Cutting Through the Maze of Investments

It's a difficult landscape for investment advisors - once upon a time known as stock brokers - to navigate through these days. Clients in general have come to regard IA's with some amount of distrust. In fact, some question the competence and relevance of an investment advisor out right. Too bad. A proven and responsible broker you can trust can help out enormously with your finances.

Is the criticism fair? Like anything else, the answer lies somewhere in the middle but more likely to be unfair. During the rise of the market up to 2001 there indeed existed brokers who did not apply their better judgment as the circle of greed got the better of everyone. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. There is no worse feeling than not feeling a part of something exciting. Especially when it translates to increased values on your statements - aka paper gains.

The media did a swell job of pointing out that a monkey could do a professional mutual find money managers job. Of course, this was a ridiculous claim but it got its point across.

While the media decided to scrutinize the industry further, things got a little out of hand when people were quitting their jobs to day trade or became 'financial planners' on the side. Engineers would present 'full proof' option calculations only to be blown to bits by the awesome unpredictable realities of the market. This is not like building a bridge. Human nature is not neatly structured. Call it the technology wave. Suddenly, the gap between being clueless about investments and being properly informed narrowed.

Word of advice. One simple way to determine if the person in front of you is qualified is if he or she works for a reputable firm and has the proper licensed credentials. Also, above all, if you like the person give them a shot. Accountants or insurance brokers moonlighting as consultants are not going to cut it. They may possess knowledge and a general understanding but they do not have the technical and fundamental expertise of an advisor. You will not convince me otherwise.

Too often, I have met clients who allowed such professionals to manage their money. Only to later find the portfolio poorly managed. Accountants are busy being, well, accountants and simply do not know the intricacies of the investment world.

So, how does one explain tactfully to such a client and prospective client that their affairs are not being properly managed? Simple. Be honest.

Unfortunately, investment advising is not a professional vocation and this leaves it open to any Tom, Dick, Harry, Moe, Curly and Larry taking a stab at it. "How hard can it be" and "I can do it myself" attitudes usually prevails. This is fine if you have the time but if you don't you will fail. One of the tangibles of having an outside advisor is the certain level of objectivity they bring to the table.

Society in general has come to accept a certain blurring of job lines and this has made things more confusing. In politics, we see it everyday - celebrities passing off as political pundits is a prime example.

A question posed to me from time to time is 'do I need a Financial Planner?' The answer is usually a definite no. Planning of this sort is for more complex portfolios with substantial assets - a rough rule of thumb is an amount above $500 000. If you have $100 000 and brag that you have a FP, don't. You're probably getting the same products and services found in a bank.

Too often the media feeds people with the notion that they need to be treated like they have $1 million dollars. That's nonsense. A million dollar account simply demands more attention for obvious reasons. Don't be fooled by investment advisors who promise you premium service at all cost. Unless they have the resources and team to back them up it isn't going to happen.

Most important, keep your eyes and ears open. Never turn down an opportunity to hear someone else's perspective. It's the best way to learn. And it may save or make you some money.


From Brooklyn to Montreal to Los Angeles and Back

As the Major League season, in high drama and excitement, draws to a close, a consideration materialized to this scriber about the blue ending of the Montreal Expos.

The color blue is indeed the lifeline of this club.

Gary Carter steps into the batters box.

Much conspired, not just in theory but in practice, against Montreal baseball fans. It is true, as close to the truth one may come or arrive at, that many of them had to contend with an indifferent city incapable of grasping the potential and subsequent loss of the perennial fiddler club and an American news media with infield dirt in its eyes.

Many of who had bestowed upon them a local Montreal media, not especially poetic in its grace these long days, which did its best to treat the Expos as if it were a disowned gay son.

