Sunday, June 16, 2013

Long Time Coming

Sometimes I think it's a sin When I feel like I'm winnin' When I'm losin' again --Gordon Lightfoot
I've been blogging since 2003, so blogger tells me, which means I've technically had a decade under my belt in terms of writing, posting, commenting, fighting, debating and, more accurately, ranting. For the most part, I've been mostly silent for almost 5 years, and really closer to 7. Basically, I started blogging generally because I was concerned with the political class in Canada, and more specifically the Chretien Liberals. Times have changed. A governing party, long in the tooth, has begun to succumb to ethical lapses. (Sound familiar?) Warren Kinsella was kind enough to address my wedding via recorded video. And I generally have given up caring about political issues in Canada. In relation to where I sat on the political blog spectrum in Canada (which was/is pretty meaningless anyway) I'm not conservative in any way shape or form. I'm socially liberal and fairly middle of the road when it comes to fiscal issues, but that's not really relevant now. My main concern is not political, but financial. Canada appears to be entering a very volatile period because of real estate valuations and personal debt levels. Things should have cratered in 2008-09, but they didn't and the party kept going. This song has been sung by many, including the Economist, Robert Shiller and the OECD. Domestically, there are a number of commentators, many of which mull over the statistics and add in depth analysis. Some of it is extremely granular, even analyzing or tracking daily price/sales data.
It's not in the paper It's on the wall -Sublime
My own challenge is to add something of value to this conversation, which nationally has begun to break through to the mainstream. Rays of light filter through the comments section of news stories where Tsur Somerville and Cameron Muir are quoted at length extolling the virtues of the real estate market. The gap between public perception and the reality of Canadian real estate is closing and that means the beginning of the end of the speculative mania - a mania based on myths, as they always are. Myth of the hot asian money (irrelevant, immaterial) Myth of the better Canadian lending practices (overrated - think about Scotiabank's "You are richer than you think" ad campaign) Myth of the immigrant inflows that support prices (again, not relevant) Myth that real estate is "different" (from other places and asset classes) in the context of modern Canada somehow (nope). What is relevant is that we have overlooked the fundamentals of our real estate markets. Canadian real estate is overvalued in comparison to other countries. Canadian real estate is overvalued in terms of its own market history. Canadian real estate is overvalued in terms of income. Canadian real estate is overvalued in terms of rent comparison. Wages have stagnated. Prices have skyrocketed. Borrowing rates are rising, whether or not the central bank raises interest rates. We are toast. We are simply sitting on death row and still coming up with reasons our appeal will come through. It's over, the only questions is when and how, not if. At dawn with a firing squad or at midnight via the chair.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Peggy Noonan's Maximizing

One...take control of me?
You're messing with the enemy
Said its's another trick
Messin with my mind, I wake up
At one point way back in the day, when I used to take hardcore ideologues seriously, I used to read Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column. Peggy is a former Reagan speech writer, and writes for the super un-serious Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is inversely credible to the WSJ's straight up news reporting. That is to say, that the WSJ editorial pages are basically crap and essentially some of the worst writers taking up some of the most valuable editorial space in the world.

The point at which my lifetime Peggy quotient was met was when I read this horrible column, in which she tries to point out how New Yorker's are pulling together after 9/11. Noonan makes a big deal of noting out all the different races of everyone on the subway one night (as any Reagan era relic would), telling the story of how a large black man saved another subway rider from an aggressive Jamaican woman.

Peggy, without any sense of irony, taste or sensitivity tells the black youth with only the condesenscion that a rich, white-privileged, Reagan-era republican can: "Goodbye, my brother" as she gets off the train.


Peggy's duplicitous BS went off the charts after her "not-so-off-camera" Sarah Palin debacle during the '08 election, when she first stated that the McCain campaign was "over" because of his choice of Palin for VP. She later denied the reference was the campaign and said that it was in reference to some Replublican mea culpa soundbite that no one believed.

Which brings us to the last time Peggy appeared on my radar, which was unfortunately today, when in reference to Obama's terrible speech last week she insinuates that not holding a hard copy of the speech during the telecast was akin to not being ready for an oil spill:

The president could move his hands because he was not holding a hard copy of his speech. Normally presidents have had a printed copy of the speech in their hands or on the desk, in case the teleprompter freezes or fails. Mr. Obama's desk was shiny and empty. A White House aide says the director of Oval Office operations had a hard copy just off camera, and was following along as the president spoke so that if the prompter broke he'd be able to give it to the president at the spot he left off.

