Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From The Left: Defenestration

defenestration: dee-FEN-uh-stray-shen, noun; 1) the act of throwing a thing or person out of a window; 2) an unusually swift dismissal or sudden expulsion (as from a political party or office), as in the recent fate of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  Author's note: Readers who remember their junior high French may recall that "ferme le fenetre" means "close the window".  The word in question, however, is from Latin (French's Romance Language sister.)  I remember when I first learned this word I was immediately seized with an irrational fondness for it, perhaps due to the perspicacity with which it describes the act and the obscurity of the derivation itself.  The few times I've encountered it since, I realize part of the term's enjoyment for me is the description that accompanies it in various dictionaries.  For instance, "The Diabolical Dictionary of Modern English" defines it as a "... rapid descent unencumbered by an elevator."  Peter Bowler adds that "if the word were not needed to describe the act, the act would need to be performed to justify the word," in his classic "The Superior Person's Book of Words."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Marinating Ice Cubes"

(CNBC's inimitable Art Cashin's euphemism for enjoying a relaxing libation.)  Your humble scribe's favorite summertime marinade?  Glad you asked.  Gin and tonic with a lime wedge, thank you very much.  Second choice?  The classic Margarita, of course.  No, maybe an ice cold beer.  No, maybe anything that's ice cold.  But I digress...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Canada's Foreign Student Policy

What is the purpose of inviting foreign students to come to Canada for their studies, subsidizing them, and even reserving spots for them in our professional schools?  I always thought it was a good idea (and have some good friends who arrived as foreign students) because it educated the best and the brightest from less developed nations who could then return to those nations to spread the knowledge and improve things back home.  But I would bet that the vast majority of these foreign students don't return home, staying in Canada for the rest of their lives.  Well then, perhaps the reason for Canada's foreign student policy is charity.  But charity begins at home - there are lots of bright Canadian-born kids who can't afford a post-secondary education (despite their parents' taxes supporting colleges and universities).  Well, maybe the reason we bring foreign students to Canada is to enrich our own kids' educational experience.  Laudable, but unnecessary when we could immerse our kids over there to broaden their minds - and maybe even require a semester or two abroad in order to graduate.  Maybe then, it's to increase the Liberal voting base in Canada.  Hmmm...  None of these reasons seem good enough for me, except the part about returning home to improve things there.  Why not tag every foreign student visa with a 10-year restriction so that upon graduation they must return home and spread the knowledge around for a decade before becoming eligible to apply to come back to Canada?  That said - before you jump all over me - both of my daughters have been foreign students, one of them still is.  K has already returned to Canada, and L fully intends to - and Canada will be improved thereby, I'm sure.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Most Interesting Man In The World 2

At three score and ten, he has accomplished more than almost any two lesser mortals.  He has an alpine ski run named after him - which he can ski at speed.  He works out regularly in his private facility, preferring not to show up younger men in public gymnasia.  He tailors software to his needs so elegantly that the Canada Revenue Agency actually learns from him.  Unlike typical bean-counters he has cultivated an impressive beanstalk of his own.  He has been honoured by his province, is an esteemed member of the BWW, a connoisseur of tequilas, a Don of the billiard table, an accomplished golfer, and a knowledgeable cattleman.  And although meticulous and tasteful in his personal grooming, he can occasionally be found in unsavory company.  He is the most interesting man in the world!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Hell Bent For Leather"

“Hell bent for leather” appears to be a combination of two other phrases: “hell bent” and “hell for leather”.  “Hell bent" first appears in American usage about 1825 and inferred that the rate of speed was such that a rider and horse were flirting with or headed for ("bent on") disaster.  Charles Earle Funk, in "A Hog on Ice," (1948) says that "hell for leather" is a British expression, apparently originating in the British army in India.  Possibly Rudyard Kipling coined it, and he was certainly the first to record it, although he may just have been quoting common army slang.  His first usage is in "The Story of the Gadsbys" (1889), ”Here, Gaddy, take the note to Bingle and ride hell-for-leather”.  Though the term must originally have referred to the terrific beating inflicted upon leather saddles by heavy troopers at full speed, even by Kipling's time it had acquired a figurative sense indicating great speed, on foot, by vehicle, or by horse.  It remains unknown as to when the two expressions, one American and one British, came into combined use.  (With thanks to phrases.org and word-detective.org.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Quackopractic, Naturoquackery, Homeopathetic

