November 27, 2008


As a keen, although amateur, observer of the human condition, I approach my self appointed status from two directions. When I notice something different about people around me (this can take an inordinate amount of time occasionally), I analyse it a bit and then wonder and test to see if this change applies to me. It could be physical, spiritual, attitudinal, age-related or any number of other alterations on any sort of level but primarily I spend some time in observation. The observation runs in two directions - towards the other person or people (it could be people or groups that I know personally or complete strangers) and then I begin to take a measure of myself to see if I exhibit these same changes or behaviours. An easy example might be erratic driving - I look to see if it has something to do with road conditions, driver age, time of day, full moon - basically I look to find common denominators and then look to see if I am a member of the group or not.

The other side of observing the human condition begins with myself. I may notice something different (eventually) and then look around to see if the same change is apparent in other people. I may be wrong but I often make the assumption that I am not that different from everyone else and if I am experiencing some sort of change then I assume that others are, or will, too. This one, I'm not sure about.

I've begun noticing since I passed the age-60 pole (could potentially be a clue), that I don't enjoy or practice certain physical habits that I used to be faithful to. Up until recently, I really enjoyed all of those small physical challenges during the day like reaching to get something or bending down to pick something up, heavy lifting, turning, twisting - anything that allowed me to feel a muscle stretch or increase the workload of my body. It always felt good to push myself a little beyond the comfort level. Gardening, golf, hanging Xmas lights, picking up grocery bags and holding them aloft, heck even vacuuming and laundry offered an excuse to flex and push myself. Now let's keep in mind that none of these little challenges resulted in any sort of terrifically athletic manoeuvres but they did allow me to stay in tone while maintaining the pear shape I have come to enjoy.

While sitting in a chair and bending to put my socks on this morning, it dawned on me that I have settled into a mindset of avoiding the stretch or the resistance of normal everyday activities for the past few months. It really is a state of mind rather than a physical limitation but the physical limitations are appearing a little too rapidly for my liking. I'm tempted to consult with Elvira, Queen of the Nazi Fitness Camp with whom I enjoyed such success prior to learning to surf last spring. However that would be just plain embarrassing at this point. The treadmill that I stare at every evening in the basement could perhaps be employed as something other than an electronic clothes hanger - my embarrassment would be private, at least. The excesses of Christmas including dinner parties, libations, fudge and other bon bons is upon us and I could talk myself into waiting until the New Year but will my human condition wait that long or do I need to stop observing and begin moving my ***!

November 24, 2008


"he's making a list and checking it twice"

While our American friends are thinking about turkey day and Thanksgiving, here in the great white north, the retail sector has convinced us that we need to make all of those gift purchases before they run out of inventory. Ah yes, Christmas - putting up outdoor lights, buying more extension cords, bringing home poinsettias and hoping they don't freeze on the way to the car, wondering about real tree or artificial, should we switch to LED lighting inside and out, company Christmas parties, dinners with friends, who, what and where for Christmas dinner and then the biggest question of them all - to make a list, ask for a list or go without a safety net.
I seem to be surrounded by people who like Christmas gift lists, who keep asking what I want for Christmas and offering a list of what they would like in exchange. I don't get it! For me, I think the spirit of the season is in the search to find something for our loved ones that has real meaning. I totally dislike the idea of giving a gift to someone that comes from the "I need" list. If you need it - buy it yourself! I think a gift should be something you don't need but maybe want, or don't even know you want, instead. I think the giver should spend some time thinking about what would be meaningful, surprising, uplifting, heartfelt and reflective of the relationship that exists between the giver and receiver. I get a bit of a kick out of those people who bleat on and on about the true meaning of Christmas and then revert to a list to find the perfect gift. Huh???? How does that work?
Personally, I would rather have one small gift that the giver has spent some time considering and searching for (regardless of price) than a new shirt or even worse, gift card. If that's the best people can do, then just offer a card or note - that would be more meaningful. At least you would have spent a few minutes contemplating what to say.
So, I assume I'll be getting Christmas cards with a nice note this year. Works for me!

November 17, 2008


tough assignment

A close family friend over the past 20+ years is in the business of changing lives through personal coaching, transformative group programs and inspirational seminars. One of the most powerful things she does is the "one word" exercise. She does this in two different ways. When she reaches a crossroads with her group, she will gather everyone together for a moment of introspection in which each person is asked to share with the others "one word" that describes how they personally feel in that moment. This process is incredibly insightful and enlightening as the full gamut of emotion and feeling is usually expressed, thus demonstrating how people react differently to the same set of circumstances. More importantly, the participants have to reach down deep inside themselves and discover the overriding feeling that seems to be in control of their thoughts at that precise moment. Words like fear, anger, love, heaviness, lightness, joy and trust are very common. Obviously, there is no right and wrong as each person reveals themselves but the process is incredibly life affirming as each person participates and listens to their fellow travellers.

