Thursday, July 7, 2011


My interests started to veer away from the original current politics and economics angle of this blog.  The title was becoming less and less appropriate for what I wanted to talk about.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greek Crisis Update

I go on vacation for a couple weeks and things change quickly in Greece.

Greek bond rates shoot past 10% almost to 11%.  CMA datavision now shows a probability of default of 68% (highest in the world), up from 34% a month and a half ago.

Interesting note - California and Illinois probabilities of default have shot up considerably recently as well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Greek Crisis Over? No

For links and explanations on the current economic scene, go here.

A few weeks back, Greek bond rates soared and the EU rushed in with a bailout.  Crisis averted, story over, right? Not exactly.

Before rates started to skyrocket they were on a steady upward march.  After the panic, however, government bond rates returned to that upward trend.  This crisis can not be considered over until Greek government bond rates stop going up.  They are now north of 8% and are on trend to cross 10% by the end of the year. 

Furthermore, I captured CMA Datavision's estimate of the cumulative probability of default back on May 12th.  At the time it was 33.92%.  That number has now risen to 45.31% a month later.

I see no sign yet that Greece is going to recover without a default or leaving the Euro and printing money.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Propaganda Revisited

In this column, I want to establish that the mature Christian mind is best protected against propaganda.

Last year, as I watched in disgust as so many Americans were mesmerized by Obama's frighteningly dark drivel, I read Jacques Ellul's 'Propaganda'.  Much rang true, but I didn't have much background to question his evidence.

As I've mulled over how people choose to believe what they believe, I was reminded of some passages in his book.  He describes modern man as such:

Above all he is a victim of emptiness-he is a man devoid of meaning.  He is very busy, but he is emotionally empty, open to all entreaties and in search of only one thing - something to fill his inner void.

The main point to my four part series on rationality was that people choose to believe the most emotionally satisfying answers.  Furthermore, I believe that our ability to ascertain the true nature of reality is when we have little emotional stake in the answer.  If we emotionally need an answer to be true we will rationalize and even lie to ourselves to satisfy those emotional needs.  In general, if we are emotionally needy people, our ability to adhere to reality is diminished.

What I propose, and it will be left unproved until later posts, is that Christianity provides the ultimate path to emotional satisfaction because it prescribes optimal human behavior.  This optimal human behavior is what I call morality.  Reality, as described by Christianity, I will call the Truth.

If one rejects the Truth, one must be accepting a disreality, a non-truth, or more simply, a set of lies.  By pursuing a path that is suboptimal, one will inevitably suffer.  The pain we suffer because we have chosen to believe a disreality while living in reality wounds us emotionally.  The inevitability of pursuing a disreality is emotional emptiness.  This emptiness, as Ellul points out, leads one to believe more lies and more propaganda.

Empty people will fall prey to propaganda.  Inevitably they will be ruled by the propagandizers.  The emptier they are, the more brutal the rule over them will be.  They will be imprisoned by the lies they have told themselves to assuage their emptiness.  It truly is a hell of their own making. 

Only the emotionally satisfied mind can see reality as it is.  And, as I propose, only the Christian mind can be fully emotionally satisfied.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part IV

Rationality was born as a tool to satiate our wants and desires.  Ideas, as units of rationality, are tools within the whole.  Ideas are like any object.  We grab ahold of those ideas that satisfy our wants and needs, and discard those that do not.  When we choose to believe something, it is because it satisfies an emotional need.

I explicitly reject the notion that we can limit our beliefs to rationality.  Rationality is why we choose to believe some things, but it is not how we have come to believe most things.  We only stick to rationality when the subject major has no emotional incumbrances.  In some areas of human though, rationality can reign, such as physics, but in economics, psychology, and sociology, emotions prevent us from more objective analysis.

The final implication is religious.  I recently had an interaction with a very smart atheist friend of mine who told me that he thought that a belief in the after life was ridiculous.  I got him to concede that the evidence provides no light on its existence.  He asked why then I did believe, to which I replied, "Given the lack of evidence, it's the most emotionally satisfying answer."  He was unsatisfied with this reponse, still wedded to rationalism.  We left the discussion at that point.

I returned a few days later to continue the discussion after concluding the ideas in this series I blogged.  He followed my reasoning that all beliefs are emotionally born, and that rationalism is merely a particular method of choosing beliefs.  He conceded my point and admitted that my choice was justifiable.  The discussion was obviously much longer, but this was the final outcome.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part III

Where does rational thought come from?  Somewhere between ape and man, child and adult, our thinking went from wholly irrational to mostly rationality.  We don't see any other animals exhibit the same ability to grasp the world around them like humans.  Perhaps glimpses, but nothing quite to our scale.

Rational thought had to have been developed.  If anything like language, this was not a biological event, but a cultural one.  Having had two children, I am a first hand witness to the slow growth out of instinctual infancy to the budding rationality of childhood.  Rationality has to be learned.

