% x

                          From the back pages of the National Post

                          The irritating face of economic havoc
                          Cosh, Colby. National Post [Don Mills, Ont] 19 Sep 2008: A.18.

                          As the American financial system goes up in flames like a tissue-paper fairyland touched by a stray match, I can't help thinking back to the first time I thought to myself, "It's time to short Uncle Sam."

                          It was when I first read about Casey Serin -- a name that is not likely to mean much to you now, unless you are a true connoisseur of miscellaneous Internet phenomena. Today, Casey, pictured below, is forgotten, but one day, his curious story will be re-examined with intensity and amazement; for he was the canary whose plummet from the perch disclosed that the world's major financial organs were sucking methane.

                          Casey's remarkable adventure was, by and large, already over when he first became famous in the autumn of 2006. That was when the young Californian started his blog, IAmFacingForeclosure.com. The site was one of a number of "housing bubble blogs" run by troubled investors that had begun to attract a following at the time.

                          Two things made Casey's site stand out so far from the rest that journalists described him as "on his way to becoming the most hated blogger on the Internet," and an exemplar of "irritainment": the depth of the hole he had dug for himself and the complete lack of self-awareness with which he described his predicament.

                          A veteran of get-rich-quick real estate books and seminars -- of the sort that gets nobody rich quick but the authors and presenters --Casey, a newlywed Uzbek immigrant then aged 23, had quit his job in the fall of 2005 to become a full-time property speculator. Using none of his own capital, he had been able to purchase eight houses across the U. S. southwest in just eight months. Total value: roughly US$2.9-million. How was a former Web developer who had never earned more than $50,000 in a year able to build such an empire? The question was once an idle conundrum, but today it seems somehow imperative that a full answer be found.

                          The short, ostensive answer, of course, is mortgage fraud-- though it was fraud of a sort that, as Casey has insisted all along, no American authority has been very interested in prosecuting or preventing. With encouragement from mortgage brokers, Serin lied to lenders about his income and abused subsidized loans intended strictly for owner-occupants. Making multiple purchases before the initial ones could filter through to his credit reports was crucial to the process. Later, when he managed to unload some of his properties, he would use up-front cash from sellers to bankroll other purchases (as well as his own expensive lifestyle), failing to give the required notice to increasingly anxious creditors.

                          Serin was so unaware he'd done anything wrong -- ethically or legally -- that he openly blogged about all this behaviour, defiantly arguing with Web visitors about his refusal to find a job, his carelessness about reporting to creditors, his reliance on patient friends and relatives and the inane purchases he would make whenever some scrap of cash fell in to his hands. He became legendary in the blogosphere and on the talk-show circuit for alternating half-baked musings about whether he'd really done anything wrong, dipstick maxims like, "The fastest way to becoming a millionaire is to borrow a million," scorn for formal education and hard work and praise for virtually every form of snake oil known to mankind, ranging from enemas to wheat grass to "9/11 truth."

                          Yet despite being a naive, lazy combination of American Dreamer and con man, it was only the chance discovery of one of his Web pages by a mortgage lender that stopped him from buying a ninth house.

                          At one time, the whole unbelievable crap game might well have worked out for Casey -- but he had picked a hilariously inappropriate time to jump into U. S. real estate, and had made matters worse by buying certain properties sight unseen from wholesalers. In the end, at least five of Serin's houses were foreclosed on, becoming poorly maintained neighbourhood nuisances in the meantime. His net worth is in the abyss, his beautiful wife left him and took her annihilated credit rating with her and his history of shady dealing leaves a declaration of bankruptcy almost entirely out of the question.

                          So how many Caseys are out there, living on the edge in the American wilderness? If home lending practices were really as insane as he has demonstrated, using nothing but a head full of self-help nonsense and the guts of a burglar, how much abuse was perpetrated by bright people who really knew how to game the broken system? How much bad debt still remains to be purged, and how low can the bottom of the housing market be? No one can say: All one can do is tremble with dread for the fate of the republic.

                          colbycosh@gmail.com

                          Credit: Colby Cosh; National Post

                          Illustration
                          Color Photo: / x ;; Caption:

                          Copyright CanWest Interactive, Inc. Sep 19, 2008

                          % x

                          Data notes to "Will no one rid us of these turnout nerds?"

                          Statcan wants me to make sure you know "This analysis is based on the Statistics Canada General Social Survey, Cycle 22: Social Networks, 2008. All computations, use and interpretation of these data are entirely that of Colby Cosh."

                          The actual sample sizes for the "Olds" and "Youngs" categories defined in the article are n=1780 for the "Olds" and n=1997 for the "Youngs". To derive national estimates of both eligible-voter totals and "did-vote" totals, the answers by respondents have to be adjusted by individual demographic weights, designed (by Statcan) such that any possible subsample reflects as closely as possible the geographic and demographic qualities of the population as a whole. Individual respondents who have demographic features underweighted in the sample are thus given extra weight for the purpose of making population estimates like mine. This makes estimating confidence bounds and calculating statistical significance a little tricky: readers who are interested can consult the documentation for GSS Cycle 22 (which, unlike the microdata themselves, is publicly viewable). But the differences between the estimated "Old" and "Young" turnouts do appear to be many, many standard deviations apart in every case.

