Autonomous Source

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March 30, 2007

Looking forward to a summer vacation

Holland is our destination, to visit some of Michelle's family. Google helpfully provides an itinerary. Step 20 might be a little difficult though...

March 29, 2007

Make up your mind, buddy!

Stephane Dion on the budget:

Mr. Dion said the budget does nothing for students, Aboriginals, single parents and middle class Canadians and increases the gap between the rich and the poor. The provinces are unhappy with it, and he also said it spends far too much.

“The Conservatives said they would hold the line on spending. Instead, Jim Flaherty is now the biggest-spending finance minister in Canadian history,” said Mr. Dion.

So Flaherty isn't throwing enough cash around -- and he's throwing too much. Logical. This is the type of sophisticated political rhetoric that wins elections.

With support of both the fiscal conservatives and the insatiable special interests, Dion can't lose.

March 27, 2007

A window into my mind

If you could look into my mind, this is what you would see: two 'spirited' children dancing madly in a cluttered and chaotic environment.

Incidently, it's also what you'd find in my basement right now...

March 20, 2007

Budget burnout

On the subject of budgets:

I hate, hate, hate Budget Days and Budgets, and conversations about Budget Day and conversations about Budgets, from the depths of my soul. I find the details of tax law deeply depressing and complicated, not least deeply depressing because [it's] so damn complicated. Plus everyone on regular TV drones on about it all for hour after hour, while saying (because knowing) extremely little, like cricket commentators when it is raining only not funny or interesting.
The 'cricket' comment should give you a clue that the writer is not talking about Flaherty's latest cash distribution plan, but a similar document that is going to be released in the UK. But it still applies.

I'm pretty disappointed that the Conservatives have taken a page from Paul Martin and used our own money to buy us gifts and wrap them up in neat little packages, but I'm not surprised. Minority governments have backbones like overcooked spaghetti and must accomodate any special interest group just to remain standing. But it could be worse. Stephane Dion is upset because Flaherty only used one firehose to spray us with cash, not two:

Child care? Nothing, and we have requested a lot for that," said Dion.

Aboriginals? Nothing or almost nothing. This is a shame. And the fight against poverty is not there. The competitiveness of the country, the capacity to invest in research and skills? Nothing. The environment? Only compensation for the cuts they did last year.

It'll only be after the Conservatives get a majority that there'll be any real change in this kind of wasteful spending. Maybe. Hopefully. Well, there's a small chance...

Didn't I say I wasn't going to write about politics any more? I wonder what happened with that...

March 18, 2007

Draw!

Will Dion dare pulling the country into an election? I don't think so. This weekend Harper gave Canada a look at the heightened state of readiness of the Conservative party to fight an election. As an act of political intimidation, it was very effective.

I was at the 'Political Training Conference' this weekend in Toronto, and had a great time. There were workshops and lectures on all sorts of topics, and opportunities for campaign volunteers from around the country to rub shoulders with and ask questions of the top ministers of the government. The most interesting part for me was to have the opportunity to chat with other volunteers and hear the problems they were having and some of the interesting solutions they came up with. I was only mildly disappointed that the 'hospitality suites' set up by various ministers all had cash bars. I'm sure they don't do things that way in the Liberal party.

I'd write some more, but my ride is here. Gotta go...

March 15, 2007

Economic Doom Update

The first tremors in the housing market earthquake have been felt, but as I've mentioned before, this is a big mess and it's going to cause more than just a couple of down days on Wall Street.

The Washington Post had a good article yesterday on the depth of the economic foolishness that led to this state:

Today's pop quiz involves some potentially exciting new products that mortgage bankers have come up with to make homeownership a reality for cash-strapped first-time buyers.

Here goes: Which of these products do you think makes sense?

(a) The "balloon mortgage," in which the borrower pays only interest for 10 years before a big lump-sum payment is due.

(b) The "liar loan," in which the borrower is asked merely to state his annual income, without presenting any documentation.

(c) The "option ARM" loan, in which the borrower can pay less than the agreed-upon interest and principal payment, simply by adding to the outstanding balance of the loan.

(d) The "piggyback loan," in which a combination of a first and second mortgage eliminates the need for any down payment.

(e) The "teaser loan," which qualifies a borrower for a loan based on an artificially low initial interest rate, even though he or she doesn't have sufficient income to make the monthly payments when the interest rate is reset in two years.

(f) The "stretch loan," in which the borrower has to commit more than 50 percent of gross income to make the monthly payments.

(g) All of the above.

If you answered (g), congratulations! Not only do you qualify for a job as a mortgage banker, but you may also have a future as a Wall Street investment banker and a bank regulator.