But that would look a little startling, an arm suddenly darting into
the frame to hand the president a script. And the pages could fall. If one were in the mood for a cheap metaphor one would say this is an example of the White House's tendency not to anticipate trouble.
If one were in the mood - what an asinine qualifier. Oh, geez, yes, a hand coming out of nowhere would be shocking!! The Asian markets would TANK!!!

P-dawg is the one in the mood for cheap metaphors, as she spent three paragraphs discussing this crap before making this stupid assessment.

If one were in the mood, one could surmise the Peggy is taking small, inconsequential details and blowing them up to major proportions. This is known as Maximizing, which is an especically handy psychological trait if you are facing a deadline and have no idea as to how to criticize the president.

Even more annoying, is the fact that she quotes MSNBC's pro-Obama commentators in her criticism:
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann famously said "It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days." Chris Matthews scored "a lot of meritocracy, a lot of blue ribbon talk." Mr. Olbermann, on Mr. Obama's well-written peroration: "It's nice but, again, how? Where was the 'how' in this speech when the nation is crying out for 'how'?"

..... Essentially, she uses commentators able to see past ideology and party lines and criticize the president - something she could never, ever do, as a Republican zombie.

I'm just hoping P. Noonan can stay under my own news radar. I haven't blogged in quite a while, and it is time consuming to write this crap down...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Vancouver Police Department- Canada's LAPD

Police and thieves in the street
Oh yeah!
Fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition
And all the peacemaker turn war officer
--The Clash
The Vancouver Police Department has struck again:
VANCOUVER - The family of the Vancouver man injured by police in a case of mistaken identity Thursday is not ready to accept the Vancouver police department’s apology.

Two plainclothes police officers arrived at Yao Wei Wu’s south Vancouver home at 2:20 a.m. Thursday after receiving a call from a woman at the residence who said she was being attacked by her husband and feared for the safety of their baby.

What police didn’t know was that there were two suites in the home and they had gone to the wrong door.
Yes, the VPD thought this guy was a threat and beat him accordingly.

Imagine if Wu had been running around in the night, pulling innocent people from their homes and beating them? What would the police response be then?

Well, we have an answer to that hypothetical: The right hand will investigate the left hand. Here's the Police Chief...
Chu would not say where the information about Wu resisting arrest came from, but said the department would conduct its own investigation into the incident and he saw no reason to bring in an outside force.
No, of course not. Unless, perhaps investigating yourself is a conflict of interest. Whatever, I'm sure VPD officer attacks on innocent civilians and subsequent "investigations" of the same incidents isn't it?
Former bar manager Sarah Penman says a run-in between a Vancouver police sergeant and a customer outside the Regal Beagle last summer was so distressful she had to quit her job.

The Province has obtained a copy of a surveillance videotape from the popular Kitsilano bar that documents an incident allegedly involving Sgt. Darcy Taylor, a 20-year member of the Vancouver Police Department, and an alleged victim
The video shows a police officer rushing from across Broadway toward a group of three people standing on the sidewalk.

The officer delivers a blow to the man’s chest and knocks him off his feet onto the sidewalk.

The man’s lawyer, Jason Tarnow, said his client suffered a bruised chin and smacked the back of his head on the sidewalk when he was sent flying.

“The cop was telling Justin, ‘What are you going to do now? Hit me. Hit me,’” said Penman.
What do you wanna bet the police are investigating the police on this one?
Penman said she has been interviewed by police investigating the incident .


Vancouver has a serious crime problem and the VPD is a part of it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Call In The Calvary, Just Make Sure They Exit Stage Right

Wanna make a deal
Angel Vs Eel
Owl Vs Dove
Every living thing
Pushed into the ring

The tragedy of Haiti continues as the situation turns even more dire:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Rescuers pulled three survivors from the rubble Sunday five days after the Haiti earthquake, but tensions were growing among a desperate population as police opened fire on looters, killing one man.

