Saturday, September 25, 2010

Letter to Editor (re HST) is long on angst, short on accuracy

Arn Brown's angst is so vividly portrayed in a recent letter to the editor (Sept. 23, The Londoner) that I regret pointing out weaknesses in the accuracy deptartment.

Then again, somebody should. Why not me?

Mr. Brown begins:

"When you wake up in the morning, the last thing you are thinking about is HST."

Now, that's almost true in my own case. There are 142 other things I think about first.

E,g., "get to the bathroom quickly" is number one. Number two "make coffee." Then 140 other things before "the HST."

However, then 12 other items follow, including "put pajamas back under the pillow."

So, Arn starts off in dramatic fashion, but let's be honest, the HST isn't last on everyone's mental list.

Arn writes:

"However, while you were sleeping you were racking up an HST bill."

Again, high points for drama (I mean, my gosh, what if we left on every light and appliance in the house, including the oven at 500 degrees and the electric lawn mower in the dining room, and left every tap on in the house full throttle, our hydro and water bills plus the dreaded and dang-fangled HST would be what - 10 dollars?) but the HST for one typical night's rest in cozy country I like to call my home would be what- 10 cents?

Arn continues:

"When the alarm rings, HST kicks in; when you stumble to the bathroom, more HST."

I'm completely befuddled. Unless Arn's alarm clock is the size of his dining room and draws a huge amount of hydro and turns on every light and opens every tap in his house when it rings, how will he notice any difference in the amount of HST that has already been "racking up" - one penny at a time - while he was snoozing?

And how does the government know when he's stumbling to his bathroom? Is Arn charged more HST for falling down? What if he turns around halfway down the hall and returns to bed? Does he get a rebate?

I like the drama, the mood ("That dadgum HST is up my snoot!"), but I think Arn is incensed beyond reason and needs to tighten up his argument - if he even has one.

I'd like to make some suggestions.

Tune in tomorrow.


Link to my most recent column - see It Strikes Me Funny: Weekly Column - side margin.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I bet we have one of the smallest yards in Wortley Village

And I love it.

Really. I can cut the grass in 5 minutes and 2 of that is used unwinding and rewinding the 100 ft. electric power cord.

["A small fire in the backyard. Don't tell the Fire Dept.": photos GH]

I have so much extra cord I’ve taken to cutting the weeds in the shared back laneway just to get some extra use out of the last 50 feet of cord and 3 minutes of my grass cutting time.

It's a two-level yard, so, we step out onto a back deck and then must climb down a few stairs to get to the yard.

["The reflection in The Annex window tells me fall is coming."]

The yard contains a wee work deck outside my shop, two lovely spruce trees (we had a third but I chopped it down to make room for what follows) and The Annex, a shed for the lawn mower and surplus wood. There is always surplus wood.

["Should I turn the piece of maple limb into a birdhouse?"]

Once I discovered that fact I began thinking about having a firepit, and this summer I was given a truck tire rim.

I dug a hole 2 - 3 weeks ago in the middle of the lawn and dropped the rim inside.

["I guess I have enough matches for today's fire."]

Guess what?

I don’t have as much surplus wood anymore.

And because of the trees and privacy fence and comfy chairs I now have the perfect spot to sit and relax for 30 minutes or so every once in awhile and dream up my next project.

["Dreaming. How did my feet get so big?"]

And if I dream up anything this afternoon you’ll be the first to know.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harper and Ignatieff will spar, the northern lights will shine


Canadians will have exciting choices to make in the near future and will have a tough time, I’m sure, I’m really sure, deciding what to watch unfold.

Will they focus on vociferous debates on The Hill between PM Harper and Liberal leader Ignatieff about government spending habits (e.g., $13 billion on prisons when crime is actually declining), growing national debt (and the $54 billion deficit this year) and corporate tax cuts?

Or will they focus on their computer screen and discover the wonder of the northern lights at a government website?

Live feed at dusk.

Which sounds more exciting to you?


Personally, I hope you like political debates and natural wonders equally and that you will have time for both.


Technically speaking, the US is out of the recession, but...

But, the US is not out of the woods. Nor is Canada.

Economists say (and that is why we’re getting technical here) the US was technically in a recession for 18 months, the longest recession since WWII, and came out of recession - technically - in June 2009.

What else do we know?

["US debt has doubled in 8 years, to $13.5 Trillion"]

The pace of economic recovery since June 2009 has stayed for the most part below the level needed to replace the millions of jobs lost during the recession, and recent economic indicators tell us that growth has really been struggling again - or going backward - in the past few months.

So, if I do say so myself (and I do), untechnically, the US is still in a recession and Canada’s fate still hangs in the balance.


Oh, by the way, US debt is technically going through the roof.

Get small before you get low.


From The Workshop: Do birds eat ice cream? Chili?

Okay, I’m pretty sure they don’t.

["I love dressing up old barn board": photos GH]

But I’ll make another 3 or 4 birdhouses that make it appear as if they do because they’re fun to put together.

Plus, I found a lonely piece of barn board yesterday while tidying the shop that will be perfect for a duplex idea I have.

‘Cones’ (Cheep!) over one hole, ‘Chili’ (Hot!) over the other.

["Don't throw out those corks or old hinges."]

As usual, when they’re done, you’ll be the first to know.


If not Chili, then what?

What would go well with Cones?

Please click here to see the early stage of 'Cones.'


