Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Graboids

Posted at 01:18 PM | Permalink

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Home Sales Set a New Record Low in July

New Home Sales Set a New Record Low in July

August 25, 2010
by Asha Bangalore

Sales of new single-family homes fell 12.4% to an annual rate of 276,000 in July, a new record low in the history of series which begin in 1963.  The first-time home buyer credit program lifted sales in April, May, and June 2010.  Sales of new homes dropped in all four regions of the nation, with West recording the largest decline (-25.4%), followed by smaller drops in the Northeast (-13.9%), South (-8.7%), and Midwest (-8.3%). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The six-month moving average of home sales tempers the temporary impact of the first-time home buyer program (see chart 2) but the message of "weak home sales" remains intact.  Sales of new homes have fallen 80.1% from their peak in July 2005. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The median price of a new single-family home fell 6.0% to $204,000 in July compared with the prior month.  On a year-to-year basis, the median price of a new single-family home has declined 4.8% (see chart 3).  The median price of new single-family home is down 22.3% from the peak in March 2005 ($262,600).  

 
The supply of unsold new homes increased to the 9.1-month mark during July from 8.0 months in June and the median duration to sell a new home moved down to 11.3 months vs. 12.3 months in June.  The large inventory of unsold homes is not supportive of firm prices in the near term.  

Sales of new and existing homes have declined to an annual rate of 3.646 million in July from a peak of 7.629 million in July 2005.  In other words, the pace of home sales has dropped 52% from its peak.  Although homes are affordable and mortgage rates are at historical lows, the soft labor market and tight underwriting standards for mortgages held back home sales.  The latest Senior Loan Officer Survey results indicate less stringent standards for mortgage loans.  But, this per se is inadequate to move sales without firms increasing payrolls.  


Orders and Shipments of Durable Goods Show a Moderating Trend

Orders of durable goods rose 0.3% in July vs. a 0.1% drop in the prior month. The 76% jump in aircraft orders and 5.3% gain in bookings of motor vehicles lifted overall orders of durable goods.  Excluding transportation, orders of durable goods fell 3.8% in July vs. 0.2% increase in the prior month.  Orders of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft declined 8.0%, while shipments of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft moved down 1.5%.  The important aspect to note about this report is that orders and shipments of durable goods have grown during the past year but there is a noticeable moderation in the pace of gains in July compared with the readings of the first-half of the year (see chart 6).   

 


 

Posted at 05:41 PM | Permalink

TOP TEN WAYS TO BE A BETTER COMMENTER ON THIS BLOG

TOP TEN WAYS TO BE A BETTER COMMENTER ON THIS BLOG
(Hey, do whatever you like anywhere else)


  

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  10. Most of all, have fun. While we have commenters with a variety of views who often engage each other in vigorous debate, we also strive to be a genuine community. Sharing recipes, photos or other personal information is also welcome. Arguing might be fun at times, but a little fellowship in between makes for a better place.

Posted at 03:32 PM | Permalink

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kulula Airlines....Check out their new livery!

  Kulula is a low-cost South-African airline that doesn't take itself too seriously. 
 
 

   
 
 
 

      

 
 
   
 
 
 

      

 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 

        

 
 
 
 
    
 
 
 

      

Posted at 05:03 PM | Permalink

Kulula Airlines....Check out their new livery!

  Kulula is a low-cost South-African airline that doesn't take itself too seriously. 
 
 

   
 
 
 

      

 
 
   
 
 
 

      

 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 

        

 
 
 
 
    
 
 
 

      

Posted at 05:03 PM | Permalink

From the cockpit on KULULA.COM- South Africa 's Budget Airline

Kulula is a low-cost South-African airline that doesn't take itself too seriously.



WHAT A PITY KULULA DOESN'T FLY INTERNATIONALLY - WE SHOULD SUPPORT THEM IF ONLY FOR THEIR HUMOUR - SO TYPICALLY SOUTH AFRICAN.

Kulula is an Airline with head office situated in Johannesburg .  Kulula airline attendants make an effort to make the in-flight "safety lecture" and announcements a bit more entertaining. Here are some real examples that have been heard or reported:
------------------------------------------------------------------

On a Kulula flight, (there is no assigned seating, you just sit where you want) passengers were apparently having a hard time choosing, when a flight attendant announced, "People, people we're not picking out furniture here, find a seat and get in it!"

                 ---o0o---

On another flight with a very "senior" flight attendant crew, the pilot said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants."

