Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Verbatim: "Complete Waste of Time and Airfare"


Well maybe not a complete waste ...
By Sam Ro of The Business Insider: "Art Cashin had some choice words regarding the recent G20 meeting in Mexico City. 'I think the best and most succinct assessment of the session may have come from UBS’s London-based sage, Paul Donovan. He simply said: 'The G20 was its normal complete waste of time and airfares.' The group agreed to do nothing about anything, but did offer up some nice platitudes about how well the world economy seemed to be doing. Many might believe that markets could work that out for themselves. More than just a waste of time, it may have also been a setback to the Europe's debt crisis. 'The wasted event, nonetheless, is seen as a potential setback to the cooperation needed to keep the bailouts moving and to keep the markets reassured. Here’s a take from David Powell over at Bloomberg: 'The resistance of G-20 leaders at their summit in Mexico to increase the funds of the IMF available to assist euro-area countries reduces the feasibility of the second Greek bailout package.' Those policy makers have rebuffed European demands for additional funds. In their communiqué, they wrote, “At Cannes, our leaders asked us to review the adequacy of IMF resources ... Euro area countries will reassess the strength of their support facilities in March. This will provide an essential input in our ongoing consideration to mobilize resources to the IMF.” They signaled Europe is unlikely to receive special treatment, even if the organization musters new resources. The finance ministers and central bank governors stated, “These resources will be available for the whole membership of the IMF, and not earmarked for any particular region.” Read more: Business Insider

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Verbatim: "Why Do Doctors Die Differently?"

I was struck by a recent article of Dr. Ken Murray's in The Wall Street Journal because my own cardiologist father, who passed away fourteen months ago, was certainly of the same mind. "Doctors die, too. What's unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care that they could want. Doctors don't want to die any more than anyone else does. But they usually have talked about the limits of modern medicine with their families. They want to make sure that, when the time comes, no heroic measures are taken. In a 2003 article, Joseph J. Gallo and others looked at what physicians want when it comes to end-of-life decisions. In a survey of 765 doctors, they found that 64% had created an advanced directive specifying what steps should and should not be taken to save their lives should they become incapacitated. That compares to only about 20% for the general public. Unlike previous eras, when doctors simply did what they thought was best, our system is now based on what patients choose. Physicians really try to honor their patients' wishes, but when patients ask "What would you do?," we often avoid answering. We don't want to impose our views on the vulnerable. The result is that more people receive futile "lifesaving" care, and fewer people die at home than did, say, 60 years ago. Written directives can give patients far more control over how their lives end. But while most of us accept that taxes are inescapable, death is a much harder pill to swallow, which keeps the vast majority of Americans from making proper arrangements. It doesn't have to be that way. As for me, my doctor has my choices on record. They were easy to make, as they are for most physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good night. Like so many of my fellow doctors." As an aside, I might say that "going gentle into that good night" is a worthy, but not always achievable, goal.  Advanced Directives (Personal Directives in Canada) can go a long way in the right direction, however, and relieve your family of significant decision-making stress during an emotional time.  See your lawyer today.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Bank of Greece Is Rich - In Irony

Advertisement currently running throughout Greece
Via Paul Tugwell & Tom Stoukas of Bloomberg from ekathimerini.com: "The imminent bailout of Greece, which is meant to keep the country in the euro zone, coincides with another historic date in the saga of Greek currency. On March 1 the Bank of Greece will stop exchanging drachma notes for euros. The Bank of Greece has been responsible for collecting drachmas since 2004. The modern drachma was Greece’s currency from 1833 to Feb. 28, 2002, when it stopped being legal tender. The Bank of Greece estimates drachma notes worth €200 million ($261.3 million) are still out there. Greeks were quick to embrace the euro when the currency became available in early 2002. “Entering the euro was the cherry on the cake of European Union membership,” says Andreas Maniatis, 56, an unemployed builder who changed all his drachmas early on. Today he sees the perils of staying in the euro and switching to a new drachma as pretty much equal. “The choice between new austerity measures with the euro and a default with the drachma is the same as choosing to be killed at five minutes to midnight or at midnight,” says Maniatis. If for some reason the current bailout arrangement collapses and Greece exits the euro, a new drachma will be a “real hell,” George Provopoulos, the current governor of the Bank of Greece, said. The new currency would swiftly depreciate as much as 70 percent against the euro. For a transitional period, before new drachmas could be printed and put into circulation, Greece would even have to resort to barter. That wasn’t the plan when Greece gave up the drachma a decade ago."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekender: No Soup For Me!

From Wolf Richter at Testosteronepit:  "All heck broke loose in China when it was announced last August that blood-red bird's nests, the rarest and most expensive kind, contained high concentrations of the carcinogen sodium nitrite - up to 350 times the legal limit. (A "blood nest" is red because the bird secretes blood into it, according to legend. It has medicinal powers that run the usual gamut from curing constipation to raising libido.) In fact, the male Swiftlet, a small bird common in Southeast Asia, spends about 35 days constructing a nest on the wall of a cave by interweaving strands of saliva. These harden into a bowl-like structure (cubilose) with high levels of minerals. Most are whitish. Blood nests can occur when iron and other minerals in the rock are absorbed by the nest. But they're extremely rare, and retail for around $4 per gram ($1,800 per pound). The announcement and rumors scared the bejesus out of one of the largest traditional Chinese medicine retailers; it recalled all its edible bird's nest products. Sales of major Chinese brands plummeted. They pressed authorities to tighten controls on the cubilose industry - a big business in Malaysia and Indonesia. Combined, they have about 100 million producers and processors, mostly small shops. Turns out, Malaysia's cubilose industry produces only white nests - 600 tons a year, cultured in special concrete buildings. It also harvests about 10 tons of cave nests. So, they dye them. Dyeing nests has become an industry of its own, involves a lot of sodium nitrite, and costs $50 to $100 per kilogram. (Customers can even specify the hue they want.) Good for your health? Toxic and carcinogenic hydrogen peroxide, sulfur dioxide, sulfur trioxide, and others are used to remove the awful smell and detritus from the raw material, and traces of those chemicals remain. Additionally, all cubilose carry health risks, even natural red cubilose: the nitrite can't be removed. Some contain lead or mercury. All this has been known for a long time. You can't keep a whole industry silent, though they tried. This from Xinhua: "Government and industry officials" from Malaysia held a press conference on July 26, 2011, purporting that blood-red cubilose on the Chinese market was genuine and safe as the nitrite can be removed after hours of soaking. Ironically, the government organizations and agencies these "officials" claimed to represent do not exist. (And soaking can't remove all the nitrite.) The poisonous blood nest scare has now settled down to a low rumble. Blood nests have been part of Chinese cuisine for centuries and have achieved near divine status. By mid-September, demand had recovered. So next time you're enjoying an $80 bowl of blood nest soup at your fave restaurant in Shanghai, just remember that one bowl alone probably won't kill you."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Do U.S. Dispensationalists Want All Out War?

