Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday musings

Well, today is the day we take off on our 24 hour long trip to Argentina. I hope all goes well and that we have not forgotten to pack what we need. I have figured out the time difference between here and Buenos Aires and it is a 3 hour amount, where if it is 3 here, it is 6 there.
Anyway, remember how I have mentioned how nice this winter has been? I am attaching a photo of the street view from the front of our house where you can see the lack of snow. Normally there are snowbanks on the side of the street that are 3 to 4 feet high!

It seems that there might be an agreement in sight in the debt write off process in Greece. Numerous reports indicate some sort fiscal write off will happen in the next week or two. I would not feel too sorry for the banks and investors as they have re-insured the debts many times over and at the end of the day will not suffer any great loss, probably they at worst will break even.
In America, the race for the Republican nomination continues with the rhetoric become bitterer every day. A note of desperation and frustration seems to be emerging from the Gingrich camp as it seems that Milt Romney is gathering delegate support ahead of Tuesday’s party election in the State of Florida. I watched part of an all candidate’s debate the other night and was saddened as how the candidates seem to assume that the voters are idiots, have no knowledge of the state of the economy, world politics, anything. From moon bases to promises of more money for pet State projects, while promoting reductions in federal spending, less taxes for all (where is the money coming from to pay for running the government then?) I shook my head. The topper was a couple of different questions. One asked whether a candidate supported Statehood for the territory of Puerto Rico – the candidate-Santorum talk for 5 minutes and at the end said – maybe, maybe not. Then the question as to the state of relations with Cuba arose.  Three candidates- and specifically Mr. Gingrich spoke in terms of facilitating unrest and more embargoes to affect regime change – this in a blatant attempt to pander to Cuban American voters. Only Ron Paul said that the USA should deal with Cuba like they do with Communist China, Communist Viet Nam, Russia, which is to establish trade relations with Cuba. Why is it that Cuba is such a burr under the saddle of the Americans? Do they yearn for the good old days under Battista where the island was ruled like a kingdom by a few wealthy families (some would say robber barons) and exploited the heck out of the people?
Here in Canada the Prime Minister announced (of course not in the country but rather in Davos, Switzerland while attending another of the seemingly endless economic summits where photo ops abound but little substance emerges) that Canadians better get used to retiring at a later age (67 vs. 65) and with reduced benefits as well. He cited the costs to the government as the ranks of retiring people will swell during the next 2 decades and the number of people working to support this will decline due to a smaller proportion of young people in the work force. Apparently encouraging immigration is not an option for this government. Indeed, no mention was made by him as to whether the pensions of these politicians will be reduced as well – as if!
I see where the Arab League monitors in Syria are suspending their visits to areas in the country due to the increasing violence. Is it just me or do you also think that this mission was a waste of time and just window dressing to try to impress the international community? Syria really is at the brink of civil war and the next few months may be crucial to its survival and ability to avoid widespread carnage.
Speaking of Iran and its nuclear industry, the Americans, as evidenced by President Obama on Tuesday night have made it clear that they will not allow that country to develop nuclear capabilities. I am just wondering where this steely determination was when Pakistan did so, when Israel did so, when North Korea did so and when China did so? Instead, except of in the case of North Korea, the Americans give huge amounts of military aid and trade to Pakistan and Israel and have established great trade relations with China – their international banker of choice.
Is this a double standard?
 You be the judge.
I watched a report on CNN the other day on the state of the housing market in the United States. It is staggering as to how much the value of houses has dropped in the last few years and the huge amount of houses that are either abandoned or in foreclosure. Industry “experts” suggest that it will take almost five years for the foreclosure glut to be dealt with and only then will house prices start to appreciate again. Meanwhile here in Canada the city of Vancouver has achieved the dubious distinction of being declared the most expensive city in the world to live in, in terms of owning housing. Here on the Prairies the cost of housing is expected to increase by 3-5% this year. Yet almost every other day in Eastern based media, reports continue to insist that the housing “bubble” will burst this year and prices to decline. Hard to see but time will tell.
