29 December 2008

Change is in the air - Can you sense it? Can you believe it? Can you do it?

Well, another frantic holiday season is coming and going, and the dark clouds of larger issues remain despite all attempts at overconsumption, distraction and amusement. It's been interesting to have conversations with a wide variety of people over the past few weeks hypothesizing on what's in store for us as individuals, regions, nations, and cultures in 2009 and onward. Many people seem to believe that things will start recovering and that we'll be able to merrily carry on as we have for the past x years after the inconvenient bumps in the economic and ecological roads are passed and subsequently forgotten. A tenacious minority continue to believe that we're still being fed only a small portion of the truth as to the scale and spread of the problems we're facing and that things are going to continue getting markedly worse as we go forward into the new year. Any turnarounds that appear to be the recovery will be short-lived and temporary in the irreversible decline of our economy to a more reasonably-scaled and sustainable level, that is if the timing of everything goes right, otherwise it might end up at a level far below that.

I know I am one of many who doesn't really know what to do next. Everyone is maintaining a 'sit-and-wait' position because indicators are giving no clear suggestion of what would be the best course to take to recover income and investments lost, retain gainful employment, effectively steward our environment and set ourselves up for an economic reality in the future that may not look like anything we have been accustomed to and have accepted as normal and real over the past half-century. There is no will by any institutional leadership to tell the truth like it is...there is too much perceived power loss at stake therefore it is just easiest to maintain the status quo as long as possible until it is obvious that there are problems. By that time the leaders hope they are long gone from their prominent positions that someone else has to take the blame.

There is no doubt that our situation is complicated and convoluted. There is also no doubt that what we're facing collectively from an economic, ecologic, social and cultural standpoint is something as a species and civilization we've never had to deal with before -- at least not at the unprecedented scale of integrated global activity and consequence we see today. Things just can't be contained in a nation or region anymore. A ripple in the water in one area affects the whole pond now.

Personally, I've been going through an existential crisis of sorts for the past few months. I've been reading many differing viewpoints on what we might be heading into in the future for quite a few years now (thank you INTERNET - the best thing we've invented since the bicycle) and it seems to me that many of the viewpoints that were formerly considered to be on the pessimistic side of things (and were considered doom-and-gloom nonsense at the time) are now coming to fruition. This is why I think the more critical thinkers who are the ones that are bringing the more dour side of analysis to light are the ones that are probably confronting the truth more honestly than the talking heads who are only spokespeople for those who have the most to lose by leaving the status quo behind and finding a way forward that is more sustainable, humane and socially- and culturally-relevant.

A helpful way to look at the big picture is to realize that none of what has been stated as reality is neither doom-and-gloom or dour; it's simply the way things are. Happy or sad endings have no bearing on reality. It's just that humans don't like bad news and we are resistant to change because it is uncomfortable and risky, and we don't like either of those things. By denying that certain things are actually occurring or that they aren't monumentally challenging is only making matters worse because the conclusion is unrealistic; this can be very dangerous if we're at a point in time where there's no turning back or we lose control of the situation.

Take for instance the ecological problems we face today. It all boils down to too many people consuming too much stuff too quickly. This is taking an unprecedented toll on the global ecosystem because the changes are happening much too quickly for the natural systems and cycles to absorb and adapt to. As we technologically progress, we also find ways to monitor, measure and trend the things that are happening much more accurately, thus the information we have uncovers realities about our effects on our planet and the consequences of our behaviours in the past and present that we most likely had no awareness of even a few years ago or that were downplayed at the time because an accurate understanding of the scope wasn't fully realized at the time.

But if over-population, over-consumption and over-growth are the overriding issues effectively causing all other issues, why are we so afraid to have honest wide-scale dialogue about them? We cling to what we deem familiar reality even if it might kill us and everything else in the process. Talk about psychopathological addiction!

I think it is hard for some people to accept theories of climate change as being realistic because they are basing their understanding of the world on things that were considered fact and proof only a few years or decades ago (or were sorely lacking in understanding) but no longer apply or are no longer accurate because techniques for substantiating proof for one theory over another have become much more accurate and plentiful enough to substantiate one belief over another. This allows for acceptance and indoctrination of new beliefs different than what was understood as reality not very long ago. In human scales when considering technological advance and accumulation of knowledge, 30 years is a huge period of time, but in biological, meteorological and geological scales, this is merely a blip in the passage of time.

If there is almost complete unanimity among climatologists, paleontologists and biologists (um? hello? the experts talking here?) that anthropomorphic climate change is well on the way to radically changing the surface of the planet, why are there still those that deny it is happening? We should be far past this conversation already!

Cultural acceptance of something is also heavily based on the belief system of the people who have the power. Since the 1970s the media, political and economic leaders have been the ones who have maintained that unregulated free markets and an unrestricted economic growth model will decide what's best for the common good of humanity and the planet. It is only recently that we have collectively realized that maybe this model isn't perfect; that due to our growth and numbers we are reaching limits in many areas and that restrictions to growth are soon going to be inevitable. It is only recently that we have begun to realize that the economic systems we've had in place for well over a century were designed when limits to what the planet could provide free-of-charge were inconceivable. The entire system is built on the foundation that there are no limits (other than labour, right Adam Smith?) and somehow we're able to grow infinitely in a system that is effectively a closed one. Flawed from the start, but designed at a time when the consequences were minimal. And these tenets were taken as the undeniable truth. Not so much anymore, eh? It's hard for some people to grasp reality when the foundations have been shaken out from right underneath them. There are some new variables that desperately need to be written into the equation now.

I think there is a grassroots understanding of these fundamental flaws and that the only way to go forward is to re-vamp the rules we use to play the game, however the ones holding all the cards are the ones who are most heavily invested in ensuring that things remain the way they are.

Corporatism is sociopathological, psychopathological, and anti-human and the sooner we collectively realize this, the better. We have sacrificed so much of who we are and what we have as common heritage and birthright in order to achieve a perceived sense of security, bounty, power, control, and benevolence. The foundations for this path were laid many, many years ago. But is it too late to clean up the mess and alter course before the planet takes care of everything in its own way in its unyielding movement towards equilibrium? History carries on; it doesn't care whether anything in the path towards balance flourishes or flounders.

Systems theory states that as a system gets more specialized and complex, it loses flexibility and resiliency in addition to becoming more entropic. This is very poignant to what you see happening with the financial system problems and credit crunch. The system has become more and more dependent on geopolitical stability and consistent energy supplies at low costs in order to properly function. The oil price spike of last summer was probably the needle that poked the hole in the latest balloon, thus causing spectacular systemic deflation although the bubble occurring in the first place is the underlying issue. For the past fifteen years our economy has gone from one bubble to the next in order to prop up and sustain a faltering system that has a definite end point just a little bit longer. As we start over the side of undependable and fluctuating energy supplies, too many mouths to feed, and an entitled expectation of being able to get whatever we want whenever we want from a vast global production line, the system itself becomes undependable, erratic, and potentially terminal.

This can be akin to a couple of examples -- first, a natural one -- the polar bear. As much as I hate to see what is happening to this majestic species, they are extremely specialized and dependent on a stable ecosystem in one particular cycle of states. With the lack of ability for much adaptation, the demise of their stable environment will be closely followed by the demise of the species itself.

A technological example would be our insatiable desire for miniaturization of electronics. The parts that make up these components become more and more energy and production intensive to design, create, run, and distribute, and they have shorter and shorter lifespans because as one part fails, there is no resilience or redundancy in the system whatsoever and they suddenly become very expensive but effective paperweights or doorstops as soon as the weakest component in the unit fails.

"But what's wrong with that?" say the proponents. "Just buy another one!"

WTF?

That is one of the big argument points of the intelligentsia today. Considering the natural world or the financial system or many of our social constructs, some believe we are far past tipping points in many areas with our only recourse to try to clean up some of the mess before everything falls apart; others believe we still have time to act to minimize the effects of our destructive ways. The argument is ridiculous. I don't think it really matters - either way, isn't affecting creative, thoughtful change (as opposed to panicked, reactive solutioning) modeling natural systems that have endured for eons going to be better move in the long run? Should we not collectively accept that prudent action is better than no action at all, no matter how dire the situation has become, whether it is obvious to us or not?

I write this all from a privileged narcissistic Western viewpoint. The people and societies of the Third World have been facing the realities of environmental and economic degradation for decades. Very few people will associate the resource-driven and culturally-divided upheavals in Africa and the Middle East for the past few decades to the fact that the foundations of our existence as a civilization have been deteriorating for some time now. The West has largely dictated the direction of this ship for the entire planet since the eras of colonialism and merchantilism. The past few decades have seen the trajectory of this activity and growth start to go exponential with worldwide impacts. It's only because the Third World (yet another Western construct) is more vulnerable and less elastic to these losses that it is happening to them first. In the 1960s and 1970s, the nations of Africa were players in the game of international energy and economic distribution and consumption but since then they have been priced out and have been forced to fold their cards. The Western nations forget about them because they aren't at the table anymore so they are forced to deal with the horrific after-effects on their own. What we see happening there should be a harbinger of things to come for us soon if we don't take action to change the things that are fundamentally flawed and/or unaccounted for in our civilization. It's only a matter of time before we will see similar problems in the 'civilized, affluent' Western societies. We need to find a better, more equitable, more sustainable, more humanitarian, more representational way to do things going forward.

