Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brain-washing is alive and well!

Yesterday, a friend of mine went into the trouble of scanning an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal and emailing it to me. Coincidentally, I had seen that article about Obama’s upcoming tax policies and its impending catastrophic effect on the U.S. economy. The fact is that the opinion pages of that famous business newspaper have been steadfastly singing the glory of the Bush administration without ever anticipating and warning us about the debasing of our economy over two consecutive presidential terms. First, the unnecessary tax-cuts, then the unbridled “laissez-faire” in the financial sector, the foolish and ruinous Iraq war and - combined with it - a total absence of foresight in the energy arena. I told my friend all of that and sincerely believe that a lot of well-intentioned business people blindly follow the Wall Street Journal ideology that is no other than our government mouthpiece. Instead of relying on just one source of information - and this goes for me as well - people who think they’re smart should always adopt a varied diet of information and systematically explore both sides of any idea instead of running blindly with the one they’ve been fed through their favorite media. In the end, they would always perceive a more balanced and reasonable view of the world we’re in. These days, politics are far too corrupt to be trusted, no matter which side of the fence we’re standing on. These times require more critical thinking than ever as well as verifying every bit of information we get, even if the final cost causes us to becoming even more cynical than ever before!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Running along the Bay

We’re spending a few days in San Mateo, near San Francisco. The best thing about that place isn’t just the nice hotel we’re staying at, but our daily morning run on the Bay Shore Trail that span the distance between the San Mateo Bridge and the south end of San Francisco airport. Early in the morning, we drive the short distance between our hotel and a parking spot by the bay, when the air is still crisp and the sun is just out, and then we’re on our way. We enjoy the sea breeze, can smell the eucalyptus trees (as well as the stinking low tide,) see countless flying creatures of all feathers and also get a close glance at the much larger “birds” that are approaching the airport runways. Some of them are huge 747 arriving from the Orient and starting an American day for all of their passengers. When we hear the roar, we lift our chins, but keep on running until the plane disappears over the hill. Then we turn around, do the trip facing south and arrive back at the car almost one full hour after departure…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can Obama “do it?"

Now that the presidential election is almost on its final stretch, all smart eyes are on Barack Obama and many fear that, when all is said and done, McCain could still take the prize from under him. It seems evident that Obama will now have to “re-invent himself” and transition from an “orator” into a true, courageous leader; someone with a clear plan able to handle the severe and multiple wounds our country has received during two catastrophic Bush terms. I’m not suggesting that McCain would even do a better job, but that he could win because Obama’s supporters might quickly get “cold feet” and turn away from him at the last minute. The painful steps of re-definition and re-invention will have to take place and can certainly happen given the intellectual capacities of the candidate “for change,” but it sure promises to be a cliff-hanger and will mean a needed and enormous amount of work to honestly help define what will happen next to our nation…

Monday, July 28, 2008

Before leaving Reno

We spent the night in the “the biggest little city in the world” or something along these lines. Reno is a small replica of Las Vegas, a bit less pretentious and much more humane, because of its smaller size and of its surroundings much closer to real nature. We stayed at the Eldorado Hotel Casino an extraordinary good value in these days of skyrocketing cost of living and were able to weave our way through thin crowds and didn’t have to be bothered with noise and all the other nuisances that are part of these huge casinos. The very best part of our stay in Reno though, was our morning run along the banks of the Truckee River and through the Idlewild Park dodging the misadjusted automatic sprinklers. We’ve ran there several times already and there are very few nicest running treks I had a chance to experience in my thirty years of road-running on a vast variety of courses…

