Pirates at the helm

The corporate parasites protect their own:

After months of anger at Bank of America (BAC) chairman and CEO Ken Lewis, shareholders voted to fire him as board chairman yesterday at the company’s annual meeting in Charlotte.

Lewis had a terrible year in 2008, as did everyone in the banking industry, but he had the added baggage of having withheld material adverse information from his shareholders about the forced merger of BAC with Merrill Lynch late last year. After shareholders approved that merger (which was instigated by government authorities), it came out that Merrill’s losses were going to be considerably worse than anyone knew. To add insult to injury, Merrill’s recently-installed CEO, John Thain, found it prudent to accelerate the payment of Merrill’s annual bonuses by a month. This meant they would be largely complete before the BAC merger completed, making it impossible for BAC’s shareholders to nix or reduce them…. It gets interesting at this point, because even though shareholders did what they think is the right thing, the rest of the company’s directors unanimously voted to retain Lewis as CEO, the top management position.

What the board was saying in effect was: Lewis is the best guy for the job; we’re not going to easily find anyone as good; and his malfeasance in withholding information about the Merrill deal was not sufficient grounds to dismiss him.

Speaking as an entrepeneur, let me state unequivocally that one of the biggest problems in corporate America is the fact that the professional executive class is the most useless bunch of thieving scum in the country. (The Human Resources departments are useless too, but at least they’re not thieves.) Most corporate executives are not businessmen, they’re not capitalists, they’re simply parasites busily engaged with siphoning off as much corporate money as they think they can get away with. Every single member of that board should be fired. If Lewis hadn’t violated his responsibility by keeping his mouth shut about the massive devaluation of the company that the Merrill merger would entail, there’s no way it would have gone through.

It’s sickening the way that the parasites chant “increasing shareholder value” like a mantra while doing their damndest to reduce it in every way. Lewis is a parasitic poster boy; he was willing to sink the entire company rather than risk – risk – the chance that the U.S. Treasury would try to break the law and fire him.

Interest query

If you’re going to compare the effect of interest rates on GDP and housing prices, would you use the Fed Funds rate, the Discount Rate, the Prime Rate, or the 30-year mortgage rate?

Please note that I said “interest” query, I didn’t say it would be an interesting one….

The asteroid theory craters

So much for the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction:

Supporters of the Chicxulub impact theory suggest the impact crater and the mass extinction event only appear far apart in the sedimentary record because of earthquake or tsunami disturbance that resulted from the impact of the asteroid. But Professor Keller said: ‘The problem with the tsunami interpretation is that this sandstone complex was not deposited over hours or days by a tsunami. Deposition occurred over a very long time period.’

The scientists also found evidence that the Chicxulub impact didn’t have the dramatic impact on species diversity that has been suggested. At one site at El Penon, the researchers found 52 species present in sediments below the impact spherule layer, and counted all 52 still present in layers above the molten droplets or spherules.

‘We found that not a single species went extinct as a result of the Chicxulub impact,’ said Professor Keller.

I always thought that the asteroid extinction event was a rather dumb idea. And I particularly enjoy the attempted explanation which involves nonexistent earthquakes and tsunamis to explain away the problem of the sedimentary record. Even more amusing will be the typical reaction of scientists, who always rush to remind everyone that it is scientists who have dismantled the previous scientific consensus… even when that’s not actually the case.

The problem is that even when it is true, such a reaction completely misses the point. The relevant point is that what scientists were previously telling us that we were stupid and ignorant to doubt was, in fact, false.

Now, I understand it can be troubling to have to rethink your basic assumptions. For the first time in twenty-five years, I find myself forced to seriously question the basic assumptions of the Smith-Ricardian free trade theory, and I increasingly suspect that national protectionists, such as Pat Buchanan, are correct in certain circumstances. But whether one has doubts about a particular theory or not, there’s simply no cause or excuse for the attempted intellectual bullying to which so many scientists and science fetishists are prone, and such behavior does nothing but increase the rational observer’s doubts about the theories they are advocating.

UPDATE: Mendoscot points out that part of the reason for the hissy fits may be that scientists really don’t want anyone looking too closely at their, ah, very strict peer-reviewed “science“:

“Experts in the field contacted by Nature have been taken aback by the extent of the methodological errors getting through the supposedly strict peer-review systems of the journals in question.”

The skeptic’s intuition

I finished John Derbyshire’s fascinating book about the Riemann Hypothesis yesterday, Prime Obsession, and a particular passage towards the end got me thinking about my own doubts about Darwin’s famous hypothesis. With all due apologies to Derb, I’m afraid this post doesn’t have anything to do with the subject of his book per se, about which I shall definitely write another time.

Setting aside their search for a proof, how do mathematicians feel about the RH? What does their intuition tell them? Is the RH true or not? I made a point of asking every mathematician I spoke with, very directly, whether he or she believed the Hypothesis to be true. The answers formed a wide spectrum, with a full range of eigenvalues.

