Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hay Fever Happens Out Here

When I was a tyke, I was diagnosed with "hay fever".  One of my jobs was to cut the grass, so this malady presented a problem not just for me but for the dispenser of my weekly allowance - my dad.  At the time the standard diagnostic test was pinpricks with various suspected antigenic substances on your back (over a hundred of them as I recall, each one circled and labeled via ballpoint pen) which then did or did not cause a local reaction.  The reactions after a half-hour or so could then be ascertained and an antigen soup formulated in some far-off lab.  Weekly injections of an increasing dosage of same were then initiated, with the hope that the body would gradually develop antibodies to the offending substances.  In my case I reacted to so many that they couldn't tell which ones I hadn't reacted to, but apparently camel hair was the worst offender.  (Camel hair!  I had never seen a camel in my life except from a distance at the Calgary zoo.  Perhaps Mother had a camel hair sweater.)  Anyway, I guess it didn't work, because I still get hay fever (and I still cut the grass).  Antihistamines help, of course, but then I'm dozier (than usual) and I'm kind of an anti-pill guy anyway.  My biggest allergy has no antidote, however: people who ignore science. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Fair Value of a Stock Market Index

The "Fair Value" of the S&P 500, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, and other indices is often compared to the "futures" of those same indices as an indication whether the stock market will open the day up or down from where it previously closed.  So what exactly is the "fair value" of a market index?  From Investopedia:  fair value "... refers to the relationship between the futures contract on a market index and the actual value of the index.  If futures are above fair value then traders are betting the market index will go higher, the opposite is true if futures are below fair value."  In other words, the Fair Value of a market index is its theoretical value, derived mathematically rather than by market forces.  (Yes, you say, but how do they calculate Fair Value?  Click this CME Group link for the actual calculation.)  An analogy can be drawn from accounting principles: the fair value of a business or other asset for sale can likewise be mathematically determined according to internationally-accepted accounting standards, yet the actual value of that asset will be determined by bidders at the time of sale.  Until then, potential buyers can only speculate - and perhaps submit bids about that future price.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shaved Heads

What's with shaved heads?  I'm not talking here about "buzz" haircuts (often a choice of athletes, or for some a summer alternative to the heat) - both of which I can understand.  I'm talking about skinheads.  The Yul Brynner type totally-shaved pate.  (I fully realize that in the past I have made light of my own Male Pattern Baldness - jesting that "Buddha made some perfect heads, the rest he put hair on" - but now I am deadly serious.  Well, as serious as I ever get.)  Young men with completely shaved heads!  What is behind this phenomenon?  Are men going "thin on top" so much earlier that they are just throwing in the towel?  If so, is there an environmental, genetic, or nutritional cause that needs to be researched?  Is there a national paucity of Rogaine?  Is it because of a spectacularly successful advertising campaign by Gillette?  (Hey, maybe that's why Warren Buffet picked up shares!)  Are they fickle enough to succumb to such self-flagellation because of "fashion"?  (A sad commentary on the state of Man, if so.)  Do women think skinheads are sexy?  (Doubters, Ralph - as we used to say in the sixties - and a sad commentary on the state of women, if so.)  Are these young men being controlled by aliens?  Do these young studs just want to look like us old studs?  What exactly is going on here? 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's The Retail Investor, Stupid!

I get tired of the endless analysis, day after day, by the financial media talking heads, about why the stock market just seems adrift, up then down for no discernible reason, always on extremely light share volume.  Blah, blah, blah.  So accustomed are they to tying any market surge to "earnings", or market dip to "lower margins" (or either one to any one of several dozen other scapegoats) that they can't see the forest for the trees.  The patently obvious reason for the current market malaise is that THE RETAIL INVESTOR ISN'T IN IT ANYMORE.  In other words, volume matters - and is trying to tell you something.  Screwed (again) by the Wall Street greed that led to the crash of 2008/09, it turns out that was only the beginning.  We won't be back until flash-trading, high volume trading, dark pools, and other Wall Street creations that disadvantage the retail investor are cleaned up and there's a level playing field for all.  It happened again the other day (an up day for the markets) when Mario Bartiromo on CNBC remarked at the close that only 1 billion shares had traded all day on the NYSE - very light volume.  Hello ... Maria, Larry, Cramer, Haines, Burnett, Geitner and co. ... hello, we won't be back until Wall Street is cleaned up!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Southern Note: The Hughes Hurricane Martini