Especially one fought over Israel? Do some fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. actually want war with Iran - not to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and make the world a safer place, but for demented religious reasons?  And if so, who are these dangerous religious wackos?  Are any of them Republican presidential nominees?  "Dispensationalism is a 19th century evangelical development based on a futurist biblical hermeneutic that sees a series of chronologically successive "dispensations" or periods in history in which God relates to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants. It consists of a distinctive "end times" perspective. They believe that God has yet to fulfill His promises to the nation (not necessarily the state) of Israel, including land promises, which in the future world to come result in a millennial kingdom where Christ will rule the world from Jerusalem for a thousand years. With the rise of dispensationalism, some conservative Protestants came to interpret the Book of Revelation as predicting future events (futurism). Dispensationalists begin with progressive revelation in the Old Testament and read forward in a historical sense. Another important theological concept is the "literal" interpretation of Scripture. The vast majority of dispensationalists hold to a pretribulation rapture [Balf: and thus don't fear their own annihilation]. Dispensationalist beliefs about the fate of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel put dispensationalists at the forefront of Christian Zionism, and have become very popular with American evangelicalism, especially among nondenominational Bible churches, Baptists, Pentecostal and Charismatic groups. Most mainline Protestants generally reject dispensationalism as a heresy. Nevertheless, it has had a pronounced effect on [U.S.] Christians' attitude toward Israel. Dispensationalists tend to have special interest in the Jews because the dispensationalist hermeneutic honors Biblical passages that list Jews as amongst God's chosen people. Dispensationalists are usually not inclined to look upon the actions of the United Nations with favor, because they view this entity as working toward ungodly goals, such as contributing to the erection of the superstructure for the coming government of the Antichrist. Almost all dispensationalists reject the idea that a lasting peace can be attained by human effort in the Middle East, and believe instead that "wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24:6) will increase as the end times approach. Political analyst Richard Allen Greene has argued that dispensationalism has had a major influence on the foreign policy of the United States. Political commentator Kevin Phillips points out in his book American Theocracy (2006) how dispensationalists and other fundamentalist Christians provided political support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003." (Wikipedia)  Religion is the root of all evil.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Verbatim: "I'll be dead by then"

Gallows humour from Bruce Krasting: "A Greek, a Portuguese, and a Spaniard are talking to God.  The Spaniard and the Portuguese ask, “When will our countries be free of debt?”  God answers, “In 100 years for Portugal and 150 years for Spain.”  The Iberians respond in dismay, “But, our children's children will be dead by then.”  When the Greek asks God "When will my country be free of debt?", God answers, “I don't know - I'll be dead by then.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WE HAVE A TurboTax WINNER!

Tell me (in a Comment below) the recipe for "Yucca Flats" and win "TurboTax Standard Online" complete with their new Free Tax Advice service.  All entries remain strictly confidential.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Murmuration and High Frequency Trading

"Oh, shite!"
Is murmuration just herd mentality, speeded up?  And if so, can it be compared to high frequency trading, ie. buying securities, speeded up? The following, from Nanex, shows that, yes, HFT is fast - but it lacks (crucially) the crash avoidance that starling flocks exhibit in murmuration: "High Freak Volatility: An example of HFT causing explosive volatility. On October 3, 2011, beginning at 11:10:00.450, [that's 450 thousandths of a second after 11:10 am] in the stock of CA Technologies (symbol CA), a bizarre interaction between multiple HFT algorithms caused a wild oscillation with over 1,000 trades executing in a 30 cent range. Just before and after the event, the bid-ask spread was a narrow 1 cent, and trades executed normally in a 1 cent range. Essentially HFT caused the bid-ask spread to widen from 1 cent to 30 cents in the blink of an eye. During the event, the quote rate exceeded 25,000 quotes/second, which caused significant quote delays of up to 1/2 second for this stock (and probably others processed on the same exchange equipment). Note that this is similar to an event which occurred in YHOO that we described as HFT trading faster than the speed of light (satire). The one question that needs to be answered and addressed: Why are trades printing with earlier timestamps than the orders (quotes) on which they were executed? Up to 1/2 second earlier, which we have been told is an eternity these days." Good question.  Trades happening before they're ordered?  Half a second is an eternity?  What the hell are exchange managers thinking?  To my mind, High Frequency Trading is exceedingly dangerous to the worldwide financial system, and could lead to more bizarre events like the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010.  (A July, 2011 report by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), an international body of securities regulators, concluded that while "algorithms and HFT technology have been used by market participants to manage their trading and risk, their usage was also clearly a contributing factor in the flash crash event of May 6, 2010.")  It is grossly unfair to traders, not only requiring specialized high speed trading gear, but also because it depends on geography - in that the closer your computer is to the trading floor the faster your connection is.  (There are now specialized firms that pimp HFT hardwire connections to exchanges to get even greater speed.)  Finally, as shown above, when algorithms of competing machines clash, the results can be weird to say the least, and potentially catastrophic in my view.  If exchanges ever want "retail" investors - and day-traders outside the NYC and Chicago  areas - back in the market, HFT must be banned outright because it distorts the system.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Verbatim: "Can We Please Take a Haircut Now?"

