Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Look, it’s perfectly simple…

From the BBC today:

The Vatican has published long-awaited guidelines which reaffirm that active homosexuals and "supporters of gay culture" may not become priests.

But it treats homosexuality as a "tendency", not an orientation, and says those who have overcome it can begin training to take holy orders. At least three years must pass between "overcoming [a] transitory problem" and ordination as a deacon, the rules say.

All Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, regardless of orientation.

The guidelines make no reference to current priests, but only to those about to join a seminary.

Some Catholic theologians feel the document is not sufficiently clear, the BBC's Peter Gould says. That it refers to "tendencies" rather than orientation "has left many people scratching their heads," Jesuit scholar Father Thomas Reese told him.


The 18-paragraph document was published with little fanfare on Tuesday morning. The Vatican is not offering further explanation


Critics have long objected that gay seminarians might feel they have no choice but to lie about their sexual orientation.

The guidelines specifically address this issue, urging candidates for the priesthood to tell the truth. "It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality," the document says.

Observers say the new rules might lead to a dramatic drop in the number of priests, especially in the West.


The document, drafted by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict on 31 August, describes homosexual acts as "grave sins" that cannot be justified under any circumstances.

"If a candidate practises homosexuality, or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director as well as his confessor have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination," it says.

"Such persons in fact find themselves in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women."

But the paper also stresses the Church's deep respect for homosexuals, who, it says, should by no means be discriminated against.

So that’s all abundantly clear then.

Basically, if you are thinking about becoming a priest, you must not have committed any homosexual act, nor ever have been tempted to do so, unless that temptation came not from a ‘deep seated tendency’, but only from a ‘transitory problem’ that occurred over three years ago.

Candidates are required to honestly assess themselves under these guidelines, and I can only imagine the soul-searching as the poor lad tries to work out whether that crush on George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven counts as ‘a transitory problem’, and whether he was over it by Ocean’s Twelve.

(They’ve avoided applying the new rule to the existing priesthood however, presumably on the grounds that it might reduce the total number of priests in Britain and America to approximately seven. Or perhaps the current gay clergy are the "grave sinners" who are "deeply respected" and are "not to be discriminated against".)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Economics and the Believing Mind

Two excellent articles this week focus on people's belief systems and how they affect economic decision making. Arnold Kling, taking a cue from Paul Bloom's Atlantic article on the neurological origins of religious faith, posits that the same bifurcation of cognitive patterns applies to economics - and why most people hate it.

"the separateness of these two mechanisms, one for understanding the physical world and one for understanding the social world, gives rise to a duality of experience. We experience the world of material things as separate from the world of goals and desires.

...We have what the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has called a hypertrophy of social cognition. We see purpose, intention, design, even when it is not there."
-- Paul Bloom, writing in The Atlantic

Paul Bloom's essay "Is God an Accident?" in the latest issue of The Atlantic, suggests that humans' belief in God, Intelligent Design, and the afterlife is an artifact of brain structure. In this essay, I am going to suggest that the same artifact that explains why people are instinctively anti-Darwin explains why they are instinctively anti-economic.

Bloom says that we use one brain mechanism to analyze the physical world, as when we line up a shot on the billiard table. We use another brain mechanism to interact socially, as when we try to get a date for the prom.

The analytical brain uses the principles of science. It learns to make predictions of the form, "When an object is dropped, it will fall toward the earth."

The social brain uses empathy. It learns to guess others' intentions and motives in order to predict their reactions and behavior.

The difference between analytical and social reasoning strikes me as similar to the difference that I once drew between Type C and Type M arguments. I wrote, "Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies."

Type C arguments about policy come from the analytical brain and reflect impersonal analysis. Type M arguments come from the social brain. In my view, they inject emotion, demagoguery, and confusion into discussions of economic policy.

As a shortcut, I will refer to the analytical, scientific mental process as the type C brain, and the emotional, empathic mental process as the type M brain. What I take from Bloom's essay is the suggestion that our type M brain seeks a motive and intention behind the events that take place in our lives. This type M brain leads to irrational religious beliefs and superstitions, as when we attribute emotions and intentions to inanimate objects.

We need our type M brains, but in moderation. Without a type M brain, one is socially underdeveloped. In extreme cases, someone with a weak type M brain will be described by Asperger's Syndrome or autism. On the other hand, as Bloom suggests, there are many cases in which we over-use our type M brains. For example, social psychologists have long noted the fundamental attribution error, in which we see people's actions as derived from their motives or dispositions when in fact the actions result from context.

Economics is an attempt to use a type C brain to understand market processes in impersonal terms. We do not assess one person's motives as better than another's. We assume that everyone is out for their own gain, and we try to predict what will happen when people trade on that basis.

I think that Kling draws a valid parallel between religious and economic belief systems. This confusion of impersonal market forces and personal social forces is behind, I believe, the continued appeal of socialist economic and political theories. It is hard for most people to imagine that economic interactions, which are interactions between personal actors, can take on a level of complexity where they cannot be centrally directed and commanded to result in desired outcomes.

Holman Jenkins addresses the same issue from a slightly different angle, that of how we make decisions based on limited information.

A handy idea for making sense of the modern world is the idea of an "availability cascade." It employs economics to explain how people come to hold faddish beliefs, even when those beliefs are at odds with other beliefs they hold or information they possess.

You can see this dynamic in Washington's lowbrow burlesque over gasoline prices. The idea is also known as rational herding. Senators in the recent grilling of energy CEOs couldn't have made it plainer that they were flinging charges of manipulation not because they believed them but because they believed their constituents believe them. Senators also let it be known they were perfectly prepared to enact unwise policies rather than argue with constituent misperceptions.

Said Republican Pete Domenici: "Polls show that our people have a growing suspicion that the oil companies are taking unfair advantage of the current market conditions to line their coffers with excess profits . . . My constituents think that somebody rigs these prices, that in the process somebody is getting ripped off."

Said Democrat Byron Dorgan, explaining why he was forced to introduce a bill confiscating the "windfall" profits of oil companies: "A consumer says to us, 'You know, Mr. and Mrs. Politician, what I see are big economic interests getting rich here.'"

This hand-washing is the essence of childishness but the political class is far from the helpless sock puppet of an ignorant or misinformed public. The same voters, in any poll, would happily affirm that the world is running out of oil, that the supply is controlled by unreliable foreigners. Yet let gasoline rise to $3.00 a gallon, and suddenly they believe that only the ruthless profiteering of oil companies stands between them and cheap and abundant gasoline.

The public doesn't adopt beliefs directly at odds with its other beliefs without help. In the latest instance, help came from state attorneys general who, at the first sign of a spiking gas prices, ran to the nearest TV cameras and proclaimed crackdowns on price gouging. It came from the media and politicians declaiming against Exxon's quarterly profit of $10 billion as aberrant and suspicious -- never mind that at 10% of sales, Exxon's profit margin was hardly out of line with those of other industries.