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crossing Nevada

Nevada is a big state that stands in the way between Utah and the West Coast, so if you want to drive to California, the shortest way is always through the “Silver State.” This territory is a big desert, mainly populated by Las Vegas and Reno. Between that northern town and Salt Lake, there are just a handful of tiny towns, like Wendover, Wells, Elko, Winnemucca and Lovelock. In between there’s absolutely nothing; just dust, sagebrush and, depending on the season, tumble weeds. I know, I’m not including the Bonneville speedway in Utah, that’s next to Wendover and its famous terrestrial speed records, but it’s not a town, it’s just a place. At any rate, we’ve been driving all day this Sunday through this dreary landscape; to make the journey a bit worst, the skies were filled with smoke drifting East from the this year’s thousand of Californian fires. They were very few cars on the road, just lots of big trucks going back and forth on I-80, the New York to San Francisco thoroughfare. At one point, we noticed a hitchhiker; he looked old, unkempt and dressed in ragged clothing. I passed him, thought for a while, then backed up as fast as could on the shoulder and picked him up. Our backseat was filled with junk, so we had to make some space for our passenger. He wasn’t talkative at all and smelled intensely bad. He reminded me of someone I knew but I couldn’t place any name I knew on his face. We dropped him off at Battle Mountain, a tiny place that’s mostly an Indian Reservation; that’s when it all finally clicked. I recognized Steve Fawcett the navigator extraordinaire who’s been missing for months. He too was quick to realize that I had identified him. As he bid farewell he told me to shut up, ask me for my name and address and simply said: “I’ll take very good care of you.” We drove off…

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The financial crisis in numbers

Someone said that “to understand something, you must be able to explain it.” This certainly applies to our current financial crisis. Today, we are not going to go very far in shedding light on that topic; we’ll just look at some numbers. Of course one of the big challenge is to keep these figures into perspective, because they’re simply so huge. On a previous blog I was suggesting a practical comparison between numbers and years; you might want to revisit it… At any rate, with a gross domestic product of $13.84 trillion, a public debt of $8.5 trillion and an outside debt of $12.2 trillion, you may wonder how much money is represented by loans that are secured through real estate; the answer is a staggering $16.7 trillion (about $10.2trillion in mortgages and $6.5 trillion in so-called “mortgage-backed securities;”) that’s much more than our GDP! Of that, $5 trillion is held by the now infamous Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. You should keep in mind that mortgage-based debt is roughly half the assets of the entire U.S. commercial system. With this in mind, it’s easy to see that if real estate prices keep on plunging – and there is so far no sign contradicting that trend – and go back to their “pre-bubble” level; I’m not talking about a “catastrophic” drop here, just a return to regular market values, we are up for some very interesting times. Now if we estimate that the bubble constitutes an over-appreciation of 50% since 2003, and that the “post-bubble” values could drop by at least 30%, the impact on banks assets could easily – by my own estimation - fall between 5% and 10% of the $16.7 trillion, which might equate to around $1 trillion worth of potential losses to our commercial banking system. That would be a far cry from the $20 billion taxpayers’ liability announced to justify the “bail-out” of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac. Fortunately for our government, no on can really tell the difference between “billion” and “trillion”…

Friday, July 25, 2008

Birth of an aspen tree

We’ve recently discussed aspen trees in this blog; they are the majority of species that grow on our property. Called quaking aspen for the trembling of its leaves, the tree is both ancient and enduring, approaching what’s been called "theoretical immortality." It’s a life form persisting over time without offspring, surviving in the apparent absence of sexual selection, living thousands of years between periods of successful reproduction. The asexual methods of propagating aspen works a follows: Quaking aspen clones have numerous long, lateral roots in the top 6 inches of the soil; suckers arise along these roots and become a younger generation that is genetically identical to its parent tree. Each individual tree can live between 40 and 150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony lives much longer. One such colony can be found in our own state of Utah; named "Pando", it is claimed to be 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. During spring and summer, we need to constantly remove all suckers to prevent a complete invasion. Two or three weeks ago, we decided to give one of these little guys a chance for life and let him grow in our front yard. Today, it’s already one foot tall, so we’ll keep you apprised of its progress as time passes!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When dogs divide