The other day I happened to overhear a conversation between two women (one a "certified iridologist") that went something like this: "My tummy has been sore lately."  "Oh yeah?  Let me look at your eyes.  Oh my goodness!  I think you have liver disease - you'd better come in and see me on Monday."  The alternative "medicine" industry in North America is much bigger than conventional medicine ever will be.  One can speculate endlessly about the reasons for this unholy phenomenon; people want more "control" over their health care, resent those big words doctors use, resent doctors' income, resent doctors' stature in the community, resent the doctors' average 66-hour work week (just kidding), and a host of other silliness - when the main reason is that they haven't a shred of scientific education or for some reason are turning their backs on science.  But let's be clear; there is only one "system" of medicine that is the product of five thousand years of careful observation, double-blind replicable experiments and careful peer review.  Sure some wacko herb treatment or back-cracking might make you feel better temporarily but that is what we call coincidence - not anything statistically significant.  If you waste your hard-earned cash on weird nuts from foreign lands you might as well move there - you've become one.    

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crash Landing Plan, Part 1

My wife says I read too much economic doom and gloom, and therefore express too much - surprise, surprise - economic doom and gloom.  Yet I am inherently an optimist.  Those who know me know that I wake up every morning early, happy and bursting with vigor, ready to greet the day.  (Well, early and happy anyway.)  At any rate, I'm sure at least some readers of this space agree about the "too much economic doom and gloom" bit; all I'll admit is that I enjoy reading economics too much.  To be clear, let's review my predictions: we are headed not for a double dip, but for a full-blown financial meltdown worse than 2008/09 and a decade of depression/deflation/stagnating markets.  Social "dislocations" will also ensue.  Ouch!  Now you know where I stand, a pessimistic optimist by any measure.  So, I says to myself, "Balf, how do you prepare financially for that"?  How do you keep what you've got, and maybe even grow that nest egg a little, during the next (read already underway) market crash and beyond?  Therein lies my current field of inquiry dear reader, and as is evident in the title of this post, I will keep you informed as my Crash Landing Plan takes shape.  (Apologies for sounding like that quackopractor or acupuncturist who wants you to come back again and again - I realize you're also waiting for The World's Most Interesting Man, Part 2.  Look for it on Sunday.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

God Help Me Score!

No, not that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.  With the World Cup in progress, a question that has been bugging me for some time has re-emerged.  What I want to know is why professional athletes either pray to Whoever/Whatever for a win, and/or thank the same deity when they do so?  Do they believe that The Supreme One will actually pick one team over the other, one athlete over another, one national team over another?  That they are somehow more deserving than the athletes on the opposite team?  That Supremo will overlook rules infractions during the upcoming game - or even outright cheating, violence, etc. perpetrated by them against their opponents?  (Hold it here, maybe they're asking for forgiveness as they leave the field.  Possibly.)  That J.C. will keep their ball out of the rough or water hazard?  It boggles the mind.  Yet game after game, tourney after tourney, touchdown after touchdown, it happens.  All right, to be fair, my wife thinks perhaps they're just praying to have a good game, or thank Buddha for having survived the contest without injury.  I suppose that's possible.  How do I know what they're praying about, she says.  (I hate it when she's so incisive.)  Just the same, I'm suspicious.   

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yuan Floats Hope?

So the Chinese government is going to finally allow the Yuan to float (somewhat, but not fully, mechanism yet to be determined) rather than being pegged to the U.S. dollar.  This raises two questions for me.  First, does this mean that China will gradually slow down (and eventually stop) buying American debt?  Second, is this the first step towards a Chinese push to make the Yuan the world's reserve currency?  If either is the case, there are rude shocks ahead for the western democracies.  Of one thing we can be sure: China only does what is good for China.  China could care less about what's good for the global financial system, the environment, or anything else.  China is an increasingly militaristic nation, with eight aircraft carriers under construction at last count and copies of whole Asian cities built to scale in the desert for war games.  China, remember, is a totalitarian state; they rigidly control their own populace through censorship and the secret police.  Economic belligerence is certainly consistent with their past.  And then there's their support for rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran.  Allowing the Yuan to float (somewhat, but not fully, mechanism yet to be determined) is supposedly a sign that China has confidence in the global recovery.  Allowing it to rise 0.05% yesterday is confidence in the global recovery?  I think I might be more confident in the recovery than that, and I think it's fantasy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eye of The Financial Storm

