31 August 2007

Summer's over?

Summer's over, time to hunker down

Ignacio Oreamuno says he thinks that Canadian summers are kind of weird. Born in the perpetual summer atmosphere of Costa Rica, Oreamuno finds himself frustrated that very little gets done around the office when so many people are off on vacation. “For the last two months, no one has made any decisions, no one has written any e-mails back, no one has called me back,” says Oreamuno, who runs the ad industry website ihaveanidea.org in Toronto. “It's like all of Canada just stopped.” Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer. But they're coming to an end. Labour Day signals the start of a busier pace around the office, with more people back at their desks and projects put back on the table for the final sprint to the end of the year. And like many managers ready to kick-start their teams, Oreamuno is set to send an e-mail to his staff that says: “Hey! We're not an vacation any more! You've actually got to get things done!” But adjusting to that sudden seasonal switch back to hunkered-down work mode can be difficult. So what can employees and managers do to avoid a post-summer slump and find motivation to get back into gear once Labour Day rolls around?

Career coach Nina Spencer, president of Nina Spencer & Associates, says to start preparing for the change of pace by looking forward to what autumn brings. For example, Spencer says that she eventually tires of the laziness that takes over her body in the summer months, and looks forward to shaking it off. She suggests workers focus on what is good about that little bit of healthy stress that helps keep your work ethic in check - “that little positive tension that spurs you on.” She also suggests making a list of 10 things that you love about your job. That, she says, can help get you in the mood to let go of the vacation mindset, and get back to work. Renewed vigour means autumn is also the time to put your summer dreams into action. “If you've got a desire to do something, then now is the time to act on it because it's still fresh in your mind,” suggests career coach Randall Craig, president of Pinetree Advisors. Managers can help refocus their teams by setting clear deadlines and specific goals so that everyone knows what the expectations are and how to meet them, the pros say. Craig adds that holding on to a little piece of summer is another great way to help the transition into fall. He suggests finding a way to incorporate summer habits, such as jogging with your spouse or reading novels, into your year-round schedule.
(Globe and Mail 070831)

28 August 2007

Celebrate the end of summer?!?!?

The weather was so gross this weekend, I puked a little bit in my mouth...however I focused on filling my time with entertaining social events and hanging around with friends.

Thursday night was the weekly CBTL Race series, where I ended up with a mediocre placing in the Points Race - partly because I hadn't eaten or drank all day, which is sort of related to excuse number two -- that work has been consuming my days and I haven't been on the bike or running path for pretty much two weeks now. I haven't been feeling the love recently and I'm kicking myself for taking it out on my exercise and training regimen.

I got home around 8pm fully expecting having the rest of the evening to get caught up on Synergy financials - something I've been neglecting since, oh, probably around the end of May, however as soon as I dismounted off the bike at my lobby doorway, I get a call from Aly that the work gang is still at the Unicorn Pub celebrating Amy D's resignation from work and that I should come down for a few pints. So I do.

Fast forward to 11pm. Amy has puked and been carried home by her boyfriend. The only ones left standing are myself, Aly and Jeff (my old manager) and we've been barred from service from the bar because the entire crew that was there had gotten out of control (however had probably dropped close to a thousand dollars in the place since 5pm). Joe had shown up post-work so he had a beer than we went home.

Friday, I headed over to Inglewood after work for James, Shelley, and Jesse James' trinity b-day party at the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club. I would say approximately 30-40 people showed up and we had a lot of fun bowling and drinking. Patrick and I headed downtown afterwards intending to catch some house music at Bamboo Tiki Lounge, but by the time we got there at 11:30 the line-up was huge so that was a no-go. I walked Patrick home, partly and waited at the Spag for Joe to finish work so I could escort him home. I was well in the bag by then.

Saturday -- Joe had convinced me to sleep in and screw all my exercise/racing obligations, so I did, and it was nice. I didn't get out of bed until 1pm or so. Didn't do much all afternoon and by 6pm we were starting to get ready to head to Doug's party.

We caught a ride to the party with Ryan and his mom, which was wonderful of them, however our schedules did not coincide with Patrick's as planned and he missed the big gay boat. He showed up later and ended up catching a ride back downtown with Ryan again on his return trip. The gang was all there except a few glaring exceptions and we had a lot of fun. I think Joe and I caught our cab around 3am (or maybe it was later????) and went home.

