Friday, September 30, 2011

Carney's Corner Growing

Ready for Round 3?
And in Mark Carney's corner, according to an open letter to The Globe and Mail:  "Dear Sir,  I wish to express my firm support for Mark Carney’s recent financial regulation speech in Washington.  Despite Mr. Dimon’s alleged criticism of Mr. Carney’s remarks, the fact remains that we would not be in the present situation today were it not for the excessive over-leverage and flagrant misappropriation of capital undertaken by the world’s largest banking corporations. ... It should not be the responsibility of government to rescue these corporations if they continue to make the same mistakes, and engage in the same risks, year after year. ... In our opinion, the current economic crisis is still, at its heart, a banking crisis.  Mr. Dimon’s alleged criticism reflects his inability to acknowledge this.  Banking regulation is a wholly crucial issue and we stand behind Mr. Carney’s attempts to address it.  Yours sincerely, Eric Sprott, FCA, Sprott Asset Management LP."

The Good News:  I have yet to hear anybody defend Mr. Dimon's temper tantrum.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time to Abandon Shareholder Capitalism?

This is the problem.
An article from the Harvard Business Review says it is, and that we should make the shift to "customer-driven capitalism".  “It’s time to discard the popular belief that corporations must focus first and foremost on maximizing value for shareholders,” says article author Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.  “That idea is inherently, and tragically, flawed.  It’s impossible to continually increase shareholder value, because stock prices are driven by shareholders’ expectations about the future, which cannot be raised indefinitely.”  Martin writes that determining what your customers value and focusing on always pleasing them is a better optimization formula.  “If more companies made customers the top priority, the quality of corporate decision making would improve because thinking about the customer forces companies to focus on improving their operations and the products and services they provide, rather than on spinning lines to shareholders,” says Martin.  In the article Martin uses historical stock prices from the S&P 500 to show that the focus on shareholder value hasn’t done shareholders any favours.  They have actually earned lower returns since corporations adopted it as their guiding principle.  Two companies who have placed customers at the forefront of their operations, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, have generated shareholder returns that are at least as high as, if not higher than, those of leading shareholder-focused companies.  The article is also available online at  Duh.  So let me get this straight.  Assuming the premise that a company's value is expressed solely as "share price", companies that focus on customers' needs rather than owners' (shareholders') needs are more successful, and therefore generate greater "shareholder returns".  This seems intuitively obvious to your humble scribe.  A penetrating glimpse into the obvious.  I actually thought that was the objective in the first place.  I suppose the value of the good Dean's work (soon to be released as a book, I understand), is that a) he provides proof that this is so, and b) it's not a bad idea to remind those in the "C-suite" about the customer once in a while.

The Good News:  Take care of your customers, and they'll take care of you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dimon Versus Carney: Round 2

Mark "The Carnivore" Carney (hi-ya!)
And in this corner, weighing in according to The Globe and Mail:  "On Sunday, 48 hours after [JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's verbal assault on Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney], Mr. Carney delivered a speech to global bankers at the Institute of International Finance, warning them “it is hard to see how backsliding [on implementing new Basel III capital rules] would help” the global economy.  “If some institutions feel pressure today, it is because they have done too little for too long, rather than because they are being asked to do too much, too soon,” he said.  In his speech, Mark The Shark said: “Authorities are increasingly hearing concerns about the pitch of the playing field for Basel III implementation.  Everyone is claiming to be a boy scout while accusing others of juvenile delinquency.”  Ouch!  Where's that ice bag?

The Good News:  The referee in this melee is Lloyd Blankfein, with luck he'll emerge with a shiner too!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dimon Versus Carney: Round 1

Jamie "The Jab" Dimon
From The National Post:  "Tempers apparently were running high when global bankers met in Washington over the weekend.  According to the Financial Times, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase launched a tirade at Mark Carney, Bank of Canada governor, in a closed-door meeting in front of more than two dozen bankers and finance officials.  Mr. Dimon’s beef was new capital rules which will force all banks to hold 7% core capital against risk-weighted assets, which Dimon says discriminate against U.S. banks.  The atmosphere was so bad after the meeting that Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs and head of the Financial Services Forum bankers’ group which arranged the session, emailed the central banker to try to smooth relations, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times."  Apparently "The Toughest Guy On Wall Street" wants to keep running his bank like a casino even after The Meltdown, and called the new rules "anti-American".  (He later admitted that the term is inflammatory but gets people's attention so he'll keep using it.)  Sorry tuff guy, but leaving the odds tilted in favour of Wall Street hotshots who owe their big juicy bonuses to taxpayer bailouts of their casinos is just downright unwise, not anti-American.  And sound bites can be dangerous - losing your cool when sparring with (arguably) America's best buddy just got you an international black eye.

The Good News:  Stay tuned for Round 2.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Is Germany Trading Beer For Tea?

With Oktoberfest just around the corner, is Germany pushing Tetley instead of Beck's? More to the point, is Germany slowly but steadily bailing out of EU organizations with the eventual goal of leaving the euro altogether? At a dinner this weekend to honour Jean-Claude Trichet, the Frenchman stepping down as the head of the European Central Bank on Oct. 31st (and desperately trying to hold things together until he does), it sounds like the Germans were selling tea instead of beer. From Bloomberg this morning: "The ECB’s policies in recent years, such as buying bonds issued by weaker European nations and providing cash loans in return for banks’ bond holdings, have helped provide support for both governments and lenders. The policies also have stirred discontent as two German members of the ECB’s governing council resigned this year amid signs of growing disagreement about the central bank’s efforts. IIF Chief Economist Philip Suttle told conference attendees on Sept. 24 that solving the European crisis will require the ECB to reduce interest rates to boost growth. “You need the ECB to ease significantly, and that probably means the euro needs to come down,” Suttle said. Schaeuble, the German finance minister, addressed the same room hours later with a contrasting message: “We won’t come to grips with economies deleveraging by having governments and central banks throwing - literally - even more money at the problem,” he said." Sounds like Tea Party stuff to me. And with Angela Merkel's party losing byelection after byelection in Germany over her support for the euro PIIGS, the next thing you may hear from Herr Schaeuble could be "Aufedersein"!

