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Mark Eversfield "Data Hound" (Vancouver Canada)

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Cornered
Cornered
by Ron MacLean
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.41
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

4.0 out of 5 stars The Inside on Don & Ron, Feb. 15 2012
This review is from: Cornered (Hardcover)
This is a good book for discovering who Ron and Don are, their relationship with the CBC, and the fallout from Don's forays into sensitive areas such as the Afghanistan War, European players, visors, fighting, and concussions. I have a new appreciation of Ron and Don. Coach's Corner is the only intermission show that gets higher ratings than the game itself. They are a great pair and Ron does a good job giving credit where credit is due.

My favorite parts of this book include a touching moment in an interview with Canadian ski legend Karrin Lee-Gartner and her husband Max during the1992 Olympics in Albertville France. The couple were so happy in the CBC studio after Karrin won gold in the women's downhill that Max started to cry with happiness then Karrin, then Ron. It was a great moment.

Another great passage in the book comes from an interaction with the hockey world's infamous little leprechaun, Gary Bettman. Ron was commenting during a 1999 Western Conference final in Dallas in June that there was 80 percent humidity and 90 degree temperature and they were having problems with the ice. Bettman came to him asking him why he had to be so negative. Ron replied why do we have to be watching hockey in June.

A disappointing section of the book was the contract dispute Ron had with CBC. I think the book is too early in Ron's career to reveal the juicy details. Maybe a sequel when the consequences are less fatal.

Overall, Cornered was a pleasant read and would recommend it to any hockey fan.

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
by Niall Ferguson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
49 used & new from CDN$ 3.34

4.0 out of 5 stars The Ascent of Money?, Feb. 12 2012
The title of the book infers a positive connotation to the development of money. I think the majority of people would agree that we are better off than those of Mesopotamia. This ascent, however, follows a saw-tooth pattern of gains and losses through time. Fergusson does a good job following these vicissitudes. I discovered the function of money studying economics in university, a unit of exchange. When a country has problems maintaining confidence in their currency, any benefits that the evolution of money has developed moves backward because the belief diminishes.

There is a lot of discussion on the purpose of this book: is it a history of money, does it fulfill an agenda of the author, does it describe the financial difficulties of our current economic condition, does it do all of these? I will look at how this book fulfills all of these.

Firstly, Ferguson provides us with a history of money by taking us from tablets used five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia to the earliest known coins from 600 BC found by archaeologists in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, to the Medicis of Italy, the Rothschilds, John Law , the American civil war, the World Wars, and to the housing bubble of the latest decade. These different periods illustrate developments and the failures in the history of loans, banks, bonds, real estate, derivatives, Chimerica, and the financial community's efforts to attach biological terms to the financial world.

Secondly, some have criticized Ferguson for only providing history that supports his political leanings. An argument could be made that this is a history of money and not politics although the two are highly intertwined and Ferguson does include politics in this history. I would think Ferguson tried to minimize the role of politics so criticisms of excluding Pinochet's human cost could be defended on these grounds.

Thirdly, the history of money is filled with instances of the animal spirit or irrational exuberance of human thinking which explains the most recent recession. From Medici to the Rothschilds, John Law to Ken Lay, over confidence soon gets the better of us and therefore does explain the cause of today's recession.

So I think Fergusson did a good job overall in combining micro details that provide a tactile connection to significant developments in the history of money and still achieve a macro understanding of money. Looking at the ledgers of the Medicis or the tablets that were used for crops keeps you on your toes while explaining the developments of the first lenders.

My favorite parts of this book include the Dutch United East India company's power in world trade, German monetary policy after WW I, the role of bonds in the US civil war, the Chilean experiment, and the modern day stock market, 12 fold increase over 20 years.

My least favorite part is the explanation of today's problems being the result of printing money. From my reading of the situation, it was the rating agencies who enabled the selling of the CDO's and mortgage company's ability to escape liability in their lending practices. Not the printing of money.

I'm looking forward to reading Ferguson's next book 'Civilization'.