Joe had to work on Sunday so I spent a large part of the rainy crappy day cleaning up email on the computer, chatting to some friends online and Facebooking. A complete waste of a Sunday. I absolutely loved it!

This weekend should be a bit more athletic with the CBTL Saturday full-bore Points Race in the morning. There is a potential for a Canmore 200km ride or Rainy Summit 180km ride sometime on the weekend. I think Craig D wants to go on Saturday, although I think I'm much more leaning towards Sunday or Monday. It would be great to catch the last ITT in Edmonton this weekend too, but it's a long way for a short race. I think I'm going to plan a trip to Red Deer on the 22nd/23rd weekend. The weekend of the 8th is the Thrillseekers/Superchumbo combo plus Corey's stag party, the weekend of the 15th is Hammerfest/Calgary Corporate Challenge. So the calendar's full pretty much up to the end of September already. eep.

If I'm not on here before the day, to all you working stiffs out there, Happy Labour Day!

22 August 2007

User use, user pay?

Avoiding collapse

Opinion - Hugh Segal, a senior fellow at the Queens School of Policy Studies and an Ontario Senator says privatization is the only way to come up with the billions needed to save our deteriorating infrastructure. The Minneapolis bridge collapse has renewed the debate on infrastructure, and rightly so. But the core question beyond 'how old are the roads and bridges,' and 'how much more can we afford in order to correct or replace this infrastructure,' may be a diversion from the more substantial public policy question. With North America facing pressures to spend more on healthcare, security, education and welfare; with public resistance to tax increases both real and focused; is it practical to expect pure tax dollars to be the single source of infrastructure refurbishment and investment? Or, in more precise terms, are we sure that government is the best and most trustworthy source of infrastructure cash in the future? Determining the causes and conclusions regarding Minneapolis will take time. But the questions regarding infrastructure across North America have just begun.

It may come as a surprise to many but when one travels on the new roads and bridges in France, or large parts of Greece and Spain -- all countries with a universal health care system and relatively supple social safety nets -- financing and operational management of many of these roads and bridges is private and small, ubiquitous tolls are everywhere. That European and Asian countries should be ahead of us on this is no surprise. Their respective post-war rebuild challenges were far more daunting than ours -- and innovation and flexibility made immense sense to them at the point of rebuild. In exactly the same way, doing things the way we always did seemed logical to leaders in the post-war years in North America. Rents and taxes from resources and expanding economies in North America were rising extensively, and the social safety nets were being expanded. So it is not surprising that tax dollars had and continue to be the staple of infrastructure funding.

But Minneapolis may well be a tragic example, though the cause is yet unknown, of tax-dollar rationing. The consequences of a 40-year-old bridge, considered "structurally deficient" by engineers, yet not due for replacement until 2020, has resulted in great momentum to inspect and ensure the safety of bridges in Canada, as well as in our southern neighbours. If billions in repairs or replacements are needed, from which other pot do we pinch in order to finance this undertaking -- defence, health, balancing the budget, paying down the debt? As one travels through Europe paying modest tolls on highways and bridges and on entering larger cities, and drives by the privately owned water towers and private generating companies that serve community needs, it becomes apparent that even European social democracies have thought through the capital-use and allocation balance that produces sane public finance, market opportunities for private players, and reasonable pay-as-you-go tolls for the travelling European and commercial public. I find it hard to believe that we cannot consider some similar policy options here in Canada. Or that all big cities must own and manage all the core infrastructure they depend upon and must refurbish going forward.
(National Post 070822)

I think those that use infrastructure and services the most should pay more than the average for the facilities they use. It's only democratic. It would also more accurately reflect the cost of roads, utilities, and suburban sprawl, and the cost of connecting our remote cities to each other and to the world.

21 August 2007

Get the Lead Out!

Yeah - it's been a great, busy, summer, and suddenly - Facebook has taken everyone's life...

....the blogs have been sadly quiet this summer.

The season of the autumnal equinox is looking very positive with lots of events and crap going on.

First of all and the only thing I want to report at this minute:

OMG! OMG! My most favorite DJ in the world is playing -- IN CALGARY!!!!

I never thought he would ever play here. Ever. Like, how backwater is Calgary compared to NYC and London? It doesn't matter. Sept 8. And get this -- the venue? The Downtown Royal Canadian Legion! It doesn't get any more kitschy atmospheric than that, children. I'm looking forward to it. $20 in advance. Does anyone want to go with me? Plus, like, I finally get to see what the inside of the Legion looks like. And see Mr. Cutie Tom Stephan again.
And to add to that, the Thrillseekers are playing at the Warehouse on Friday, September 7. It could very well end up being a raucous weekend of dancing, music and laughter.

