% 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.


                  Credit: Colby Cosh; National Post

                  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.



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

                    The Tyee
                    George Jonas
                    Mathew Ingram
                    Kate McMillan
                    David Frum
                    Mark Evans
                    Dust My Broom
                    Steve Janke
                    Adam Daifallah
                    Joey DeVilla
                    Angry Robot
                    Kathy Shaidle
                    Douglas Bell
                    Andrew Steele
                    Jonathan Chevreau
                    Jay Currie
                    John Cairns
                    Stephen Taylor
                    I, Ectomorph
                    Darren Barefoot
                    Dave Shea
                    Paul Willcocks
                    Daniel Negreanu
                    Jeffrey Shallit
                    Stewart Russell
                    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

                    Matt Welch
                    The Volokh Conspiracy
                    Jim Henley
                    Aaron Haspel
                    Jason Kottke
                    Agenda Bender
                    E.K. Rescorla
                    David Friedman
                    Ken Layne
                    Evan Kirchhoff
                    Anders Sandberg
                    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
                    Tony Pierce
                    James Lileks
                    Joanne Jacobs
                    Jeff Jarvis
                    A.C. Douglas
                    Emmanuelle Richard
                    Dr. Weevil
                    Maia Lazar
                    The Comedian
                    Aggravated DocSurg
                    Jack Balkin
                    Terrence Berres
                    Eric Scheie
                    Bruce Sterling
                    Cool Tools
                    Mark Chu-Carroll
                    Michael Stastny
                    Ed Kemmick
                    Eve Tushnet
                    Language Log
                    Jorn Barger
                    Brad DeLong
                    The Corner
                    Cognitive Daily
                    Kircher Society
                    Nielsen Hayden
                    Paul Kedrosky
                    James DiGiorgio
                    Daniel Radosh
                    Amy Alkon
                    Minimally Invasive

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

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

                    Fart Party
                    Dinosaur Comics
                    Angry Flower
                    Stupid Comics
                    Deuce of Clubs
                    Something Awful
                    David Thorpe
                    Fake Steve Jobs
                    Jim Treacher
                    A Special Thing
                    Comics Curmudgeon
                    David Campbell
                    John Kricfalusi
                    Patton Oswalt