After hours of painstaking digging through the ruins, a team from Florida unearthed a seven-year-old girl, a man aged 34 and a 50-year-old woman in the ruins of a store as dawn broke in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Later hundreds of rioters ransacked Hyppolite market in the heart of the devastated city as survivors besieged hospitals and make-shift field clinics, some carrying the injured on their backs or on carts.

If we thought Katrina's aftermath was devastating, this one will take the cake. The American, UN and even Chinese response (perhaps the start of positive internationalism on China's part?) has been fast, effective-ish and positive, so far, but this ordeal won't be over by the time 2011 rolls around. Not by a long shot.

The '04 Tsunami that buried entire islands spread destruction across the entire Indian Ocean, meaning that the concentration of the menace was far and wide. Reconstruction continues to this day, while radical social change and resistance against aid groups and developers endures. The Haitian disaster is concentrated in Port Au Prince, with 3M citizens at risk, meaning that a comparable citizenry is affected, but in a much smaller area. An massive international-size disaster within one tiny country.

However, for many reasons, I'm hoping the US does not have an over-arching control of the relief effort. Money, fine. Air craft carrier to supply rations and fresh water? Perfect! But if the same aid groups and mercenaries that overwhelmed the coastal third world after the '04 Tsunami appear, it could end badly. While many Thais were forcibly converted to Christianity at the threat of withheld food, Sri Lankans were forced from their seaside homes that were bulldozed in the name of development.

And it won't be Obama, or the good intentions of the vast majority of US citizens that will turn tragedy to continued abuse of the traumatized. It will be the rampant opportunism seen in a blank slate state that will be too enticing for some. It will be the force of history and habit. As the world has been told, the Haitian President barely survived, while his ministers are feared dead. The government no longer exists, and nature abhors a vacuum (see: Somalia, circa now).

At first, the Haitian decision-makers will welcome the relief, and public pronouncements to that affect will be spouted. But disillusionment and mixed emotions with the long-term US effort is as predictable as Monday following Sunday. How do you come out against the country that saved you from the brink but pushes you to lesser one? As time goes on, young Americans will be ones re-writing government policy, law and possibly the constitution as they did in Japan and Iraq, seeing an opportunity to imprint their way of life on another country. Again.

My own hope will be that if the US has to be the leader on rebuilding Haiti, it will recognize a line where positive intervention becomes negative interference. Obama, with his own ties to 3rd world, may be keenly aware of this line but it is doubtful he can control all the levers of the mechanized Leviathan.

And if Eisenhower couldn't, who can?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Revisiting Predictions 2009: The Recap

All the remains of our cadaver of days,
I keep hidden away
Keep them there just in case
I wanna visit that place
Blow the dust from the bones
Off a body of years that I leave all alone
--Mother Mother

Last January I predicted the following:
1. There will be all out war in Afghanistan
On this count, 2009 has had the worst of all periods of the long struggle. Despite the small contingent (relative term of Canadians, there are now almost 90,000 NATO soldiers there, and the pitched battles have become more of a real war as opposed to an insurgency, as the Taliban have taken over areas, not just minds. NATO is now retreating to major centres in a serious retrenchment. 2010 looks even more gloomy.

2. ...A civil war in Pakistan. While not called a civil war in Pakistan, essentially, we have the western NWFP/Waziristan areas in a fight against the eastern federally controlled areas. The Taliban overstretched its mandate, getting to within spitting distance of Islamabad and the federal government took exception...with some prodding from a certain superpower.

3. The Housing Bubble will not completely deflate in 2009 Has it completely burst? In some places yes (ie: Vegas, Florida), so this prediction was not totally accurate. However, the central banks have come under pressure politically, meaning that rates have become artificially low again, reinflating the bubble in certain places and asset classes (ie: Vancouver housing market).

4. The Recession will not end in 2009. On this point, Canada has pulled out of recession. Is it possible that we will go back into recession? Quite possibly. If stimulus funds dry up, there is a chance that demand could drop off again. Technically, we are out of the woods on this one.

5. Oil Prices will take the wind out of the sales of Iran, Venezuela and Russia. Venezuela's Chavez is weaker than ever has the state creaks under debt, inflation, overspending and resurgent opposition. Iran, as I thought, is has been on the brink for some time, just as the '79 revolution was a long term project, so is the 2009 project. Russia, for its part, is about even from the beginning of the year, keeping a low profile after an explosive '08.