'Availability cascade" is a term coined by Cass Sunstein and Timur Kuran in an important 1999 Stanford Law Review article. Their work follows distinguished prior work on informational cascades (when people knowing little about an issue take their cue from others) and reputational cascades (involving the rational incentive to go along with the crowd). All owe a debt to the Nobel Prize-winning work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who coined the term "availability bias" for people's willingness to judge the odds of a given event occurring based on how readily an example comes to mind.

The key is to remember that acquiring information is costly and that people look for shortcuts. Imagine a situation in which gifts are being distributed in red and blue boxes. You don't know what the boxes contain but everyone in line is asking for a red box. Therefore, you ask for a red box too, assuming they must know something you don't and because you want to appear "in the know" too.

This is rational herding. Now consider that everyone was thinking just like you, and that the chain began only because a prominent individual was seen picking a red box.

Put aside the reliance on jargon: That even intelligent people are capable of holding passionate views on matters to which they have given little thought or study is hardly a revelation. A plausible explanation indeed is that such people model their beliefs on the apparent beliefs of others whom they presume to be better informed.

Of course, such is the material of which popular delusions and the madness of crowds are made. South Sea bubbles, Tulip-mainia, Dot-com fever: the examples are too well-known to modern economic man.

It is instructive that the author refers to this behavior as "rational" herding. On its face such unthinking conformism seems anything but rational. But if you think it through, it may just make some sense. Given that one cannot make an immediate, informed decision between two options, but one option is favored by the "herd", what are the costs and payoffs of either option?

If you choose with the herd and they are correct, then you benefit materially as well as socially - you stay with the herd. If you choose with the herd, and are incorrect, you do not benefit materially, but your misfortune is shared by the herd, so you do not lose any ground socially.

If you choose against the herd and you are correct, you benefit materially and the herd does not. But your benefit may raise the ire and jealousy of the herd, so your social position may be threatened. If you choose against the herd and are incorrect, then you lose both materially and socially - you are open to the ridicule and disdain of the herd for being a contrarian and for being wrong.

So, as much as it is popular for people to declare themselves to be individuals and not members of the herd, is there some deep seated instinct within us that dreads to be separated from it?

Monday, November 21, 2005


There are many things jostling for our attention these days: do we have enough boots on the ground in Iraq; recovering from Hurricane Katrina; the impending--or not--flu pandemic; whither Jennifer Aniston; whether God will smite Dover, PA.

But how can one compare any, or all, of that against Chinese market reforms and class struggle?

After all, it must surely be rank as one of the issues of the day that China's market reforms have “generated new tensions and contradictions that were solved only through a further expansion of market power, leading to the growing consolidation of a capitalist political economy.” Further, one can only marvel at the bravery of those who "insisted on a class-based critique, an admirable position in an ideological milieu that deems such emphasis unfashionable."

With that lead-in, who could possibly resist reading further?
It is not at all uncommon on the left to view the market negatively ... as at best a necessary evil, only to be tolerated if accompanied by very vigilant regulation. Market relations are viewed as contradicting and undermining the ideal of socialism. Once embraced, the Fall may be initially gradual, but the slippery slope will eventually lead all the way down. An unbridgeable gulf exists between socialism and the market—the system of commodity relations upon which capitalism has historically and structurally rested. That brings us back to the question: for reinvigorating socialism, why the market road after all?
Lest we forget, and really, how could we?
shortly after Mao’s abortive victory over such regressive tendencies during the Cultural Revolution, a small clique of capitalist roaders holed up inside the party succeeded in reversing the achievements of the revolution and imposing the capitalist road simply by governmental fiat, and the restoration of capitalism is now almost complete.

Of course, and I am sure I need not remind anyone here of this, any further criticism of the capitalist road is incomplete without acknowledging that

Ever since the 1930s, Marxists of various strands have been engaged in intense arguments about the class nature of state socialism of the Soviet-type, and enormous political and theoretical energy has been expended on these debates. Briefly, the controversies have centered on three closely interrelated issues: first, whether there exists a ruling class in state socialism; second, how its class character might be defined, or whether it constitutes a bourgeois or state-capitalist class; third, how the nature of such societies and polities may be characterized in class-analytic terms. There is no good reason why our present inquiry into Chinese socialism and its permutations should not benefit from the accumulated insights from generations of Marxian debate.

Just as obviously, it is impossible to keep all this in perspective without revisiting the enervating Sweezy-Bettelheim debate:

Here it may be instructive to begin with some of the ideas from the Sweezy–Bettelheim exchange from thirty years ago. Suffice it to say that their decade-long discussions revolved around two major issues: first, how to interpret the trend toward bourgeois restoration, and second, the class nature of socialism.

All of which must be considered within the context of the incomplete Maoism project:

There is little doubt that late Maoism and the Cultural Revolution are an aberration in the history of world socialism.

Indeed. Although just how much is open to some debate.

Curiously though, this analysis (a word which, used in the context of this article, cries desperately for scare quotes), never mentioned one niggling little detail.

OK. 20 some odd million details. Dead people details, that is.

Sorry, I can't play the straight man anymore. That anyone could write such a heaping, steaming load of turgid nonsense, argle-bargle and gabblefab in 2005, without the tiniest hint of irony, absolutely beggars the imagination. Never mind the reading of which makes me want to bathe obsessively.

And you thought the the need to believe in UFOs was difficult to explain.

Oh, in case you were wondering. MEGO? That is newsroom speak for a story that Makes My Eyes Glaze Over.

Just remember, I did the tough work so you wouldn't have to.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What Goes Up... (Eventually, Usually)


Let me state categorically that [this] sequence is barely questionable, almost inevitable, 99% unavoidable, and in modern parlance - a "slam-dunk." -- Bill Gross, The Bond King, October 3, 2005

A half-trillion dollars...That's what Bill Gross is responsible for.

Why is he entrusted with managing a half-trillion dollars?
It's simple... Bill Gross has delivered double-digit annual returns in bonds for over three decades. He's the best bond manager in the world. That's why they call him The Bond King. [...]

So when Bill Gross comes out with a call that is "almost inevitable" and "99% unavoidable," as he did in his latest Investment Outlook, we have to take notice. [...]
Bill Gross is confident that a major change in the U.S. economy is just around the corner. What's "almost inevitable?" According to Bill Gross, it's 1) a housing bust followed by 2) a weakening U.S. economy. In his own words, he says:

"Make no mistake about it, the froth in the U.S. housing market is about to lose its effervescence; the bubble is about to become less bubbly. If real housing prices decline in the U.S. in 2006 or 2007, a recession is nearly inevitable."

Bill outlines the sequence he sees. And then he backs it up with facts. It goes something like this:


Home prices will fall because Alan Greenspan has been raising rates, specifically to cool the housing market.
It's just now starting to work, as holders of ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages) have been painfully discovering. [...]

According to Bill Gross, home prices will stop their rise when Greenspan's higher interest rates start to be a burden on first-time home buyers. Gross then expects banks to tighten their lending standards. At this point, speculators will finally "sniff the beginning of the end" of the housing boom, as Gross says, and that'll be it.


Bill Gross calls it the "house ATM." As the values of people's homes have risen, people have refinanced or cashed out some of that home value in the form of home-equity loans. [...]

