September 24th, 2010

[LINK] "Bubble or not, Canadian markets in for rude awakening"

Oh, well, if this analysis holds Canadian economic stability was good while it lasted.

When the bank followed the U.S. Federal Reserve on the path towards microscopic policy rates in the opening months of 2009, it pledged to maintain such an unprecedented degree of stimulus “conditional” on a prolonged period of economic malaise.

The problem, especially for interest rate doves like me, is that instead of seeing a listless economic recovery in Canada, we saw a bounce back of massive proportions. In short order, Canadian employment has soared to record highs while the U.S. is still more than seven million jobs shy of its pre-recession peak.

Canada’s dramatic recovery has been taken as evidence of the fundamental strength of the country’s financial system – but the rebound was founded on a surge in credit growth and housing-related spending that must have the Bank of Canada feeling a bit uneasy.

Bank-wide mortgage lending has risen 10 per cent in the past year, compared with only a 4 per cent rise in wage and salary income. This is clearly not sustainable.

At the peak of our own mania last fall, home prices soared more than 20 per cent on a year-on-year basis and home sales skyrocketed 70 per cent. These data points all have a “U.S.A. circa 2005” feel to them.

The ratio of total household debt to income has surged to 146 per cent, right where the U.S. peaked at the height of its credit bubble. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the home ownership rate has risen to record levels of 70 per cent, also close to where the U.S. peaked out during the housing bubble.

At the peak of our own mania last fall, home prices soared more than 20 per cent on a year-on-year basis and home sales skyrocketed 70 per cent. These data points all have a “U.S.A. circa 2005” feel to them.

David Rosenberg analyses the situation at length.

[LINK] "G8 and G20: $200M for bug spray, rental cars, lunch, parking and communication"

It's important to note that the very significant cost of the G8/G20 summit doesn't seem to be out of line for major international summits. That said, it's still a figure that's causing a certain amount of political angst.

The federal government spent more than $200-million on hotel bills, rental cars, bug spray, box lunches, communications equipment, parking, and numerous other items, according to a cost breakdown for the G8 and G20 summits.

Government records show that hundreds of suppliers secured contracts for services rendered for the June summits, held in Toronto and Huntsville, Ont., including a $334,000 bill for sun screen, bug spray and hand sanitizer.

The government has estimated the total summit tab to be just over $1-billion and the newly released documents detail contract spending for about one-quarter of the overall bill.

[. . .]

Almost 30 page of records show that a hundred dollars here and another-million dollars there added up to spending of about $222-million for the Public Works Department and the RCMP alone, two of the several entities involved in the two summits.

For the two summits combined, Public Works shelled out about $132-million for contracts and the RCMP spent another $90-million.

[. . .].

The records show the government paid $4.4-million for a summit security fence, tens of-millions in accommodation at dozens of hotels,-millions more for food and rental vehicles, and that at least 100 contracts were awarded to supply a vast array of communications and security equipment.

Some of the most expensive items included almost $12-million to lease the Toronto airport, $5-million to lease the Sheraton Toronto Centre, $3.7-million for the Westin Harbour Castle and $3.6-million for the Fairmont Royal York. Canada Catering Co. secured $2.5-million to supply box lunches at the Muskoka airport.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mountain Equipment Co-op provided $14,000 in “bug jackets.”

[URBAN NOTE] On the sad efforts to form an anti-Ford candidate

The thing with creating a political campaign aimed against something is that you're arguing a negative. Put up against someone who has a clear and appealing message, the negative campaign can easily suffer. Certainly this is the case if the candidate with a positive message has a plurality of the vote, and his opposition is badly fragmented. blogTO's Derek Flack reported earlier today about the possibility that Sarah Thomson, least popular of the major candidates, might drop out of the race to give an anti-Ford something (coalition? candidate?) a chance. Oh, and Rocci Rossi might be the candidate she would support if she did drop out.

Mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson revealed to the Toronto Star yesterday that she's contemplating dropping out of the mayoral race in an effort to prevent Rob Ford from winning on October 25. That she would consider endorsing another candidate doesn't come as a huge shock, given that the most recent polls put her at 11 per cent support, and thus with no real chance of winning the election. (Anything can happen, of course, but I'm guessing that a Vegas bookmaker - or anyone with common sense - would give her extremely long odds of winning).

What is perhaps a bit surprising, however, is the candidate who Thomson may support - the consistently low-polling Rocco Rossi. With his announcement of plans to build a tunnel version of the Spadina Expressway (and yes, that's exactly what the "Toronto Tunnel" is) and the recent release of a poorly received gangster-themed ad campaign, Rossi is teetering on the edge of becoming a fringe candidate. Polling at just eight per cent, the combination of Thomson and Rossi's base of support would still leave him seven points behind George Smitherman.

Thomson did, however, tell the Star that she's talking with "all teams to build consensus and work collaboratively." I'm not sure exactly what that means, other than that she hasn't made up her mind just yet on whether she'll drop out and who she'll finally endorse if she does. But, I can't help but think that offering her support to Rossi would be misguided if her goal is indeed to prevent what she called the "huge crisis" of a Rob Ford-led Toronto.

While a Thomson endorsement could give the Rossi campaign some much needed momentum, I suspect that if Thomson was motivated only by a desire to thwart Ford, she would lend her support to George Smitherman. Returning to those most recent poll numbers once again, the addition of Thomson's 11 per cent would draw Smitherman to within just three points of the front-runner. And given the margin of error involved in advance polling (which may skew towards making Rob Ford look a bit better off than he is), that'd be pretty darn close.

[LINK] "Computer Worm May Be Targeting Iranian Nuclear Sites"

Is the next stage of cyberwar being waged against Iran's nuclear program? This news has certainly sparked Daniel Drezner's interest; earlier speculations of his that there might be some quiet espionage and/or sabotage going against Iran might well have been demonstrated true.

