Friday, August 31, 2007

Great Quote

“If you tell the truth, you can be certain, sooner or later, to be found out.”

--Oscar Wilde

It's Cute When The Irreligious Try To Cause A Ruckus Among The Religious

It betrays a certain lack of sophisitication:

The Democratic Party has undertaken an ostentatious outreach to religious voters, creating a Faith Advisory Council and cultivating clergy around the country. But these efforts might be more credible if Democrats were not simultaneously trying to incite conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Louisiana -- and managing to offend both groups in the process.

According to a recent television ad run by the Louisiana Democratic Party, the leading Republican candidate for governor, Bobby Jindal, has "insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants" by describing their beliefs as "scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical." Jindal, the attack goes on, "doubts the morals and questions the beliefs of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and other Protestant religions."

The ad is theologically ignorant -- Methodism and the others are not "religions," they are denominations. The main problem, however, is that the ad stretches the truth so phyllo-thin it can only be called a smear.

Jindal -- a convert to Christianity from a Hindu background -- has none of the politician's typical reticence on religion. "I'm proud of my faith," he told me in a phone interview. "I believe in God, that Jesus died and rose. I can't divide my public and private conscience. I can't stop being a Christian, and wouldn't want to for a moment of the day."

And Jindal's chosen tradition is a muscular Roman Catholicism. In an article published in the 1990s, he argued, "The same Catholic Church which infallibly determined the canon of the Bible must be trusted to interpret her handiwork; the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their 'utterly depraved' minds, to overcome their tendency to rationalize, their selfish desires, and other effects of original sin." And elsewhere: "The choice is between Catholicism's authoritative Magisterium and subjective interpretation which leads to anarchy and heresy."

This is the whole basis for the Democratic attack -- that Jindal holds an orthodox view of his own faith and rejects the Protestant Reformation. He has asserted, in short, that Roman Catholicism is correct -- and that other religious traditions, by implication, are prone to error. This is presumably the main reason to convert to Catholicism: because it most closely approximates the truth. And speaking for a moment as a Protestant: How does it insult us that Roman Catholics believe in . . . Roman Catholicism? We had gathered that much.

This Democratic ad is not merely a tin-eared political blunder; it reveals a secular, liberal attitude: that strong religious beliefs are themselves a kind of scandal; that a vigorous defense of Roman Catholicism is somehow a gaffe...

More follows.

The 70's Just Wouldn't Have Been The Same Without Them

Business Week showcases the 10 ugliest cars of all times. The included commentary is quite amusing. When I was 11, I thought the Pacer was really cool!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Outstanding In-Depth Critique Of The God Delusion

This is very good.

The Cost Of Defeatism

American Thinker examines the damage caused by the "let's declare defeat and throw our allies in Iraq to the wolves" tactics of the Treason Party.

Excellent Presentation

I love how Hot Air handled this one on their front page:

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So Ironic It's Not, So Unironic, It Is!

The Hipster Olympics. Lots of clever moments. I got a big kick out of--uh, I mean--it was all right, I guess. Or whatever.

Succinct

While doing a technorati search I stumbled across an article which contains this interesting way of putting things:

There has been an age old question of how the human body hosts consciousness. David Chalmer’s question: How can something as immaterial as consciousness arise from something as unconscious as matter?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

But Black Folk Are Supposed To Live In Cities!

Good American Thinker piece:

it begins:

One of the ugliest aspects of contemporary "progressive" thought is a thoroughly patronizing attitude toward African-Americans, regarding them as eternal victims unable to fend for themselves. The latest insult comes from America's most stridently left wing big city government, San Francisco, where municipal officials are fretting over recent declines in the number of blacks living within the city limits.

The nation's largest newspaper, USA Today, yesterday joined the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle in bemoaning the trend of San Franciscans of African heritage moving out of the central city. Not just to "working-class cities like Vallejo, Richmond or Fairfield" (The New York Times), but to genuine American Dream suburbs like fast-growing Tracy California, which welcomes all races and hosts a proud and growing African-American community that includes a number of people of my acquaintance.

Even more pernicious than liberal journalists lamenting blacks behaving like every other group attracted to the amenities of suburban living are the official attitude and actions of local government.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last April that:

San Francisco officials are now calling the thousands of black people who have moved away "the African American diaspora," and the mayor's office is putting together a task force to figure out what can be done to preserve the remaining black population and cultivate new residents.

USA Today helpfully updates:

San Francisco officials... vow to stop the exodus and develop a strategy to win blacks back to the city. In June, Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed a task force to study how to reverse decades of policies - and neglect - that black leaders say have fueled the flight. [emphasis added]

So taxpayer funds are already being expended for the purpose of encouraging one race to live in the city of San Francisco, and by extension discouraging other races who might instead occupy the same housing. Am I the only person who sees this as racist madness?

A thought experiment

Imagine that instead of blacks, the white population of San Francisco (which has declined significantly over the last several decades, from 89.5% white in 1950 to 53% in 2000) were the object of concern. City officials trying "stop the exodus" or "win whites" (as if they were a prize) or "to figure out what can be done to preserve the remaining white population and cultivate new white residents" would be properly accused of racism.

But the problem with the city's concern to "preserve" (not in formaldehyde, one hopes) its black population go deeper than just an unthinking and reflexive desire to see blacks as a special group deserving special rights and needing special protections from a wise and benevolent city government that knows better than they where said blacks should live. The very concept of racially engineering a city's population ought to be anathema to anyone who gives a moment's thought to the matter.

What's the "optimum" number?

How would one go about deciding how many blacks are "enough" for San Francisco? Any theory or method one might choose is deeply flawed.

The latest estimate of San Francisco's black population puts it at 6.5%, a level which is below the national average of 12.3%, but which is almost equal to the California average of 6.7%. Yet the current black percentage of the city's population already is regarded as a problem because it is too low. So apparently the thinking is that San Francisco for some reason should have a greater-than-California-average concentration of black residents. It is not merely a matter of San Francisco reflecting the average, San Francisco should exceed the average. Why? Are blacks to be stereotyped as "urban" - the kind of people who should be concentrated in certain neighborhoods? I thought we called this "ghettoization" and considered it racist...

Another point from the article:

There are plenty of other neighborhoods in San Francisco which have seen their ethnic character change over the past several decades. For example the Castro District, now famous as a gay neighborhood, was formerly inhabited predominantly by Irish Catholic families. I would be astonished if someone could point out to me articles in the New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle which sympathetically portrayed the plight of these families who watched the ethnic and cultural tone of their neighborhood radically transformed by affluent immigrants from elsewhere...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Person 1: I'm Not Arguing For A, Because What Really Matters Is B. Person 2: His Argument For A Fails. So Probably His Argument For B Is Bad, Too.