Todd Harrison of Minyanville.com, as one of the few who predicted the market crash of late 2008, is a voice to heed.  On MarketWatch.com last week: "We've been pushing risk further out on the time continuum for such a long time that it's become an accepted - dare I say normalized - pattern that interconnects the world through a tangled web of derivatives.  While the recent price action has been docile, I believe we're in the eye of the storm, a relative calm between the first phase of the financial crisis and the cumulative comeuppance that'll flush - and perhaps reset - the system.  You know it won't come easy; this decade will require steadfast stamina and proactive patience.  While the first half will be focused on preservation and perseverance, the back nine will be ripe with rewards. ... I shared the following thoughts in September 2008 and they're equally apt today as the second side of this storm builds on the horizon: 'Surround yourself with people you trust.  Practice risk management over reward chasing.  Preserve capital, reduce debt and become financially aware of your surroundings.  It won't be an easy road but it won't be impossible either.' ... I don't profess to know how long the calm lasts ... future gusts may come from any given direction. ...we must allow for a scenario where a reflex rally...masks the hazardous horizon..." 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

From The Left: And Now ... A Siamese Fighting Fish?

I'm not against animals, per se.  I have several of them myself, and have worked with one or two as well, so I'm decidedly not averse to them.  In fact at last count (and apparently only temporarily so), we resided with a menagerie which consisted of a golden retriever (my dog Jake), a german shepard-ish small terrier-sized mutt of indeterminate origin who has kidnapped our affections, {this space left intentionally blank}, a geriatric stroke-stricken gerbil which has been respectfully (if ultimately unsuccessfully) encouraged to join his long deceased "friend", and Solo, the non-singing orange canary.  I'm certain that Solo is, if not cursed, then very troubled at the least.  He sang for about 2 weeks after my wife first got him, then the next week it's as if the cat got his tongue.  His tailfeathers nearly all fell out shortly after, and then he started sort of humming or purring to himself throughout the night.  Sort of the canary equivalent of a dove cooing, I suppose.  He sounds content enough, I think.  But my wife insists on resurrecting the singing too, so we've run the gamut in seeds, mixes, nutrition bars (!) and other dreadfully smelly yuck in that pursuit.  Still and ever, only purring.  I said above "and apparently only temporarily so" because my wife and eldest just pulled into the driveway and they have a small filled aquarium with a beta in it...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Old Scottish Proverb

"Money is flat, and meant to be piled up."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Atilla Weighs in on Global Warming

As a conservative sometimes referred to as right-wing of Atilla the Hun, I am continually ticked off by fellow conservatives who doubt the validity of global warming/climate change.  The problem, as I see it, is that conservatives tend to be business-trained and business-oriented, rather than scientifically-trained and science-oriented, and this is a scientific topic.  I realize that it is dangerous to tar all my brethren with the same brush, and I am well aware that there are lots of conservatives who, like myself, are scientifically trained and do study the data every chance they get - and have concluded that global warming/climate change is truly something to worry about.  I'll refrain here from debating data points - and certainly won't defend the nefarious numbskulls who suggested in emails that there might be a need to fudge climate data to shock politicos around the world into action.  I've studied the data, read the sunspot activity theory, heard the arguments pro and con (no, "con" is not the etymological precursor of "conservative" or of "Conrad" - as in "Black"), and I believe global warming/climate change is a valid, serious issue.  (I also happen to live out here too, and there is little doubt our local climate is changing.)  But here's the single most compelling reason I believe global warming/climate change needs to be taken seriously:  WE CAN'T AFFORD TO BE WRONG.  If we get this wrong, it is our kids and grandkids that are going to have to live with our mistake, not us.  So let's err on the side of caution all you Attilas out there!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dads, Moms, Mars, and Venus