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
by Jon Krakauer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.86
46 used & new from CDN$ 2.30

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Books Into Cash, Dec 23 2011
I've read three of Jan's books and "Three Cups of Deceit" doesn't disappoint. Krakauer does a great job examining what Greg Mortenson (GM) and the Central Asia Institute (CAI) have done in Pakistan and Afghanistan by interviewing key contacts that were working for Mortenson in the region. Jan was a member of the CAI and contributed $75,000 but quit when he discovered the material for this book.

I read "Three Cups of Tea" (THT) and came away with the typical "hero" view of GM then started reading Amazon reviews of the book that mentioned Krakauer's eBook. It was disturbing to discover inconsistencies in the claims made in THT.

This review won't go into the details of Krakauer's revelations on GM's work but I will list some of the significant discoveries. The first happens when GM becomes lost while returning from a K2 attempt and according to TCT, stumbles into Korphe to recover, a village with no school. Krakauer discovers he really recovered in Khane on his return from K2 where he promised to build a school but was persuaded to build a school in Korphe a year later instead.

Another is the famous abduction scenario where GM claims he's abducted by the Taliban for eight days. It turns out this is fiction to sell the book, not fact. Krakauer corresponds with one of the alleged abductors and finds that GM was his guest and he was free to go at any time.

The financial picture of GM and CAI is also disturbing. GM's travel and advertising expenses for his books are paid for by CAI but they receive no book revenue. What's more disturbing is that more money is spent on promoting the books than investing in schools.

I read Three Cups of Deceit with the same skepticism that I came to have about TCT. It looks like GM fabricated some of the material in TCT and his decisions for locating schools were not researched. This seems consistent with GM's character. I tried to think of reasons why some of the key people Jan spoke with would have ulterior motives but fell short of any likely explanations. I thought some local people in Afghanistan might be jealous of villages getting a school when they don't have one but when the schools lay empty, there's nothing to be jealous about.

I believe GM exaggerated his experience to sell books and uses CAI as his personal ATM...... Anyone want to buy a cheap unread copy of "Stones Into Schools"?
Mark.

Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
407 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Three Cups of Suspicion, Dec 20 2011
This review is from: Three Cups of Tea (Paperback)
Why did I buy this book? Books such as Kite Runner and Land of a Thousand Splendid Suns provide inspiration and insight from a region that is so poor in material wealth. Three Cups of Tea didn't disappoint in this regard. I'm also attracted to the mountains of this region and their incredible beauty. My review of this book, however, dropped from four stars to three when I read 'Three Cups of Deceit' by Jon Krakauer. I also bought 'Stones Into Schools' but I won't read it due to the controversy around Mortenson's legitimacy.

Greg Mortenson's (GM) story is well known so I was going to give a brief summary then respond to minor criticisms of the book until I read Krakauer's book. So I'll forget the minor criticism in light of the much larger criticism, exaggerating your achievements for a cause.

Three Cups of Tea is about Mortenson's efforts to improve the lives of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan by building local schools and providing them with an education. GM is a mountaineer who, in failing to summit K2, discovers a mountain village where children study outside on their knees and use sticks to write in the dirt. When he returns to the US from his climbing trip, he focuses all his energy on fund raising for the first school.

There are conflicting reports around what happened when GM got lost and whether he built a school in the village he discovered when he was lost or was persuaded to build his first school in a different village.

I was going to comment on how you get close to Mortenson through understanding who GM's father is and their relationship and how you feel a strong bond for GM 's dad through the description of the family's history. But contradictions taint these descriptions. Other passages reveal the devotion the villagers have to GM and completing the school but again I have doubts and therefore can't enjoy this part of the book.

I was happy with the level of detail. The book flows nicely and doesn't get bogged down in too much information. The sights, smells, and sounds of Pakistan are present in the writing. To detail all of the characters involved would be going too far in my opinion.

I'm not an author so the style that it was written in didn't bother me. I found this book slow at times but this also provided a background for the characters and events that were yet to unfold.

Greg Mortenson's efforts in Afghanistan are positive but the way he reported his expenses and experiences casts doubt on the honourable intentions he may have had.