Eventually and surely, matters began to sink into a banal cabal surreal plot. So we would dearly love to believe but may never know. The subconscious will have to rule this forever I'm afraid. Fingers, fat and skinny, young and old, black, yellow and white alike - colors do bleed into one when it comes time to asserting blame - were pointed furiously in various directions from the sky to the diamond. Even casual chicken-hawk fans, those who hid behind various colorful and sweet Hitchcock enhanced mysterious ploys to not take in a one lousy game, felt compelled, as if anybody cared, to offer their Grade B opinions.

That consortium - that carnival of buffoons and freaks are not to escape full blame. Colonial in its mindset, it embarrassingly failed miserably. They called themselves heroes; we saw them for what they were: zeroes. The stench of parochial failure remains.

Amidst the madness, it is unfortunate, that no one spotted an irony right under our ugly noses.

Carter swings and misses strike one!

The irony spoken of here manifested itself during the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles - the big club for the Montreal Royals. Just as the Dodgers departure from Ebbet's Fields had its cast of evil characters filled with the usual 3-sided con story laden with confusion - political games, greed and environmental circumstances made up the usual universal themes - the Expos too had their neat plot and sub-plot on multiple levels.

The trolley Dodgers had Walter O'Malley, the Ex-Expos had, for their part in the act, 'The Inept Small Time Consortium', Claude Brochu and Jeffrey Loria. O'Malley - who also helped to bring a MLB to Montreal in the late 60s - sought to move the Dodgers within various spots from Flatbush and Atlantic avenues in the center of downtown Brooklyn. Montreal had an imaginary ballpark in the artichoke heart of the city seeking to regenerate itself.

What happened next in both cases becomes stranger than Bjork. Whatever the many possibilities, once the scene ended, with broken hearts and apathy all around, O'Malley left rich and despised. Much like the exit blueprint for Brochu and Loria. Los Angeles and Washington simply smelled the fresh blood. Hopeful plans turned to soot.

Gary Carter swings and fouls down the first base line. Strike two.

History? Sure, there was lots of it in both towns. Not just in Brooklyn. With history as a discipline dead in the public mind, we may as well leave the ghost of Jackie Robinson alone. The wind at Ebbet's Field and DeLorimier Downs died down long ago. Only whispers of branches, memories and hopes for glory remain for those who care about such things.

Montreal baseball fans are now baseball atheists. Many struggled to migrate to another club.

Who to support? Why, is it not obvious? The Los Angeles Dodgers. We are part of the same heritage; a shared history.

So there and here it is. An unfortunate ending for two clubs once part of the same fabric and suit. Both let down by the brotherhood of Major League Baseball. The Royal/Dodger connection had indeed come full circle in philosophical speak.

Carter takes strike three! He can't believe it! Neither can the fans, Gary. Neither can the fans.

But life continues. The batter steps in. Go Dodgers!


Pondering Afghanistan and Iraq

Below the murmurs of disaffection, September 18, 2005, marked the day Afghani's went to the voting polls. It was a fitting end to a process begun a few years back. The process satisfied international observers and no doubt it will take possibly a few weeks to count all the votes. Though it would be a surprise if Karzai does not win since a recent survey revealed that 78% of Afghani's would vote for him.

With the election come and gone now is an appropriate time to dedicate some space to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Let's begin with Afghanistan. Once upon a time a stable society ravaged by tribal warfare worsened by Cold War politics. It was a forbidden place that no army could conquer. Liberals most certainly believed this as they were convinced that the the United States would suffer the same fate of the Soviet Union just a couple of decades earlier. They were wrong.

The memory of a once functional and stable country as recent as the 1950s and 1960s can't easily be forgotten can it?

Afghanistan is an example of how the U.S. can learn how to nation build. The Americans have been enlightened in their approach on how to deal with this country. They skillfully positioned themselves as allies, by working with the international community, and liberators by engaging Afghani's on all levels. Afghani's were starved for stability and were receptive to democracy and this has been proven to be true. The premise that the rule of law and civil rights are universal themes seems to have struck a natural chord.