                 ----o0o---

On landing, the stewardess said, "Please be sure to take all of your belongings.. If you're going to leave anything, please make sure it's something we'd like to have."


                 ----o0o---


"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane."


                 ---o0o---


"Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business 
as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride."

                 ---o0o---


As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Durban Airport , a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: "Whoa, big fella. WHOA!"


                 ---o0o---

After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in the Karoo , a flight attendant on a flight announced, "Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted."


                 ---o0o---

>From a Kulula employee: " Welcome aboard Kulula 271 to Port Elizabeth .  To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised."

                 ---o0o---

"In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with more than one small child, pick your favourite."

                 ---o0o---

Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we'll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Kulula Airlines."


                 ----o0o---


"Your seats cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments."


                 ---o0o---

"As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings.   Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.."


                 ---o0o---


And from the pilot during his welcome message: "Kulula Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!"

                 ---o0o---

Heard on Kulula 255 just after a very hard landing in Cape Town : The flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "That was quite a bump and I know what y'all are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilot's fault, it wasn't the flight attendant's fault, it was the asphalt."


                 ---o0o---


Overheard on a Kulula flight into Cape Town , on a particularly windy and bumpy day: During the final approach, the Captain really had to fight it. After an extremely hard landing, the Flight Attendant said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Mother City. Please remain in your seats    with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what's left of our airplane to the gate!"

                 ---o0o---


Another flight attendant's comment on a less than perfect landing: "We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal."


                 ---o0o---

An airline pilot wrote that on this particular flight he had hammered his ship into the runway really hard. The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a "Thanks for flying our airline. He said that, in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment.
Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane. She said, "Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?" "Why, no Ma'am," said the pilot. "What is it?" The little old lady said, "Did we land, or were we shot down?"


                 ---o0o---


After a real crusher of a landing in Johannesburg , the attendant came on with, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal.."


                 ---o0o---


Part of a flight attendant's arrival announcement: "We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today.. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of Kulula Airways."


                 ---o0o---

Heard on a Kulula flight. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing.. If you can light 'em, you can smoke 'em."


                 ---o0o---

A plane was taking off from Durban Airport . After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  Welcome to Flight Number 293, non-stop from Durban to Cape Town , The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight.. Now sit back and relax... OH, MY GOD!!!!" Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!" 

A passenger then yelled, "That's nothing. You should see the back of mine!"

Posted at 05:00 PM | Permalink

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When cars had personality

REMEMBER THESE? ....

   When Detroit Was In It's Full Glory and cars had personality, now they all look the same

 

 

1956 Ford Thunderbird

 

 

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

 

 

1960 Plymouth Fury

 

1959 Chevrolet Impala 2Dr hardtop

 

 

1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria

 

 

1958 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan

 

 

1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V Four Door Landau

 

 

1957 Buick Roadmaster 2 Door Hardtop

 

 

1957 Lincoln Premiere four-door Landau

 

 

1959 Buick 2 Door Convertible

 

 

 

1959 Edsel Citation
Ford lost $350 million ($1.55 billion in 2009 dollars) on the venture.

 

 

 

1958 De Soto

 

 

 

1959 Mercury Colony Park Country Cruiser

 

 

 

1958 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special

 

 

 

1958 Dodge Custom Sierra

 

 

 

1949 Oldsmobile 88

 

 

1959 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

 

 

 

1949 Kaiser Virginian

 

 

 

1960 Imperial Crown Convertible

 

 

1953 Studebaker Commander

 

 

1949 Pontiac Four Door

 

 

 

1960 Chevrolet Impala Four Door Hardtop

 

 

 

1959 Mercury Four Door Hardtop

 

 

 

1955 Oldsmobile Super 88 Two-Door Sedan

 

 

 

1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

 

 

 

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

 

 

 

1960 Chrysler Valiant

 

 

 

1960 De Soto Fireflite

 

 

 

 

1960 Chevrolet Corvair
My Grandfather had this, the same year only in a tan color…

 

 

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

 

 

1960 Mercury Colony Park Country Cruiser

 

 

1956 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville

 

 

1957 Dodge Royal Lancer

 

 

1960 Dodge Dart Pioneer

 

 

 

1957 Lincoln Premiere

1960 Dodge Polara Matador

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

 

1950 Studebaker Starlight

What a trip down memory lane…

Be sure to share with all your old friends!

Posted at 11:01 AM | Permalink

When cars had personality

 

REMEMBER THESE? ....

