Monday, February 26, 2007

Titanic sucked, and so do you

So James Cameron claims to have found the remains of Jesus. This would logically disprove the biblical story of him(Him) rising from his tomb three days after the crucifixion, and then later ascending directly into heaven. If you've read me rail against the fallacies of religion before, you'd probably expect me to rejoice in this bit of news. But alas, you'd be wrong.

First of all, it's old news, and probably not true. But even if it was true - so what? Is anyone so naive to think that mere physical proof is enough to deter the masses from spiritual delusion? As if we haven't already proven that the Earth is older than 6000 years, that virgin births are impossible, that you can't translate "reformed Egyptian" characters on golden plates by using magic spectacles, and that an alien named Xenu didn't slaughter billions of aliens on Earth, 75 million years ago, by detonating hydrogen bombs in volcanoes.

Religious belief is self-delusion by choice. Sometimes the choice is conscious, and sometimes sub-conscious, but this much if certain: logic alone has no power over delusion if you refuse to open your eyes to it. Any time or money spent trying to "prove" or "disprove" beliefs that are rooted in faith, not logic, is time and money wasted.

Nice try, Jimmy, but I'm not interested. I didn't watch Titanic, and I won't be watching your new "documentary" either.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Young, rich, and stupid

I burned a lot of blogging energy on my last post about global warming - I've found it difficult to follow up all that research and gravitas with something worthy. So instead, I'm going to sink into the trite marsh of easy targets and pre-packaged commentary. There certainly won't be any difficulty following up this post.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, a DB/PR with the Tennesse Titans, was recently involved in a three-person shooting at a Vegas nightclub. Yawn. NFL players with poor decision-making skills and piles of money find themselves in the wrong place all the time, so that's not news. But the events leading up to the shooting, are, well...revealing.

Pacman walked into the Vegas strip club that night with over $81,000 in cash in his pocket. He used the money to shower the strippers, in his own words, creating a visual effect. Unsurprisingly, this money was picked up by the strippers, the club owner, and some patrons. This led to a scuffle as Pacman's goons attempted to retrieve the cash, and before you know it, three people were shot.

The obvious commentary is, well, too obvious to type. It brings to mind the Bad Idea Jeans sketch from SNL. But what fascinates me is the psychology behind this juvenile action.

Imagine having earned $20 million dollars before you turn are nationally recognized, kids in your hometown are wearing your jersey, you have the means and the access to go anywhere and do almost anything...and what do you choose? You decide to throw $81k in small bills around to impress strippers. Yes, the world is your oyster, and you celebrate by showing off for women who routinely pull $5 bills out of men's pants with their teeth. I cannot even comprehend the smallness of the mind that would take satisfaction from such a gesture, and then to top it off, start a fight to get the money back!

Is it any wonder that JP Getty claimed that if all the money in the world was divided equally, in ten years it would be back in the same hands? The chances of Pacman Jones dying a rich man are perfectly inverse to his odds of surviving his 40th birthday.

My first $20 million will be used to separate myself from the teeming, ignorant masses as much as possible (my cherished readership excluded, of course), not showing off for them.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Falling sky

Global warming's in the news a lot lately, thanks to a recent report by a panel of scientists that claims, with 99% certainty, that man is causing temperatures to rise around the globe. I won't repeat all the dire predictions, because I'm sure you've heard about them already, but suffice to say they paint a pretty gloomy picture.

I don't have the energy to debunk the entire global warming myth for you, so let's just focus on this report instead.

** Edit **

If you read my post earlier in the day, I apologize for the errors I made - basically I had mixed up this IPCC report with an earlier IPCC report on global warming. Some of the criticisms and rebuttals I linked to were actually crticisms of an earlier report. The main reason for this was that I had not realized the current IPCC release is only the "Summary for Policymakers" section - the actual details of the study won't be released until May.

At first reading of the IPCC release, I was impressed by the scientific sheen of the presentation. The numerous graphs and over-my-head discussion of carbon-climate feedback had me wondering if perhaps I was being too cavalier by dismissing the grim specter of global warming.

A few minutes on Google did wonders to cheer me up.