All that ends when the home-price boom ends. The "house ATM" runs dry. And that means no more big trips to Home Depot or Lowe's. No more new cars. And no more second home buying. Our "paper prosperity" - the increase in our wealth on paper - is gone. [...]

How can Bill call the top with such certainty? It isn't just a feeling... It's based on facts. One source of facts for Bill is a new 71-page study by the Federal Reserve. The Fed looked at real estate markets in 18 major countries over the last 35 years. The results were amazing...
Most people believe that "you can't go wrong in real estate." And that "real estate doesn't go down over long periods." [...]
While real estate rises over the long run, there are distinct periods where it falls. In short, based on the Fed study, right now we are right at the point where home prices should turn over and head downward again.

The Fed found that housing booms peak, on average, four-to-six quarters after that country's Federal Reserve first starts to raise interest rates. Here in the States, the Fed has raised rates for five quarters now.
Based on history, we should be extremely close to the top.

What happens after the peak in real estate prices? The Fed then hits us with a whopper:

"Subsequently [after the peak], real house prices fall for about five years, on average, and their previous run-up is largely reversed.

Want another 'wow?' Across the 18 major countries... and across the 35 years of the study... the median real price fell over the five-year period after the peak was about 15%.

Now that's nationwide... of course, some areas will fall much more than others. Again, keep in mind that, on
average, the "previous run-up is largely reversed." Ouch!
(If you'd like to see the study, you can here):

www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/ifdp/2005/841/ifdp841.pdf PDF [...]

With the exception of the blip of a recession in 2001, we've had relatively good economic times for nearly 15 years now. But rainy days do come. We're making a bet that the rain will come some day. We can even see the storm clouds...

~ By Steve Sjuggerud (October 20, 2005) [All emph. add.]

During the Southern California real estate downturn of the 80s, after factoring in inflation, it took between 10 - 12 years for prices to rebound to pre-slump levels, depending on location.

However, I don't believe that mildly falling home prices will, by themselves, bring on an American recession, although they will cut a percentage point or two from nominal GNP growth.
But even there there's a silver lining: The current rate of economic growth has already absorbed the drag from high oil prices.
If the economy does slow a bit, oil prices should fall even further than they have over the past month, which will act as a mild stimulant, helping to bring about a "soft landing".

Plus, if the economy starts to slow markedly, the Fed will start cutting rates again, which they have leeway to do by virtue of the rate hikes that they've been making.

Really, this is a "Goldilocks" situation, by historic and global standards.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Enough to Make a Big Mess, Not Enough to Make a Big Profit...

Texas toilet starts gushing oil

Woman returns to crude-covered home
The Associated Press

LONGVIEW, Texas - A Texas woman has struck oil — or maybe it struck her.

Leila LeTourneau returned from work late Monday to find crude oil covering her home’s floors and spilling from the toilets, bathtub and sinks.

Longview city crews and representatives from Basa Research, which owns some wells in the area, are trying to help find the source of the oil.

Local station KLTV reported one theory is that the house may have been built on an abandoned well that wasn’t properly plugged.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Boeing Slaps Airbus Around

( Full article )

[All emph. add.] Boeing announced Tuesday that it will build a longer version of its 35-year-old 747 in the wake of two firm orders for a total of 18 planes, which will be used as cargo haulers. The Chicago-based airplane manufacturer plans to use technology from the new 787 to make the old plane more fuel-efficient and quieter. But given that the new jet, dubbed the 747-8, will be built on an existing design, this is a relatively low-cost maneuver for Boeing. [...]

Contrast that with the new A380. The gigantic plane cost an estimated $10.7 billion to develop. Airbus has orders for 159 of the jets, but just to break even, it has to sell 250. And the market for jumbo aircraft has not been vibrant: Boeing hasn't sold a passenger version of the 747 for several years. [...]
The A380 may have the capacity advantage, but Boeing is claiming the 747-8's per-trip cost will be 22% less than that of the A380. Given the dire straits of the U.S. airline industry, many carriers may go with the low-cost, albeit older, option.

To be sure, Boeing's new 747-8 probably won't be very profitable for the company, but that's not the point. The idea is to weaken Airbus by limiting or even eliminating profits from the A380, and thus reduce Airbus' capacity to develop new planes...

By Brian Gorman (November 16, 2005)

Airbus is being run exactly as efficiently as one might expect of an EU vanity project.
C'mon, $ 11 billion to develop a commercial passenger airplane ?!?

The U.S. Space Shuttle only cost in the neighborhood of $ 30 billion to develop, in 2005 dollars.
The F/A - 22 Raptor programme used reverse-engineered alien technology to deliver an aircraft more than TWICE as good as the next-best 21st century fighter, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and ONE F/A - 22 can defeat EIGHT F - 15s at once.
Total cost, for development, production, and delivery of 180 of these Star Wars-class fighters: A mere $ 70 billion.

More to the point, Boeing is developing cutting-edge new technology, whereas Airbus is refining existing technology to get more from less.
While that's objectively A Good Thing, it does tend to position Airbus to be the very best manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages, in a dawning era of automobiles.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

American "Poverty" = Global "Middle Class"

The most widely quoted federal statistic on deprivation and need in modern America is the ''poverty rate''--a measure tracking households with annual incomes below a ''poverty threshold'' established at the beginning of the Johnson administration's ''war on poverty'' in the 1960's and adjusted over time for inflation. According to the latest poverty rate estimates--released by the Census Bureau on Aug. 30--the total percentage of Americans living in poverty was higher in 2004 (12.7 percent) than in 1974 (11.2 percent). According to that same report, poverty rates for American families and children were likewise higher last year than three decades earlier.

On its face, this momentous story should have shocked the nation. After all, it suggested (among other alarming things) that Washington's long and expensive campaign to eliminate domestic poverty has been a colossal failure. [...]

The profound flaws in our officially calculated poverty rate are revealed by its very intimation that the poverty situation in America was ''better'' in 1974 than it is today. Those of us of a certain age remember the year 1974--in all its recession-plagued, ''stagflation''-burdened glory. But even the most basic facts bearing on poverty alleviation confute the proposition that material circumstances in America are harsher for the vulnerable today than three decades ago. Per capita income adjusted for inflation is over 60 percent higher today than in 1974. The unemployment rate is lower, and the percentage of adults with paying jobs is distinctly higher. Thirty years ago, the proportion of adults without a high school diploma was more than twice as high as today (39 percent versus 16 percent). And antipoverty spending is vastly higher today than in 1974, even after inflation adjustments.

In the face of such evidence, what do you call an indicator that stubbornly insists that the percentage of Americans below a fixed poverty threshold has increased? [...]

The soundings from the poverty rate are further belied by information on actual living standards for low-income Americans. In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of ''poverty households'' had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of ''poverty households'' lived in ''crowded'' homes (more than one person per room)--down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent).

Besides these living trends, there are what we might call the ''dying trends'': that is to say, America's health and mortality patterns. All strata of America--including the disadvantaged--are markedly healthier today than three decades ago. Though the officially calculated poverty rate for children was higher in 2004 than 1974 (17.8 percent versus 15.4 percent), the infant mortality rate--that most telling measure of wellbeing--fell by almost three-fifths over those same years, to 6.7 per 1,000 births from 16.7 per 1,000...