What truly brings value and joy to human existence? Is it unyielding consumerism? Unending growth and transformation of our natural ecosystems? Is it one-upmanship on everyone else? Or is it our social connections? The way we negotiate our relationships with the people closest to us? The people that we love, the people that love us, the communities we are involved in that we have a desire to foster and nurture because healthy communities mean healthy people? The natural world and all the beauty, harshness, and awe it provides us while keeping us alive?

When considering our communities and our natural environments that sustain us, we are part of them and they part of us whether we want it to be that way or not. To make them better only makes us better. The hollow pursuit of material gain, hoarding and collection, and concentration of wealth is a misallocated zero-sum game and certainly not one of the central things that bring us identity, meaning, joy and fulfillment.

That was a lot of writing to get to a few points. I think many of us that are curious and critically analytical probably understand everything that I've just written. We also have a uneasy feeling and an sense of realization that things just aren't right anymore. What does that mean exactly? What is 'right'? Our belief that the way we've done things previously was the correct and justified way to achieve our end goals? I think we can all agree we have a sense that the tried-and-true that has worked rather well in the past isn't going to cut it going forward. We are constantly running faster and faster just to maintain our current position.

The hard part is trying to make sense of it all on a personal level. I've said many times that we are individually intelligent but collectively we're incredibly dense. In that light, I've also realized that there is no comfort (to me anyways) to depend on anyone else or any other institution to attempt to get myself to a point where I feel things are on the right path again. As I had stated earlier, I've found 2008 to be a very difficult year from an existential standpoint because I have been going through a renaissance of sorts, starting to realize that everything I understood as being acceptable and desirable in the past (and what I thought would make me happy) may be a complete ruse/deception or at least not the best way to approach life. The system indoctrinated me into believing that achieving this or that is what defined me as successful or as a contributing citizen therefore not meeting these narrow criteria meant I was not as valuable as another person playing the same game in the same system. It is only over the past few years that I've realized that those criteria are effectively what are the source of the problem and that what is deemed as success in our society is the opposite of (or at least conflicts with) those things that we accept bring us the most happiness and fulfillment as human beings.

I'm realizing that what brings me the most happiness are the intangibles -- maintaining my relationships with my family and my friends. Achieving personal excellence and satisfaction in my hobbies. Hearing the song of sparrows and bluebirds while on a bike ride in Springbank or the Bow Valley with no vehicles or subdivision building sites around. The smell of fall while running along the Elbow River. The deafening silence of a windless winter night and the unbelievable expanse of stars in complete darkness when visiting the family farm in Manitoba. Crossing the finish line at a race after putting my best effort into it. A picture-perfect summer day at a lake or park. A song that puts shivers down my spine and makes me want to dance. Doing work or completing commitments that are self-satisfying and I know are making a positive difference for myself, others or the world in general. These are the things that make me happy and fulfill me.

It seems simple to achieve these things, but I think I speak for many of us when considering that the system is on an incessant path to tear them all down, we obviously have got something wrong that needs to be corrected. To realize that everything you accepted as normal is precisely what is taking joy and fulfillment out of your life is a hard pill to swallow.

That is why I want 2009 to be a year of reckoning for me. I've anguished over the things that are wrong in my life for so long now that my friends don't want to listen to me talk about them anymore. It is time to put my words into action. We're all going through the same shit and only positive changes are going to be heralded as success. I intend to put the things that don't fulfill me or bring me happiness behind me. This is certainly going to be a challenge.

First off, set goals and make plans to achieve those goals. This approach has worked marvellously in the past specifically in my racing history and could very well be applied to all other facets of my life. I've noticed that over the past six months I've really lost my way, not been able to define any goals and thusly become more and more lost to the point where I am now - not sure what to do next in almost all facets of my life.

From a selfish perspective, things like my career which is based on a corporate model that does not care for my feelings or lack of enthusiasm due to its sociopathic nature need to go, but when considering that the last decade of my life has been an investment into what I'm doing now, it's a truth that certainly takes some actualization and reflection. Can I simply leave everything I've believed in and worked towards behind me to start something new that I believe will be more fulfilling and inspiring, yet is still fraught with risks and possible failure? Time to start gambling, taking some chances. I know I've never felt as little commitment or pleasure in what I've been doing in my career as I do at this particular point in time.

To absorb all of this takes time. I'm still a hairless ape deep down that is slow to change and the older I get the slower it gets. The problem is that I might not have much time to change before I'm forced to change. I'd rather have some control over the outcomes on a personal level than to have them dictated to me, and I think that's the mantra we all need to accept to affect the changes that are desperately required personally and collectively.

In my experience, change is a challenge but almost always results in a better outcome than theorized and certainly forces me to reflect on what I've done and what I'm about to do rather than become complacent with what I'm doing in the present and not think about the consequences of my decisions and how they might be affecting me in the present and the future. Especially if during the whole ordeal I'm not satisfied, happy, or fulfilled. What the hell am I doing?

The career thing scares me. I know I need a change if only for my mental state, yet I don't know what I want to do next. I could stay in I.T. but it would need to be in a capacity that is much more locally focused and team-oriented. I am trying to figure things out with that perspective in mind and have yet to figure out what to do. Eventually I will get the impetus to soul-search in earnest; I guess I just haven't gotten to that point of desperation yet. Part of me thinks that holding on to what I'm doing now in this time of confusion and insecurity is the most prudent thing to do until something clearly signals that a shift is mandatory (I also have a sense that if things get worse, a nice layoff package would be in the equation, but there's that ridiculous sense of entitlement rearing its ugly head again!). I also now that my distaste towards what I'm doing now is affecting a lot of other aspects of my life. It's not just the career either, there are a lot of interconnected things in my life that require some change, modification, or complete rebuild.

I'm trying to get my head around the risks associated with this type of hesitant thinking too....look at how our reluctance to see early signs of environmental degradation for what they are have gotten us to our current situation. I'd rather be (and up to now always have been) on the front-side of change when change was required because I took the signs seriously.

On a personal level and all levels above, I don't think the writing on the wall has been more clear. It's time to get involved with a community garden and re-learn how to grow fresh produce, time to 'consume', participate in, and support all things local and regional rather than national or global. Time to eat less meat. Time to consider waste as a part of the consumption cycle rather than an afterthought of it.

In this season of reflection, there is no better time to make plans, set goals and work towards a higher level of consciousness, a better, more effective way of doing things and approaching life. I plan to make 2009 a very important year for myself by moving myself onto a better path towards self-actualization and fulfillment shaped by the things I deem important in my life. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair causing inaction, I plan to effect change rather than wait for it to happen to me against my will. I know myself and everything around me will be better off for it!

Good luck to you all as you pursue figuring out your own path in this time of madness. Make 2009 the year you empowered yourself and realized there are much better ways to do things and achieve your goals.

19 December 2008

Clocky Must Die


What an annoying piece of shit this is. That's what makes it the best. alarm. clock. ever.

12 December 2008

Poignant

Senate to Middle Class: Drop Dead

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Friends,

They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers start building only cars and mass transit that reduce our dependency on oil.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers build cars that reduce global warming.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers withdraw their many lawsuits against state governments in their attempts to not comply with our environmental laws.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the management team which drove these once-great manufacturers into the ground resign and be replaced with a team who understands the transportation needs of the 21st century.

Yes, they could have given the loan for any of these reasons because, in the end, to lose our manufacturing infrastructure and throw 3 million people out of work would be a catastrophe.

But instead, the Senate said, we'll give you the loan only if the factory workers take a $20 an hour cut in wages, pension and health care. That's right. After giving BILLIONS to Wall Street hucksters and criminal investment bankers -- billions with no strings attached and, as we have since learned, no oversight whatsoever -- the Senate decided it is more important to break a union, more important to throw middle class wage earners into the ranks of the working poor than to prevent the total collapse of industrial America.

We have a little more than a month to go of this madness. As I sit here in Michigan today, tens of thousands of hard working, honest, decent Americans do not believe they can make it to January 20th. The malaise here is astounding. Why must they suffer because of the mistakes of every CEO from Roger Smith to Rick Wagoner? Make management and the boards of directors and the shareholders pay for this.

Of course that is heresy to the 31 Republicans who decided to blame the poor, miserable autoworkers for this mess. And our wonderful media complied with their spin on the morning news shows: "UAW Refuses to Give Concessions Killing Auto Bailout Bill." In fact the UAW has given concession after concession, reduced their benefits, agreed to get rid of the Jobs Bank and agreed to make it harder for their retirees to live from week to week. Yes! That's what we need to do! It's the Jobs Bank and the old people who have led the nation to economic ruin!