The Good News: No tea party here, I'm sticking to Bud Light!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Art Cashinisms Again

One of the good guys.
     We start a new permanent feature today on OH2.  No, it has nothing to do with "cashin' in your art" in these hard times - destined, I'm afraid, to only get harder.  It has everything to do with one of the most astute and respected financial observers of Wall Street, previously highlighted in this space, and here, and here, and here.  Arthur (Art) Cashin is currently the Director of Floor Operations for UBS Financial Services and a regular market commentator on CNBC.  With over 43 years of experience, each trading day from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange he shares his analysis and pulse of the market in his "morning note".  His humble demeanour belies his legendary status with investors, and his pithy remarks often exactly describe what's going on better than any Harvard economist.  "Art Cashinisms" appear somewhere down the right-hand column of this page for your permanent viewing pleasure and enlightenment.  Enjoy!

The Good News:  The new deck in Cranbrook is beautiful!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jury-rig or Jerry-rig?

A jury-rigged modern ocean racer
Jury rigging refers to makeshift repairs or temporary contrivances, made with only the tools and materials that happen to be on hand.  Originally a nautical term, on sailing ships a jury rig is a replacement mast and yards improvised in case of damage or loss of the original mast.  The phrase "jury rigged" has been in use since at least 1788.  There are several theories about the origin of this usage of "jury": 1) from the Latin adjutare ("to aid") via Old French ajurie ("help or relief"), 2) a corruption of joury mast—i.e. a mast for the day, a temporary mast, being a spare used for the nonce when the mast has been carried away, and 3) a contraction in the nautical tradition for injury.  While ships typically carried a number of spare parts (e.g., items such as topmasts), the lower masts, at up to one meter in diameter, were too large to carry spares.  So a jury mast could be various things.  Ships always carried a variety of spare sails, so rigging the jury mast once erected was mostly a matter of selecting appropriate size.  Contemporary drawings and paintings show a wide variety of jury rigs, attesting to the creativity of sailors faced with the need to save their ships.  Although ships were observed to perform reasonably well under jury rig, the rig was quite a bit weaker than the original, and the ship's first priority was normally to steer for the nearest friendly port and get replacement masts.  Another source of this term comes from WWII; in this case, a pun-like play on words. Advancing Allied forces plundering abandoned German bases found a use for emptied metal gasoline cans, nicknamed "Jerry Cans" after the slang term for German. Engineers and mechanics, enduring major supply shortages to the front lines, would jerry-rig the metal from the canisters for use in repairing a damaged hull, fuselage, or any easily fabricated equipment part.  A false etymology is that "Jerry-rigged" was employed by World War II British troops to refer to the German use of scavenged parts to keep vehicles and weapons functional, from the use of "Jerry" as a pejorative term for German soldiers.  The phrase "jerry-built" has a separate origin and implies shoddy workmanship not necessarily of a temporary nature.  "Jiggered" is derived from "jerry-rigged". Although this has come into more common usage, it is still a pejorative term used to denote a poor quality short-lasting fix.  To "MacGyver" something is to rig up something in a hurry to make an item work, from the U.S. television show of the same name and its title character, who would often use such homemade rigs. (Wikipedia)

The Good News:  Stephane, a French sailing ace friend of mine actually jury-rigged a mast for our little sailboat and sailed home after the original broke in a gail!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Capping Gold is The Solution

