Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Going to church?

I'm not a big religious person but I will appear in church a handful of times a year. It's good to live in a peaceful tolerant country where folks can go to a church of their choice or choose to not be religious.

It's not like that everywhere. In Nigeria Muslim youths burned down a Catholic church while the people were inside - nice. The Catholics stood up for themselves afterwards and it was bloody. It's good for now to be in this country where you can go to your own church and not be hassled when you're there.

Although I sometimes think of Lebanon where the Christians were generally driven out. Many Lebanese Catholics who were the merchant class of that once wealthy and beautiful country landed in Canada. The "Lebs" in my opinion have done well here. Many are self employed and some are wealthy. In a sense they were lucky perhaps because they were more "desirable" as immigrants/refugees; and they were just "first" historically they were able to just leave the land to Islam while the African Christians have to stand and fight. I wonder where the "next Lebanon" might be in the next 20-100 years. France, Canada, Britain? Let's hope not, but we must be vigilant and do more than just "hope" for the best for our way of life. France seems to understand this and has been taking some steps to recognize the situation and deal with it.

Nova Scotia public employee pensions are insolvent

Finally someone told the truth about Nova Scotia public sector pensions. It was Bill Black and good for the Chronicle Herald to publish it. The truth is that the Nova Scotia public employees pensions are bankrupt! They will not be able to make good the promises they made of future payments to both present and future retirees.

The situation is grim. There is over a $3 billion shortfall between what has been promised to the public sector employees and the amount of money they will actually have to write cheques with. This is even worse when you consider the teachers have already been greased with over $1 billion extra from the taxpayer within the last 10 years to cover an earlier shortfall in their pension scheme.

So what does this mean? First of all there is absolutely no way no how the Nova Scotia taxpayers will come up with this $3 billion. The province is already running an insurmountable defecit of over $1 million a day. It will take drastic measures just to close that gap. The money does not exist and will not exist for the taxpayers to cover the public sector pension shortfall.

The reality is is quite obvious for anyone who cares to spend even a moment looking at it or thinking about it. Although until now it was taboo to talk about it. The truth is that the government is going to renege on the pensions promised to the public sector employees. There's no way around it. There are/will be too many people collecting pension benefits; they are retiring too early; living too long after retirement; the payments are too high. The plans are insolvent and will run out of money. The taxpayers and future working public employees paying in will not be willing or able to come up with staggering increases in deductions to make these payments.

So there will be shared pain. Some of it will be on the taxpayers, taxes will have to increase at least somewhat to fund these pension payments. Some of it will be on the retirees. They will not get everything they were promised. They will have to accept I'd guess somewhere between 50-80% of what they may have been told they would get [better that than getting 100% for a few years then 0% after the cheques start bouncing!]

I don't really feel bad for the public employees who will get "stiffed". They were living in a fool's paradise agreeing to promises from known irresponsible governments such as John Buchanan of generous pension schemes in exchange for labour peace during election campaigns. The union leadership was party to this fraud of agreeing to promises of future payments which a competent actuary would have told them the future governments would never be able to make good. The amounts taken off their paycheques at the time did not reflect what would be needed to fund their promised level of future benefits and everyone who wanted to knew it. Yet the union leaders chose to not insist on a solvent and properly funded pension plan.

The alternative would have been a properly funded and much more modest pension scheme back in the 70s and 80s along with a significantly smaller civil service. I assert that at some level everyone knew all along that there would be at least a partial reneging on these public sector pension promises.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bought some football cards

I've switched over to getting my football cards sorted out. Baseball was about as far as it can go for now.

The football cards are pretty straightforward. I wanted to finally finish the 1981 Topps NFL set. Plus there were a few loose cards around and some later sets and subsets I just wanted to list and unload.

For the 1981 Topps NFL there was a good selection on sportlots. There were listings for all of the cards in the set. Prices were buyer friendly and I was able to get the remaining 20 cards or so from three different sellers. So now I've finished that set after all these years. I'd bought the cards at Wilkie's when they first came out. It's great to have this finally done.

Football card pricing is fractal. The top 10 cards in the 1981 Topps NFL set are worth about as much as the rest of the set combined. And the Joe Montana rookie card is worth as much as the rest of the top 10 combined. Luckily I had the Montana rookie card from way back and I wasn't faced with being short a card that sells for a minimum of around $100.

With baseball there were various loose cards I listed on sportlots. There are a couple of o pee chee sales a month coming in so there is some buyer interest. I'd like to get a line on a bulk purchase of unskimmed o pee chee baseball cards from 1965-1983 in the range of 5-10 cents each.

That's about it for now for sports cards. Football and baseball are now done. It was a bigger project than I realized but I'm glad to get it this far.