But even doing all that wasn't enough to satisfy the bastard Republicans. These Senate vampires wanted blood. Blue collar blood. You see, they weren't opposed to the bailout because they believed in the free market or capitalism. No, they were opposed to the bailout because they're opposed to workers making a decent wage. In their rage, they were driven to destroy the backbone of this country, not because the UAW hadn't given back enough, but because the UAW hadn't given up.

It appears that the sitting President has been looking for a way to end his reign by one magnanimous act, just like a warlord on his feast day. He will put his finger in the dyke, and the fragile mess of an auto industry will eke through the next few months.

That will give the Senate enough time to demand that the bankers and investment sharks who've already swiped nearly half of the $700 billion gift a chance to make the offer of cutting their pay.

Fat chance.

Yours,
Michael Moore

Indecision Oh-Eh?

If you didn't get a chance to watch the hilarious episode of the Daily Show on Monday, here is a link to it.

"I didn't know Celine Dion had a sister!"

08 December 2008

Thoughts on Oil and Finance and the Future

I was looking back through my posts over the past year and had to laugh a bit at the amount of coverage the oil spike this summer saw vs. coverage of the financial crash and the resulting problems with that. Neither issue has resulted in anything good and the oil spike is a big part of the trigger that started everything that has happened up until now.

I'm still convinced that we are near the max production rates of a lot of things in our civilization and our ecosystem and to add any more population or growth to the whole thing is going start to make things worse, not better. The oil thing is going to get crazy - big ups, big downs in the price and availability until we can wean off of the stuff, somehow. We have to really start thinking about making an effort to do things smarter. We are capable of many great things in very creative and flexible ways; it's unfortunate that the thing that motivates us to take action collectively in the quickest fashion is fear.

What baffles me most about the past six months is not that oil has come back down in price with the slowdown of the economy and the lowering of general demand, but how low how quickly the price has gone down. Is it even possible that before the spike we were paying more than we are now? Has the economic situation already gotten that bad this quickly that the prices are adjusting accurately, or have speculators taken control of the bottom of this price slide too? It's all head-spinning.

It's also true there are no winners in this current situation. As much as I'd still like to buy a house this year with the market softening, most of my marvellous downpayment was dependent on investments that aren't so marvellous anymore. I may be thankful that I didn't buy in the Calgary market in the past couple of years, but it's quite likely I won't be able to buy in the next two either.

Despite it all, I sure do lead a pretty privileged life. There's no doubt about that. I read a story today about life in the shanytowns of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and how this might be a situation that is going to get more more prevalent and commonplace around the world. Very scary and sad. Abidjan was a place that held so much promise when times were good in the 1980s and has very quickly become an economic and environmental nightmare with the capitalists and Western civic and political leaders pulling out and leaving the local and indigenous populations to fend for themselves. So many unemployed men with nothing to do.

My main resolution in 2009 is to change my attitude to the more positive and uplifting one. It may or may not do anything good, but happy and optimistic is always better than sad and pessimistic, despite what reality throws and you (and what you interpret that reality to be).

That's it for now.

Eep...the Christmas parties start this week...

Awesome

I love my Zune! It rocks! The software leaves a little to be desired, but you know Microsoft will eventually get that fixed up. It doesn't like static electricity and it sometimes doesn't handle too many requests at the same time. These cause the O/S to reboot, which only takes a few seconds. I can't believe I've already got close to 85GB full! It's awesome and very easy to use. So portable, so awesome.

The 'D' Word

Jobs: a new storm in the economic crisis

Canada's job market is being slammed by the worsening US recession, and is now poised for a hit from slumping energy prices. The year-old recession in the US has entered a more serious phase that is likely to drag on for another year, as massive job losses piled up much more quickly than forecast. Over half-a-million jobs disappeared in November, the biggest drop since 1974 and the 11th month in a row for job losses that seem to be picking up speed. The deteriorating job picture is a clear sign, many economists said, that the recession will be worse than expected. "This is almost indescribably terrible," said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. "The pace of job losses is accelerating alarmingly." Canada suffered its biggest monthly job losses last month since the recession of 1982 as 70,600 positions disappeared. Ontario's manufacturing sector is taking a direct blow from collapsing demand in the US, claiming about half of the November job losses. Unemployment crept up to 6.3%, still near historical lows but also half a percentage point above the beginning of year. And the US is far from the only weight on Canada's job picture. The services side of the economy, which is more isolated from US demand, also shed 38,000 jobs in the month - a sign that the sources of Canada's economic weakness are not just the US, but also a deceleration in consumer spending, business investment and the housing market, economists said.

Even the silver lining of the current job numbers, the remarkably low unemployment rates in Alberta and Saskatchewan at 3.4% and 3.7%, is at risk. As energy prices fall, Western Canadian companies are scaling back their capital budgets and cancelling and postponing major projects, and some economists are warning that the oil and gas sector will see slumping employment as prices continue to skid. Crude oil prices fell to US$40.81 a barrel in New York yesterday, down 25% on the week and touching their lowest level since December 2004. Prices could fall below $25 if China's economy stumbles and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries fails to sufficiently rein in production, said economists at Merrill Lynch. And Canada's manufacturing sector's woes are far from over, with more pain to come in the auto sector. General Motors of Canada will lay off 700 employees at its Oshawa, ON, car plant in February amid poor sales and a massive, North America-wide production cutback in the first quarter. On both sides of the Canada-US border, the job numbers added a new level of urgency for leaders already under pressure to take decisive action on the struggling economy. Unless the new US administration acts decisively, the recession risks becoming a more intractable depression, said Peter Morici, economist professor at the University of Maryland. "This was much worse than was expected and represents wholesale capitulation," he said of the job numbers. "The threat of a widespread depression is now real and present." The difference, he explained, is that a recession is self-correcting, while a depression is not. Policy measures can soften the blow or shorten a recession, but generally, recessions resolve themselves on their own. Depressions, on the other hand, require governments to take bold measures to fix the underlying causes. Other economists point out that in the Great Depression, unemployment in the US was running around 30%, and today is 6.7%. No US recession since the 1930s Depression has lasted longer than 16 months, but the current downtown seems destined to eclipse that.
(Globe and Mail, National Post 081206)

For most of us, this is looking to be the toughest period of economic duress we've ever experienced. Even the people who have a vested interest in pretending it isn't happening are starting to admit that the worst is coming.

03 December 2008

02 December 2008

Stuff Splattering in Every Direction

Even Bernanke can't say what's next

The bad news is that the US has already been in recession for nearly a year. Worse still, the bottom isn't yet in sight, prompting another massive selloff yesterday on Wall Street. The rout came amid fresh evidence that factory activity is in retreat, and a grim acknowledgment from Federal Reserve Board chief Ben Bernanke that even he doesn't know how long this will last. "The uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook is unusually large," he said. The National Bureau of Economic Research - the official arbiter of US recessions - made it official by declaring that the post-2001 expansion ended abruptly in December 2007, and the economy has been in retreat ever since. "The committee determined that the decline in economic activity in 2008 met the standard for a recession," the NBER said in a statement. A recession is typically marked by two consecutive quarters of declining gross domestic product, which hasn't happened yet. But the NBER looks at an array of economy-wide measures. These include GDP, payroll employment, gross domestic income, real personal income, real manufacturing sales, wholesale and retail sales, factory output and household employment. The news confirmed what economists have been saying for months, based on analyzing previous slumps. Still unclear is how much longer and deeper the economy will slide.

There is new, disturbing evidence that worse may still be ahead, even a year into the recession. A key measure of manufacturing activity in November fell to its lowest level in 26 years. The Institute for Supply Management's monthly manufacturing index fell to 36.2 from 38.9 in October, the worst reading since the 1982 recession. The index was dragged down by a steep reported drop in factory orders. "The current reading reaffirms the emerging consensus that the current slump will be one of the harshest in the post-World War II era," said economist David Resler of Nomura Securities. Bernanke suggested the central bank would do whatever it takes to stop the spillover effect from the financial crisis to the broader economy, including shielding large financial institutions from collapse. He pointed out that with the Fed's key short-term interest rate already at 1%, there's now limited room to cut more. The Fed meets again Dec. 16 and most analysts expect another rate cut of half a percentage point. But Bernanke said the bank will continue to use unconventional means to keep money coursing through the banking system, including buying up longer-term Treasury bills as well as the debts of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Down the road, Bernanke said the Fed would have to worry about the inflationary impact of all that liquidity, but not now.

