Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stein Says Science Kills

Ben Stein, one-note supporting actor, former game show host, and wanna-be economist, plays a leading roll in the new creationist propaganda film Expelled. The movie is filled with misinformation, much of it cataloged at the website But Stein has been making the round with the most sundry elements of the far religious right in recent weeks and made some especially pernicious comments about science.

A few weeks ago, the producers of Expelled provided a private showing for Answer in Genesis, a young earth creationist think tank specializing in indoctrinating youth into believing that the Universe is only 6,000 years old and that Noah took all the animals, including dinosaurs, on the Ark during a worldwide flood only 4,000 years ago. Here's a picture of Stein meeting with Ken Ham, creationist kook that heads up AiG:

Ham had a glowing review of Expelled and had exuberant praise for Stein. Ham said Stein was a "a 21st-century Einsteinian figure" and went on to say:

Ken pledged AiG’s strong promotional support to Mr. Stein, indicating that AiG will use its multiple outlets to spread the word about his excellent film. After previewing the documentary last month, Ken declared that the film was “riveting, eye-opening, even astonishing. Ben does a masterful job of exposing the ruthlessness of evolutionists who will go after anyone who challenges or merely questions Darwinian orthodoxy. I was on the edge of my seat—entertained yet instructed.”
Stein was recently on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the cable televangelist station dedicated to separating people from their money. Stein had a conversation with Paul Crouch Jr, heir to the TBN empire. Here's the transcript excerpt of the interview :
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed  that was horrifying beyond words, and thats where science - in my opinion, this is just an opinion - thats where science leads you.

Crouch: Thats right.

Stein: Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.
[emphasis added]

Einsteinian indeed. If there was any doubt the intelligent design creationism is not a revolution within science but an effort to destroy science, it should be explicitly clear where Stein and his ilk stand. They claim science leads one to kill people.

The man's a crank, molded from some caricature of a Dark Ages bishop hellbent on burning heretic scientists at the stake.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Third rail

I'm swamped. I'm trying to finish my thesis in a timely manner, and make preparations to move overseas two weeks after my defense. No time for blogging. It'll be that way for a while; 2 months or so.

But I still find minutes here and there to read, and I thought this post One Drop was right on (via kos):

Don't let all of the blathering about which candidates are "elitist" or "out of touch" distract you from the real significance of "Bittergate." The issue isn't really that Obama talked about people who "cling" to guns or religion. The issue is that he got too close to the real Third Rail of politics

Social Security is not the Third Rail, no matter what the media tells you. No, the Third Rail is economic class. Try talking about income disparity in America, what do you get? "You're engaging in class warfare!" The same cries of protest are sounded whenever one suggests that the Bush tax cuts were mostly aimed at the wealthy, or that doing away with the estate tax was only beneficial to something like the top 1% of Americans. No, we musn't talk about the working class or the middle class getting a raw deal economically. In other words, we musn't criticize the real elites in this country, namely the wealthy and the politically connected.

There is a powder-keg of class angst in America. Obama had it exactly right, people are bitter, they are frustrated, they are skeptical of more slogans, more promises. That anger is real. It is legitimate. And it is incredibly dangerous to the existing power structures in this country.

The ruling class has spent the last several decades perfecting the art of distraction and misdirection. Take the anger that people feel, and convince them that what they're really upset about, what they really want to fight, is something other than the ruling class itself...

Good stuff. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


You bet I'm fucking bitter, given the last seven years.


Friday, April 11, 2008

On Central Banks

I came across something interesting earlier this week. Steve Waldman at Interfluidity had some very interesting thoughts about central banks, those pseudo-public entities who are supposed to insure the financial systems run efficiently but instead tend to manipulate market to benefit the super-wealthy. Anyway, here are some excerpts:

For now, central banks are all we have to prevent a catastrophic unwinding of our unstable financial system. But they had everything to do with getting us here. It's not just the Fed, with its famous "serial bubble-blowing", its cheering on of any novelty as beneficial innovation, its absolute refusal to peer into the magical sausage factory that Wall Street had become. The problem with central banks is much bigger than that...

In the USA, Japan, China, Europe, central banks have indeed been "active practitioners of the art of stabilizing macro confidence". For most of those years, it seemed like they were succeeding. They were never succeeding. Call it what you want, call it "Bretton Woods II", call it "financial imbalance" or a "global savings glut" or "exorbitant privilege". Each central bank, while trying to stabilize its own bit of the world, found itself with little choice but to support and expand unsustainable financial flows on a scale so massive they have reshaped the composition of every major economy on the planet...

[W]hat the US economy produces is no longer well matched to what Americans consume, and we are structurally unprepared to generate tradables, goods or services, in quantity adequate to cover the difference. The Fed's magic wand will be of no use if manufacturers in Asia and oil producers in the Gulf stop giving us stuff for free, using central-bank financial alchemy to hide their generosity.