Gold cap, c. 1976
Donald Coxe has long been a favourite financial seer of mine.  He recently weighed in on the present financial crisis with a novel solution. This is a break from "always brief ... ", but so be it.  It's a long read, and well worth the effort: "Governments, Central Banks, and Gold
Perhaps the most enduring paradox in all finance is the way major governments and central banks treat their gold holdings: they ignore them. When nearly all OECD economies are running huge deficits at a time of near-zero interest rates, and nearly all governments are looking for ways to raise revenues without imposing economy-unfriendly taxes, why don't the big holders revalue their gold to, say, $2,200 an ounce and declare themselves willing sellers at that price - in bars or in bonds backed by gold - and willing buyers at, say, $2,000? Roosevelt revalued gold from $20.67 an ounce to $35 and declared that the US was a buyer and seller at that price. He also made it illegal for US citizens to own gold. By the end of the Depression, most of the world's visible gold reserves were in Fort Knox. Apart from all the jobs created in Nevada and other gold-mining states, this attempt to introduce controlled inflation at a time of surging deflation was at least mildly salutary. Having most of the world's gold also proved extremely useful in helping to finance the recoveries in war-torn Western Europe. Gold's roaring run to $1800 must be a huge embarrassment to the central bankers. Why should investors be rushing out of government bonds into bullion? Don't they believe us when we tell them that printing all this money isn't going to debauch the currency? The best way to take gold out of its new-found role as moral arbiter of governments' fiscal and monetary policies may be to cap it. Yes, captious critics would say that this is the equivalent of buying a bathroom scale whose highest reading is three pounds above the buyer's current weight. But desperate times call for desperate measures. The gold bugs have long proclaimed their own version of the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules." By that standard, Barack Obama could become the leader of the world overnight. Proclaiming a cap on gold and making all the gold in Western central banks' vaults available for sale - or as backing for convertible bonds - would be a blow to speculators. Ironically, it would be good news for most gold mining stocks. And wonderful news for gold mine prospects that are barely more than a hole in the ground. Why? Back in the 1930s, gold mining stocks were stock market darlings. Who else could sell everything they produced to the government at a guaranteed price? Roosevelt was a hero to miners, prospectors and stock pushers. It was the golden age for penny gold stocks. Anyone could take a flutter on them. There were no lotteries, and the only legal gambling was church basement bingo games. Anybody with a dream and a drill hole was able to peddle his shares, and securities regulation ranged from lax to nonexistent... We believe a new era in which gold was back into the very centre of central banks' operations would be a great time for gold prospecting and gold mine development. As for the strong, well-financed producing gold mines with huge, politically-secure reserves - the Goldcorps, Barricks, Newmonts and their brethren - they would no longer be white chips: they'd be blue chips, paying secure dividends which, at a time of low-low interest rates, would be prized. The upward revaluation would permit some of the better-endowed PIIGS to issue gold-backed bonds at minuscule interest rates. As for the US, which has more gold than anybody else, and doesn't seem to have the faintest idea why it has it - or what to do with it - Obama could apply net sales proceeds directly to the deficits. The cap on gold would take a major bearish investment medium out of the stock market - gold bullion. For months, on the days stocks have gone down, gold has gone up. If gold were capped and governments combined their willingness to sell gold with a ban on naked short-selling of bank shares, and on naked Collateralized Debt Swaps, governments and banks might get a breathing spell. Why ban naked Collateralized Debt Swaps? Because they violate the centuries-old rule for insurance products - an insurable interest. When life insurance was first created in England, companies let anyone buy a life insurance policy on anyone else. Then they found that those lives insured by people who weren’t personally related to the life insured tended to die violently. So the concept of insurable interest developed - just as the fire insurers had never let people buy insurance on dwellings in which they had no ownership interest. AIG would never have gone down (at a cost to taxpayers of more than $100 billion), if it hadn't violated its insurance principles by going gung-ho into Collateralized Debt Swaps. As the eminent Paul Volcker has said so often, why should economies and taxpayers be at risk for banks that get deeply into newfangled financial products? Western economies grew satisfactorily in the decades before all these monstrosities were developed, and the bank failures that happened were easily managed... Why do we devote so much space to making political proposals? Because we are deeply worried that another financial crisis is coming, at a time when governments' bailut budgets are seriously constrained. President Obama's long-awaited speech about his great plans for creating jobs was greeted with reactions ranging from boredom to disdain. It was a highly-energized and well-delivered rouser. However, all he could do is promote a new batch of "shovel-ready" projects and jobs for teachers that would be financed by higher taxes on the rich. He is seen as someone who spent $800 billion on stimulus that didn't work, and he's now largely devoid of both ideas and money. Obama and his European counterparts look at the performance of shares of the big banks and must feel that ... Naught's Had, All's Spent. The government-owned gold that could provide such support to the leaders in the US and Europe is a nuisance to them, because its strong performance in the marketplace is a daily reminder of the futility of their seemingly endless crisis meetings and new acronymic rescue mechanisms backed by..........what? Bernanke has expressed a yearning for some inflation (but not in foods or fuels) to help the hapless housing market. Obama has failed to put the economy on a growth path. Most of his Republican opponents are as doctrinaire as he - while mouthing different dated dogmas of equivalent futility. As Reagan put it, when the nation faced similar crisis, "If not us, who? And if not now, when?" (He also summed up the Democrats' economic program pithily, "If it moves, tax it; if it still moves, regulate it; if it fails, subsidize it." That perfectly distills today's Demodogmatism. But the Republicans' dogmatic refusal to permit any tax increases - even on the carried interest of hedge fund managers who create few jobs - is equally unhelpful. If there were ever a time to start accessing the gold Roosevelt bought at $35 - and reducing endogenous risk in the global banking system - this is it. Gold-backed bonds and gold for sale at $2,200 to all bidders would, of course, be selling off "the family silver." But desperate times call for desperate solutions. The biggest and most obvious asset Obama has is the one asset that he supposedly can't touch. Why not? Long-duration Gold-backed Treasurys paying, say, 0.5% interest would be one way of selling off much of the Treasury's hoard without swamping the cash gold market. Those with long memories will recall when Jacques Rueff, DeGaulle's gold guru, convinced France to issue some gold-backed bonds as proof that the nation didn't face serious inflation risk. Then came stagflation and the runaway gold market and those gold-backed bonds became fabulous investments. Most central bankers know that embarrassing story, which may preclude their willingness to make any recommendations now. To be remembered as the guy who sold gold at $2,000 in a long-term bond and gold went to $5,000 would be ghastly. But the reason why Rueff lost so big was that Nixon closed the gold window in 1971 and then oil prices quadrupled and stagflation - which had never existed before - took charge. Under this tentative scenario, the US would transfer all bullion needed to back the bonds, and Congress would pass legislation guaranteeing those gold bond conversions until the bonds matured. Finally, the wise, witty folk at the Leuthold Group have published the Chart of the Year showing the cumulative total return on gold vs. the cumulative total return on the S&P since Nixon closed the gold window, repealing the cap on gold imposed by Bretton Woods. Remarkably, gold's bull market in this millennium has meant that its annualized return has caught up with the S&P - 9.9% vs. the S&P's 9.8%. If you'd put a bar of gold in a vault and left it there for 40 years, you'd have slightly outperformed most equity investors. The S&P has been long proclaimed as proof of the triumph of American capitalism with its business schools, management training, and superb collection of so many of the world's greatest companies. Buy and hold the S&P and you're going to be rewarded by the very best wealth-generators. Buy and hold gold and you're as outdated as believers in the phlogiston theory. This statistic could be used by Obama to argue that now is a good time to lock in the gold bull market by monetizing the nation's holdings through various strategies and vehicles forty years after Nixon uncapped gold and 78 years after Roosevelt boosted it 70%. The same strategy would apply to some of the more desperate European nations. They have gold; they need to sell bonds and the market doesn't want them; their deficits are scary and they're all supposed to retrench simultaneously. Issuing long-term bonds with a fixed call on gold would make their bonds marketable. Most of the gold sitting in vaults in the US and Europe was accumulated at significant cost to the taxpayers of the time. It is performing no usual function at a time when it seems as if all governments - notably Switzerland - want the value of their currencies to decline. The reason nations wanted and needed gold was to back their currencies. Pawn shops and jewellery stores report high levels of gold cashouts from middle class people who are having trouble getting by. The point of gold is that for all of history, it has been the one certain thing that can be used to buy goods and services or discharge debts. Why don't the governments bring out their gold and use it to back their bonds? Obama should, in our view, try to find one non-Keynesian economist who understands gold to advise him. We’re sure he could get an old-fashioned scholar from the University of Chicago to help him out if he made a few calls."  Congratulations, dear reader, you made it!