I have to mention that it seems that the Province of British Columbia is considering the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores (never happen here in Puritan Saskatchewan by the way). Wow, imagine that, getting in step with a large portion of the Western world. Of course opponents say you will see drunks in the aisles of the grocery stores, but after being in Hawaii a number of times, I have to say that that was something I never saw.
It seems that in Israel there is a growing movement of attacks by ultra orthodox religious folks against women that are dressed in modern attire. It seems that these zealots have plenty in common with their enemies in Muslim camps that figure women should be clothed head to toe and sit at the back of buses. Ignoring the fact that teachings say that men should avert their eyes from women to prevent impure thoughts, they figure that women are chattel and should be accorded no rights or privileges.
Fools – but dangerous fools.
Well, that is it for this week, we have taken our cat to the vacation chateau while we are gone and he did not seem too upset, but I know that there will be hell to pay when we come back from Argentina. I only hope that he survives the month there especially since he is an older (18 years!) cat and we know his time with us is getting shorter. But knowing him, he will have gained poundage and will be a hellion when we see him again.
Oh, I forgot to mention this little bit of news – today marks the first anniversary of my blog! Can you believe that I have actually been doing it for a year? I must admit I never thought it or  I would last this long and now we will just see how long this adventure goes.
Next blog comes from Argentina and hopefully there will be some photos included. I am curious as to how much world news I will be able to access while there.
Take care out there,

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday musings

So I said last week that I would speculate a little about the candidates for the Republican Party nomination for the President of the Excited States of America this year, against the incumbent Democrat, Barack Obama.
The group has diminished this week to three possible contenders. They are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. There are two others but they are considered non entities by most American political pundits.
I have to tell you that I am astounded as to how far this party has shifted from what was its' bedrock principals of sanctity of family, less government, speaking for the free enterprise system.
Why you ask?
The first candidate, Mr. Romney stresses how he is a man of the people yet in a quirk of American politics where it seems essential that you have to release your income tax returns to prove that you are fit to be President - did anyone ask John Kennedy or the war time President Roosevelt for theirs - he hesitates to do so and then when he releases a limited number, shows that he is legally using tax shelters offshore- his opponents disparage him for this! Now it is against Party beliefs to work within the law?
His main opponent, Mr. Gingrich is truly a marvel or morality. When former President Clinton was revealed to have "dealings" with Monica Lewinsky, he was at the forefront of the pack of political wolves howling at every media pulpit at how the country should not be run be someone so morally unfit to do so (Remember John and Bobby Kennedy and their affairs?). The so called paragon of virtue has been married three times. Had an affair with a woman while his first was diagnosed with cancer at the same time he was attacking Clinton! He seemed to have repeated the process when his second wife was diagnosed with MS- another wife soon emerged. Then at an all candidates debate he attacked a questioner for asking him about this saying that it has nothing to do with the Presidential Election and who should be President.
What a crock of bull twaddle!
The third candidate comes across as earnest and vanilla bland. Yet he has attracted a following. I think he embodies a lot of what the Party once stood for. Now the Party is so desperate to unseat Obama, that they have betrayed their core principals.
In the end, I think that the new few weeks will see only the first two remain in the race. The key will be when Santorum drops out, who will he endorse? I think either way Obama’s' strategists are going to be happy facing either one of the two. One is a rich Mormon (and yes religion is huge deal in American politics) who appears indecisive at times while the other is a three times married political hack who may turn off people from voting for him rather than voting against the opponent.
Interesting times indeed.
I read an interesting article this week about the state of the printing industry and since I once was employed (for way too long some might say) in it, it struck a chord. With the advent of digital printing, the need for traditional short run print products has almost vanished. Print on demand, where a company prints only as many items are needed is the new normal. This procedure eliminates the need for larger orders and the warehousing costs associated with it. The result is that more and more printers are not ordering traditional printing presses and the press manufacturing companies are hurting. One, called Man Roland is on the edge of financial ruin and another, Heidelberg has suffered losses for a couple of years. They are big employers in Germany and their presses are sold worldwide. I hope that they will be able to adapt to the new world and emerge leaner and stronger than before.