I recently referenced having a substantial stockpile of vodka as part of my hurricane emergency readiness kit. I could tell you that it would be for medicinal purposes, but that would be untrue, and out here we always speak the truth.  It's because nothing relaxes and calms the nerves like a good martini.  Herewith, my favorite:
  • 2 oz. Belvedere vodka (of course, in desperate times, Alberta vodka - or any - will do)
  • splash of dry vermouth
  • splash of olive juice
  • 6-8 ice cubes

SHAKEN, not stirred (it really DOES make a difference).  Then add one or all of the following:

  • caper berries (not to be confused with capers)
  • pickled okra
  • olives stuffed with anything


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Word For The Day: kludge

kludge - pronounced just like it sounds - noun: a quick-and-dirty, sometimes clumsy and inelegant but effective solution to a (usually) technological problem, typically using parts cobbled together for the purpose; as in "That's a messy kludge, but it will do for now until I get the proper software".  Author's note:  The foregoing seems to be the dominant definition.  However, this little word has a really interesting etymology, and can also be taken to be an ineffective solution - which gives it an almost opposite meaning.  So, I encourage those of you prone to this sort of thing to read  Otherwise your only reward is another great word for Scrabble, which is often enough for those of us out here.

Southern Note: It's THAT Time of Year

It's that time again - when people in the tropics and the southern states actually pay attention to the weather.  No more boring and predictable (hot) weather - it's Hurricane Season!  Not unlike our friends in the northern climes, we now actually watch the weather on a fairly regular basis.  We hang on every word regarding the water temperature in the gulf and the effects of El Nino vs La Nina.  We listen to the predictions of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, like you can administer either one of those...) and we watch those tropical "waves" forming off the west coast of Africa and those "weather-makers" in the Caribbean that may just change into a depression, then into a named tropical storm and finally, into a hurricane.  We have our hurricane kits, our stashes of emergency supplies (and vodka), our evacuation plans, and disaster preparedness meetings at work.  Yes, from June to November each year, you can sense some vague excitement or anxiety in the air that's just not there the rest of the year.  I suspect it's because the very weather that "made" us could very quickly destroy us.  Sobering thought - think I'll go to the pool and ponder it...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bud Light - Beer or Blasphemy?

Budweiser - the "King of Beers" - largest selling brand on the face of the earth - and Bud Light, its lesser alcohol progeny, have of late become my beers of choice out here.  Blasphemy, you say, sacrilege!  Slough water!  Here's the story.  A few years ago, our youngest was diagnosed with wheat digestion problems and was relegated to a (virtually) gluten-free diet.  Gluten-free beers exist, but they're exceedingly rare and expensive - and frankly not that great tasting.  Then I remembered that my bro-in-law (also on gluten-free) drinks Budweiser because it's made from rice not grains.  Voila, nutritional problem solved!  At about the same time, I noticed that some close friends of ours out here drink nothing but Bud Light.  Now as one who occasionally imbibes more than one suds at a sitting, over the years I'd gravitated to Big Rock Grasshopper, a wheat beer from Calgary, for the taste.  And yes, the lemon wedge added by my favorite barmaid made sure I get me vitamins for the week.  (Had to get her to add a wedge every other beer to throw off my wife who occasionally counts 'em to keep me honest.)  Over time, perhaps due to my aging constitution, I began to feel a bit thrashed some mornings after even a relatively temperate night before.  So I tried Bud Light.  Guess what?  I feel a lot better, and have even lost a few ounces (very few).  And perhaps that's why so many people around the world drink Budweiser.  By accident, process of elimination or (in my case) cerebration, a lot of people have arrived at the same conclusion.  (And you don't need to drink it all the time - just if you're scheduled to do brain surgery early the next day.)  No compensation has been paid by Budweiser in regard to this post.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another Exceedingly Thin Line

Having discussed the very thin line between our modern civilization and anarchy, it occurred to me there's an equally thin line between the former and the natural world out here too.  Some parts of this planet have been "tamed" for eons by man and are now asphalt jungles with little threat to life and limb other than grumpy lapdogs, air quality, traffic and fellow humans.  Out here it's a bit more complicated.  Graduate university degrees, wireless internet, smart phones, marble countertops and solar panels aside, our outwardly beautiful farms, ranches and acreages harbour some pretty primitive dangers city folks never have to contemplate.  One minute we're manicuring the lawn, the next minute a grizzly bear is out in the old apple tree by the trampoline.  (And that's if we're lucky.  Bears are largely herbivorous, but coyotes, cougars and wolves aren't - they need to eat meat everyday.)  The point is that we're largely on our own out here.  Police and fire protection, including ambulance service, is more than a hop, skip and a jump from here.  City folks apparently don't understand our need for firearms, hence the current divide between urban and rural Canadians on that issue - and with more Canadians living in urban than rural settings this topic needs to be elucidated in forums like this.  Simply put, we need our guns.  Now, to get at those dandelions on the back forty!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Exceedingly Thin Line