It is beyond me why Richard Dawkins is so adored by our intellectual betters. Exiled From Groggs:

The argument that Dawkins offers from p.148-151 is pretty much the same as it that offered in “The Blind Watchmaker” - 51% of an eye is more useful than 50% of an eye; a rudimentary wing feature may in some circumstances be better than nothing. In actual fact, Michael Behe addresses this whole approach in ten pages of chapter 2 of “Darwin's Black Box”. The whole debate between creationists and darwinists misses the point, Behe points out. At the biochemical level, we are not interested in a percentage of an eye. We can't think of biological systems evolving as a coherent whole. They typically represent the carefully regulated expression of dozens of proteins. Irreducible complexity is about the relationship between these proteins, and the suggestion that there is no selective advantage for the appearance of individual components of such a biochemical system, which would serve no function until the system was largely present.

Dawkins, in TGD [The God Delusion], argues that proponents of ID are suggesting that eyes and wings are examples of irreducibly complex systems. But this is simply not the case. Creationists, incorrectly understanding what IC is about, might do that. But Behe wasn't interested in macroscropic biological structures, and whether they could come about in small steps, but the biochemical systems that provide the basis for them. Dawkins directs much of his attention in this section, then, to addressing a misinterpretation of the whole Irreducible Complexity argument. In fact, with only one page of the section of the chapter headed “Irreducible Complexity” to go, Dawkins adds:

The fact that so many people have been dead wrong over these obvious cases should serve to warn us of other examples that are less obvious, such as the cellular and biochemical cases now being toutet by those creationists who shelter under the politically expedient euphemism of “intelligent design theorists”(p.150).

So under the heading of Irreducible Complexity, no attempt has been made at all to respond to Behe's argument about Irreducible Complexity – simply the assertion that since there are flaws in the arguments that Behe has already rejected, it is likely that there are flaws in his as well.

See also this related entry.

Seven Tips For Atheists

Nicely done.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Have The Darwinists Stepped In It?

Some interesting commentary at Telic Thoughts regarding the movie "Expelled".

This
:

# Joy Says:
August 23rd, 2007 at 9:41 pm |

What PZ and the others were told about the documentary (tentatively entitled "Crossroads" (by Mathis):

We are currently in production of the documentary film, "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion."

At your convenience I would like to discuss our project with you and to see if we might be able to schedule an interview with you for the film. The interview would take no more than 90 minutes total, including set up and break down of our equipment.

We are interested in asking you a number of questions about the disconnect/controversy that exists in America between Evolution, Creationism and the Intelligent Design movement.

What Rampant Films (Mathis' outfit) offered as the blurb:

It's been the central question of humanity throughout the ages: How in the world did we get here? In 1859 Charles Darwin provided the answer in his landmark book, "The Origin of Species." In the century and a half since, biologists, geologists, physicists, astronomers and philosophers have contributed a vast amount of research and data in support of Darwin's idea. And yet, millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other people of faith believe in a literal interpretation that humans were crafted by the hand of God. This conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms and town halls across America and beyond.

Which PZ considered "perfectly reasonable," so he agreed to be interviewed.

They asked their questions, PZ (and Eugenie, and Dawkins, and whoever else they contracted) gave them answers. They all knew it was about NDS vs. ID, they all knew it was about the theist vs. atheist "culture war" they've all been waging for many years, and I doubt very much that anyone would have to edit anything at all that any of them said. Though obviously the documentary isn't 2 hours' worth of PZ pontificating, so a lot that was said didn't make it into the film. Not a single one of them has reason to complain about that, they all signed a valid contract, they were paid for their time.

At some later point in the process the primary production company bought in (making Mathis the associate producer), and apparently Stein got involved. The focus also apparently changed. No doubt because of some of the things they said when they thought the movie was their personal propaganda vehicle.

One need not be partisan in these debates to figure out very quickly who's who and what's what. The amount of bile is simply inconsistent with the non-threat of ID. Once again the NAM illustrates its broader sociopolitical ambitions in the post-wedge world. The only excuse for sic'ing the dogs is that PZ knows very well what he DID say and is suddenly concerned that he might not come across as the good guy.

Unless he's getting paid by the production company to generate the requisite "controversy," that is. Not at all out of the realm of possibility.

I don't know what to think, and won't until I see the film. I'm not convinced it's not a "Borat" take-off that's just edgy comedy and everybody comes out looking silly. It's 6 months away, so there's no reason to get all upset.


And this:

# MikeGene Says:
August 23rd, 2007 at 11:25 pm |

Hi Idiot Wind,

I’d like to thank you for actually addressing one of the points in my opening post. You wrote:

Here are some more clues for you from their web page:

"Big Science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom"

"There is a movement on the horizon that has the potential to change the educational system in America and influence your kids, you and the youth you serve."

"…several students challenging Neo-Darwinian materialism, and arguing incessantly for the right to examine Intelligent Design. "

From the trailer:

"There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it possibly can't touch God "

Hmmm, I wonder why Stein and the movie producers decided to make this movie… I guess that it has nothing to do with Wegde strategy and getting ID in the classrooms, yeah right!

I think this wedge-centric perspective has you missing the hard edge of reality. This is not a DI [Discovery Institute] movie. You need to let that sink in. This is not a DI movie. What you are dealing with here is something that is much, much larger and much more clever. And if we take the trailer and web page at face value, yes, you are dealing with people who are willing to shout, “There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it possibly can't touch God.”

You need to ask yourself why in the world would such Big Money and someone as mainstream as Ben Stein become involved in this debate, just as it seemed as the ID Movement was fading into history? I’m guessing that it is because the critics resurrected it. How? Because of their overblown sense of threatiness, needed to arouse battle troops in the scientific community, they were willing to abandon principle for politics and succeeded in making martyrs. But it’s not just that alone. Juxtaposed against Sternberg and Gonzalez, we’ll get to see Dawkins and his movement bash religion, while telling us science has shown God does not exist. Has it occurred to you that this is very powerful imagery, made possible only because of the actions and words of the critics?

Imagine if the critics had listened to me. The Dover decision would still exist, but there would be no martyrs to catch the attention of some major league players. And all those scientific organization that made it clear ID is not science? They would have also made it clear that the anti-religious agenda of the most popular scientist in the world, along with his movement, does not represent science and the scientific community. The only question remains is how much the critics will continue to bash and smear about a movie made possible by their bashing and smearing?

This is going to be fun. The most ferocious ID critics really need to be much more famous than they already are, and their kind words need to be immortalized and proclaimed far and wide. Is there anything that could help their cause more?

"It Sounds Circular, Confusing And Insane, Because It Is"

Good essay explaining the design of our financial system.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

An Outstanding Lens

A few shots I took of a friend yesterday, using my Nikon D40 and 18-200 VR lens:


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Big, zoomable versions here.

The Best Anti-Metric System Rant I've Seen

Great job by Brian Tiemann.