In related news, CIBC World Markets has said that as the US faces its biggest budgetary deficit since the end of the Second World War, taxpayers will be faced with years of future liabilities and inflation that will drive down the value of the US dollar. Yet the stimulus measures that are the prime source of this expanded deficit will do nothing to restore the deeply troubled North American auto industry to long-term viability, said CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin. Even before a substantial stimulus package expected from president-elect Barack Obama, the US Treasury market will need to finance US$1.5 trillion of new debt, if not more, pushing the federal deficit to 11% of the country's total economic output. The tempting shortcut will be to "reflate" the US economy by pumping money into the system, Rubin said in the report, titled The Printing Press. "The resulting higher inflation allows the government to pay off bondholders with coupons that have less and less buying power every year," said Rubin. "And while the bonds mature at par, inflation will have eroded much of their real value." Government bailouts won't cure the auto industry, however, whose problems run far deeper than being able to compete with imports, the CIBC report said. The end of cheap credit and rising gasoline prices are fundamentally altering the domestic market, which is geared to produce 15 to 20 million vehicles for a market where demand is falling to 10 million units.
(Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail 081202)

UN: Global stimulus needed

The United Nations called for governments around the world to undertake massive stimulus packages in order to deal with the impact of a global economic downturn. The world body's economists forecast in a new report that the dollar and world per capita income will continue to drop in 2009. The report predicts that export growth and capital inflows will decline and borrowing costs for developing countries increase in 2009. The Global Outlook Report calls for “massive economic stimulus packages that are coherent and mutually reinforcing on a global basis, and linked with sustainable development imperatives.” The packages “should come on top of the liquidity and recapitalization measures already undertaken by countries in response to the economic crisis,” the report added. The report also proposed “stronger regulation of financial markets and institutions, adequate international liquidity provisioning, an overhaul of the international reserve system and a more inclusive and effective global economic governance, to prevent against any future repetition." According to the report, output of developed countries will decline 0.5%, compared with an average growth rate of 5.3% in emerging economies and 4.6% growth in developing countries. Overall global growth will probably not exceed 1% in 2009, compared to 2.5% in 2008, and rates varying between 3.5 and 4% in the four previous years. In the US GDP growth will decline by 1%, the euro zone will drop by 0.7% and Japan by 0.3%. Growth in India, Brazil and Mexico are projected to reach 7%, 2.9% and 0.7%. But the report warns that “given the great uncertainty prevailing today, a more pessimistic scenario is quite possible.”
(Journal of Commerce 081201)

Holy crap. I already have had a bad feeling about everything for some time, but geez the news is getting grim. Prepare for the worst, everyone. The guys in control will be the last to admit how truly dire the situation is, and if they're already conceding that things are rough and only going to get rougher, you can bet that we're in for a world of hurt over the next couple of years - at a minimum.....

Not that they will manage anything properly though. They are all too busy power posturing in Washington and Ottawa to spend any time on real issues.

01 December 2008

Look out Iceland, our turn's next to f*&k it up...

Alberta floats idea of financial hub

The Stelmach government has launched exploratory talks with banks big and small on establishing a western-based "financial hub" that clusters more of the operations of the banking sector in Alberta and turns the province into a global financial powerhouse. While the province looks for ways to shift some of the financial sector's influence away from Eastern Canada, a new government-commissioned report recommends a series of fiscal reforms that would see Alberta and British Columbia create a joint pension plan. While both moves would require sweeping systemic changes, the Alberta government and major financial players are already crafting a plan that would see the province snare more control of the financial sector and station it in their own backyard. Finance Minister Iris Evans met recently with Alberta-based officials from the major banks and other organizations to discuss how they can concentrate more of the financial sector in the province and be more responsive to the region's banking and investment needs. Evans said major banks based in Toronto often don't understand the financial needs of the energy industry and other emerging sectors and it would be in the province's best interest to create its own investment hub. She hopes to attract more banking institutions to the province and said the strategy would work in concert with the government's plan to retain its provincial securities regulator, rather than proceed with a single national authority.
(Calgary Herald 081201)

As much as Alberta's power-trip leaders want complete dominance over the world, is it really such a good idea to let these goons control that which wrecked the financial industry based out of Toronto and New York? Albertan leaders are even more wreckless and short-sighted than the ones in the East....watch as they make Alberta a bigger financial basketcase than Iceland....have you seen how financing for everything half-built in downtown Calgary has suddenly dried up? Yikes.

26 November 2008

What the &*^%$ a Zune?

Get your head out of the gutter!

How come no one's heard of iPod's nemesis? Well - it's not really a challenger. I think Microsoft's Zune has maybe 7% market share compared to Apple's 60-70% for iPod, but this thing works best for my needs; plus whether I like it or not, I'm inexorably tied to Microsoft for my personal computer needs in addition to my paycheck. Talk about being committed to a single stream....

I bought a 120GB player yesterday...I lost my old flash MP3 player a few months ago (damn tiny machines; isn't it inevitable that it will eventually disappear?)

Another early Xmas present to myself...well, the return of the gift from my brother and sister-in-law helped out in the payment for the player too -- we had family Xmas two weeks ago; it's complicated, don't ask.

Anyways, most of you know that I'm a music freak -- tens of thousands of songs catalogued on CDs and DVDs in addition to the CD and cassette collection (I'm old, okay?). I've been listening to music in MP3 format for at least 10 years now. The collection's grown somewhat over that time.

Finally, a single point to collate my entire collection! Marvellous! Now I need a week to re-load all the catalogued music and sync it onto the player...

25 November 2008

The Upside of A Downturn

World on cusp of technological revolution, Merrill Lynch says

Clean technology will rival the Industrial Revolution and every major technological development since then to become the "Sixth Revolution," as the world grapples with the threats of peak oil, global warming and the need for energy security, says Merrill Lynch. While such revolutions occur only about every 50 years, and can deliver "a golden age" based on the new technology's transformative possibilities, we are now on the cusp of the next great change, says Merrill Lynch clean-tech strategist Steven Milunovich. The end result will be significant investment opportunities likely heralded by a phase beginning as early as 2010-2011, when the potential impact of these changes bursts fully onto markets and the current financial crisis has eased, the report said. It also foresees: A world in which energy is not to be conserved but is so abundant as to be wasted, and one in which power generation is no longer the integrated monolith it is now, but one that is decentralized among users. A world in which electric automobiles navigate our roadways, solar panels heat our homes, and where hotels and large buildings use "utilities in a box" that offer electricity, heat, hot water and cooling on site by recapturing waste heat. And with transmission costs and new power plants adding dramatically to power costs, it will be a world in which "microgrids," or clusters of small on-site generators, serve office buildings, industrial parks and homes without overburdening aging transmission lines. Consequently, "the application of technology to resource problems should cause profound changes in the energy, utility and automotive industries," Milunovich said. The building blocks will likely be nanotechnology and genetic engineering. How biotech is already overlapping with the clean technology revolution is evident in the engineering of enzymes to break down cellulose to create biofuels. The alternative energy industry is currently well off its peaks, and is under pressure as the credit crisis crimps availability of capital. But Milunovich expects friendlier government policies, particularly from US president-elect Barack Obama, and economic improvement to spur investment. Critical to the success of alternative energy is the support of venture capitalists, whose entrepreneurial bent encourages innovative thinking.
(Vancouver Sun 081125)

Shine On Me






Tikaro, J. Louis & Ferran - Shine On Me
Free Music Videos at www.blastro.com

24 November 2008

Worried about nothing?

Last week I had a review with my Career Manager that prompted me to update my Monster.ca resume and profile -- something I hadn't done in several years simply because I didn't feel the need to.

With indications of what my company's initiatives might be in the new year (ie, they're waiting, like every other company, to see what this economic downturn is going to look like), and that training money might be non-existent while my contract on my current position ends at the end of December and there's a possibility that I might end up on the 'bench' for a period of time until new project money starts to flow again, I thought it wouldn't hurt to get my name out there again. Plus the fact I'm very tired and sick of my current role, to the point I don't even care about staying or going anymore.

I have had several IT Recruiters contact me over the past six months to see when I was going to be interested in looking at other opportunities, but over the last three days, I've had two companies contact me directly and another recruiting company! Now the issue is that there's a lot of development/support work out there in IT, but that's not particularly what I want to do anymore. I'm thinking business analyst roles, but I guess if the right technology position showed up, I might consider it.

But I'm being honest with everyone I talk to:
"yes, I've developed in Perl in the past, but it's not something I want to do exclusively."
"yes, I've been in development and support roles for almost eight years now, but I really want to get out of the technology side and get more experience on the business side." (I can't believe I'm actually saying such things).
and a few months ago:
"I'm going through a lot of personal stuff right now and won't be looking at any new opportunities in the short-term future." Classic, eh?

That being said, I heard from my deployment manager today that the head of the Integrated Technology Delivery group wants to talk to me about the end of my contract. He oversees network architecture for the current contract I'm on. I haven't worked with him directly, however we are part of a regular noon running group so I know him quite well. Maybe I'll wait to see what he has to say before I make any decisions?

I do have a meeting with the new IT Recruiter on Wednesday....

...when it rains, it pours.

23 November 2008

Big McDeal

Nude pics in phone lost at McDonald's get online
By The Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Here's some food for thought: If you have nude photos of your wife on your cellphone, hang onto it.

