Monday, June 29, 2009

Another man's treasure

Among the garbage and the flowers. Toronto streets have been getting unheralded summer detritus ornaments for a week now. And the sun pours down like honey. And it all spills onto the sidewalk.

Guy next door, as usual when details of the benefits of unionized gangs are disclosed in the news, offered no opinion other than to say "it stinks". Us Toronto taxpayers, mortals who effectively pay a handsome rent just to stay in our own homes, we prove to be a generous and stoic bunch. (And kudos to the folks in Windsor!) Notwithstanding the high taxes that go towards the many unions and the few services, this is not really much of an inconvenience.

Torontonians already spend a good time faithfully screening, sorting, bagging, dragging their oversized multi-coloured bins back and forth, and once in a while visiting the Drop-off Depot for special occasions. We know caulking tubes don't go in the Blue Bin but in the Gray One. Catheters are rinsed, double-bagged, and go into the Gray Bin. Oversized items are put 0.5 m away from the Garbage Bin, toilet tanks first removed from the bowl. Cheese paper, but not chewing gum, goes into the Kitchen Container and then is reassigned to the Green Bin. Kitty litter goes into the Green Bin, pet fur into the Gray Bin. Dead animals are not accepted by the City. (So to get rid of a pesky pet, doing away with it first will get you nowhere.) The circumference of our bundled brunches (no Bin here) never exceeds 0.6 cm. And we all know what to do in case there is excess Green Bin material.

The last step, hauling the accumulated rubble away to transfer stations and scuffling with the picketers, is a natural progression. I'm confident debris scientists are busy applying for government grants right now in their quest to discover new ways to torment us.

And she feeds you tea and oranges, that come all the way from China. With all this intensive debrial (debriferous?) activity and the odiferous litter piling up, I could not help pondering on the reasons there is so much garbage stuff in the first place.

It is, of course, because there is so much stuff. The Story of Stuff tells us as much. Of the stuff, by the stuff, and for the stuff.

Deliberately a bit rough, a bit too instructional (reminiscent of a high-school lecture, Annie Leonard the stern teacher; Will this be on the exam?), and not as in-your-face strong as The Corporation. But the documentary is a nice overview of a big problem, and it's not merely for those pure raucous sanctimonious souls who are trying, a bit too hard, to save the planet (as we all were once). It makes the fashionable frugal even cooler, and more pertinent.

This story of stuff (21 minutes long) is divided conveniently (as you cannot rewind) into seven parts: Intro, Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, Disposal, and Another Way. You'll learn quite a few things along the way: shoe buffing (the Corporation is bigger than the Government), the need for more planets. Synthetic chemicals (100,000 of these), such as the BFRs in your pillow, and the need to find a better way to prevent our heads from catching fire at night. Breast is (still) best (but we kinda suspected that much). Whole communities getting wasted (sic). Low lower lowest prices at Big Box-Mart and externalized costs. Consumption as a way of life. Designed for the dump (planned obsolescence) and skinny heels (perceived obsolescence), as 99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within just six months. Working, shopping, and the national happiness. And, sure enough, garbage. Brought to you by the letter G.

But really, yes, stuff is bad. The System, it stinks. It is high time to switch to something else entirely.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The last words in

The June 2009 edition of Oxford English Dictionary's online Quarterly update commentaries addresses, among others, two words pertinent to the current bleeding state of economic affairs.

John Simpson, Chief Editor, provides ample commentary on the revised entry for recession. Its recorded history, starting in 1606, exhibits various meanings such as a temporary suspension of an activity, physical receding, being recessed (especially in architectural design or artistic representation), a cavity or depression (as in a rock), and specialized meanings in astronomy, geography, dentistry and surgery, phonetics, and religion. The first encounter with an economic recession is found in an 1847 Guardian article, where it signifies a reduction in value or amount. Finally, its modern sense of 'a period of economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced' well precedes the Great Depression:

For OED3 we have found the sense being used (in a regional American newspaper) in 1905, of the short, sharp recession of 1903, when (as we might recognize) "the bottom was knocked out of the speculative craze which had seized the country".
Graeme Diamond, Principal Editor of New Words, remarks on the newly-added bailout. The earliest quotation is from a Time article about $40 million in aid to, blimey, the tobacco industry, after a bad crop. (Considering how well this industry has been doing since, it appears the money was effective.) Amusingly, the underlying metaphor is either figurative water being bailed out of a 'sinking ship', or money being provided to 'get someone out of jail'. (I believe nowadays we've seen cases of bailouts followed by getting someone into jail.)

