Archive for March, 2009


When I first started blogging I got stuck blogging about financial stuff. I was getting hits but I didn’t want to run a financial site for retirees or for those looking to retire. Hey, I’m not a financial adviser.

That said, there was one thing that peaked a lot of interest and I have decided to re-introduce that feature in a limited manner in this new blog. Let’s call it the Monthly Goofy Benchmark Update. (I say goofy to make clear that these are not serious boy-I-should-invest-like-that suggestions. On the other hand, if you do not beat these benchmarks over the long run, something is wrong with your portfolio.)

Recently, I took a buyout. Heading into retirement, I passed on giving my money to a company like Frank Russell Canada to manage. I wondered if I did the right thing. So I started tracking a couple of the appropriate Frank Russell funds in order to compare them to my own personal portfolio.

I also created some imaginary benchmark portfolios. These are the goofy benchmarks of which I spoke earlier. Many of these imaginary investments pay a dividend at the end March. So, tomorrow I will reveal how my benchmark portfolios have performed, compete with distribution gains.

I know already that my Hi-Yield Lazy Dude Portfolio has returned more than $5000 in cash distributions and not all the income has arrived. This baby is allowing one to draw more than 4% a year without touching the principal. Considering the present economic climate, this seems nice. (4%, of course, is the classic safe withdrawl figure sited in a lot of the retirement literature.)

Along with the figures for my fun benchmarks, they are not meant to be taken too seriously, in the same post I will mention what percent my own portfolio, designed for retirement, has delivered year to date. (Has all my careful thinking about investing paid off?)

If you have a company, such as Frank Russell, managing your retirement funds, I would love to hear from you and hear what returns you are seeing.



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Consuming only 0.06 watts when on, I light a hallway with a number of these for less than a quarter a year.

Consuming only 0.06 watts when on, I light a hallway with a number of these for less than a quarter a year.

Newspapers are failing. I know. I worked for one. Just before Christmas a layoff rippled through the Sun Media chain and I took a buyout.

With time on my hands, I read the paper. I groan. I blog, sometimes about newspapers. Newspapers think the Internet is killing them – and they’re right. But there is a complexity to the Internet attack. Newspapers are dying the slow, torturous death of a thousand cuts but sadly they are wielding the knife on themselves.

Newspapers see themselves as information providers but the large chains that own them seem to have no drive to provide a rich mix of information. Slashing staff – reporters, photographers, editors – is not the way to better coverage.

Take Earth Hour, the one hour in the year that the world falls in sync with me and turns off non-essential lights. Earth Hour is hailed as stunningly successful but it leaves me disappointed. At the end of the Earth Hour the lights come back on.

Earth Hour leaves me with a raft of questions and I am sure that the folk I worked with at the paper are also asking these questions. For instance: does a drop in power consumption translate into energy-savings?

According to the Canadian Press article carried by The London Free Press, Toronto recorded a 15.1% power drop and provincially there was a 6% for the fifteen minutes between 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. These were referred to as energy-saving numbers. Are they?

Maybe I am wrong but I find it difficult to believe that our energy plants have the ability to respond immediately to a record drop in demand. My guess is that the plants simply keep on cranking out the power and it then goes unused.

What makes it more difficult to believe the plants could have been prepared was that Manitoba actually had a small spike in consumption after the start of Earth Hour. British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia all reported a mere 1% drop in power consumption.

It is possible that no energy is saved, and worse, there may be a net increase in energy usage. But not to worry, Earth Hour is not about saving energy. It is a billiant campaign for the World Wildlife Fund of Australia by the bright lights of the Leo Burnett ad agency.

Leslie Aun, vice president of public relations for the WWF told the Phoenix New Times last year, “The purpose of the event was not to save money or power. It’s a symbolic event.” Unfortunately, symbolism is not always environmentally-friendly.

Keith Stewart of the World Wildlife Fund-Canada, says, “It’s fun to see how much electricity demand drops.” Ah yes, such fun. And with what exactly do a lot of the participants replace their off-for-an-hour compact fluorescent lamps (CFL): candles.

I guess it is also fun to see how much we can enlarge our carbon footprint by turning off our modern, high-tech lighting. Check out this blog: Physical Insights: An independent scientist’s observations . . .

This blogger writes, “The widespread practice of misguided eco-Luddites turning off their lights for Earth Hour and burning candles as a source of light is grossly misguided and actually contributes to increased carbon dioxide emissions.”

Is the blogger right? Is the newspaper right? This round goes to the blogger. Why? Presentation. It is clear the blogger has spent more time and invested more thought into the topic.