Boomerang
Boomerang
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.90
178 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Economics, Dec 20 2011
This review is from: Boomerang (Hardcover)
This is the first Lewis book I've read and found it very light reading. It was a nice combination of stories and facts that drove home reasons for the economic crisis that countries find themselves in today. I don't have a problem with the fact that the articles can be found for free on a website. I was willing to pay the $10 to download the book and have the information in one place.

Boomerang explores five countries' experience with sovereign debt. This book is an easy and entertaining read because amusing anecdotal evidence is used to support the reasons behind each country's economic difficulty. From the twenty million nickels bought as a hedge against economic collapse to the exploding cars for insurance purposes, Lewis provides some great examples that illustrate the economic conditions countries find themselves.

The book starts with a visit to Kyle Bass, a hedge fund manager who financially benefitted from the 2008 collapse. Bass has a large inventory of gold and precious metals and has now turned his attention to nickel by buying one million dollars worth, 20 million nickels. Bass' view on current economic suffering is an atonement for Wall Street's behavior.

Lewis then moves on to Iceland where "When their three brand-new global-size banks collapsed, Iceland's 300,000 citizens found that they bore some kind of responsibility for $100 billion in banking losses--which works out to roughly $330,000 for every Icelandic man, woman, and child." Lewis goes further in describing the billions lost in currency speculation and the 85% collapse of Iceland's stock market to result in unknowable amount of loss for the average Icelander. Lewis sets up an exploding vehicle syndrome with this description of the financial state Icelanders found themselves in. "Now many Icelanders--especially young Icelanders--own $500,000 houses with $1.5 million mortgages, and $35,000 Range Rovers with $100,000 in loans against them. To the Range Rover problem there are two immediate solutions. One is to put it on a boat, ship it to Europe, and try to sell it for a currency that still has value. The other is set it on fire and collect the insurance: Boom!"

Boomerang leaves us with an Iceland that has its Krona being a shadow of the peak period, a lamp that was out of stock now costs three times the amount before the crash, its work force ill-suited for the endowment it has, and insufficient political acumen to get it out of its predicament. The latest report on Iceland however, is that it is one of the bright lights in the economic recovery with 3% GDP growth. Iceland let its banks default and have deleveraged and returned to economic growth, something a small country can do without jeopardizing the world financial system.

Lewis then moves onto Greece, the next stop on this tour of economic devastation. The explanation of Greece's debt comes from its culture, government spending without revenue collection. Lewis does a good job of annotating the level of ridiculousness Greece's public sector has come to "The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job." And "Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece's rail passengers into taxicabs" are two examples of the state of Greek public spending.

While in Greece, Lewis stays at the Vatopaidi monastery, the soul of corruption for this country. The monastery had fallen into disrepair but Father Ephraim uses three prongs to rebuild: relationships with the rich, international outreach, and real estate which provides the most interesting story of the Greek experience. Father Ephraim and others turn an ancient deed and a worthless lake into millions or even billions of dollars.

Ireland is the next stop on this tour where the Anglo Irish bank looses 34 billion Euros or $3.4 trillion in the crisis. Total Irish bank losses tally to 106 billion Euros or $10.6 trillion. Lewis explains "The Irish budget deficit--in 2007 the country had a budget surplus--is now 32 percent of its GDP, the highest by far in the history of the euro zone." Lewis does a great job in contrasting where Ireland has come from and what it has achieved only to be set back by the greed of the finance industry. "In late 2006 the unemployment rate stood at a bit more than 4 percent; now it's 14 percent, and climbing toward rates not experienced since the mid-1980s."

Before leaving Europe, Lewis describes Germany's role in the economic crisis. German's are described as trusting American financial statements as reliable and therefore suffered by investing in them. The German bank IKB became Wall Street's best customer. IKB hired Dirk Rothig, someone with financial experience in the States, to do something new and unusual for the bank. Rothig invented something called a conduit which grew the IKB portfolio from $10 billion in 2005 to $20 billion in 2007, according to Rothig. IKB ended up losing $15 billion on US subprime loans.