On this front, Bush was accurate in his assessment of the region. Now, Afghanistan is in a rebuilding phase and there is much work to be done. The U.S. must continue to lay the groundwork for a viable and functional civil society in a democratic construct. It is absolutely essential America stays the course and provides the necessary resources and funding to ensure Afghanistan succeeds. If it doesn't expect it to all be for naught. The price will have been American and Western blood.

In the case of Iraq, the conditions and reasoning for the toppling Saddam Hussein were unpopular and highly divisive not only internationally but among Americans as well.

Here too, Liberals are fond of asserting that Iraq is just another Vietnam. As we move forward, this assertion becomes more and more implausible just as was the comparison to 1979 Afghanistan. In any case, the comparison were dubious from the onset. In both cases, a whole government and social apparatus was uprooted. It is of little surprise that it would create a state of confusion. This is need not be permanent nor insurmountable to improve. Calling for the withdrawal of Americans remains premature if not somewhat irresponsible. Both countries remain far from being stabilized.

How does one measure success? There are several key indicators to measure and consider before one can form an informed opinion or comment on both countries.

-Let's focus on Afghanistan. The military and trained officers stood at about 390 in 2002. The numbers was 28 000 in August 2005. The police force increased from 22 300 in 2004 to 55 000 in 2005. In both cases desertion rates continue to fall. Taliban forces on the other hand remain, by any best estimate, between 2 000 and 10 000 since 2004. U.S. military and foreign reconstruction and aid workers fatalities remain low.

-At present, 35 nations (including several NATO allies) are involved in operations in Afghanistan. The largest forces being Germany with 2 072, Canada 1 572, France 565, Italy 491 and the UK 315. 35 countries have pledged dollars for reconstruction. The largest Arab donors are Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates followed by Kuwait, Qatar and Pakistan. No figures were available for how much the Organization of Islamic Congress and Islamic Development Bank donated. Though they in all probability were below what the United States, Asian Development Bank, EC and World Bank pledged.

-Economic indicators show GDP (both real and nominal and on a per capita basis) to be increasing on a steady if not healthy pace. Afghanistan remains a predominantly agricultural economy.

-Primary school enrollments continue to rise. However, infrastructure for primary and secondary schools have been slow. Other areas that have yet to meet set targets are various government buildings, bridges, wells and electric transmissions. Areas that have met targets or surpassed them include canal rehab, irrigation systems, farm to market roads, loan offices and market centers. Livestock vaccinations have been on par and the training of loan officers have also increased. Thus suggesting that there is progress on all levels of the economy.

-If there is an area that needs to improve it's with health care where infant/child mortality rates, number of doctors, hospital beds, malnutrition and adequate access to safe water remain below the average found in the Middle East and low income societies.

-Opium production - the lifeline of the Taliban - has increased and taken advantage of the fact that Afghanistan is in a rebuilding process. At present, it is estimated that between 40% and 60% of the Afghan economy is based on poppy cultivation thus earning its reputation as a drug state. A moniker Karzai is seeking to eradicate. The total estimated value of the opium trade is $2.8 billion US for 4 100 metric tons. We should, however, proceed carefully to tag yet another blemish on Bush's foreign policies.

-Now to the polls. In the end, all this matters less if the people themselves don't see it. Perceptions, unfortunately, is what forms the opinion. Overall Afghans feel optimistic about their future. 89% feel the country is headed in the right direction. 92% feel things will further improve over the next year. 84% are better off with the Taliban gone. Human rights continues to be an issue as many still feel the disarmament of war loads still need to be tackled but 76% still feel their rights have been enhanced. 65% think law and order has improved. Living conditions have improved for roughly 80% over the last few years. Lastly, 65% of Afghani's have a favorable view of the United States. In fact, the figures are persistently high in Asia. Ironic, that they are so low in places like Canada and Western Europe.