When Everyone Thinks They Have Hedged Away Risk, Overall Risk Rises Exponentially

A bit arcane, but as good an explanation as I have found.

excerpt:

Every day we watch people blame sub-prime. Sub-prime is neither contained nor, is it the essence of present trouble. Discussing sub-prime as the cause of asset re-pricing has become ubiquitous. I would liken this line of explanation to the way that American urban violence is often discussed as “gang related” or “drug related”. In short, it is a lazy catch all employed to avoid scratching below the surface. Sub-prime mortgages- especially those of post 2004 vintage- are in trouble. About 15% are in various stages of the default pipeline with 5% in final stage default. This is truly alarming and merits some serious, mortgage backed securities (MBS) re-pricing. Alt-A loans, low disclosure mortgages, option ARMs, balloon payment mortgages, some prime jumbo mortgages and the housing sector are in trouble. All of this matters. $2 trillion in mortgages without any government guarantee face valuation, liquidity and repayment risks. This is only one strong gust in the storm roiling global asset markets. Housing distress is now and will continue to drag down the US economy. We are increasingly confident that the drag from housing will pull the US into recession by late 2007 or early 2008.

A huge credit bubble exists and extends far beyond sub prime mortgage distress. The global bubble is enormous and has many sub-component bubblettes. The internationalization, integration and expansion of finance extended and distributed the effects of overly cheap and easy credit. Innovation of new products, thin opaque markets in credit vehicles and voracious appetite for leveraged yield have transformed balance sheets and portfolios. This mountain of gas soaked rages was ignited by the credit concerns in sub prime. Now the credit bubble is burning. Years of euphoria, easy money and asset inflations built to dizzying heights. Massive, cheap and easy debt was taken on to buy houses, currencies, bonds, equities, mortgages, leveraged loans, credit default swaps, real goods and services. Credit burdens were taken lightly, rolled over, bundled and sold. As long as lenders, buyers, ratings agencies and faith held, bubbles formed and swelled. The size, volatility and interconnectedness of international asset inflation was unprecedented. The downturn has been similarly correlated. Sub-prime credits and the collateralized mortgage obligations comprised of them deflated- the match was struck. The fire is never really caused simply or exclusively by the match that lights it.

Global asset markets are now being re-defined by risk aversion, illiquidity and credit backwash. Individuals and institutions that rely on (1) roll-over financing, (2) liquid (always open) credit markets, or (3) investor faith are in trouble. American homeowners count on new debt and house price appreciation. This credit line has become a noose. The most vulnerable are busting now. What makes them most at risk? Recent mortgages were made at the end of the housing boom. Little or no money was put down, teaser intro rates and weak underlying finances conspired to leave these folks least able to weather a storm. They are less unique than ahead of the curve. As house prices fall further and adjustable rates rise, others will join them. This matters suddenly because sub-prime problems are now driving market psychology. The present turmoil is just as psychology driven as the hyper-extension of gains we saw after April-July 2007. Sub-prime went into serious difficulty in April. The markets soared in response. What is different today, fear has spread to the entire “originate to distribute” financial universe as problems in the mortgage space have multiplied and grown. US Treasury, Federal Reserve and expert testimony promised this would not happen. It did. Ratings agencies and researchers recommended and applauded the safety and wisdom of new structured debt product. They got it wrong. Questions started getting asked about the true value and risk of innovative, engineered products in mid July. Many still await answer. Investors no longer wait patiently and liquidity has dried up.

All these innovative new mortgages were written because there was great money to be made in bundling them into mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collateralized mortgage obligations (CMO). Lenders cashed in on a "originated to distribute" bonanza. All types of finance companies wrote mortgages- and many other types of credit contracts- only to sell them off. A popular final destination was in collateralized obligations. This industry swelled as trillions of dollars in mortgages were written over the past few years. Every obstacle to further lending was innovated around to allow profits to continue to flow. The risks of all this lending were less pressing as mortgages loans were made to be sold- not held. All the available credit bid up house prices and led to the false conclusion that houses were always safe, appreciating assets. Questionable loans and sub-prime mortgages were sold and reconfigured into AAA rated product. Risk vanished from consideration and discussion. Transformed mortgages became credit vehicles and were sold all over the world. Part of the mad dash now involves finding these hidden gems hiding on books and ascertaining their real value.

Let’s take a look at a stylized "originate to distribute" production process. How do structured products transform lead assets into gold? Mortgages are written, the bank/finance company agrees to first loss provision (FLP) and then sells. A special purpose vehicle (SPV) is established and buys the assets-mortgages- with the bank assuming the first few percentage points of loss through the FLP. SPVs issue CMO structures backed by the assets-mortgages- as collateral. Mortgage originators are left to service the loans and absorb any first loss. They no longer ride the risk on the loans they made. Protections are variously offered and careful capital structuring occurs to comfort investors and obtain an investment grade rating from the ratings agencies. In many instances, wraps or insurance on default is offered to cover some portion of risk. Generally, the special purpose vehicle is over-capitalized. The underlying mortgage values sum to a greater amount than the valuation of the assets sold by the SPV. The total returns on the mortgages are greater than the yield offered on the structured product. Two forms of protection are offered. In the first case, the total value is understated, in the second case an investor beneficial mismatch between asset and liability income streams is built into the vehicle’s capital structure. Last but not least, the collateralized debt is chopped into tranches. In declining order of risk and return, the tranches are commonly referred to as senior, mezzanine and equity. There are risk cascades or waterfalls that separate the equity from mezzanine and senior portions. All loses are absorbed by the lowest credit grade and highest yield portion before any loss passes up to the higher grade. Much time, effort and expertise was expended in designing capital structures. Top investment grade credit ratings were given to senior portions. Lucrative deals hinged only on placing the equity portions. Hedge funds and other aggressive yield hunters obliged- with their own leverage in tow.

This process allowed lenders to offer more credit at better terms to a greater number and diversity of borrowers. Risk was not and can not be created or destroyed by changing ownership. The delusional fantasy that risk had been reduced slowly became the greatest risk of the new financial product stream. The more safe your assets seem to you- and the safer the ratings attached- the greater risk you can and will take on elsewhere. In reality, risks were just redistributed. The trouble grew with the confidence that we had entered or could design deals so as to reduce risk. There is great value and potential in the new diversified risk architecture of structured finance. However, transparency and valuation integrity have lagged in development. The enhanced ability of lenders to sell risk reduces credit origination risk. Originator risk is simply sold on to other parties. Mortgage writers’ see their risk reduced unless they keep doing it again and again, running their newly freed capital back through the same process to jack up earnings.

Each round of risky "originate to distribute" lending was used to fund the next round. Every obstacle to further lending was innovated around. Thus, the risks multiplied systemically. So much air pumped into these instruments that ever more daring capital structures, pricing demands and raw debt material was sought. A very similar set of actions is unfolding in the leveraged loan markets and the mortgage markets. Why? The innovations and products are remarkably similar. Increasingly exotic, less restrictive loans are made to sub investment grade enterprises and then packaged into collateralized loan obligations (CLO). These are similar in almost every regard to recent risky innovations in mortgage markets, save one. Few people are fully aware of this corner of the market and defaults remain very, very low. For now, that is. There was $500 billion in CLO origination in 2006.