There are now 12 bodies recovered from the wrecked cruise ship off Italian shores. As details emerge, what a sad circus of horrors emerge. The captain apparently continued eating supper with a passenger after the accident occurred. It took an hour before the ship notified civilian authorities of the imminent sinking and in the interim crew member were telling passengers to return to their cabins because the problem was a faulty generator and had been fixed. Salvage of the vessel remains problematic as the ship rests on a narrow ledge 75 feet below surface that then slopes drastically down another incline to a 190 foot deep ledge and after that drops straight down to the ocean floor. Any movement at all could cause the ship to plunge to the bottom dooming any such efforts. If this happens the possibilities exists that the remaining fuel will leach out and contaminate the sea and shoreline with clean up costs being huge.
In Nigeria the bad news continues. First off there seems to be a developing story as to where 1 billion dollars of oil money has vanished from government coffers and no one knows where it went and who was responsible. Here in Canada we would be more skillful- we would put the money into wildly generous pension plans for our Members of Federal Government!
The news of another attack from the Boko Harem sect (loosely translated as "Western education is sinful) killing over 100 in northern Nigeria. Once again a case of religion being used as a cover for insanity and warmongering.
You notice how it has been quiet on the Russian Front lately? There was the unrest and turmoil after national elections and protests against Mr. Putin in many cities. Yet things seem strangely quiet now. Is this the calm before the storm? Is it the effect of a cold winter on people? Not too sure. Maybe some of my readers in Russia could drop me a line about this.
In Egypt, around 70% of the seats in the government elections were won by parties with Islamic backgrounds. One party is focused on the economy and improving the lot of the average Egyptian, while the other is more focused on returning to basic Islamic traditions, morals, code of dressing, traditional role of women (subservient to the male-why is that acceptable anyway?). However the army still has final say and we shall see how this plays out. In many cases in history, the military, once in power, is rarely willing to hand authority back to civilian hands.
Here in Canada we have an interesting story unfolding in federal politics. According to reports, the separatist party, Bloc Quebecois seems to have used funds from their tax payer funded operating budget to pay the salary of the administrative head of the party, a definite illegal no-no if this is the case. All three other parties are screaming at the top of their lungs about this and demanding that the money be repaid immediately. Hmmm, sure hope that this only has happened one time and not with other parties as well. I have to admit to a sense of satisfaction as to seeing the hypocrisy of the Bloc party exposed to daylight.
Also this week we saw a member of the Canadian forces arrested on charges of passing secrets to the Russians. Seems the Cold War never really went away but just went under the public radar instead. Of course the government said they expelled a number of Russian diplomats in retaliation while the Russian government said this was not true, that the diplomats were scheduled to come back to Russia anyway. Probably the truth in both versions.
OK, now to the mundane. Ever notice how differently women pack for travel then men?
My better half has a suitcase that you could stuff a hippo into. Hundreds of sets of socks and unmentionables. Shoes-plural you notice, sandals- plural you notice, jackets, tops, umbrellas, slacks, jeans, pants, short- walking and casual, box of makeup to mention a few of the items. Then there is my carryon bag, 1 pair of socks, unmentionables (wash every day as needed!) shirt and jeans. Wear your runners while you travel. Pack a laptop, camera and a couple of books and away we go! And I suppose I will be the one charged for the overweight bag! Gotta love the old axiom of if you travel, then travel light.
Went to the vet today as we are boarding our 18 year old cat there while on vacation. Our cat likes to eat both soft and hard cat food, so we thought we would see what if any food was included with the boarding fees (almost as high as a hotel by the way). Hard food is included so we thought that instead of buying a couple of cases of soft food (with his hyper thyroid he eats at least a tin a day) that maybe they could.
RIGHTTTTT......they were more than happy to do so at $2.35 a tin!
And that was with no promise that it would be food he would like. And yes, just for your information, we pay 65 cents per tin at the pet store! So off we went and picked up a couple of flats. As it is it will probably cost us about $600 to put the monster in the luxury accommodations while we are gone.