It Strikes Me Funny: Older, wiser, smoother moves

Believe it or not, there are a few advantages to getting older.

Take yesterday’s hockey game:

I saw Angie digging for the puck in the corner, then carry it behind the opposing team’s net. I was already sliding in from my defensive position on the blue line and called for the puck.

Angie saw me, passed the puck without hesitation, right onto the tape of my stick. I fired a low shot.

["Send me in coach": photo GH, circa 1960]

I saw the puck fly through the 4-inch space between the goalie’s pads just before it closed.

The puck hit the back of the net. Game on.

Take this morning:

I heard my wife leave the bathroom and head toward the kitchen while I listened to a weather update on my bedside radio.

I heard the rush of water through pipes under the bedroom floor and the water tap turn off in the kitchen.

I waited 5 more minutes under a warm blanket pulled up to my shoulder. Then I got up and sauntered toward the kitchen.

A fresh cup of coffee, in my favourite mug, was on the counter. One milk, half a sugar.

I may not be as young as I used to be, but my timing - at least in a few important matters - is growing much sharper.


Any other advantages from your point of view?

Please read another episode of It Strikes Me Funny.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Climate Change Concerns: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor”

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” (Ella Fitzgerald. Maybe Sophie Tucker)

So begins a recent and very interesting news article (‘Goals are working: The poor really are better off’) by Gwynne Dyer, a solid, thoughtful writer, concerning progress on the millennium development goals that the United nations adopted 10 years ago.

Dyer touches on improvements in key areas like literacy, access to clean water and infant mortality. He points to improvements related to better leadership and cleaner politics in Africa.

["Neys P.P., Lake Superior, 2007": photo GH]

But about the millennium goals and the future he says the following (see the article for more details):

“It is certainly not an ignoble ambition, and 10 years ago it seemed almost attainable. Today it seems much less so.

“The problem is not the current economic slump. That is cutting into living standards in many places, but even if it lasts for years, it is essentially a transient event. The real worm of doubt is the gradual realization that seven billion human beings cannot all live the current lifestyle of the billion richest without causing an environmental and ecological catastrophe. It is inherently unsustainable...

“Even one billion people consuming resources and producing pollution at the current rate may be unsustainable over a period of more than a generation or two. Seven or eight billion people living like that would be unsustainable even over a couple of decades: global warming and resource depletion would swiftly overwhelm our emerging global civilization and its high aspirations...

“Rich really is better than poor, in the sense that people who are physically secure and have some freedom of choice in their lives are generally happier people.

“But we have to do a serious re-think about how we define the concept of rich.”

Re-define rich.

Re-educate rich and poor.

Reform economic and environmental policies.

(Please click here to read a related post - Climate Change Concerns: I’ve fallen and I can’t get up)

All are worthy goals.


Climate Change Concerns: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”

Because of mistakes made in our adopted economic and ecological models (“drive it mercilessly”; “consume it excessively”), more people are bearing more fears than is healthy.

Therefore, “get small before we get low” seems like a better economic and ecological philosophy to adopt to achieve a healthier end.

["Neys P.P., Lake Superior, 2007": photo GH]

Says Ronald Wright in ‘A Short History of Progress’ (see ‘Read This’, side margin):

“Civilizations often fall quite suddenly - the House of cards effect - because as they reach full demand on their ecologies, they become highly vulnerable to natural fluctuations.”

(Would our civilization be even more vulnerable if our financial house was also in real trouble?)

“The most immediate danger posed by climate change is weather instability causing a series of crop failures in the world’s breadbaskets. Droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes are rising in frequency and severity. The pollution surges caused by these - and by wars - add to the gyre of destruction.”

Wait. Mr. Wright adds a positive note - much needed - near the end of his book:

“Things are moving so fast that inaction itself is one of the biggest mistakes. The 10,000-year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don’t do, now.”

(The positive note is coming).

“The reform that is needed is not anti-capitalist, anti-American, or even deep environmentalist; it is simply the transition from short-term to long-term thinking. From recklessness and excess to moderation and the precautionary principle.”



In spending. In consumption.

I.e., ‘get small before we get low.’


My New Economic Plan Pt 6: Get small before you get low

As debt grows and serious economic damage occurs (please link to Pt 5), our economic, environmental, and social choices grow more limited and the whole idea of ‘getting small before we get low’ becomes less of a voluntary choice.

In a recent article about Canada’s growing debt we’re informed by Tom Velk, an economics professor from McGill University, that debt puts us on “a road to higher taxes and less government services in the long run.”

That doesn’t sound very positive.

Velk says, "You have higher taxes, less growth and more and more of the economy managed politically and therefore inefficiently."

He doesn’t shine a very positive light on government intervention, does he?

The article reports that while Velk would like to see the government start paying down debt quickly, he doesn't expect it to happen.

"We have enough left-wing wingnuts to tear up the streets if these programs are cut back so even a guy like Harper won't do it."

["How much should I trim off?"]

Though it’s apparent Velk doesn’t hold wingnuts in very high regard or trust that our roads will hold up under pressure, he does put his finger on something we know is true.

Any mention of raising taxes raises the blood pressure of many Canadians (not all of them wingnuts, to be sure). And talk about lowering services certainly lowers the level of civil debate in the House of Commons.

After all. What usually happens when taxes, government expenses for social programs, fuel and car and housing costs rise?