As I wrote yesterday, it is time to rethink Earth Hour. Asking households and businesses to take non-essential lights and other electrical appliances off the grid for an hour and only an hour does not show committment.

If these are truly non-essential uses, and our globe is truly facing a global disaster caused by carbon emissions, then let’s save spaceship Earth. Keep the damn stuff turned off – otherwise, what’s the point?

Postscript: to those at the paper where I once worked. Considering the hollowed out shell of a newroom in which you now work, the quality of the newspaper you are still turning out is amazing.

I can just imagine how the newroom looked on Sunday night, empty desk beside empty desk, with just a couple of reporters, one photographer working the picture desk, and a few editors, everyone working to release the Monday morning edition on deadline. There would be no time for very much newsgathering.

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Electroluminescent Night LightA 0.06 watt Night Minder light, one of three I use in a home hallway. The three operate for pennies a year, with automatic sensors turning them off during the day.

If you’re a big fan of Earth Hour, and love the idea that for an hour each year lights are extinguished from Toronto to Jakarta, slashing energy consumption, I hate to tell you but Earth Hour is a fraud. A hoax. No energy is saved. In fact, there is probably a net increase in energy usage.

Leslie Aun, vice president of public relations for the WWF told the Phoenix New Times last year, “The purpose of the event was not to save money or power. It’s a symbolic event.” Unfortunately, symbolism is not always environmentally-friendly.

Think about it. Power plants are busy cranking out energy. Turning off a few lights for an hour doesn’t translate into an immediate cut in electricity production. If you want coal-fired plants to cut production, you must cut demand. Not for an hour. Not for a day. But for good.

Tens of thousands of candles were lit to celebrate Earth Hour. At the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto hundreds and hundreds of tiny candles rested on tables and glowed from 10 candelabra in the hotel lobby, while hundreds more rimmed the edge of the hotel pool.

Many of the candles used around the world were of the paraffin kind, made from petroleum. These release carbon into the environment – carbon that had been trapped for thousands of years. Earth Hour organizers understand this and tell people not to burn paraffin candles for the event.

Beeswax and soy candles are claimed to be mostly carbon-neutral as the carbon they release was only recently removed by plants from
the atmosphere. Still, it takes energy to make all those candles and it takes even more energy to ship them to stores, pick them up and get them home. It is quite likely many of the candleburners spread across the globe actually enlarged their carbon footprint while celebrating.

It is time to rethink Earth Hour. Asking households and businesses to take non-essential lights and other electrical appliances off the grid for an hour and only an hour does not show commitment. If these are truly non-essential uses, and our globe is truly facing a global disaster caused by carbon emissions, then let’s save spaceship Earth. Keep the damn stuff turned off – otherwise, what’s the point?

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- a dry pastel on black paper by Christine Newland

- a dry pastel on black paper by Christine Newland

Christine Newland, cello chick, is one cool digital-age lady. The principal cello with Orchestra London was asked by a friend to supply a piece of art for a charity fundraiser. Newland did and in doing so rekindled her interest in creating visual art.

Inspired, she has been doing sketches of her cats, her dogs, her Arabian mare and herself. But art must be seen and appreciated to be complete and Newland completes her pieces by e-mailing copies to friends, almost daily.

This was just one of the images e-mailed by Newland Wednesday. She used her Mac’s built-in camera and iPhoto to create the portrait of herself behind a Venetian-style green feather mask. She then took the image, quickly created a dry pastel sketch on black paper and, using her computer camera again, photographed her art.

I understand that if you’re interested in having a work of art by Christine Newland, she does portraits of loved ones or pets for clients.

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Kadie Ward, Director of Marketing & Communications at the London Chamber of Commerce, writes in today’s The London Free Press about the city’s new placemaking initiative. Placemaking? Oh, it’s another buzzword of New Urbanism – a buzzword all on its own.

She tells us the city has discovered that high-quality public spaces, variety, diversity, and distinct character are the important elements to building a successful community.

Wow! Did the city pay for this eureka moment?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating poor-quality public spaces, lack of diversity and yadda yadda yadda. What riles me is the way concepts like placemaking quickly become an us against them concept. Ward writes, “older neighbourhoods, like the core, optimize these traits . . .”

But she cannot stop there. She must take the mandatory swipe at the suburbs – and this is where I get my back up. I lived in downtown London – I lived there for more than a decade. I now live in Byron, in the newer part of the southwest London suburb.