Among that majority of mathematicians who believe it true (Hugh Montgomery, for example), it is the sheer weight of evidence that tells. Now, all professional mathematicians are that weight of evidence can be a very treacherous measure. There was a good weight of evidence for Li(x) being always greater than π(x) until Littlewood’s 1914 result disproved it. Ah, yes, RH believers will tell you, but that was merely one line of evidence, numerical evidence, together with the unsupported assumption that the second log-integral term -½Li(x½) would continue to dominate the difference, which would therefore always be negative. For the Hypothesis we have far more lines. The RH underpins an enormous body of results, most of them very reasonable and – to bring in a word mathematicians are especially fond of – “elegant.” There are now hundreds of theorems that begin “Assuming the truth of the Riemann Hypothesis….” They would all come crashing down if the RH were false. That is undesirable, of course, so the believers might be accused of wishful thinking, but it’s not the undesirability of losing those results, it’s the fact of their existence. Weight of evidence.

Other mathematicians believe, as Alan Turing did, that the RH is probably false. Martin Huxley is a current non-believer. He justifies his nonbelief on entirely intuitive grounds, citing an argument first put forward by Littlewood: “A long-open conjecture in analysis generally turns out to be false. A long-open conjecture in algebra generally turns out to be true.”
Prime Obsession pp 356-357

The salient question, then, is if the present ND-TENS more aptly analogous to analysis or algebra? I am an evolutionary skeptic for a number of reasons, but my intuitive reasoning on the matter is essentially similar to Huxley’s. Moreover, the fact that mathematicians manage to peaceably disagree about the truth or not-truth of the Riemann Hypothesis while biologists cannot bear to hear the least little criticism of Neo-Darwinian theory without throwing a hissy fit also tends to invoke serious doubt about the latter in the rational observer.

There’s no question that Riemann possessed a far more brilliant mind than Darwin. The RH is elegant while NDT-TENS is tortured and crude. If I were pressed by the likes of Derbyshire and had to declare one way or the other, I’d have to side with the RH believers and the Darwin doubters.

GDP Watch: 2009 Q1 Advance

Unsurprisingly, the first 2009 numbers are worse than expected. Economists had projected a 4.7 percent decline, but the Advance report from the BEA has it at 6.1 percent. This is the worst two-quarter contraction since Q1 1958. And in other economic news, it looks as if six banks have failed the so-called stress tests, including Bank of America and Citi.

Quarter Adv Pre Final Rev Annual
2009 Q1 -6.1
2008 Q4 -3.8 -6.2 -6.2 -6.3 1.1 (1.3)
2008 Q3 -0.3 -0.5 -0.3 -0.5
2008 Q2 1.9 3.3 2.8 2.8
2008 Q1 0.6 0.9 1.0 0.9
2007 Q4 0.6 0.6 0.6 -0.2 2.0
2007 Q3 3.9 4.9 3.9 4.8
2007 Q2 3.4 4.0 3.8 4.8
2007 Q1 1.2 0.5 0.6 0.1
2006 Q4 3.5 2.2 2.5 1.5 2.8
2005 Q4 1.1 1.6 1.7 1.3 2.9
2004 Q4 3.1 3.8 3.8 2.4 3.6

Go for it, tough guy

It’s not often I agree with Keith Olbermann, but I definitely support him in his current endeavor to see Sean Hannity waterboarded:

After Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity made a seemingly impromptu offer last week to undergo waterboarding as a benefit for charity, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann leapt at it. He offered $1,000 to the families of U.S. troops for every second Hannity withstood the technique.

If you’re so certain waterboarding isn’t torture, Mr. Hannity, then surely you won’t have any problem doing it for the troops. For the children!

They really are RINOs

Arlen Spector finally comes out of the closet:

Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter announced Tuesday that he is switching parties, a move would give Democrats a filibuster-proof 60 seats if Al Franken is seated in the Minnesota race. “I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” the Pennsylvania senator said in a statement.

This has to be the least shocking political news since Reagan won reelection in 1984. It would be nice if all the neocons would hurry up and follow suit. And you might want to keep this demonstration of deep and abiding loyalty in mind the next time the Republican elite insists on putting up a Ford/Dole/McCain for election and expects you to show fealty to the party.

Repeating history

I found this anecdote to be most amusing:

One amusing part of the afternoon session was a story Dr. Shiller related about a localized Los Angeles housing bubble in 1885. In describing the mentality in 1885 Los Angeles, he said that people thought “Los Angeles is special!” He also quoted from an article in the LA Times which was published during the aftermath of the collapse in 1886:

“We Californians have learned something. And that is that home prices can’t just go up forever—they have to be supported by something. Never again will Californians make this mistake.”

Hey, Californians didn’t completely forget it for more than a century. That’s incredibly impressive by most standards, especially considering that Americans have embraced Keynesian interventionism only 79 years after it turned a big depression into a Great one.

Mailvox: that sounds familiar

JC has a request:

I am a member of the Ft Lauderdale Socrates Cafe, with numerous atheists on its extensive mailing list. Recently an atheist submitted a farcical “Exam” for believers to answer. I would like to submit one question from this exam for you to answer and submit it in the near future to give the atheists a little something to mull over. This is one of the BETTER questions. You should see the others. You addressed an atheist’s question last January. When I posted your response to the mailing list it was like an intellectual time bomb went off. They all retreated to their holes for over a week and nobody would refute it.