Last night some hooligan tried to burn down the golf clubhouse out here.  Although not a golfer, I am reminded by this incident that there remains an exceedingly thin line everywhere between what we call "modern civilization" and "anarchy" - not just outside a G20 meeting in Toronto.  A friend of ours with close ties to the RCMP was recently informed of something I've suspected all along: that we nice, law-abiding, semi-affluent folks would be shocked at the criminal activity that goes on just barely under the surface in our own little community - let alone in those big sinful cities down the road.  The truth is, few people anywhere seem to have any respect for anything these days (themselves included), let alone "the law".  (From income tax cheats to the more obvious gang-bangers, perverts and low-lifes, it seems we're barely keeping the lid on outright mayhem.)  Yet, it is those very laws that make us "civilized".  Without the rule of law we risk descending to the level of, say, Afghanistan, where power still clearly resides in the most vicious tribal warlord - and kids are given a gun instead of an education.  Personally, I think we have been too soft on crime, with the result that we have more of it.  And don't give me that liberal, bleeding-heart, crime-prevention-through-social-development crap.  Just as kids need (and ultimately appreciate) boundaries set by their parents, citizens need laws that are enforced consistently by society if they are to be respected.  Respect is the key.  Respect is lacking.  To get it back we need laws with teeth enforced fairly and consistently.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

From The Left: Rhinestone Cowpeople

Our family unit just returned from a brief, frantic visit to The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, aka the Calgary Stampede.  Mindful of my mother's edict that everybody should go at least once in their life, and clearly gluttinous in respect to punishment, we attended on what has historically been the busiest day of the whole event.  True to form, there were tens of thousands of us strolling the midway, all willfully forking over outrageous sums of money for transitory pleasures under the scorching sun.  We caught the chuckwagon races, heavy horse pull, grandstand show and a wide variety of agricultural exhibits.  The latter really anchors the whole affair and provides a link to the true historical relevance of The Stampede.  Then, returning to the midway and viewing the astounding variety of faux cowboys and cowgirls given license to "dress western", I was reminded once again just how much genuine denizens out here differ from those I observed on said stroll.  As with so much of human nature, our propensity to want to belong to a group, which most in attendance had no personal connection with, overrides what little dignity we may have.  Frankly, I'd rather hang out in the barns with the real people any day.  The midway minions?  Once in a lifetime is more than enough.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Petulants Endorsing Terrorist Activities (PETA)

PETA pisses me off.  The Calgary Stampede is their latest target.  No doubt it was a lot of the same miscreants, anarchists, and vandals that recently terrorized downtown Toronto during the G20 that are behind the whining about the perceived mistreatment of animals in Calgary.  Surely they must be aware that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) monitors Stampede activities very closely - and has for years.  I have always respected and supported the SPCA for their tireless efforts out here, and will continue to do so.  They call it as they see it, and are quick to report any questionable activity.  In the past the SPCA hasn't pulled any punches in dealing with the Stampede.  PETA, on the other hand, has lost all credibility with me.  They break into research facilities, unleash dangerous animals onto the public, threaten and harass researchers, and generally utilize every terrorist tactic they can (including arson) to achieve their aims.  Stampede animals, and rodeo stock in general, are well-treated and lucky to live extended lives in the care of people who love them.  Rodeo grew out of everyday ranch practices that were necessary for the survival - not only of people - but the animals they depended on.  Practices that got the job done with a minimum of distress to the animal.  Don't like Western Canadian ranch culture?  Fine.  Stay where you are but be forewarned - we're watching how you care for those lapdogs of yours!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Watch Out Willie Wonka!

The price of European chocolate is about to rise, and that means chocolate everywhere may become more expensive as a result.  On Friday somebody cornered the European cocoa market.  They bought 241,000 metric tonnes of cocoa beans sitting in certified warehouses around Europe, the largest single trade in 14 years, worth over $1.3 billion U.S.  Normally cocoa futures are bought and sold to hedge prices for producers and consumers, but on Friday whoever bought the futures contracts elected to actually take delivery rather than take a paper gain as is usually the case.  But the producers (African in this case) have already been paid, and the consumers (European confectioners in this case) have not bought yet because the price of cocoa has been at an all-time high.  Well, guess what?  This deal indicates higher cocoa prices to come, as whoever bought all that cocoa squeezes every last cent out of it on resale.  The Hunt brothers failed to corner the silver market several decades ago, but now we'll get to see what happens when a commodity does get monopolized.  So, if you are a chocaholic (especially all of you in our burgeoning European audience), load up or switch to milk chocolate which is only 25% cocoa.  Where do you get those chocolate milk cows anyway?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Six Decades of Self-abuse