I focused on different figures for Iraq because of the general perceptions accorded to this specific war. To begin, the type of fighting seen in Iraq is highly fragmented as different groups and gangs join and fight for different reasons. Over the last year 69% of deaths caused were by improvised explosive devices. Fatalities have been dropping in 2005. Total deaths at the time of this writing was 1 896. Of this 1 374 were white soldiers and 199 black. 26% were from the cities and 41% the suburbs while 33% hailed from rural areas. Not all soldiers are poor.

-Total Iraqi civilian deaths vary from 6 different sources and they generally are anywhere from under 10 000 to a maximum of 30 000. Amnesty has the number at below 10 000 in 2004. Iraq Body Count has the number as high has 28 000.

-Total insurgents fighting are estimated to be between 15 000 and 20 000. Foreigners fighting no more than 750-1000. 30 former Bathist leaders remain at large. There were 65 in April. A small fraction of Iraq is causing a distorted view of the actual level of violence. Most of the country has since been stabilized. Baghdad continues to be a volatile place but the North and South of Iraq are secure.

-In total, 27 countries have contributed 7 000 troops to the Iraq effort including the UK, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Portugal and Australia. The U.S. has 161 000 troops. Countries, such as Japan, that did not offer troops offered cash instead.

-Economically, unemployment remains high between 27% and 40% down from 50%-60%. Slowly a the rate of entrepreneurs opening shops continue to rise showing a return to normalcy. Inflation has dropped to 20% from 36% in 2003. Trained judges stand at 351 up from 0 in 2003. Electricity goals are behind schedules and Iraq's health system lags, very much like Afghanistan, neighboring states in the Middle East. Education indicators are improving.

-As for the polls, the figures are lower than Afghanistan, however, they still show a level of optimism. 48% think things are going in the right direction while 38% don't think so. Between 69% and 89% of Iraqi's want a strong central government. 82% feel their life will improve in one year. The government coalition has support of 71% of the population. 68% do not feel a civil war is imminent. Interestingly, 65% admit life is better since the fall of Hussein but 70% oppose the coalition.

All this is to simply give pause as to what has been happening out there. It is difficult to actually make sense of all this but generally speaking, there have been successes and progress made. This is not to say that severe problems and levels of violence do not exist but musing that 'we should pull the troops out' and 'there's no end in sight' only serves to work against the people of these countries who are working tirelessly - and sometimes with their lives- to succeed. They've seen enough horrors. Our outlook says less about Bush, than our own inability to look past our short sighted views. The figures tell a story that needs to be finished.

Sources: The National Interest "How to Nation Build" Zalmay Khalilzad. Number 80, Summer 2005.

Figures from Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Institute. September 2005. 'Afghanistan Index' and 'Iraq Index.'


Max: Going Places Unemployed

Today I was out buying swiffers when I passed by not one, but two people on those motorized wheelchairs that look like ATV's. Man, those suckers are evil. All equipped with Goggles Paesano helmets and orange flags you get out of the way for those sons of bitches. Freakishly, ever notice how they always have a basket with a dog in it? One of them had a poodle. I hate poodles.

The other day Jeebies and I had to go pick up a friend at somebody's house. We ended up staying for a while. Big mistake. There's nothing I hate more than a big stupid awkward ugly looking Marmaduke slobbering on my threads. "Don't worry, they're cleaner than us!" is the usual lame come back. No, they're fricken' mutts, as far I'm concerned. I don't like human contact, so what makes them think I would accept dirt-infested paws touching me? What bugs me more is that people find this perfectly normal. Not everyone likes to be tackled by Dino. I ain't Fred Flintstone that's for fricken' sure. I'm always tempted to kick the motherfucking life out of a dog that mauls me in front of their master. You know, just to get a reaction.

Anyway, to make things more irritating, they had an annoying dumbass 4 year-old kid. He had such a stupid face. "He's so calm. We just love him." What passes for calm to them passes for something else to us. "No," Jeebies says under his breath "he's just dim-witted." No kid that calm can escape being as dumb as a sack of plastic. With the pulseless wunder kid next to us, Jeebies opines to me later when no one is around 'How could anybody love this kid?" Seriously.