   When Detroit Was In It's Full Glory and cars had personality, now they all look the same__

1956 Ford Thunderbird

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

1960 Plymouth Fury

1959 Chevrolet Impala 2Dr hardtop

1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria

1958 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan

1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V Four Door Landau

1957 Buick Roadmaster 2 Door Hardtop

1957 Lincoln Premiere four-door Landau

1959 Buick 2 Door Convertible

1959 Edsel Citation
Ford lost $350 million ($1.55 billion in 2009 dollars) on the venture.

1958 De Soto

1959 Mercury Colony Park Country Cruiser

1958 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special

1958 Dodge Custom Sierra

1949 Oldsmobile 88

1959 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

1949 Kaiser Virginian

1960 Imperial Crown Convertible

1953 Studebaker Commander

1949 Pontiac Four Door

1960 Chevrolet Impala Four Door Hardtop

1959 Mercury Four Door Hardtop

1955 Oldsmobile Super 88 Two-Door Sedan

1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

1960 Chrysler Valiant

1960 De Soto Fireflite

1960 Chevrolet Corvair
My Grandfather had this, the same year only in a tan color…

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

1960 Mercury Colony Park Country Cruiser

1956 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville

1957 Dodge Royal Lancer

1960 Dodge Dart Pioneer

1957 Lincoln Premiere

1960 Dodge Polara Matador

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible

1950 Studebaker Starlight

What a trip down memory lane…

Be sure to share with all your old friends!

Posted at 10:26 AM | Permalink

Monday, August 23, 2010

50 Best Finance-Related Movie Quotes of All Time

 

 

1. Wall Street (1987)

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." -Gordon Gekko

 

 

2. Trading Places (1983)

 

"I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me." -Louis Winthorpe III

 

3. Rogue Trader (1999)

 

"I, Nicholas Leeson, have just lost 50 million quid, in one day!" -Nick Leeson

 

4. Risky Business (1983)

 

"My name is Joel Goodsen. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over eight thousand dollars in one night." -Joel Goodsen

 

5. Brewster's Millions (1985)

 

"I'm gonna teach you to hate spending money. I'm gonna make you so sick of spending money that the mere sight of it will make you wanna throw up!" -Rupert Horn

 

6. Scarface (1983)

 

"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women. " -Tony Montana

 

7. Rain Man (1988)

 

"That will be $1.5 million please. I'll take it in cash, check or a transfer. I'm not greedy. I just want my half. " -Charlie Babbitt

 

8. Boiler Room (2000)

 "Anybody who tells you money is the root of all evil doesnt f***ing have any." -Jim Young

 

9. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

 

"A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing." -Blake

 

10. American Psycho (2000)

 

"I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust." -Patrick Bateman

 

11. Pretty Woman (1990)

 

"You and I are such similar creatures, Vivian. We both screw people for money." -Edward Lewis

 

12. A Perfect Murder (1998)

 

"Rich people, they're different from you and me. Well, for one thing, they've got a lot more money..." -Bobby Fain

 

13. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

 

Martin Frohm: "What would you say if man walked in here with no shirt, and I hired him?"

Christopher Gardner: "He must have had on some really nice pants."

 

14. Indecent Proposal (1993)

 

"Suppose... I were to offer you one million dollars for one night with your wife. " -John Gage

 

15. Fight Club (1999)

 

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." -Tyler Durden

 

16. The Bank Job (2008)

 

Terry Leather [on radio]: " We can smell the money, over."

Eddie Burton [on radio]: "Look, money may be your god but it ain't mine, alright? I want a warm bath and a cup of tea, over."

 

17. Ruthless People (1986)

 

"If you can't afford it, F***ING FINANCE IT!" -Ken Kessler

 

18. The Color of Money (1986)

 

"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned." -Fast Eddie Felson

 

19. Office Space (1999)

 

Lawrence: "What would you do [if you had a million dollars]?"

Peter Gibbons: "I would relax... I would sit on my ass all day... I would do nothing."

Lawrence: "Well, you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin--he's broke, don't do s***."

 

20. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

 

"I'll tell you one thing, Fred, darling... I'd marry you for your money in a minute." -Holly Golightly

 

21. 21 (2008)

 

"You are only ever as good to me as the money you make!" -Micky

 

22. Ocean's Eleven (2001)

 

Danny: "Theres a 95 pound Chinese man with a 160 million dollars behind this door."

Linus: "Lets get him out."

 

23. Can't Buy Me Love (1987)

 

"Didn't you take economics? You could have had me for $49.95." -transfer student to Ronald Miller

 

24. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

 

Paula Abagnale: "Just tell me how much he owes and I'll pay you back."