OK, now for my blog while we are in Argentina - we leave next Sunday (hooray!) I will be taking my tablet along and will be posting while there. I will have to figure out the time zones so that I can post at approximately the same time on Sunday as usual. So if it is somehow not there on Sunday, bear with me and check again over the next couple of days as it will eventually be there. 
Take care out there,

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday musings

So it seems that the captain of a cruise ship in the Mediterranean could not read his ocean charts and ran his ship onto a reef tearing a 50 metre gash in the hull and flipping the ship on its' side resulting in the death of three passengers from the 3200 on board. The captain ignored convention and was one of the first to abandon ship! He is now under arrest, indeed it seems that there was not even a distress signal issued during the whole episode. I saw some pictures of the actual scene and cannot believe that anyone would be so careless as to steer their ship into waters so full of rock outcroppings with such a large ship. What was that fool thinking of anyway?
I see where the President of Iran is in Cuba visiting and attempting to show the world that his country is not impacted by the economic embargo that is causing unrest and true difficulties there. This just days before one of their top nuclear scientists was assassinated by a method similar to other assassinations of fellow scientists and while both the United States and Israel deny involvement, suspicion falls on them both for the planning and for the deadly accuracy as well. This with just released video footage of three gunboats harassing American warships (much like a fly buzzing an elephant) is raising the rhetoric and tensions in the region. Some analysts suspect that the Iranian government is using both episodes as a means of uniting the people against the sanctions and critics of the regime itself. At the same time the same officials are in discussions with other governments to allow nuclear inspectors back into Iran to check upon the status of its so called non military nuclear industry. If this does happen, the big question will be whether there will be full access to any and all facilities, or be limited to a few carefully chosen "clean" sites while the real ones are hidden from view.
It seems that even the Arab League is admitting that it’s so called observers are no more than a joke when it comes to monitoring abuses in Syria of the people by the government of Mr. Assad. Indeed when you consider which governments were supplying the monitors, you knew it would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black when it came to human right abuses. It is ironic that the Emir of Qatar is now calling for Arab troops to be sent into that country in order to ensure a smooth change over to democracy. This from a Monarch? How interesting is that?
One thing of interest is that even with the tension in the Gulf at present, the price of oil really has not increased at all.
As an aside, I see where American media - specifically the news network CNN has been promoting stories as to how Americans better get prepared to gasoline increases at the pump of nearly a dollar a gallon this summer.
This, from the now largest oil exporter in the world? That is correct; America is the world’s largest oil exporter now. And just wait until the shale oil and new Gulf deposits come on stream in the next few years
Now as if the Americans need any more crappy news from Afghanistan to incite the people against  them, a video surfaces of a group of their military urinating over the bodies of enemy combatants. I was never a warrior in my youth but I would hope that if I was in a situation where I was, that I would treat my dead opponents with some modicum of respect and sure as heck would not videotape it if I did and then broadcast to so called friends when I returned safely home.
Friday after the American stock markets had closed for the weekend, a bond rating agency, Standard and Poors, downgraded the credit rating of seven European countries. The two biggest hits were Italy and France. Italy is now at junk bond status when it issues bonds to raise capital and France is now where America is, and that is behind the excellent rating that both Germany and surprise - England enjoy. I think that now finally, we might see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel where it applies to the crisis over the Euro. I am by no measure an expert on currency and money markets, yet I believe that with the European governments now backed up against the proverbial wall, they will be forced to take action. The European Bank will have to backstop loans and inject more capital into the market. And possibly Greece will drop out of the Euro currency and declare bankruptcy and restructure its economy all over again. As an aside, in the United States, it is now official - the national debt equals the national GDP. In other words, they are spending as much as they make - just like Greece and Italy!
And this week that the American President, Obama, sent a letter to the Speaker of the Government House asking for a trillion dollar addition of cash to the budget in order to pay bills.