Sadly this story is repeated all across the credit landscape. What many folks forgot was that the quality of the underlying assets should never be lost sight of. All the creativity and innovation in the world can only offer so much protection if the underlying loans and assets are bad. Suddenly everyone is realizing this. Thus, a scramble to reduce leverage and raise cash is underway. This is driving fear and asset sale. Hedge Funds heavily into CDO, CLO and equity tranche mortgage backed debt are going bust and selling assets to raise cash and de-leverage. Insurance companies, global banks, and pension funds are combing complex books. This creates downward pressure on assets and spreads distress and loss. Raising cash means selling. Hiding loss and surviving means selling into strength to raise maximum cash and minimum suspicion.

Finance companies, banks and investment managements relied on liquid markets and fast sales. Short term financing and excessive leverage transfer risks from structured finance into the markets that they buy from and sell to. Valuations have been generous and have come from models employed by the firms creating vehicles. Ratings agencies were intent on certifying new products based on historically accurate assumptions about the probability of various events. They failed to adjust their models for the brave new world of structured products that they were helping to create. Over confidence and stretching of untested new risk protection spun out of control. Rapid declines in high profile quantitative hedge funds- statistical arbitrage funds- offers further evidence of modeling problems. Investors and managers are trying to determine the true value of their assets and the size of their losses. Markets have lost faith in the ratings agencies. The designation of so many collateralized debt obligations as AAA rated is creating anger and suspicion. Many sub-prime mortgage securities retained investment grade ratings weeks into punishing price declines. In the midst of this stress test, faith in the models, ratings agencies and regulators is at low ebb.

Leverage has been a cheap easy, always available yield booster, until recently. Now debt vehicle creation has stalled. Originators are stuck with unsold inventory. Liquidity and demand have dried up. Market prices for credit vehicles are much, much lower than the models predicted. Demand is absent and discounts demanded are huge. Sudden interest in the underlying asset quality is raising dangerous and unnerving questions.

This raises the specter of further declines as assets over correct looking for accurate valuation. Until recently, regulators spent their public comment opportunity aggressively spinning increasingly absurd reassuring yarns. Now, late in the game, they will have to spend more money and rebuild trust. So far they are busy injecting liquidity in the wrong areas and offering the absurd assurance that losses are contained. It spread far and wide over the last 6 years!

"Let The Screaming And Caterwauling Begin"

Details here. The poor Darwinists are already bitching and moaning in the comment section of Ben Stein's blog at the official site of the movie. This is going to be fun.

Warranted Indignation

The LA Daily news asked for feedback to a column entitled "Should city bail homebuyers out?" The column contains the usual hard luck stories. The entertaining and furious comments are having none of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Lens

I finally got my back-ordered Nikon 18-200 VR lens. Details here and here.

A few trial shots:

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With this lens, you can actually do low light indoor shots without a tripod. Zoomable versions of above photos here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Good Diatribe

Ace of Spades:

But this entire article is fundamentally dishonest. Few bloggers claim to be able to do the sort of reporting that a newspaper of hundreds, each salaried and only expected to contribute a piece or two a week, can manage. We can''t compete on that ground, and we don't claim to.

What we do is point out mistakes the media makes. Mistakes and deliberate omissions and flat-out dishonestly. And we question the judgment by which the MSM purports to assign stories news-value and by that assignment of priority instruct us upon what the relative value of a story might be. And we also question the assumptions undergirding their worldview -- and their bias.

That's what the media doesn't like, of course. They don't want to simply report facts. That is not nearly a grandiose enough job for them. They want to inform the public, not just factually but philosophically. They demand not merely that their "facts" be accepted without question (though a great many of those are in fact highly questionable), but their judgment and worldview be uncritically accepted as well. They want us not just to take their word as regards their somewhat dubious area of expertise -- reportage of facts -- but they want us to also accept their take, their spin, their belief in how the world works-- and how it should work.

All of these arguments about the need for reporters to report facts are dishonest. No one challenges this notion. No individual blogger could conceivably devote enough hours of his spare time (or his blogging time, if he does this full-time) to develop, confirm, and write a true bit of first-hand journalism once a week or so.

And the MSM knows that. They know their job on that score is secure -- simply because no one but a salaried reporter could put in forty hours a week working on a single story. (Especially because 99% of stories are not terribly important or remarkable, but still need to be reported -- but obviously no blogger could write up the Kalamazoo Crime Blotter three times a week and expect to be read by more than three thousand people as an absolute ceiling.)

What they are worried about is the decline in their influence as to matters not directly related to data-collection and not even remotely related to reportage. They're worried that they're losing their ability to shape (and mislead) public opinion in ways they find best for the public good. These people did not get into journalism, after all, to report on 3M's quarterly earnings advisory. They got into journalism to change things.

And they're desperately scrabbling to hold on tight to that bit of undeserved, undue influence by leveraging their entirely-unrelated qualifications to collect and disseminate raw information into a role they actually desire and feel they are worthy of-- a certified, credentialed priesthood of general wisdom, weighing in expertly on matters of politics, scientific and technological ethical dilemmas, foreign policy and of course military strategy, etc. They conceive themselves as Generic Universal Omniscient All-In-One Experts Without Portfolio, a highly-trained Vanguard of Information which is especially well-equipped to tell the public not only what the facts are, but which facts are important and which should be ignored entirely due to their capacity to "mislead" less highly-trained citizens, and what the public should think of such facts and what conclusions they should draw from them.

No one -- no one -- ever got into the media to report on local car collisions or new and exciting federal farm subsidies.

What they got into the media to do was to tell people how and what to think, and its that prerogative of the Intellectual Aristocracy, and not the unglamorous business of information collection, collation, and dissemination, that they're crying about losing.

Note that they do not dare actually state their belief that they are specially qualified to do the thinking for the American public. They can't say such a thing. The public would laugh at their presumption -- some idiots went to a one year finishing school (and not a particularly academically demanding one besides) and now they have the special privilege of deciding what the public should think about each and every issue?

So instead they have to make the argument dishonestly -- whining about a job that isn't seriously threatened in order to preserve the job they really fret about losing, but a job which no one ever asked them -- let alone beatified them -- to do. How reporters got conflated with analysts and general-purpose experts without portfolio is anyone's guess. But that conflation having been made (at least in the minds of some, particularly their own), they'll be damned if they're going to give that gig up now.

Reporters seem to think they sell the news at 75 cents a copy -- and they tell us all how to interpret and analyze that news at no additional charge.

They think they're being generous by offering us their scary talents in this regard for free.

The rest of don't give a whit how steeply-discounted their dubious expertise is offered -- we didn't subcontract our thinking to them and it will be an unseasonably cold day in hell when America complies with their demands to concede that they alone are capable of doing the intellectual work of democratic governance.

And seriously? Not to harp on this, but really, guys. It's a frigging three semester degree of recent invention and dubious academic rigor. Get over yourselves already, for the love of all that's holy. You're embarrassing yourselves.

You know what you call a guy who couldn't get into med school?

Dentist.

You know what you call a guy who couldn't get into dental school?

Journalist.

Profiles In Folly

From Ben Jones' blog:

“Marco and Marissa Meza, a couple from California, snapped up a brand-new colonial in the Town of Wallkill for $319,000 in 2003. It had all the amenities a new homeowner could want.”