No, I don't mean that kind of self-abuse.  I mean: the balding pate (Buddha made some perfect - the others he put hair on), the wrinkled (rugged, according to my wife) hide, the horizontal abdominal surgical scar (appendicitis at age eleven, tucked up behind my liver reportedly), the shin scar (an errant machete blow, self-inflicted yet while chopping weeds out here), the perennially plugged left ear (an infection neglected during university exam week), the vertical abdominal surgical scar (bowel obstruction surgery, too many peanuts at one sitting with concomitantly inadequate beer consumption they say), the bifocals almost trifocals (too much reading at an early age, Playboy articles only that is - honest), the amputated finger tip (crushed by a big rock, slippery due to dew is what caused that to do), the shattered left thumb joint (thank you, Big Mountain), the gimpy right knee (of occupational postural origin, now conveniently triggered by too many hours in a shopping mall), the capped front tooth (pop bottle chipped the original), the paunch (keeps me grounded, ie. fat and happy with my feet on the ground), the lower back injury (thank you, Castle Mountain, never ski alone), the various upper extremity scars (mostly incurred barbed wire fencing), and as for the mental damage - well, you can assess that, my friend!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Southern Note: Purses vs. Pockets

The need to carry things has been around since we have.  Early Egyptians carried stuff in pouches, but the escalation from utility pouch to fashion statement started much later and is now enthusiastically embraced by women all over the world.  Handbag, purse, clutch, tote, pocketbook - a typical 30 year old woman is reported to have 21 of them on average!  Probably a function of the great variety of size, shape, materials and colors available and the elevated status this occasionally functional apparatus has attained.  However in my mind, the purse is a poor substitute for pockets.  On the downside, pockets require you to be organized and minimalist - after all, space is at a premium.  Yet at the same time, they provide better security for your items, allow you to carry a multitude of other things and disperse the weight of your items on the hips and legs.  But none of those reasons are why I don't carry a purse.  No, it is much simpler - you can't lose a pocket!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Word For The Day: clusterpuck

clusterpuck - kluss-turr-pucck: noun - confusion caused by throwing extra pucks onto the ice during an ice hockey game in an attempt to take advantage of the chaos thus created or delay any action thereon in order to protect vested interests in the status quo of the game.  Etymology: unknown, most probably a Canadian prairie variation of a similar American expression commonly used in the military which refers to general chaos.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Carrying Capacity of The Earth

Are there too many people on our planet?  Apparently there is a recent U.N. study that predicts the world population will reach the breaking point in 2050, with dire circumstances to follow.  Of course there are many who believe the planet is at its carrying capacity already, and that by 2050 environmental degradation will be a done deal.  Personally, I doubt that the last century's remarkable increase in crop yields due to intensive agricultural developments like mechanization, fertilizers and genetically-modified seeds will be able to keep pace with the demand for food.  Either way, it behooves us to contemplate what life would be like standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a land base perhaps diminished by rising ocean levels worldwide.  (Let's hope deodorant production and sales at least keep pace!)  I seem to recall that there is a biological phenomenon something to the effect that overcrowding in closed biological systems leads inevitably to a reduction in population by pestilence and/or starvation (something like the law of economics that states "if something cannot go on forever it will stop").  In the human realm, of course, in addition to pestilence and starvation we periodically reduce the world population through wars, and Niall Ferguson has recently stated as much in his book The War of the World: A New History of the 20th Century.  At any rate, have a good (uncrowded) day!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Le Tour de France: The Real Amazing Race