If you go on reading you'll also learn about turducken, the friendly merger of three birds, a real sweetheart deal.

OED is, of course, "The definitive record of the English language". Investopedia is "A Forbes Digital Company". Here's recession and bailout in the latter's dictionary. (No turducken in Investopedia, but the inquisitive mind will be somewhat edified by World Wide Words.)

One final word — you too can subscribe to OED News by e-mail.

[One finaler note — there is fascinating stuff in the online OED archive too.]

Monday, June 22, 2009

finarcical tactrics

Financial shmanancial. Now it's summer for real. Long on days, short on nights. Lazy. Volumes are lower. Hazy. Uptick, downtick. Crazy. Time is not money — I've got the time. Anagram Genius twists financial tactics into A fantastic clinic. It certainly explains a few things...


PS If you don't see a big clock under tictacs, then may be down. If you don't see the King Gambit chess game diagram under tactics, then you may need glasses.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

To paraphrase Axel Munthe (The Story of San Michele), there is a Toronto qui s'amuse, but if you happen to belong to the Toronto qui travaille (loosely speaking here), it becomes another matter. A sizeable part of our editorial board is away. The other, left behind, is just green (which, in a different ecological context, and along with frugal, in the same contextual crisis, are the in mots du jour, at least for now).

We've always planned to post lifestyle articles in this blog. Many business magazines and their Web sites have such a section. It shows you what you can do with the money you made investing (while subliminally promoting that warm fuzzy feeling that anyone can make it, and big), or perhaps what you're missing because of the money you lost investing. Today, we're optimistic.

Here's a brief report put together from the latest generous dispatches from the field sent by the above-mentioned globe-trotting segment of our staff.

Viennese café on a tranquil Saturday morning
Viennese café on a tranquil Saturday morning

Remembrance of verses past:

  Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women...
  There's a lobby with nine hundred windows...
  There's a piece that was torn from the morning
  And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.

  Take this waltz, take this waltz,
  take its broken waist in your hand.

Cappuccino at a Viennese café
Cappuccino for one cup and two mouths, €7

That's exactly what you do when you find yourself in Vienna's airport with five hours on your hands. You put up €16 (return ticket) for the CAT and in as many minutes you're in the heart of the city, on the Terrasse.

Bega Canal, Timişoara
Bega Canal, Timişoara

Silviu Brucan is remembered for his 1990 contentious Nostradamic moment, when he asserted Romanians would need 20 years to become accustomed to democracy. Timişoara, for one, seems to be already there, when comparing it to even a couple of years ago: the city is clean (Bega Canal included) and full of flowers, government buildings underwent renovations, new construction shows taste, and everyone is busy working (On Corso, yours truly and the local retirees being the exception). And cars, only recently an impossible luxury, have become a necessity in the new capitalism.

Democracy is coming to Romania. The miners charter gave way to Vienna charter flights...
Crişcior, Romania
Crişcior, Hunedoara County

The green motif at its pastoral best. Outlasting the golden one, just as rich, of yesteryear. It brings to mind the opening lines of the ballad Mioriţa (here in the translation of W. D. Snodgrass):

  Near a low foothill
  At Heaven's doorsill,
  Where the trail's descending
  To the plain and ending...

The pristine air, the distant barking, the roosters' early-morning proclamations complete a picture that sends you back in time to an innocent, now seemingly unreal, childhood. "I sometimes stop and call to mind the customs and people there used to be in my part of the world at the time when I had, so to speak, just begun to put a foot over the threshold of boyhood." — Ion Creangă.

Cluj-Napoca from the distance

Back to business. One Canadian dollar buys you 2.6 Romanian lei (RON). An issue of Fortune magazine will set you back RON 33, so you may feel a bit richer with just Ziarul Financiar, or the new Forbes Romania. In a debate on B1 TV the consensus was that another 20 years and 500 billions (mainly for infrastructure) are still needed for Romania to reach the level of the Western world.