Our choices change. Our lifestyle changes. Our old, ever-expanding Levis have to last longer.

And by gum, many folks don’t like the sounds of any of that.

Our aging baby boomers have been promised health care and pensions and the government may not have the money to pay for it all. (Most private and government pension plans are seriously underfunded).

My gosh, if I have enough strength to lift my arms, maybe I’ll be up in arms and raisin’ a ruckus at the nearest rally someday!!

In a NY Times article entitled ‘America’s Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making’ I read the following from the US point of view:

“The solution, though, is no mystery. It will involve some combination of tax increases and spending cuts. And it won’t be limited to pay-as-you-go rules, tax increases on somebody else, or a crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse. Your taxes will probably go up, and some government programs you favor will become less generous.”

It seems to me that on either side of the border there will be no place to hide from growing debt and its debilitating consequences.

Is it any wonder that I mention - every once in a long, long while - we should reduce spending, pay down debt and save money for the tough times ahead?

Or, get small before we get low?


No, it’s no wonder.

There is no such thing as a free lunch and we’ve been living too high off the hog for too many years.

Whatever ‘too high off the hog’ means, I feel it’s true.

Back bacon, anyone? Anyone?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Live Small and Prosper: It feels like we’re nearing some kind of edge

I know, 'feels like an edge coming' doesn't sound very scientific, does it?

But lately, I’ve been reading and then writing about US debt and its likely consequences on our over-exuberant lifestyles here in SW Ontario, home of Deforest City and the lovely little village that I call home.

And under the heading of ‘If the US economy has a hiccup many Canadians will find themselves in deeper doo-doo than they already are - which is not a pleasant thought,’ allow me to share the following from a wee ‘businessbriefs’ blurb in The London Free Press (Sept. 14):

The majority of Canadian workers live from paycheque to paycheque

59% say they would be in financial difficulty if their wages were delayed one week

The situation is worst among young people

75% of single-parent households say they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet

["Can we dial it back even a small bit?"]

66% of Canadians say it would be difficult to find a comparable position if they lost their jobs

And finally re top concerns:

Fears about the impact of rising interest rates

Fears about not being able to save for retirement

Fears about the economy slipping back into recession

Perhaps, by trusting in and driving the economy for so many years we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.

Or, we've driven ourselves closer to some kind of edge.


Can we shift toward a more sustainable way of life and reduce the fears many experience?


My New Economic Plan Pt 5: Get small before you get low

Let’s do a review. (Yes, I sure need one).

Here in London, Ontario, unemployment nudged up to 8.3% recently.

The unemployment rate was up in several provinces as well.

Canada’s jobless rate rose to 8.1% overall, higher than desired.

Ontario’s industrial heartland is being hit by the most recent slowdown in the American economy.

Ontario’s economic growth is 80.8% reliant on US growth.

The US is in for a long, hard struggle.

A double recession could easily occur south of the Canadian border.

Despite some signs of recovery this spring, the US - with 9.5% unemployment - has made up few of the 8 million jobs it lost in the last recession.

Despite massive government spending to stimulate the economy, home foreclosures in the US are also again reaching record highs, jobless claims are rising and core retail sales are falling - factors some believe are harbingers of another recession.

The economies of the G7 industrialized nations (i.e., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States) are slowing faster than previously forecast.

The biggest threat to G7 nations may be the slowdown in private consumption.

The American national debt is about to surpass $13.5 trillion for the first time in the history of the universe.

$13.5 trillion is 91% of the US Gross Domestic Product, i.e., debt almost equals earnings.

Canada has a terrible record for paying down debt, i.e., only in 20% of the years since 1960.

The US record for paying down debt is far worse, i.e., 0% since 1960.

["Sorry. This ain't great news"]

Finally, the US national debt has doubled since 2002 and not just because of the recession.

Should Americans be overly concerned? Yes.

Should Canadians be concerned? Double yes. Our own economy will likely be unable to generate necessary revenues for the future and we’re tied to America’s hip - and it’s faltering.

In a NY Times article entitled ‘America’s Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making,’ I read that Pres. Obama “does not have a realistic plan for eliminating the deficit, despite what his advisers have suggested.”

Trillion dollar deficits will become the norm, adding more debt to America’s shoulders for years to come.

The projected result:

“This debt will constrain the country’s choices for years and could end up doing serious economic damage if foreign lenders become unwilling to finance it.”

The repercussions of any serious economic damage will give London’s city council, Ontario’s provincial government, Canada’s federal government, US state and US national governments much to talk and worry about for years to come.

On both sides of the border, choices (e.g., economic, environmental, social, health care, educational, recreational...) will become more limited.

One day ‘getting small before we get low’ may not be a voluntary choice.

What do I mean by that?

Please click here to read My New Economic Plan Pt 6.


While you’re waiting, read a very exciting article found in yesterday’s newspaper.

It's entitled 'Debt ratio puts us right behind Greece' and that's not where we want to be.

Such news may kinda inspire you to hurry up plans to ‘reduce spending, pay down debt and save money for tough times ahead.’


Monday, September 20, 2010

Canadians Dream: “We want it all”

According to a recent survey we hope and dream for financial stability one day.

We want to own a home.

We want to travel.

We want to retire early.

Meanwhile, back at the bank, our personal debt is going through the roof.

By ‘our’ I mean Canada’s, Ontario’s, many of our households’.