We were rotting on Jeebies couch when his mother decided to drop by. She wasn't impressed by the showcase in laziness before her. "Jeebies, why don't you get up and experience things?" she asked. "Each time I try I get overwhelmed. What the hell do I need to go to India for when I have TV to take me through the stench-ridden streets of Bombay?" He continued. "Besides, I hate tourists here. Bumbling around with their maps, littering our streets with their cheap Eurotrash attitudes. I don't want some other person in some pointless and irrelevant country thinking the same of me." Let's chalk this one up with missing the point.


Hubba Dubya

"....I am part of the problem and I am also part of the solution..." With these little words, this should be enough to simmer down the howls of concerns. Perhaps even subdue the thousands of blogs, articles and words calling for his head. Of course, we will cynically spin this about face. He does nothing he's drilled by everyone. He offers something and he'll be ridiculed. Too many people have eloquently and furiously pointed out the problems and few offered any solutions.

The screaming has subsided, the bellies breathe heavily but silently, a leader faces his people. The yelling, for sure, shall commence once more. Let us dwell and let us write letters. Let us fill the holes of perceptions with dirt but if we can organize and march it will hide the blemish inside our minds. What is past is not past, see. For our pride and ego is wounded. He be the false prince and the meek will right it! We demand, we demand...! Ah but first, the glare of the mirror. Blinding in its power we fight its rays. We fight with all our vocal might. Impeding a move forward.


La Villa di Thoughts

These days we throw words around like a cheap tramp at a party in a forest. People are falling all over themselves calling other people racist and how the U.S. government is guilty of genocide for example. These are serious allegations with serious implications and consequences for the people who are charged and targeted with such words.

Over the last few years, Americans have called for the impeachment of TWO Presidents - one from each major party. If Clinton was a victim of the right then Bush a victim of a radical left. What triggered this, of course, was Katrina. Like bats out of hell, people screamed bloody murder and desperately wanted to prove how decadent America really is.

It is one thing to hurl criticism about how the relief effort and general response to it unfolded and quite another to make a leap of faith and demand the resignation of a President for something that had very little to do with him. There is no doubt there was a serious breakdown.

However, we still need to treat facts and evidence prudently. When the mass hysteria settles one may find that the early reports of rape and looting were not necessarily the norm nor proof of a social breakdown - nor was it proof of a white, racist and indifferent America. People will pick and choose their facts like they do grocery items so as to fit it to their perceptions. Real intellectualism entails trying to be objective.

The reality, from what I have read, is that New Orleans was built below sea level on a swampy land mass. Originally, the French built the city with sturdy plans. The rest of the city as it expanded was built flimsily. The levee's were the victim of petty politics that stretched back 40 years (right up until Bush's AND Clinton's cuts) and there is no guarantee that had they been reinforced they would have withstood Katrina's power. Even linking Kyoto, Bush and Katrina is a stretch to mild mannered individuals with a dissident streak.

My point is that there's too much that works against calling for impeachment. Save it for a real clear cut offense - And no, Iraq does not qualify. Some may feel it was a mistake but it's a far cry from impeachment. Even under the premise of being lied to is tenuous as again there is much evidence to counter the opposite. It is time for people to truly comprehend what they are saying. Perhaps it is time we critically assess those making the charges? What other words do we throw around without giving much thought to?

Here's another unrelated question: What system devised by humans is more inherent of human values and the human spirit? Capitalism or communism and its off shoots?

Finally, someone asked how can the Democratic party be saved? The patients have taken over the asylum at this point. The doctors have to take it back. That means a great leader of great courage and vision has to come in. So far, this has proven to be non-existent. If not, gut the whole thing or start a brand new party to restore true liberalism. I was watching CNN and happened upon Nancy Pelosi. "Oh, my Lord" I thought to myself.