It's been a fantastic summer. I just can't believe how quickly it's gone by. Is this the way it goes from here on? The summer's just go by faster the older you get. Just like everything else, I guess. Whatever. Life's for the living...you can't take anything with you other than the experiences you had. That's only only mantra you have to live by - Carpe Diem.

The autumnal equinox is looking up. See you at Superchumbo!

20 August 2007

Blowing more hot air

Harper to back 'bogus' emissions plan

A leaked draft of next month's planned APEC leaders' declaration on the environment shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper is poised to back a "bogus" new global plan for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, charges Green Party leader Elizabeth May. A copy of the proposed statement - to be announced Sept. 9 in Sydney by leaders of the 21 Asia-Pacific nations, including Canada and the US - was leaked to Greenpeace in Australia, where opposition critics are slamming Prime Minister John Howard for convincing his fellow APEC leaders to adopt a "weak" resolution on climate change to please President Bush. The draft document's emphasis on "aspirational" goals rather than firm targets to cap emissions has been widely denounced in the APEC meeting's host country, where Howard is expected to call an election days after the summit ends.

The leaked copy of the declaration - now posted at the Greenpeace-Australia website - states the leaders will "agree that a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal will be a key component of the post-2012 framework" for fighting climate change. "The notion of 'aspirational' targets is bogus," May said yesterday. "This is really dangerous stuff. We need to be negotiating serious targets." The draft APEC statement does say the 21 countries would "work toward the goal of reduction in energy intensity across the APEC region by at least 25% by 2030." But the goal is not a binding commitment with nation-by-nation energy-reduction targets. The proposed document also touts the importance of preserving forests as "carbon sinks." It expresses support for "the initiative by the US to convene a dialogue process among major economies" to create an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international accord that contained specific greenhouse gas-reduction targets. "This is one more way the wheels are falling off, the only legally binding agreement in existence (the Kyoto accord) to cut emissions," May said of the draft APEC declaration. "Canada's complicity in eroding that agreement borders on the criminal."
(Montreal Gazette 070820)

The God of Cheap

Worshipping at the altar of Cheap
August 20, 2007
Made in China. It used to be the logo of globalization, but it's almost a stamp of danger now.

Yet it's self-deceptive at best, and racist at worst, to sneer at Chinese manufacturers when there are so many other better targets. Product recalls happen frequently. Isn't it odd that China is singled out just as its military and economic might soars?

Yes, low manufacturing standards in China meant that American corporations sold poisoned pet food, and lead paint on 19 million Chinese-made children's toys led to a massive recall and an apology from Mattel.

But surely the real news is that companies didn't inspect the imported goods they sold.

North American companies buy Chinese-made goods and shoppers haul them home for a reason. They're cheap, so eye-poppingly cheap that we wonder how such a thing can be possible. It's because tens of millions of workers are earning low wages in Chinese factories under appalling conditions. Admittedly, they may be marginally better off there than in the villages they recently escaped.

Trying to make Mattel feel guilty about buying such goods is madness. These plastic toys, from the Batman Magna Battle Armor Figure to the Polly Pocket Totally Polly Tiki Diner Set, are so horrendously tacky that even if they weren't dripping in poisonous lead, they'd still be criminal. (I would of course have killed to have them when I was a child.) And trying to make Canadians feel guilty about buying the stuff is a hackneyed approach, long ago proved pointless.

Hail the god of Cheap
Canadian shoppers aren't cruel. But I do think that many of them are stingy. Not cheese-paring, not careful with their money, but tight-fisted, miserly even. I remember cheering when Edina in the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous drunkenly screamed to a roomful of advertisers, "I don't want more choice! I want nicer things!"

Canadians don't agree, apparently. We are drowning in cheap things when we should head straight for a small number of well-made things. They last longer.

And if there's one thing we love more than "cheap," it's "free." The great American columnist Mark Morford hates what he calls his "product-drunk," "junktastic" culture. "Free plane ticket! Free iPod! Free colonoscopy! Free extra set of cheap useless knives when you buy the two other sets of cheap useless knives! Free supersizing of your Coke! All we ask in return: countless endless chunks of your time, your intelligence, your health, your soul," he wrote in a recent piece.