In other words, we dream of financial stability while spending ourselves silly.

We want it all without realizing we can’t possibly afford it all.

Predictions: We’ll keep on dreaming.

We won’t live under or within our means until difficult circumstances, e.g., another recession or two or three, trains us to be more accountable, responsible or realistic.

We may soon be too tired to hold onto our hats.


How is your mayo jar savings program coming along?

Is ten dollars per week too tough?


Pt 2 Do Canadians have clear goals for the good life?

Recently, an article that related to peoples’ goals and entitled ‘Canadians Dream’ (subhead - Canadians have clear goals for the good life) caught my eye.

Canadians do dream, but what do they dream about? And do Canadians actually have clear goals for the good life?

Almost all respondents said they hope for financial stability one day. 61% of Canadians want to buy a home, 50% want to travel, and 40% want to retire early.

How is that working out for us?

["What would bring you peace of mind?": photo GH]

Canadian debt has never been higher. We have proven as a country we pay back debt only 20% of the time. Personal and provincial debt is through the roof.

Now, there is nothing wrong with dreaming, but maybe we need a reality check.

Maybe we should dream about a much smaller house than the norm. And while we’re at it, maybe we should dream about a stay-cation and how much to save for any type of retirement, let alone an early one.

Respondents to the survey did get something right.

“Unpredictable swings in the economy were cited as the single biggest factor that could inhibit those goals.”

Here in Ontario, with our growth strongly tied to the US economy (we are 80% dependent upon US growth), we should be worried about growing struggles next door.

We should also be dreaming about how we can live under our means rather than over our means as we have consistently done for the last 50 - 60 years.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming but what would really bring you peace of mind?

A house? A vacation? Early retirement?

Dream again.


The Long Road Back Pt 3: A few less wrinkles in my shuffle

I started back into the running game three weeks ago.

I know how hard a marathon can be, a 30 K Around the Bay (Hamilton, Ont.) road race can be.

Stepping onto the long road back - after a long hiatus - can be tough too, but with 5 runs under my expanding belt in 3 weeks (yeah, I’m not pushing myself too hard) I must say life ain’t too bad.

Last Tuesday I ran (aka the Harrison Shuffle) 6 long miles and kept a pretty steady - and slow - pace all the way.

["Running, cycling, playing hockey - a good combo for me": photo GH]

Yesterday, I had to slow myself down a few times on the same route so I wouldn’t hurt myself or pull a muscle or leave my ‘take it easy, go-slow-and-enjoy-the-view-philosophy’ behind too soon.

Yup. I should be able to run a half-marathon before 2010 is over. Yup, it’s nice to sense I’m shuffling a bit faster and my legs are a bit stronger. Yup, it’s nice to run 12 miles a week and enjoy the view along the Thames River.

This should be a good fall season.


Again, don’t tell The Swede what I’m doing out on the road.


Motorcycle Miles: Pt. Bruce - a good pit stop for coffee

There is usually a log thrown up on the beach at Port Bruce that will make a good spot to sit and enjoy the Lake Erie view.

["I saw a log, I sat down, I snapped some pictures": photos GH]

And I was in luck yesterday. The coffee pot at Shutters was full and had been recently perked.

It was so quiet on the beach. I had it - and a comfortable log seat - to myself.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to ride well into October.

On a cool day the coffee tastes better.


More scenes from a nearby port.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Zoom w a View: The teenager flew the coop

On Sunday afternoon I flew past a young hawk - one of the largest I’ve seen in some time - at about 120 kilometers per hour.

It was a cool day today on the highway and my 16-year old, air-cooled bike rode like a new model. The only sound between me and the tarmac was thunder.

["Sorry. Nothing left to see but an old fence post": photos GH]

I knew the young hawk - my dad would have called him an ‘immature’; I call him a teenager - would be gone by the time I slowed down, did a slow U-turn and returned to a spot about 30 meters away from the fence post upon which he perched.

["Nothing but soy beans on the other side of the road"]

He wasn’t gone. But I knew I had once chance in ten of getting a good shot.

And moments after I parked my bike at the side of the road and seconds before I could take a picture he spotted me and flew the coop.

What a beautiful sight he was.

The teen wrote poetry in the sky with his five-foot wing span.


Do Canadians have clear goals for the good life?

I love small articles about survey results that relate to peoples’ goals.

A recent one started with the the headline ‘Canadians Dream’ and the subhead ‘Canadians have clear goals for the good life.’

I immediately thought, yes, Canadians do dream, but what do they dream about? I know what I dream about. Am I normal?

And do Canadians actually have clear goals for the good life - as far as I’m concerned? Because that’s what’s important around here.

["Are my ideas all wet?"]

And do we actually ever talk about what good healthy goals in life should look like?

(And, yes, I’ll get back to my series about my new economic plan and how deep the US is in debt and how associated problems could sink us all one day while we’re busy watching Coronation St. on TV or doing something else just as important but while we’re otherwise distracted from real life. Sorry, I digress).

The article began as follows:

“Home ownership, travel and early retirement are tops on Canadians' list of their dreams for the future, according to a new survey by HSBC Bank Canada.”

So, according to 1,001 adults aged 18 or older who were home when an employee of Research House called, most Canadians want to buy a home (61%), then leave it and go somewhere else for a few weeks (50%), then come back home and dream about leaving work (40%).