Which of the following is most likely to be true, and why?

1. Romulus was the son of God, born to a mortal human virgin.
2. Dionysus turned water into wine.
3. Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from the dead.
4. Jesus Christ was the son of God, born to a mortal virgin. turned water into wine, and raised a man from the dead.

What a surprise to learn that argumentative Internet atheists should suddenly fall silent when confronted with one of my responses. Unfortunately for the state of the discourse, that has become the usual pattern, which doesn’t reflect well on their confidence in their own arguments. But how can I deny the request after hearing such an amusing AAR of the previous engagement? My conclusions are as follows:

1. This is obviously the least credible of the four options presented because Romulus was never claimed to have been the son of God, but the son of Mars, the Roman god of war who does not merit the capital-G being himself the son of Jupiter. Furthermore, the claim was always considered specious because the mother was assumed to have asserted divine paternity in a futile attempt to save her twin sons from the royal authorities. The historical record even states outright that rape was the cause of her pregnancy. Livy describes it thusly: “THE STORY OF ROMULUS. Birth and Uprearing. But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it. But neither gods nor men sheltered her or her babes from the king’s cruelty; the priestess was thrown into prison, the boys were ordered to be thrown into the river.”

2. There are no histories which claim the Greek god Dionysius turned water into wine nor are there any purported eyewitnesses to him doing so; the histories which do mention water turning into wine at two temples dedicated to him don’t even pretend to take the tradition seriously. Pausanius writes: “Three pots are brought into the building by the priests and set down empty in the presence of the citizens and of any strangers who may chance to be in the country. The doors of the building are sealed by the priests themselves and by any others who may be so inclined. On the morrow they are allowed to examine the seals, and on going into the building they find the pots filled with wine…. If the Greeks are to be believed in these matters, one might with equal reason accept what the Ethiopians above Syene say about the table of the sun.”

And then, of course, one must also take into account that no one actually claimed to have ever seen Dionysius, for the very good reason that the sight of him was generally supposed to immediately precede being torn to pieces by his maddened Maenads. Dionysius is a mythic deity; there has never been any belief that he was a historical personage in either his Greek or Roman form.

3. We are told that there is little information about Apollonius that does not come from Philostratus, who is believed to have fabricated many of the stories and dialogues in Life of Apollonius of Tyana, which was not completed until 217 AD at the earliest. Philostratus’s temporal distance from the events he is relating means they are less credible than the Gospels by historical definition. The similarity between the miraculous deeds of Jesus Christ and the miracles of Apollonius, combined with the fact that Philostratus wrote the “biography” at the request of Julia Domna, a Roman empress from a priestly pagan family of Baal-worshippers, strongly suggests that the work was conceived as propaganda intended to help the pagan priesthood compete with a rapidly growing Christianity. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Domna’s husband, the emperor Septimus Severus, outlawed conversion to Christianity, and that the Emperor Diocletian later made use of the fictional biography during the Diocletianic Persecution of 303–311.

4: The four accounts of Jesus Christ’s life are written by three men who were eyewitnesses to the claimed events and a fourth man who was personally acquainted with individuals who were eyewitnesses. All four accounts are rife with archeologically verifiable facts, some of which were first known only through the Gospels, while the age and number of manuscripts containing them render the Gospels inherently more historically credible than most ancient documents whose veracity is undoubted. Therefore, option D, Jesus Christ was the son of God, born to a mortal virgin, turned water into wine, and raised a man from the dead, is more likely to be true even though it is superficially three times more incredible than any of the competing claims offered.

However, if anyone should like to make a competing case for options 1-3, I would be pleased to see them do so here, since it seems unlikely that the devotees of Socrates are going to do so.

UPDATE: DaveD brings a timely comic to our attention.

Collected columns

I was looking for an old game column online the other day, and although I found it, I realized that most of them were pretty much gone forever. Which is not great loss; no one cares what I happened to think of a random Game Boy Color game these days anyhow, least of all me. While Internet archiving is a lot more comprehensive now than it was back in the mid-90s, it occurred to me that it would be useful to have a book of my political columns on the shelves for reference.

Anyhow, once I finish the current book, I’m thinking about putting together a book of my WND columns from 2001 through 2008. With 7 years worth of columns running 750 words with some minor commentary that’s going to be somewhere between 750-800 pages. Since I like nice leather-bound books, I intend to have it printed on quality paper and bound in leather; some years ago, Spacebunny gave me an Franklin Library edition of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum that I had been admiring so I’d like to do something like that. They’re going to be expensive, I think I can guarantee you that, but I’d probably charge something like $25 over the printing, binding, and shipping cost, which should keep the price under $150. Well under, I’d hope, but perhaps not with an 800-page monster… I suppose it’s possible that doing four-year collections might make more sense. Anyhow, in the event you would be interested in a copy, let me know. I’m not taking orders or anything, just wondering if anyone else might want one. The books will be an extremely limited edition, quite possibly an edition of one, in fact, if no one else happens to be interested.