With Father's Day approaching it occurred to me that my wife, my daughters, and my daughter-in-law probably from time to time consider me a bit (if I'm lucky) strange.  And perhaps not just me (again, if I'm lucky) but most male relatives.  I guess it's the look I get from my wife when I propose that we invest in alternative energy to take our acreage off the grid.  Or that we divest prior to an impending stock market crash that nobody else seems to see.  Or when I install more lighting around the house, or buy another gun.  (We have bears as regular visitors out here too.)  In my defense I've decided that although there are many things that both sexes feel are important, there is also a fundamental difference between how moms view the world and how dads view the world, ie. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.  The pertinent difference here - as you may have guessed - is in the realm of security; dads more often feeling responsible for what I would call macro-security - things like insurance policies, retirement plans, education funds, door locks, fencing and gates, vehicle maintenance, and those topics previously mentioned.  Moms, on the other hand, are more attuned to micro-security, ie. making sure their progeny feel stimulated, educated, warm, happy, and fed.  And, in retrospect, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.  Either that, or I just like the concept because it makes me feel a little less strange.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Word For The Day: hermetic

hermetic - adjective. hurr-mett-ick; 1) of, or pertaining to, Hermes Trismegistus, 2) of, or pertaining to, alchemy or occult practices, 3) obscure, secret, or unrevealed, 4) isolated, away from outside influences, 5) airtight or gas-tight, impervious to air or gases, eg. hermetically sealed.  Etymology: from the Greek god and mythological alchemist Hermes Trismegistus, who was said to possess a magical ability to seal (with spells) treasure chests so that nothing could access their contents.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Powerplay: The Beautiful Game

Soccer, by far the world's most popular sport, has a tough time getting the attention it deserves in North America.  Why?  As a former soccer coach, I believe there are two reasons for this besides the obvious fact that we already have four major league sports for it to compete against.  First, soccer fans have learned over time to appreciate the intricacy of the play, as much as the exhilaration of the score.  We here in N.A., on the other hand, have a shorter attention span and seek instant gratification, ie. frequent scoring, to keep our beer-blurred minds on the game.  Basketball feeds this inner need the most, followed by football.  Baseball is most akin to soccer in intricacy, except the players are not in constant motion and things like rain delays, pinch hitters and beer guts need to go.  Hockey can be low-scoring but is, of course, the fastest and toughest game in the world (and quite popular outside N.A. as a result).  The second (and more important, I believe) reason that soccer is under-appreciated is, quite frankly, the dives.  In N.A. we are not accustomed to professional athletes rolling around on the ground in pain and then bouncing back up to play with full intensity 30 seconds later.  So here's my solution to both problems: FIFA should adopt a 2 minute "mandatory medical penalty" anytime someone claims to be hurt and rolls on the ground for longer than 10 seconds without some other penalty being called by the referee.  Hey, whiner, off you go!  That way they can get the treatment they (claim to) need, and for two minutes their team would play a man short.  Just think, proper medical treatment, and a frenetic two minutes on the field - both problems solved and manliness restored to the game.  But, you say, that sounds like a hockey powerplay!  Exactly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

G20 Security: Here a Billion, There a Billion ...

As you have no doubt heard, Canada is about to spend roughly a billion dollars (or was that loonies?) on security for the upcoming G20 meeting - give or take ten or twenty million or so.  (If that's just for security, how much do the rest of the meeting accoutrements cost?)  I've never been able to understand why this expense needs to be so out of proportion to the amount of work that gets done in these 2-day meetings.  (They are largely photo-ops for the signing of agreements worked out months in advance by intergovernmental minions anyway.)  The disruption to civil society in whatever city has been chosen as the host is always upsetting, what with grossly inflated hotel and restaurant prices, restricted travel areas, the various protests and vandalism, etc.  Why not hold these auspicious international gatherings on a cruise ship somewhere in international waters?  Navies could provide surface and sub-surface protection while jet fighters and helicopters would do the same overhead.  (The great advantage, of course, would be that we're already paying for all that stuff anyway.)  Journalists could have their own barge nearby if they're not allowed on board the more opulent craft.  As for the protesters, let 'em paddle their canoes to the meeting.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