In Park City, dogs have long enjoyed a free and sacred status comparable to India’s “sacred cows.” Over the years they have multiplied and started to encroach upon human space and habitat. If you live in a house with a lawn, chances are you have to pick dog droppings on a daily basis. Park City also has a leash law that is seldom respected by our righteous dog owners. Early this year, a Parkite named Bob Berube who claimed to be aggressed by a dog roaming free, sprayed it with mace and started a big controversy. The dog’s owner complained to the police and was the one who got fined. Several months later, Berube warded off another dog attack with his pepper-spray and this time the owner of the pouch hit him. The news report in our local press generated hundreds of messages pitting one half of the population against the other. More recently, fliers were posted warning dog owners of Bob Berube’s vigilante acts, a sign of the tension that still prevail between the man and undisciplined dog owners months after the second incident. Where do we stand in all this? We fully support Berube, he’s our hero and we have started to become even more worked up any time we encounter an unleash dog and see owners not picking up after their "little darlings." Oh yes, we’ve also just purchased some pepper spray that we now carry in our pocket when we run, mountain bike or hike the trails!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is the keyboard a barrier?

Sometime I wonder why so few people around my age seem willing to jump on the internet and take advantage of the wealth of information and possibilities available at their fingertips. The more I’m puzzled by it, the more I begin to realize that if someone never learned how to “touch-type,” the whole endeavor becomes that much more difficult and the use of the internet as a communication tool far less fun. Generally, access to the internet starts with e-mail and opens up a new way to communicate with relatives, friends and business associates, but if that whole exercise ends up being a frustrating exercise of “hunt-and-peck.” I am convinced that from that point forward, a lot of internet users get disgusted and altogether give up going on line or working with their computer. I never had any keyboarding lessons and when I purchased my first “Keypro” personal computer in 1983, this was the first thing I taught myself with a simple program; this has served me well indeed!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Mama Mia” what a movie!

Yesterday, we went to see the screen adaptation of the now famous “Mama Mia” musical and what a great movie that was. The story was cute, the cast picked for the performance was close to perfection and if you loved Abba songs as we do, it was impossible not to fall under the charm of a great piece of entertainment. That cute little film brought an extra dose of bright sunshine into a day that already had plenty of it!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big vs. small picture

America generally sees the big picture, get large ideas and then gradually, as the plan develops, get into the nitty-gritty. By contrast, Europe and some other cultures have a characteristic tendency of noticing the little details first, getting bogged down with them and having a much harder time in realizing the “big thing.” This is a trait that I have observed in the more than thirty years I have lived in the United States. When I wonder what is behind these different mental views, I can’t help but think that when you live in a huge country with gigantic needs, you have little option but think “big” in order to set events and projects in motion. There is also the greater freedom (real of just perceived) that permeates through American culture and signals that it’s okay to first embrace widely and then think about the minute details when they appear. In contrast, Europe is more densely populated, has a much older culture, is much more set in its ways and very orderly, that it’s a lot easier to see the obstacles along the way of an idea, than simply the possibilities. This might be a way to explain America’s perennial optimism with its view of the glass half-full as apposed to the more prudent, perhaps more cynical view of the European mind…

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Group mountain biking

We aren't too much into “group” things, like skiing or hiking with a bunch of people. I’m not even talking here about “group-sex!” Today, however we were invited by our friends Frank Marianne Traczyk to go on a mountain bike outing with some of their friends and we ended up covering 16 miles, struggling a lot at time, but on the whole having great fun! We were eight of us; four guys and four girls, all about the same age; Frank was the group leader and Marianne was closing the line, ready to pick up the pieces if they were any. We started on a pleasant downhill to flat portion before getting to the “pièce de résistance,” a single track going up on a steep hill with rocky portions that forced the bravest of us to dismount and walk our bikes for a few moments. Two full hours later we were done and ready to sit down and eat a taco at El Chubasco, one of many Mexican eateries in Park City; a pleasant outing, a serious work-out and a great group of friends!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A total failure?

This season, we finally decided to try our luck with a veggie garden. That’s right, we had never tried it in Park City, even though we used to have one while we lived in Chappaqua, New York. That old one wasn’t a great success, but produced mostly a modest tomato crop and we had quite a bit of fun with it. So this past June, just after returning from vacation, I selected the sunniest spot in our garden, cut thirty square feet into the lawn, removed all the grass, turned the dirt, added some steer manure and a few days later proceeded to place three tomato plants and sowed some salad and herbs. That was 23 days ago. As of today, the tomatoes are literally “dying on the vine” and there is no sight of salads and herbs at all. I feel very embarrassed, especially after Evelyne has just visited her friend Marianne and marveled at her vegetables! I just bought a book on gardening but couldn’t find in it the tips I needed to turn things around. This is a dire situation and I must find a quick solution!