RON 600 in four days on restaurants, cigarettes, cabs, and books seem by all accounts money well spent.

Alba Iulia
Transilvaniei Boulevard, Alba Iulia

Oh well. Summertime. And the bloggin' is light...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Money, poetry on the way

Not only the Industrial Revolution was British, but also a more contemporary, poetical revolution. London's Poems on the Underground program began in tube carriages (which are, in all probability, subway cars) in 1986:

Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.
— Robert Burns, Up in the Morning Early

When all the pre-market happens.
Like any brilliant idea, it spread in all directions. Once it got to the New York subway, as Poetry In Motion:
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
— Lord Byron, So we'll go no more a-roving

Presumably about a slow day in the markets.
it was only a matter of when it will arrive in Toronto.

So if you happen to take the subway in Toronto1, you must have noticed the occasional rush-hour verse or two. Poetry on the Way is how I discovered Pat Lowther:
Couldn't write then maybe
but how I could love —
When I said "Tree"
my skin grew rough as bark.
I almost remember how all the leaves
rushed shouting shimmering
out of my veins.

Even now
I can almost remember
how many hands I had
hooked in the sky.
On Reading a Poem Written in Adolescence

On all that was once passion, and is today primarily technique...
Which leads naturally to another concept, long overdue, to wit money-management tips delivered to the captive, commuting populace in similarly small doses. I certainly could have used something like this.

Don't neglect your DC so-called pension plan: unless it's all in effectively-losing GICs, it's in the other definitely-losing small choice of funds.

Contribute to your RRSP: retirement may be a long way off, but you'll be able to withdraw funds soon, and pay only minimal taxes, when you get terminated.

Be careful about putting money in MER-hungry mutual funds: in a downturn, when care is needed most, the guys supposedly taking care of your money lose your said money faster than this train.
etc. etc.

As to a catchy name, I don't know. Money on the Way, devoid of specificity regarding the where (on the way up? down??), leaves you hanging-wanting-to-read-more alright, but also may scare the reader off. Money, by the Way lacks force. Money is the Way is already taken2, sort of. Money, the Way it was is merely nostalgic, so of no much help. My Money, no Way! is not constructive.

Once the naming question is resolved and the project gets going, New York can have its turn copying Toronto. But with something called more in the American way: It's the money, stupid.

1 This may occur either 1.- because your car broke down ("Oh, I do my part for this poor planet of ours whenever I can, you know!"), or 2.- because you cannot afford a real car ("I live downtown, so I don't really need a car!").

2 One of the blogs listed on our sidebar (in the blogshelf? blograck? bloglog?! bloglogog??) is Money is the way, seldom about money as such, quite often pure poetry. And in motion, too. At times a bit jerky for the uninitiated, but always rich, colourful, and worth reading — once you get familiar with the usual inhabitants of Michael Fowke's landscape, such as the Master, the shamans, Big Herb, those children of the desert, and bien sûr episodic muse Gillian Tett.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The worst of the epidemic is over, but Mexico's economy is hit hard

Mexico’s economy caught the flu rather badly, and has contracted 8.2% in the first quarter of 2009. Experts assess that it is likely to continue to sink further and faster than had been expected. Look for a recovery of the patient in the second quarter of 2010.

Mexico factsheet (data from the Economist Intelligence Unit):

  • Area 1,972,545 sq. km.
  • Population 104.9 million
  • Number of households 24.1 million
  • Fertility rate (per woman) 2.4
  • Adult literacy 91%
  • GDP US$677 billion
  • Agriculture 4.1%
  • Industry 26.4%, of which manufacturing 19.5%
  • Services 69.5%
  • Mobile phone subscribers per 100 pop. 36.6
In the meantime, your research for investment opportunities may start with the following Mexican funds and companies: iShares MSCI Mexico, Telefonos de Mexico, Cemex, Mexico Fund, Mexico Equity & Income Fund, Cimarex Energy, America Movil.

After which, look forward to the good times of tequila, the doffed sombrero, and the siesta...