By Nicholas Eberstadt
September 9, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Huzzah for Judge Janis Jack !

From the National Association of Manufacturers' "Legally Insane" archives:

When Federal District Court Judge Janis Jack blew the lid on potential fraud in litigation over silicosis (a lung disease caused by overexposure to silica - the primary component of sand and other minerals) in a June 30 ruling, prominent plaintiffs' law firms and "medical" screening companies were not laughing. [...]

Perhaps because she used to be a nurse, Judge Jack did not simply rubber stamp the claims as other judges before her have done. Instead, her medical training caused her to have concerns about the extent of the problems alleged.
Judge Jack's own words best express the legal insanity of what was before her:

". . . given the sheer volume of claims - each supported by a silicosis diagnosis by a physician - one would expect [public health agencies] to be involved...In short, this appears to be a phantom epidemic, unnoticed by everyone other than those enmeshed in the legal system...."

"Despite diagnosing a serious and completely preventable disease at unprecedented rates, not a single doctor even bothered to lift a telephone and notify any governmental agency, union, employer, hospital or even media outlet, all of whom conceivably could have taken steps to ensure recognition of currently undiagnosed silicosis cases and to prevent future cases from developing."

"...[I]t is apparent that truth and justice had very little to do with these diagnoses - otherwise more effort would have been devoted to ensuring they were accurate. Instead, these diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice: they were manufactured for money."

At one point, Judge Jack mused aloud that if she had the power she would sentence all of the lawyers involved to using only the doctors hired in this litigation for their medical needs. She was also gutsy enough to use the word "fraud" during proceedings and a federal grand jury is investigating these charges. [All emph. add.]


A jury in New Jersey awarded $850,000 to a man who got drunk on New Year's Eve and passed out in a snow bank. Who is he suing?
The police, of course.

It seems two local police departments responded in the early morning hours to search for the drunken man, but could not spot him.When daylight came, a passerby saw the man, who was quickly revived and rushed to a hospital by the police. Officers declined to press charges, thinking the drunk had learned from his mistake.
Instead, the man sued both police departments, claiming that frostbite damage to his right hand was their fault for not conducting a more thorough search.

The next case involves an 84-year-old Milwaukee man who was paralyzed in a car accident. Who to blame?
The Roman Catholic Church, of course.

At the time of the accident, the elderly driver was volunteering for a Catholic lay organization, delivering a statue of the Virgin Mary to an invalid. Trial lawyers persuaded the jury that the church should be at fault for the accident and awarded an immaculate $17 million to the man.

Hopefully, these awards were reduced or overturned on appeal.

In the last case, the Catholic Church might have had a responsibility to provide some type of insurance coverage for volunteers, but even if so, the policy wouldn't have paid more than ONE million, and that's all that the diocese should be on the hook for - if anything.

In the frostbite case, there's a pretty large body of precedence that establishes that emergency services, and the police in particular, only have to do their best, and aren't usually responsible for negative outcomes.

In California, the Reginald Denny case established that the LAPD has NO legal duty to protect anyone.
Apparently, at least in Cali, police forces are only required to do policing-type activities if they feel like it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Oil Bet update: $100 or bust

Here are a few miscellaneous observations on my bet with Oroborous that crude oil (Light, Sweet) will reach a price of $100/barrel on or before December 31, 2006.

Last week, the Kuwait national oil company announced that the Burgan oil field, the world's second largest, has reached the peak of its production.

The peak output of the Burgan oil field will now be around 1.7 million barrels per day, and not the two million barrels per day forecast for the rest of the field's 30 to 40 years of life, Chairman Farouk Al Zanki told Bloomberg.

He said that engineers had tried to maintain 1.9 million barrels per day but that 1.7 million is the optimum rate. Kuwait will now spend some $3 million a year for the next year to boost output and exports from other fields.

However, it is surely a landmark moment when the world's second largest oil field begins to run dry. For Burgan has been pumping oil for almost 60 years and accounts for more than half of Kuwait's proven oil reserves. This is also not what forecasters are currently assuming.

Forecasts wrong

Last week the International Energy Agency's report said output from the Greater Burgan area will be 1.64 million barrels a day in 2020 and 1.53 million barrels per day in 2030. Is this now a realistic scenario?

The news about the Burgan oil field also lends credence to the controversial opinions of investment banker and geologist Matthew Simmons. His book 'Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy' claims that the ageing Saudi oil filed also face serious production falls.

You may also have heard optimistic news stories about the dropping oil price since a record price of $70/barrel was acheived in late August in response to hurricane Katrina. Some commentators see that the short term trend should bring the price to $50 or below. But if you go by the opinion of the large commercial traders in the crude futures market, you would think otherwise. The commercial traders, aka the "smart money", have built a net long position in oil that is their largest long position in two years. Commercial traders are those businesses that buy or sell oil as a part of their business, aka producers, refiners and distributors. They use the futures market to hedge their risks, and are generally net short as it is their business to sell oil. When the commercials go significantly long, it usually signals that a major upleg in prices will ensue in the very near term. Here is a link to a very informative audio interview with Larry Williams, an accomplished commodities trader, on the use of the Commitment of Trader's Report to forecast commodity prices.

Look for crude oil prices, as well as gasoline and home heating oil, to begin an upward trend within the next two weeks. If it is an unusually cold winter in the Northeast, as has been forecast, oil could take out it's $70 high by the end of January.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy Birthday Marines!! And Happy Veterans Day!

This is a day late, but well deserved nonetheless. On November 10 the United States Marine Corps celebrated it's 230th birthday, commemorating the day that the Second Continental Congress voted to authorize the formation of two battalions of Continental Marines, November 10, 1775. On today, Veteran's Day, as we honor all of our servicemen and women, let's reflect on the message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General M. W. Hagee:

On November 10th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Continental Marines marking the birth of our United States Marine Corps. As Major General Lejeune’s message reminds us, the ensuing generations of Marines would come to signify all that is highest in warfighting excellence and military virtue. Each November as Marines the world over celebrate the birth of our Corps, we pay tribute to that long line of “Soldiers of the Sea” and the illustrious legacy they have handed down to us.

This past year has been one of continuous combat operations overseas and distinguished service here at home—a year of challenges that have brought out the very best in our Corps. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine courage and mastery of complex and chaotic environments have truly made a difference in the lives of millions. Marine compassion and flexibility provided humanitarian assistance to thousands in the wake of the South East Asian tsunami, and here at home, Marines with AAVs, helicopters, and sometimes with their bare hands saved hundreds of our own fellow Americans in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Across the full spectrum of operations, you have showcased that Marines create stability in an unstable world, and have reinforced our Corps’ reputation for setting the standard of excellence.