A computer worm that has infected industrial computers around the world [Stuxnet] may be part of a campaign targeting nuclear installations in Iran, computer-security researchers said.

The highest concentration of affected systems -- almost 60 percent -- is in that country, according to data from Symantec Corp., the computer-security software maker. The worm’s sophisticated programming and ability to hide itself suggest it may have been built by a government-sponsored organization in a country such as the U.S. or Israel, said Frank Rieger, technology chief at GSMK, a maker of encrypted mobile phones.

He estimated that building the worm cost at least $3 million and required a team of as many as 10 skilled programmers working about six months.

“All the details so far to me scream that this was created by a nation-state,” Rieger said in a telephone interview. Iran’s nuclear facilities may have been targets, said Rieger and Richard Falkenrath, principal at the Chertoff Group, a Washington-based security advisory firm.

[. . .]

As it spreads, the worm searches for connections to a device known as a programmable logic controller, which helps link Windows computers and computerized industrial-control systems, converting commands sent from the Windows machine into a format the industrial machines can understand. The worm targets industrial software made by Munich-based Siemens AG, researchers said.

Once an industrial machine is infected, the worm lies dormant until certain conditions in the machine are met, O Murchu said. For example, when the temperature of a certain component gets hot, the worm might prevent a cooling system from functioning. What conditions the worm waits for are unclear, he said.

‘It was designed to go after a specific system set up in a very specific way,” O Murchu said. “What we don’t yet know is where such a system exists in the real world.”

[LINK] "The Countries Facebook Doesn't Dominate"

Facebook's triumph, it seems, is not worldwide. lpetrazickis linked to an interesting chart showing the different countries where Facebook is not the dominant social networking system.

These eight countries are the only ones, out of 41, where Facebook is not the dominant social networking system. In some countries, Facebook is easily surpassed by other systems--Orkut in Brazil, VKontakte in Russia, CyWorld in South Korea--while in others like India (Orkut), Taiwan (, and the Netherlands (Hyves) Facebook comes close to the local social networking system.

I'm curious: Will Facebook overcome these local social networking systems in their homeland, too, just as MySpace has been surpassed in the United States? Or will some of these systems--I'm thinking particularly of Orkut, VKontakte, and CyWorld, which seem to be well-embedded in their countries/societies--avoid being replaced and manage to co-exist alongside Facebook?

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the changing nature of blogging and the blogosphere

Jim Belshaw's meditation last month on the changing blogosphere is something I've been thinking about for quite a while. What has blogging become?

Looking back over the blogs plus Facebook and Twitter feeds left me with a feeling of fragmentation: it's partly that I have more blogs on my list; more that so many of the blogs that I used to read have become irregular or even vanished; more still that Facebook and Twitter have developed as alternative mechanisms; most, my feeling that the little village that I used to talk about a lot has somehow morphed into a more anonymous urban sprawl.

I think that this is partly my own fault. Writing on a daily basis is quite hard, harder still when blogging is one part of a spreading writing load. I spend less time interacting with other bloggers, more time just writing. The pleasure drops. However, it's also a symptom of genuine fragmentation.

The best independent blogs combined thought with a dash of the personal. Some of these blogs have become Facebooked or Twittered to the detriment of the blogs. Sure, I read the Facebook or Twitter streams, but they don't compensate. Further, I often see the same short form material repeated. The length of time it takes me to scan Facebook or Twitter is actually falling despite the increase in the number of items. To make matters worse, some favourite blogs have simply vanished.

I have told this story before.

I long time ago local retailer Joe Hanna complained that Armidale was getting smaller. I blinked, because the city had been going through a growth phase. When I asked what he meant, he said that whereas it used to take him all morning to get the mail, it now took half an hour. The difference lay in the conversation along the half block from the store to the post office and back. He used to spend lots of time seeing people and yarning, now there were very few people to talk too.

I haven't experienced that sort of compression, if anything the reverse. The number of blogs I active read has risen, partly because I have used a RSS reader for the past two years and no longer have to visit each blog site again and again, but mostly because I've actively sought out new blogs whether through Google searches (last year's social science blog expansion came from) or through links from other friends' blogs or through recommendations I've actively sought out from other people. I think I've got a handle on the different elements of my online presentation. I link to each new Demography Matters post; I maintain a certain low level of activity of Flickr, uploading pictures of my own and commenting on other, often consolidating relations I have with other blogger; nwhyte kindly pointed me to a Facebook app that let me import my Livejournal posts and I use my Facebook account to post more links and videos and whatnot of interest (think of it as extra content; and, I use Twitter alternatively as a slow-motion chat program, a way to share links with people of note, and somewhere I can post links to my non-[LINK] posts (like this one) with the help of My experience of the blogosphere over the past eight years (!) has been one of increasing integration.

This integration, though, doesn't necessarily correspond to personalization. One person I know unfriended me on Livejournal (not on Facebook, thankfully) because this blog (unlike my Facebook account) had very little about me, [NON BLOG] posts having become increasingly rare since that April 2003 trip to Toronto when I decided to post some blog-like postings for fun. I read other bloggers' posts, I link to them, I add commentary about them to my own blog, but it's fairly rare that I go and comment at the blogs themselves. I've tried my best to become acquainted with new blogs, to try to move beyond my own personal biases, but while I've substantially expanded the blogroll over the years I can't say that the blogs on the blogroll are necessarily very different from those biases.

The blogosphere isn't nearly as dynamic as it was in the first half of the last decade. The blogosphere has set, with its own conventions and relationships and rivalries between bloggers; the blogosphere has become disenchanted, the blogosphere has become institutionalized. I'm not sure if there's any way around this apart from continuing to try to produce new material and create new relationships.