Think of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. The bane of parental existence, they clog family life until you can secretly bag them on garbage day as the children sleep.

We should buy goods as sturdy as we can afford, but fewer of them. Instead, middle-class homes are packed with plastic toys made in China, brightly painted and without aesthetic charm, not that kids care. Kids are pulled around in wagons that look like plastic turquoise dugongs. Wooden wagons with red metal trim have real style. But they are more expensive. The fact that they are beautiful, will last longer and can be handed on to other children and to those sensible and praiseworthy secondhand toy shops does not matter. You chose the plastic blob. You worship the god of Cheap.

Chickens and such
Free-range chicken doesn't resemble battery chicken. It has flavour, its skin is yellow and the flesh has tones that make you suspect the bird walked about a bit, pecked at things, did that head-jerking thing that makes chickens such annoying pets. A battery hen is as pale as Karl Rove's fat, slappy face cheeks and tastes like bathtub caulking. But ersatz fowl are one of the god of Cheap's angels.

What about people living on next-to-nothing, single mothers on a minimal income, I know you're asking.

If you're poor, buy cheap, by all means. But why are you poor in the first place? What conditions determined your fate? Manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada because they were sent to China, or handed to Toyota in Japan because Ford and GM were run into the ground by incompetent managers.

When your Ford job vanishes or you lose your IT job because Bangalore, India, can do it cheaper, all dominos fall, victim of the god of Cheap. When goods are cheap, people become cheap. Paying $1.99 for a dozen tube socks is supposed to comfort you. In fact, it's what ruined your life.

In Canada's cities, homeowners passively enriched by exploding house prices still go to Costco and Wal-Mart for bulk goods while complaining about property tax increases. They impoverish the lives of others, destroy local shops and live with housefuls of shoddy goods because they are worshipping that Canadian idol, the Cheap god.

And by the way, the problem isn't plastic bags. The problem is that plastic bags are free. If they cost $5 each, trust me, people would pull them out of tree branches and hoick them out of the mouths of poor strangling fish already marinated in mercury. They'd probably frame them.

Books before potato chips
I recently read a pompous essay by a little-known Canadian novelist saying the federal government should give tax breaks to writers because novels take years to write and writers should be paid for their time, particularly the slow ones, I guess.

This is debatable. Governments are already very kind to writers with their home-business tax breaks. Writers have a bigger problem: Canadians are too cheap to buy books. I've seen it with my own eyes: Neighbours go through my blue bin for free books and magazines but Pamplona bulls wouldn't scare them into Book City or Chapters.

I rabidly buy books — which I think of as permanent, like furniture — the way normal people buy things as impermanent as bulk Lay's Ripple Chips. People who know this will actually ask me for free books, even free copies of my own books. I wouldn't dream of asking them for a bag of chips, I think sullenly. Potato chips they'll buy. Books not. I know I'm being self-serving here, but it's hard not to be taken aback.

Lately, Americans have been complaining that oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands is far too expensive. They blame the high wages of Canadian workers who live in extraordinarily difficult conditions to get that oil out. It's not labour's fault that Alberta's land and air are being poisoned and its precious water being sucked away. It's a structural, political fault. I praise those workers. If corporations could find a way to fly the tar sands to China, those roughnecks would be out of work.

With oil, we aren't given the option of worshipping the god of Cheap. Oil is expensive and will become knifingly so.

Good. Maybe we'll cherish it more.

17 August 2007

Someone needs a hobby

Manitoba Mounties nab Whiteshell 'sasquatch'
Teen in gorilla mask frightened campers for two years
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | 5:20 PM CT
CBC News

Mounties in eastern Manitoba have nabbed a strange, hairy monster that has been stalking campgrounds in and around the Whiteshell Provincial Park for the past two summers.

Police received the call around midnight on July 30 from a woman who had been startled by the beastly creature while camping at Pinawa, about 90 kilometres east of Winnipeg.

"This was further to about 10 calls we had last year of the same incident in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, so the members were aware of the type of person we were looking for," Staff Sgt. Glen Reitlo told CBC News Wednesday.

"A couple of our members attended and ended up finding the sasquatch."

The creature turned out to be an 18-year-old Winnipeg man wearing a hairy gorilla mask, which Reitlo described as "ugly" and "scary."

"Something like that at midnight would scare someone," he said.