The Good News:  The Coxe (as opposed to "The Donald") makes eminent sense, as usual!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Immigrants of Means Are The Solution

The solution to the present U.S. financial (read "housing") crisis that makes the most sense to me involves well-heeled immigrants.  Here's the original theory, as elucidated by its originators, Richard S. Lefrak and A. Gary Shilling, back in 2009:  "The Obama administration should seriously consider granting resident status to foreigners who buy surplus houses in this country... Excess inventory is the mortal enemy of house prices ... Doing nothing to eliminate the excess inventory might well push the recession through 2010 and into a depression... As consumers retrench, production is cut, payrolls are slashed, and consumer confidence, incomes and spending are savaged in a self-feeding downward economic spiral. But if the government buys surplus houses and sells them at low market-clearing prices, other house prices will drop, destroying more home equity and driving many more mortgages under water. Bulldozing excess houses would be an inefficient end for perfectly habitable structures. A better idea is to offer permanent residence status to the many foreigners who are clamoring to get into the U.S. - if they buy houses of minimal values (not shacks). They wouldn't need to live in those houses, but in order to remove the unit from the total housing market, they couldn't rent them. Their temporary resident status granted upon purchase would become permanent after, perhaps, five years, if they still owned the houses and maintained clean records... Each year 85,000 H-1B visas are granted for foreigners with advanced skills and education, and last year 163,000 petitions were filed in the first five days after applications were accepted. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation estimates that as of Sept. 30, 2006, 500,040 residents of the U.S. and 59,915 individuals living abroad were waiting for employment-based visas. Many would buy homes if their immigration conditions were settled. These people tend to be highly productive. In 2006, foreign nationals residing in the U.S. were listed as inventors on 25.6% of the patent applications filed in the U.S., up from 7.6% in 1998. A Council of Graduate Schools survey found that in the fall of 2007, 241,095 non-U.S. citizens were enrolled in graduate programs. Some 55% were in engineering and the biological and physical sciences, compared with only 16% of U.S. citizens. In 2007, more people on temporary visas received doctorates in physical sciences and engineering than U.S. citizens. There is a high correlation between education and incomes, and in today's uncertain economic climate, many wealthy foreigners desire U.S. resident status just as a number in Hong Kong secured residences in Singapore and Canada before the British handover to China in 1997. They rapidly became over a quarter of Vancouver's population, and brought in billions of dollars to buy houses and make other investments. We could benefit from such an influx... new immigrants ... would bring untold billions. The immigrants would also buy consumer goods, pay taxes, and start many new businesses. The blueprint for a program to sell surplus housing to immigrants is already in place with the EB-5 visa program. Each year 10,000 EB-5 visas for this country are available for foreigners who each invest $1 million in a new enterprise ($500,000 in economically depressed areas) that creates at least 10 full-time jobs. After two years, the entrepreneur and his family can become permanent residents. America's relatively open immigration policy makes this country better off than many other developed lands whose governments also must fund the pensions and health care for growing numbers of retirees. Yet there's still a huge need for more productive and skilled people, both current residents and immigrants, who will produce enough goods and services to provide for their own needs and for those in retirement. Otherwise, entitlement spending eventually will touch off intergenerational warfare. Granting permanent resident status to foreigners who buy houses in this country will curtail a primary driver of the deepening recession and financial crises - excess house inventories and the resulting collapse of prices. Since the people who will buy these houses will tend to have money, education, skills and entrepreneurial talents, they will be substantial assets to America in both the short and long runs." (Mr. LeFrak is chairman and CEO of LeFrak Organization, a real estate builder and developer. Mr. Shilling, an economic consultant and investment adviser, is president of A. Gary Shilling & Co.)

The Good News:  The Homeland Security monitoring apparatus of those issued temporary visas already exists -  and because of terrorism concerns - it actually works!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Housing is The Problem

Housing is what initiated the financial meltdown of 2008 and the current economic mess the U.S. is in - and until housing is "fixed" there will be no "recovery".  There's lots of blame to go around for the subprime mortgage debacle (hapless buyers, politicians, mortgage originators, speculators, regulators, rating agencies, investment banks, etc. - I tend to blame the latter two in large part) but it really doesn't matter at this point.  (Financial regulations are being overhauled worldwide to prevent a similar meltdown in the future, and more and more crooked bailed out Wall Street hotshots are slowly being encircled.)  The problem is that unless something is done soon about the glut of housing on the market, the U.S. (and the rest of us) are looking at the next Great Depression.  The Economist described the issue this way: "No part of the financial crisis has received so much attention, with so little to show for it, as the tidal wave of home foreclosures sweeping over America. Government programmes have been ineffectual, and private efforts not much better."  Up to 9 million homes may enter foreclosure over the 2009–2011 period.

The Good News:  Tomorrow I'll give you the solution to the housing problem.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Gini Coefficient

     There's a great deal of discussion in the U.S. these days about "taxing the rich".  As a non-rich capitalist myself, it's an interesting debate.  It seems to me that capitalism has been successful because if you work hard you can better your circumstances - and there is no limit to how rich you can be.  The socialist argument, of course, is that everything should be shared equally in society, no matter what.  Most people I know are what I would call "capitalists with heart", ie. they embrace capitalism because of its freedom and efficiencies, but allow that society must take care of those who can't take care of themselves.  Striking the right balance is tricky.  As elucidated several days ago in this space regarding Iceland, when the masses decide the elite have gotten out of hand, watch out.  Enter the Gini Coefficient: "The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion developed by the Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini and published in his 1912 paper "Variability and Mutability" (Italian: Variabilit√† e mutabilit√†).  The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of a distribution, a value of 0 expressing total equality and a value of 1 maximal inequality... It is commonly used as a measure of inequality of income or wealth. Worldwide, Gini coefficients for income range from approximately 0.23 (Sweden) to 0.70 (Namibia) although not every country has been assessed." (Wikipedia)  Gini can thus be thought of as "the gap" between rich and poor.  From the above map (based on CIA Factbook data), the question for Americans is "what company do you want to keep"?