6. FARC will be all but dead by year end. FARC is not dead, but it is on deaths' door. FARC is still confined to border areas with suspected help from Chavez on the Venezuelan side and Correa on the Equadorian border of Colombia.

7. Obama will lift the Cuban Embargo. I was dead wrong on this point. Things have gotten better between the countries, and the shuttering of Guantanamo will surely help. The Embargo, however, will live to see another day.

8. The Liberals will win a general election this summer. Dead wrong on this point.

9. The environment will cease to be a top issue as long as the economy is in the tank. This is a general rule in any recession, and this one is no different. When the economic clouds cleared a little bit, we restarted the meetings to come to a global consensus on emissions targets.

10. Not all of these gloomy predictions will be right. Spot on the mark. This was my best prediction of the year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Millenium (and the also rans)

One hand clutching a sword raised to the sky
They wonder how, they wonder why
The sky turns white it all becomes clear
They felt lifted from their fears
They shed tears in the light
--The Streets

This is by no means an authoritative list, and is not meant to be an outline of the greatest albums (ie: best by critical acclaim) necessarily, but my own personal review of the albums that shaped my millenium. They are not listed in any particular order, other than by year.

1. Renegades - Rage Against the Machine (2000). Generally, cover albums are done by bands ready to break up and Rage was no exception. Before they did disband, they released a work of holdover pre-millenial tension and raised one more defiant fist against the man, paying homage to their heroes, stretching from the Rolling Stones to Cypress Hill. After a listen of this album you could never hear any of the original songs the same way. For me, this album represented the last great fusion of rap and metal before the Los Angeles created sound (starting with the RHCP) flaked out with Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and assorted dimwitted friends killing the now dormant genre.

Close seconds 2000: Lost Souls - Doves

2. Vespertine - Bjork (2001). This album was released in the summer of 2001, but was definitely in the tradition of Scandinavian-based winter soundtracks. For me, it represented the dark period after 9/11 when it was clear that the west would be at war for an extended period. Songs like Coccoon and Pagan Poetry were a hyper-modern escape from reality. Even now, it seems like Bjork had extended a hand into the vast oceans of time of the future to bring us back something unique. Legend has it, she created the album at the top of snowcreseted mountain in Iceland.

Close seconds- 2001: "Is this It? - The Strokes.

3. Original Pirate Material - The Streets (2002). The Streets, aka Mike Skinner, was just a wee raver lad during the nineties, bringing his influences into modern hip hop. With one song, "Has it come to this?", he launched British grime out of Brixton and onto an international stage with wit, honesty, and chopped up, laptop-screwed beats that define a raw debut album. The intro, "Turn the Page" mocks the boring US gangsta rap era at its twilight and explicitly states he will not be following the lead of aping his North American cousins. It was the dawn of a new era.

Close seconds- 2002: "Veni Vedi Viscious" - The Hives

4. Hail to the Thief - Radiohead (2003). At the turn of the millenium, Radiohead were widely regarded as the kings of pop for Kid A and Amnesiac. By 2003, their focus was dead set on George W. Bush, with anti-war music subtlely implying that the Lilluputians of "Go To Sleep" should attempt to hold down the sleeping American Gulliver. It was an album full of imagery, intelligence and candor.

Close seconds- 2003: "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" - OutKast

5. College Dropout - Kanye West (2004). Before Kanye West (aka: Gayfish) became the biggest douchebag on earth, Kanye changed Hip Hop, clearing a path for conscientious hip hop of Talib, the Roots (as much as they cleared a path for West), Common, Kid Cudi and Lupe Fiasco. While Kanye's rap skills were lacking, his production and lyrical skills in terms of originality and content were a shot across the stagnant pond of Hip Hop (exceptions of course), which was navel-gazing at this point. The album starts off with "If this is your first time hearing this/You about to experience/something so cold", and from that point it became a journey, an autobiography and a triumph.

Close seconds- 2004: "Boy in da Corner" - Dizzee Rascal

6. Silent Alarm - Bloc Party (2005). I knew the first time I heard the first bars of "Helicopter" that Bloc Party were going to be band I had to know. Like most of the English imports during the millenium they never quite made the jump over the pond, but their jet engine beats coupled with the unapologetically English vocals and caffeine infused guitar riffs became timeless.