At the same time, “almost all respondents said they hope for financial stability one day.”

Now, I can understand all of the above. But knowing what I do (so do you) about growing personal, provincial, Canadian and American debt, we’re going about things all the wrong way, aren’t we?

Stay tuned.


Debt in just about every area (not all - my mayo jar savings program is working out) of our lives is going through the roof.

We may have goals for the good life but are they clear? Good? Reasonable?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yard sale: If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger

Please, don’t quote me on the above. Yard sales can be discouraging affairs.

They’ve been known to test the best of marriages.

“Hey, who said we were getting rid of that?” I’ve been asked on more than one occasion while trying to sell something my wife purchased in the 1970s.

["We only carry top of the line junk": photos GH]

Without careful planning punches can be thrown. Shots can be fired.

I try to minimize the stress by following a few simple guidelines.

One - I don’t put price stickers on anything that clearly falls inside my wife’s domain. That’s everything.

“How much should I ask for this old hockey stick?” I asked at 8:15 this morning.

“Your call,” said my wife. “And thanks for asking.”

Two - I spend at least a week marshaling used items toward the front door and porch so that I’m not up late the night before the sale. That way, I have the strength to deal with people who want a 10 cent item for 3 cents, two items for the price of one or who wait ‘til my back is turned before asking my wife if she would take less for the hockey stick because the tape is a bit worn.

Don’t you just hate that?

Three - If things don’t get sold I don’t worry about it anymore. There’s always next year. I only want to earn enough to buy pizza for supper. That’s it. The rest is gravy.

["Back into the box; There's always next spring"]

It began to rain today shortly after twelve noon but by then we’d sold enough stuff to pay for supper.

I’m thinking Bondi’s Special Supreme Deluxe pizza with sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, grilled chicken with maybe a bit of pineapple and not even a whiff of anchovy.

Not a bad trade off.


Because today’s sale was successful, we now have a clear path to a room in the basement that holds more stuff.

So, we might do this all over again in October!

Aren’t yard sales great?

Be honest.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

London, Ontario: From Forest City to Viva Video-Gameville?

Once known as the Forest City (Deforest City seems more apt at times now), our fair burg may one day be the video game centre of the universe, if not - at the very least - a small part of SW Ontario between Toronto and Windsor, north of the 401 highway and still visible above the tassels of countless acres of cattle corn.

‘Cause, if we’re not searing corn-fed beef on our BBQs we’re playing video games around here.

[“Another close game. We’re in the final seconds...”]

If I sound cynical it’s because I am.

Not that the jobs aren’t welcome. If 10 million bucks from the federal government and millions more from corporate supporters and London’s city council ($5 million) can make London a player and employ scores of people, then who am I to besmirch the plan?

[Definition - besmirch v.t. sully, smear, make off-colour remarks, i.e., there had better be a Plan B, fer Pete’s sake]

And, of course, there likely is a Plan B.

I imagine it’s this: While the gamers are occupied (I won’t be among them. The last video game I played was Pong in 1978 and I won 15 - 12. It was a real nail-biter. Sorry, I digress), the powers that be in Deforest City will develop a small, perhaps even sustainable economy that is based on the construction of small living spaces, e.g., homes and apartments in the 900 sq. ft. range.

Smaller than average fridges and stoves will be required and we’ll build them.

Smaller sinks, tubs, mirrors, medicine cabinets and bathroom fixtures will be required and we’ll produce them.

Smaller heating and cooling units, smaller cars for the smaller parking spaces, smaller computers and TVs and stereos for the smaller dens and bedrooms, smaller packaging for smaller boxes of beef for the smaller BBQs, etc., etc., will be required and we’ll manage to find a way to produce as many items as possible right here in Deforest City.

That’s Plan B, for sure, eh. (It's in tune with 'get small before you get low.')

And as soon as the video-game thingy is up an running smoothly I’m sure we’ll forge ahead with it.


I think I’m 5 - 10 years away from moving from our small house to an even smaller apartment.

I don’t want the headache of maintaining a house through another recession, and another one after that, and another one after that.

Now that I’m thinking of it, I’m ready for a game of Pong.


My New Economic Plan Pt 4: Get small before you get low

I’m trying to become more of a saver than a spender.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll be debt free in 10 years and have over $5,000 in my mayo jar savings account.

Recently I guaranteed the success of my mayo jar account - into which I drop at least 10 bucks per week - by quitting one of my weekly hockey games. I’ll run in Springbank Park in my old woolen Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead - for fun and fitness, eh.

Sorry, I digress.

On the other hand, governments in Canada and the USA are more spenders than savers.

Though I’m tickled pink to be a Canadian citizen, I fret a bit about our growing debt. If I don’t, who will?

I’m beginning to fret more, however, about (read Pt 3 for context) the growing national debt in the US, the country to the south that can, when it sneezes, quite easily knock us off our collective chairs and onto our comfortable behinds.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or someone whose body is suffering from the stubborn pull of gravity or yesterday's hockey game to notice the US debt is climbing toward the sky and into record territory with each passing year.

[Click on the chart above to increase its size, as if by magic: GH]

In recent memory, only Pres. Bill Clinton came close to a balanced budget during his term, i.e., with a financial plan that added a mere $18 billion to the national debt in 2000. (Maybe a booming economy helped. Will we ever see those years again?)