“The builder, Gary Swanson of GJS Construction Corp., said it was the strangest closing he’s ever experienced in his years of building and selling houses. ‘When I went to that closing I didn’t think they were going to have enough money to buy the house,’ he said.”

“Still, months into the closing process, Marissa Meza asked Swanson to quote a price for a circular driveway. He told her $5,000 and ended up building it for her. Then, Meza asked him to quote a price for a finished basement. His $15,000 estimate was apparently too high for her. But Meza had another builder do the work.”

“‘These people should have bought a house $100,000 less than the house they bought,’ Swanson said. ‘They can’t afford a house, and here they want a circular driveway. People just think they need these extravagant-type houses,’ he added.”

“Within a year of buying the house, the Mezas had refinanced with Countrywide Home Loans Inc. for a $304,000 mortgage. They also tapped Countrywide for a $38,000 home equity loan. In April 2006, they refinanced again, this time with Wells Fargo, for a $396,000 mortgage. The loan was clearly a subprime one and their initial interest rate rose to 8.375 percent.”

“By August, they stopped paying their bills. Wells Fargo started foreclosure proceedings in March 2007. Marco and Marissa Meza moved back to California. They did not respond to a request for an interview.”

The Buffalo News from New York. “Thomas and Jeaneen Maglietto, who religiously watch TLC’s Flip This House show, decided to buy a second house a few blocks away to use as a rental property.”

“The couple went to Alexis Funding and, on Wednesday, got prequalified for a mortgage from Arizona-based First Magnus Financial Corp. for the $65,000, two-unit house. The price would have been 90 percent financed, with the Magliettos putting about $6,000 down.”

“But the next day, with no warning, First Magnus abruptly shut down. And all the remaining lenders Alexis used now want the couple to put down at least $10,000.”

“‘We really can’t come up with $10,000 or $12,000 for a rental property,’ said Thomas Maglietto. ‘We were looking for someone to work with us. Now everyone wants my first-born, and I’m not willing to do that.’”

“‘It’s almost like Alice in Wonderland. You’re just dropped in a whole new set of circumstances that can change as soon as the fax machine rings or an e-mail comes out,’ said Michael J. Meyer, senior loan officer in Williamsville, who was filling out a client’s paperwork for a home equity loan when the bank pulled out of the business. ‘I’ve never seen this much collapse of a product.’”

“‘I haven’t seen changes like this so drastic, so suddenly,’ said Frank Fialkiewicz, senior sales manager for American Equity Services in Cheektowaga. ‘The public doesn’t understand that things are changing by the hour, by the day.’”

...

“Mark Gibbons, an agent in Stoughton, said a client who was selling a house turned down an offer at the list price, in favor of a bid that was $15,000 lower because that buyer was more certain to obtain a mortgage.”

“‘The dollars weren’t as important as the confidence in the actual closing happening,’ Gibbons said.”

“One of mortgage planner Robert French’s clients, who earns about $700,000 a year and has a high credit score, was recently unable to get a stated-income mortgage. These loans became popular during the housing boom because it does not require borrowers to provide a copy of their W-2 tax form to the lender.”

“Stated-income loans, French said, are ‘just disappearing.’”

The Connecticut Post. “At her two-bedroom condo on the East Side of Bridgeport, Donna Pearce is anxious and a bit angry. The nanny has fallen behind on her mortgage payments and blames her mortgage broker for selling her a loan that she could not realistically afford.”

“‘When she [loan writer] came to me with the loan saying I was approved, the interest rate was extremely high,’ Pearce said. ‘But she said not to worry about it because ‘in six months you will be able to refinance.’”

“Pearce, who earns $525 a week, put $3,000 down on the $135,000 condo and accepted the deal. She figured that she could squeeze by paying $1,300 a month for the first six months and then refinance and lower her monthly payment. Six months later, Pearce found that she did not have enough equity in the condo to refinance nor the money to cover substantial penalties for refinancing.”

“Moreover, she learned that the 13.05 percent interest rate could rise to 15 percent within two years.”

“‘Right now I am in default,’ she said. ‘You trust the person you think is working for you that you will get lower rates and be able to pay the mortgage only to find out there are hidden glitches you don’t know about,’ she said.”

“Pearce does not believe Congress should bail out Wall Street. ‘It’s folks like me that should be bailed out,’ she said. ‘These banks that did this to people deserve what they are getting. They should be made to pay for hurting people like myself.’”

The New York Times on Connecticut. “Three years ago, Martin and Jennifer Cossette bought into the dream of homeownership,— the quintessentially American ideal of personal striving and family stability celebrated by politicians, promoted by Madison Avenue and financed by Wall Street.”

“The modest Cape Cod-style house, in Meriden, Conn., had three bedrooms, and a backyard for their young son. Like so many families, they stretched to buy their first home. In the red-hot housing market at the time, they put no money down and got a mortgage for its entire $180,000 price tag.”

“They had qualms but too few, as reassuring lenders spoke of rising housing prices, falling interest rates and easy access to future loans.”

“None of it turned out that way. There were unforeseen expenses. Bills mounted and credit card debt got out of hand. They refinanced in late 2005, folding other debts into the mortgage, but that proved to be only a stopgap.”

“Earlier this year, the Cossettes filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, used by wage earners who want to hold onto their homes. But the monthly payments on the $230,000 mortgage were $1,800, 40 percent higher than the first mortgage, and headed even higher. So they decided to let the house go.”

“‘We were totally na├»ve,’ said Mr. Cossette.”

“Joseph and Lu-Ann Horn bought their 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home in South Windsor, Conn., in 2002, paying for nearly all of it with a $150,000 loan. The mortgage was a 30-year loan with a fixed rate of 7.5 percent. Two years later, they decided to refinance to pay off their truck and their credit card debt and to buy a $4,000 motorcycle.”

“The new mortgage was for $198,000, at a fixed rate of about 8 percent for two years and variable rates afterward. The monthly payment was about $1,600. The mortgage broker, Mr. Horn said, told them not to worry about the variable rate because they could refinance in two years and lock in a fixed rate again.”

“‘They basically put us in a loan that they knew we couldn’t pay,’ Mr. Horn said. ‘We never should have done it.’”

“When the fixed rate expired last year, the Horns found no willing lenders. The interest rate has jumped and the monthly payments rose to nearly $2,200, Ms. Horn said. ‘It just goes up and up,’ she said.”

“Mr. and Ms. Horn make about $70,000 a year, but with two children and other expenses they fell behind on the mortgage. They have been served with foreclosure papers, and have filed for Chapter 13. ‘We’re fighting to hold onto the house now,’ Ms. Horn said.”

“For Mr. Cossette, who is now a renter, homeownership no longer has much allure. ‘You put your life’s sweat into a piece of real estate that may or may not go up in value,’ he said. ‘So I don’t have a house. That’s O.K. with me.’”

Let 'Em Give It A Try

From a wide-ranging Gagdad Bob post:

It's too bad we can't conduct a controlled experiment between Red America and Blue America. Then, once and for all, we could have a true test of which ideas are the more functional and create more economic prosperity and moral goodness.