Phillip Sherman of Arkansas learned that lesson after he left his phone behind at a McDonald's restaurant and the photos ended up online. Now he and his wife, Tina, are suing the McDonald's Corp., the franchise owner and the store manager.

The suit was filed Friday and seeks a jury trial and $3 million in damages for suffering, embarrassment and the cost of having to move to a new home.

The suit says Phillip Sherman left the phone the Fayetteville store in July and employees promised to secure it until he returned.

Manager Aaron Brummley declined comment and other company officials didn't return messages.

Okay, so first of all this moron has these photos on his phone, obviously to show his friends. They get online, (OMG! Nude photos of my wife on the Internet! The horror!) which probably wouldn't have been a big deal, but then he decides to sue McDonald's? You had to move because of embarrassment of some online nude photos? REALLY? I smell bullshit. Now the whole world knows, you yutz. If you weren't so greedy, no one would've cared.

21 November 2008

Still Flying High

America’s Big Three Auto Maker CEOs Flew Private Jets to Plead for Public Funds
November 19, 2008

Detroit (ChattahBox) — The CEOs of Ford (Alan Mulally), Chrysler (Robert Nardelli) and GM (Rick Wagoner ) were in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday asking the government for billions of dollars to bailout their collective businesses.

The execs were trying to make the case that they’ll likely go out of business without a bailout. However they traveled in luxury on private, company owned, luxurious jets to get to D.C.

Wagoner flew in to tell members of Congress that the number one automaker is burning through cash, asking for $10-12 billion for GM alone. Sort of proving his case about burning cash, ABC News reports that Wagoner’s private jet trip to Washington cost the ailing GM an estimated $20,000 roundtrip. GM has 8 luxury jets in its fleet and apparently does NOT plan on selling any of them in this time of ‘crisis’. Note, the jet Wagoner flew on to get to DC cost the company $36 million.

Ford CEO Mulally told Congress that he’s cutting expenses, by laying-off workers and closing 17 plants. Mulally’s corporate jet is a perk included for both he and his wife as part of his employment contract along with a $28 million salary last year. Mulally actually lives in Seattle, not Detroit. The company jet takes him home and back on weekends. Neanwhile Ford continues to operate a fleet of eight private jets for its executives! The ABC report goes on to say that on Tuesday, one jet was taking Ford honchos to Los Angeles, another on a trip to Nebraska.

Robert Nardelli of Chrysler also flew in on a corporate jets to DC.

In comparison, seats on Northwest Airlines flight 2364 from Detroit to Washington were going online for $288 coach and $837 first class. Couldn’t the 3 have ‘jet pooled’ at least, considering they were coming from and going to the same place?

Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste said, “This is a slap in the face of taxpayers. To come to Washington on a corporate jet, and asking for a hand out is outrageous… It appears that the senior management of the automakers simply don’t get it.”

John McElroy of the TV show, Autoline Detroit said, “Now’s not the time to do that sort of thing. Now’s the time to be humble and show that you’re sharing equally in the sacrifice.”

Yeah, even the smallest gesture that you're serious and humbled would be a good thing. But these guys are so out to lunch on what reality for their companies is, I don't think they get it. Same old, same old. When times are good, these guys fight tooth and nail for deregulation and political leverage, then when things go south they are caught with their asses in the air and have to beg for taxpayer handouts. Ridiculous. It's very indicative of the analysis of the situation by the guys that rule the roost in most industries...I'm hardly surprised things are going the way they're going with all these goons in charge of things.

17 November 2008

Democracy has its bad effects

I am one of the people that believe the Internet has been one, if not the greatest invention by humanity of the past century - a tool to allow for truly democratic and unrestrained sharing of information around the world. I would fight to keep the Internet unregulated and free for much longer than I would fight for shitty commercial TV, radio or the movie industry, anyday. In fact, more than any industry or institution, period.

However, with all that unbridled access and freedom come the stoopid people. They are the ones that give the Internet and intelligent discourse a very bad name. You see them commenting on blogs, discussion boards, freaking out and flaming anything that they don't agree with with dialog that can hardly be considered coherent language or train of thought. It's these people I wish could be banned from the discourse, but alas, with all the power, freedom and goodness that comes with the Internet, it's gotten to the point where anyone can participate, and unfortunately the ones that are unable to use a mouse or write a complete proof-read sentence are now able to shower us with all their great bits of wisdom. Even though they kill every intelligent thinker just a little bit more everyday by sucking the brain cells out of the human collective, they are there and flourishing.

One good thing about the economic downturn, one can only hope, is that the barriers to entry will start going up again and most of these losers will be removed from the discourse once again, allowing it to jump up a few IQ notches.

One can only hope...

Bottomless


It'd be funny if it weren't true.

14 November 2008

Facebook

Man, Facebook is acting like a piece of crap again this morning. Ever since they rolled out the new version, access has been spotty; no wonder millions of people are asking for them to bring back the old version. They should do SOMETHING, otherwise they're going to lose members...maybe. Online, people may be fickle, but if all your friends are on one network, you're gonna stay there no matter how bad things get, right?

13 November 2008

The Fire Sale Begins...

Federal government considering sale of Crown assets: Flaherty
Last Updated: Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 5:27 PM ET The Canadian Press

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the Conservative government is looking at selling off some Crown assets in order to keep the country from running a deficit.

He wouldn't reveal which properties — or Crown corporations — might be on the auction block, but hinted Ottawa's stake in Toronto's CN Tower might be one of them.

Flaherty ruled out selling the CBC, which accounts for $1 billion of the federal budget every year.

Public Works Minister Christian Paradise cautioned that the review of assets is only in the preliminary stages.

Flaherty emerged from a Conservative caucus meeting in Winnipeg with a grim economic assessment, saying that conditions across the globe are likely to get worse and that he is consulting with economists almost every other day.

The governments are now selling everything they can think of to remain solvent now that they have decided that bailing out all the industries in the country is a good idea. It's only a matter of time now before the entire financial ponzi scheme collapses, so look for some good Crown Corporation investments while they're hot! LOL Yeah, right....

Zeitgeist 2

I just watched Zeitgeist 2: The Addendum tonight, and wow, just wow. It is a great piece of work. I highly recommend everyone sit through it at least once. It will shake your reality to its foundations. I know that I've been living in disdain and restlessness for some time now. The system we live in is so anti-human, anti-Earth, corrupt and diseased, I've been feeling otherworldly lately while I try to grasp the whole realization that we need to radically change the way we 'do' and 'think', but that I don't know what direction I should head in in the short-term and long-term myself. This movie certainly helped me clear a few things up in my head and I feel better and more optimistic about the future than I have in a very long time.

Here are some links:
http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com
http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com
http://www.thevenusproject.com

12 November 2008

I Hate This Part

Another kickass remix that is better than the original. Digital Dog is a UK production team, whose influences include Soul Seekerz and Jody den Broeder, two other production teams that I LOVE.

Here is the remix single edit of Pussycat Dolls "I Hate This Part". Fantastic.

05 November 2008

Latest Update

Trial to begin Tuesday for man accused of killing cyclist
Daryl Slade, Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, November 03, 2008

A month-long trial for the shooting death of cyclist Brian Kullman is scheduled to begin Tuesday at Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary.

Bill James Pappas, 38, is charged with second-degree murder, arson, possession of stolen property under $5,000, uttering a forged document and fraud under $5,000, all related to Kullman's death.

Kullman's body was found Nov. 10, 2006, by hikers in Kananaskis Country.

Pappas was in possession of a one-way ticket to Italy when he was arrested by police at Calgary International Airport the day after the victim was found.

The first two weeks of the trial will be a voir dire before Justice Colleen Kenny to determine the admissibility of Crown evidence.

Jury selection will not take place until Nov. 15, after a ruling has been made on the voir dire, and the jurors will begin hearing evidence called by prosecutor Dale Fedorchuk on Nov. 18.

Pappas, represented by lawyer John Davison, was ordered to stand trial in November 2007, following a preliminary hearing in provincial court.

dslade@theherald.canwest.com
© Calgary Herald 2008

Victory

Congratulations America! You have definitively proven once again why your political system is the most successful democracy in human history. Barack Obama's win in the presidential election yesterday proved that if the people desire change enough, their voice (vote) can definitely count. After eight years of Republican mismanagement and the resulting gloom that hung over the world like a dark cloud, the people of the U.S. stood up and said "enough is enough". I really hope that the Democrats, now that they have majority in both Houses and the Presidential seat can affect change that the people of the nation feel is sorely needed.

"Yes We Can"!

I had been very concerned that McCain (nothing against him personally) might be able to pull out a win considering the outcomes of the last two elections, but it ended up not even being a close race. I think the entire world - and most Americans - felt that the American people had absolved their responsibility as benevolent leader of the free world ("with great power comes great responsibility"), but they proved my concerns unfounded. The people have spoken, a new political generation has officially been passed the torch and the beacon of American liberty (and its effect on the entire world) shines brightly once again.