The Good News:  Montanans are pretty good company!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Euro Conundrum In a Nutshell

(from Stock World Weekly)
From The Wall Street Transcript on Yahoo! Finance 9-6-2011: (Edward M. Dempsey is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Pension Partners, LLC.  For over 20 years, Mr. Dempsey has provided professional management and advice in the areas of pension planning and investment management. His clients include principals of closely held businesses, high net worth individuals, executives of large corporations and small endowments.)  "What keeps me awake at night is the scenario of having a Lehman-type event in Europe, the failure of a bank, while I sleep ... If I'm a believer in buy and hold, and fully invested in markets, I could wake up and find my account down substantially before the U.S. exchanges even open... So it's a real, real problem for most investors. If you get a Lehman-like event, all bets are off, not only for the euro but also for gold. You can easily see gold top $3,000. You can [already] see the 10-year Treasury pushing towards all-time lows. Investors may be positioning for this by the way. The German yield curve is beginning to invert. Yield curves should be positively sloped if all is well since it reflects healthy demand for money. When you get an inverted yield curve, it is a very reliable harbinger of a coming recession. It reflects concerns of an economic slowdown and deflationary period. So now you can have a scenario where if Germany enters recession, and given that Germany is the strongest link in the euro chain, what happens to Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal? In that kind of a scenario, German public support for the euro can very, very quickly evaporate. Everyone is worried about Greece being kicked out of the euro, but what if you wake up and Germany says, "We are out of the euro"? I don't believe that is outside the realm of possibility. As far as where we go from here, we're now entering the [U.S.] political season, which really makes it a very tenuous time because you get people saying all sorts of things to get attention. It seems obvious that the loss of the U.S.'s AAA rating will likely be blamed on President Obama as Republicans try to make it an election issue. If Democrats are worried about losing the election because of that, it means they may implement more government spending cuts, more austerity. You are not going to get the AAA back in a low-growth environment any other way. If the election is about austerity, then that means a reduction of government spending, deflation and a difficult environment for stocks to make new highs. If those are the conditions the U.S. is going to operate in, then the Federal Reserve will likely start queuing up QE3 through 30. That could mean you see an absurd move in stocks, say with the Dow trading at 25,000 some time beyond 2012. You'll also have a $6 cup of coffee, but you'll see Dow 25,000. Should that be the case, the U.S. dollar would collapse relative to the euro, assuming that the euro is still in existence. So we have to be very tuned in to what is happening and which way money is positioning."

The Good News:  So Greece stays, Germany goes, and the Euro tanks - but the US$ might too, so "go for the gold" just in case!  You heard it here first!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Service From OH2

The Good News:  It doesn't matter if you send $1 US or Canadian!  Unfortunately we are no longer accepting Euros.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dumbest Sign of All Time

The Good News:  Only a slight Great Northern headache today!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Once a Perv, Always a Perv

So I've been taken to task by a loyal reader for supporting Harper's "get tough on crime" program when what's really needed is more money for prevention, ie. early intervention during the school years to prevent kids from turning to crime in the first place.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but we may still differ on the details.  Just to be clear, I totally agree with prevention/intervention - say, up to a kid's 19th birthday.  Not that they should be allowed to run wild until they're 19, but let's offer them both treatment and incarceration (if they warrant it) until age 19 - and incarceration only after that for sex offenders.  A sex offender is untreatable in my view, and our first duty as a society is to protect the vulnerable.  Throw away the key where sex offenders are concerned.  (Or, if they continue to be released to halfway houses, etc., these facilities should be next door/across the street/across the fence from the judge/parole board chairman who releases them.  No more "out of sight, out of mind", Your Honour.)  I don't believe sex offenders are ever "safe", let alone "cured".  Case in point: Randall Peter Hopley, the prime suspect in the recent abduction of Kienan Hebert, who was awaiting trial in Pincher Creek on Sept. 19th for break and enter with intent to commit mischief, etc. when Little Kienan disappeared.  It now turns out that Hopley was discovered at a remote cabin in May 2010 by its Calgary owners.  "Hopley emerged from the cabin wearing women's pyjama bottoms ... Later, inside the cabin, they found what [they] called "a house of horrors".  Sex toys, various lotions and lubricants, diapers, children's movies and "hundreds" of pieces of kids clothing ... while not illegal, should have raised flags ... Blairmore RCMP shared his concerns, and he was surprised to learn Hopley had been released from jail pending the break-in at their place.  Aside from 11 break-in convictions, Hopley was found guilty of a sexual assault in 1985" (Calgary Sun)  He had also been charged with an attempted abduction of a child after that.  How does a convicted sex offender, suspected of turning a remote cabin into a children's house of horrors, who has already attempted an abduction, get released?

The Good News:  Our ISP is changing email vendors this weekend - a 48 hour transition - so the pile of emails Sunday night should be ... hey, they're electronic, should I be talking about a battery - or something else - of emails instead of a pile?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Plea For Humility

      Human beings like to feel special.  It's a great feeling.  But how special are we, really?  Or special in what context?  Most of us draw that special feeling from our friends and family - and are content enough as a result.  No real need to leave our mark on the world or draw attention to ourselves.  Do our jobs as well as we can, treat others as we want to be treated, etc.  Yet we all know there are others who feel special because they consider themselves more intelligent than the rest of us, or because of their lineage, inherited characteristics, etc.  Poor souls.  Still fewer only feel special once they have accomplished something significant within the larger community.  Of course achieving that sort of specialness takes planning, hard work, sacrifice, and there's risk involved.  Hair on 'em.  Go for it, I say.  (Been there, done that.)  Some feel special just because they are rich or powerful. (Even more time and effort involved, with probably less family time as a result.)  Don't kid yourself if you're in this category; pride cometh before a fall.  Rarer still (but not rare enough) are those who feel special only when they are constantly in the public eye - when they are "celebrated", hence "celebrities" (also search "publicipig").  Poor things.  The burnout rate at that level of specialness is incredibly fast.  The fact is, very few humans really are special.  My advice: be special to your friends and family, and do a little public service along the way for your community.  You will feel special enough.