Friday, July 18, 2008


The longer we live and the more we see people we know leave us a little more alone. Yesterday, Henderson “Hendy” Colley, my old friend and colleague from the “Lange days” called me to chat and told me in the process that George Bauer, the former general manager of Ski magazine and Rick Baldwin, the flamboyant U.S. distributor of Lacroix skis had recently passed away. A few days earlier, I learned that Jim Woolner, one of the partners that ran Beconta and distributed Look bindings, Nordica boots and Völkl skis in the seventies, had also left us at the age of 88. Jim was a good man and Karl Wallach, his associate played the role of “bad cop” in the partnership; I guess you must have one of these. All these folks who once were important ski industry characters are now gone and the world keeps going on without missing one single beat. This goes to say that unless someone invents or start something exceptional or has a significant impact on our civilization, there won’t be much room left for that individual in the history books…

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The house I grew up in

My brother told me on Tuesday that the wrecking equipment had finally arrived to demolish the house in which I grew up in Montriond, near Morzine, in the French Alps. By the end of the week “L’Épicéa” (Picea alpestris, we named it after that spruce variety) will be gone, the ground leveled and the home that sat on it for more than 70 years will be totally forgotten by almost everyone. I certainly will remember it a lot. That’s where, upon my birth, I was brought up and were I stayed in and off until the time, 34 years ago, when I left my mountains to go work for Look bindings. I heard many times that my dad and Uncle Alfred his brother, both toiled to build this rather large structure with their own hands, putting a lot of “sweat equity” into it. When it was completed, the residence was “state-of-the-art,” but over the years it had steadily become lifeless and obsolete. As I reminisce, I feel a tinge of sadness in thinking about the all years I lived in that place. I only console myself when I remember that “all things must past” and I think that very soon, my brother will finally enjoy an unobstructed view from his picture-perfect chalet that he built in the back of it…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What’s driving the financial crisis?

It all started with the sub-prime crisis and yet it still goes on. For many, things are about to get better; in other words they think the “bottom” of the crisis is near. I’m not so sure; the key element rests with real-estate sales. Everywhere, inventories are bulging, prices are keeping steady or not going down fast and significantly enough to “unclog” the entire market. In addition, obtaining financing has become extremely tenuous. Banks now have cold-feet and are reluctant to make loans. So, we’re in fact facing a “quadruple-whammy” with serious real-estate investors waiting by the sidelines for the bottom to fall, normal folks who can’t get the mortgages they needs, banks that won’t make money available, plus a grossly over-supplied market. My sense is that it will take another year of misery before real estate prices start really tumbling down and banks realize that their assets secured by real property must be discounted by 30 to 50 percent. At that time, they’ll plunge deep into the red…

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Job interviews

I’ve had lots of job interviews; some went well, others didn’t. I remember that I once applied for a job with IBM, in Grenoble, France; “Big Blue” didn’t like me and turned me down. My interview for the Look job was with “Madame Beyl” a fierce woman who only found me acceptable when I gave her my zodiac sign which was to her liking. For twenty years, I wanted a job with Salomon (the ski equipment maker) and was rejected with discouraging regularity. I also applied for the top job at Head skis; flew from Salt Lake to New York to meet with its new owner; I made an impressive presentation who failed to persuade the financier who had just bought the ailing company. I also had job offers without interviews. A very good one was made to me in a 747 while flying from New York to Switzerland, another was made on my cell phone while I was driving my car. Yesterday, I went for a job interview to pursue a silly idea that I had for some time. They liked me a lot, but I don’t think I’m ready to take another job; at least, not for now…