I'm very impressed and proud of you, my friends.

I can't wait to join in the party with you this weekend in Chicago! I imagine the air will be filled with celebration and joy throughout the entire city and gay community for some time to come.

...

Unfortunately, one bit of bad news is that the constitutional ban on gay marriage proposition in California (Proposition 8) looks to have succeeded. It looks like the hope of thousands of gay couples in that state may be quashed....for now. I know their fight for equality will not subside and I was honestly surprised by the outcome, but hey, I guess the message is that America, while ready for its first visible minority president, is not ready for gay marriage. Despite the symbolic significance of what happened yesterday indicating how far the American psyche has come when considering tolerance and diversity, one can only hope that a move to more rational thinking, scientific consideration, humanitarian concern, environmental stewardship and progressive legislation that should come with the new Administration will trickle down to the collective consciousness of a people that are on the way to embracing their diversity and special place in the world, but are not all the way there yet.

The same resistance came in Canada until gay marriage was legally instituted by the Supreme Court (it was not brought in initially by democratic legislation). Over time, though, people realized the concerns of the resistance were unfounded and now I think most of Canada has come accustomed to gay marriage...most people don't even think about it anymore, and it certainly hasn't lessened the significance of the institution of marriage for most. Most of all, Canada did not fall off the face of the Earth in apocalyptic hellfire. In time, reason might prevail in American politics and culture, and gay marriage will one day be an inherent option for any gay person in that country as well.

Hugs to you, my American friends!

30 October 2008

Reckless

WWF SAYS RECKLESS CONSUMPTION THREATENS THE PLANET

By Laura MacInnis
28 October 2008
20:01
Reuters News
(c) 2008 Reuters Limited

GENEVA, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The Earth's natural resources are being depleted so quickly that "two planets" would be required to sustain current lifestyles within a generation, the conservation group WWF said on Wednesday.

The Swiss-based WWF, also known as the World Wildlife Fund, said in its latest Living Planet Report that more than three quarters of the world's population lives in countries whose consumption levels are outstripping environmental renewal.

Its Living Planet Report concluded that reckless consumption of "natural capital" was endangering the world's future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy.

"If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles," said WWF International Director-General James Leape.

Jonathan Loh of the Zoological Society of London said the dramatic ecological losses from pollution, deforestation, over-fishing and land conversion were having serious impacts.

"We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically -- seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences," Loh said in a statement accompanying the report.

"The consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown," he said.

The report said the world's global environmental "footprint" or depletion rate now exceeds the planet's capacity to regenerate by 30 percent. On a per-country basis, the United States and China have the largest footprints, the WWF said.

The United States and Australia rank among the five countries with the largest footprints per person, along with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Denmark.

The lowest five are Bangladesh, Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi, WWF said. Regionally, only non-EU Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean remain within their "biocapacity".

Emissions from fossil fuels -- which would be targeted under a successor to the Kyoto climate change accord -- were among the top culprits cited by WWF for the big demands on the planet.

The WWF's Leape said world leaders needed to put ecological concerns at the top of their agenda and ensure the environment is factored into all decisions about consumption, development, trade, agriculture and fisheries management.

"If humanity has the will, it has the ways to live within the means of the planet, but we must recognise that the ecological credit crunch will require even bolder action than that now being mustered for the financial crisis," Leape said. (Editing by Jon Boyle)

Going to Poland

Bright Neighbor

What's a common mantra of peak oil preparers, climate change activists, and environmentalists? Go local, go local, go local. But until now, there have been few tools to help us do so. We don't know our neighbors. The food and consumer goods in our stores come from thousands of miles away. And the places we live are hard to get around by walking or biking.

So as we try to re-localize, how do we find what we need? How do we collaborate when we don't know who's who? How do we garden when we don't know how? How do we buy local when all we see on the streets are big-box stores? It's kind of a difficult slog sometimes, isn't it?

Help is here! Bright Neighbor is an online tool designed for cities or towns to help their residents weather the peak oil and financial storms currently brewing. It helps citizens connect, share and barter items, rides, and knowledge. By facilitating community involvement and local networking, this tool can help increase the liveability and sustainability of our cities.

Bright Neighbor is the brainchild of Randy White, a key member of the Portland Peak Oil Task Force. As usual, Portland is in the vanguard of sustainability and environmentalism. Part of the Portland peak oil plan is the Portland Bright Neighbor site, where residents can:

-Find local businesses and resources
-Meet local people with the same interests
-Swap and share items, goods, and services
-Search for and offer rides and car-shares
-Find community events and news

Bright Neighbor has great interactive maps where you can find all things locally. For example, food. Search on food, and you can see a map of the local farmer's markets, urban gardens, even find the publicly available fruit and nut trees. It also has great lists of people. Click on edible landscaping, and you can find people in your area with the same interest. (Community members use an online alias, with their information hidden, until they chose to "trust" another person and show them their information. )

To put it another way, Bright Neighbor is to going local as Amazon.com is to buying books.

The base cost of the Bright Neighbor online tool starts at $5000 (depends on the size of the town or neighborhood and other technical factors - so the price could be higher for your city), which is a drop in the bucket in most city budgets. Think like this: What is the cost of each person preparing for peak oil individually, versus the cost of everyone working together? Working as a community, we can achieve so much more. And this tool, I believe, could be a major key to working together.

If you are interested in getting your community ready for peak oil and living sustainably, this tool should really be a part of your community preparation strategy. So talk to your town and neighborhood leaders and city planners. Tell them about Bright Neighbor. Check it out. It's been designed so that cities and towns can have a city site up and running in a short amount of time, and the tool grows organically as people join and share their knowledge. But remember, like any community tool, it's only as good as the community members who join it.

Say it with me, people! There is help to GO LOCAL. And it's name is Bright Neighbor!

(Thanks, Peak Oil Hausfrau!)

Things just get more surreal everyday....

Oil majors may gain trading business as a result of credit crisis

Oil majors like Shell and Total may emerge unexpected winners from the global credit crisis, as their trading teams fill the void left by battered investment banks, the head of independent trader Arcadia said recently. And while Arcadia's derivatives trading volumes have halved in recent months as credit counterparty anxieties cripple over-the-counter trade across the industry, CEO Peter Bosworth told Reuters he expects oil trading houses to weather the storm as rising margins offset falling volumes. "The big gainers will be the Shells, BPs, Totals... oil companies with sophisticated trading departments," Bosworth, who's been an oil trader for 20 years, said in an interview. "They will be the new investment bankers of the industry," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Asian oil trading industry's biggest conference of the year.

Long skilled at managing their own risks, majors such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell have boosted efforts in recent years to sell their expertise to airlines or utilities who aim to hedge their exposure to volatile prices, and grab a bigger piece of the billion-dollar energy risk management business. Airlines could deal with majors directly for jet fuel hedging for instance, Bosworth said, as banks tighten their business and some corporates grew more wary of dealing with banks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and last-ditch rescue of others. The transformation of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs into commercial banks may also leave the industry's dominant derivatives traders with less appetite for risk. That could open the door for oil majors to provide services that banks normally offer, such as bundling project finance or loan deals together with hedging, while maintaining some of their own conservative business model at a time of crisis.
(Daily Oil Bulletin 081028)

Great...do the oil majors really need to have control of the financial industry now? What next? Control of the government too? Sheesh....

Companies seek pension funding relief

Canadian companies are lobbying the federal government for relief from their pension funding obligations as market turmoil drives down the value of their pension-fund assets. Pension industry consultants and corporate executives have confirmed that a behind-the-scenes effort is under way to persuade the federal Finance Department to offer a temporary reprieve for a diverse array of companies and not-for-profit organizations. Among the voices lobbying the government is Nav Canada, which operates Canada's air-navigation system. Some companies say they are facing possible financial devastation if they are required to immediately make enormous contributions to their pension plans to fund shortfalls. "There are companies that would absolutely fold if they had to make contributions based on the provisions of the legislation as they stand now," said pension consultant Jeff Kissack of Watson Wyatt in Toronto.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which oversees about 1,400 federally regulated pension plans, confirmed this week it has met with companies concerned about the impact of the current market turmoil on their defined benefit pension plans. Judy Cameron, managing director of OSFI's private pension plans division, said OSFI is "monitoring the industry very closely" and is talking to some plans about their funding issues. But she said it is not within OSFI's powers to change funding regulations for plans whose investment holdings have dropped in value. Such decisions would come from the federal Finance Department, which has not yet offered any commitments of support. However, a Finance official said yesterday the department has had a history of providing help to pension funds in difficult circumstances, offering temporary relief in 2006, for example, to help plans cope with funding shortfalls built up earlier in the decade. That relief has since expired. One solution proposed by companies would be a temporary extension of the time limit for funding pension shortfalls, increasing it to 10 or 15 years. Companies currently have five years to make up shortfalls. Another proposal being weighed by Ottawa would give companies a reprieve from doing a pension solvency valuation at year-end, which would help them avoid recording and "locking in" their lower asset valuations for required funding purposes. Pension funds normally have to do a valuation of their obligations and assets every three years, then plan sponsors have five years to fund shortfalls. However, once federally regulated funds are in a shortfall position, OSFI requires valuations to be done annually.
(Globe and Mail 081029)

Pension funds are strange. Despite the inherent faulty economic logic about taking future returns and promises on repayment on the value of investments today (good ol' interest and debt -- what today's entire economic system is based on and why we're in the shit storm we're in now...who thought it was a great idea to predict the future and apply that estimated future value to the current valuation of a product today? Say goodbye to your futures, generations to come).