Loose Lips Sink Ships by Arthur Doohan, former Irish banker: "As we teeter on the brink of a debt crisis, there is a lot of loose talk about the death of the Euro and about Ireland being thrown out of the Euro. Such talk is ill-informed, ignorant, and scaremongering. Money is … whatever people deem it to be (cowrie shells, temple vouchers, packs of cigarettes, bits of metal, etc.). Today, money is mainly electrons, some paper, and bits of base metal. We worked hard to re-denominate our money into the Euro, and now there is nothing, NOTHING, that can stop the Euro being our currency. Firstly, we are a partner in the Target2 clearing house for the Central Banks of the Euro-system. Further, neither the EU nor ECB can kick anyone out of the Euro under current treaties. With respect to the currency, there is, quite deliberately, no way of telling a Greek from an Irish from a French Euro. Secondly, when Argentina defaulted, it did not stop the USD being a valid currency in Japan or in the US. It did not stop the majority of Argentinian business being conducted in USD. It weakened the Argentinian peso and made the overall debt burden greater. But that can't happen to us because our debts are denominated in our own currency, the Euro. Even if Ireland decided to default on some of her sovereign obligations, it would make no difference to Irish usage of the Euro. Finally, the concept of 'leaving the Euro' is often referred to as a "solution". Nothing could be further from the truth. We would have to 1) print and distribute a new currency, 2) institute capital controls (to stop money leaving), 3) establish and defend a value in Euro terms for the new currency (interest rate volatility), and 4) institute import and export controls (extra costs and delays for business). Further, just who would be leaving the Euro? Probably just the state of Ireland in terms of redefining exactly what 'legal tender' would be for tax and contract purposes. But the State could not seize the Euros in your bank account and force them to be exchanged. So we would become like Argentina with a weak official currency for State and tax-related transactions (and civil service pay) - and an external currency (Euros) for 'real stuff'. And what would we get in exchange for all that trouble? Only the opportunity to say 'We can't pay you back everything we owe you'. I have in mind particularly suggestions that our ATMs would 'run dry' if there were to be a default. To suggest that anyone in Europe would even think of stopping Irish citizens from buying their daily bread in reaction to a problem created by Irish politicians is to display an ignorance of how such systems work. The Euro is not the problem. The Euro works, and works tremendously well. The problem is the level of debt some countries are carrying. This is an old problem, and the old answer was always a currency devaluation. Since we all have the same currency now we can't do that. But a debt 'haircut' amounts to the same thing. So, can we please take a haircut now before we all go bald?"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weekender: "Souls Hijacked By Another"

From Reuters via The National Post:  "The Mormon church apologized on Tuesday for the posthumous baptism by its members of the parents of Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, performed in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho. The Church, in its written apology, suggested that the action was the work of one member who they said has since been disciplined. “We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the Church led to the inappropriate submission of these names,” Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the Church, said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “The policy of the Church is that members can request these baptisms only for their own ancestors. Proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims are strictly prohibited,” he added. Wiesenthal’s mother Rosa died at the Belzec concentration camp in Poland in 1942. His father, Asher Wiesenthal, died during the First World War. The apology by the Mormon church came on the same day that Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel called on Republican presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney to address the issue after Wiesel’s own Holocaust victim parents were similarly baptized by the Mormon church. “A heartfelt apology is certainly appropriate, but it rings hollow if it keeps happening again and again,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper. Starting in 1995 Cooper participated in high-level meetings between Jews and Mormon officials in an effort to halt such posthumous baptisms. Cooper, who knew Wiesenthal for 30 years, said he would have been deeply hurt by the actions that the Church of Latter Day Saints seems unable to control. Cooper called the actions “unacceptable,” saying that people ... should not have their souls hijacked by another religion."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Verbatim: "Welcome Back to the Middle Ages"

"But you said Greece didn't matter."
For many who read this space daily, the on-going Greek tragedy is - to say the least - boring.  But let me assure you that the implications from a Greek default could be disastrous, yes - right here in Anywhere, North America. Art Cashin, UBS Floor Director at the NYSE (a selection of Cashinisms is below at right) has seen a lot in his forty-plus years there, and wrote the following on Thursday regarding a topic your humble scribe has addressed in this space numerous times: "Recently, there has been a buzz building on trading desks and trading floors that there may be a lot more at stake in a potential Greek default than the media has been talking about. Most of the public discussion has centered on potential contagion among the banks as most of the Greek sovereign debit is held by the EU banking community. Traders, however, fear that the real risk is in the area of credit default swaps (CDS), insurance policies, individually written, that basically say - "if Greece defaults, we’ll pay you what they should have". CDS have grown exponentially over the last decade. Since they are individually written, there is no clear visible record of how many CDS contracts are outstanding. Also unknown is who is involved. The two parties obviously know who the counter-party is but there is no public record that would allow a regulator or a third party to find out who was involved. No one knows how much CDS exposure there is on Greek debt but is assumed to be a lot. Banks and others looked at the very attractive yields on Greek bonds and began salivating. But, what about that risk? "Better buy some insurance." Recall that, months ago, negotiators on the Greek debt bumped into part of the CDS problem. If the holders agreed to take 50 cents on the dollar, would that trigger their CDS on that bond (paying them the conceded 50 cents and making them whole)? At that time, many contended that if the bondholder “accepted” the offer of 50 cents on the dollar, that made the event "voluntary" and it would not “trigger” the CDS payout. That caused lots of folks to ask for a ruling from the ISDA (the ruling group on CDS contracts). If you “accepted” an offer with a gun to your head, was it really voluntary? But, traders fear a worse outcome might occur if the CDS contracts do not kick in. What good is insurance that doesn’t pay off? That could lead to the assumption that all CDS insurance is useless. And that would stratify debt around the globe. Great credits could get all the money they wanted, but less than great credit would be shut out because it could not be insured. That could make the future one in which “the haves” will have whatever they want and all others nothing. Welcome back to the Middle Ages. Read more at: Business Insider

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Verbatim: "Our Nuclear Path Will Continue"

By Parisa Hafezi of Reuters: "Iran proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how on Wednesday, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster, a move that may hasten a drift towards confrontation with the West over suspicions it is seeking the means to make atomic bombs. "The era of bullying nations has passed. The arrogant powers cannot monopolize nuclear technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing sanctions and resolutions but failed," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a live television broadcast. "Our nuclear path will continue." The nuclear achievements proclaimed by Tehran involve a new line of uranium enrichment centrifuge and the loading of its first domestically produced batch of fuel into a research reactor that is expected to soon run out of imported stocks. Tehran has for some years been developing and testing new generations of centrifuges to replace its outdated, erratic "P-1" model. In January it said it had successfully manufactured and tested its own fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants. Ahmadinejad said the "4th generation" of centrifuge would be able to refine uranium 3x as fast as previously. If Iran eventually succeeds in introducing modern centrifuges, it could shorten the time needed to stockpile enriched uranium. Ahmadinejad said Iran had significantly increased the number of centrifuges at its main enrichment site at Natanz, saying there were now 9,000 such machines installed there. Russia said global powers must work harder to coax concessions from Iran, warning that Tehran's willingness to compromise was waning as it makes progress toward the potential capability of building nuclear warheads. Iran says it was forced to manufacture its own fuel for the Tehran reactor after failing to agree to terms to obtain it from the West. In 2010, Iran alarmed the West by starting to enrich uranium to a fissile purity of 20% for the stated purpose of reprocessing into special fuel for the Tehran reactor. In boosting enrichment up from the 3.5% level suitable for powering civilian plants, Iran moved significantly closer to the 90% threshold suitable for the fissile core of a nuclear warhead. Said Mark Fitzpatrick of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, "if Iran is really running the reactor with untested fuel plates, then my advice to the residents surrounding the building would be to move somewhere else. It will be unsafe." Spent fuel can be reprocessed into plutonium, the alternative key ingredient in atomic bombs. But Western worries about Iran's nuclear program have focused on its enrichment program, which has accumulated enough material for several bombs. Analysts say the fuel rod development itself will not put Iran any closer to producing nuclear weapons, but could be a way of telling Tehran's adversaries that time is running out if they want a negotiated solution to the dispute."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Verbatim: "Copious Quantities of Cesium-137"