Carl Hanratty: "So far, it's about 1.3 million dollars."

 

25. Mad Money (2008)

 

"They say money can't buy happiness but it sure as hell buys everything else." -Bob Truman

 

26. Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

 

"They didn't even need any money. They had magic cards." -Rebecca Bloomwood

 

27. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

 

"I'll wager you anything you like that if American women stopped wearing brassieres, your whole national economy would collapse overnight." -J. Algernon Hawthorne

 

28. Sex and the City (2008)

 

"I like my money where I can see it, hanging in my closet." -Carrie Bradshaw

 

29. Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

 

"I wouldn't sell my bike for all the money in the world. Not for a hundred million, trillion, billion dollars!" -Pee-wee Herman

 

30. American Gangster (2007)

 

Dominic: "How you feel about monopolies?"

Frank Lucas: "What, the game?"

 

31. Tootsie (1982)

 

"OK, I know this is going to disgust you, Michael, but a lot of people are in this business to make money." -George Fields

 

32. The Breakfast Club (1985)

 

"Did you work for the money to buy those earrings? Or did your Daddy buy those for you?" -John Bender

 

33. Three Amigos! (1986)

 

"No dough, no show." -Lucky Day

 

34. The Money Pit (1986)

 

"All you want to talk about is money, let's talk about love, and sex... forget love, let's just talk about sex." -Max Beissart (the Maestro)

 

35. Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

 

"Hooked up with a new company. Great benefits. They trade energy. It's called Enron!" -Garth

 

36. The Secret of my Succe$s (1987)

 

Brantley Foster: "How do I get to Litchfield?"

Barney Rattigan: "You'll find it. Just follow the smell of money."

 

37. Repo Man (1984)

 

"I DO want your money, because god wants your money. " -Reverend Larry

 

38. Barbarians at the Gate (1993)

 

"We've spent three-hundred-and-fifty million dollars, and we've come up with a turd with a tip?" -F. Ross Johnson

 

39. Other People's Money (1991)

 

"I love money more than the things it can buy... but what I love more than money is other people's money." -Lawrence Garfield

 

40. Coming to America (1988)

 

"And, baby, when I tell ya the boy has got his own money, I mean the boy has got his own MONEY!" -Cleo

 

41. Casino (1995)

 

"Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It's like a morality car wash." -Ace Rothstein

 

42. The Godfather (1972)

 

"I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. So you didn't need a friend like me. Now you come and say 'Don Corleone, give me justice.' But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me 'Godfather.' You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to do murder--for money." -Don Corleone

 

43. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

 

"The country club will have his old time cards. Records, W-2s with his name on them. Sir, if I ever get out, I'd never mention what happens here. I'd be just as indictable as you for laundering that money. " -Andy Dufresne

 

44. There Will Be Blood (2007)

 

"There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone." -Plainview

 

45. The Sting (1973)

 

Doyle Lonnegan: "I put it all on Lucky Dan; half a million dollars to win."

Kid Twist: "To win? I said place! 'Place hit on Lucky D' That horse is gonna run second!"

Doyle Lonnegan: "There's been a mistake! Gimme my money back!"

 

46. Changing Lanes (2002)

 

"Money. You you think I want money? What I want is my morning back. I need you to give my time back to me. Can you give me back my time? Can you give my time back to me? Huh? Can you?" -Doyle Gipson

 

47. The Karate Kid (1984)

 

Daniel: "Hey, what kind of belt do you have?"

Miyagi: "Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?"

 

48. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

 

"Napoleon, you know we can't afford the fun pack. What, do you think money grows on trees in this family? Take it back! And get some Pampers for you and your brother while you're at it."

 

49. The Family Man (2000)

 

"That's because I'm a heartless bastard who only cares about money." -Lassiter

 

50. Jerry Maguire (1996)

 

"Show me the MONEY!!!" -Jerry Maguire

Posted at 11:36 AM | Permalink

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

 

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

by Carl Sagan

My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I  still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are  -- really and truly -- still in existence somewhere. I wouldn't ask very  much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren,  to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There's  a part of me -- no matter how childish it sounds -- that wonders how they  are. "Is everything all right?" I want to ask. The last words  I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were "Take  care."

Sometimes I dream that I'm talking to my parents, and  suddenly -- still immersed in the dreamwork -- I'm seized by the overpowering  realization that they didn't really die, that it's all been some kind of  horrible mistake. Why, here they are, alive and well, my father making  wry jokes, my mother earnestly advising me to wear a muffler because the  weather is chilly. When I wake up I go through an abbreviated process of  mourning all over again. Plainly, there's something within me that's ready  to believe in life after death. And it's not the least bit interested in  whether there's any sober evidence for it.