I will be forever grateful to my son for introducing me to the finer points of bicycle road-racing in general, and the Tour de France in particular.  The battle for the hallowed yellow jersey is over a century old, and is one of those classic international professional sporting events that has withstood the test of time.  From the work of the domestiques shuffling back and forth for their teammates in the peloton (the main pack of racers slip-streaming off each other) to the incredibly high-tech machines they ride on cobblestones, asphalt, dirt and everything in between, the carefully-timed recapture of the breakaway lead group of the day, and even the euphemistically-named "natural breaks", it is an amazing race - one that puts the unreality show of that name to shame.  It is a race that respects tradition and has its own code of conduct which is trifled with at great peril.  Most amazing of all is the tactical game that unfolds, changes with the daily results, and ultimately plays out over the 23 days of racing.  It is a team sport.  No one wins the overall ("GC") title in Paris without the support of the lead-out men, sprinters, climbers and time-trial specialists on their squad.  These have to be some of the toughest athletes on the planet; climbing mountain after mountain in the summer heat, surviving crashes at 60 plus mph with only a helmet for protection, and keeping their cool when fans (some friendly and some not) are in their face on the run into the finish each day.  Le Tour is also a French government vacation ad, with just the right emphasis on the incredibly beautiful countryside to make this old codger want to go.  So, my advice is to watch at least the last hour of one of the mountain stages of the race on OLN, and maybe check out some of the background information on the Tour website before you do.  But be forewarned: you might get hooked on Le Tour, as I obviously am.  Go Hesjedal!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Word For The Day: Luddite

Luddite - luh-dyte: 1) a follower of "King Ludd", a fictional character based on Ned Ludd who some believed to have destroyed two large stocking frames in the village of Anstey, Leicestershire, in 1779, as part of an anti-mechanization movement of British textile artisans.  (King Ludd's signature appears on a "workers' manifesto" of the time.)  2) an opponent of industrialization, automation, computerization or modern technology in general.  Etymology: According to Wiki: "The movement began in 1811, when mills and pieces of factory machinery were burned by handloom weavers, and for a short time was so strong that Luddites clashed in battles with the British Army.  Measures taken by the British government to suppress the movement included a mass trial at York in 1812 that resulted in many executions and penal transportations."  Even before the Luddites there was a long tradition, especially within the British textile industry, of attacking new technology.  (Also in 1779 - Ned Ludd's prime - a man named Samuel Crompton had to hide his new mule in the roof of his house at Hall i' th' Wood to prevent it from being destroyed by a mob.  History does not record how the mule was tied to "mechanization".)  Now if I could find a word for myself; one who doesn't oppose new technology but makes a conscious effort not to get swept up in it, ie. drags his feet for as long as possible.  No flat screen TV for me until the old one dies, for example.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bierstube: Get Your Free Ring Here!

Tom C.'s picture skiing in a Superman outfit on the wall behind the bar.  Backdoor burgers.  Padded headrests over the urinals.  The House Band.  Gary Elliott, the proprietor.  The plastic tarantula on a fishing line that would drop out of nowhere down to eye level over by the fireplace after you'd been sitting there for an hour and the beer had let your guard down.  T-shirts hanging from the rafters (one referring to the Iran hostage crisis read "Canada 6, Iran 0").  The Free Bierstube Ring, whereby any ski bunny could walk up to the bar, ask for a free ring, get carefully measured for finger size by the bartender - and then turn beet-red when he reached for a rope and loudly rang the Bierstube bell.  The 'Stube is still there, not yet a victim of condo-mization (sp?).  Is it too raucous for the genteel neighborhood that has developed around it, or is the land it sits upon becoming too valuable?  The sad reality is that ski resorts discovered in the '90s that the real secret to making money is property development, not selling lift passes.  (I know, at $79/day you'd think they could make money, but that mostly goes to liability insurance these days!)  The 'Stube deserves National Historic Site status - at least in my opinion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Southern Note: Mastication Misery

It's not that I have anything inherently against chewing gum...  Done politely (you know, a very small piece chewed with lips together) it's fine - and actually has many documented benefits (freshens breath, reduces stress, balances pressures in the ear, improves oral health, etc.).  I've even been known to chew it myself.  The problem I have is with that portion of our population who perpetually pop and crack their way through the day.  You know the type - they chew their gum as though they have the last piece on earth, and this is the last time they'll be allowed to chew it.  If this were only true...  Put a piece of gum in their mouths and these normally polite, well-mannered people turn into masticating machines, seemingly intent on proving their evolutionary link to apes and assaulting the senses.  It's offensive, intrusive and obnoxious to those around.  Are you one of these?  If you're wondering, try this.  Stand in front of a mirror while you are chewing gum and look at yourself.  Is your mouth open, allowing you to see everything that is going on in there?  Can you smell the flavor of the gum as it bounces off the mirror?  Can you hear the obnoxious noises emanating through your open lips?  This is what you force everyone around you to endure.  If that's not enough to make you give up the gum, detach yourself and really look at yourself chewing gum.  Do you honestly think that you are putting your best foot forward?  Or that you look remotely attractive or professional while gum chewing?  Might be time to omit the Orbit, ditch the Dentyne or eliminate the Extra.  And if you can't kick the habit, here's my advice.  Chew a piece 1/4 the size of your usual chaw, focus on keeping your lips closed, and do not chew like it's your job.  You'll find that, strangely, you will get the same benefits - and those around you will appreciate the thoughtfulness, I assure you.