"When he was confronted by not only the police, but the person who he scared, he admitted that he was the person who had been responsible for the last year and a half," Reitlo said.

Reitlo said the man was not intoxicated when nabbed by officers; he apparently had been camping in the area over the past two summers and simply enjoyed the prank.

His victims were less impressed. The woman who complained gave the man quite a tongue-lashing, Reitlo said.

"He was pretty meek and mild at the end of it … he definitely learned his lesson, that's for sure."

No charges have been laid.

This one made me laugh. Haven't we all thought at some time about putting on a creature costume, going into an environment where one would expect to find said creature, and scare the shit out of people? Good times. A little strange and creepy, but fun.

16 August 2007

Hello, my name is @!

Chinese couple tries to name baby with the e-mail 'at' symbol
Published: Thursday, August 16, 2007 | 12:36 PM ET
Canadian Press
BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese couple seeking a distinctive name for their child have settled on the e-mail 'at' symbol - annoying government officials grappling with an influx of unorthodox names.

The unidentified couple were cited Thursday by a government official as an example of citizens bringing bizarre names into the Chinese language.

Written Chinese does not use an alphabet but is comprised of characters, sometimes making it difficult to develop words for new or foreign objects and ideas.

However, the letters 'a' and 't' can be pronounced in a way that sounds like the phrase "love him," said Li Yuming, vice-director of the State Language Commission.

Li told a news conference that the father explained his choice by saying the whole world uses the symbol to write e-mails and that "translated into Chinese, it means 'love him,' "

Li did not say if police, who are the arbiters of names because they issue identity cards, have accepted or rejected the name.

As of last year, only 129 names accounted for 87 per cent of all surnames in China, Li said.

Strange, very strange. I know people have a longing to differentiate their children from the thousands upon thousands that are born everyday, but is it really fair to the kids to give them really fucked up names? Something they are going to have to be spelling out and/or explaining to other people for the rest of their lives?

Happy Birthday Madonna!

Happy birthday to my girl, Madonna who turns 49 today!

15 August 2007

Lending for Dummies

Mike Hornbrook:
The Great Subprime Panic of 2007
How the meltdown went global
August 13, 2007

What we are witnessing around the globe could be the 21st century equivalent of a run on the banks. These days, advanced economies are not saddled with the creaky accounting and hyper-restrictive monetary policies that triggered the Wall Street crash of 1929. But the globalization of banking and money markets means that when a big economy like the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold and some countries will even catch pneumonia.

The beginnings of the crisis are in the U.S., but what has now started to take place is an attempt to head off a global epidemic.

Right now, there's a great deal of nervousness in global markets about how much bad international debt is being propped up by dodgy subprime U.S. mortgages, the pepper behind the sneeze.

First of all, what is a subprime mortgage? In general, this describes money loaned to people who wouldn't qualify to borrow, or borrow as much, under normal circumstances. A study by the Center for Responsible Lending — a U.S. nonprofit group — says most subprime borrowers are not buying a house but refinancing debt, usually credit card debt.

They tend to live in low-income neighbourhoods and are less likely to have a college education. Only about one in ten subprime borrowers have the assets or the credit history that would qualify them for a prime loan.

Subprimes represented about 20 per cent of the $3-trillion US mortgage market in 2006. It is this segment where defaults are now occurring. The scale of the problem is far from clear, but one recent report said 97.8 per cent of all U.S. mortgages are being paid on time and are not in arrears.

How some U.S. mortgage defaults affect many economies
The nature of modern finance is to disperse risk as widely as possible. Hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of subprime mortgages have been gathered together and resold as bonds to hedge funds and banks all over the world. The buyers then used them as collateral to secure more loans so they could buy more bonds and so on and so on.

It was all sustainable during the days of soaring house prices and easy credit. But when U.S. interest rates began climbing and house prices started falling, then the default rate edged up and the subprime business hit a wall.

This became shockingly apparent last week when the giant French bank BNP Paribas had to suspend activity in three of its hedge funds that were heavily invested in subprime-backed securities. The dire news about a growing subprime contagion scared off investors. The bank, literally, couldn't give away its bonds. With no one buying, Paribas was unable to realistically price the bonds in normal trading, and so it put an "out to lunch" sign on the fund-redemption window.

It's a little like listing a $300,000 house for sale on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, after newspapers report the house sits on a toxic waste site, the house suddenly is worth nothing because no one will buy it.

