Tuesday, October 20, 2009

You know I don't speak Spanish

Recent conversation with my three year old.

Sarah (mommy): Je t'aime, Sacha. Bonne nuit. (I love you, Sacha. Good night.)
Sacha: Daddy, "Je t'aime" and "Bonne nuit" is Fwench. Why you not know Fwench?
Me: Well, I just know a little bit.
S: Daddy, you know Spanish? What "Je t'aime" is in Spanish?
D: Te amo.
S: Yeah, tay awmo. Daddy, why you know Spanish?
D: Well, I took a Spanish course when I was in high school.
S: Oh. It was a course fo daddies?
D: No, I was a big kid at the time.
S: Oh. I like speak Spanish. It gweat. Someday, I be a daddy. And when I a daddy, you be a Gedo and mommy be a Memere. Yeah. Dat be cool.
D: Yeah, you're right. Hopefully you will be a daddy someday.
S: Daddy, when I a daddy, who my mommy be?
D: Mommy will be your mommy. Mommy will always be your mommy.
S: Oh. Okay.
This went on and on until I told him it was time to sleep and he said something he'll likely say many times in his life if he inherits my propensity for verbosity: "Daddy, dat too much talking?" "Yes buddy. Time for sleeping."

What a kid!

PS-Sarah had the astute observation that when Sacha asked me who his mommy would be when he is a daddy, he was likely trying to determine who his wife would be, not his mother. Right now I am a daddy and my "mommy" is Sarah, my wife. No wonder he sounded a bit bummed out when he found out his mother would be his wife!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The way to do it

My parents came to Peace River to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. Mom made a very astute observation about the nature of the supper and how smart it was. I couldn't agree more!

You see, supper included roughly 25 people. Now, for many traditional Thanksgiving dinners, this would be an insurmountable task for any one individual to tackle. As such, we did it like an informal pot-luck. It was a traditional sit down meal but there were about as many chefs are there were dishes!

There are a few things that make this such a great idea. First off, no one person has to shoulder the burden of cooking the whole meal. The worst thing about that is that person usually ends up not enjoying themselves. The second great thing is that with cooking all that food one often ends up doing a lot of things well but no one thing spectacularly. Doing it pot-luck style you get each person bringing their signature dish that they can focus on so the quality of the food goes way up. Finally, because most of the dishes are prepared off site, you don't have to worry so much about timing and what dish is taking up space in the oven! I think it's the only way to go!

(Speaking of the only way to go, next time you have to make a turkey, check out Nigella Lawson's recipe for brining a feast turkey in her book, Feast. It is SO easy and you'll never taste a turkey so good. Oh, and it's almost impossible to dry out!)

Over the top

You've got to be kidding me. Some town in the US made Halloween illegal to protect the children? What a bunch of garbage.Link

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is Dawkins missing something?

On our wonderful kid-free weekend last week we did one of our favorite things from our university days: hung around Chapters and looked at numerous books and then didn't purchase a single one.

I came across a book by an author I revile, Richard Dawkins. His new book is entitled The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Anyone interested in the science and religion debate will recognize this name, also known as Darwin's Bulldog. If you are not familiar with his philosophy, he fervently supports evolution and vehemently rejects spirituality, particularly as it manifests in organized religion.

Now, when I say I revile Dawkins it is not due to his stance but his delivery. Just like Dawkins, I completely agree with evolution and accept that the evidence is too substantial to deny its sweeping effects in the natural world (as does the Roman Catholic Church, as written by Dawkins: "Hot on the heels of its magnanimous pardoning of Galileo, the Vatican has now moved with even more lightning speed to recognise the truth of Darwinism."). I also believe, like him, that Creationism, the literal interpretation of the Bible that purports that the Earth was created some 6000 years ago much as it is stated in Genesis, is intellectually inappropriate. But cannot someone both accept evolution as scientific fact AND believe in God? Why is this so wrong?

This is Dawkins' problem: his insistence that there is only one right answer. He believes that anyone who believes in God and/or is religious is either intellectually dishonest, willfully ignorant, brainwashed, or psychopathological. Isn't he then just as bad as all the fundamentalist Christians he lambastes for being close-minded to another world view?