The Fukushima reactor situation worsened again last weekend.  Japanese authorities haven't released accurate data in the past, according to Geoff Brumfiel, writing in Nature:  "The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011 released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed." So concludes a study that combines radioactivity data from across the globe. The study also suggests that, contrary to government claims, pools used to store spent nuclear fuel played a significant part in the release of the long-lived environmental contaminant cesium-137. The analysis has been posted online for open peer review by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Andreas Stohl, an atmospheric scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, believes that the analysis is the most comprehensive effort yet. The reconstruction relies on data from dozens of radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world. Stohl cautions that the resulting model isn't perfect. Measurements were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima accident, and some monitoring posts were too contaminated by radioactivity to provide reliable data. More importantly, exactly what happened inside the reactors remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the study provides a sweeping view of the accident. The latest report from the Japanese government, says that the plant released 1.5 × 1016 bequerels of cesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half-life that is responsible for most of the long-term contamination from the plant. Cesium-137 fallout is the great concern. The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5 × 1016 Bq cesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure. Japanese estimates rely primarily on data from monitoring posts inside Japan, which never recorded the large quantities of radioactivity that blew out over the Pacific Ocean, and eventually reached North America and Europe. The new analysis also claims that the spent fuel being stored in the Unit 4 pool emitted copious quantities of cesium-137. Japanese officials have maintained that virtually no radioactivity leaked from the pool. The latest analysis also presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant. The model also shows that the accident could easily have had a much more devastating impact on the people of Tokyo. "There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn't rain," says Stohl. "It could have been much worse." (Additional reporting by David Cyranoski and Rina Nozawa.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Verbatim: "Greece Is, After All, Broke"

"Some of our German readers may be laboring under the impression that following the €110 billion first Greek bailout agreed upon and executed in May 2010, the second Greek bailout would cost a "mere" €130 billion. Alas we have news for you - as of this morning, the formal cost of rescuing Greece for the adjusted adjusted adjusted second time has just risen to a whopping €210 billion, bringing the total explicit cost of all Greek bailout funds to date (and many more in store) to €320 billion. Which incidentally is a little more than Greek GDP (which however is declining rapidly) at 310 billion, only in dollars. So as of today, merely the ratio of the Greek DIP loan (Debtor In Possession, because Greece is, after all, broke) has reached a whopping ratio of 136% Debt to GDP. This excludes any standing debt which is for all intents and purposes worthless. This is secured debt, which means that if every dollar in assets generating one dollar in GDP were to be liquidated and Greece sold off entirely in part or whole to Goldman Sachs et al, there would still be a 36% shortfall to the Troika, EFSF, ECB and whoever else funds the DIP loan (i.e., European and US taxpayers)! Another way of putting this disturbing fact is that global bankers now have a priming lien on 136% of Greek GDP - the entire country and then some now officially belongs to the world banking syndicate. Consider that when evaluating Greek promises of reducing total debt to GDP to 120% in 2020, as it would mean wiping all existing "pre-petition debt" and paying off some of the DIP. Also keep in mind that Greece has roughly €240 billion in existing pre-petition debt, of which much will remain untouched as it is not held in Private hands (this is the debt which will see a major "haircut" - or not: all depends on the holdout lawsuits, the local vs non-local bonds and various other nuances discussed here). If you said this is beyond idiotic, you are right." - Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge (see the permanent link under OH2 Recommends)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekender: "Great Escape" Tunnel Revealed

Untouched for almost seven decades, the tunnel used in the Great Escape has finally been unearthed.  The 111-yard passage nicknamed ‘Harry’ by Allied prisoners was sealed by the Germans after the audacious break-out from the PoW camp Stalag Luft III in western Poland.  Despite huge interest in the subject, encouraged by the film starring Steve McQueen, the tunnel remained undisturbed over the decades because it was behind the Iron Curtain and the Soviet authorities had no interest in its significance.  But at last British archaeologists have excavated it, and discovered its remarkable secrets.  Many of the bed boards which had been joined together to stop it collapsing were still in position. And the ventilation shaft, ingeniously crafted from used powdered milk containers known as Klim Tins, remained in working order.  Scattered throughout the tunnel, which is 30 feet below ground, were bits of old metal buckets, hammers and crowbars which were used to hollow out the route.  A total of 600 prisoners worked on three tunnels at the same time.  They were nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry and were just 2 feet square for most of their length.  It was on the night of March 24 and 25, 1944, that 76 Allied airmen escaped through Harry.  Barely a third of the 200 prisoners – many in fake German uniforms and civilian outfits and carrying false identity papers – who were meant to slip away managed to leave before the alarm was raised when escapee number 77 was spotted.  Only three made it back to Britain.  Another 50 were executed by firing squad on the orders of Adolf Hitler, who was furious after learning of the breach of security.  In all, 90 boards from bunk beds, 62 tables, 34 chairs and 76 benches, as well as thousands of items including knives, spoons, forks, towels and blankets, were squirrelled away by the Allied prisoners to aid the escape plan under the noses of their captors.  Although the movie might suggest otherwise, no Americans were involved in the actual operation.  Most were British and the others were from countries including Canada, Poland and Australia.  The latest dig, over three weeks in August, located the entrance to Harry, which was originally concealed under a stove in Hut 104.  The team also found another tunnel, called George, whose exact position had not been charted.  It was never used as the 2,000 prisoners were forced to march to other camps as the Red Army approached in January 1945.  Watching the excavation was Gordie King, 91, an RAF radio operator, who was 140th in line to use Harry and therefore missed out.  ‘This brings back such bitter-sweet memories,’ he said as he wiped away tears. ‘I’m amazed by what they’ve found.’