Monday, July 14, 2008

Two National Holidays in ten days

From the 4th of July to Bastille Day there are just ten days and these two events account for my full ration of National Holidays for the entire year. So, here comes the question; am I more feeling American than French or vice-versa? Very hard to say; I’ll always feel a little of both, but as I’ve said before, I feel more like a Citizen of the World than simply just a French or an American. Like many folks, I also feel a lot of regional attachment for the places I’ve experienced and liked in my life; it’s a mixture of sentimentality and personal taste. The mountains are my playground, so I can relate much more to mountain people than seashore dwellers. I love Park City and am keenly interested in what goes on in the Morzine Valley too, but I always stay open and as long as the place I live in is located in a great spot, somewhere on the blue planet, I’ll be quite content…

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An afternoon at the wine festival

Yesterday, our friends Marianne and Frank Traczyk graciously invited us to join them for the last afternoon of the “Park City Food & Wine Classic” an epicurean extravaganza, as the event is billed to be. Featuring the finest in food, wine, and entertainment during this three-day event, the event consists essentially of wine tasting and pairings, gourmet dinners, educational seminars and culinary competitions. This is a rare opportunity to meet owners, winemakers and senior representatives from wineries located primarily in California but also from Australia, Argentina or even Italy. The final event took place at the nearby Canyons ski resort, we went there by bus, and from 3 to 5 pm we “tasted” lots of wines and nibbled into some very fine food. After two hours of "oral testing," Evelyne and I had exceeded our attention span for the entire week and did our very best to ride the bus home. Marianne and Frank, much more dedicated than us, showed up at our place one hour later when the festivities had come to a screeching halt. We shared a delicious dinner and lots of laughter, had a long and lively conversation trying - once more - to reconstruct the entire world, and went to bed by 10 pm, totally worn out and ready to slip into a deep slumber…

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to prepare for jobs?

It seems to me that good planning, education and training are the best way to prepare our workforce. Good planning is important, since our economic model is changing all the time and what used to be a good job in 1990 may offer little future today. We must know better what are future needs are; namely, how many car mechanics, electricians, doctors, accountants, will be needed at specific points in the future. So it would seem that a system that can anticipate the shift and the foreseeable needs in work force has to work hand in hand with our school and higher education systems. The problem inherent with these institutions however is that they don’t seem to be nimble and adaptable enough to keep up with the swift changes that are underpinning our modern economy and with that situation, a lot of opportunities may me missed by job-seekers and employers alike. So what should be done? Probably change our paradigm that education is somehow a stable and well defined institution when it should in fact be as fluid and adaptable as the internet or our modern international markets, in “real time.” This clearly calls for training that’s on a fast track, modular and can quickly shift towards new needs, new technologies, new ideas and changing opportunities. Are we ready for such a new system? Probably not yet, we are still far from that situation, as our educational institutions and infrastructures have too much inertia and are not equipped to respond fast enough to an ever-changing and accelerating employment landscape.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Handling negative folks

Someone asked me the other day how I deal with negative people; my first response was, ”I simply avoid them.” Of course, this is not realistic as most of these folks are often family, friend or colleagues, and there is little one can do to avoid them altogether; seeing them less frequently remains a valid option however. So, with this in mind, here are my “instructions for use” that I try to apply when I come in contact with these fascinating individuals.

1. Stop being yourself

There’s no way you can be transparent or totally open and spontaneous with these people. You know that in their presence you often are demeaned, constricted or attacked; as a result you intuitively feel unsafe, tense or on guard. Further, why not look at the entire situation as a “game” and have fun with it! For instance, create an “out-of-body experience” and witness what goes on around you as if you were “floating” out of yourself and hovering around the entire scene; this may sound silly, but if you can do it, it’s amazing how much of a difference it will make. You'll feel that negativity can’t touch you as you now are on a different plane and fully untouchable.