I can understand the desire to give your dedicated employees a cushion once they leave the company and that this is something that has been encouraged by governments to alleviate the demands on their own pension funding, however somewhere the pension funds became just like corporations; maximizing returns for shareholders no matter the cost to society, the environment or the risk involved. Now these pension fund managers are screwed because they loved the idea of financial instruments that would create value intrinsically...but....they ended up being a bunch of crap, and now everyone's in trouble, and coming to the government hat in hand for help. I'm amazed how quickly this has all come about. Man, people are stupid when times are good. It never ceases to change, economic cycle after economic cycle....

Aren't pensions a baby boomer invention anyways? What happened to good old personal responsibility? That was lost a long time ago, I'm afraid.


Banks urged to stop hoarding bailout funds

The White House and Treasury pressed the banking industry Tuesday to use the US government's capital injections to boost lending instead of simply hoarding the cash. "Banks exist to lend money -- that's how they make money," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said as the Treasury prepared to deliver the first round of infusions of a $US250-billion recapitalization plan. "So we think that one of the things that we have to do is help recapitalize them so that they have a capital base, so that they are willing to lend money." Perino said the government cannot force the banks to lend money but pointed out that "the banks are regulated by the Treasury Department ... they have every incentive to move forward and start using this money." The comments came as the Treasury announced a series of steps to begin delivering capital to banks this week and concerns expressed by some analysts that the banks were either hoarding cash or using the funds to buy other institutions.
(Vancouver Sun 081029)

Within a few months, everything has gone from being rosy to being drowned in shit. And now everyone is depending on the public purse to keep everything afloat by printing unlimited amounts of money, prompting inflation and currency devaluation. Everyone has to pay for a few people's greed and stupidity. Ridiculous.

Emergency lender may need a rescue

With Pakistan now joining Iceland, Hungary and Ukraine in the line forming outside the International Monetary Fund's New York headquarters, fears are rising as to just how prepared the IMF is should more countries fall into financial catastrophe. Though the fund is set up to float loans to central banks in times of financial crisis, some say the mounting pressures could soon leave the global lender of last resort unable to help those countries in need. Yesterday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a substantial increase in the IMF's reserves, appealing for help from countries still holding high foreign reserves, including China and oil-rich Middle Eastern states. "Capital flight has made a number of countries potential victims of this crisis," Brown said. "It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot delay and that we need substantial international resources in addition to the US$250 billion that the IMF already has. We need this for the crisis we face now in the 21st century." The funds currently available to the IMF have been mostly amassed and given to the fund by members of the G-8 and, in total, amount to roughly a third of what the US alone required to bail out the American banking industry earlier this month. Peter Christoffersen, professor of economics at McGill University who worked with the IMF during the Asian financial crisis, seconded Brown's assertion. "(The IMF) could certainly reach a point where they have no lending capacity and then the governments that are not in trouble would then have to step in" to keep the fund buoyant. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly hard to find a country that's currently navigating the global financial storm with impunity.
(Toronto Star 081029)

Where does it all end? Once everyone is bankrupt and everything ceases to operate the way it once did? Wow, we could be on the verge of a sea change of attitude and design of all our cornerstone institutions after this sea of sludge washes over us and the survivors manage to surface for air. And this is just the present, folks. I think we've royally fucked several generations yet to come because of the past 20-30 years of unbridled 'free markets'.

20 October 2008

The best is right at home...


In the eternal search for the best Engrish phrases around, here is the one that was stuck on one of our apartment building elevators during the weekend. Despite the inconvenience of only one elevator for the entire building over the weekend, the sign was worth the laugh.

18 October 2008

Passages

Obviously nothing much has been going on that I want to write about today. Where has all the time gone? I can't believe it's the middle of October already.

I've been hitting the gym pretty hard for the past few months with my workout partner and started increasing my running mileage again, finally. I was quite sick at the end of September into early October which derailed training plans a bit. I was at a family wedding at the beginning of October in Saskatoon as well as finally getting to visit my new niece over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend.

Work is painful to endure these days. I have been less than motivated to do anything and I'm currently working on a new resume format to finally start distributing. With the economic situation these days, I'm wondering if it's not prudent to just stay put until things settle down a bit and figure things out from there.

As well, relationship problems are rearing their ugly faces again, and I'm still not sure how that's going to turn out in the near and far future.

It's busy Halloween season coming up, plus all of the bike organization AGMs and Synergy casino coming up in November. I'm also heading to Chicago for the Remembrance Day long weekend and then at the end of November will be family Xmas in Red Deer.

Suddenly, December's here...2008 can't pass into history soon enough, although the time certainly is flying whether I want it to or not.

30 September 2008

Song of the Sirens

I can't get the Siren's single "Club Lala" out of my head....well, the Jody den Broeder remix, which is a million times better than the original. When played on a system with subwoofers, it will break windows! Not the most lyrically-challenging song ever written, but fun!

23 September 2008

This is NOT spam

You know all those spam emails you get from lawyers and government officers in Africa that want you to send them money in order to release a vast fortune from bank accounts, of which you of course will receive a cut of the proceeds? Well, this one is more urgent, and possibly, a lot more REAL.

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson

Subject: REQUEST FOR URGENT CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check.

We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully
Minister of Treasury Paulson

22 September 2008

Sage advice not heeded

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered." Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States 1801-1809

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." Thomas Jefferson, 1816

"We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world -- no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men..." Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States 1913-1921

I find it hard to believe that we have been taken by surprise.

21 September 2008

Stuff

Check out this link to "Story of Stuff". A highly recommended 20-minute video.

17 September 2008

The Price of Ignorance...

...our demise, perhaps?

When did we become afraid of adventure?
Friday, September 12, 2008 | 04:08 PM ET
By Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks.

Amid fears of global catastrophe, the Large Hadron Collider was fired up this week in an event that was, well, under whelming. After three decades of waiting, a hush fell over the large crowd of scientists gathered in the control room, anxiously watching a bank of computer monitors lining the front wall. Then suddenly, there it was…a little white dot that flashed for less than a second. No sound of a big bang, no rumblings in the ground, no cosmic disaster; just a little white dot. Anyone who blinked at the wrong time would have missed it.

Of course, cheers erupted in the room over the fact that the world’s largest machine actually works; but to the uninitiated, nothing much happened. And in fact, on the human scale, not much did. Everything in the collider deals with incredibly tiny particles exchanging energy in a very tiny space for a very short period of time. All the protests, fear-mongering over uncontrolled nuclear explosions or black holes eating the planet, came down to that little white blip.

This is not to diminish the importance of the project. Those blips will provide an enormous wealth of data, similar to that returned by the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, both projects are attempting to look back in time to explore conditions that existed at the beginning of the universe and try to understand how everything we know today came to be. But to be afraid of the Large Hadron Collider is like saying, “Don’t look through that new telescope, you might see something scary!”

Exploring the unknown used to be exciting and educational. 50 years ago, we started building rockets to explore the unknown regions of space. We’ve since landed on alien worlds, seen things we never dreamed of. As well, back then, the perceived threat of Soviet supremacy in space stimulated a reform of the education system in North America. Science and math were brought to the forefront in an effort to breed a new generation of scientists who could counter that threat with new technologies. Fear was fought with education.

Now, it seems, popular science education still has a long way to go. Fear-based misinformation is getting far too much press. This week, I’ve been asked countless questions about the dangers of the Large Hadron Collider, and not just about the fear of a black hole swallowing the Earth. One inquiry spoke of “hidden dangers lurking in the unknown.” That last one is really troublesome.

Exploring the unknown has always led to our greatest achievements. The discovery of the electron, the connection between electricity and magnetism, the structure of the atom, the structure of DNA, a long list of fundamental discoveries that have all given birth to remarkable technologies that have revolutionized our lives. True, some of that knowledge has been misused, such as developing weapons of mass destruction, but overall, the benefits of knowledge still outweigh the cost of ignorance.

Now, physicists are on the verge of new fundamental knowledge. The Large Hadron Collider will help bring together all the forces that act on the very smallest and very largest of scales. No one knows where that will lead or what might come out of it. That’s not the point. There is still a great deal of the universe we don’t know. In fact, most of it is beyond our grasp and so far, every time we’ve stepped into an unknown realm of nature, we’ve come away all the better for it.

So let’s not be afraid to gain knowledge just for the sake of knowing it.