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekender: Sherlock, The TV Series

The Dynamic Duo
Not being a huge movie buff - but always a fan of classic tales that have stood the test of time - I was persuaded by my wife to see Robert Downey Jr.'s interpretation of "Sherlock Holmes" last year, and loved it - enough to not only dust off my old copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic but also to take in the sequel this year, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows".  And to my distinct pleasure and surprise, the sequel was better than the original - which was (did I mention?) truly excellent itself.  It was with these two satisfying renditions in mind then, that I was somewhat reticent to watch a television adaptation of 221b Baker Street's most famous tenant, even if it was on BBC.  Nevertheless, I did.  Now this is not an easy series to find on the one-eyed monster, and in fact we had to resort to Netflix (sometimes less than optimal viewing quality Out Here) to watch it.  And once again I was pleasantly surprised, the series "Sherlock" is rare entertainment, literally and figuratively.  It is a contemporary update, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (as Watson, a veteran of the recent "unwinnable" campaign in Afghanistan). The first series of three 90-minute episodes aired on BBC in July/August 2010, with a second series of three episodes in January 2012.  A third series has been commissioned for 2013.  Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes uses modern technology, such as texting, the internet, and GPS to solve crimes - wholly appropriate given the original character's penchant for the latest gadgets.  (There are even text messages that appear on the screen to give the viewer some insight into the conversation.)  One clue: make sure you see the first episode of the first series first, "A Study in Pink", so you understand the character relationships.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Verbatim: "Cat Parasite Manipulates Humans"

Are cats literally driving us crazy?
It is well-established that viruses have only one goal in life - to reproduce in order to propagate the species - even if they kill their temporary host in the process. It certainly doesn't seem far-fetched then to this medical mind to suspect that perhaps higher biological life forms, in this case a parasitic protozoa, might exhibit the same game plan. The idea that a cat parasite could affect non-cat hosts in order to get back into a feline where it can reproduce has been controversial, until now. This from Eric Goldstein in The Business Insider: "A parasite found in cats could be manipulating our brains. A long-buried, oft-derided theory is gaining traction in the medical world: cats are harboring a parasite that can manipulate human behavior and personality, sometimes to fatal ends. According to The Atlantic's Kathleen McAuliffe, the work of Jaroslav Flegr is finding support from others in his field. Flegr theorizes that a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which is found in cat feces, can infect the human brain in a variety of ways. The effects of T. gondii range from seemingly benign - it makes men more introverted and women more extroverted - to deadly, as it may contribute to schizophrenia or to slower reaction times that lead to car crashes. In Flegr's estimation, the parasite's kill count can add up to at "least a million people a year.” Because the parasite can only reproduce inside of cats, it's in T. gondii's best interest to manipulate human beings so it can jump back to another cat. Though past reports on T. gondii have made this connection, there was little support for the theory that the virus could have an effect on people. But more and more big names in neuroscience, like Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, are throwing support behind the research. And two separate Turkish studies confirmed Flegr's findings on T. gondii's relationship to traffic accidents. Effects of the parasite are subtle, making it very difficult to detect on your own. But if you're a man and you rank the smell of cat urine much more favorably than your friend, you might want to get tested (the effect is the opposite for women)." Read more at: The Business Insider  "Toxoplasma gondii is a species of parasitic protozoa in the genus Toxoplasma. The definitive host of T. gondii is the cat, but the parasite can be carried by many warm-blooded animals (birds or mammals, including humans). Toxoplasmosis, the disease of which T. gondii is the causative agent, is usually minor and self-limiting but can have serious or even fatal effects on a fetus whose mother first contracts the disease during pregnancy, or on an immunocompromised human or cat." (Wikipedia) I wouldn't have one in the house.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Swiss-style Direct Democracy

Ask the people directly?  Why not?
There seems to be a lot of talk these days in western democracies about "taking back" government from the politicians (who have indebted us all - our generation and the next couple as well), and putting it directly in the hands of the populace.  "Direct democracy" is not new, of course, it has been around since ancient Athens, and was recently expressed rather drastically by the people of Iceland who decided they had been sold a bill of (sliced and diced worthless mortgage-backed) goods by fast-talking London and Wall Street hucksters.  The country was effectively bankrupted in 2008.  Instead of re-negotiating their debt with the same "banksters", Icelanders threw out their government, repudiated the debt altogether, took their international economic and political lumps - and are rebuilding their economy from scratch under a new referendum-written constitution.  (Greece, are you listening?)  The former leader of the country has been charged with selling out the nation and is awaiting trial.  Switzerland is, however, probably the best known example of a functioning direct democracy.  Wikipedia:  "In Switzerland, single majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton (province) level, but at the national level, double majorities are required on constitutional matters.  The intent of the double majorities is simply to ensure any citizen-made law's legitimacy.  Double majorities are, first, the approval by a majority of those voting, and second, approval by a majority of cantons in which a majority of those voting approve the ballot measure.  A citizen-proposed law (i.e. initiative) cannot be passed in Switzerland at the national level if a majority of the people approve but a majority of the cantons disapprove.  For referendums or propositions in general terms (like the principle of a general revision of the Constitution), the majority of those voting is enough (Swiss constitution, 2005).  In 1890, when the provisions for Swiss national citizen law-making were being debated by civil society and government, the Swiss adopted the idea of double majorities from the United States Congress, in which House votes were to represent the people and Senate votes were to represent the states.  According to its supporters, this "legitimacy-rich" approach to national citizen lawmaking has been very successful."  The question that immediately comes to my mind is, "if it works so well for the Swiss, and was inspired by the U.S. system, why are the Americans in such a dysfunctional legislative gridlock lately?  The answer, of course, is that there is a layer of dogmatic, ear-marking, pork-barrelling, lobbyist-infested politicians between the people and the legislation, ie. it is an indirect democracy.  But for how long, I wonder?  In today's super-connected, wireless, televised world, direct democracy should be easier to deliver than ever before.  Oh, that's right ... I forgot about those poor lobbyists!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Verbatim: "Mormon Church in Need of Reform"