                          Twitter

                            Blogroll

                            CANADA
                            Full Comment
                            NP Network Blogs
                            Mark Steyn
                            Paul Wells
                            Jonathan Kay
                            The Shotgun
                            Scrolling Eye
                            Megapundit
                            Norman Spector
                            Adam Radwanski
                            The Court
                            Michael Geist

                            The Tyee
                            BlogTO
                            Torontoist
                            George Jonas
                            Mathew Ingram
                            Kate McMillan
                            David Frum
                            Mark Evans
                            Dust My Broom
                            Steve Janke
                            Weissenberger/Koch
                            Adam Daifallah
                            Joey DeVilla
                            Angry Robot
                            Kathy Shaidle
                            Daveberta
                            Douglas Bell
                            Andrew Steele
                            This
                            Flit
                            Jonathan Chevreau
                            Tybalt
                            Buckdog
                            Jay Currie
                            Slaw.ca
                            Xtra.ca
                            John Cairns
                            Stephen Taylor
                            Pithlord
                            I, Ectomorph
                            Darren Barefoot
                            Dave Shea
                            Paul Willcocks
                            Daniel Negreanu
                            Jeffrey Shallit
                            Stewart Russell
                            Daimnation!
                            Grant McCracken
                            J. Kelly Nestruck
                            Caterina Fake
                            Nicholas Packwood
                            Alec Saunders
                            Jay Jardine
                            Blogging Tories
                            Tim Bray
                            3 Bright Stars
                            The Dominion
                            John Gushue
                            Blog Québécois
                            Ian Gilmore
                            Kevin Grace
                            Rick Hiebert
                            Globe on Hockey
                            Ryan Cousineau

                            USA
                            Matt Welch
                            The Volokh Conspiracy
                            Jim Henley
                            Aaron Haspel
                            Jason Kottke
                            Agenda Bender
                            E.K. Rescorla
                            David Friedman
                            Instapundit
                            Ken Layne
                            Evan Kirchhoff
                            Anders Sandberg
                            Udolpho
                            Rogers Cadenhead
                            Lindsay Beyerstein
                            Jeff Johnson
                            Rob MacDougall
                            Virginia Postrel
                            Mickey Kaus
                            Jerry Pournelle
                            Steve Sailer
                            Luke Ford
                            John Derbyshire
                            Gene Expression
                            Derek Lowe
                            Marginal Revolution
                            Lynne Kiesling
                            2 Blowhards
                            About Last Night
                            Hit & Run
                            Liberty & Power
                            Cato Unbound
                            Gene Healy
                            Julian Sanchez
                            Radley Balko
                            Jesse Walker
                            Billy Beck
                            Steven Jens
                            Evan McElravy
                            Will Wilkinson
                            Tim Cavanaugh
                            Greg Ransom
                            Jane Galt
                            Alex Ross
                            Andrew Sullivan
                            Armavirumque
                            Tony Pierce
                            James Lileks
                            Joanne Jacobs
                            Jeff Jarvis
                            A.C. Douglas
                            Emmanuelle Richard
                            Dr. Weevil
                            Maia Lazar
                            The Comedian
                            Buddyhead
                            Aggravated DocSurg
                            Jack Balkin
                            GetReligion.org
                            Terrence Berres
                            Eric Scheie
                            Bruce Sterling
                            Cool Tools
                            Mark Chu-Carroll
                            Michael Stastny
                            Ed Kemmick
                            Eve Tushnet
                            Brainwash
                            Cliopatria
                            Language Log
                            Jorn Barger
                            Brad DeLong
                            The Corner
                            PWS
                            Dienekes
                            Cognitive Daily
                            Kircher Society
                            11D
                            Nielsen Hayden
                            Paul Kedrosky
                            James DiGiorgio
                            Daniel Radosh
                            Amy Alkon
                            Minimally Invasive

                            WORLD
                            Sarah Kelly
                            Null Device
                            BoingBoing
                            Tim Blair
                            Denis Dutton
                            Ben Goldacre
                            Daily Speculations
                            Boris Johnson
                            Crooked Timber
                            Warren Ellis
                            Overcoming Bias
                            Scotty Mac
                            Russian Dilettante
                            Anglican.tk
                            Daniel Butler
                            Samizdata
                            Chris Brand
                            Andrew Ian Dodge
                            Adam Smith Inst.
                            Peking Dork
                            Ian Hamet
                            Kaiser Kuo
                            Mig Greengard
                            Danwei.org
                            Free Exchange
                            Tim Harford
                            Japundit
                            Shoko Nakagawa
                            Tim Krabbé

                            SPORTS
                            Lowetide
                            Covered in Oil
                            James Mirtle
                            Eric McErlain
                            Daryl Reaugh
                            Sports Matters
                            Hot Oil
                            Irreverent Oiler Fans
                            Pat McLean
                            Littlest Defenseman
                            Abel2Yzerman
                            Jes Gõlbez
                            Tom Benjamin
                            Hockey Rodent
                            SharksPage
                            Baseball Think Factory
                            Football Outsiders
                            Boatmen Blog
                            Free Darko
                            Deadspin
                            Kissing Suzy Kolber
                            Fire Joe Morgan
                            Tangotiger

                            COMICS/FUN
                            Maakies
                            Achewood
                            Fart Party
                            Wondermark
                            Dinosaur Comics
                            Angry Flower
                            XKCD
                            Stupid Comics
                            Deuce of Clubs
                            Something Awful
                            David Thorpe
                            Fake Steve Jobs
                            Jim Treacher
                            Cockeyed
                            ASIFA
                            A Special Thing
                            Comics Curmudgeon
                            David Campbell
                            John Kricfalusi
                            Patton Oswalt
                            TSOYA