This brings me to Canadian perceptions of American politics. Through our media we have been taught to believe that the Democratic Party is the party that more closely resembles values that we Canadian espouse. While the Republicans are everything opposite. The party of rabid anti everything and super pro business and anti individual. With having time to channel surf and surf many blogs a different picture is seeming to emerge. The Democrats are unable (they do not want to upset the Greens and unions-part of their voting base) to approve a large crude oil pipeline from Canada to refineries in the States, the Republicans are in favour of it. The Democrats favour laws against free trade unless it works completely in their country's' favour. The Republicans seems to understand it works both ways. And probably the most important difference seems to be that the Democrats seem to think solving the budget problems is to print more money and expand many programs, the Republicans seem to believe that you should spend no more than you bring in. Agreed, this is a very simplistic view of the differences but it sure is quite different than that which is presented by most of the media in Canada.
And to resurrect an old Canadian beef against the Democrats, it is their existing head of Homeland Security that has often repeated the lie that the terrorists that flew the planes into the twin towers came through Canada to the States instead of the truth, which was that they entered directly into the States from Europe and got their flight training in the States as well!
Anyway, enough of that.
Next week I will talk about the Republican race for Presidential nomination and how wild and wacky that seems to be from a Canadian perspective.
 I have mentioned a few times that I am no longer a mere stripling of a youth but rather a person who has seen and continues to enjoy many of the pleasures of life. On the other hand, one also has to acknowledge that with age, you inevitably become a good friend with your mortal enemy and that is the end of life. This past week I have had news that brings this vividly back home. First off I learned that a university friend, who incidentally introduced me to my wife, is in the last stages of cancer. In addition I found out today that his father in law, whose daughter is my wife’s' best childhood friend, passed away this week. Then I learned an old chum that I played old timers hockey with had passed on. And late last night I heard the mother of another university friend had left us as well. Nothing ever prepares you for things like this, and it never gets easier with time. Indeed, it actually seems harder to accept as you get older.
The lesson in this?
Life is a precious gift. Indeed you only truly appreciate it when you are reminded of how short it really is. Take the time for yourself and enjoy what you have and do what you want to do and to the devil with those that try to pooh pooh you when you want to do things out of the ordinary.
Sooooooooooooooooooo, I bet you are wondering about the weather here aren't you? It still is hard to believe that we are in the middle of January and a goodly portion of the side lawn is still green and exposed with hardly any snow cover on the ground whatsoever. However next week we are supposed to get some really cold days and nights that are even colder than normal. There is a possibility of some snow flurries but not too much. As long as the snow holds off until we are gone on vacation, life will be fine.
Well, another week has come and gone and already we are at the halfway point of the month of January. This means Christmas cannot be too far away!
Take care out there,

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday musings

I must admit that I have one major hobby and that is photo taking and with that, of having a number of different cameras. I was looking at them this week in order to decide which ones to take along to Argentina. And then it struck me, I have a mini history of the evolution of digital cameras in my possession. The first one is a little one from the Gateway company (USA company) that my wife gave me for my birthday a number of years ago that boasted a massive 4 megapixel lens and a 2X zoom lens. As well it uses 4 batteries in its operation! The memory card maxed out at 1/2 gig if you can believe it. My newest non SLR has a 18 megapixel lens and 18X zoom and a 16 gig card which would hold about 4,400 photographs. This in the space of about 5 years I believe. The first one had no special filters of effects built in, the newest will remove red eye, will do a panoramic scene; add twinkles to sunlight and a number of other features.
Did you know that Kodak, the 131 year old company that is forever associated with Kodachrome film and the ubiquitous Kodak camera is on the verge of bankruptcy? And did you know that Kodak actually invented the digital camera but did not see any potential in it?
Technology does move at a rapid pace these days. I wonder why 3d TV has not caught on with the public yet. Do you think it might be the goofy glasses you have to wear? Or maybe the $2,000+ price tag?