Sent to me by a friend, this article by Carrie Sheffield recently appeared in The Washington Post:  "There has been much talk recently about whether America is ready for a Mormon president. This tolerance question should cut both ways. Nearly a quarter of Americans told Gallup last summer that they wouldn't vote for a Mormon president, which is unfortunate since former governor Mitt Romney and former candidate Jon Huntsman are both smart, capable men. Meanwhile, though the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently found that 56 percent of Mormons think America is ready for a Mormon president, the church isn’t exactly welcoming of outsiders. Mormons account for 57 percent of Utah residents yet some 91 percent of Utah state legislators self-identify as Mormons. The state that’s home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has elected only two non-Mormon governors in nearly 116 years and has sent just one non-Mormon to Congress in the past five decades. Some of this distrust of outsiders is understandable because the church has been persecuted by religious and secular foes since its inception. Many mainstream Christians consider Mormonism a cult - a fact thought to have given Romney trouble in South Carolina’s primary. To combat anti-Mormonism, last year church leaders expanded a multimillion-dollar image campaign begun in 2010 that is nearly identical to the "I am a Scientologist" campaign from a year earlier: on airwaves, YouTube, billboards and more, smiling, family-oriented people declare, "I'm a Mormon". It’s part of a series of efforts to buy public affection. Yes, Mormons love families. But the family-values facade applies only if you stay in the fold. Former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church. The church I was raised in values unquestioning obedience over critical thinking. This caused trauma and cognitive dissonance when I questioned church doctrine and official history. In online forums and support groups, former and questioning Mormons gather and offer comfort. Some of us are prominent, such as Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, or singer Tal Bachman. Most of us are quiet dissidents who wish to lead conscientious lives. I was born into an multi-generational Mormon pioneer family. The mantle of those ancestors who made the ultimate sacrifice while crossing America’s plains to Utah weighed heavily on me as I grew up romanticizing the church’s worldwide missionary successes. But I struggled after realizing that Mormonism’s claims about anthropology, history and other subjects contradict reason and science. While many faiths’ irrational claims are obscured by centuries of myth and rubble, the LDS church lacks the moderation and scholarship of its older peers. It also stifles efforts to openly question church pronouncements, labeling such behavior as satanic. Critics of Mormonism include geneticists, Egyptologists and even the Smithsonian Institution, which stopped Mormon apologists from claiming the institute viewed the Book of Mormon as a factual document. While studying at Brigham Young University, I spiritually imploded after learning these things and other facts outside official church curriculum. Disturbed, I met with a high-ranking Mormon leader who told me to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were “worse than pornography.” BYU’s dean of religious education wouldn’t answer my growing list of questions. Other leaders told me that questioning is acceptable so long as it’s done secretly. I became distraught. For years my faith was an unshakable part of my identity, and if I openly voiced my concerns I risked rejection from the community I loved. Since Mormonism is highly centralized, without the local doctrinal flexibility that exists in Judaism and many Christian churches, I had no place to live a moderated, reformed existence. Salt Lake City’s male gerontocracy told me to avoid books and marry, but I could not stomach all their teachings. For example, mainstream Mormons banned polygamy in 1890 to obtain Utah’s statehood, but they continue to perform temple ceremonies that “seal” one man to multiple women in the hereafter. My idea of heaven did not involve a husband whose love could be shared with many wives. Staying in the church meant I would have my family, but I couldn’t pretend to believe. And it was difficult to live a fulfilling life without Mormonism. My parents shut me out of their home for nearly five years because of religion, and some former friends shunned me. Many other dissident Mormons find themselves discouraged from voicing doubts and ostracized if they do. Those whose spouses leave the church are sometimes encouraged to get divorced and remarry a faithful Latter-day Saint. Non-Mormons are not allowed to attend family members’ weddings in Mormon temples. Many gay Mormons have been driven to suicide, deeply conflicted about whether acting on their sexuality is, as the church teaches, a sin. With public interest in Mormonism so high, I hope the scrutiny will help break down the church’s fundamentalist trappings: secrecy about its finances, anti-women doctrine and homophobia, to start. Perhaps someday the church will not excommunicate, fire and demote people who want honest, church-wide dialogue about Mormon history and doctrine. Some Mormons compare Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, to Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer who exposed Catholic power abuses and doctrinal inconsistencies. Mormonism needs a Luther of its own."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Breaking: Fukushima Daiichi Plant Heating Up

Japanese broadcaster NHK reports: "Attempts to cool the temperature in the #2 reactor of the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have only partially succeeded despite the injection of more cooling water."  And last night the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had to inject boric acid into the site to prevent a nuclear reaction.  The temperature in #2 reactor has risen from 45 C to above 70 C in the past 4 days.  TEPCO began pumping more water into the reactor at around 1:30 AM on Monday, but says that the flow of water in the reactor is no longer able to properly cool down the melted down nuclear fuel.  Radioactive xenon has not been detected, they say.  However last night increased levels of radiation were detected in a high school parking lot in Tokyo.  The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency wants to know whether the reactor is in a state of cold shutdown, ie. safe - or not.  TEPCO has admitted that they don't know.  Temperatures in reactors 3 and 5 are rising too, and reactor 4 is "very unstable and dangerous” according to the company.  Steam is rising from the complex, and helicopters are checking for increased releases. The temperature in the spent fuel pool at reactor 3 is up 70%.  AP points out: "The structural integrity of the damaged #4 reactor building has long been a major concern among experts because a collapse of its spent fuel cooling pool could cause a disaster worse than the three reactor meltdowns."  Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen, who used to build spent fuel pools, says that if the fuel pool at reactor 4 collapses people should get out of Japan, and residents of the West Coast of America and Canada should shut all of their windows and stay inside.  Fuel pool #4 is not in great shape, and there have been a plethora of earthquakes nearby since the Big One almost a year ago.  The spent fuel pool at reactor 4 alone (which has lost all of its water) has 3/4 as much nuclear fuel as at all of Chernobyl.  "However, the real numbers are even worse. Specifically, TEPCO very recently transferred many more radioactive spent fuel rods into the storage pools. According to Associated Press, there were – at the time of the earthquake and tsunami – 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools plus 877 tons of active fuel in the cores of the reactors. That totals 4,277 tons of nuclear fuel at Fukushima. Which means that there is almost 24 times more nuclear fuel at Fukushima than Chernobyl." (Gizmodo)  With Chernobyl, people, the fallout drifted and contaminated eastern Europe.  This time we're east of Japan.  This needs to be watched carefully!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sidney Crosby and Quackopractic, Part 2