500 Unique Visitors

Sometime yesterday or the night before, Out Here Too was visited by it's 500th unique visitor since we moved to Blogger in mid-January, according to official Google Analytics.  (Excuse me while I dry my eyes.)  That's better.  So, first of all, Loof and I would like to thank everyone for wasting a few minutes out here every day.  A few minutes are the operative words, because our self-acknowledged short attention span restricts us to one paragraph per day of your invaluable time.  (Always brief, never boring is not only the site's motto and our explicit promise to you - it could also be my personal four-word memoir.  Have you checked out Smith magazine's six-word memoir project?  It's been going on for years and is pretty neat, but four words is even tougher.  I guess we win.)  Second, I'd like to encourage you regulars out here too subscribe via the link at right or become a "follower" by clicking on that link, you might win a free beer stein.  Third, if Mr. or Mrs. 500th Unique Visitor would stop by the Out Here Too Gear Shop, I've got a free beer stein for you too - if we have any left.  (We've had a run on Out Here Too gear lately, that's why you see 'em on the streets out here too.) Tune in tomorrow for another blockbuster revelation!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Time To Sell Your Gold? Ask Mr. T.

Okay, folks, you've heard of the Hemline Length market indicator and the Big Mac Price market indicator, well now here's a new one: the Mr. T Gold Indicator (you can click here http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/Mr-T-Gold-Indicator-economic-a/2/22/2010/id/26505).  Minyanville is one of my favorite financial sites, in fact I read their stuff every day the market is open.  So yesterday when reference was made to the MTGI, I just had to check it out.  As we all know, the toughest part of active investing is knowing when to sell.  Apparently whenever Mr. T (covered in gold chains, as you may recall) re-appears from from the TV archives attic, and enjoys another brief moment in the sun for whatever reason, it's time to sell your gold holdings!  (Mr. T developed his affinity for gold chains during his pre-stardom days as a nightclub bouncer, confiscating the jewelry of those he kicked out as a symbol of his toughness, and apparently the stuff rubbed off on him.)  Before you laugh yourself wet, click on the link above and note the accuracy of the MTGI from 1981 to the present!  So, with  the new "A-Team" movie opening yesterday across the country, does this mean it's time to sell your gold?  The answer: maybe.  You see, Mr. T is not actually in this movie (except perhaps-maybe-if-he's-lucky for a small cameo appearance).  Hmmm...I'm not sure I'd bet against him.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

U.S. Criticism of BP Over The Top?

BP's Gulf oil spill is an environmental disaster without parallel.  Eleven lives have been lost, and many more injured.  BP has a history of rushing things and cutting corners, apparently sometimes even on rig safety.  That said, BP has apologized, admitted its liability, and spent wads of money so far trying to cap that hole in the ocean floor and prevent the spread of the oil slick.  BP also has months of cleanup ahead that it has agreed to pay for, and years of litigation which will result in billions of dollars in damages.  BP will probably survive this mess, but there are knowledgeable voices who question its viability going forward.  Citizens of the Gulf area have every right to be upset and to demand compensation, but lately the BP flagellation seems to have gotten a bit out of hand.  Obama needs "to know whose ass to kick"?  BP company-specific legislation being considered?  U.S. politicians do have a responsibility to keep the pressure on BP and represent their constituents well - but they also have a responsibility to keep things in perspective, keep a lid on the rhetoric, and show some statesmanship.  This is the first time this sort of deep water spill containment has ever been attempted.  Aided by the best brains on land and at sea, BP has attempted every high-tech solution to the problem - and as expeditiously as possible as far as I'm concerned.  Yet Mr. Hayward  has been accused of not doing enough.  I suppose I shouldn't expect anything more of the Excited States of America - and perhaps the Brits might be a little too stiff-upper-lipped about the whole affair - but I think the politicians should back off a bit and not inflame the crazies.  It also might allow BP to spend every ounce of effort on the well instead of distractions.   

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Real Reserve Currency of the World

Can the world's reserve currency really be U.S. paper money that can be printed until they run out of trees?  (As I recall, "when something can't keep going, it will stop", and sooner or later the world's confidence in the greenback will too.)  On the other hand, Dennis Gartman believes that gold has already assumed the status of a reserve currency.  But no, it's not the US dollar, and it's not gold - I believe the real reserve currency of the future is oil.  No modern country can run without it.  It makes possible the cultivation and distribution of food, shelter, clothing, medicines, armies, etc. - not to mention all things plastic.  And until (if ever) we become energy self-sufficient via alternative sources, oil will be king.  Like land, "they're not making any more of it".  Of course oil is denominated worldwide in US dollars which means that the US dollar will always be around, but its buying power will devalue steadily after the US debt crisis (yet to come, in my view).  Sure gold and silver may initially be safe havens in that scenario, but they're impractical for the grocery store and can't be burned in the engine of your car to get there.  Oil, on the other hand, is relatively portable via tankers, pipelines and trucks.  Perhaps you think we haven't reached peak oil?  Just look at where we're having to go (the outer reaches of human technology miles under the seabed and into the arctic) to get it.  And with the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the U.S., the Canadian oil sands (the second-largest pool of oil on earth after Saudi Arabia) are looking mighty good.  Oil: buy and hold.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You Can Cut The Economic Tension With A Knife

