking at Plato's works in their original scroll form, he noticed that every 12 lines there was a passage that discussed music. "The regularity of that pattern was supposed to be noticed by Plato's readers," Kennedy says.

Music in ancient Greece was based on a 12-note scale, unlike the eight-note scale of modern Western music. Kennedy posits that Plato deliberately inserted discussions of music every 12 lines to send a secret, musical message.

What Plato couldn't tell people was that he was a closet Pythagorean. Pythagoras and his followers believed that mathematics and music were the key to the universe.

Being rooted in symbolism, it seems that much religio-philisophical literature contains codes. Some codes, like perhaps Plato's, are designed to preserve ideas from out of view of inquisitors, while others are merely attempts convey ineffable subjective experiences.

UPDATE:> Much more on this interesting story can be found here and here.

Pondering Pleasure

Michael Washburn:
People are poor analysts when it comes to pleasure. We think we eat truffles because they're delicious. We think we swoon in front of a Vermeer because it's masterly and beautiful. This assumption of a simple correlation between quality and sensation misunderstands the promiscuity of pleasure.

"What matters most," writes Paul Bloom in his engaging, evocative How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, "is not the world as it [actually physiologically impacts] our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is." Bottled water supplies the purest example of Bloom's argument. Partisans tout the superiority of Perrier, or whatever their favorite brand of sparkling water happens to be. But as experiment after experiment demonstrates, give someone seltzer water but tell them it's Perrier, and they'll wax ecstatic about the mineral springs of southern France.

Those Amazing Stem Cells

Scientists achieve huge milestone by coaxing stem cells from simple blood samples.

Say What?

A Christian scholar insists that the gospels don't say that Jesus was crucified:

Samuelsson bases his claim on studying 900 years' worth of ancient texts in the original languages - Hebrew, Latin and Greek, which is the language of the New Testament.

He spent three years reading for 12 hours a day, he says, and he noticed that the critical word normally translated as "crucify" doesn't necessarily mean that.

"He was handed over to be 'stauroun,'" Samuelsson says of Jesus, lapsing into Biblical Greek to make his point.

At the time the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing their Gospels, that word simply meant "suspended," the theologian argues.

"This word is used in a much wider sense than 'crucifixion,'" he says. "It refers to hanging, to suspending vines in a vineyard," or to any type of suspension.

"He was required to carry his 'stauros' to Calvary, and they 'stauroun' him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died," Samuelsson says.

Not everyone is convinced by his research. Garry Wills, the author of "What Jesus Meant," "What Paul Meant," and "What the Gospels Meant," dismisses it as "silliness."

"The verb is stauresthai from stauros, cross," Wills said.

Samuelsson wants to be very clear about what he is saying and what he is not saying.

Most importantly, he says, he is not claiming Jesus was not crucified - only that the Gospels do not say he was.

"I am a pastor, a conservative evangelical pastor, a Christian," he is at pains to point out. "I do believe that Jesus died the way we thought he died. He died on the cross."

But, he insists, it is tradition that tells Christians that, not the first four books of the New Testament.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Evolution Works Faster than We Originally Supposed
Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley said their comparison of the genomes of ethnic Tibetan and Han Chinese could help scientists understand how the body deals with decreased oxygen and diseases associated with oxygen deprivation in the womb, according to a news release on the university's website.

The evolutionary biologists say the results of their study, which compares the genomes of 50 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese, shows that Tibetans rapidly developed a unique ability to survive in altitudes above 13,000 feet, where oxygen levels are about 40 percent lower than at sea level.

The study said that Tibetans evolved to adapt to high altitudes after splitting off from the Han about 2,750 years ago.

The Dawn of Customized Medicine

IBM has partnered with medical device manufacturer Roche to develop a low-cost tool capable of analysing the human genome.

Business Week reports that the device will allow doctors to analyse a patient's genetic makeup within a matter of seconds.

IBM warned, however, that the technology is unlikely to be available for another decade.
[T]he breakthrough technology was based on IBM's DNA Transistor, which uses 'nanopores' to read individual strands of human DNA by identifying each DNA base with an electric field.

Read more:

Nearly 70% of Texas Students Fail Basic Physical Fitness Standards


Funding Underfunded Pension Plans...

...with whiskey. Seriously!

Well, desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.

It's in the Genes

By analyzing the DNA of the world's oldest people, Boston University scientists said Thursday they have discovered a genetic signature of longevity. They expect soon to offer a test that could let people learn whether they have the constitution to live to a very old age.

"This is an extremely complex trait that involves many processes," said lead researcher Paola Sebastiani, a biostatistician at BU's School of Public Health. Even so, "we can compute your specific predisposition to exceptional longevity."

The researchers said they had no plans to patent the technique or profit from it, because they didn't consider it precise enough for commercial use. To foster longevity research and to prevent others from commercializing the test, they plan to make a free test kit available on the Internet later this month.

UPDATE:> Greg Mankiw contemplates the significance of this development for the insurance industry by posing the following questions:

*Will insurance companies start offering better life-insurance rates to those with these markers?

*Will they require annuity purchasers to take this test and offer the long-lived worse rates?

*If insurance companies do not use these markers, perhaps because of regulation, will the availability of these tests cause the markets for life insurance and annuities to unravel because of increased adverse selection?

*In light of the above considerations, what should public policy be toward insurance companies using these tests?

*To the extent that public policy is motivated by utilitarian concerns, should there be redistribution based on the outcome of these tests?

*If so, in which direction should it go? Away from those who are long-lived and can work a long life, or toward them, as they have longer periods of old age and retirement to finance?

UPDATE 2:> Some are saying that the study was significantly flawed.

A Faster Internet

MIT researchers have developed technology that they say not only will make the Internet 100 to 1,000 times faster, but also could make high-speed data access a lot cheaper.

The trick to such dramatic performance gains lies within routers that direct traffic on the Internet, according to Vincent Chan , an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, who led the research team. Chan told Computerworld that replacing electrical signals inside the routers with faster optical signals would make the Internet 100, if not 1,000 times faster, while also reducing the amount of energy it consumes.


CHICAGO — Even by the standards of this deficit-ridden state, Illinois’s comptroller, Daniel W. Hynes, faces an ugly balance sheet. Precisely how ugly becomes clear when he beckons you into his office to examine his daily briefing memo.

“This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office.

Mr. Hynes shakes his head. “This is not some esoteric budget issue; we are not paying bills for absolutely essential services,” he says. “That is obscene.”

For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget.

Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up.

Read the whole thing. I doubt the Feds will be able to bail them out this time.

Due to my interest in tracking the deflationary forces that are building in our economy, some people think that I'm a pessimist. They would be wrong! I'm actually pretty excited to see market forces overwhelm the pinheads' attempts to "manage" the economy. It is exactly these misguided attempts at management, at eliminating the normal business cycle, that allowed these deflationary forces to build to this extreme in the first place. Economic laws are natural laws, and "nature is not governed except by obeying her." The more we resist natural law, the more painful things become.

In short, deflation is nothing more than paying down (or writing off) debt, and that's exactly what our economy needs at this time. Paying our debts is never fun, but its ultimately a good thing.

And, as a side benefit of paying our debts, we will ultimately end up with a smaller, less intrusive federal government. And that's a very good thing.