In Blue America they would have high taxes, a mammoth, intrusive federal government, economically crippling Kyoto-style restrictions, government enforced racial discrimination, open borders (except into our country -- to preserve the integrity of the experiment we’d have to have a big fence to keep the Blue meanies from escaping into our beautiful Red America), a permanent ban on vouchers to ensure the stranglehold the Teachers Union has on education, a religious test to keep people of faith out of public life, no guns, no smoking, lots of abortions, inefficient and insanely expensive "free" healthcare, even more special rights and protections for criminals and terrorists, a ban on evil places like Walmart which provide vital goods to people of modest means at rock bottom prices, college at someone else's expense for everyone, no matter how stupid, and a high minimum wage to suppress employment and spur inflation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Only 'Truth' Is With Those Who Leave The Most Offspring

Very well put.

Astute Observations

Glenn Reynolds (at Tech Central Station):

But Gibson's slogan unwittingly captures an important aspect of the problem, in the United States and other industrial societies, at least: We've taken a lot of the fun out of parenting. Or to echo Longman, the "social costs" of parenting continue to rise, and, more significantly, perhaps, the "social returns" continue to decline.

Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. But in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all.

This occurred to me recently while reading Caitlin Flanagan's new book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. Flanagan's book is mostly a comparison of her own housewifely and maternal life with that of her mother, and one thing that struck me is how much of what counted as acceptable -- or even exemplary -- parenting a generation ago would now be considered abuse and neglect. Here's an example:

"My mother was by no means indifferent about me: I was her pet, the baby of the family. But back then children were not under constant adult supervision, even if their mothers were housewives. By the time I was five, I was allowed to wander away from the house as long as I didn't cross any big streets. I had the run of the neighborhood at six. . . . A nine-year-old could be trusted with a key; a nine-year-old knew how to work a telephone if anything went wrong. Moreover, anxiety as a precondition of the maternal experience had not yet been invented."

Nowadays, of course, children don't get the same treatment. (I have heard repeatedly that my state's Department of Children's Services considers it neglect to leave a nine-year-old alone in the house for any time at all). Today's middle-class kids are always under the adult eye. It's not clear that the kids are better off for all this supervision -- and they're certainly fatter, perhaps because they get around less outside -- but the burden on parents is much, much higher. And it's exacted in a million tiny yet irritating other ways. Some are worthwhile -- car seats, for example, are probably a net gain in safety -- but even there the cost is high: I heard a radio host in Knoxville making fun of SUVs and minivans: When he was a kid, he boasted, his parents took their five children cross-country in an Impala sedan. Nowadays, you'd never make it without being cited for neglect. And you can't get five kids in a sedan if they all have to have car seats, which these days they seem to require until they're 18.

Likewise, Flanagan notes the pressure to take children for a seemingly endless array of after-school activities, most of which require parental chauffering. Add to this the increasing amount of parental responsibility for things their children do wrong, coupled with steady legal diminution of parental authority (Flanagan mentions an incident in which Caroline Kennedy was spanked for running off and notes that today it might result in jail time -- an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much.) You're responsible for your kids in ways previous generations weren't, but your ability to discipline them is much reduced, and as my wife (a forensic psychologist) notes, the bad kids know that they can cow most adults by threatening to call 911 and make a bogus abuse charge. And forget disciplining your child, even with a harsh word, in a public place: At the very least, if you do you'll be looked on not as a virtuous parent helping to preserve the social fabric, but as that worst of all sinners in contemporary American culture: a meanie. And schools, anxious for parental "involvement," place far more demands on parents than they did when I was a kid.

There's also the decline in parental prestige over generations. My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she was married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.

In these sorts of ways, parenting has become more expensive in non-financial as well as financial terms. It takes up more time and emotional energy than it used to, and there's less reward in terms of social approbation. This is like a big social tax on parenting and, as we all know, when things are taxed we get less of them. Yes, people still have children, and some people even have big families. But at the margin, which is where change occurs, people are less likely to do things as they grow more expensive and less rewarded.

So as we head into what looks like a major demographic debate, I think we need to look beyond subsidies and finances to culture. If people want to see Americans have more children, they should probably ignore Putin's advice, and they should definitely ignore Gibson's advice. They should look at ways of making parenting more rewarding, and less burdensome, in social as well as economic terms.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Adolph Presley

Interesting thesis. BTW, there used to be a band called "Elvis Hitler" in San Jose (about 20 years ago).

Pass The Bong

Robert Crowther:

So, the benighted brites at the New York Times are suddenly all agog over the deep ponderings of Oxford’s Nick Bostrom (never mind that it isn't really a new idea at all — it's been bubbling up for a few years now). What exactly has them so excited, you ask? Well, Bostrom thinks we all might just be an eleborate Sims game for some sort of advanced video game addict. Seriously.

He has “thoughtfully” proposed the idea that this world, your reality, is nothing more than a very advanced simulation, an illusion, if you will. In fact, he thinks that this simulation might just be running inside another simulation, inside another simulation, inside another simulation on and on back, forever and ever amen.

Bostrom put it this way:

Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don’t think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. That is the basic idea.

Sounds pretty circular, doesn't it?

And his conclusion? "Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation." You just can't make this stuff up ... er, wait a minute, I guess you can just make this stuff up.

Compare this to the serious scientific ideas advanced by intelligent design theorists. How does Bostrom’s simulation theory look when lined up next to an idea propsed by Michael Behe such as irreducible complexity? Or, next to theorems proposed by William Dembski, such as those in The Design Inference or No Free Lunch?

Yet it is ID proponents like Behe and Dembski that are denied serious consideration and coverage by The New York Times (or, if they are covered, they're attacked and mocked), while the same media which ignores a scholarly proposition from an ID theorist will fuel serious discussion of ideas such as Bostrom’s. One scientist commented after reading this article that it is "fascinating what explanations for reality are acceptable in quarters which despise ID."

Regardless, it is Behe and Dembski — who are using science to search for evidence of design, not a designer — who are constantly asked who’s the designer, who’s the designer, who’s the designer? When they patiently explain that science can’t answer that question, they are criticized and told they are not doing science.

Bostrom too is confronted with that question, but with considerably more respect and deference.

Of course, it’s tough to guess what the designer would be like. He or she might have a body made of flesh or plastic, but the designer might also be a virtual being living inside the computer of a still more advanced form of intelligence. There could be layer upon layer of simulations until you finally reached the architect of the first simulation — the Prime Designer, let’s call him or her (or it).

The interesting thing is that, try as hard as they might, everyone’s common sense grasps the fundamental reality that life, the universe and everything is quite obviously designed. You can’t help but see the design in nature. Even Darwin’s current bulldog Richard Dawkins acknowledges this by saying that biology is simply “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed.”

A colleague wrote about this article:

The annoying thing about the cultural elite is that, because of the profound philosophical and theological illiteracy, the most sophomoric observations about the nature of ultimate reality pass for "thought-provoking" or "profound." Their forays into the world of philosophy or theology are regarded as "cute" or "brave" forms of self-disclosure, with almost no attention paid to whether they are plausible or even coherent.