So I don't guffaw at the woman who visits her husband's  grave and chats him up every now and then, maybe on the anniversary of  his death. It's not hard to understand. And if I have difficulties with  the ontological status of who she's talking to, that's all right. That's  not what this is about. This is about humans being human. More than a third  of American adults believe that on some level they've made contact with  the dead. The number seems to have jumped by 15 percent between and 1988.  A quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation.

But that doesn't mean I'd be willing to accept the pretensions  of a "medium," who claims to channel the spirits of the dear  departed, when I'm aware the practice is rife with fraud. I know how much  I want to believe that my parents have just abandoned the husks of their  bodies, like insects or snakes molting, and gone somewhere else. I understand  that those very feelings might make me easy prey even for an unclever con,  or for normal people unfamiliar with their unconscious minds, or for those  suffering from a dissociative psychiatric disorder. Reluctantly, I rouse  some reserves of skepticism.

How is it, I ask myself, that channelers never give us  verifiable information otherwise unavailable? Why does Alexander the Great  never tell us about the exact location of his tomb, Fermat about his Last  Theorem, John Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy,  Hermann Goring about the Reichstag fire? Why don't Sophocles, Democritus,  and Aristarchus dictate their lost books? Don't they wish future generations  to have access to their masterpieces?

If some good evidence for life after death were announced,  I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data,  not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better  the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling  it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.

The fundamental premise of "channeling," spiritualism,  and other forms of necromancy is that when we die we don't. Not exactly.  Some thinking, feeling, and remembering part of us continues. That whatever-it-is  -- a soul or spirit, neither matter nor energy, but something else -- can,  we are told, re-enter the bodies of human and other beings in the future, and so death loses much of its sting. What's more, we have an opportunity,  if the spiritualist or channeling contentions are true, to make contact  with loved ones who have died.

J.Z. Knight of the State of Washington claims to be in  touch with a 35,000-year-old somebody called "Ramtha." He speaks  English very well, using Knight's tongue, lips and vocal chords, producing  what sounds to me to be an accent from the Indian Raj. Since most people  know how to talk, and many -- from children to professional actors -- have  a repertoire of voices at their command, the simplest hypothesis is that  Ms. Knight makes "Ramtha" speak all by herself, and that she  has no contact with disembodied entities from the Pleistocene Ice Age.  If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it. It would be considerably  more impressive if Ramtha could speak by himself, without the assistance  of Ms. Knight's mouth. Failing that, how might we test the claim? (The  actress Shirley MacLaine attests that Ramtha was her brother in Atlantis,  but that's another story.)

Suppose Ramtha were available for questioning. Could we  verify whether he is who he says he is? How does he know that he lived  35,000 years ago, even approximately? What calendar does he employ? Who  is keeping track of the intervening millennia? Thirty-five thousand plus  or minus what? What were things like 35,000 years ago? Either Ramtha really  is 35,000 years old, in which case we discover something about that period,  or he's a phony and he'll (or rather she'll) slip up.

Where did Ramtha live? (I know he speaks English with  an Indian accent, but where 35,000 years ago did they do that?) What was  the climate? What did Ramtha eat? (Archaeologists know something about  what people ate back then.) What were the indigenous languages, and social  structure? Who else did Ramtha live with -- wife, wives, children, grandchildren?  What was the life cycle, the infant mortality rate, the life expectancy?  Did they have birth control? What clothes did they wear? How were the clothes  manufactured? What were the most dangerous predators? Hunting and fishing  implements and strategies? Weapons? Endemic sexism? Xenophobia and ethnocentrism?  And if Ramtha came from the "high civilization" of Atlantis,  where are the linguistic, technological, historical and other details?  What was their writing like? Tell us. Instead, all we are offered are banal  homilies.

Here, to take another example, is a set of information  channeled not from an ancient dead person, but from unknown non-human entities  who make crop circles, as recorded by the journalist Jim Schnabel:

We are so anxious at this sinful nation spreading lies  about us. We do not come in machines, we do not land on your earth in machines  ... We come like the wind. We are Life Force. Life Force from the ground ... Come here ... We are but a breath away ... a breath away ... we are  not a million miles away ... a Life Force that is larger than the energies  in your body. But we meet at a higher level of life ... We need no name.  We are parallel to your world, alongside your world ... The walls are broken.  Two men will rise from the past ... the great bear ... the world will be  at peace.