Investors head for the exits
In markets around the world, investors in subprime-backed products are heading for the exits. Bank-owned funds are being forced to limit withdrawals because they can't price the products properly. This has dried up liquidity and for a few days last week drove overnight borrowing rates between banks sharply higher on four continents.

Central banks in Asia, Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia responded by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into their country's money markets. They did this by making money available to banks at a special interest rate at, or very close, to the rate commercial banks charge each other. In this case, it had the effect of reducing a rate spike that threatened to soak up liquidity. Most of the central banks also said they were ready to provide whatever funds were necessary to keep bank activity going.

By law, banks have to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits on reserve. Anything above the legal requirement can be used in inter-bank transaction settlements. Banks with surpluses loan money to banks with deficits at a special bank "rate". A lack of liquidity is destructive because banks stop lending and that means the effects are felt throughout an economy.

The central banks hope the injections will calm the markets and head off the destructive effects of a credit freeze. Yet in some countries, the move only accentuated the panic. Investors were saying, in effect, "If they're taking this unusual step, what do they know that we don't?"

Diagnosing the subprime contagion
There's widespread suspicion that the contagion from the subprime mess may run wider and deeper than previously thought. In part, that's because no one yet knows how much debt is sitting on the quicksand of subprime mortgages. And no one knows which banks and hedge funds are holding securities based on the mortgages.

Small wonder stock markets everywhere are volatile. This week will likely bring more volatility as a global credit correction continues to shake out in all major economies.

Though no one is predicting the kind of devastation that occurred in the U.S. when Wall Street crashed in 1929, what we will likely see is a psychological change. After years of free spending financed by easy credit, we are entering a new era when it's going to cost more to buy a home and finance a leveraged buyout. And that will put a giant brake on a lot of economic activity.

Just another full iteration of the Greed Cycle. It has happened in the past (remember the S&L scandals of the early '90s?), and it will definitely happen again. The question is how deep does this pile of shit go, how pervasive will it be across the global economy, and how much of it will spill into the legitimate banking and lending industries?

14 August 2007

Wedding, Saskatchewan-style

I just got back from my cousin's wedding in a small resort town southeast of Saskatoon called Manitou Beach, where my uncle and aunt have retired. I got into Saskatoon last Wednesday and spent a couple of days helping my cousin and his fiance get things in order for the trip out to Manitou Beach on Friday. The wedding was held in Danceland, a huge dancehall built in the 1920s with a claim to fame of being one of only two dancehalls in North America designed with a horsehair subfloor beneath the dancefloor wood, supposedly to give the floor more spring and 'let people dance on clouds all night'. The whole weekend was a lot of fun and it was wonderful to see all of my family again, plus meet all of my cousin and his new wife's friends and family.

Rip-off, Canadian style

Demand lower prices from retailers, analyst says

Consumers should be "quite demanding" with retailers that are slow to adjust their prices to the stronger Canadian dollar, possibly by buying online or going cross-border shopping, says one retail analyst. "I would have thought that [Canadian retailers] would have started pressuring their suppliers [to cut costs] some time ago," said Wendy Evans of Toronto-based retail consultants Evans and Company. "It's so long overdue." The increase in buying power that suppliers and retailers have enjoyed with the run-up of the dollar to about 95 cents US from the mid-60-cent range in 2002 "certainly hasn't translated to the cash register," added Evans. The Canadian dollar touched a 30-year high of 96.71 cents US on July 25. "Retail prices in Canada have responded to the loonie's moonshot with all the speed and alacrity of a three-toed sloth on a hot summer's day," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets in a recent report.

Consumer price index data shows that prices for food and clothing have dropped about 1.1% over the past year, Evans said. "It's the right direction, but there is farther to go," she added. "Canadian prices on many directly comparable goods have been achingly slow to respond to the major shift in the exchange rate, and, in some cases, appear far out of line with their US counterparts," said Porter. The most glaring example is book prices. But cars, tech gadgets and many high-end goods also see gaps between Canadian and US sticker prices of 16%, on average, Porter noted. Earlier this month, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told business leaders the government expects retailers to pass on savings from the higher Canadian dollar. If consumers don't see benefits soon, Flaherty said, they should shop around for the lowest prices. However, Flaherty was concerned that Canadians shopping in the US would hurt the economy. "It's a buoyant economy, things are going well, and consumers are going to demand more," said Evans, adding retailers should use a "sharp pencil" when negotiating with suppliers, who often come up with "as many excuses as possible." Porter said the economic effects of prices not adjusting to the new exchange rate include inflation being higher than it should be; interest rates rising as a result of higher inflation; and cross-border shopping increasing -- "it may be only a matter of time before the cross-border shopping dam bursts again."
(Vancouver Sun 070814)