I'm not so sure why our society now seems to reward the pursuits that once seemed most regressive, whether it be fundamentalism, reality television, Ultimate Fighting, or StripTease exercise classes. Whatever happened to the virtues of knowledge, adventure and scientific method?

I was blown away by the amount of completely uninformed criticisms of the LHC online spewed by people that had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It was pretty depressing, and I think is mostly a product of our 'universal soapbox' communication age. Anyone can have an opinion about anything at anytime, even if they have no clue what the hell they are talking about.

So why reward mediocrity? Is it because the stupid stuff takes less effort and energy?

It's all very strange.

16 September 2008

Helter Skelter

Here's a BIZARRE campaign ad from Presidential contender, Former U.S. Senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel. Gravel was by far the most pro-gay of the Democratic candidates, but is now running on the Libertarian ticket. He's an amusingly off-kilter old dude, who doesn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks about him.

In this ad, he sings the Beatles "Helter Skelter," over images of the world going to Hell in a handbasket. It's fantastically disturbing.

Thanks, Mike!

15 September 2008

Decline

Further to my conversation with N last night:

"Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet."
- Aaron Sorkin

You said it, brother.

Link to StupidFilter

10 September 2008

Seeing Paradise

by Jay Griffiths

It’s the will of a god. See it written in a piece of eco-pornography which seeks the end of life on Earth. I used to think the apocalypse was just a fairly harmless mystical allegory, but then I realized how powerful it has become as a driving force in realpolitik. When world leaders forget the compassion and political grace represented by the sayings of Christ, but use the Book of Revelation as a myth to live by, we need to worry.

The longest, deepest, widest indigenous prayer is that the Earth should endure, wending its own way as it always has, and that people too should swing in the Earth’s own harmonies. So say those who have dwelled longest on this kind Earth, knowing that the greatest love affair on Earth is the love of Earth.

But one small and very recent group of arrivals prays for the opposite, that this world should end so that a new off-Earth heaven can come into being. After the fire, smoke, and sulphur, this Earth will pass away, they pray. For them, what is most spiritual is outside and beyond Earth, a whiteout of the psyche, a tragic addiction to a weird and bloodless irreality. To me, the very idea of heaven is offensive to Earth.

Pornography hates and demeans women, so eco-pornography hates and demeans the Earth, portraying it as soiled matter, fit for burning. Pornography is an abuse of power over women, and eco-pornography is an abuse of power over nature. The trouble is that this small group of eco-pornographers has become very influential.

When it comes to dealing with climate change, we need wiser influences, and if we must have leaders, we need better ones. We need people who can deal with many ways of thinking at the same time; people able to deal with the complexities of psychology, law, natural systems, and diplomacy. We need those familiar with the nubby reality of a garden spade, who at the same time take for their song an older music. We need those who can understand the physics of the natural world and who can take for the ground of their myths the beauty of this Earth, this theater of irrepressible life. We need tribal elders.

The Hopi prophecies suggest a deadly fire burning the world and, crucially, see this as something to be averted. But the myth of those in power seeks this fire, prays for a tragedy. In answer to this tragedy, it seems to me now, mourning is not enough. Call her Gaia, call her Life, call her Mother Earth, she requires a risorgimento of spirited spiritualism, a kind of militant shamanism to challenge the hegemony of those in power, to reject this singular myth which, peculiarly among human cosmologies, sees the Earth as profane and thinks that paradise is elsewhere.

So this sad group waits longingly for their Rapture, heedless that the rapturous nature of this Earth is already paradise. For here, already, are the messengers of the innately holy: a thumbnail, a turtle, a joke, a pebble. There is heaven in the day’s eye, as that sweet flower the daisy remembers in its naming. Here are the real angels, in radish, twilight, and trickster, speaking of life, complicated, infinite, crescent and laughing, this Earth now, where life sweeps another comedic turn at every moment. We need a greater myth, and we have one—the sweetest, deepest songline of the Earth.

The Machine

I'm fascinated by the scope and intent of the CERN experiments.

As a starting point:
The Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics explains how matter interacts with three of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force (which binds the parts of an atom's nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which allows for the radioactive decay of particles). The model posits two classes of elementary particles: bosons, which mediate these forces, and fermions, which combine to make up the matter.

Where the Standard Model comes up short is when dealing with the fourth fundamental force, gravity. Gravity is so weak it can normally be discounted, but that's not possible in extreme cases such as the high-energy, small space predicted in the early moments of the Big Bang theory of the universe. In those moments, gravity would have been operating at levels comparable to the other forces.


Prior to the official start of the collider,CBCNews.ca spoke with Cliff Burgess, a physics and astronomy professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and associate member of the Waterloo, Ont.-based Perimeter Institute, about the LHC's mission, the potential risks and why physics should matter to the public.

Why are the LHC and its experiments so important to particle physicists?
More than anything, we have a good sense that we have to see something. It's not like we're looking and hoping to see something; seeing nothing is really not an option. You can't, for example, have just the particles we've discovered and no Higgs, because if you said "suppose there's nothing else," the whole theory breaks down at about the energies where the LHC would kick in. So something has to happen at that point; it's a question of what.

How difficult will it be to find?
That depends on what the Higgs is like. If it's complex like a proton, it will be much harder to figure out what's going on. When you collide two electrons together, it's much easier to understand what happens because these are elementary particles — they can't be broken down further — and they don't take part in the strong interactions that occur in nuclei. With the LHC, what's going to happen is it's going to be proton colliding with proton, and that's a whole bunch of junk. It's a mess figuring out what comes out of those collisions, partly because the whole structure of the proton isn't even now well understood. It's like throwing two garbage cans at one another and then trying to figure out in detail what was inside each garbage can.

What happens if the LHC doesn't find the Higgs, or discovers it doesn't exist at all?
That's actually the best-case scenario for people like me, because that means the theorists are all in business again. But the question for competing theories isn't so much whether the Higgs is there or not; it's whether it's a fundamental particle.

One of the concerns voiced by protesters is that the LHC collisions will create a black hole that will destroy the Earth, a concern the people at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have dismissed. Should anyone be worried?
If a black hole formed, we actually know a fair bit about what it would behave like. The first thing is, if you stuck a black hole in the middle of the Earth, the layperson's point of view is that it would be like a vacuum cleaner that sucks the Earth in. But that's not the right picture. If you took the sun and you replaced it with a black hole the same mass as the sun, the orbit of the Earth wouldn't change at all. We'd still orbit it — the force of gravity doesn't care whether it's a black hole or the sun, all it cares about is the mass. The big problem for us is it would be dark, but the gravity wouldn't change.

It's not so unlikely that the LHC could produce black holes, but it's almost certainly true that if it produces those black holes, they are going to evaporate very quickly.

Any black hole that you know about in astrophysics is much, much heavier than the ones being produced in the LHC. If the LHC produced black holes — which is uncertain — they might be a couple hundred times more heavy than a proton, but way less than fractions of a gram. And at that size limit, we expect them to evaporate extremely quickly through a process called Hawking radiation [which takes its name from physicist Stephen Hawking, who first proposed the theory in 1974]. It would almost certainly radiate into particles we know about like photons, and so it would look like a regular collision. The hard thing would be to actually know you had a black hole in there.

So there are several levels of argument where you kind of suspend what you think is likely to happen just for the sake of argument to grant the person the point that "maybe this could happen." But once you go through four or five levels of that, it's less and less worrisome.

Why should people care about this experiment and particle physics in general?
There are several ways to slice that question. The way it often comes is, Why should it be funded? Because on some level no one is going to be really offended if people spend their time thinking about this if it's not going to cost them anything. But if it's going to cost them a lot of money, then why should it be a priority for society?

The answer people normally give — and it's true — is particle physics is important to our understanding of the nature of the universe and the Big Bang, but there's another really good answer and no one ever gives it. The value of disciplines like particle physics and astrophysics is people.

Physicists are really in demand outside academia, and the reason they are is that the portable skills you get as a physicist are rare. You learn how to analyze problems from first principles, to translate that into mathematics, to solve the mathematics and then to translate it back into implications for the thing you are trying to solve. And that's really useful everywhere in the economy.

My students that go out into the workforce are bankers, insurance people, engineers and software people. These people are going into a very useful place in the economy, but they wouldn't have gone there directly. The reason they learn these skills is because particle physics is cool and you get to think about the universe as a whole, or you get to think about what matter is made of. And they are drawn by that in a way they wouldn't be drawn naturally into something like banking.

It's the old spin-off argument, but the way particle physicists would normally say it is in terms of materials and inventions made possible because of physics. But the real thing we make is people.

By that logic, wouldn't it be better to send the 2,000 physicists working on the LHC into the workforce?
That would be like killing the farmer and taking his crops. There would be some physicists and technicians that would go somewhere, but that's it, and once they leave you can lose the ability to do these things. What you want is the pipeline. The water is good, but you don't want to destroy the pipe to get the water the one time.