In case you missed it yesterday, repeat after me: there is only one "system" of medicine, the one based on scientific research via double-blind studies conducted by bona fide peer-reviewed scientists at multiple locations.  One body of knowledge that supports the medical professions we ultimately depend on: physicians, dentists, nurses, dental hygienists, emergency medical personnel, lab technicians, and physiotherapists, etc.  In Alberta chiropractic was de-insured in 2009 by the Alberta Government.  We now continue with the case of young hockey great Sidney Crosby, Dr. Steven Novella completing his indictment of so-called "chiropractic neurology": "It should be noted that neurological symptoms are often especially vulnerable to placebo effects. Many symptoms, like vertigo, or “fogginess” are highly subjective. There is also a well-established “cheerleader” effect – if you take anyone with chronic neurological symptoms (such as chronic deficits from a stroke) and then give them any intervention, they will perform better. Just getting patients off the couch and moving will have some effect. Careful research is necessary to separate the specific effects of an intervention from the non-specific effects of motivation, mood, activity, and also just time. The brain can heal itself to some degree, and after an injury there can be an improvement for even years afterward. Some symptoms are also susceptible to conditioning. Vertigo is perhaps the best example of this. At present the most effective treatment for chronic vertigo (a subjective sense of movement, such as spinning) is vestibular therapy – physical therapy designed to condition the patient to the symptoms, to diminish them over time. It is therefore possible that some chiropractic neurology interventions are simply providing this known mechanism. For example, here is a description of Carrick’s treatment of Hockey player, Crosby: Carrick then signals to restart the gyroscope—with one difference. This time Crosby will be turned upside-down while he is also spun around. He hasn’t experienced this dual action yet. The door clangs shut. Above it, a stack of red, yellow and green lights shines while 10 high-pitched beeps signal the gyroscope is about to start. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! This is a very dramatic treatment, sure to impress the naive. It follows a common philosophy in dubious neurological treatments – the notion that you can “rebuild the brain” by stimulating it. While it is true that activity and simulation are better than no activity and stimulation, it does not follow that simply increasing stimulation will increase the brain’s plasticity or recovery (a simplistic more-is-better philosophy). That basic notion was researched and discarded decades ago, for example with specific reference to psychomotor patterning treatments. Chiropractic neurology is an excellent example of exactly why we need science-based practices. Without a grounding in objective evidence there does not appear to be any limit to the degree that beliefs systems can be led astray. Any treatment can deceptively seem to work, and humans are very good at backfilling in justifications and explanations for phenomena that do not even exist. Left to our own devices we will tend to develop elaborate, but entirely fictitious, belief systems. We figured out centuries ago, however, that systematic methods of controlling variables, controlling for bias, and rigorous statistical analysis can compensate for such human foibles. Until chiropractic neurology (and similar practices) avail themselves of such methods there is no reason to take their claims seriously." (emphasis added)  Look, there are competents and incompetents in every profession, and in today's health care system every patient must be their own advocate.  Keep searching until you find the MD that you are confident in, Sidney, but give up the black magic of chiropractic neurology!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Weekender: Sidney Crosby and Quackopractic

As long-time readers of this space know, there is only one "system" of medicine, the one based on scientific research via double-blind studies conducted by bona fide peer-reviewed scientists at multiple locations.  One body of knowledge that supports the medical professions we ultimately depend on: physicians, dentists, nurses, dental hygienists, emergency medical personnel, lab technicians, and physiotherapists, etc.  In Alberta chiropractic was de-insured in 2009 by the Alberta Government.  As for Sidney Crosby specifically, one of my favourite hockey players, Dr. Steven Novella writes: "... so-called “straight” chiropractors who adhere to the original philosophy of D.D. Palmer - that a vital force they call innate intelligence is responsible for health, and blockages in the flow of this magical force through the nerves are what cause illness. Such chiropractors believe they can influence non-neuromuscular conditions by restoring the flow of innate intelligence blocked by mysterious “subluxations” in the spine. From chiropractors.org we have this definition of “straight" chiropractors: 'Because straight chiropractors believe that nearly all diseases are caused by issues with the spine, they don’t believe they need any diagnostic tools. Traditional testing done by medical doctors and hospitals is not even considered by a straight chiropractor as being necessary. Diagnosis is done by finding the subluxations in the spine so that those can be corrected.' This particular version of chiropractic (by some estimates about a third of chiropractors follow this philosophy) is pure pseudoscience. It is, as indicated by the quote above, hostile to science-based medicine. After a century of such belief there isn’t a bit of evidence to support the notion of innate intelligence, chiropractic subluxations, or health benefits from this approach. Some straight chiropractors even “specialize” - one specialty, chiropractic neurology, has been getting some press because hockey star Sidney Crosby has been going to a chiropractic neurologist, Ted Carrick, to treat his concussion. The main idea behind chiropractic neurology is the same as for straight chiropractic in general, just applied to neurological disorders. Carrick claims that he can treat a variety of brain disorders with targeted manipulation and elaborate exercises and routines. In a PBS interview he said: "Well, we’re finding every day that more and more things that we didn’t think were associated with chiropractic treatment can be affected very nicely. There are testimonials from people who have had their eyesight and hearing back, and people waking up from comas." Waking a patient from a coma is perhaps the ultimate rehabilitative claim in neurology. You will notice, of course, that Carrick refers to only “testimonials”. The reason for that is because there are no published articles establishing such bold claims. Chiropractic neurology does not appear to be based on any body of research, or any accumulated scientific knowledge. I am not aware of any research that establishes their core claims. A search on PubMed for “Carrick T” yielded nothing, and searching on “chiropractic neurology” yielded mostly studies about neurological complications from chiropractic treatment. There was one letter from the President of the International Academy of Chiropractic Neurology. I followed that link to the IACN website, but found no references or links to any published studies establishing the scientific basis of chiropractic neurology. There was no science at all. I also noted that the IACN mission statement does not make any mention of promoting scientific research or science-based standards. Chiropractic neurology appears to me to be the very definition of pseudoscience – it has all the trappings of a legitimate profession, with a complex set of beliefs and practices, but there is no underlying scientific basis for any of it."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Weekender: Iran Strikes at the West!