The other occasion when she uses the "one word" technique occurs when one of the group participants is experiencing an overwhelming sense of emotion, usually negative and self deprecating and often the result of facing up to some perceived sense of failure in their lives. It is so much harder to see the truth for ourselves, but normally we are all able to see the truth for others and this is put to good use when the other group participants look directly at the subject who is in pain and with the power of "one word" offer strength, support, love and empowerment as they describe the truth about the person in front of them. The person on the receiving end of this very emotional exercise is often transformed in front of the group's eyes as participant after participant, word after word, builds, each on the other, into an incredible, life altering experience of pure joy and love. The pressure on each person in the group is minimal as they search for that right "one word" in the knowing that the words that they don't speak, will be offered by someone else. They are only responsible for finding, in their heart, the "one word" that they see at this particular moment and there is no pressure or fear of missing a better descriptive or a more insightful comment. The group dynamic gives each participant the confidence and safety of knowing that the subject of this exercise will feel the overwhelming totality of every one's words rather than analysing each one individually to search for meaning or for what wasn't said.

The other day I received a request from a friend, via email, that is similar in intent to the exercise described above but without the group dynamic, since it is sent to a number of individuals who will presumably, reply singly and without hearing the input of anyone else. This is a tough request as rarely does anyone get described in "one word." They are always a combination of skills, traits, tendencies, qualities, weaknesses, strengths and habits along with a bewildering array of conflicting adjectives, nouns and verbs that eventually add up to the whole person. On the receiving end of this blizzard of verbiage, I hope that the person will get a true picture of their entire wonderful self and read words like intelligent, humourous, beautiful, spiritual, caring, loving, loyal, insightful, graceful, hardworking, interesting, well spoken, articulate, creative, inspirational, charitable, forgiving and courageous. For the senders, to offer but "one word" in isolation, opens them to being entirely too one-dimensional and to a degree of criticism and analysis, along with the probability of second-guessing about what they didn't say, that might detract from their wanting to fill a page with words of encouragement and carefully considered awe of the subject. Anyway, I'm not very often at a loss for words but, in this case, I'm at a loss for one word that could adequately communicate the essence of being for an individual of infinite and impeccable spirit.

November 13, 2008


reprinted fromDylan Jovine

What This Year's Holiday Party Can Teach You About Market Bubbles

In my 20s I used to live for them. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night my friends and I would go club hopping in the City just looking to capture that moment. The one moment that defined all great parties for me:The exact moment in time when the right girl, the right drink and the right song come together not just for you - but for the entire room. The crowd goes wild.
The lifelong study of the psychology of crowds has been a large part of my professional career as an investor. I've always been fascinated by the "ingredients" it takes to affect the way a group of people in a certain setting perceive events.What I've discovered is that the three key "ingredients" for a great party in my 20s - the Disc Jockey, alcohol and social acceptance - are the same that have been used to create bubbles in all financial markets throughout history. The only difference is that in a market bubble people don't have to be in the same room together physically to have their perceptions manipulated. They just have to be in the same room together mentally.Here's how it works:Perception Altering Ingredient #1: The Disc Jockey. The "Disc Jockey" of the 1929 crash was the mass media at the time: radio and newspapers. The "soundtrack" they were playing is the same one played through all bull markets in history: Get Rich Quick.Now I'm not saying that it's the media's fault alone. Although many newspaper writers were literally on Wall Street's pump-and-dump payroll, the media tends to reflect the desires of the culture. Like any good DJ, the media plays the songs that people get up and dance to.Indeed, one of the most popular songs of the year was "Blue Skies Are Here to Stay," a song that reflected America's belief that prosperity had become permanent. My personal favorite hit that year was "I'm in the Market for You":

I'll have to see my broker
Find out what he can do.
'Cause I'm in the market for you.
There won't be any joker,
With margin I'm all through.
'Cause I want you outright it's true.
You're going up, up ,up in my estimation.
I want a thousand shares of your caresses too.
We'll count the hugs and kisses,
When dividends are due,
'Cause I'm in the market for you