People pay attention to these puerile marvels mainly because  they promise something like old-time religion, but especially life after  death, even life eternal.

A very different prospect for something like eternal life  was once proposed by the versatile British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, who  was, among many other things, one of the founders of population genetics.  Haldane imagined a far future when the stars have darkened and space is  mainly filled with a cold, thin gas. Nevertheless, if we wait long enough statistical fluctuations in the density of this gas will occur. Over immense  periods of time the fluctuations will be sufficient to reconstitute a Universe  something like our own. If the Universe is infinitely old, there will be  an infinite number of such reconstitutions, Haldane pointed out.

So in an infinitely old universe with an infinite number  of appearances of galaxies, stars, planets, and life, an identical Earth  must reappear on which you and all your loved ones will be reunited. I'll  be able to see my parents again and introduce them to the grandchildren  they never knew. And all this will happen not once, but an infinite number  of times.

Somehow, though, this does not quite offer the consolations  of religion. If none of us is to have any recollection of what happened  this time around, the time the reader and I are sharing, the satisfactions  of bodily resurrection, in my ears at least, ring hollow.

But in this reflection I have underestimated what infinity  means. In Haldane's picture, there will he universes, indeed an infinite  number of them, in which our brains will have full recollection of many  previous rounds. Satisfaction is at hand -- tempered, though, by the thought  of all those other universes which will also come into existence (again,  not once but an infinite number of times) with tragedies and horrors vastly  outstripping anything I've experienced this turn.

The Consolation of Haldane depends, though, on what kind  of universe we live in, and maybe on such arcana as whether there's enough  matter to eventually reverse the expansion of the universe, and the character  of vacuum fluctuations. Those with a deep longing for life after death  might, it seems, devote themselves to cosmology, quantum gravity, elementary  particle physics, and transfinite arithmetic.

Clement of Alexandria, a Father of the early Church, in  his Exhortations to the Greeks (written around the year 190) dismissed  pagan beliefs in words that might today seem a little ironic:

Far indeed are we from allowing grown men to listen to  such tales. Even to our own children, when they are crying their heart  out, as the saying goes, we are not in the habit of telling fabulous stories  to soothe them.

In our time we have less severe standards. We tell children  about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy for reasons we  think emotionally sound, but then disabuse them of these myths before they're  grown. Why retract? Because their well-being as adults depends on them  knowing the world as it really is. We worry, and for good reason, about adults who still believe in Santa Claus.

On doctrinaire religions, "Men dare not avow, even  to their own hearts," wrote the philosopher David Hume,

the doubts which they entertain on such subjects. They  make a merit of implicit faith; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity,  by the strongest asseverations and the most positive bigotry.

This infidelity has profound moral consequences, as the  American revolutionary Tom Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:

Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving;  it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible  to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying  has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted  the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things  he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.

T. H. Huxley's formulation was

The foundation of morality is to ... give up pretending  to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible  propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.

Clement, Hume, Paine, and Huxley were all talking about  religion. But much of what they wrote has more general applications --  for example to the pervasive background importunings of our commercial  civilization: There is a class of aspirin commercials in which actors pretending  to be doctors reveal the competing product to have only so much of the painkilling ingredient that doctors recommend most -- they don't tell you  what the mysterious ingredient is. Whereas their product has a dramatically  larger amount (1.2 to 2 times more per tablet). So buy their product. But  why not just take two of the competing tablets? Or consider the analgesic  that works better than the "regular-strength" product of the competition. Why not then take the "extra-strength" competitive  product? And of course they do not tell us of the more than a thousand  deaths each year in the United States from the use of aspirin, or the roughly  5000 annual cases of kidney failure from the use of acetaminophen, chiefly  Tylenol. Or who cares which breakfast cereal has more vitamins when we  can take a vitamin pill with breakfast? Likewise, why should it matter  whether an antacid contains calcium if the calcium is for nutrition and  irrelevant for gastritis? Commercial culture is full of similar misdirections  and evasions at the expense of the consumer. You're not supposed to ask.  Don't think. Buy.

Paid product endorsements, especially by real or purported  experts, constitute a steady rainfall of deception. They betray contempt  for the intelligence of their customers. They introduce an insidious corruption  of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity. Today there are even  commercials in which real scientists, some of considerable distinction,  shill for corporations. They teach that scientists too will lie for money.  As Tom Paine warned, inuring us to lies lays the groundwork for many other  evils.