Indeed. It's almost enough to make you want to take the red pill.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So, Really, It's Not All About Darwin's Mechanism At All, Then

It's actually just shear, dumb luck:

Michael Egnor recently wrote about the great difficulties faced by origin of life researchers and the great speculation they are willing to undertake to retain natural chemical explanations for origin of life. This reminds of events in the early 1900’s, when leading scientists opposed ideas about cosmology for philosophical (but not scientific) reasons. In 1931, leading cosmologist Sir Arthur Eddington wrote in response to Big Bang cosmology, "Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole." Even Einstein was troubled by the fact that his own theories showed "the necessity for a beginning." In fact, he added a "cosmological constant" to his equations to avoid that necessity of a beginning to the universe. Decades later, after the cosmological constant was disproved, Einstein called the way he allowed his personal philosophy to override science the biggest blunder of his life.

Now it's Eugene V. Koonin's turn. Koonin, a biologist with the National Institutes of Health, is again letting philosophical preferences influence his cosmology. This time, however, it has to do not with the implications of the origin of the universe, but regarding the origin of life. In a recent article in Biology Direct entitled, "The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life," Koonin realizes that the natural chemical origin of life is highly unlikely if there is only one finite universe. Koonin writes, "The RNA world faces its own hard problems as ribozyme-catalyzed RNA replication remains a hypothesis and the selective pressures behind the origin of translation remain mysterious."

Koonin's solution is not to figure out how, chemically speaking, the RNA-world may have arisen within our universe. Rather, his solution is to promote a new cosmology that allows for events that are "untenable" or only happen "rarely" in a finite universe to eventually occur:

Eternal inflation offers a viable alternative that is untenable in a finite universe, i.e., that a coupled system of translation and replication emerged by chance, and became the breakthrough stage from which biological evolution, centered around Darwinian selection, took off. A corollary of this hypothesis is that an RNA world, as a diverse population of replicating RNA molecules, might have never existed. In this model, the stage for Darwinian selection is set by anthropic selection of complex systems that rarely but inevitably emerge by chance in the infinite universe (multiverse).

(Eugene V. Koonin, "The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life," Biology Direct Vol. 2:15 (May 31, 2007).)

In other words, Koonin's view uses philosophy to stop scientific investigation into the origin of life by asserting a cosmological model where there are infinite chances for the entire complexity of life to arise in one fell swoop. Koonin's premise is that, "[i]n contrast to the traditional cosmological models of a single, finite universe, this worldview provides for the origin of an infinite number of complex systems by chance, even as the probability of complexity emerging in any given region of the multiverse is extremely low." Thus Koonin admits that he prefers an eternal multiverse cosmological "worldview" to a single finite universe because it increases the disastrously low probabilities of a natural chemical origin of life:

The plausibility of different models for the origin of life on earth directly depends on the adopted cosmological scenario. In an infinite universe (multiverse), emergence of highly complex systems by chance is inevitable. Therefore, under this cosmology, an entity as complex as a coupled translation-replication system should be considered a viable breakthrough stage for the onset of biological evolution.

(Eugene V. Koonin, "The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life," Biology Direct Vol. 2:15 (May 31, 2007).)

Such philosophically-guided arguments get published in mainstream science journals, but last year Nature recognized that the multiverse hypothesis is unfalsifiable and "isn't science." Nature then affirmatively quoted anti-ID physicist Leonard Susskind stating, "It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn't science."

That these same scientists wrongly regard intelligent design as an unfalsifiable concept shows their double standard, which I observed last year: "Perhaps untestable theories are acceptable to [mainstream journals] when they can challenge intelligent design, but are not acceptable when they support design." The publication of Koonin's latest paper lends further support to that thesis.

And for any who would object that Darwin's theory is not about the origin of life anyway, well, la-di-frickin'-da. The reasoning given by Koonin above also applies just as well to the lucky arrival of just the right mutations. If Koonin's musings are the answer, then our production has zero to do with the Darwinistic mechanism, which would thereby be relegated to a mere gloss on our real source: infinite rolls of the dice.

Vacation Photos

Fun times in Enterprise, Oregon, and in the nearby Wallowa Mountains (30 miles backpacking in 3 days; we weren't associated with the horse train, we just passed it on the trail).

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Zoomable pictures here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

There's More Where This Came From

The snowball is starting to grow.

The Housing Bubble Blog:

The LA Times: “In the county of Riverside, in the city of Corona, on a street called Plume Grass, there’s a foreclosed house that no one wants to buy. A decade ago it was worth $148,000. That’s what Theodore and Cassandra Judice paid the developer, Beazer Homes, borrowing nearly all of that sum.”

“Life threw some curveballs. In 2000, they refinanced, drawing cash out in exchange for a bigger monthly mortgage. Theodore would marvel at his neighbor’s boats, their swimming pools, their toys. He and Cassandra did some remodeling, getting the patio done, he remembers, was particularly urgent.”

“The couple refinanced again in 2001, 2003 and 2004, borrowing larger sums each time.”

“In September 2005, the Judices borrowed $447,500. Almost immediately after that, they put the house on the market for $480,000. It was time to go: They had drawn so much cash out of their home they couldn’t afford to live there anymore. The ATM had turned into a trap. With no equity cushion, they couldn’t afford to cut their price either.”

“‘They got offers, but they weren’t high enough for them to break even,’ says their agent, Peter Pesek. ‘They wanted to keep waiting for something better.’ It never came; the market had peaked.”

“The couple moved to Austin, Texas, and bought another house. They couldn’t afford both mortgages, so for Plume Grass they tried to negotiate a short sale, an agreement in which the lender accepts less than it is owed. The deal fell through.”

“A notice of default was filed June 9, 2006, making the house one of the first in Corona to enter the foreclosure process in the current downturn.”

“‘We made some bad decisions,’ acknowledges Theodore. ‘No one ever came to our house and forced us to do anything.’ He figures it will take him several years to clean up his credit record.”

“GMAC Mortgage took ownership after the foreclosure. The lender asked Leo Nordine, a veteran foreclosure agent based in Hermosa Beach, to clean up the house and evaluate it for resale.”

“On March 15, Nordine recommended $6,000 in cosmetic work and a low price to get out in front of the market. ‘Don’t overprice,’ he warned.”

“His suggestion: $425,000 for the house as it was, $437,500 if the repairs were done. The lender didn’t authorize the repairs, and stuck a price of $445,000 on the house. No one wanted it.”

“On May 30, Nordine advised reducing to $409,000. GMAC agreed to drop the price, but only to $419,500. Six weeks earlier, that might have done the trick. Not anymore. A week later, Nordine recommended $399,000. The lender didn’t respond.”

“On June 27, he suggested $390,000. Lower the price, he urged yet again: There are three times as many lender-owned homes on the market now as there were a few months ago. On July 31: ‘This is the worst market I’ve ever seen.’ He proposed $385,000.”

“There was no answer. GMAC, like most lenders, has been in turmoil. In late April it said it would fire 700 workers. The asset manager for the Plume Grass house was one of them.”