Things may turn out okay. We've already begun to "adjust", and knock on wood, we'll manage a worldwide reequilibriation before things get too ugly. But it'll be a close call. That financial alchemy by central banks is the ultimate source of skyrocketing inflation in China and the Gulf states, and an ominous sign that Stein's Law is beginning to bite. We may yet escape, but we have been drawn very close to something very dangerous, to a genuine crisis of scarcity in the United States and a catastrophic failure of Say's Law in China, to mass unemployment, social instability, and fingers and missiles pointed in both directions across the Pacific. This is serious stuff. And central banks are largely to blame.

He suggests that if markets had been allowed to correct in response to the imbalances when they were created, then problems would not have grown to be as large as they have. I think they is something to this, for sure. It only because central banks have facilitated these imbalances because it benefited the super-wealthy. Off-shoring manufacturing to 3rd world countries is the prime example of that.

I'd like to think that the edifice is falling and this will create an opportunity to design the economy so that it benefits ingenuity and is fair to all actors. But I realize that's naive. This shot will never change...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Home Builder Bailout

The US senate passed a bill today that would give special tax rebates to distressed home builders. Via Calculated Risk is this Reuters report:
At a cost of $15 billion over 10 years, the Senate bill would give a $6 billion tax break to home builders by temporarily extending a rule that lets businesses count current losses against taxes from prior profitable years.

Home builders such as Pulte Homes and KB Home would benefit from this proposed two-year extension of the net operating loss carry-back rule, according to analysts.
The US is supposedly a capitalist society. But it hard to see how that could be if taxpayers are expected to shoulder the burden of the mistakes of corporations like these idiotic home builders. "Privatize the profits and socialize the losses" is not capitalism.

Let's count the bailouts so far:
  1. $30,000,000,000 to JP Morgan's acquisition of Bear Stearns
  2. $200,000,000,000 or so from TAF to take worthless paper off the hands of banks
  3. $15,000,000,000 to "distressed" home builders in the form of a tax break
Let me know if I've forgotten any in comments.

I thought of one more bailout; the $165,000,000,000 fiscal "stimulus" package being sent out to US Taxpayers. Not exactly targeted per se, but it's hard to argue it's not a type of bailout.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I found this via the Big Picture. I don't know anything about what behind or how long they've been around. But let me just say that I'm impressed.
I was playing around with their foreclosure tool. They have an interactive map in which you can look at specific foreclosures (or homes for sale, or homes for rent). But they have a really cool feature that appeals to the uber-geek in me. They have a heat map which will tell you how many foreclosures there are per capita.

I was looking at Seattle and the surrounding area. Let's just say things are interesting. Here's a map for King Co that I stole from
Click on image for larger version
Red is bad, lots of foreclosures per capita. Green is average. And blue is good, fewer foreclosures per capita.

You can see lots of red in KingCo. Not surprisingly, the most distressed areas are in South King Co. And the it looks like the areas in Seattle north of Eliot Bay and in north Seattle are holding up better than areas in south Seattle. This isn't too surprising, given the high density of pink ponies in Ballard and surrounding areas.

I'm especially surprised that foreclosures are relatively high in eastern King Co. I didn't think those areas were particularly distressed. The other surprising thing is the highest rates of foreclosure are in the industrial district. I think this is probably explained by the relatively low population density and high business foreclosure rate.

Here's Pierce Co:
Even more red than King Co. This is to be expected given the high rates of shady lending in this area the last few years. I'm surprised the areas around Ft Lewis are holding up, though.

Here's Snohomish Co:
Not as much red as Pierce Co, but plenty of orange. Areas near Everett not holding up very well.

So how do these images compare to other cities? I decided to look at nearby Portland, which from what I understand has been seeing significant housing price depreciation lately. I figured that I would be pretty similar to Seattle. Boy was I in for a surprise:

Blue, blue blue all around. I thought Seattle was special? Could it be that Portland is even more special-er?

Anyway, is my new goto site for housing info. It's amazing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Absence and Housing Update

Sorry for the hiatus. I'm trying to finish my PhD, and it looks like it's going to happen in about two months. So I'm busy, really busy. I just had a paper accepted at a major publication last week, and I'm writing up another one at exactly the same time. And I'm writing my thesis. And I'm still doing some lab work. And I'm editing the proof for an invited review I co-wrote with a colleague.

And I've been dealing with some major health issues with my mother. I don't have the time to go into detail here. But it's bad. I'll probably update with a post sometime later this week.

Anyway, the latest stats from NWMLS are out. Housing is basically the same as last month: down YOY by a little bit, down by more than a little bit if you look from the peak.

Seattle Bubble has the detailed round up. But I thought I'd post some of the data I've been collecting.

The local media has a tendency to focus on YOY changes when it comes to home prices. But I've argued several times that this isn't necessarily justified. This month isn't any different. The Tim gives a reporting roundup at his place that illustrates this obsession with YOY.

You can understand why. The numbers don't look too bad when you look YOY. But when you look from the peak, which was mostly last summer and early fall, things don't look as peachy:
Note that I had to change the axis from last month to -18% because of the continued decline in Pierce CO condos.

SFHs across all counties didn't change month from last month. Condos improved in King and Sno Co. And as I mention, they got worse in Pierce Co, with median price dropping -2.75% in one month to $193,475, which is way down from $231,750 set in Feb 07.