No, folks, I'm not making this up. Not only has the industry embraced these "innovations," but it has also begun to combine various features into a single loan and offer it to high-risk borrowers. One cheeky lender went so far as to advertise what it dubbed its "NINJA" loan -- NINJA standing for "No Income, No Job and No Assets."

In fact, these innovative products are now so commonplace, they have been the driving force in the boom in the housing industry at least since 2005. They are a big reason why homeownership has increased from 65 percent of households to a record 69 percent. They help explain why outstanding mortgage debt has increased by $9.5 trillion in the past four years. And they are, unquestionably, a big factor behind the incredible run-up in home prices.

Now they are also a major reason the subprime mortgage market is melting down, why 1.5 million Americans may lose their homes to foreclosure and why hundreds of thousands of homes could be dumped on an already glutted market. They also represent a huge cloud hanging over Wall Street investment houses, which packaged and sold these mortgages to investors around the world.

Read the whole thing. It almost makes the dot-com insanity look respectable in comparison.

New York's alright...

...If you like saxophones...

I was going to write a great long accounting of all we did in New York, but what's the point? We ate wonderfully, walked and shopped, and found we were far more stylish than those dowdy New York people. Everyone dressed in grey and beige, and Michelle just won't stand for that.

We both also managed to come down with a cold while we were there, but luckily New York is a good town for finding medication.

I do have to point out the highlight of our stay, and that was seeing the musical The Drowsy Chaperone. I'm not at all a fan of musicals, and generally dislike being trapped in my seat watching 'theatre', but it's been a long, long time since I was so well entertained. Anyone going to New York has to see it. Here's the trailer to get you interested:

Strangely, this show has a Canadian genesis. Somehow the creators managed to avoid the tentacles of CanCon subsidies and promotion that drain the spark out of whatever they touch.

UPDATE: I have to link to this video of one of the songs from the show being performed at the Tony's.

Ghod. Me, a Broadway musical fan. I never would have predicted it...

March 07, 2007

Blogging into the wind

The blog sucks. I know. I know! Despite the pointlessness of it, I'm going to give my reasons. Yes, this is another blog post about why I haven't been blogging. There's really only four causes:

1) Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos. Add this term to your list of euphemistic phrases: spirited child. A spirited child is:

more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic.
In other words, more crazy. In less enlightened times -- when people didn't have to be so careful about 'labeling' a child and hurting his or her self-esteem -- these children were probably considered to be possessed by the devil and were dealt with appropriately. But now the treatment is subtle behavior modification involving gentle praise and rebukes. Frankly, I think an exorcist would be more effective.

We have two 'sprited children', and the infuriating properties of their condition are magnified by this. When in full insanity mode, they lock minds and pay no attention to anything but each other. They shriek, giggle, babble, tell absolutely terrible jokes, and basically try to speed up the entropic process that will lead to the destruction of the universe. It can be a little stressful.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want them any other way. But I could use an off switch. Or at least a mute button.

2) Apathy. I'm having a hard time working up much concern about the problems of the world when I have things closer to home to deal with. Let me try again for old times sake:

Things suck, and people are still stupid.
That'll have to do for awhile.

3) The Editor. Yes he's back again, though in a somewhat different form. I'm looking for a job now (not so much for the money, but as part of a program of stress-reduction) and I worry what some HR person is going to see when they google my name. I'm not worried enough to go and change anything I've already written -- I have no regrets about anything on this blog -- but just thinking of someone misunderstanding what I want to write has made it more difficult to commit any new words to the internet's permanent record.

4) Burn out. I'm burnt out. I need some down time. Yes, I know I'm unemployed, but you don't know my kids...

So the question is, can this blog survive these challenges? It's impossible to say right now. There is some hope that issue one is starting to resolve itself, which would also ease issue two. But until issue three is resolved there will be very little of the sharp political commentary that is this blog's proud heritage. So for now, I have enacted a new editorial policy: no political crap. Cool stuff, self-indulgent observational nonsense, kids stories, and consumer reports will be be the focus around here for the time being.

Issue four will hopefully be ameliorated with some well deserved R&R that is coming up. First, the wife and I will be leaving for New York for four days starting tomorrow. Without CD and TMOC! We'll be staying at the fabulous Royalton near the theatre district. We're probably going to eat at some fine restaurants, go to a few swanky clubs, and catch a show or two, but I'd be just as happy staying in, watching TV and drinking weak American beer. (I hear Zima is da bomb!) The weekend after that I'll be in Toronto attending this wild party, and two weeks later I'll be free for a whole week (!!) as my wife and her mother bravely volunteer to endure seven hours on a plane with my spirited children to take them to Vancouver. I can't wait. I'm going to sleep in 'til... nine o'clock! I'm so excited!

So. Autonomous Source is not dead. Not yet anyways. There are still some feeble vital signs.

This public service message has concluded. We now return you to our regularly scheduled test pattern....