  • The four-degree temperature increase that was widely reported as a foregone conclusion relies upon a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere over the next century. Since the current rate is 379ppm (compared to a pre-industrial concentration of 280ppm, although ice core samples show that it has previously been as high as 300ppm), and it is growing over the last 10 years at 1.9ppm, the assumption is that it will grow twice as fast over the next 100 years. This figure can only be true if one presumes robust global economic growth without any corresponding increase in technology and energy efficiency.
  • The disastrous sea-level predictions, which have actually moderated since previous IPCC publications, rely on a nearly-complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet. No mention in the "Summary for Policymakers" of Johannessen's 2005 research that found the Greenland ice sheet has instead expanded since 1993. This research fits perfectly with an independent study from Petr Chylek at Los Alamos, who found that Greenland's surface temperature has in fact decreased a stunning 2.2 degrees since 1987.
  • The dire forecasts of polar ice melt and increased arctic temperatures gloss over the fact that arctic ice temperatures warmed twice as fast from 1917-1937 as they are currently, and peaked at a higher temperature in 1938 than today. 1940 saw the beginning of an arctic cooling period, most likely brought on by a shift in ocean currents that occurs naturally on a 30-40 year cycle, known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Coincidentally, perhaps, the latest shift in the PDO occurred in 1970, and this correlates roughly with the rapid increase in arctic temperatures.
  • The ice-cap melting, as well as the "Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover" chart, both focus squarely on (obviously) the Northern Hemisphere, ignoring temperature readings that show a stastically insignificant decrease in Southern Hemisphere temperatures over the last 25 years. They also ignore data that demonstrate Antarctic cooling since the 1960s, and increased Antarctic sea ice cover. Note that you won't find a "Southern Hemisphere Snow Cover" chart in the publication, despite the clear and repeated emphasis on "global" climate change.
  • The familiar "hockey stick" temperature graphs over the last 150 years fail to acknowledge or explain a rapid increase in global temperature from 1910-1940, and a rapid decrease in global temperature from 1940 to the 1960s. You'll note that much of the alarmist global warming rhetoric talks about the rise in temperatures from 1970 to present - which deceptively discounts the unexplained prior decrease. Furthermore, the IPCC report mentions the "urban heat island effect", but does not adjust its numbers for it, calling the effects "negligible". And finally, the temperature graphs inexplicably end in the year 2000, perhaps because there has been no temperature increase since 1998.

Also note the language throughout the document. Phrases like "is consisent with" and "very likely" are ubiquitous. There's plenty of correlation, but no demonstrated causality. We do not currently have enough knowledge of climate to understand what causes the variability we observe. This does not mean that we should assume causality from correlation! To the ancient Greeks, the sun moving across the sky was consistent with Apollo dragging it in a giant chariot. They lacked knowledge, and they made their best guess using their limited understanding of the world, but they obviously missed the truth by a wide margin.

Look, I'm not a apologist for polluters. I don't believe it's smart to pump garbage into our atmosphere when we don't really understand what effects it might have. But I do think policy should be based on science and reason, not emotion. If we want to find a clean, renewable energy source - and I'm all for that - the worst thing we can do is create a bunch of restrictive regulations that are based on unscientific propaganda. The political and economic incentives are already in place (Middle East, Hugo Chavez, etc.), so the best thing we can do is get out of the way and let the market do its work. A vibrant and innovative global economy is our best chance to discover and implement the technology required to both meet our power needs and act as caretakers to our environment.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Finally caught a winner yesterday, when Gilead jumped 12% on fantastic earnings and guidance. I sold it immediately, and I'll look to get back in if the price comes down again to the 65-66 range. Yes, that stock tip came from Cramer, not Henry Blodget.

But I wanted to devote today's blog to recognizing the genius of Nike's marketing department. With all the money Nike spends on marketing, these guys should be good...but then again, there are numerous examples of large amounts of money producing nothing but crap.

There are not many commercials that I look forward to seeing, and by "not many" I mean perhaps a half dozen during the course of my adult life. The last one I can remember was from Nike, called Swing Portrait, where Tiger Woods is shown swinging a golf club in slow-motion to classical music. As you watch the commercial, note the colors, the lighting, the perfect coordination between the music and the swing. It is simple, clean, elegant, and most of all - artistic. As a lover of both golf and classical music, I am predictably impressed by the ad, but it doesn't take either quality to appreciate the beauty here.

And now Nike has done it again, and perhaps even topped themselves, with the new Second Coming commercial. The music you hear beneath the mundane rap lyrics is from the fifth movement of the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. This song was commissioned by Nike just for this
campaign, and the use of the underlying track is pure genius. If you read the youtube comments on this and similar clips, you'll find pages of comments like "Just Blaze killed this beat" and "sick beat", etc. You'll find precious little awareness of the source of music (My favorite exchange between posters: "Isn't this the music that was at the beginning of the Shining?" "Nah, I hear that Just Blaze stole this track from some guy's MySpace page.") So by using the latest zero-talent rap flavor-of-the-week and some huge NBA stars, Nike is reaching the teen audience, while at the same time, an older guy like me turns his head when he hears the famous classical melody.

Thumbs up to Nike. As much as I'm annoyed by watching commercials in general, I can appreciate a job well done, even in this field. Once in a while, they go beyond the simple objective of "raising brand awareness" to produce actual art. If more marketing departments had the same creativity and understanding of broad appeal, I might be less tempted to DVR my favorite shows so I can skip the ads.