The next project is hockey cards. That's a big project, with more cards across more sets than football and baseball. But I'm going to take a break from it for a few months before I begin hockey. I'm going to do some other projects first.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rink fries and gravy

Last night I was at my older son's hockey game. The game was at 6 PM. I was a bit hungry when I got there. So I treated myself to some fries and gravy at the rink. It's always tasty and it was good last night. If you're at the arena then fries and gravy at the canteen is always a good pick.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

end of gas discounts in Nova Scotia

It appears the NDP government has a new scheme to screw over the driving public. They are planning to prohibit gas station discounts. see article

Well that sucks. For anyone who drives at all these discounts of 2% to around 5% make a material difference in your budget. Easily up to several hundred dollars a year [think taxi drivers, two vehicle families, etc]. Right now I get 2 cents a litre with Ultramar valumax card plas an extra 2% cash back by using the ultramar national bank mastercard to purchase.

We're already getting killed on the price of gas, and now the government wants to take away the little relief we can get. And lol at the Orwellian doublespeak in the article of "Well, I can give comfort to Nova Scotians that ... we make a very good decision ... for consumers". Riiight, now it's for our own good to outlaw the discounts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Great Train Robbery

I just read another book. It was The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton.

It was a good book. A fast and easy read. It took about a week to read. Set in the 1850s in Victorian London. Based on the actual train robbery and the subsequent trial. Crichton tells a vivid story of crime within a very class conscious society.

It turns out this was later made into a movie. I didn't know that until after I'd read it. No surprise there; it would make a good movie script. I may watch the movie some time if I think about it. It was good to switch to an easier read after the previous book which was a bit heavy. Not quite sure what I'll read next. Maybe another light book or some nonfiction. I do enjoy a well written Chricton style techno thriller.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Is Canada the new Argentina?

Some troubling news on the web today. Canada is now issuing debt denominated in euros. Also earlier this year Canada borrowed money that must be paid back in US dollars.

This is terrible news. When a country starts issuing its debt in the currency of other nations it is basically screwed. This is what led Argentina and Weimar Germany to ruin.

It doesn't really surprise me though. I remarked on this earlier around Harper's visit to China. I am very concerned about Canada's ability for the federal government and the provinces to find lenders willing to lend us the money to finance the staggering federal and provincial defecits. Now the picture becomes a bit clearer. Foreign creditors are insisting on being paid back in their own currency.

There are so many problems with foreign denominated debt. The biggest of course is that we can't control future exchange rates. Today the CDN dollar is presently high. When it drops in the future the costs of making payments in US $ and euros will skyrocket; even though the principal is the same. This is the same disaster as the Halifax Mackay bridge fiasco which was financed in German marks. Now that disaster may play out on the entire nation.

Another big problem with foreign denominated debt is that the government in a pinch cannot just monetize it. For example if I am holding a Canada savings bond that matures in say 5 years. On that day the government could if it had to make good the amount by just printing the money and giving it to me hot off the printing press. That would be bad for the nation as a whole but at least we would be able to control our own fate. We can't print foreign currency.

Speaking of defecits today it came out that the Nova Scotia provincial government is presently running a defecit of around $1.5 million a day. Against this backdrop we are facing two major civil service strikes [health and education] next week. Great timing there government unions; way to help out your NDP friends now in power.

The insanity of a sovereign borrowing in other nations currency must end. It would be better just to bite the bullet and limit government borrowing to what we can raise in Canadian dollars. Cap the defecit at that amount; or print the difference and deal with the consequences. Foreign denominated national debt may be the greatest threat to the Canadian way of life as we know it.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

read Poincaré's Prize

I read a book recently. It was Poincaré's Prize by George G. Szpiro.

The book is the history of the famous Poincaré Conjecture. The conjecture is from a branch of math called topology; a notoriously difficult subject. [Like most people I just can't really think in 4 dimensions; and forget about anything higher] The proof from Hamilton and Perelman ended up using differential equations which was an interesting way to finally get there after nearly a century that the problem had been outstanding. The people who cracked it are first class minds of our generation.

It was a good book. Szpiro took on the daunting task of presenting the history of the conjecture and the eventual proof in an accessible way to the interested layman reader. Szpiro worked hard and was mostly successful but this is a difficult subject to present to a nonexpert audience. It was a good read, challenging but not impossible to get through.

I've often regretted not focusing more on math back in university. I could have, but didn't get a proper math education and I missed standard undergrad courses I should have taken including real analysis, complex analysis, group theory, set theory, probability, game theory, statistics, linear algebra II, applied math, abstract algebra. If I became suddenly wealthy I think one of my top priorities would be to go back to class and take most or all of those courses.