Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anti-Hitlist for November 28

I've been slacking off.

Here is today's Anti-Hitlist:

And here are a couple of faves...

Numero uno is Alicia Keys in a stripped down tribute to NYC (sans Jay-Z). Keys is a heck of a performer. A real deal artist.

Another standout for me was this one by Swede Lykke Li. I've been liking her stuff for a couple years now, but this completely sparse cover of The Shirlles classic is pretty amazing. Dripping in emotion, with pretty much nothing but vocals holding the song up...

Friday, November 13, 2009


Just discovered this wonderful web comicstrip, XKCD. Plenty of great strips in a variety of tones and intentions. I really liked this one...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Respect to our past, current and future veterans. We owe much to your sacrifices. Thank you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anti-Hit List for November 7

This week's anti-hits!

Numero uno: Imogen Heap - Thriller. Yep, Thriller. I'm pretty much all MJ'ed out, but I'll take this smooth, heartfelt cover.

Best of the week IMHO: Orianthi - According To You. Australian guitar goddess featured in MJ's 'This Is It'. Very Kelly Clarkson-esque a la Since U Been Gone. But better. Superb guitar playing.

Are We Really Better Off?

Great article by William Hanley at the Financial Post...

Are we really better off?

The numbers don't lie -- especially those issued by Statistics Canada, which has an outstanding record of adhering religiously to strict methodology. So when I read a recent front-page commentary in the National Post by William Watson, I was surprised at the StatsCan numbers he quoted to defend capitalism's record in Canada.

Not that capitalism really needs defending, despite Wall Street's central role in triggering the financial crisis that sank the markets. To borrow Winston Churchill's words about democracy, capitalism is the worst system, except for all the rest.

Mr. Watson's point -- underscored by StatsCan's numbers in a report racily titled Income in Canada -- was that Canadians' real incomes rose strongly for the 10 years from 1998 to 2007 among all groups and individuals. The median income of families with two or more persons rose to $71,900 in 2007, from $59,300 in 1998 in inflation-adjusted 2007 dollars. Elderly families' income rose to $54,200, from $43,800. Elderly single men saw incomes rise to $31,000 from $27,000. Even elderly single women, often the poorest and most vulnerable financially, had a rise in real income, to $25,800 from $22,100.

Yes, the StatsCan numbers do paint a bright picture of Canada's particular form of capitalism at work. So, why am I not convinced that the underlying reality is no longer aligned with the numbers?

First, much has happened since StatsCan meticulously crunched the 2007 real-income numbers. When the Income in Canada report for 2008 is published in June 2010, the numbers are not likely to look as good, because recessionary forces had already begun chipping away at incomes.

And when the annual report for 2009 is issued in June 2011, the picture will look far bleaker, reflecting this year's high unemployment rate and a host of other realities associated with the recession, including falling portfolio values and tumbling fixed-income rates of return. And in relief, the decade from 1998 to 2007 was a very good one for the personal finances of most people, despite the brief 9/11 recession and the tech wreck of 2000.

Second, anecdotal evidence I've collected tends to belie the numbers. Few of the many people I know have been getting pay raises and few retirees I know have made any real income gains in the past few years. If they've kept pace with inflation, they've been fortunate.

Third, despite the tame inflation rates of recent years, many people will attest that things are more expensive. For instance, food prices and restaurant prices have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation in the past year.

Anyway, the basket of goods that StatsCan uses to track the consumer price index is not necessarily an accurate measure of many people's spending habits. I know for certain that local restaurants and pubs I frequent have raised prices steadily, so customers are having to spend more of their higher real incomes.

In all, the impression I and others get is that many people these days are "feeling" poorer or at least less well-off. That could be a result of the financial tensions of the past year or so. But I expect the mood to remain somewhat more downbeat for a while at least.

One event that is likely to reinforce some of today's uncertainties is the coming rise in interest rates, which have been kept artificially low to help stimulate the economy. Sometime next year, the Bank of Canada will begin raising rates, pushing up accommodation costs for legions of mortgage holders, who will start to feel a little poorer, with less discretionary income to spend.

Meantime, Canadian government deficits -- totalling about $100-billion this year alone -- will hang over the country and its citizenry. Those deficits will continue to be racked up for the next few years at least and they will have to be at least partly addressed by higher taxes if the country is to get a handle on its fiscal outlook.

The hard fact is the country is in nowhere near as good shape overall as it was just two years ago, when the latest real income numbers indicated Canadians were making solid gains.

That, despite capitalism's record of working well for our prosperity, is a reality Canadians must continue to deal with in the coming years.

Bat For Lashes - Daniel

Here is probably my favourite song of 2009. Two Suns by Bat For Lashes (a.k.a. Natasha Khan) is probably my favourite album of the year as well. Good, good stuff. Think Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks with the ambiance of The Cure.

Bat For Lashes - Daniel (HD) from Peter Pan on Vimeo.

My song du jour.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Easy credit now, housing woes later?

Great Globe & Mail article. Frankly, I have been surprised by the resiliency of the Canadian housing market. Despite the woes south-of-the-border and lofty unemployment rates, home sales here have been robust. The only driving factor as I see is historically low interest rates. And people's need to own a home at any cost.

I have long thought that people are over-extended and have sunk all their "wealth" into the value of their home. It seems to me that interest rates will have to increase eventually and a lot of people who have over-buyed and stretched themselves very thin will feel the sting. The impact won't hit U.S. proportions, but I feel this is inevitable.

Still, the Bank of Canada is in a bind. If they raise rates, the Cdn $ will increase. I suspect they will wait until the U.S. makes a move. Still, it will happen.

Easy credit, soaring prices raise new housing fears

"Ms. Pham, 28, and Mr. Burzese put $57,000 down on the $570,000 house early this year. The couple says they're comfortable with the debt. They make good money and are installing a basement apartment as a “mortgage helper.” But they might not have been able to get into the market were it not for the intervention of the Bank of Canada and the federal government – in the form of a continued low interest rates and federal policies aimed at maintaining the flow of lending and spending.

The interest rate on the their mortgage? Just 1.5 per cent.

By taking advantage of ultracheap interest rates to buy something they couldn't previously afford, the couple are doing exactly what the government wants Canadians to do to restore growth to the economy. Mr. Burzese and Ms. Pham may well be able to handle the new debt. But mounting consumer debt loads across the country are worrying some economists -- and even the bankers who are profiting from it."

“We know that interest rates will rise – the only question is when,” Mr. (Benjamin) Tal (of CIBC) says. “Even if you lock in a five-year mortgage rate, you have to realize that five years from now, they will be significantly higher than they are now. Clearly people have to be much more prudent in this kind of environment.”

"While heftier debt loads obviously make all borrowers more vulnerable to higher interest rates, consumers' increased exposure to real estate also means that they have become more susceptible to changes in the housing market."

"Canada's housing market is certainly not stained by the sort of excesses that characterized the U.S. market before the crash. Subprime lending in Canada is estimated to represent less than 5 per cent of the market, compared with more than 20 per cent in the U.S. prior to the crisis.

"But an ironic scenario could still unfold. In an effort to combat a recession that had its origins in a U.S. housing bubble, Canadian policy makers have responded with low rates that might create a bubble here, giving the mortgage market too much of a kick-start through low interest rates and a program of buying billions in mortgages from the banks."