We really noticed this while in San Francisco, where the prices of things - with the loonie nearly on par - were substantially cheaper to buy in the U.S. since the price differential on items hadn't been reflected in the prices the items are sold for in Canada. Books, magazines, and CDs are all very blatant examples of this, since they print the prices right on the items. We were surprised too that the Canadian prices had not been already changed....what are they waiting for? They can make excuses that the prices take some time to adjust, but really -- are we living in 4 B.C. or what?

Bailing water out of a sinking boat?

Central banks pump in cash to stave off credit crunch

For the second day in a row, central banks around the world pumped billions of dollars into financial markets Friday: Japan and Australia joined Europe, the US and Canada in repeatedly injecting liquidity into cash-thirsty markets. It's the largest intervention the world has seen since central banks sprang into action after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sept. 11 was truly a crisis. This time, it remains unclear. "I think it's a crisis, but it's a financial crisis," said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns. "The entire financial system is in crisis because people, banks are afraid to lend money." The turmoil that started with the souring of the subprime mortgage markets in the US has flowed over to capital markets around the world, snagging currencies and stocks that have no direct relationship to US mortgages. But the spillover into the so-called real economy -
growth, unemployment, inflation and business investment - has been minimal. So far. "It's not a Main Street crisis because we still see growth, we still see [low] unemployment, and in my view we're going to continue to see it," Cooper said. "But it does increase risk." But the sudden attention from central banks and the scale of their interventions should be enough to make people sit up and take notice, economists say. "I think everybody has a vested interest in what's going on, because at some point, it will spill over into the real economy," said Rob Palombi,
director of fixed income research at Standard & Poor's in Toronto.
(Globe and Mail, National Post 070811, Globe and Mail 070813)

Is this the end of the Ponzi scheme? Have people's expectations finally come down to reality? I've read quite a bit indicating that things are only going to get much worse this fall, when a majority of those subprime mortgages go in for re-adjustments, while many of the ones that have already been adjusted go into their second reset later in the year. More than two million subprime adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) are poised to reset at much higher rates in coming months, worsening an already suffering housing market. Borrowers who took out hybrid ARMs in 2004 and 2005 to secure low "teaser" rates for the first two or three years of the loan may see their monthly mortgage payments climb by 35 percent or more.

Consumer groups and politicians worry that hundreds of thousands of subprime ARM borrowers will be unable to keep up with their mortgage payments and will lose their homes.

"In October alone more than $50 billion in ARMs will reset," according to Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody's Economy.com.

Who knows what things will look like at the end of 2007?

03 August 2007


Arkansas couple have their 17th child, say they want even more
Published: Thursday, August 2, 2007 | 2:07 PM ET
Canadian Press
LITTLE ROCK (AP) - An Arkansas couple had a baby daughter today - their 17th child and seventh girl.

And the pair say they're still not ready to give it a rest.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said in an interview that their daughter, Jennifer Danielle, was born at 10:01 a.m. at a hospital in Rogers, Arkansas.

Michelle, who's been pregnant for 126 months - or 10.5 years - of her life, said the couple would like to have more girls, since they love the ruffles and lace.

All the children - whose names start with the letter J - are taught at home.

The oldest is 19 and the youngest, before Jennifer, is almost two years old.

The Duggars have been featured on several programs on cable television's Discovery Health Network.

The next special, the Duggar Family Album, is scheduled to air next month.

Among the "fun facts" listed on Discovery Health's web page devoted to the Duggars is that a baby has been born in every month except June.

Fun Facts indeed. This should make you cringe and think, "Oh my God, what the hell is wrong with you people?"

But as Mark Morford stated (on the birth of the Duggar's 16th child), that would be mean and callous, wouldn't it?

It's wrong to be this judgmental. Wrong to suggest that it is exactly this kind of weird pathological protofamily breeding-happy gluttony that's making the world groan and cry and recoil, contributing to vicious overpopulation rates and unrepentant economic and environmental strain and a bitter moral warpage resulting from a massive viral outbreak of homophobic neo-Christians across our troubled and Bush-ravaged land. Or is it?

