Thursday, December 21, 2006

The War on Religion

When Attorney General Janet Reno, most certainly with the blessing, er...make that approval, of then President Bill Clinton, flame-broiled the Branch Davidians, I thought that something of significance had occurred. Both the old main-line religions and the fast-growing evangelicals were strangely mute - to their long-term disadvantage in my opinion. They didn't defend the Jews from the Nazis either.

Not that I had any particular sympathy or inclination in favor of that little cult, but simply that I believe that religious tolerance is a hallmark here, and if someone wants to follow Monty Python and worship The Holy Hand Grenade, well, that is their business.

But the November issue of Wired magazine lays it out. It profiles three leaders of a movement it labels The New Atheists. These three not only are disbelievers, it is their view that the time to respect, or even tolerate, religion is over. Wired calls it the Crusade Against Religion. I won't recount all this here, but some of it stems from the "Creationism" movement, which these guys view as an affront to science and education.

I'll admit to being sympathetic to the creationists. I've tried organizing ostensibly smart Cub Scouts to get something done with little to show for it; how do some cells get together and become, say an eyeball? or a toenail? How does a bug come to jump into the nostril of one particular species of bird, hop out into just the right flower, and repeat the process?

And, if we can't handle the AIDS virus, how did anything ever evolve beyond that level? Why didn't the viruses win? Those viruses seem to be pretty all-conquering to me. And you can give me all the primordial soup, acidic atmosphere, lightning arguments, but, at its essence, Things That Weren't Alive had to become Things That Are Alive. Seems to be asking a lot for us to believe.

On the other hand, I don't have much problem accepting much of evolution, and I think it is way beyond hubris to insist that the world was created in literally seven days. Who knows what a day is to God?

And while this group of scientists is gunning for Christians and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and so on, a new religious movement is gaining serious momentum. Touch any environmentalist, and observe the emerging new religion. The planet is in mortal danger, and redemption is available only by renouncing your gasoline powered vehicle, abandoning hair spray, shuttering power plants, composting your garbage, etc. Listen closely and learn the new catechism. Talk to young children, and you'll see that the new religion is being taught very effectively in our schools, both public and private. Got some third graders? I'll bet you are recycling or they will witness to you that you are clearly guilty of leaving the planet uninhabitable for the next generation.

So, to the scientific three: loosen up a little. Religion is here to stay; if not the versions from the last few thousand years, then some new formulas...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Investment Ideas

Recently heard from my old friend Jim Garvin with some investment ideas. Jim told me to buy Southwest Airlines in about 1982. I of course totally ignored that, with a cost of a few houndred thou.

Jim says the smart money is still looking at Canadian oil sands and watching commodity plays, despite the volatility of those in the last 18 months.

If Jim says that - I'd look.

From a technical stock analysis viewpoint, the recent up move by GE looks powerful - breaking through multiyear resistance.

As always, do your own diligence.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

video recording phones

About two years ago I had dinner with noted furniture industry analyst Joel Havard. He theorized that the widespread adoption of mobile phones with video camera features would lead to completely unforeseen outcomes.

The Michael Richards escapade, and the Sea-Tac airport Great Christmas Tree fiasco prove him prescient.

An immigration question

I count myself among the conservatives who are concerned about the horde of immigrants illegally entering the U.S.

But something has been puzzling me.

Countries as varied as South Korea and Ireland have moved from third, or near-third world status to growth and prosperity in little more than a generation.

Ireland did it with a bold tax plan, cutting corporate taxes to 10%, and offering additional incentives that made rates really closer to zero, thereby setting off a wave of investments from big Pharma and virtually every tech company, including Lionbridge, Dell and Microsoft.

South Korea took a very different tack, raising huge protectionist barriers that are only gradually being reduced, and assisting the growth of the chaebols; resulting in ten or so world scale monsters like Samsung, Lucky Goldstar (LG) and Hyundai.

India, which had long shunned business and open markets as the activities of a lower class, is now embracing growth and experiencing an economic boom.

China, with its mind blowing free market communism (Lenin must be spinning in his grave faster than Sputnik) has grown 8-10% annually for a string of years now.

So, the puzzle is, what is wrong with Mexico? Why would a noticeable percentage of the population be willing to cross deserts and climb fences to escape? Since there are several success models to choose from, why haven't they found one? I had hopes that successful businessman Vicente Fox would make a difference, but he didn't.