Nothing in evolutionary science disproves the existence of a spiritual being, nor could anything ever do so. Nor should I care. A Dawkins quote I enjoy is "There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?" This is a fallacy I see pop up in lots of these debates. When will atheists like Dawkins who insist that they are right realize that they take just as much of a leap of faith in accepting the absence of God as I do in accepting the presence of God? You cannot empirically prove the presence or absence of God. Why can't he just accept that and get on with his life instead of persisting in his crusade to rid the human race of religion?

But in thinking about this book and whether I would read it or not (he is a brilliant writer and the book would likely prove quite interesting but I fear he may digress into attacks on religion that will distract from the subject matter) I stumbled upon a disconnect in his approach.

Dawkins is a firm supporter of evolution. Because it is something that can be empirically proven and has successfully been so, as a scientist, he'd really have to be. This book of his is all about evolution and how incredible it is that complexity arose out of simplicity due to the random selection of advantageous mutations in genetic material. If religion, then, is such a disastrous, divisive force only followed by the mentally unstable, why then has the propensity to religious behavior persisted in our species?

I really don't know. But isn't that a flaw in his mindset? Has he grappled with that? I'm certain he has, I just couldn't find much on it except his statement that religious behavior has killed millions of individuals over the years and that it consumes incredible amounts of energy and time. So he seems to think it an evolutionary hiccup.

Other scientists have tackled this question. An excerpt from a book called The Story of God highlights, among other things, that religion may have provided an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors. The communal nature of it would have led to a more unified front against the many dangers inherent in our early environment and thus promoted survival of those who practiced it. But this could have been passed on in societal customs. However, twin studies done over the years do seem to suggest that there is at least a partial genetic component to religion so it seems the question will remain unanswered for now. Of course, religion is one of those aspects of human biology that is so complex the answer likely sounds like this: religion is impacted both by genetic makeup and life experiences.

What this research does do though is ask the question: if religion is so awful, so disordered, so pathological, why does it persist so widely? Sure, many diseases which are incredibly destructive persist in the genetic pool because they may at one time have served a purpose. They usually arise in a relatively small portion of the population though. But with 80% of the world population claiming religiosity, surely this is not the case with religion? Because if it exists en masse like this but is as destructive as Dawkins claims, why does it still exist at all? Why has it not become a vestigial organ of human life?

A broader view

I've always thought that since I get most of my news from the Globe and Mail and numerous blogs that I should be exposed to a fairly balanced news stream. It turns out I was wrong.

When I first heard that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, my initial reaction was "What? He hasn't even done anything yet." Sure, he'd talked a lot and made some important statements, but what had he actually done? And at first glance, it appeared my feelings were shared with other Globe and Mail readers and a small poll I did of family (very unscientific!).

After reading this article by Doug Saunders, the London correspondent for the Globe and Mail, I realized this reaction might be due to my relatively isolated location in North America. Clearly this award has been perceived quite differently outside of this continent. It only reinforces for me that the balance of power, both politically and philosophically, has shifted away from North America significantly. (If this conclusion seems absurd to you, check out the excellent book The European Dream by Jeremy Rifkin.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stock picking

So it's been about 6 months since I embarked upon my first stock picking journey. Normally I just dabble in mutual funds for my RRSPs, now just consisting of index mutual funds that involve no active management, which have been consistently shown to outperform the alternative.

However, last year, after doing an insane amount of reading on personal finance and stocks I was just too interested about stocks to not dive in. But I didn't want to go crazy. So I just put up $500, an amount I could sleep at night after losing.

I ended up picking 6 companies, Google, Apple, Intuitive Surgical, Schlumberger, Research in Motion, and Home Capital Group.

So I evaluated where I stand today. Only 5 months after I bought the companies, I sold my first one because it had already launched over its initial valuation. I bought it at $100.46 and sold it at $223.11. That is a 122% increase over only 5 months. Sweet! And the greatest thing is that Intuitive Surgical, the company in question, was the laughing stock of so called "analysts" at the time I bought it. It was the lowest ranked of all 6! Ha. Analysts. Fools.

Anywho, overall, things are looking great! Over the last 6 months the 6 stocks I chose have risen 55.4%. I compared the increase over this time period in an equal-weighted portfolio consisting of only the TSX 60 (Canadian index) and the S&P 500 (American index). It was only 27.6%. So my stock picks have doubled up on the market! Not too shabby!

Hopefully they keep it up. I'll keep you posted on how the remaining stocks do, will explain my strategy for picking these stocks, and will share with you the updated valuations as the new annual statements come out. Of course, if you're not a finance nerd like me, you can always just delete the feed!