The sense of honor, courage, and patriotism that epitomized those who answered that first call to arms two hundred and thirty years ago is still indelibly imprinted on our ranks today. In commemorating our anniversary, let us strengthen our ties to the past by paying homage to those who have gone before us. As we honor the sacrifices of our wounded and fallen comrades, our commitment to one another remains unshakable. We take special pride in the actions of the Marines now serving in harm’s way, and rededicate ourselves to the service of our Nation and our Corps.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fidelis, and Keep Attacking!

M. W. Hagee
General, U.S. Marine Corps

The Daily Duck congratulates all Marines, past and present, for another year of honorable and exemplary service to the United States of America, and extends its gratitude to all veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Semper Fi!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Black Gold quackery

The upsurge in crude oil prices over the last 3 years have renewed debates over the nature of our long term energy future between the optimists and pessimists, and has created an opening for charlatans and quacks to sell books as well. Weighing in on the side of optimistic quacks are Jerome Corsi and Craig Smith, with their new book "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil", published by WND Books. In a WorldNetDaily introduction to the book, Corsi and Smith lay out their theory of a widespread conspiracy among oil companies, scientists and politicians to keep the price of oil unnaturally high.

In "Black Gold Stranglehold," Corsi and Smith expose the fraudulent science and irresponsible politics that have been sold to American people in order to enslave them. By debunking several myths, Corsi and Smith provide an outline for progress that would help to establish America as energy-independent.

Be prepared to be challenged by:

* The myth of fossil fuels: Corsi and Smith argue that the deep abiotic theory of oil is a more reliable theory than the fossil fuel theory. It rejects the contention that oil was formed from the remains of plant and animal life that died millions of years ago. Instead, they believe in Thomas Gold's argument that oil is abiotic: "a primordial material that the earth forms and exudes on a continual basis" and is "pushed upward toward the earth's surface by the intense pressures of the earth's core and the influence of the centrifugal force that the earth exerted upon the specific gravity of oil as a fluid substance."

The abiotic theory is a minority opinion among geologists. It was proposed by Thomas Gold, an astromomer, and has not led to the discovery of a single economically exploitable deposit of oil. I am not a geologist or chemist and won't debate the merits of the theory, but it is certainly reckless, to say the least, to extrapolate from an unproven theory on the origin of petroleum deposits to the conclusion that the earth holds vastly more quantities of oil than is currently estimated. The theory does not provide a means for calculating the rate of oil formation, or how quickly a depleted oil field could be refilled. If the earth cannot regenerate the oil as fast as we use it, it makes little difference how it is formed.

* The running-out-of-oil myth: The 1970s scientific study known as Hubbert's Peak, predicting we would exhaust oil reserves by 2003, has been proven false. We are currently sitting on "more proven petroleum reserves than ever before despite the increasing rate at which we are consuming petroleum products. New and gigantic oil fields are being discovered at an increasing rate, in places the fossil fuel theory would never have been predicted as possible.

This is a misrepresentation of Hubbert's theory. Hubbert made a guess as to when world oil production might peak based on known reserves at the time. The fact that production did not peak in 2003 does not invalidate the theory that oil production will peak. Even oil optimists accept that production will peak, withe the most optimistic dates ranging from 2020 to 2030.

* The global warming hoax and other environmental myths: Corsi and Smith present compelling evidence that "burning fossil fuels does not release into the air chlorofluorocarbons or halon compounds, the types of chemicals identified as the culprits causing holes in the ozone." Instead, "human beings breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide" while "plants absorb carbon dioxide and throw out oxygen."

What a stupid statement! Of course fossil fuels don't create cfc's, noone is arguing that they are. Global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer are two different phenomenon. Global warming is related to the buildup of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which is a result of the burning of fossil fuels.

* The folly of oil conservation: "Black Gold Stranglehold" presents and documents how no alternative energy option has been able to provide enough energy and how each alternative has been deemed uneconomical.

Proven when, and using what price levels for comparison? Alternative energy technologies continue to evolve more efficient solutions, and the baseline energy costs for existing sources continue to rise. At some point alternative sources will become economical on a large scale.

* Oil playing a part in the illegal-immigration problem: Mexico has the third largest proven reservoirs of crude oil in the Western Hemisphere behind Venezuela and the U.S. As a result, the United States imports virtually all the oil Mexico exports. Consequently, "the U.S. government finds it difficult to take a systematic, hard look at the nearly free flow of illegal immigrants coming across our southern border. As a hedge against instability in the Middle East, the U.S. government has to calculate our oil needs when considering any steps we take regarding Mexico or illegal immigrants.

OK, now we're getting to the real meat of this paranoid fantasy. We're being screwed by the Bush administration and his Mexican buddies into letting the illegals run roughshod over our American way of life.

* The value of the dollar and its effect on terrorism: "In recent years the buying power of the dollar has decreased 40 percent on the average against all major foreign currencies. Since dollars can no longer be exchanged for gold, no hard, fixed commodity stands behind the U.S. international payments, including oil purchases. Osama bin Laden's "war against America was fueled by his belief that the U.S. has stolen the oil of Muslim countries. At the core of the issue is bin Laden's perception that America has paid for oil, a hard commodity, with paper dollars that are no longer backed as they once were by the hard commodity of gold."

The gold standard, of course! Osama hates us because of our fiat currency! Come to think of it, terrorism really started to take off after Nixon closed the gold window in 1971. PLO murders Israeli atheletes in Munich 1972. Yom Kippur War in 1973. Coincidence??

* How high the price of oil?: "Today, the U.S. oil industry is sitting on a quantity of oil reserves that has never been higher. Still, we have built no new refineries, and the refineries in operation are producing at or near capacity. The picture that emerges is one of industry conglomerates simply sitting on large reserves and waiting for oil prices to go even higher. At some point, increased gasoline prices become an inevitable drag on the economy."

If the oil companies won't build the refineries, then others can step in and build them if the demand were there. New refineries haven't been built because up to about two years ago gas has been cheap and plentiful enough to make the investment in new capacity unnecessary and unrewarding. Not to mention the regulatory hurdles and public resistance that would have to be overcome.

The article concludes with the following call to action:

Corsi and Smith believe that America can and will become energy independent if some steps are taken to correct the aforementioned problems. In addition, they not only meticulously lay out the problems facing American oil interests, but have developed a seven-step action toward U.S. Oil Independence by:

* Promoting scientific research to investigate alternative theories.

* Expediting leases offshore and in Alaska to encourage oil exploration.

* Providing tax credits for deep-drilling oil exploration.

* Creating an oil research institute to serve as a clearinghouse of oil industry information.

* Developing a public broadcasting television series devoted to the oil industry.

* Reestablishing a gold-backed international trade dollar.

* Establishing tax incentives for opening new refineries in the U.S.

In the end, "Black Gold Stranglehold" not only provides solutions, but it will empower consumers and oil industry professionals to drastically change the debate about oil. This book is sure to cause thoughtful people to reconsider the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and its effects on our economy.

An oil research institute! How original. A PBS television series devoted to the oil industry? This is a solution? Well, that's already been done, in 1992, it was called "The Prize : The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power".