Is the symbiotic relationship of the kleptocracy and the unions so powerful that the country is doomed to perpetual poverty?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Life and death - but mostly life - I

In 2003 (most recent data) 19,408 people lived too long.

In what seems to me to be the most under-reported story I can think of, the death rate is declining noticeably. In 2003, 2,448,288 people in the U.S. died. In 2002 2,443,387 died. So, 4,901 more folks left this life. "What about it", you might ask. Well there were 2,865,000 more Americans, and 19,409 should have died, using the 2002 death rate. Our average age is moving up at nothing short of an astonishing rate. (Although one could argue that it can't move up more than one year per year.....).

Why is this happening? Lots of reasons. Statin drugs are extending the lives of heart attack victims, or preventing heart attacks all together. The percentage of people driving drunk and killing themselves (sad) or killing others (tragic) is down. Seat belts, air bags, crumple zones better brakes and tires. Higher survival rates for premature babies (big statistical impact of living to a normal age length vs. dying less than a year old). No significant influenza epidemics (this of course could happen at any time and reverse this trend). A dramatic reduction in smoking. No major war casualties (e.g. WWI and WWII). Widespread availability of heat and air conditioning. Hip replacement surgery. Social Security enabling healthier diets for retirees. Vitamins. Air conditioning. Open heart surgery.

Twenty five years ago, I was at a futurist conference where the keynote speaker said that there were widespread developments that would cause more people to live into their seventies and eighties, but not much happening to lengthen life. That is now changing: the study of life extension is beginning to attract real scientists.

One postulated recently that if you are under 40 today, and you make it to 85 (so alive in the years after 2061) you'll live to be 125 or more. If you are reading this and you are under 40, the odds of hitting 85 are pretty good if you don't smoke and avoid being struck by a drunk driver.

The societal effects of this are, of course, nothing short of monumental. We and our elected officials have shown no capacity for putting Social Security on any kind of sound financial footing. An amazing number of our citizens are currently in their fifties with no savings - how can they survive for thirty or forty years of retirement? And what happens to Social Security when life expectancies jump twenty and thirty years? Start saving now bro; there ain't going to be anything left after the baby boomers start hitting 110....

How are jobs and job opportunities going to work with healthy 90 year-olds holding down positions? What is the effect on roads and transit - after all, if I'm 106 and healthy that still doesn't mean that I've got good reaction time and eyesight.

What are the demands on the health care profession? Are we creating enough docs and nurses and hospital beds?

After a surge in profitability (at least the way I figure it at the moment) life insurers begin to have difficulty selling products - after all, if you are likely to live to 115, why buy a policy younger than, say, 50?

The effect on government budgets at every level, are devastating. Most governmental jobs have comfortable pensions that start at 25-35 years of service. Those are already straining many budgets. What if all those retired teachers and fireman live another fifteen years beyond the actuarial forecast? Big funding problem there Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer.

I'll have more to say on this topic.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I have to give kudos to the blogger "Technologist", here at

Long before anyone in the mainstream media figured out that Polonium 210 was present in a myriad of readily available devices (some smoke detectors for example, he posted it.

Nice work.

A sad day

I'm going to detour from my usual political/business/economy posts for a personal note: our longtime companion Schnauzer Sascha passed away last week.

She had been our little buddy for 14 years. It was a sad day.

Rest in Peace little friend.

OK - More Candidates

OK - since my post last week - two new announced Presidential Candidates - Govenor George Pataki of NY and Govenor TomVilazon of Iowa - Pataki as a Republican, Vilazon as a Democrat. I guess after Carter, we should conclude that anything is possible, but I put these two in the definite long shot category.

Unfortunately for him (and us), Vilazon's announcement speech was anything but inspiring. One point in his speech was how difficult it is for people to achieve the universal American dream of home ownership. Fact check gov: home ownership in the U.S. is an an all time high. And with home prices falling, mortgage rates reasonable, and a stupifying variety of low intro rate/interest only/LIBOR base rate/adjustable rate loans, just about anyone who has a job can own a home.

And George P.: at one point we thought you were a conservative. Now: who knows?

So, now I'm up to 7 & 9 candidates and counting....