I can assure Ward that I became more of a walk-a-billy, not less of one, with my move to Byron. When I need groceries, I walk to the A&P. When I needed snow tires, I left my car at the shop for the day and walked home. When I met a friend for lunch recently, I walked to the Cafe Milagros. Wine? Beer? I walk.

I have not one but two library branches within walking distance of my Byron home – and yes, I do walk to them. A month ago, I put on my ski mask and ski gloves, pulled my toque down over my ears and walked to the library.

Speaking of skiing – there is a ski hill within walking distance of my home. If tobogganing or sledding is more your style, take my toboggan and walk across my court – more on that later. One of the best sledding hills in London is right at my door.

Now, the court – despised in so much anti-suburbia writing – the court in front of my home has been a mind-expander for me. When I
moved here, I would have said it was a silly thing to have in front of one’s home.

Now, I see it as similar to the neighbourhood piazzas I enjoyed so much on my visits to Italy. My wife and I love to sit on our very small, simple concrete porch to enjoy a couple of capacinos with homemade biscotti while taking pleasure from the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood children playing in the court.

If Kadie Ward should happen to read this, please don’t get your knickers in a knot. This is not a defence of suburbia. Suburban development could be better. You will get no argument from me. But, please don’t fling New Urbanist suburban myths about and expect everyone to accept these on face value. I am sure downtown is becoming a more exciting community but there is no need to tear down my London in order to write about yours.

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Back in the winter of ’68, I saw a British racing green Morgan in the Morgan dealership in Windsor, Ontario. Contrary to what you may have heard about British automobiles, my little Morgan is a fine car; I still drive it today!

In the spring of 2005 my wife and I drove the little roadster to SanFrancisco where about 45 other Morgans had gathered for Morgans Over America IV. The Morgans came from all across the States and Canada plus some were shipped, often three to a container, from Europe. The tour was an amazing six week tour of North America hitting destinations in both the southern United States and northern Ontario, Canada. Enjoy my Animoto short . . .

[clearspring_widget title=”Animoto.com” wid=”46928cc51133af17″ pid=”49c65ee3eb772d2f” width=”432″ height=”240″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

. . . and then check out my Picasa slideshow at: MOA IV 2005

For even more on the tour, go to: Morgans Over America

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Good morning America, grab your morning java, settle down in front of your television and prepare for some poorly researched bunkum from ABC’s John Berman.

Tuesday, John Berman opened a report on Good Morning America by saying, “As we all know, Puff The Magic Dragon was not a song about dragons . . . ” Later, he claimed, “Puff The Magic Dragon was not about dragons . . . despite what Robert DeNiro thinks in Meet The Parents.”

The connection beween the Peter, Paul and Mary song and smoking dope was given wide circulation in an article by Newsweek magazine some years ago. The connection is bogus.

Leonard Lipton, credited as co-writer of Puff The Magic Dragon, said the song is about the loss of innocence and of leaving childhood to face an adult world. “It would be insidious to propagandize about drugs in a song for little kids,” he said. “It’s . . . not about drugs.”

Peter Yarrow , the Peter in Peter, Paul and Mary and principal writer of the song, also assured listeners that Puff was not a song about drug use. Once, in discussing the nasty rumour, Yarrow openly wondered, “What kind of a meanspirited SOB would write a children’s song with a covert drug message?”

While we may not know the answer to that question, we do know an SOB – John Berman – who would tarnish a lovely song, enjoyed by children worldwide, by making false, poorly researched, statements on network TV. By leading with an uban myth, Berman cast doubt upon the rest of his report which went on to examine the lyrics of  the Britney Spears’ song “If You Seek Amy” and a song by Flo Rida.

It all brings to mind the controversey that swirled around the song Louie Louie by the Kingmen back in the ’60s. The police actually came to my high school to claim a 45 of Louie Louie after the record had been confiscated from a student by the principal. The police kept the record for a few days but returned it saying that the lyrics were so unclear that one could hear whatever one wanted to hear on the record. Wise decision. The urban myth associated with Louie Louie has been shown to be also bunkum.

Now, I have a question: Did Berman, a New York-based correspondent for ABC News, bring the same  quality of reporting to his presidential campaign coverage as he brought to this Good Morning America throw-away report? Shouldn’t a highly paid correspondent for ABC News use the Internet to check the facts in a story before going to air?

Cheers, for today . . .

p.s. It is interesting to note, the quotes I used to open this blog come from the posted video of the televised report. In the video Berman makes a strong connection between Puff The Magic Dragon and drugs. On the ABC Internet page the copy takes a much softer approach and hedges by saying that Puff “may not be just about a mythical creature.” Note the “may.”

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