Go with the last two options. Whenever a tragedy happens, blatantly exposed is the true spots and colors of all that would be pure - that they are no different than big business seeking a just profit. Only theirs is an industry of social entrepreneurs (like an Al Sharpton for example) who prey upon the helpless under
the guise of righteousness. I have one word for 'em all - self-serving dumbasses.


By the Numbers: Comparing the Montreal Canadiens and New York Yankees

The Golden Era of two Dynasties compared: Eerily similar?


From 1926 to 1964, the Yankees won 19 World Series titles. During this 38-year span, the Bronx Bombers reached the finals 26 times achieving a 19-7 record or a .731% winning percentage. Broken down further, New York won 50% of the titles and were in the finals 68% of the time. Notable opponents included the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers whom the Yankees had a winning record against of 6-2. The New York Giants (4-1). During their long run, New York went 2-3 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The only team to earn a winning record against the New York Yankees.

Consecutive Championships: 5 ('49-'53), 4 ('36-'39), 3 ('98-'00), 2 ('27-'28), 2 ('61-'62)

Other Clubs played during this span: Pittsburgh Pirates (1-1), Milwaukee Braves (1-1), Chicago Cubs (2-0), Cincinnati Reds (2-0), Philadelphia Phillies (1-0)


In 30 years from 1951 to 1981, the Habs won 16 Stanley Cups while reaching the finals a total of 21 times. This earned them a .721% winning percentage. Les Habitants won 53% of the Cups as well as reaching the finals 70% of the time. Their main rivals included the Boston Bruins (5-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (2-2) and Detroit Red Wings (2-3). The only hockey club, like the Cards against the Yanks, to have a winning record against les Canadiens.

Consecutive Championships: 5 ('56-'60), 4 ('76-'79), 2 ('65-'66), 2 ('68-'69), 2 ('30-'31)

Other Clubs: Chicago Blackhawks (3-0), St.Louis Blues (2-0), Philadelphia Flyers (1-0), New York Rangers (1-0)

Years: Yankees 38; Canadiens 30
Titles: Yankees 19; Canadiens 16
Percentage of titles won: Yankees 50%; Canadiens 53%
Finals Appearances: Yankees 26; Canadiens 21
Percentage/finals appearance: Yanks 68% (19-7); Habs 70% (16-5)
Winning % in finals: Yankees .731; Canadiens .762

Other Great North American Pro-Sports Dynasties:

Boston Celtics: Between 1957-1969 won 11 NBA titles going 11-1 (.917%) during that span. They won 82% of the titles and reached the finals in 92% of the time. Their main rivals were the Minneapolis/L.A. Lakers (7-0). They also met the St.Louis Hawks four times earning a 3-1 record.

Green Bay Packers: From 1960-1967 the Packers won 5 NFL titles in 6 attempts 5-1 (.832%). This translates into 63% of the championships and 75% of the appearances. They went 2-0 against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

Edmonton Eskimos: The years 1973-1982 saw 6 Grey Cup titles go to this CFL club. In addition, they made it to the finals 3 times for a 6-3 (.667) record. Edmonton won 60% of the titles and 90% of the finals missing only one year. The Eskimos faced off against the Montreal Alouettes 5 times in this period and won 3 times (3-2).


A Chinwag Between a Man and His Prized Wife

On their way to a party Jiana and Mark began to talk in the car.

Jiana slammed the paper down on her laps. "It's so repugnant. Could you believe this story?"

"What are you talking about?" Mark said.

"The one about the man who was caught by his wife in bed with two women at a local convenient store." she explained.

"Good for him." Mark responded stoically.

"What! You're talking silly now. His ex-wife threatened him with broken glass."

"I'm going to refrain from calling him a loser. Besides, I think she was over reacting. The guy was technically single. If he's Catholic he's screwed. But what can you do?"

"You're so stupid, Mark."

"Am I? He was playing the odds."

"What are you babbling about?"

"Do you realize what the probabilities are of a man scoring with two women?"

"I can't be hearing right. You're not serious right?" Jiana looks on with an unconvincing shocked face. She wanted this to turn into a depraved conversation.