The other steps are either underwhelming in their lack of originality (drilling in Alaska) or don't make sense in light of the causes of the problem that Corsi and Smith lay out. If the oil companies are holding back on building refining capacity in order to create an artificial shortage, thereby increasing their profits, then why would they agree to build refineries to get tax credits? Is that what they were holding off for?

All in all, Corsi and Smith's book looks to be an amateurish hack-job that is sure to be a hit with the conspiracy theory set.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Most Expensive Pizza in the World

Pizza Delivery Costly for Escapees

(Nov. 4) Two violent felons who escaped from a maximum-security prison — hiding on a trash truck — stopped for pizza, and were caught.

Johnny Brewer, a convicted murderer, and Jimmy Causey, a convicted kidnapper, had been on the loose since Tuesday, [Nov. 1]. [...]
In 2004, Causey, 35, was convicted of holding Columbia attorney Jack Swerling and his family at gunpoint in their home in 2002. Brewer, 39, was convicted in 1999 for strangling his sister-in-law, Kelly Burbage, in 1994.

Judie Trainer said in a phone interview that she had her husband call authorities after she delivered the men a pizza at the Palms Motel.

"Something ain't right. Something about the delivery that didn't make sense to me," Trainer said.

The caller said he'd be showering, so Trainer should leave the pizza on the bed, pick up money from the table, and go, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

But from the hallway, Trainer could see there wasn't enough cash. She waited, and somebody finally handed her another five dollars through the partially open door.

"He never did let me see him. But he wanted me to come into the room and something told me, 'No, you don't do them kind of things,'" she said.

Pat Smith, a maid at the motel, said Causey told the clerk when he checked in Tuesday night that his identification was in his car, and that the car had been towed.
"He was real friendly," she said. [...]

The pair have now learned a valuable lesson, says [Officer] Strassmann: Don't short-change the pizza deliverywoman.

Well, I guess if they were geniuses with good impulse control and an ability to delay gratification, they wouldn't have been convicted felons in the first place, but it's amazing how many criminals get caught for stupid stuff...

Writing your bank hold-up note on the back of a deposit slip that you've filled out...
Making your getaway from a bank job in a van with your name and business address painted on the side...
Getting stopped after blowing up a federal building and killing over 130 people, including children, because you didn't put license plates on your getaway car...

Get Over Yourself, Hugo

''We are sure that it will be very difficult for the United States to attack Venezuela... Venezuela is used to defending itself... and fighting imperialism.''

-- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Oct. 20 '05

A) The U.S. have no intention of attacking Venezuela militarily, nor are we even entertaining the notion.

B) If we did attack, the Venezuelan military would have to consider it a moral victory if they lasted a week.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

While Europe Slept

"Wake up, Europe, you've a war on your hands" says Mark Steyn:

Ever since 9/11, I've been gloomily predicting the European powder keg's about to go up. ''By 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations on the news every night,'' I wrote in Canada's Western Standard back in February.

Silly me. The Eurabian civil war appears to have started some years ahead of my optimistic schedule. As Thursday's edition of the Guardian reported in London: ''French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest.''

''French youths,'' huh? You mean Pierre and Jacques and Marcel and Alphonse? Granted that most of the "youths" are technically citizens of the French Republic, it doesn't take much time in les banlieus of Paris to discover that the rioters do not think of their primary identity as ''French'': They're young men from North Africa growing ever more estranged from the broader community with each passing year and wedded ever more intensely to an assertive Muslim identity more implacable than anything you're likely to find in the Middle East. After four somnolent years, it turns out finally that there really is an explosive ''Arab street,'' but it's in Clichy-sous-Bois.

What will it take to awaken these slumbering dreamers? You have to wonder if this is just the lingering results of the 20th Century's World Wars, and the demoralization of a continent that will go to extreme lengths to avoid ever going to war again. Yet I am also tempted to see in this faith in appeasement a longer-lived European tradition of paying off invading armies. I'm reminded of the political chaos of the 14th century as chronicled by Barbara Tuchman in "A Distant Mirror", and the roving mercenary bands of knights that extorted tribute from the various small kingdoms and cities of western Europe. While watching a History Channel production of "Barbarians" today, I was struck by the parallel of the eastern Roman Empire's paying an annual tribute to Attila the Hun to avoid invasion and the attempts of the French government to pay emotional tribute to the Islamic thugs wreaking havoc on their capital.

The French have been here before, of course. Seven-thirty-two. Not 7:32 Paris time, which is when the nightly Citroen-torching begins, but 732 A.D. -- as in one and a third millennia ago. By then, the Muslims had advanced a thousand miles north of Gibraltar to control Spain and southern France up to the banks of the Loire. In October 732, the Moorish general Abd al-Rahman and his Muslim army were not exactly at the gates of Paris, but they were within 200 miles, just south of the great Frankish shrine of St. Martin of Tours. Somewhere on the road between Poitiers and Tours, they met a Frankish force and, unlike other Christian armies in Europe, this one held its ground ''like a wall . . . a firm glacial mass,'' as the Chronicle of Isidore puts it. A week later, Abd al-Rahman was dead, the Muslims were heading south, and the French general, Charles, had earned himself the surname ''Martel'' -- or ''the Hammer.''

Poitiers was the high-water point of the Muslim tide in western Europe. It was an opportunistic raid by the Moors, but if they'd won, they'd have found it hard to resist pushing on to Paris, to the Rhine and beyond. ''Perhaps,'' wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, ''the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.'' There would be no Christian Europe. The Anglo-Celts who settled North America would have been Muslim. Poitiers, said Gibbon, was ''an encounter which would change the history of the whole world.''

Battles are very straightforward: Side A wins, Side B loses. But the French government is way beyond anything so clarifying. Today, a fearless Muslim advance has penetrated far deeper into Europe than Abd al-Rahman. They're in Brussels, where Belgian police officers are advised not to be seen drinking coffee in public during Ramadan, and in Malmo, where Swedish ambulance drivers will not go without police escort. It's way too late to rerun the Battle of Poitiers. In the no-go suburbs, even before these current riots, 9,000 police cars had been stoned by ''French youths'' since the beginning of the year; some three dozen cars are set alight even on a quiet night. ''There's a civil war under way in Clichy-sous-Bois at the moment,'' said Michel Thooris of the gendarmes' trade union Action Police CFTC. ''We can no longer withstand this situation on our own. My colleagues neither have the equipment nor the practical or theoretical training for street fighting.''

Theoretical training? There is no need for theory, you merely put them down with decisive force. It is backbone that is wanting, not equipment or training. Bring in the army if the police can't handle it. I was watching film from the riots in Buenos Aires in response to President Bush's visit. The commentator described it as a kind of choreographed dance between the police and the protestors that happens in many of the nations where Bush visits. I was struck by the level of tolerance the police seemed to be giving to the rioters, as if burning and smashing windows were a valid expression of political speech. I wondered why they didn't just open fire. But there seems to be such a lingering affection for radical political movements im much of the world, and a political desire to equate democracy with a restrained response to politically motivated violence.