2. Don’t react to the provocation

Easier said than done, but that's precisely what angry or negative individual won't expect! Whenever the negative tirade starts just smile and don’t say anything. Try to stay completely detached and don’t jump in. If the attack is really nasty, leave the room if you can. Now, instead of reacting, take a moment, count to ten if you must, step back mentally and create some space between you and that negative attack. Just smile; the antagonistic individual is simply seeking a reaction from you. Most importantly, remain an outsider by keeping in mind that you haven’t created or caused the problem and it is not your fault. Don’t start feeling that you have to solve the problems of the “energy-drainer” as you’re not responsible for that person’s life or negativity.

3. Listen attentively to what is said

Get the emotion out of your mind, and focus at what is said in a cold, clinical manner. Listen intensely to understand the issue and see where the angry person is coming from. Often, in or behind the words, there's a clue as to what's really bothering negative folks. Listen for it carefully with all your senses as this might help you in formulating an appropriate response.

4. Respond very carefully

Start by acknowledging what you’ve heard; for instance: "I can see that you're not happy about this” or “that is an interesting opinion.” Then ask a clarifying question that could be: “What do you really mean by that” or "Tell me a bit more about your opinion on the matter?" Depending on the situation, and if the comment was somewhat complicated or very negative, repeat back what the person said; it could for example be: : "If I understand you correctly, you are concerned that _______. (Here, try to use some of the exact words used initially by the other person.) At this point you may also expand upon what has been said: "Based on what you told me, this would mean _____. Is that correct?" Ending with a question generally shows the other person that you're open to their concerns.

5. Legitimize and offer to explore solutions

This doesn’t mean that you agree with the negative person; for example, "I can certainly understand why you feel this way." Then shine some positive light by offering to explore solutions; this could be: "Would it be helpful for to you to consider what can be done to resolve this?" Of course, a negative response alerts you to the fact that the person really doesn't want to resolve anything! Notice that you didn't say "we" as this is precisely that person’s problem, not yours.

6. Establish and enforce your boundaries
When you've asked a fair question, you're entitled to a reasonable and courteous reply. If necessary, point out that your question was prompted by this person’s concern. Sometimes, you can ask: "What can I do to help?" Surprisingly, that might trigger a realization in the other person that it really isn't your responsibility to solve the problem. Occasionally, you'll encounter someone who just won't let go. They'll return to the same subject and start all over, or they'll throw a nasty, off the mark, accusation. The fact is, you've listened, acknowledged, explored, legitimized and offered, and that’s still not good enough. It’s time to say this: "I believe I understand your concern, and I've offered to help you reach a solution. What more do you want?" If the person becomes verbally abusive, you can simply say: "I'm sorry. I don't believe that I can help you any further, and I don't appreciate your tone. If you're going to speak to me in that manner, I'm afraid you'll have to work it out for yourself. I don't appreciate abuse."

7. Don’t be afraid to say “No”
Manipulative, open-ended questions are also a way to get you on the spot and force you to abdicate by saying “yes” because you’re a “nice person.” Don’t fall into that trap and if you feel that the answer should be no, say it. Further, you don’t have to explain why you’ve chosen to answer by the negative. This is your choice and your prerogative…

Now, good luck!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Menial job

When I was a kid and didn’t work well in school, my mom always predicted that I would end up working for the road maintenance department, at the last rung of the ladder with a “shovel and a pair of rubber boots,” doing menial tasks. I didn’t care much about the threat, because at least, I’d be outdoors and would be tanned all year round. Destiny took me into a slightly different path, but today, as a way to confirm my mother’s oracle, I spread asphalt sealer on my driveway (something I’m supposed to do every couple of years) and boy, what a hard work that was! Now, I think I’m going to be a good student; finally!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Daring to stare at reality

Sometime reality isn’t really something we want to look at, especially when we believe it could be very unpleasant. I guess, a preference for ignorance is something that can be traced back into early childhood and this always has been a fascinating phenomenon for me. Unpleasant matters are never attractive and as long as we can postpone that closer look at them, we can pretend that they don’t exist – yet. This is a perfect example of denial. It seems that uncovering realities that we know aren’t good takes such a Herculean effort that keeping on ignoring them might totally erase them, or at the very least, make them look a tiny bit better by the time they finally appear. In spite of all these inner battles, discovery has its benefits; it get us out of the dream state, makes us deal with what really exists, experience a salutary blast of pain, turn a new page and help us grow, but this takes so much courage and energy...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The art of trigger-pulling