"What, would you not be in a spirited menage a trois with your friend Stefanie?"

"I'm not interested in seeing my friends naked."

"You know what our problem is? We're not decadent enough. We're so fucking clean. For what?"
Jiana was looking out the window. "Besides, I want to have all the attention. I don't want to have to compete with my friend."

"Do you have low self-esteem issues?"

"Would you do it with another man present? With David?"

"The conversation is not MMF. It's FFM" Mark retorted.

"Oh, please, Mark. Watch the dog."

"Fuck it. Stupid dumb ass dog." He continued with his previous comment. "I think that's the key. To have one of the girls with low self-esteem. You know, so they compete so much until they both become dispossessed boars."

"Mark, you're disgusting."

"Am I, eh?"

The drive continued for a few more kilometres until they came to a red light. Mark looked out the window. "Nice. How about her?" Without looking, Jiana slapped Mark. He ignored it.

Jiani is suddenly attracted to him.

"Pull over," she whispers softly.

"Why, what about your stupid friends and that stupid party? Where nobody knows my name still after three years. I mean..."

Jiana grabbed his face and began to kiss him. "I love you" she intones glaring into his eyes. Mark is both hornied and spooked by it. "I love you too, Jiana."

As they kiss his mind wandered . He can't help but think of Veronica. Neither can Jiana.


Finding Meaning About America with The Simpsons

"Oh, Marge, cartoons don't have any deep meaning. They're just stupid drawings that you give a cheap laugh." Homer Simpson, 1991.

"I don't think real checks have exclamation points." Lisa Simpson, 1991.

'Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington' is perhaps one of the finest piece of animation political commentary I have seen yet. The Simpsons is not just a brilliant cartoon but a stark reflection of American society. One would not be exaggerating if it was to be nominated among the greatest programs in the history of American broadcasting.

This episode, first aired in 1991, remains relevant given the state of the Union these days. The show is about Lisa going to an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. after becoming a semi-finalist in a 'Reading Digest Patriots of Tomorrow' contest. The essay that earned her this trip was called the 'Roots of Democracy.'

However, what faith in democracy she possessed was soon shattered after uncovering Congressman Bob Arnold accepting a bribe from a lobbyist. Which led her to change her essay. It began, "The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago and very little has changed. It stank then and it stinks now, Only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs, in the air." The camera then pans to Ted Kennedy.

Strong words for an eight year old girl in a cartoon. The whole episode is filled with many subtle commentaries about the state of democracy.

While distraught, Lisa attempts to seek guidance at the Lincoln memorial. Only this is fleeting as the masses, wallowing in vanity, self-interest and mediocrity, shout questions to a silent Abraham Lincoln. Later, Lisa goes to visit Thomas Jefferson who is bitter that no one visits him.

Seeing the gerrymandering and pork barreling politics on the steps of a Washington monument, Lisa re-works her essay and it eventually leads to Bob Arnold going to jail. Lisa concludes "the system works." The winning essay was won by an immigrant who titled his essay 'U.S.A A-Okay.'

Another memorable quote, just one among a sea of them, is Nelson Muntz's entry. "So burn the flag if you must, but before you do, you better burn a few other things! You better burn your shirt and your pants! Be sure to burn your TV and car! Oh, yes, and don't forget to burn your house because none of those things could exist without six white stripes, seven red stripes and a hell of a lot of stars!"

Faith: "Lisa, I'm Fatih Crowley, Patriotism Editor of Reading Digest."

Homer: "Oh, I love your magazine. My favorite section is 'How to Increase Your Word Power.' That thing is really,really,really....good."

Anyway, back to my point. Many have become jaded about America since the arrival of George W. Bush. To me, the reaction has been less of a Lisa style protest, and more of a teenager rebellion style attack on authority.

Assume if all that has transpired since 2001 happened under a Democrat. I doubt the voice of protest would be this vocal.