The Secret to a Great Steak

Barbecuing ("grilling" to our southern friends) is something men seem to either love or hate.  Either it's easy, fun and laid back - or too much trouble no matter what.  I know several men who won't go near a BBQ, and would rather starve than cook on one.  But in general, ever since some Neanderthal stumbled on a woolly mammoth cooked to perfection (medium rare, of course) by a lightning-induced forest fire, man has loved being an omnivore.  (And don't let anyone tell you vegetarian is what we're meant to be.  Those canine teeth - and I'm an expert on them - aren't there for grinding berries!)  Now I'm not a fancy BBQ chef.  In fact that's using the term a little too loosely.  (For true grilling expertise click on the Adventures in Cooking With Beth link at right.)  I only do easy stuff: steaks, chicken, kabobs, burgers and the like - anything about an inch thick.  But I have discovered what I consider the secret to successful barbecuing, at least for simple hunks of meat individually-portioned.  Yes, I need a really hot grill, my fave spice mix, a cold beer, and some background music, preferably Texas Swing on a warm summer evening.  (If coerced, I'll brush on "BBQ sauce", although real men prefer the taste of the meat itself, unbastardized by "goop".)  But my secret is in the suds - a single bottle of beer.  You see, as in many endeavours, timing is everything.  That beer is my timer, when it's gone the meat - whatever it is - is done.  Don't believe it?  Try it.  I wouldn't apply the same timing method to a roast though - you might be "done" before the meat is.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Palace: Of Mice and Men

The Palace Bar in Whitefish, MT.  Haven't been there for a decade or more, but back then it was famous for Saturday Night Mouse Races.  Lengths of 1" rope were strung across the barroom about 9' off the floor, running from a plank bearing the starting gate stalls with their trap doors to a plank perhaps fifteen feet away where a very obvious and odious chunk of cheddar awaited each contestant.  Wagering on which mouse would win went on for some time before the actual race, bettors inspecting each racemouse with a critical eye before they were auctioned off to the highest bidders.  Not to be outdone, my skiing buddies and I - emboldened by beer as I recall - bought our mouse for several hundred dollars (the actual amount has been lost to history) and probably wagered twice that on our little hero.  And what a great mouse it was too: skinny and therefore hungry, mangy and therefore a scrapper, in other words "a sure bet".  A hush came over the room as the announcer counted down, tripped the starting gates, and called the race.  Despite the roar of the crowd our mighty mouse got off to a good start but appeared to lose interest about halfway across, whereupon he (she?) turned around and went right back to the start!  Not only did we lose our "investment" and all our side bets, but a few minutes later we were presented with our (no doubt) purebred racemouse - after all we owned it.  Not wanting to be saddled with the critter, we begged the Palace staff to take him (her?) off our hands - which they consented to do for a mere $15!  The lesson here when you visit the Palace Bar?  Buy a fat mouse - they obviously win more often.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Stock Market Indice?

I've always wondered why people refer to stock market "indexes" instead of "indices" (and I'm sure you have too).  Apparently both are acceptable in the financial world, although "typically, indexes is used when referring to written (word) documents, and indices is used when referring to mathematical or scientific matters".  (Wow, my Mozilla spellcheck doesn't even recognize "indices" - low-brow browser!)  I would think that the S&P 500 Index - a mathematical representation of the U.S. equity market - would thus qualify, although the "science" part of anything based on it might be a stretch.  Etymologically, the original Latin plural "indices" certainly appeared first, although apparently we have the 17th century English to blame for offering to pluralize index as they do with other words - by adding an "s" or "es".  Another commentator offers "if they're not very bright, they're much more likely to use the word "indexes".  Hmm...don't think I'll go there.  Several sources said they would write "indices" but say "indexes" - now that's a just plain stupid solution in my humble estimation.  (A similar problem occurs with the word "appendix", with "appendices" referring to books, and "appendixes" to a body part.)  So take your pick, just don't use "indice" as the singular form, thank you very much.  Talk about fingernails on a chalkboard!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where's The Bottom?