Before him, Pres. Jimmy Carter (another Democrat, by the way) came in with a budget in 1979 that added only $56 billion to the debt.

Every other budget in the past 35 years has increased the nation’s debt significantly.

More information about the US debt for the last 10 years follows:

Debt for the year ending Dec. 1999 - $5.776 TRILLION

2000 - $5.662 (debt fluctuates daily; a week later - $5.722)

2001 - $5.943
2002 - $6.405
2003 - $6.997
2004 - $7.596
2005 - $8.170
2006 - $8.680
2007 - $9.229
2008 - $10.699
2009 - $12.311
2010 - $13.440 (as of Sept. 14; link to Debt to the Penny)

Is it growing fast enough for you? If those figures don’t motivate us to get small before we get low, I don’t know what will.

Whereas debt used to grow yearly by the billions of dollars, now it grows by the trillions.

Though the US population is 10 times greater than Canada’s, the US debt is 20 times greater.

In 10 years, the debt could stand well over $25 trillion.

This is not cheery news. If the US debt is in the process of weakening national stability, there will likely be hell to pay in the near future.

I recommend you find a mayo jar, reduce spending, pay down debt and save for the tough times ahead.

Please click here to read My New Economic Plan Pt 5.


Unmanageable debt can lead to problems.

I wonder what some of those problems might be?


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My New Economic Plan Pt 3: Get small before you get low

So many reasons. So little time.

If we get small (or reduce our footprint or lifestyle or level of consumption) before we get low (or kick the proverbial galvanized metal bucket) then those alive today will have a better chance of enjoying some of what the world offers without so much strain (or mental, emotional, financial, physical stress).

(I’ve been told galvanized metal is the way to go, as far as rain gutters, bicycle fenders and buckets are concerned, eh).

Oh, and future generations would find their lives a bit easier too. Let’s not forget them while we’re trying to make our way in this world.

(Please read My New Economic Plan Pt 1 for some context).

If concerns about a double scoop recession in the US, Canada’s dependence upon the US economy, a slow down in the economies of the G7 nations (including Canada and the US) and the price paid for John Lennon’s toilet seat aren’t motivation enough to get small, then a wee peak at American budget deficits and US national debt might get you there.

(Please read My New Economic Plan Pt 2 for even more context).

["Debt is growing. Will it soon surpass GDP? It has in other countries"]

For example, US debt as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was very high in the 1940s, but declined - likely due to many productive years and somewhat controlled spending and taxation practices - until the Reagan-Bush era.

Reagan- and Bush-onomics and other factors (higher military spending?) led to growing annual budget deficits (money going out exceeded money coming in yearly) and the overall national debt rose steeply compared to the value of domestic production.

["Bill got close to having one balanced budget"]

Pres. Bill Clinton worked hard to lower annual budget deficits from 1993 - 2000 (and reduce US debt as a percent of GDP) but the training wheels again came off under Bush 2. And Obama’s attempts to stimulate the American economy (among other things) has led to another sharp spike in debt compared to GDP.

According to one graph - found at - as of Aug. 15, 2010, US debt stood at almost 91% of GDP. Total debt is almost as high as domestic production. It’s unsustainable, for certain.

Total debt - now at $13.5 trillion - is going through the roof, so to speak. According to the red bar graph, national debt has doubled in the last seven years, i.e. from 2003 to 2010.

["Growing debt should concern us all"]

Should we be concerned about the debt’s rapid growth?

Should we be concerned that, according to the red bar graph, there has only been one year since 1940 that the debt actually went down?

Enough to get small before we get low?

Please click here to read My New Economic Plan Pt 4.


Good things happened in 1947. The US paid down part of its debt.

However, since 1948 it has only gone skyward.

Has 62 years of over-spending affected our view of how the world should work?

E.g., are our material expectations realistic?

I was born in 1949 (baby, I was there, eh!), so I have a few opinions.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Zoom w a View: It’s the Kiwi in me

My mother dug into our family history and discovered that the blood flowing through our veins came from here, there and everywhere.

Though our blood is chiefly Scottish and English, it also contains links to Spain, which maybe explains why I’m so swarthy.

I think I’m related in some way to a New Zealander as well, because every time I see a lovely boat I think, I don’t ever want a cottage. Instead, I want a boat. I would dock it somewhere close to home and turn it into my ‘weekender.’

Years ago, while pursuing information about Shania Twain’s purchase of sheep stations in NZ (I was opposed, so spoke to the owner of the station Shania was about to buy), a Kiwi told me that every islander has a simple dream, and that is to own a wee bit of land (they have a name for it and I can’t recall it now) or a wee spot on which to park their tired behinds after a long work week.

["This could one day be my weekender": photo Jim or Lannie]

His words struck a chord in me, I felt we might be related, and knowing now I’ll never be able to afford a cottage without the help of Lotto 649, I keep my eye open for cheap boats of a certain size that are being discarded because the motors are shot.

I wouldn’t mind fixing up an old relic. I can do custom windows after all.

My sister saw the one above in PEI. I told her to buy it for me. I’m awaiting her reply.


If she swings the deal I’ll just pay her back later.

Come on Lotto 649!

Come to Papa.


In the Workshop: The last of the five-plexes

A recent batch of 5 five-plexes - with two feeding surfaces on each - took a long time to build compared to other models but the experience was rewarding.

If stained, rescued barn board showed up at my door once per year, for free, I’d be a happy man.