The Good News: Special Offer: I'll meet you in the Great Northern Saturday Night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Too Funny

Note that China is shown lecturing ECB President Trichet - while he adds liquidity - and Sarkozy's nose grows longer and longer.  (The sad truth, however, is that Wen Jiabao was only in Italy looking to buy distressed pizza joints now that Greece is out of discounted islands.)  An ashen-faced Merkel looks to heaven for a saviour to rescue her and Germany from the PIIGS (plus Belgium), while Papandreou just grins because he knows he can't be kicked out of the Eurorchestra.  Berlusconi in drag looks ticked at something, as usual.  (With thanks to Colonel Flickr, Williambanzai17, and Zero Hedge)

The Good News:  Some sanity is added to the noise by Mr. Bean!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Koh Tao Too

Looks like a turtle.
Yes, Koh Tao, not kow-tow (or cow Tao)!  "Koh Tao ("Turtle Island") is an island in Thailand located near the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. ... As of 2006 its official population is 1382.  The main settlement is Ban Mae Hat.  The economy of the island is almost exclusively centered around tourism, especially scuba diving.  Koh Tao was named by its first settlers for the island's turtle-like geographic shape.  Coincidentally, the island is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles. Development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds but a breeding program organised in 2004 by the Royal Thai Navy and KT-DOC, a coalition of local scuba diving centres has reintroduced hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island's ecosystem." (Wikipedia)   Now you know.

The Good News:  China is buying Italy.

Monday, September 12, 2011


"Hey Flossie, what does Cow Tao mean?"
Several weeks ago I used the term "kow-tow" to describe a sort of sniveling deferential genuflection demanded by a superior with a usually misplaced sense of self-importance.  (I may have been talking about Greece and Germany re: EU bailouts, but I honestly can't recall right now.)  Anyway you get the picture.  Little did I know that it is actually a Chinese term, to wit: "To emphasize the importance of the occasion, the envoys of all visiting heads of state were required to bow and kow-tow - prostrate themselves and press their foreheads to the ground - at Zhu Di's feet." (Gavin Menzies in 1421, The Year China Discovered The World)  I don't know where else I thought "kow-tow" might have come from (it certainly didn't seem to have a bovine derivation), or even where I first encountered the expression.  At any rate, I'm always happy to learn more about strange terms, and pass them on to OH2ers.  I'm sure you're happy you dropped by today.  (My kids will be especially happy to see that I eschewed Wikipedia for this one.)

The Good News:  My Euro short is still working.  But my Bermuda shorts have been put away.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Criminals Among Us

Just how many criminals are Out Here among us in Canada?  "Once again, a new Ottawa think-tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), has chosen to poke a stick into the hornets’ nest of crime statistics and justice policy in Canada. In February [2011], the MLI challenged the orthodoxy that crime reported to police is a reasonable basis for determining federal policy on law-enforcement strategies and prison sentencing. Statistics Canada and the bulk of Canada’s criminology professors — as well as most politicians and bureaucrats — favour the police-reported numbers because they show crime is going down substantially. That fact plays into their belief that leniency is the best policy for handling criminals. Give them light sentences, keep most offenders out of jail and in the community, emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, and the every-boy-a-good-boy approach will make Canada safer by convincing criminals to mend their ways. The statistics, allegedly, back them up. By contrast, the MLI insisted that if crime is indeed headed down, the drop is significantly smaller than official stats show. People have given up reporting crime to police because there are so few convictions any more, and those there are carry with them ridiculously light punishments. Moreover, any real decline is the result of demographics rather than social theory: People under 30 commit most of society’s crimes, and there is simply a smaller portion of Canadians under 30 than there were two or three decades ago. Now the MLI is out with another study claiming it is a “myth” that Canada is already too tough on crime. Opponents of the Tory government’s get-tough policies insist we already spend too much on prisons and incarcerate too high a percentage of our population; any further prison construction and longer sentencing would merely create an “American-style” criminal-justice system here. The Macdonald-Laurier report politely calls such allegations “empirically inaccurate.” One of the biggest surprises in the report, written by Carelton University management professor Ian Lee, is the tiny number of new federal offenders convicted each year. Although there are 2.5 million crimes reported to police annually, in most years only 4,200 to 5,000 convicts are sentenced to federal penitentiaries. This isn’t much more than one ten-thousandth of the Canadian population. Using a statistical scheme that he labels a “crime funnel,” Prof. Lee demonstrates how rare it is for criminals to spend any time at all in prison, whether federal prisons or the comparatively less harsh provincial ones. Of the almost 2.5 million crimes reported to police annually in Canada, only about 250,000 (10%) result in convictions. Meanwhile, among those convicted, only about 27% will go to prison, roughly 25% to provincial jails and 2% to federal ones. The remaining 73% are let out with time served, sentenced to community service or fined. But, of course, police only hear about one-third of crimes. It is likely that more than seven million crimes are committed each year in Canada. If that’s the case, then convictions are won in just 3.4% of crimes, and prison terms are handed out in just under 1%. The chance of doing “federal time” is less than one-tenth of 1%, when taken in relation to the number of total crimes committed. It is ludicrous to imagine that criminals don’t instinctively understand these long odds, and that they aren’t thereby emboldened to commit crimes. Our incarceration rates are only one-sixth those of the United States — 116 per 100,000 population versus 756 per 100,000 — largely because we don’t lock people away for committing property crimes. Our incarceration rates also are lower than the average for the world’s 34 developed countries, and are substantially lower than in other common-law countries such as England and Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. Even if the Tories go ahead with their tough-on-crime agenda, 10 years from now the percentage of Canadians in prison likely will only have reached the average for Western nations. Similarly, Ottawa now spends $2.5-billion on prisons and prosecutions annually, about 1% of the federal budget. That compares with $4-billion (1.5%) for arts and culture. Adding another $500-million a year, as the Tories plan, would only raise the total to 1.2% of federal spending. That hardly seems reckless or harsh. (by Lorne Gunter, The National Post) Emphasis is mine.