Despite the mini-rally of the last two days I hear this question being asked a lot.  We all want to know when the slide that started in May will end.  From those who want to buy blue chip dividend-payers to those who are just looking for a short-term trade, everyone wants to know.  Fact is, I've spent every spare moment of this last (moist) ten days researching the topic.  My conclusion: we're in a very short-term "tradeable bounce" back up to the long-term downward trend line.  If this sounds like a conclusion reached by technical analysis, it is - courtesy of StockScores' founder Tyler Bollhorn.  However, technical analysis was only my last stop on this particular quest.  I have checked out at least a baker's dozen different non-technical indicators and at least that many trusted market analysts, and they are all either non-committal or distinctly bearish.  My advice: keep your powder dry for now.  If we're lucky it'll be a typical incessantly downward path until investor capitulation and a rebound, if not - we could be on the verge of another major financial meltdown into a deflationary recession or full-blown depression.  (As regular readers will know, I'm in the latter camp, although I take no pleasure in it.  People just don't want to hear that.)  This is not the bottom.  Bear market rallies are to be sold, bull market dips are to be bought.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

American Depositary Receipt (ADR)

Ever wondered what an "ADR" is when they're quoted by some financial source?  "An American Depositary Receipt (ADR) represents ownership in the shares of a non-U.S. company that trades in U.S. financial markets.  ADRs enable U.S. investors to buy shares in these foreign companies without the hazards and inconveniences of cross-border and cross-currency transactions.  ADRs are priced in U.S. dollars, pay dividends in U.S. dollars, and can be traded like the shares of U.S.-based companies.  Each ADR is issued by a U.S. depositary bank, and can represent a fraction of a share, a single share, or multiple shares.  An owner of an ADR has the right to obtain the foreign stock it represents, but U.S. investors usually find it more convenient to simply own [and trade] the ADR itself.  There are currently four major commercial banks that provide depositary bank services - JPMorgan, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, and the Bank of New York Mellon."  Another nugget of information for you, in case you thought it was an Alternate Dispute Resolution.  Now you know.  Thanks, Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Earliest Acronym Wasn't One?

For some unknown reason, perhaps the plethora of acronyms in use below the 49th parallel (TARP comes immediately to mind), I got to wondering the other day what the first acronym was, historically speaking.  It turns out the answer is complicated.  Acronymy is a linguistic process that has existed throughout history without being recognized as such until relatively recently.  A type of acronymy called an initialism (sometimes called alphabetism) was used in Rome before the Christian era (BCE, so to speak or - as we used to say before British Columbia gained exclusive use of it, BC).  The official name for the Roman Empire and the Republic that preceded it was abbreviated as SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus) even back then.  The word acronym itself was only invented in 1943 by David Davis of Bell Laboratories.  Initialisms and acronyms are two types of abbreviations.  Okay, acronyms were around before we called them acronyms - I get that.  But was SPQR the very first initialism?  And which came first, initialism or alphabetism?  Thank Buddha, Stage 3 of one of my favorite sporting events, Le Tour de France, is about to start.  I'm outta here!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Winning Roster Devastation (WRD) Syndrome

Okay, I need some help out here from all of you sports fanatics.  The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup after a 51-year drought, and so far have traded Byfuglien and Versteeg - two of the major forces behind the team's win in my estimation.  Not being a regular reader of the sports pages (Buddha knows I'm getting enough sports on the one-eyed monster these days what with the World Cup on and now the Tour de France as well), there may have been others traded away that I'm unaware of.  Versteeg, for sure, hasn't brought Lord Stanley's Cup to Lethbridge for that vaunted street hockey game yet - and he's already a Toronto Maple Leaf!  Why?  The obvious answer is that Chicago wants to change the team chemistry, or that the management thinks that two cup wins in a row might be unseemly in some sense.  Why does this always seem to happen?  In every major professional sport WRD Syndrome kicks in after a championship win.  The less obvious but probable culprit is money - the fact that the champs can't afford to re-sign the stars that made them champs.  (And Budhha knows Chicago couldn't put derrieres in their arena seats all season.)  Perhaps.  I don't know about you, but this hockey fan longs for the days decades ago when the Montreal Canadiens outclassed lesser teams year after year by showing incredible loyalty to their star players - and were re-paid in a like manner with cup wins year after year.  Come on, Chicago, you're one of the Original Six - show some class!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Fifth On The Fourth

UBS Floor Director at the NYSE, Art Cashin is highly colourful, quotable and authentic.  As I have previously mentioned, he is usually interviewed just before or just after the market opens at 9:30 Eastern on CNBC's "Squawk Box".  Well, the other day Art let slip that he would be celebrating the 4th of July with "a fifth".  I've always wondered why a 26 oz. bottle of booze was called "a fifth" - and I'm sure you have too.  It's because 26 imperial fluid ounces is approximately 25 U.S. fluid ounces which is approximately 1/5 of a U.S. gallon.  There you go, happy 4th of July!  (Apropos to the occasion, we are happy to welcome GoneSouth - a truly unique Americanadian - as a guest author to Out Here Too.  Watch for her posts in coming weeks.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Swiss Alpine Restaurant