Have you noticed the economic tension rising recently?  I have.  As one who reads and watches a variety of sources all day long from officialdom to the financial press to those in the blogosphere (where I often find some very intelligent debate going on), I can't help feeling that the tension pervading all these sources has risen noticeably in recent weeks.  The stimulus money is mostly spent, job creation in the U.S. is non-existent, and retail investors don't trust the stock markets.  I could go on ad infinitum.  On a long drive through the foothills the other day I listened to Tim Geitner being quizzed about G20 matters, the European sovereign debt crisis, etc.  Listening to an interview on the the radio is qualitatively different than watching it on TV - sure you can't see the body language, but the pauses, intonation and choice of words seems much more acute in the absence of distractions like advertisements (or traffic in this case).  The thing that struck me most was his deft evasion of some questions, using the old "tell 'em what you want 'em to hear instead of answering their questions" ploy.  I distinctly got the feeling that he didn't really believe in what he was saying, ie. the U.S. administration line he was delivering.  His tone was just plain unconvincing.  I feel for the guy because I think he's bright, has his heart in the right place and is doing this job for the public good rather than personal glory.  However, I think he's beginning to experience serious doubts about whether the U.S. economic recovery is on the right course, and that affects us all.  I hope I'm wrong, but there are more and more voices and indicators telling me we are entering very dangerous economic times.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Unintended Consequences: FBS Vanity

Going through security is a tedious and time-consuming affair in any airport these days, so much so that my wife and I avoid any connection in the U.S. when flying if at all possible.  (Yes, I know my name is on some list somewhere even though I'm only flying over the Excited States of America to Mexico, but that doesn't bother me.  People who have nothing to hide just lament the time and tedium - not the objective - of greater security.)  On a recent sojourn, as we snaked toward the security people, we had plenty of time to watch a fair number of young folks being directed to one of those new "full-body scanners" - which as you know leave very little to the imagination, anatomically speaking.  When we finally got there we were told the full-body scan is optional, a choice if you want it.  In other words, it was by choice that these folks were exposing themselves to the security guy/gal!  That's why the stud-duck guys and saucy girls were getting the full-body scan - because they wanted to show off their bods!  Call it a vicarious thrill if you will, I call it vanity in the extreme - full-body scan vanity.  (I detest vanity but, come to think of it, I'd make a good full-body scan machine operator.)  What's next, Mr./Miss Universe FBS?  A reality show?  FBS fashions?  It bogles this mind. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bad Idea of the Week: A Global Bank Tax

A global tax on banks is the dumbest idea we've heard of lately (and I hear a lot of 'em - hell, I even think up some of 'em).  Increased taxes on any business just get passed through to the consumer.  If governments want to prevent banks from engaging in risky practices then change the banking regulations and yank their charters or otherwise sanction them in the event the regulations are broken.  Canada's alternative to this incredibly bad idea is brilliant: make the banks self-insure themselves.  (The Balf has always been a huge advocate of self-insurance, direct reimbursement, etc.).  Our proposal (wave flag here) is to require banks to issue a special type of security that would act as a bond during good times but automatically convert into shares if certain financial conditions were breached, thus also automatically boosting the banks' capital in a crisis like the last one.  The great advantage of such a plan is that buyers of these special securities would know what they were getting into while sparing the innocent taxpayer any danger of having to fund a bailout.  Did I say last financial crisis?  Sorry, I meant the one we're still in.  Steady as she goes, Cap'n Flaherty!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Shopping For A New Vehicle?