Close seconds- 2005: "Hot Fuss" - The Killers

7. Pieces of the People We Love - The Rapture (2006). The Rapture was often compared to U2 because of the ultra-fast strum style that permeated the guitar work, but beyond that, the Rapture had staked out their own style. The Rapture used humour, touches of New Order dance sensibility, and call-and-response hip hop techniques to craft an album that stands out in my mind as a defining work of the year.

Close seconds- 2006: "Show Your Bones" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

8. Untrue - Burial (2007). The first time I heard this album it was late at night, and I was listening to my iPod as I fell asleep. The album came on, and I listened. And re-listened. And I stayed up most of the night listening to this masterpiece. Burial had taken the soundtrack of night, laced it with the percussion of flicking lighters and dropped coins, and vocals that switched in an instant from female to male, warping the perception of the songs in an instant.

Close seconds- 2007: "Kala" - M.I.A.

9. In Ghost Colours - Cut/Copy (2008). Cut/Copy exuded ballsyness in releasing an album like "In Ghost Colours" which would have been a smash hit in 1990, and would have made them the world's biggest band. They cheerfully updated the Happy Monday's English dance rock, post-rave influence and went full-throttle with an album that is self-confident and brimming with melodies that stay with you long afterwards. A DJ favourite, "Hearts on Fire" will bring a smile to your face with the ancient and overused-at-the-time cliche dance sample.

Close seconds- 2008: "Tha Carter III" - Lil' Wayne

10. Yesterday and Today - The Field (2009). The Swedish techno master's follow up to the critically acclaimed "From Here We Go Sublime" was an album focused on musical texture, creating long-sequenced soundscapes that build element on element. The first time I heard "I Have the Moon" was as I traversed an artic ridge during a beautiful clear day at -35C. It was pure magic, and the album remains on heavy play.

Close seconds- 2009: "Post - Nothing" - The Japandroids

Other albums that defined my decade but did not appear on the list include:

- Coldplay's "X&Y", which I first heard while relaxing on a deck from a beach in Thailand. The opening notes of "Square One" inevitably lead me back to the same state of mind at that one day.

- God's Son - Nas. I first really listened to this album while at top volume from an apartment overlooking Kashihara, in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Nas' "Made You Look" was and remains real hip hop.

- "Takk - Sigur Ros".

- Franz Ferdinand (self-titled debut)

- Up the Bracket - The Libertines

- Rooty - Basement Jaxx

- Nordic Light Hotel - The Field

- The Bravery (Self-titled Debut)

- Push the Button - The Chemical Brothers

- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

- Justice - Cross

- Feed the Animals - Girl Talk

- The Inhuman Condition - Sam Roberts

- LCD Soundsystem (self-titled debut)

- Loyal to the Game - 2pac

- Elephant - The White Stripes

- Highly Evolved - The Vines

- Our Love to Admire - Interpol

- Demon Days - Gorillaz

- TI vs. TIP - TI

- A Grand Don't Come For Free - The Streets

- West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian

- Crystal Castles (Self-Titled Debut)

- In Rainbows - Radiohead

- Medulla - Bjork

- 24 Hour Party People - Soundtrack

- Yoshimi Battles... - The Flaming Lips

- The Black Album - Jay Z

Interpol's "Mammoth"

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Greedy Charade at the Anti-Government Protests

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through...
--Gordon Gekko

Here is a smattering of recent protests from the US...

Tim Bishop's Townhall in NY:

An Austin TX protest:

Spector and Sebelius in Philadelphia:

The overwhelming emotion present at these meetings is hatred. These are not democrats (small d) in search of debate or conversion. This is hatred, with greed and fear of change manifested in shouted slogans.

"I want my country back"....but from where? Whom? A black president? The older white demographic present at the last time of serious social change has come back with a vengeance. This is a reactionary segment of the US, rearing its head again.

"Silent No More"? When were these rich white conservatives silent over the last decade? Their interests were running the US into the ground. If they "took the country back" as some of these muntineers wanted, what exactly would change or improve? Nothing - it would be business as usual.

"I don't want to pay taxes for someone else's healthcare, I like mine just fine". Unfortunately, this sums up the problem, doesn't it? If this person was seriously ill, and her HMO desserted her, who could she turn to, or blame? If we are all looking out for number one, then can we blame the HMO's for reneging on their promises to pay for care?