A few years back I was criticized for a throwaway observation to the effect that ''I find it easier to be optimistic about the futures of Iraq and Pakistan than, say, Holland or Denmark." But this is why. In defiance of traditional immigration patterns, these young men are less assimilated than their grandparents. French cynics like the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, have spent the last two years scoffing at the Bush Doctrine: Why, everyone knows Islam and democracy are incompatible. If so, that's less a problem for Iraq or Afghanistan than for France and Belgium.

If Chirac isn't exactly Charles Martel, the rioters aren't doing a bad impression of the Muslim armies of 13 centuries ago: They're seizing their opportunities, testing their foe, probing his weak spots. If burning the 'burbs gets you more ''respect'' from Chirac, they'll burn 'em again, and again. In the current issue of City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple concludes a piece on British suicide bombers with this grim summation of the new Europe: ''The sweet dream of universal cultural compatibility has been replaced by the nightmare of permanent conflict.'' Which sounds an awful lot like a new Dark Ages.

A new Dark Ages indeed.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Cul de Sac

Coverage of the ongoing riots in France, unsurprisingly makes a pass at what, while entirely bypassing why.

In contrast, Theodore Dalrymple practically inverts that imbalance.

In so doing, he raises more issues than one would think possible in one article.

The "what" is bad enough.

Supine judges:
[who] often make remarks indicating their sympathy for the criminals they are trying (based upon the usual generalizations about how society, not the criminal, is to blame); [one of whom released] from prison on bail ... an infamous career armed robber and suspected murderer before his trial for yet another armed robbery, in the course of which he shot someone in the head. Out on bail before this trial, he then burgled a house. Surprised by the police, he and his accomplices shot two of them dead and seriously wounded a third.

Ineffective police:
[recently] two criminals [attacked] a car in which a woman was waiting for her husband. They smashed her side window and tried to grab her purse, but she resisted. [Someone] went to her aid and managed to pin down one of the assailants, the other running off. Fortunately, some police passed by, [but] let the assailant go, giving him only a warning.

Crime rates headed skyward at the rate and violence of a orbit bound rocket:
Reported crime in France has risen from 600,000 annually in 1959 to 4 million today, while the population has grown by less than 20 percent (and many think today’s crime number is an underestimate by at least a half). In 2000, one crime was reported for every sixth inhabitant of Paris, and the rate has increased by at least 10 percent a year for the last five years. Reported cases of arson in France have increased 2,500 percent in seven years, from 1,168 in 1993 to 29,192 in 2000; robbery with violence rose by 15.8 percent between 1999 and 2000, and 44.5 percent since 1996 (itself no golden age).

Resigned citizenry:
... in a neighborhood where a tolerably spacious apartment would cost $1 million[, three] youths—Rumanians—were attempting quite openly to break into a parking meter with large screwdrivers to steal the coins. It was four o’clock in the afternoon; the sidewalks were crowded, and the nearby cafés were full. The youths behaved as if they were simply pursuing a normal and legitimate activity, with nothing to fear.

But it is the why behind all this that is particularly fascinating; although, "fasciniating" seems at least inadequate, and possibly inappropriate, for a situation for which every likely outcome will assume some crimson shade of horrible.

Just how did France come to such a dead end?

A vicious combination of "rationalism", multiculturalism, wage/employment policy, and welfare fed dependency.

How could this outcome be laid at the door of "rationalism?" Well, like this:

[The] housing projects sprang from ... Le Corbusier, the Swiss totalitarian architect—and still the untouchable hero of architectural education in France—who believed ... areas of cities should be entirely separated from one another by their function, and that the straight line and the right angle held the key to wisdom, virtue, beauty, and efficiency.

The inhuman, unadorned, hard-edged geometry of these vast housing projects in their unearthly plazas brings to mind Le Corbusier’s chilling and tyrannical words: “The despot is not a man. It is the . . . correct, realistic, exact plan . . . that will provide your solution once the problem has been posed clearly. . . . This plan has been drawn up well away from . . . the cries of the electorate or the laments of society’s victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds.”

In other words, forests of stack-a-prole flats.

Add to that the toxin of multiculturalism. Whatever one may think of the notion it no culture is any better than another, allowing immigrants to set themselves apart from the culture of their adopted country is a guarantee to employment in marginal jobs, the sort that only those natives with substance abuse issues or a criminal history otherwise take.

France has long derided the Anglosphere's bloody in tooth and claw economies. The French, in contrast, have decided upon the more compassionate path, where high minimum wages and employment security policies insulate its citizens from the vicissitudes of laissez-faire capitalism, and ensure everyone earns a livable wage while simultaneously enjoying the pleasure of a 35-hour workweek.

Everyone with a job, that is. For the result of these policies is employers extremely reluctant to hire because of the difficulty and cost of firing. Never mind that extremely bothersome supply and demand thing. Who would have thought increasing the cost of workers would make employers want fewer of them?

So between stack-a-prole flats, populations encouraged to isolate themselves, and an economy giving a whole new meaning to dirigisme, is anyone surprised the unemployment rate is upwards of 20% in the immigrant ghettos?

Then into the job void steps the welfare state, which hopes to ease the burden of these immigrant communities, with their disproportionately high unemployment, and thereby ".. concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing."

France, worshipping the god of Reason, while simultaneously ignoring basic economics and the most fundamental elements of human nature, now has a grenade strapped to its chest. It beggars the imagination to conceive of any outcome that does not have the word disaster intimately attached.

And while we are on the subject of begging, this whole dispiriting situation begs this question: why there and not here?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Maybe Those Hopelessly Old Fashioned Brick 'n Mortar Retailers Weren't So Clueless After All...

If your mailbox is beginning to fill with holiday shopping catalogs, blame the Internet.

BizRate Research's Online Holiday Mood Study found almost 60 percent of Net merchants plan to use catalog mailings to drive traffic to Web sites this year. Nine out of 10 online merchants say they will be putting promotional dollars into offline media for the season. [...]

Buyers can expect free shipping to be common, because four out of five consumers said it is an important factor in their decision-making, "Shoppers are clearly motivated by promotions like free shipping, gifts with purchase and special online offers," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, [the industry trade group that announced the research results], in a statement.

- By Frank Barnako, for MarketWatch

Four out of five consumers don't know that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" ?


Crude down 1% [...] for the week

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch, 3:08pm 11/04/05) -- Forecasts for warmer-than-normal weather in much of the U.S. and recovering output in the Gulf of Mexico pressured energy futures for the session and the week. December crude closed at $60.58 a barrel, down $1.20 for the session and down 1% for the week.

- By Myra P. Saefong

Also, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October of 2005 approximately 142,646,000 Americans were employed, the highest number of employed people yet this year, with a gain of around 2,405,000 jobs since January of 2005, and a gain of roughly 2,820,000 jobs over the results for October of 2004.

Official unemployment among adults of all races was a wee bit under 4.5% in October, and the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons --those who are available for and would prefer full-time work-- decreased by 330,000, to 4.3 million.

(All figures are seasonally adjusted).

"make the war work in its favor" ???

Army Has Plan to Boost Signups

Associated Press | October 11, 2005
WASHINGTON - The Army has a master plan for recovering from this year's painful recruiting problems [...], assembled after the Army fell more than 6,600 recruits below of its goal of 80,000 for the year that ended Sept. 30. It was the first time it had fallen short since 1999.