(Okay, I'm already a happy man. So, I guess I'd be happier).

["It seems that birds can spot seeds a mile away": photos GH]

I like adding trim to make the windows more interesting or appealing.

Yes, that’s right. I can now add ‘custom window maker’ to my resume.


To take a break from large projects, I started a batch (6) of small birdhouses yesterday in the shop. (So, I have two new piles of cut stock to deal with this week).

The place smells like red cedar again.

I love it.

(Count on it. More pictures to follow).


The long road back (Pt 2) to long-distance running

I know how earn at least 100 points per week and meet my fun and fitness goals at the same time.

For example, two weeks ago I rode my exercise bike 85 miles (without even leaving the basement), played hockey (what a blast) and completed two runs (aka shuffles) and compiled 110 miles or total points.

And last week I combined riding, hockey (incl. scoring a nifty goal on a really good goalie) and running to earn 106 points.

["Anything over 100 pts. is gravy": photo GH]

I know how to keep track of my extra points over 100 as well. Yeah, I just add them up and keep a running total (I call it gravy) and over the last two years I’ve accumulated 184.5 gravy mi./pts., so I can take a day off here and there if I really want.

But I can’t always control my weekly schedule. And I missed a run last week.

Stuff comes up. People drop by. I get busy or sleepy or distracted or all three at the same time.

So, I’ve got to complete an extra run this week. I did 6 miles on Saturday so maybe I’ll follow the same route this afternoon after I spend a couple of hours in the workshop.

["I've been running a long time. The Swede can't fool me"]

Three runs in one week will give me confidence regarding my bet with The Swede.

Don’t tell him I’m doing pretty well at this stage in the long, long game.


And, to The Swede: Though I recently heard you’re not training and have put on a little weight, I feel you may be spreading misinformation and hiding in the bushes - getting ready to strike.

Yup, I’m onto you.


My New Economic Plan Pt 2: Get small before you get low

We should get small before we get low, especially if we live in SW Ontario. You know, like in Deforest City.


How about this for one reason:

Southwestern Ontario is more exposed to the US economy than any other place in the county . . . I don’t think we will get the unemployment rate down much in the next few months,” said Douglas Porter recently, deputy chief economist with BMO Capital Markets (Sept. 11, The London Free Press)

How about this for another:

A double recession could easily occur in the US, and Canada is tied to that elephant’s hip.

“Despite some signs of recovery this spring, the US - with 9.5% unemployment - has made up few of the 8 million jobs it lost in the last recession, despite massive government spending to stimulate the economy. Home foreclosures in the US are also again reaching record highs, jobless claims are rising and core retail sales are falling - factors some believe are harbingers of another recession...” (Aug. 14, London Free Press)

How about this:

“The economies of the G7 industrialized nations (i.e., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States) are slowing faster than previously forecast... The biggest threat may be the slowdown in private consumption because of weak housing market, high unemployment and households continuing to put their finances back in order.” (Sept. 10, London Free Press)

And finally:

A toilet seat belonging to late Beatle John Lennon recently fetched $14,740 at an auction.

[Graph at]

Though the selling price was about 10 times original estimates, I think it would have fetched a lot more had our economies been healthier.

But maybe that’s just me.

At any rate, I believe now is the time to get small, reduce every aspect of your lifestyle in some way, reduce debt and save money for tough times ahead.

Forget the fact that another round of worries about growing personal debt is about to hit the airwaves near you. There is a bigger problem afoot.

And that problem is the American national debt, now about to surpass $13.5 trillion for the first time in the history of the universe.

How much is $13.5 trillion and what does that mean to anyone within the sound of my keyboard?

Please click here to read My New Economic Plan Pt 3.


See Get Low at the movies. Plan your own funeral party.

$13.5 trillion is getting close to the US GDP. Debt almost equals earnings.


I’ll find out.


Monday, September 13, 2010

My New Economic Plan Pt 1: Get small before you get low

First, a wee diversionary tactic.

Have you seen Get Low at the movies? You should.

It’s a new flick starring Robert Duvall, Sissie Spacek and a wry, lovable Bill Murray that spins a good, inspirational yarn.

I say inspirational because the movie is “spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party... while he was still alive” (so says the The Internet Movie Database) and I came away thinking we should all throw our own party before we get low, i.e., go underground.

[Link to image source]

But before we throw our party we should get small and live according to a new economic plan... so we can actually afford the party!

Yes, times are tough but they’re likely to get tougher.

According to a recent report, “August was a tough month for London area job-seekers with unemployment nudging up to 8.3%...” (Sept. 11, The London Free Press)

The unemployment rate was up in 4 other provinces as well (down in 3) as Canada’s jobless rate rose from 8% to 8.1% overall.

“Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist with BMO Capital Markets said Ontario’s industrial heartland is being hit by the most recent slowdown in the American economy.”

That should come as no surprise, really. In an earlier post I mentioned that Ontario’s economic growth is 80.8% reliant on US growth. When the US rolls over we get flattened.

News like the following, i.e., “Canada’s trade deficit (i.e., we imported a lot more than we exported) soared due to a slowdown in exports to the United States,” may soon become the norm because the US is in for a long , hard struggle.

It’s not just lower exports to the US we have to worry about here in Deforest City (or Ontario or Canada).

Please click here to read My New Economic Plan Pt 2.


We’ve heard or read about lower exports to the US.