So this week President Obama announced changes to the structure of the American military. Do you recall last year when I was talking about the failed budget meetings in Washington? That one of the results of the failure was an automatic trigger of cash cuts to the military budget? Well, that is happening and the process will be a painful one. Coupled with the ever increasing wage and retirement expenses, the armed forces will see a drastic reduction in its capabilities. There will be an ever increasing reliance on “drone” and non human machinery to wage war. It seems that the bitter lessons learned after the First, Second, and the Viet Nam wars have been forgotten. The manpower after each of those wars was drastically reduced and as soon as another conflict arose, the United States fielded forces that were ill equipped, ill trained and undermanned. This will happen again. The ability to wage war on 2 fronts will disappear. The big question for the rest of the world is this – which country or countries will have the courage to fill the gap now that the Yanks are gone? And rest assured, conflict will come quickly. Throughout history the world has needed a policeman to halt aggression and to help the less able countries to survive. Who now? Russia? Japan? Germany? Brazil? Anybody? I doubt it. No African country will, no European, South American or Asian, and definitely not Canada or Mexico. Maybe the Brits but they are so poor that I doubt it. On the flip side there will be many countries wanting to start their own dirty little war and expand their territory at the expense of weaker countries. Look in the Balkans, the Middle East, Asia and you will see what I mean.
Look at Syria and how little effect the inspections from the Arab League monitors are accomplishing. Go to Nigeria and see what I believe is the start of a dirty little religious war pitting extreme Muslims against Christian groups. In fact in many countries you are seeing a reverse of the so called Crusader wars of centuries past where Christians waged war against Muslims in the name of Jesus. It is ironic that while learned scholars and religious figures of both religions profess to believe in non violence and acceptance of others, extreme elements on both sides wage a vicious war believing that their God is the one and only true God.
Jamaica's new Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, has said she intends to make the island a republic, removing Queen Elizabeth as the head of state.
I wish Canada would do the same. Sadly the ruling party seems determined to promote the Queen throughout the country, especially in Quebec, which is akin to waving a red blanket in front of a charging bull.
Surely we can stand on our own 2 feet can’t we? After all, who sent how many thousands to aid England and Europe in the 2 World Wars both in Europe and in Asia? Canada did and did so as a sovereign country and not as a colony.
By the way, did you know that this year is the centenary of the ANC (African National Congress)? A party once led by Nelson Mandela?
The Iranians are planning another set of military exercises in the Straits of Hormuz. Wonderful news indeed. The Americans are sending more ships into the region and late breaking news indicates that the British are sending a warship there as well. This would indicate that the sanctions recently imposed on Iran by a number of nations are indeed impacting the economy and welfare of the citizens. The main problem I have with sanctions is that they hurt the average citizen who has done little to nothing to hurt anyone or any country. The ruling elite will still stuff their pie holes on fancy food and drive their ritzy cars. So I ask you – who do the sanctions really hurt in the long run?
Well, I have to tell you that the weather is still unreal so far this January. In fact on Monday it is supposed to hit plus 9C for crying out loud! This is starting the second week on January and we still have hardly snow on the ground. In fact, this week there were a couple of brush fires in the province-something unheard of in winter. By the side of the house we have a complete section of grass uncovered and it is a bright green, not the rust brown that it usually becomes when covered for a couple of months by snow in winter. And the forecast for the week is temperatures hovering around zero or slightly under. This definitely is the warmest winter that I can ever recall.
And I suppose I should comment on what I think this year will hold for Europe. I think energy prices, the restructuring of both the sovereign and corporate variety debt and social unrest will define 2012, potentially making it as grim as 2011, in spite of a weak American recovery. Indeed the American recovery, especially a halt in the decline in the price of houses will probably be the big story of the year on the economic front. One country to watch will be Russia if the price of oil declines as exporting oil is the biggest source of income for that country. If shale oil in the States comes on stream and world demand slows, the price will fall below $100 a barrel and that will have a negative impact on the Russian economy. With the potential of civil unrest already over the disputed elections, further declines in the economy could increase the likelihood of more unrest in that country. Canada will plug along, in all likelihood on the edge of a small recession will minor corrections in the major housing markets, with the exception of those markets in Saskatchewan and Alberta where the oil and mineral boom will continue to propel the local economies forward.I do think that the economic news will improve in the second half of the year.
And do not forget, this is the year of the American Presidential election and with that being said, anything can and probably will happen in that country which will impact the rest of the world.
Here in Canada it seems that while people like the Democratic party, the Republican party is the better one to do business with.

Well, that is it for another week.
Take care out there,