The Army, which has borne the largest share of the combat burden in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the only service to have fallen short, although the Marine Corps struggled for part of the year.

Opinion surveys indicate that daily reports of soldiers dying in Iraq have dampened young people's interest in joining the military [whodda thunk ?], prompting the Army to try new ways to make the war work in its favor.

For example, since July the Army has been offering prospective recruits what it calls "assignment incentive pay." That is $400 a month in extra pay for as many as 36 months if an enlistee agrees to join any of the brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division or 25th Infantry Division scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Army also is encouraging combat veterans who return home on leave from Iraq or Afghanistan to meet with young people in their home towns to talk about their experiences in hopes of snagging extra recruits. The Army has found that re-enlist rates are especially high among units that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Huah !!]

Raymond DuBois, acting undersecretary of the Army, spearheaded the effort to identify new approaches. Some imitate recruiting practices used in the business world, and not all emphasize financial incentives.

Parts of this new strategy were put into practice several months ago; others await congressional approval. DuBois says the shifts began paying dividends this summer, when the Army exceeded its recruiting goals monthly from June through September, after missing for four straight months. [...]

When the Army saw its recruiting efforts fall drastically below expectations - starting last February and bottoming out in April with only 58 percent of that month's goal achieved - it embarked on some new approaches.

The most important may have been the assignment of hundreds of extra recruiters. The Army also has asked Congress for permission to raise the maximum enlistment bonus from $20,000 to $40,000.

Among the main features of the Army's master plan for reaching its 2006 recruiting goal:

- Adjust the way recruiters frame their sales pitches to young men and women. Instead of focusing mainly on financial incentives and other tangible benefits of joining the Army, recruiters are now being trained to take what some call the "consultative" approach. That means addressing the individual recruits' personal hopes and fears, rather than using the traditional hard sell.

- Put more effort into recruiting people who have begun their college careers but not yet earned a degree, on the assumption that some would be interested in taking a hiatus to try military service. Also, target those of high school age who are being home schooled - a potential market the Army has largely ignored.

- Make more use of what DuBois calls "lead refinements" - the use of computer technology to refine recruiters' leads on potential enlistees. Using mathematical formulas based in part on demographics, a recruiter can more easily prioritize his or her high-payoff leads and thus become more productive. Ten of the Army's 41 recruiting battalions now use this technology; the Army wants to double it to 20 or more. [...]

- Offer a $2,500 "finder's fee" to soldiers who refer a recruit who makes it through advanced individual training, a step beyond basic training. This has yet to be authorized by Congress.

[All emph. add.]

Home-schooled teens seem like a very promising target market, since many of them are being home-schooled for familial cultural or social reasons that line up well with military culture, or the ideas of duty, honor, or service to others.
The downside is that it's a pretty small pool of potential recruits, and it's not like most of them haven't already been exposed to the concept of joining the military.

Having combat vets testify also seems like a great idea.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Less-positive Glimpse of the Future

Remote Control Works on Humans

ATSUGI, Japan (Oct. 26) - We wield remote controls to turn things on and off, make them advance, make them halt. Ground-bound pilots use remotes to fly drone airplanes, soldiers to maneuver battlefield robots.

But manipulating humans ?

Just imagine being rendered the rough equivalent of a radio-controlled toy car.
Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., Japan's top telephone company, says it is developing the technology to perhaps make video games more realistic. But more sinister applications also come to mind.

A special headset was placed on my cranium by my hosts during a recent demonstration at an NTT research center. It sent a very low voltage electric current from the back of my ears through my head - either from left to right or right to left, depending on which way the joystick on a remote-control was moved. I found the experience unnerving and exhausting: I sought to step straight ahead but kept careening from side to side. Those alternating currents literally threw me off.
The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation - essentially, electricity manipulates the nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance.
I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced - mistakenly - that this was the only way to maintain my balance.
The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.
There's no proven-beyond-a-doubt explanation yet as to why people start veering when electricity hits their ear. But NTT researchers say they were able to make a person walk along a route in the shape of a giant pretzel using this technique.

It's a mesmerizing sensation similar to being drunk or melting into sleep under the influence of anesthesia. But it's more definitive, as though an invisible hand were reaching inside your brain.
NTT says the feature may be used in video games and amusement park rides, although there are no plans so far for a commercial product.

Some people really enjoy the experience, researchers said, while acknowledging that others feel uncomfortable. I watched a simple racing-car game demonstration on a large screen while wearing a device programmed to synchronize the curves with galvanic vestibular stimulation. It accentuated the swaying as an imaginary racing car zipped through a virtual course, making me wobbly.Another program had the electric current timed to music. My head was pulsating against my will, getting jerked around on my neck. I became so dizzy I could barely stand. I had to turn it off.

NTT researchers suggested this may be a reflection of my lack of musical abilities. People in tune with freely expressing themselves love the sensation, they said.
"We call this a virtual dance experience although some people have mentioned it's more like a virtual drug experience,'' said Taro Maeda, senior research scientist at NTT. "I'm really hopeful Apple Computer will be interested in this technology to offer it in their iPod.''

Research on using electricity to affect human balance has been going on around the world for some time. James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, has studied using the technology to prevent the elderly from falling and to help people with an impaired sense of balance. But he also believes the effect is suited for games and other entertainment.
"I suspect they'll probably get a kick out of the illusions that can be created to give them a more total immersion experience as part of virtual reality,'' Collins said. The very low level of electricity required for the effect is unlikely to cause any health damage, Collins said. Still, NTT required me to sign a consent form, saying I was trying the device at my own risk. And risk definitely comes to mind when playing around with this technology.

Timothy Hullar, assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., believes finding the right way to deliver an electromagnetic field to the ear at a distance could turn the technology into a weapon for situations where "killing isn't the best solution.''
"This would be the most logical situation for a nonlethal weapon that presumably would make your opponent dizzy,'' he said via e-mail. "If you find just the right frequency, energy, duration of application, you would hope to find something that doesn't permanently injure someone but would allow you to make someone temporarily off-balance.''

Indeed, a small defense contractor in Texas, Invocon Inc., is exploring whether precisely tuned electromagnetic pulses could be safely fired into people's ears to temporarily subdue them. NTT has friendlier uses in mind. If the sensation of movement can be captured for playback, then people can better understand what a ballet dancer or an Olympian gymnast is doing, and that could come handy in teaching such skills.

NTT researchers maintain that the point is not to control people against their will.
If you're determined to fight the suggestive orders from the electric currents by clinging to a fence or just lying on your back, you simply won't move.

But from my experience, if the currents persist, you'd probably be persuaded to follow their orders. And I didn't like that sensation. At all.


Making videogames and music better are cool applications.

Giving instructors a tool with which to teach students the muscle-feel of various physical movements would be great, and would improve professional sports, the Olympics, and the armed forces immensely, as well as revolutionize physical therapy.

The potential ability to remotely affect the ability of humans, (and presumably other animals), to physically function, or to move freely, is scary.