I have in front of me as I write the program of one of  the annual Whole Life Expos, New Age expositions held in San Francisco.  Typically, tens of thousands of people attend. Highly questionable experts  tout highly questionable products. Here are some of the presentations:  "How Trapped Blood Proteins Produce Pain and Suffering." "Crystals,  Are They Talismans or Stones?" (I have an opinion myself.) It continues:  "As a crystal focuses sound and light waves for radio and television"  -- this is a vapid misunderstanding of how radio and television work --  "so may it amplify spiritual vibrations for the attuned human."  Or here's one "Return of the Goddess, a Presentational Ritual."  Another: "Synchronicity, the Recognition Experience." That one  is given by "Brother Charles." Or, on the next page, "You, Saint-Germain, and Healing Through the Violet Flame.'' It goes on and on,  with plenty of ads about "opportunities" -- running the short  gamut from the dubious to the spurious -- that are available at the Whole  Life Expo.

Distraught cancer victims make pilgrimages to the Philippines,  where "psychic surgeons," having palmed bits of chicken liver  or goat heart, pretend to reach into the patient's innards and withdraw  the diseased tissue, which is then triumphantly displayed. Leaders of Western  democracies regularly consult astrologers and mystics before making decisions  of state. Under public pressure for results, police with an unsolved murder  or a missing body on their hands consult ESP "experts" (who never  guess better than expected by common sense, but the police, the ESPers  say, keep calling). A clairvoyance gap with adversary nations is announced,  and the Central Intelligence Agency, under Congressional prodding, spends  tax money to find out whether submarines in the ocean depths can be located  by thinking hard at them. A "psychic" -- using pendulums over  maps and dowsing rods in airplanes -- purports to find new mineral deposits;  an Australian mining company pays him top dollar up front, none of it returnable  in the event of failure, and a share in the exploitation of ores in the  event of success. Nothing is discovered. Statues of Jesus or murals of  Mary are spotted with moisture, and thousands of kind-hearted people convince  themselves that they have witnessed a miracle.

These are all cases of proved or presumptive baloney. A deception arises, sometimes innocently but collaboratively, sometimes with cynical premeditation. Usually the victim is caught up in a powerful emotion -- wonder, fear, greed, grief. Credulous acceptance of baloney can cost you money; that's what P. T. Barnum meant when he said, "There's a sucker born every minute." But it can be much more dangerous than that, and when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic -- however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the baloney.

In science we may start with experimental results, data, observations, measurements, "facts." We invent, if we can, a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with the facts. In the course of their training, scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit. The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you're so inclined, if you don't want to buy baloney even when it's reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there's a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

What's in the kit? Tools for skeptical thinking.

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and -- especially important -- to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.

Among the tools:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation  of the "facts."
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable  proponents of all points of view.
Arguments from authority carry little weight -- "authorities"  have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps  a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at  most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to  be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained.  Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of  the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in  this Darwinian selection among "multiple working hypotheses,"  has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply  run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*
* NOTE:  This is a problem that affects jury trials. Retrospective studies show  that some jurors make up their minds very early -- perhaps during opening  arguments -- and then retain the evidence that seems to support their initial  impressions and reject the contrary evidence. The method of alternative  working hypotheses is not running in their heads.

Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because  it's yours. It's only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself  why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if  you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some  measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much better  able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative  is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in  the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them  is more challenging.
If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain  must work (including the premise) -- not just most of them.
Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us  when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose  the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in  principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are  not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything  in it is just an elementary particle -- an electron, say -- in a much bigger  Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe,  is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions  out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning,  to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments  is key, as I tried to stress earlier. We will not learn much from mere  contemplation. It is tempting to rest content with the first candidate  explanation we can think of. One is much better than none. But what happens  if we can invent several? How do we decide among them? We don't. We let experiment do it. Francis Bacon provided the classic reason:

Argumentation cannot suffice for the discovery of new  work, since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety  of argument.

Control experiments are essential. If, for example, a  new medicine is alleged to cure a disease 20 percent of the time, we must  make sure that a control population, taking a dummy sugar pill which as  far as the subjects know might be the new drug, does not also experience  spontaneous remission of the disease 20 percent of the time.

Variables must be separated. Suppose you're seasick, and  given both an acupressure bracelet and 50 milligrams of meclizine. You  find the unpleasantness vanishes. What did it -- the bracelet or the pill?  You can tell only if you take the one without the other, next time you're  seasick. Now imagine that you're not so dedicated to science as to be willing  to be seasick. Then you won't separate the variables. You'll take both  remedies again. You've achieved the desired practical result; further knowledge,  you might say, is not worth the discomfort of attaining it.