The last stop on this tour of economic disaster comes back to the U.S. where Lewis looks at a 60 Minutes interview of Merideth Whitney and her analysis of the financial condition of State debt. Whitney doesn't think the States will have a problem because they can transfer their debt to the counties and the cities. This is where Lewis spends his last stop, analyzing a city in the worst financial condition in the States, Vallejo California. In Vallejo, businesses post "WE ACCEPT FOOD STAMPS" on their windows, weeds surround abandoned businesses, and traffic lights permanently blink since there are no police in the streets. Real estate in Vallejo fell 66% between 2006 and 2010. The main cause for this city's woes were public safety wage contracts that resulted in bankruptcy.

Lewis concludes this trip with comments about human nature and the lack of forethought for everything from obesity to gambling, drug and alcohol addiction, and of course personal indebtedness. "Americans sacrifice their long-term interests for a short-term reward." This describes the underlying problem with the world economy today.

Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country
Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country
by John Furlong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.76
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.78

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Time of My Life, March 12 2011
I live in Vancouver and experienced first-hand the excitement that 'Patriot Hearts' is based on. I bought this book to relive the most amazing time of my life, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. John Furlong does a fantastic job telling us the story of what it took to organize this event; the competition for gold, power, and recognition. Visit my blog for video, pictures, and commentary on the 2010 Olympics at [...]

There are a number of passages in the book where I was on the verge of tears reliving what it was like during those 17 days. Furlong is an Irishman and he succeeds in telling a great story, presenting events in a way that rivets you to the book. I didn't want to put it down but had to sleep and work.

"Patriot Hearts" is a surprisingly inspirational book that describes what happens when you have the will to succeed. The super-human life that Furlong lived during those 17 days is a testament to the human spirit. I loved the devotion that Furlong describes in his obsession to detail and the view that these details are the linchpin to success. Furlong is the model Canadian citizen, community driven, visionary, hard working, ambitious, and although I haven't worked for the man, I get a sense of honesty from this guy.

The Olympics were an event that gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our passion for this country and dare I say it, our patriotism!! I have to catch myself as I'm expressing this in a typical Canadian fashion. I loved a passage in the book when during the national anthem John looks at his daughter to see tears running down her cheeks. I felt close to that level of pride while singing the anthem on our rapid transit trains (Sky Train) on our way to the Canada-Russia game or coming home after work on a night when Canada was playing. It was a great time to be alive in Vancouver.

Furlong was convinced the success of the games depended on touching kid's hearts all over the world but especially in Canada. He pursues this thread throughout the book and hits your emotions when he's describing the Torch relay through a Quebec Indian reserve and the priority the torch took over RCMP protocol. The reserve refused to have the RCMP on their land. The RCMP refused the torch unescorted on the reserve. Furlong got the torch on the reserve without the RCMP and the kids were happy!!

The visionary element in this book is a relentless force in "Patriot Hearts". Two examples are worth noting. For all of the criticism the NDP government took during the 90's, then Premier Glen Clarke had the vision and passion in his speech to win the games from Quebec City and Calgary during the bid process. Another example of the difference vision can make comes from Furlong's work as VANOC moved through the sponsorship process. Historical Canadian sponsorship levels were demolished by Bell's contribution. New standards in Canadian corporate support were set thanks to Furlong's passion and vision of what the games could be.

Finally, I realize the Vancouver Olympic CEO position requires devotion for success but the view that considers only the direct costs is narrow from a BC tax payer perspective. The Canada Line, Convention Centre, and Sea to Sky Highway improvement should be considered part of the Olympics. I recognize that there were federal government contributions on these projects which included BC taxpayer money among other provinces federal tax dollars. In the end I think the games were great because they enabled these developments and the international exposure the games brought to Vancouver. Some recognition of the indirect costs of these large infrastructure projects would leave a better feeling about the games. The decision not recognize these costs is understandable in achieving the support the games had during the Olympics. That's politics.

I highly recommend this book. Relive those magnificent 17 days. Read this book.

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