Rationality is a tool to understand the outside world, which ultimately leads to our desire to satisfy our wants.  Our emotions create these desires, and it is our rationality that allows us to satiate those desires.  That is to say, our emotions tell us that we want the apple, but our rationality tells us how to get it.  At the core, our emotions are driving everything we do.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part II

Having concluded that language is the expression and communication of emotion, the total sphere of communication needs to be added to complete this discussion. Verbal (oral and written) communication is only one of the ways that we communicate our emotions. The two other major forms are through music and aesthetics.

Certain music conjures up very similar emotional experiences in us. An ominous song comes across as such to most listeners. Whether there is some objective trait or subjectively created cultural understanding in music that makes it sound dark and ominous we seem to understand the intent for the most part. We match happy lyrics with happy tunes, and angry lyrics to angry tunes. Music is an additional layer of emotional communication. In Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, the feelings of longing are significantly heightened by the melody of the music. We like those sounds that resonate with our own feelings and emotions. We like love songs, we like soaring anthems, but we can’t stand a tune that doesn’t match our emotional experiences (She thinks my tractor’s sexy, ugh).

The same goes for aesthetics. An American flag conjures up much more emotion in the patriotic individual than another piece of colored cloth. The image means something more. It is a communication of ideas, and it conjures a whole litany of emotions and memories. A swastika can cause repulsion. A rose can fill us with romance. We have learned that certain images mean more than the photons hitting our retina.

Neither language, music, or aesthetics is rational. It’s all emotional.

A Series on Rational Thought - Part I

In this series I want to display how rational thought is a mirage. How we actually make decisions in mostly rational ways, but not truly. What we believe is decided by those ideas that most fit our emotional needs.

First, let me explore language itself. A baby’s first words usually correlate to its most pressing needs. “Mama”, “Dada” or “my”. It learns to communicate its emotion by use of these first simple words. If it experiences desire for an object, the child says, “my.” If it experiences desire for physical comfort, the child says, “mama.” A child first learns to express themselves, and slowly learns words to describe the emotions they are experiencing.

Later on, the child begins to cross another threshold of language. Children have to learn that other people have emotions and respect those emotions. A child wants a toy and asks, “Can I play with your toy?” In this, the child expresses their own emotion, but they are also communicating to the other child that they realize that the other child may have an emotional attachment to that object (toy) as well. Realizing that the asking child recognizes that the owning child does in deed “own” the object and that the object will be returned allows the owning child to share with more comfort and addresses its emotional connection to the toy.

Of course, children will also learn less admirable uses of language. They will learn how to say things to manipulate and to emotionally injure those around them to achieve their own ends. They recognize the emotional needs of others and exploit that knowledge.

In total, all language is the expression and communication of emotion.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why I Don't Believe in the Recovery

I was quite surprised last month by the announcement that 290K jobs had been added over the last month.  The number is a little sketchy given that 66K were temporary census hires, but 224K is still a very solid number.  The problem I have with this number is two fold.

1) The ADP employment number usually tracks well with the BLS report.  Scott Grannis has a nice chart:

Strangely, though, the gap last month between the BLS and the ADP grew wider than anything visible in this chart (last month is not shown).  ADP showed 32K jobs, and the BLS showed 290K.  That's a 260K gap.
2) The weekly initial jobless claims numbers just aren't revealing much growth.  During the last few years before this recession, weekly initial jobless claims ran in the 300-340K range.  Now, we are hovering in the 460K range.  We need a 140K average drop to be at a "normal" rate of layoffs.  Chart from Bloomberg below.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama's Poll Numbers Tanking Again

When the poll analysts for the Democrats claimed that passing the Health Care expansion would help them in November I thought they were crazy. Well, I was wrong, and they were mostly wrong. Right after the Health bill passed, support amongst Democrats increased. Support amongst Republicans went nowhere. However, that boost that Obama received for a few weeks seems to have evaporated in recent days. The Rasmussen Presidential Index shows a rapidly widening gap between strongly disapprove and strongly approve. My guess for the drop off in strong support is due in part to both the BP oil fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico and the turbelent economic conditions of the last couple weeks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Funny Math with Unemployment

Weekly initial jobless claims came out this morning.  According to the title of Foxnews article: on May 13th:

Weekly Jobless Claims Drop 4,000 to 444,000

Interestingly enough, I found another Foxnews article issued on May 6th detailing last week's initial jobless claims with this title:

New Weekly Jobless Claims drop 7,000 to 444,000

This is not a misprint.  Foxnews has the numbers right as reported by the government.
Given this math, I want to make a bold prediction.  Jobless claims will continue to drop throughout the year, and could reach as low as 444,000 by Christmas.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

California is a Worse Credit Risk than Iraq

According to CMA Datavision today:

California's Cumulative Probability of Default now surpasses Iraq's.  You know, that country with questionable elections and frequent mass fatality bombings.