Often the experiment must be done "double-blind,"  so that those hoping for a certain finding are not in the potentially compromising  position of evaluating the results. In testing a new medicine, for example,  you might want the physicians who determine which patients' symptoms are  relieved not to know which patients have been given the new drug. The knowledge  might influence their decision, even if only unconsciously. Instead the  list of those who experienced remission of symptoms can be compared with  the list of those who got the new drug, each independently ascertained. Then you can determine what correlation exists. Or in conducting a police  lineup or photo identification, the officer in charge should not know who  the prime suspect is, so as not consciously or unconsciously to influence  the witness.

 
In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating  a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Among these fallacies are:


ad hominem -- Latin  for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g.,  The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections  to evolution need not be taken seriously); 

argument from authority  (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret  plan to end the war in Southeast Asia -- but because it was secret, there  was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument  amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned  out); 

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because  if He didn't, society would be much more lawless and dangerous -- perhaps  even ungovernable.* Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial  must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other  men to murder their wives);
* NOTE: A more cynical formulation  by the Roman historian Polybius: Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they  must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well,  therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death.

appeal to ignorance  -- the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and  vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting  the Earth; therefore UFOs exist -- and there is intelligent life elsewhere  in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not  one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still  central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized  in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. 


special pleading,  often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can  a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders,  one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don't understand  the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike  Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don't  understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit  the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- each in their own  way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion -- to  have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don't  understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.) 

begging the question,  also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty  to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall  when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday  because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors -- but  is there any independent evidence for the causal role of "adjustment"  and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?); 

observational selection,  also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and  forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced,  but is silent on its serial killers); *

* NOTE: A My favorite example is this story,  told about the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, newly arrived on American shores, enlisted in the Manhattan nuclear weapons Project, and brought  face-to-face in the midst of World War II with U.S. flag officers.

So-and-so is a great general, he was told. What is the  definition of a great general? Fermi characteristically asked. I guess  it's a general who's won many consecutive battles. How many? After some  back and forth, they settled on five. What fraction of American generals  are great? After some more back and forth, they settled on a few percent.

But imagine, Fermi rejoined, that there is no such thing  as a great general, that all armies are equally matched, and that winning  a battle is purely a matter of chance. Then the chance of winning one battle  is one out of two, or 1/2, two battles l/4, three l/8, four l/16, and five  consecutive battles 1/32 -- which is about 3 percent. You would expect  a few percent of American generals to win five consecutive battles -- purely by chance. Now, has any of them won ten consecutive battles ...?


statistics of small numbers -- a close relative of observational selection (e.g., "They  say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds  of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly." Or: "I've  thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can't lose."); 

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and  alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average  intelligence); 

inconsistency (e.g.,  Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is  capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers  because they're not "proved." Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many  years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United  States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of  capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to  exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it  has infinite duration into the past); 

non sequitur --  Latin for "It doesn't follow" (e.g., Our nation will prevail  because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true;  the German formulation was "Gott mit uns"). Often those falling  into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative  possibilities;
post hoc, ergo propter hoc -- Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by"  (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: "I know of ... a  26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills."  Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons); 

excluded middle, or false dichotomy -- considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate  possibilities (e.g., "Sure, take his side; my husband's perfect; I'm  always wrong." Or: "Either you love your country or you hate  it." Or: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of  the problem"); 

short-term vs. long-term -- a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I've pulled  it out for special attention (e.g., We can't afford programs to feed malnourished  children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime  on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when  we have so huge a budget deficit?); 

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy,  it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or,  conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it  will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception); 

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual  than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay.  Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet  Uranus; therefore -- despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter -- the latter causes the former); *

*  NOTE: Children who watch violent TV programs tend to be more violent when  they grow up. But did the TV cause the violence, or do violent children  preferentially enjoy watching violent programs? Very likely both are true. Commercial defenders of TV violence argue that anyone can distinguish between  television and reality. But Saturday morning children's programs now average  25 acts of violence per hour. At the very least this desensitizes young  children to aggression and random cruelty. And if impressionable adults  can have false memories implanted in their brains, what are we implanting  in our children when we expose them to some 100,000 acts of violence before  they graduate from elementary school?

 Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies  rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be  misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative  to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world -- not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.

 

 
http://rucus.ru.ac.za/~urban/docs/baloney.html
 

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