Okay, I'm not one of those guys who can phone up a car dealer I've got a final price from and swear a blue streak while offering to cut the head off his cocker spaniel with a rusty sardine can lid if he doesn't give me a better price.  It's just not in me.  But I have learned a thing or two the hard way, so herewith are the basics I've learned when buying a new vehicle from a big dealership.  First, the dealer should be willing to knock 10% off the MSRP on the window sticker/options list right off the bat.  I learned this from a minor sports star who, as a rookie auto salesman, blurted out as much the first time I sat down at his desk.  Also, it should be obvious but, when you're at an impasse on price, always see if the salesman will throw in an option or two.  Second, take your significant other along, two heads are better than one and then you will have a psychological advantage over the salesman.  When you feel you've done the best you can, get up and walk around the showroom - and turn the salesman over to her/him.  (I've actually never done this, but D.H. is a big believer in this technique.)  Third, if the salesman is willing to accept your offer, your offer is too high - so get up and start to walk out, he'll make his best deal trying to stop you before you get to the door.  Good luck!

How Closely Did VXX (the ETN) Track VIX (the index) in May?

$VIX - Daily Line (thin): notice how closely the ETN tracks the actual VIX index (red below when falling)

via StockCharts.com
I found this to be an interesting comparison.  Some lag between any ETF (or ETN) and the index it tracks is to be expected, and frankly many track pretty poorly.  It seems that VXX tracks the VIX better when the Volatility Index is rising than when it is falling, but overall tracks very well.  Comments?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Using Nukes to Kill ... An Oil Well?

It's not as crazy as you may think.  Julia Ioffe notes in a May 4th article (http://trueslant.com/juliaioffe/2010/05/04/nuke-that-slick/) that "Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground.  The idea is simple, KP writes: 'the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well's channel.'  Yes!  It's so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petro-calamities.  The first happened in Uzbekistan on September 30, 1966, with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb at a depth of 1.5 kilometers.  KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as many as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals."  Mundane, eh?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sex In A Pan

Got your attention, eh?  Named because it's almost as good as...well, you know, this dandy little dessert may need a pseudonym when your kids ask you what you call it - but whatever you call it, they'll love it.  It's also a dinner party/special occasion favorite for non-dieting adults.  Many thanks to Connie N. for her recipe:  
1st layer: mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup margarine and 1 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds), press into a 9" x 13" pan, bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees and allow to cool.
2nd layer: cream 8 oz cream cheese and 1 cup icing sugar together; spread on base layer.
3rd layer: spread 1/2 large tub of Cool Whip on the 2nd layer.
4th layer: beat a 4 oz pkg of chocolate instant pudding with a 4 oz pkg of vanilla instant pudding and 3 cups of milk, and spread on the above.
5th layer: spread the remaining half of the large tub of Cool Whip on the above, sprinkle liberally with grated chocolate, and freeze.  When you're ready for some...defrost and enjoy!   It won't cure your D.S.B. but tastes great!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Acupuncture, Part III

Being the open-minded SNAG that I was (am), I was determined to give acupuncture one last try.  A patient of mine sang the praises of Dr. Z, who had cured her temperomandibular joint pain she claimed, so I again consulted my shortlist of Alberta acupuncturists who were MD's, found out what I could about the guy, and somewhat skeptically booked an appointment.  Upon my arrival I was pleasantly surprised.  Nice, modern professional building near a major shopping mall, an adequate medical history, pleasant staff, and a business card with a reassuring list of professional accomplishments.  Z explained the therapeutic limitations of acupuncture and said that only time would tell if it could benefit me.  In went the needles painlessly to my back and legs, on went the soothing classical music, and out went the lights for 15 minutes.  Hey, I can handle this, thought I.  "One appointment a week for six weeks, $75 per appointment, and we should know if this is going to help you", sayeth Dr. Z.  So that's what we did.  I felt comfortable with Dr. Z; I liked him, I had faith in his abilities, and I wanted his treatments to work.  But they didn't.  The inescapable lessons for me after three acupuncture experiments, one of which was 7 weeks in duration, are: a) there are many ways to practice acupuncture, b) find a practitioner you're comfortable with, and c) acupuncture doesn't work.  Perhaps as a placebo, perhaps on some psycho-something level, but not in any scientifically significant way.  Save your dough for beer, it relieves the pain temporarily - or at least shifts it to your head the next morning.