The Good News: Sparwood's little Keinan Hebert has been returned to his parents "safe and sound" by the suspect in his abduction, Randall Hopley!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Perverts Among Us

Randall Hopley                        Kienan Hebert
A Sparwood, BC, 3 year-old is missing and the subject of a frantic search in the Crowsnest Pass area - as is the search for a convicted sex offender.  The authorities have reason to believe that the two are linked but won't say why.  The hope is, of course, that they aren't.  But what if they are?  What if the worst case scenario unfolds?  What is to be done with murderers and rapists of children?  The suspect in this case was convicted of a sex crime at age 21 (he's now 46), and has a list of offences since then as long as your arm.  He apparently was out on bail awaiting trial on several charges including breaking and entering, and theft involving a cabin in the remote bush found to contain, among the stolen goods, various sexual paraphernalia.  I am outraged by cases like this.  My thoughts: 1) sexual deviants are incurable.  2) Protection of the public must take precedence over any rights of these perverts.  3) Death is too good for child sex offenders/murderers.  4) Castration would be a good first step, followed by being skinned alive.  5) Our justice system has failed a little child again.  Until halfway houses for paroled sexual deviants are built right next door to the houses of the judges and parole board members who coddle them I fear this sort of sickening crime will continue.  Read more at: 3 year-old is missing

The Good News:  Can't think of any at the moment.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just When You Thought Wi-Fi Was Safe

(by Eric Smalley, via CNET)toy helicopter and toy helicopter modified with computer

"Modify a remote-control toy helicopter (above) to carry a wireless-network-hunting computer (below), and you've got a menacing hacker drone.  (Credit: Top: Parrot SA. Bottom: Stevens Institute of Technology)  With a name like SkyNET, it's got to be scary. This flying robo-hacker deserves its "Terminator"-inspired moniker: Although it stops short of actually hunting humans, it's a potential nightmare for anyone with a wireless home network. Worse, it's a DIYer's dream: cheap and easy to build and fun to operate.  SkyNET combines a toy helicopter and a computer configured to attack Wi-Fi networks. The result is a drone the CIA would be proud of. The nasty little device can compromise computers on wireless networks and dragoon them into botnets. Botnets are widely used for hacking, denial-of-service attacks, and spamming.  The devious beauty of SkyNET is that by controlling the botnet from a drone rather than an Internet connection, the botmaster is harder to track down. To catch the bad guy you'd have to figure out that a drone is involved, spot the drone, and follow it back to its owner (assuming the black hat goes to pick it up). Either that or catch it and do a full-blown forensic investigation to figure out who made it.  The prototype SkyNET drone is a Parrot AR.Drone quadrocopter modded with a lightweight Linux computer, 3G mobile broadband connection, GPS receiver, and a pair of Wi-Fi cards-one for controlling the drone and one for attacking wireless networks. The whole thing can be built for less than $600. The helicopter goes for $300 on Amazon.  SkyNET was developed by researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology (don't scientists watch movies? Don't they know by now that their creations inevitably turn on them and threaten humanity?). They're working to make the system even less expensive, according to computer science professor Sven Dietrich.  Fortunately, they recommend defenses against the attack, most of which involve shoring up wireless home networks by detecting new connections. No, setting a password on your router is not enough.  By the way, good luck avoiding an extended visit to a federal prison if you use SkyNET near a government facility, military base, airport, power plant, chemical factory, railyard, port...  (Via Technology Review)  Read more: "

The Good News:  It's too windy Out Here for this thing to fly!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Famous Last Words

There aren't any sharks this far north.
1.  Sambuca can't hurt you.
2.  I've got enough gas to get there.
3.  No, I'm not lost.
4.  I saw them do this on TV.
5.  This won't hurt much.
6.  This won't take long.
7.  What duck?
8.  Hold my beer and watch this.
9.  What does this red button do?
10. No need to unplug it to fix it.

The Good News: Pavlova for dessert tonight!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance

"Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. The phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent beliefs. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. A closely related term, cognitive disequilibrium, was coined by Jean Piaget to refer to the experience of a discrepancy between something new and something already known or believed. Experience can clash with expectations, as, for example, with buyer's remorse following the purchase of an expensive item. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior. A classical example of this idea (and the origin of the expression "sour grapes") is expressed in the fable The Fox and the Grapes by Aesop (ca. 620–564 BCE). In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one's dissonance by criticizing it." (Wikipedia)

 Today's Good News:  Knew I had it, didn't know what it was called!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Among The Truthers, Part 2

"Of course, there already are numerous American intellectuals and organizations dedicated to the cause of fighting political radicalism, including the debunking of conspiracy theories.  These include the James Randi Educational Foundation, an atheistic organization that specializes in refuting claims of paranormal and supernatural phenomena (and which recently has formed an education advisory panel); the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center and Somerville, Massachusetts-based, both of which take on right-wing conspiracists as part of their mandate to promote civil rights and fight bigotry; and the Skeptics Society, an Altadena, California-based group that describes itself as a "scientific and educational organization of scholars, scientists, historians, magicians, professors and teachers, and anyone curious about controversial ideas, extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas, and the promotion of science."  (Thanks to his popular articles, books and speaking tours, Michael Shermer, the Skeptics society executive director, and the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, likely ranks as the most effective debunker of junk science and conspiracy theories in America.)  Also worthy of note is, an amateurish-looking but surprisingly authoritative resource for debunking urban legends; and, for vetting claims made by political candidates, which is run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center."  (from Among The Truthers by Jonathan Kay, emphasis by The Balf)

The Good News:  Happy Libor Day!  (Well, perhaps The Not So Good News!)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Among The Truthers