Perhaps the point is this: Why does this sort of bizarre hyperbreeding only seem to afflict antiseptic megareligious families from the Midwest? In other words -- assuming Michelle and Jim Bob and their massive brood of cookie-cutter Christian kidbots will all be, as the charming photo suggests, never allowed near a decent pair of designer jeans or a tolerable haircut from a recent decade, and assuming that they will all be tragically encoded with the values of the homophobic asexual Christian right -- where are the forces that shall help neutralize their effect on the culture? Where is the counterbalance, to offset the damage?

Where is, in other words, the funky tattooed intellectual poetess who, along with her genius anarchist husband, is popping out 16 funky progressive intellectually curious fashion-forward pagan offspring to answer the Duggar's squad of ├╝ber-white future Wal-Mart shoppers? Where is the liberal, spiritualized, pro-sex flip side? Verily I say unto thee, it ain't lookin' good.

Perhaps this the scariest aspect of our squishy birthin' tale: Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation. Is that an oversimplification?

Ah, but this is America, yes? People should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want with their families if they can afford it and if it's within the law and so long as they aren't gay or deviant or happily flouting Good Christian Values, right? Shouldn't they? Hell, gay couples still can't openly adopt a baby in most states (they either lie, or one adopts and the other must apply as "co-parent"), but Michelle Duggar can pop out 16 kids and no one says, oh my freaking God, stop it, stop it now, you thoughtless, selfish, baby-drunk people.

No, no one says that. That would be mean.

Children (In order of appearance):
Jana & John-David (twins)
Jedidiah & Jeremiah (twins)

Jinger Duggar? Yeesh. Poor, poor kids -- homeschooled without a chance in the world, doomed to holding Republican congressional power in about forty years or so.

02 August 2007

Culture in Podunkville?

Calgary arts funding behind other cities: report
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | 1:20 PM MT
CBC News
The City of Calgary puts less money into the arts per capita than four other major cities in Canada, according to a new report by the Calgary Arts Development Agency.

Calgary put $2.4 million or $2.56 per capita into the arts in 2005, but thanks to a recent funding hike, the amount now sits at just over $3.

Still it's less per capita funding than four other Canadian cities.

Edmonton spent $3.88 per capita, Vancouver spent $4.01, Winnipeg spent $5.20, and Toronto spent $6.42 in 2005.

The numbers in the report are shocking, but will draw attention to the problem and ensure that the city contributes more in the future, said Karen Ball, director of community investment with the two-year-old agency.

Dean Bareham, artistic director at Calgary's Green Fools Theatre, said he's not surprised by the report. The best way to make money is to leave Calgary, he said.

"Unfortunately a lot of our work is forcing us to travel, forcing us to go to other places because we're appreciated more other places than we are here."

Bareham said he is facing a huge rent increase and is among the artists considering moving.

"You can get cheaper space in Vancouver than you can get in Calgary now. It's crazy."

This is hardly surprising. I've lamented the lack of cultural development in Calgary for a decade. This is a town to work hard in to make lots of money -- who the hell has the time to enjoy the civic experience, the intangibles? There's far too much to buy at the mall - why spend time appreciating an art gallery, or a dance troupe performance, or a independent theatre's stageplay?

This is a problem with a boom/bust economy town like Calgary. Everyone's either too busy in the boomtimes or too poor in the bust times to directly contribute to cultural and artistic development. Currently everyone's too busy making money to actually participate in the artscene other than to throw money at it. I honestly think there is just not a big interest in creating a unique cultural experience here. Everyone appears to simply be happy with the monochromatic Western label and the Stampede and mountain resorts to be our calling card. The simple lack of the availability of edgy or modernist art sources as well as the rabid feverishness over the local sports teams here are proof enough of Calgarians' lack of culture. The desire to conform here is extremely high, and I think that's where the lack of interest in a desire for something unique or 'artistic' comes from.

01 August 2007


Taking those conversations about small-sized men overcompensating for their anxieties with big or powerful vehicles comes this, Truck BullsBalls - for the vehicle with 'little bumper hitch' anxiety, I suppose. From the makers of the 'Redneck Horn'. Yet another example of the clownish behaviour in society that seems to be getting more pervasive by the day.

And you know there are some people out there that are thinking these are the greatest idea since electricity.

'Humanizing/animating' a vehicle is just fucking stupid. Just like dressing up your pets.