“To sell the house now, Nordine said late last week, would require a price of $379,000. ‘The banks will wise up after a bit,’ the agent said. ‘I think the fall is going to get really ugly.’”

“A GMAC spokesman said Friday morning that the lender’s goal was to sell all its properties, including the Plume Grass house, for ‘fair market value.’ Several hours later, either wising up or merely responding to the glare of publicity, GMAC sent Nordine an e-mail authorizing him to drop the price to $395,000.”

Victory By Definitional Fiat

Evolution News & Views:

The National Research Council’s report — The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems — is a must read. Not for the science — what there is of it can be summed up simply: we have no clue how life began. No, the report is a must read for the insight it offers into the current state of origin of life research:

For generations the definition of life has eluded scientists and philosophers. (Many have come to recognize that the concept of “definition” itself is difficult to define)… Indeed, because the chemical structures of terran biomolecular systems all appear to have arisen through Darwinian processes, it is hardly surprising that some of the more thoughtful definitions of life hold that it is a “chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.”

Aside from jargon that would make Derrida squirm— “the concept of definition is itself difficult to define”— the Council claims to see, through post-modern haze, a more thoughtful definition of life: life is defined as “a chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”! This more thoughtful definition of life is an even grander tautology than 'survivors survive': Darwin’s theory must explain life because life is defined as ‘what Darwin’s theory explains.’ You've got to admire the audacity.

...

The natural tendency toward terracentricity requires that we make an effort to broaden our ideas of where life is possible and what forms it might take. Furthermore, basic principles of chemistry warn us against terracentricity. It is easy to conceive of chemical reactions that might support life involving noncarbon compounds, occurring in solvents other than water, or involving oxidation-reduction reactions without dioxygen. Furthermore, there are reactions that are not redox. For example, life could get energy from NaOH + HCl; the reaction goes fast abiotically, but an organism could send tendrils into the acid and the base and live off the gradient. An organism could get energy from supersaturated solution. It could get relative humidity from evaporating water. It is easy to conceive of alien life in environments quite different from the surface of a rocky planet. The public has become aware of those ideas through science fiction and nonfiction…

Mostly fiction. The Council's report is necessarily written in the subjunctive tense. There isn't a shred of evidence for "non-terracentric" life. The Council is unsure even about explanations for terracentric life. They point out the inadequacy of Darwin’s theory to explain biological complexity. The Council barely stops short of signing on to the Dissent from Darwinism list, which is a list of scientists (over 700 now) who agree with the statement: "We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation acting on natural selection to account for the complexity of life." The Council admits, with surprising candor:

Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism for evolving complexity. More important, lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis are probably the most obvious mechanisms for creating complex genomes that could lead to free-living cells and complex cellular communities in the short geological interval between life’s origin and the establishment of autotrophic CO2 fixation about 3.8 billion years ago...


...

If the only explanation that you have for specified complexity in nature is materialistic, then without Darwinism you have no explanation at all. The wild speculation by origin of life researchers and astrobiologists isn’t gratuitous; it’s necessary. It’s the only way to explain the origin of life within the limits of their ideology. Wild speculation is the best they can do. It’s all they can do.

Perhaps we, like the Council, ought to construct our outlook by exploiting a strategy to embrace our ignorance and define life without terracentricity, defining life as Darwinian while at the same time recognizing that the concept of definition itself is difficult to define (I’m getting the hang of it!). Perhaps life arose via silicon chemistry, or via energy fields, or via supersaturated solutions, or via sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid gradients or… whatever. Heck, we can’t even define life, but it’s Darwinian!

Despoiling The Environment

Well done video parody skewers Nantucket liberals.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Vacation

Back Sunday, July 12.

Academic Freedom

This:

I recently discussed how the Council of Europe’s "Committee on Culture, Science and Education" proposed “banning” intelligent design (ID) from science classrooms on the grounds that teaching ID may represent a “threat to human rights.” Sadly, that mindset does not exist in Europe alone. In 2005, three Ohio State University (OSU) faculty wrote a letter claiming that a doctoral thesis project by an OSU graduate student, Bryan Leonard, engaged in “unethical human subject experimentation” simply because Leonard taught students about scientific problems with Neo-Darwinism. (See “Professors Defend Ohio Grad Student Under Attack by Darwinists” for details.) Jonathan Wells dicusses this case:

Although Leonard had gone through normal procedures and received proper approval to conduct research, OSU professors Brian McEnnis, Steve Rissing, and Jeffrey McKee accused Leonard of “unethical” conduct, primarily on the grounds that his research was predicated on “a fundamental flaw: there was no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution.” So Leonard’s research (they claimed) involved “deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical.” The OSU Darwinists then invoked some procedural technicalities—widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates—to demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed. McKee subsequently compared two biologists who were members of Leonard’s dissertation committee to “parasitic ticks hiding in the university’s scalp.” McKee wrote that he had learned as a boy “to twist the ticks when taking them out, so their heads don’t get embedded in the skin. Others prefer burning them off. What fate awaits OSU’s ticks remains to be seen.

(Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, pgs. 189-190 (Regnery, 2006).)

As I noted, "[a] hallmark of tyranny is when leaders believe they are so correct that they have the right to criminalize dissent." These claims that teaching about scientific dissent from Darwinism represents a “threat to human rights” or “unethical human subject experimentation” demonstrate that such tyranny could become reality. Such claims also demonstrate the lengths to which some Darwinists must go to insulate their theory from scrutiny.

It seems that perhaps a lobotomy or a visit to a psychiatric hospital is in order for Mr. Leonard. Perhaps then he would cease to see the problems with Darwinism.

To The Editor

This is good:

Dear Chicago Sun-Times Editor:

Thank you for running Steven Pinker’s "In defense of dangerous ideas" (July 15) which recognized the need for the scientific community to embrace its scientific taboos—such as whether the state of the environment has actually improved in the last 50 years or whether men and women may have different innate aptitudes.

Would that Pinker truly supported academic freedom for all scientists. While he is even willing to ask if men have an innate tendency to rape, apparently asking if nature exhibits deliberate design is beyond the pale.

A recent Boston Globe op-ed argued that Guillermo Gonzalez, a well-credentialed astronomer at Iowa State University, should not be persecuted for arguing that nature exhibits hallmarks of design. Pinker wrote to protest this article, likening intelligent design to “Holocaust denial.”

Gonzalez is a refugee of Castro’s Cuba who earned a Ph.D. in astronomy and has had his work featured in top journals like Science, Nature, and on the cover of Scientific American. Iowa State recently denied Gonzalez tenure, and one colleague admitted the only reason he voted to deny Gonzalez tenure was that Gonzalez supports intelligent design.

It seems Pinker’s open mind closes when his scientific materialism is challenged.

This whole affair reveals academia’s true taboo: Ask whether nature is designed, and you get canned. Ask whether rape is natural and you can teach at Harvard.

Sincerely,

Logan Paul Gage
Washington, D.C.

The original contains links.