We knew it was only a matter of time.  That Iran couldn't be pushed around forever without dire consequences.  And sure enough, this week President Ahmanutjob struck back at the West, hitting us where he knew it would hurt the worst.  By Molly Aronica, Editor, The Daily Meal: "According to The Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Iranian government banned state-run television stations from broadcasting foreign cooking shows earlier this week. A number of Iran's 30 state-run TV channels broadcast Iranian cooking shows, however, only a handful of the programs feature recipes from other cuisines. Ali Darabi, the deputy head of Iran's state broadcasting company, explained to the media that teaching how to cook non-Iranian dishes is now prohibited throughout the country."  I guess too many people were watching Lidia's Italy again!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Verbatim: "Stark Decline in Baltic Dry Index"

And now an update on that incredibly important yet arcane (until three years ago) indicator, the Baltic Dry Index - the ultimate measure of dry commodity shipping around the world.  Brandon Smith recently at Alt Market:  "The stark decline in the Baltic Dry Index should be taken very seriously. Most similar declines have occurred right before or in tandem with economic instability and stock market upheaval. All the average person need do is look around themselves, and they will find a European Union in the midst of detrimental credit downgrades and on the verge of dissolving. They will find the U.S. on the brink of yet another national debt battle and hostage to a private Federal Reserve which has announced the possibility of a third QE stimulus package which will likely be the last before foreign creditors begin dumping our treasuries and our currency in protest. They will find BRIC and ASEAN nations moving quietly into multiple bilateral trade agreements which cut out the use of the dollar as a world reserve completely. Is it any wonder that the Baltic Dry Index is in such steep deterioration? Along with this decline in global demand is tied another trend which many traditional deflationists and Keynesians find bewildering; inflation in commodities. Ultimately, the BDI is valuable because it shows an extreme faltering in the demand for typical industrial materials and bulk items, which allows us to contrast the increase in the prices of necessities. Global demand is waning, yet prices are holding at considerably high levels or are rising (a blatant sign of monetary devaluation). Indeed, the most practical conclusion would be that the monster of stagflation has been brought to life through the dark alchemy of criminal debt creation and uncontrolled fiat stimulus. Without the BDI, such disaster would be much more difficult to foresee, and far more shocking when its full weight finally falls upon us. It must be watched with care and vigilance."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Religion and the Republican Nomination

Despite the televised debate fireworks, many pundits admit there really is very little to differentiate one Republican contender's policies from another's - with the notable exception of Libertarian Ron Paul.  Well folks, let me tell you one stark difference between the four that are left is their religious beliefs.  Religion is big in America, and even bigger in the Republican party.  If 83% of Americans associate themselves with some religious sect, within the GOP it's got to be closer to 100%.  (Convenient for us, Dr. Watson.)  There will be 2286 delegates at the convention in Tampa, and the first candidate to get 50% +1 wins the Kewpie doll, and takes on Obama.  Yesterday we discussed Wikipedia's religions in America data which we took pretty much at face value, "scientifically" adjusting it to a minor and consistent degree only to make the numbers add up.  Because something like 93% of Mormon voters supported Romney in 2008, I wondered "what if all the delegates voted according to their religion at the GOP convention?"  Of course, things are not that simple because delegates are garnered in various ways in various states - and there might be fewer than four candidates by then - but, hey, it's fun to speculate.  If we assume that the Republican party enjoys the same religious diversity as the nation it serves, and all Catholics vote for the reinvented New Gingrich (sorry, it's Newt), he would get 22% of the delegates on the first ballot.  Likewise we'll assume all Fundagelicals (there I go again, it's Evangelicals) vote for Santorum, so he'd pocket 26.3%.  Poor old Mitt (what's that short for anyway?) Romney can only count on 93% of the 1.7% LDS vote, for 1.6% of the delegates at the convention based solely on religion.  The "unaffiliated" are probably like herding cats, so we'll give Dr. Ron ("Stirrups") Paul only half of that 26%, or 13% of first-round delegates.  Total delegates so far: 62.9%, based purely on religion.  The remaining 37.1% of delegates would be split probably among the three youngest, most religious nominees, giving another 12.4% to each on the first ballot.  Goodbye Dr. Paul (unfortunately).  Now the religulous horse-trading begins.  Dr. Paul releases his delegates to "vote their conscience".  Sick and tired of the Newt Romney dogfight, they all go to Santorum, who "comes up the middle" and wins with 26.3 + 12.4 + 13 = 51.7%.  The only problem (admittedly one of many re: this "fun with math" exercise) is that Rick Santorum didn't make it to the convention because he ran out of money.  Okay, now let's start all over again with three nominees ...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Religion in America: An Overview

In preparation for tomorrow's post (don't you just love the way I keep you coming back over and over again just like a quackopractor?), here's a quick-and-dirty (oops!) overview of religion in the USA, according to Wikipedia:  83 % of Americans claim to belong to a religion.  60% to 76% of Americans (we'll use 68%, the average, to make everything add up properly) identify themselves as Christians, approximately 46% Protestant and 22% Catholic (both adjusted to add up to 68% total).  Non-Christian religions make up about 3.9% to 5.5% (we'll use 4.7%) of the adult population.  15% to 37.3% (average 26%) of the adult population identifies as having no religious belief or affiliation.  5.2% refuse to reply.  Now, let's downward adjust the last three groups in a similar ratio to the Christians, to 4.2%, 23%, and 4.7%, respectively.  Total: 99.9%, not bad for seven years of college.  However, despite this seemingly high level of religiosity, only 9% of Americans in a 2008 poll said religion was the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family was paramount in their life and 17% who said money and their career was paramount (this is the USA, after all!).  Incidentally, as of 2008, 1.7% were Mormon.  Today, Of the total population of Protestants, Evangelicals comprise 26.3%, and Mainline Protestants 16%.  As an aside, in a 2006 nationwide poll, U of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who rated them below Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society".  They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behaviour, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism.  However, the same study also reported that "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity, education and political orientation - with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts."  For all the bible-thumping that goes on in the U.S., the founding fathers were very careful - even adamant - to leave religion out of U.S. officialdom, and this ban was later extended to individual state governments.  (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was only modified in 1954 to add the phrase "under God", in order to distinguish itself from the state atheism espoused by the Soviet Union.)  A late 2009 online Harris poll of 2,303 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that "82% of adult Americans believe in God", the same number as in two earlier polls in 2005 and 2007. Another 9% said they did not believe in God, and 9% said that they were not sure. It further concluded, "Large majorities also believe in miracles (76%), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%), in angels (72%), the survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%). Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism.  25% never attend religious services.  Please memorize the above, as there will be a test tomorrow.