Located in Pincher Creek, Alberta, "The Swiss" is one of our favorite haunts.  Occupying a former service station building at the junction of Highway 6 and Main Street a half-hour north of Waterton Lakes National Park, the place was renovated by the Swiss proprietors at least twenty years ago in a decor that seems at first a bit of a mixed metaphor: Swiss alpine/Alberta ranch.  It works though; the ambience is interesting and relaxed - and the food is the epitome of both cultures.  Some items are pure Swiss - rosti, Swiss salad, fondue, spatzli, and possibly the best rack of lamb on the planet, cooked with authentic (and secret) Swiss recipes. Fish, chicken, beef and seafood on a menu that hasn't changed in a decade keep us coming back for more.  The Swiss burger and classic Alberta steak sandwich are consistent crowd-pleasers, both sporting a reasonable portion and price.  (Much of the beef is from the proprietors' own ranch.)  On the lounge side, things look a bit rougher (scarred tables, animal heads and memorabilia on the walls, the pool table and video games at one end) but its ambience and regular denizens are a unique blend not offensive to the palate.  Closed Sundays and Mondays, it's a good idea to make reservations on Friday and Saturday nights, especially if you're driving from Waterton or flying in from Toronto (as I'm told some folks do).  The lack of banquet facilities is quaint, although large groups can be accommodated easily with advance notice.  Did I mention the rack of lamb?  It's to die for.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Word For The Day: Solipsism

solipsism - saal-ipp-sizm - noun, 1) the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist, ie. the external world and (most controversially) other minds cannot be known and might not actually exist; it is known as a basic skeptical hypothesis.  Author's Note:  I like Bertrand Russell's take on it; that - like a faith argument - solipsism is sterile because it allows no further argument, nor can it be falsified.  'Nuff said about that, read Wikipedia for more if you need to.  Geez, I only wanted to know what the adjective solipsistic meant anyway, when historian Alan Beattie (False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World) used it to describe Argentina's checkered economic past.  In that usage, solipsistic refers to someone who is so self-centered that they delude themselves into a fantasy world where they compare themselves only with themselves because they can't handle comparing themselves with others.  Have you ever noticed how blissfully proud (and therefore happy) some people are when by any rational measure they have no reason to be proud or happy?  Sort of an unjustified self-esteem?  A great defense mechanism, solipsism.  Wish I had some.     

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Peace, Order and Good Government

Canada's "motto" contrasts significantly with the American one of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".  At first blush there's not much difference in the three aims of each catchy little phrase.  However it's interesting to speculate in a totally unscientific way on whether - to the extent that each motto accurately defines its nation (a questionable concept in itself) - how each is faring.  Peace: I'd give Canada a 7 out of 10, with one demerit for allowing thugs to wreck downtown Toronto (why not use real bullets, not rubber ones?), another for staying in Afghanistan after the Americans let Osama Bin Laden get away on purpose, and a third one for our lax criminal justice system in general.  The U.S. probably rates a 5 here; the demerits are not worth listing but are offset somewhat by the U.S.'s necessary status as world policeman and nuclear watchdog.  (I know, I know, but can you imagine if a really repressive regime like Russia or China was the cop on the beat?)  As far as Life goes, both nations still have a pulse, so 10 out of 10 for each (kind of a dumb thing to even have in your motto really).  Order: Here Canada probably delivers an 8, we like to debate politics endlessly and call each other names (with all due respect) but we rarely draw our guns - even if we have one and can find it - and the UFC was an American invention after all.  The U.S. gets a 5 here too - generous by any measure when "Liberty" and "Order" are almost diametrically opposite concepts to begin with.  (Actually, I'm not sure we have as much Order as we think we do, or that Americans have as much Liberty as they think they do.)  Good Government: Canada wins hands down (6 to 4) as evidenced by our "nice" international reputation and the way we're surviving the worsening recession.  The U.S. is paralyzed by its two party system, Presidential veto, the 3-month lame duck period between election and inauguration, mortgage interest deductibility, need I go on?  The Pursuit of Happiness: we win again, 7 to 6 in my humble opinion.  (Note: I didn't say the pursuit of money; money is only one aspect of happiness, and Canada taxes the hell out of it.)  Happy Canada Day!