Perception Altering Ingredient #2: Alcohol. The "alcohol" of all financial bubbles is, has always been and will always be easy money. Like alcohol, easy money is very intoxicating. The more of it you have, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more of it you want to get.Richard Pryor once said that doing a line of cocaine made him feel like a new man. And the first thing that new man wanted to do was another line of cocaine.I view easy money the same way. Since it's difficult to earn money under normal circumstances, when easy money starts coming into your wallet the very first thing you want to do is get more of it.Just like alcohol, the more easy money you make, the more your perception becomes altered. Instead of stopping after you "get a good buzz," you begin to get that invincible feeling that you've got everything under control.
And like all Greek Tragedies, hubris is often a big killer.Like "I work hard for the money I make - I deserve this new car." Or "We'll pay back the billion dollars we borrow from the bank to take this firm private before you know it." Or "Goldman Sachs (GS) isn't that special. If they could make a gazillion trading their own accounts so can we at Merrill Lynch (MER)."And that ties in to...Perception Altering Ingredient #3: Social Acceptance. In my 20s, it was the youthful, silly and completely normal goal of meeting the perfect girl for the perfect night. Looking back now, that form of social acceptance seems almost silly.
But how does it play out as we get older?I would argue that the pressures of social acceptance are as intense for a 50-year old couple with 2 kids as they are for teenage girls. Much of how we perceive ourselves is based on how we think people perceive us.And that's just human nature. It always feels good to drive a new expensive car in part because it conveys what in any society is a powerful message - the ability to acquire resources. And those who are best at acquiring resources are usually those who have the most power to determine the "pecking order" of their social group, whether it be in choosing "mates" or "friends."The trap that most people fall into is that whether they know it or not they "compete" with those in their "peer group" whom they perceive to be most "successful" at acquiring resources. Not only do they compete with them but they actually determine their own worth by judging themselves in relation to them.Teenage girls want to be skinny because Britney Spears is skinny. Men want to work out because Brad Pitt looks great with his shirt off. My wife and I want a bigger house because our son spends his afternoons playing at the Jones' house and they have a pool, etc.And in an easy money environment, the competition becomes far more intense as many of our peers begin to acquire excess resources in a much more accelerated fashion than normal.As with all financial bubbles, the greater the bubble, the easier cheap money becomes available. And the easier it is to get cheap money the faster it is for our peers to acquire resources. And the faster it is for our peers to acquire resources, the more intense the competition for resources becomes and so on.We all fall victim to it in different ways. The key is to know when the ingredients are at play and to avoid the perception traps the accompany groupthink.

Dylan Jovine
Chief Investment Officer
go to The Tycoon Report for more

November 12, 2008


the movie and the battle

We spent yesterday afternoon at the movie which was very appropriate considering it was Remembrance Day in Canada and Veteran's Day in the U.S. Paaschendaele is a village in Belgium that was the scene of one of the many bloody battles of the First World War. The Canadian troops eventually managed to take the village (or what was left of it) after losing 16.000 men and after the troops of two other allied countries failed in their efforts.

The movie of the same name combines the battle with a story of love that is based on the true life of the grandfather of the movie's writer, director and producer, Paul Gross. Inspiring, poignant and incredibly appropriate as our thoughts turn to the young men and women that have once again been sent in ' harms way.' It is a time to remember, to be grateful and to point out the sacrifices required to enjoy the life we have. Thank you to Paul Gross for a movie that does all of that.

November 5, 2008

OBAMA-mama-bomama, be my momama

sometimes I can't help myself

According to CNN last night, virtually everyone will remember where they were when Obama made his acceptance speech after his convincing Presidential election victory. Hmmmm, methinks thou dost pronounce too much. After a few years of being a political junky and seeing more elections than I would care to reveal, one thing I know is that you can't decide beforehand on the importance or relevance of an election result. There is usually some euphoria and just plain relief immediately following, which often includes a fair amount of hyperbole, which was in great evidence on the American networks last night as reporter after reporter fawned over the new President-elect. That's all well and good but history will judge the importance of the 2008 election and no crystal ball can predict the events ahead of us except to say that we are in very challenging times - world-wide. Something else we can say with certainty is that expectations placed on one man's shoulders have never been higher or heavier.
The race issue aside - and it's hard to fault black America for its current wave of emotion and sense of pride - events have a way of creating the success or failure of U.S. presidents rather than the other way around. Being head of the most powerful nation on earth is a little like being an ocean liner in a bathtub - impossible not to notice it but almost impossible to turn it. Let's hope that our neighbour can get beyond its preponderence for "playing" politics and actually move into an era of "doing what's right" because it is the right thing to do. They (and we) have little time for blame, nitpicking and apple polishing - get it right - get it done and then we will worry about whether or not this is some sort of shining moment that we will remember forever.
Good luck to us all.