... is an important new book by Jonathan Kay of The National Post.  Subtitled "A journey into the growing conspiracist underground of 9/11 truthers, birthers, armageddonites, vaccine hysterics, Hollywood know-nothings and internet addicts", it seemingly leapt off the shelf into my hands.  Conspiracists drive me crazy - as regular readers of this space well know - just as the demise of common sense drives me crazy.  The two, I believe, are integrally related, and from my close observation of matters south of the 49th parallel, are largely responsible for the dumbing-down of the U.S. populace at least, and, at most, the potential demise of "the greatest nation on the face of the earth" (in thine own eyes, my American friends).   Kay now presents in one well-researched and thoughtfully-written volume not only a lucid history of conspiracism but also (having admitted that arguing with conspiracists is tantamount to self-flagellation) a workable outline of how to prevent impressionable post-secondary students from being sucked into The Vortex that is conspiracism.  A quote: "The Truther phenomenon - like the broader intellectual trend it epitomizes - is simply to important to ignore.  Conspiracy theories may be nonsense, but the disturbing habits of mind underlying them - a nihilistic distrust in government, total alienation from conventional politics, a need to reduce the world's complexity to good-versus-evil fables, the melding of secular politics with End-Is-Nigh religiosity, and a rejection of the basic tools of logic and rational discourse - have become threats all across our intellectual landscape ... You can't defeat the Enlightenment's enemies unless you understand them.  And that is the project I ask my readers to embark on as they read this book.  Those of us who continue to adhere to the rationalist tradition must commit to its defense."  Good stuff.  Give it a read.  Avoid The Vortex.

The Good News:  It's published in Canada by HarperCollins!
The Truth:  It was printed and bound in the United States!
The Conspiracy:  It was changed at some point by aliens to make conspiracists look and sound intelligent!  (The Vortex made me do this.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I've Hannah Enough!

This Fish Stinks!
So Daryl Hannah was arrested yesterday in front of the White House for protesting against the XL pipeline.  The pipeline that would bring synthetic crude from the Athabasca oil sands to refineries in the southern U.S., enhance American energy independence from the middle east, and create tens of thousands of jobs the instant it is approved.  The pipeline which, if I recall correctly, has been approved by every pertinent environmental agency on both sides of the border (some of them twice), and has been sitting on Obama's desk for months awaiting his signature.  Does Daryl prefer oil from Nigeria, where the oil biz has fuelled armed rebels and devastated whole water systems?  Or perhaps she prefers oil from totalitarian sheikdoms who funnel U.S. oil revenue to Islamic terrorist organizations?  Does she realize that over 70% of oil sands bitumen is now extracted by a hot steam process that doesn't require strip mining?  Would Daryl rather have the flower of U.S. youth killed in useless invasions of countries like Iraq just to secure a dependable oil supply?  Does she like the idea of shipping oil halfway around the world in tankers across fragile oceans?  My disdain for celebrities runneth over (again).  She's lucky she's not a real mermaid, choking on an oil slick somewhere or trying to find dinner in an aquatic dead zone caused by agricultural chemicals.

The Good News:  We can always ship Canadian oil to China if the Yanks don't want it!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We Don't Go There That Often - Honest!

Distinctive Luggage (seen at right) ... as opposed to "luggage of distinction", is what LEB won this week (3 pieces, hard-sided, expandable, subtle graphics) in a draw at the local liquor store.  To fully understand her thrill at such a smile of fortune you have to understand that this family is not in the habit of winning prizes in draws, lotteries or any other such enticing forms of speculation.  Oh sure, there was the "Complete Detailing" (of one's car, for the uninitiated) certificate that we won last year as a door prize at a health foundation fundraiser ("a $210 value"), recompense from Lady Luck I'm sure for dropping about $500+ at said event (and we got off lightly at that).  I know it sounds miserly, but we could probably have hired a kid for $50 to "detail" both vehicles in half the time taken by the certificate-issuers.  At any rate, we appear to be luckiest at liquor store draws such as this one - despite the infrequency of our visits thereto.  (We don't need to visit liquor store very often because we buy a lot when we do show up.  Just kidding.)  But seriously, it doesn't look good when your picture (they always insist on a photo) is hanging in a small town liquor store as if it's your second home.  My wife was ecstatic about her first win at the very same liquor store years ago - a "collectible" porcelain old-time-Christmas-village-in-winter-on-your-mantle manor house ostensibly worth $350 (ya right) - until she saw her picture still hanging in the liquor store a year later.  Oh well, we've swallowed our pride this time and decided we will keep entering liquor store draws when we saw what this guy in Airdrie put on Kijiji Calgary mere hours after his win.  Eat your hearts out, beer luggage collectors, this set ain't for sale!  (But call LEB with a ridiculous offer if you just have to.) 

The Good News:  The three pieces retail online for $____ plus GST, sans Corona graphics.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Costs of Immigration, Part 2

Is that you, Stephen?
Predictable responses to the Fraser Institute's release of its study earlier this summer concluding that immigrants cost us more than they benefit us are inevitably tinged with words like disingenuous (tantamount to "lying"), and suggestive phrases such as "I'm in the lifeboat, pull up the ladder", as well as outright assertions of racism.  It makes me wonder if it is ever possible in this country to intelligently discuss immigration without being called racist.  Let's get this point straight right now: there is only one species of human on the face of the earth genetically - we are all equal and racism is abhorrent.  That said, unfettered immigration into Canada has costs that even the Fraser Institute did not put a dollar figure on, namely the changes to Canadian society that modern immigrants demand.  If you came here because you didn't like the way things were back home, why are you trying to change the Canadian way of life into something resembling the way things were back home?  In light of the government's recent conclusion that Canada demographically can't support its aging Boomer generation's social benefits without a relatively massive increase in immigration - and its announced intent to consult Canadians about what kinds of immigrants we want - the ability to openly discuss these issues is essential.  Perhaps that's what Harper's visit to the Sikh community in Vancouver was all about this week, laying some groundwork for just such a discussion.

The Good News:  LEB scored big-time yesterday, winning what can only be referred to as a set of "distinctive" luggage!  Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Seen in Algeria

The Good News:  Good weather and good company forecast for this weekend!