We’ve heard about a possible double recession.

Tomorrow - another reason to get small before you get low.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Deforest City Blues: Joe Fontana says he can do it all in one term


Why would a mayoral candidate say that? I.e., something like ‘I can do all I want to do for Londoners in just four years.’

What is he? A magician?

Maybe he can bring taxes under control in four years and everyone (who likes that sort of platform) will be as contented as a Cheshire cat asleep in a bowl of warm butter.

I say, good luck with that.

Maybe he said something like ‘one term and I’m outta Dodge’ because it was the only way to get Cheryl Miller to be his campaign manager.

According to yesterday’s issue of The London Free Press, Ms. Miller said his one-term vow is the only reason she’s agreed to help him run.

She said, and I quote, “The thing that’s good about it is, you see a beginning and you see an end. People think being in government for a long time is good. I don’t.”

In other words, seeing the beginning of Joe and then his end in four years is a good thing?

["Is Joe as smart as a Smart meter?": photo GH]

Some people might think that Joe and Cheryl place little value in continuity. I think that if every city politician followed the same philosophy (“Four years and I'm gone. See ya!”) Deforest City would suffer from some lack of consistency and flow. So many citizens would never know who to call anymore when their garbage can is left in the middle of the street. (And trust me, it will be left in the middle of the street for some of you sometime this afternoon. Go check right now!)

Continuity, people. We need continuity.

In my opinion, seeing the end of a person’s career might very well be better after 8 years or 12 or 16.

And guess who would know when they want to see the end of Joe or Bob or Duke or Anne Marie or Carol better than a campaign manager? You got it - the voters.

Because Joe and Cheryl’s ‘one term and I’m outta Dodge - philosophy’ seems to smell of lack of continuity and commitment to the good cause of governing Deforest City, I will be placing my vote for mayor elsewhere.



To the other candidates for mayor.

As you can see, I respond well to continuity and commitment.

I also respond well to chocolate-covered Oreos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

That’s just an FYI.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

In The Workshop: How many birdhouses does it take to...

...Fill a workshop?

I’m thinking about 2,500 in my case.

But then I’d have no place to work.

As many of you know, I build a lot of bird houses out of rescued lumber and the hobby keeps me pretty busy at times.

How many have I built?

I have no idea.

["Two of six Rietveld chairs - 33.33% - are around the fire pit."]

I met a man in August who showed me the 2,309th birdhouse of his short career and I’m nowhere near that many.

["5 of 6 birdhouses - 83.33% - still need to be sanded."]

Now, I have pictures of most of my creations stored on my computer, so I could find out if someone from National Geographic came knocking. It would maybe take two hours of my precious time, but if I was the headliner or on the front cover then I’m sure it would be worth my while.

(For the cover, I’d smile sweetly and put on a clean shirt. I wouldn’t want to be seen in the shed clothes I have on right now - unless I was just heading over to the corner of Coffee and Hardware for a refill and a bag of nails).

["This birdhouse is 100% ready for 7 pieces of trim.": photos GH]

For now, however, I won’t keep close track. I don’t want to turn into some kind of statistician.

I’m mean, since I started keeping records in 1985, I’ve learned that 19 out of 20 of my closest relatives are just like that already.


It Strikes Me Funny: Do wind turbines attract many tourists?

Shortly after my second column about wind turbines hit the street I received the following positive email (to add to my vast collection of positive emails that are kept in a well-organized file entitled ‘brilliant response as far as I’m concerned’):


Thank you for setting the record straight on the alternate energy
issue in this province.

I studied wind turbines in Denmark in 1999 and installed turbines (177) in the Gaspe area as well as in Costa Rica (39) and I always found them to be beautiful as opposed to the alternate.

["My most recent photo of a turbine; Aug. 29, west of Pt. Burwell"; photo GH]

What I learned about turbines is that they are not dangerous at all to humans and birds.

Anyone travelling in Europe and around the world will tell you that they are very nice to look at, and in Gaspe they have become a tourist attraction...

Best regards, Maurice F.

And best regards to you too, Maurice.

Next time I travel to Halifax I’ll take the Gaspe route.

I’ll count heads and determine if there are more tourists than turbines.


Have you seen the Gaspe turbines?

Any micro brasseries in the region?

Et ‘Ouvert?’


It Strikes Me Funny: Is wind energy a sham?

Not in my opinion.

Not even after scanning the article that a local reader suggested I read.

MT wrote:

Hi Gord,

With reference to your article on wind energy, please have a look at this article which conveys a clearer view on the industry and the sham related to it.

Regards, MT

Sure, burning coal is cheap in some ways. Building coal-fired energy plants may be cheaper than building turbines and turbine-building plants.

["What are the costs related to smog?"]

However, many costs related to coal are not up front. The costs to the healthcare system and to society in general for burning coal and producing foul air cannot be easily tabulated. It’s easier to sweep "associated costs" under the carpet.

["What are the costs related to climate change?"]

But most turbine costs are up front. We can learn how much one costs, how much power it generates and how long it will take to pay it off before it produces hydro without a mortgage attached.

In Ontario, we know that in the future we’ll have a part to play in building our own turbines (a sustainable industry of sorts) and selling clean renewable energy back to ourselves. No coughing or hacking or respiratory illnesses will be involved.


Does coal sound like a good investment to you?

I’d rather get small (conserve) than get low (go under ground).