The Rolling Stones once wrote, 'You Can't Always get What You Want' and Americans who hate Bush need to accept that their 'guy' can't always win. Another leader with a different perspective and style is always good to have - even if it runs contrary to one's ideals. It's the cycle of the democratic process.

The liberal ethos won't always prevail and the fact that it has not won should give pause to everyone that the liberal message needs to be refined and redefined. Right now, it's stagnant. Neatly summarizing that '59 millions Americans are dumb' is not an example of intellectual postruring. It is the mark of an arrogant populace failing to come to terms with change.

The price of freedom indeed entails eternal vigilance. Those who spend their time mukraking Bush are missing the bigger picture.

A cartoon reminds us of how important and true cliches really are. There's a time and place for everything. Obsessively and willingly dividing the nation in times of war for narrow political expediency only wastes a precious commodity like freedom.

Democracy works. It is up to Americans if they want to make it work when it counts the most.


Canada Responds to New Orleans

Canada has a deep connection to New Orleans. Over a seven year period between 1755-1763, thousands of (while it is difficult to arrive at a number, roughly 13 000 were deported in all) Acadians from Nova Scotia were deported for not pledging allegiance to Britain. Many found their way to Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. Some ended up in France after Virginia shipped them out arguing that they were British subjects.

Finding life difficult in France, about 1 500 Acadians sailed to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a natural place to migrate to for Louisiana was French speaking and Catholic. Approximately 1 million residents of Louisiana trace their roots back to Acadia. From the Bayous to the Prairies, Acadian culture flourished and eventually they came to be known as the Cajuns. The word itself is a derivative of 'Acadien' which was shortened to 'Cadien' and eventually settled on 'Cajun.'

It is not surprising then, that the Conservative government of Nova Scotia, a relatively poor province, has offered $100 000 to the Canadian Red Cross to help in the relief efforts. The Canadian Red Cross is sending volunteers as well as other relief agencies. Another Maritime province, tiny Prince Edward Island (population 130 000) has also offered to help coordinate finding shelter for the displaced people of New Orleans.

The Canadian government has sent the Coast Guard vessel Sir William Alexander and the Canadian Navy has sent three warships; the HMCS Atahabasca, Ville de Quebec and Toronto. It has also sent three Sea King helicopters. All are carrying relief aid and humanitarian aid.

Canada is a country built on adventure. The people of New Orleans will learn about how incredibly resourceful and competent our soldiers are. I remember years ago when two Americans were stranded in Antarctica. With each passing day, the likelihood of them surviving was dwindling. Their only hope rested on the skill of the pilots of the Twin Otter sea planes from Canada. It was a risky rescue operation that not only had high probabilities of failing but it was also possible that the planes would be lost. On that day Canadian might and bravery prevailed and the Americans were rescued and safely returned. The wild Canadian spirit pulled it off.

Sources: CBC; 'Origins' - Canadian History to Confederation: Francis, Jones, Smith.


An Ode to New Orleans

"...when the levee breaks, I'll have no place to stay. Lord, mean old levee taught me to weep and moan." 'When the Levee Breaks', Led Zeppelin, 1971.

"....Bourbon blues on the street, loose and complete.....My memory is muddy what's this river that I'm in? New Orleans is sinking man and I don't want to swim." 'New Orleans is Sinking', The Tragically Hip, 1989.

Katrina has found her way. Not even Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Hot 7, armed with his trumpet, on the Riverboat was able to save New Orleans. 80% submerged, over at Congo Square, the wind carries Jelly Roll Morton - 'the blowingest man ever lived since Gabriel' - and his ragtime memory. The Original Dixieland Band play the 'Tiger Rag' at the Dixie Park. The Red Hot Peppers, Scott Joplin, Buddy Bolden, Kid Ory, Freddie Keppard, Mamie Smith, Joe 'King' Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Nick LaRocca form a marching band and blow through a cat-fantastic 'When the Saints Go Marching In." Katrina has lost her way but she could not steal, nor destroy a legacy. A soul.