There are a variety of decisions that we’re called to make all the time; some are very easy and some can be quite challenging, and almost feel impossible. Logically, good information helps make good decisions, but what are we to do when information is sketchy, when there are no reliable facts available or when that gut-wrenching decision must be made on a best-guess, intuition or toss of a coin basis? In these later circumstances, “pulling the trigger” is not just a simple “cowboy feat,” it’s something really hard, but that has to be done as it breaks up the deadlock and brings a strong feeling of relief. It may not be perfect – in fact, it seldom is – but it’s been done and this move makes all the difference between indecisiveness and progress. It just takes as much information as can be possibly gathered within a reasonable and practical timeframe, and that’s it! No turning back and no second-guessing anymore…

Monday, July 7, 2008

European dysfunction

As France starts assuming the presidency of the European Union for the next six months, doubt linger as to whether Nicolas Sarkozy will be able to deal with Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty given his “cowboy” style and his propensity for taking unilateral action and saying things without thinking too much about their consequences. In my view however, Europe is a tough nut to crack because its design is profoundly dysfunctional; it operates as a hybrid of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. In certain areas it depends upon agreement between the member states. However, it also has supranational bodies, able to make decisions without the agreement of members. You see, it can’t work fully unless its members begin to tone down their national allegiance and their individual sense of patriotism. In my view, only a truly supranational Europe can speak with a united voice, have a common foreign policy, a unified defense, and except for the Euro, its (almost) common currency, it can’t really stand tall in today’s world. Anything else is a shattered piece of glass with no structural strength and no ability to reflect genuine leadership.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The terrible confluence

A confluence is a meeting or joining of two or more things, or the place where that joining or meeting takes place. Our world economy and markets are currently in the midst of a terrible confluence. Unlike previous crisis, several huge factors are simultaneously at play:
- Real estate price collapse (began in the USA, starting to develop in the UK, Spain and may quickly develop elsewhere)
- Financial liquidity crisis (started domestically, but spreading fast into the rest of the world) and relatively low interest rates leaving central banks limited options
- Skyrocketing commodities and food prices
- Unaffordable and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Widespread globalization with a level-playing field that will drag income down in the so-called “developed countries.”
What have the US (both the Administration and the Congress) and the other “G8” governments done in the face of that “perfect storm?” Strictly nothing; they seem like passengers watching their own train wreck in slow motion and somehow enjoying the spectacle…

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The end of All-Wheel-Drive?

When we moved to Park City in 1985, the fashionable car was the Jeep Cherokee, but most folks drove front-wheel or rear-wheel drive cars and they were just fine in the snow, as long as the tires where of good quality and in decent shape. It’s probably Audi and the proliferation of SUV that created a four-wheel or all-wheel dependence, and after a few years no one would want to be caught dead driving anything than a four-wheel drive vehicle. As most of us know, one added power train guzzles more fuel (at least an average of 10% extra, not counting the additional maintenance) and with today’s price, every drop counts. In addition, the advent of “electronic stability control” has given front wheel drive cars a much improved handling on slick roads. So when I add 1 and 2 together, I can only see the upcoming demise of the four wheel drive automobile, whether it is under the form of a huge SUV or a small sedan…

Friday, July 4, 2008

A cheaper way to travel

Now that oil is at record levels with no end in sight and that airlines will have little choice between disappearing, raising their prices, or doing a lot of both, there’s still a cheap and safe way to travel, with no crowds, delays or jetlag, and it’s in one’s imagination. That’s where I’ve decided to focus some of my future blogs; I’ve already tried it recently and it works perfectly. Soon, I plan to embark into tremendous journeys, meet incredible folks and tell you the stories or relate some pretty cool interviews. I think this will be a lot of fun; those of you who are sticklers with details should check the bottom label if they absolutely need a marker to tell fantasy from reality. So pack up your bags, fasten your seat belts and get ready for some excitement!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Where’s the economy going?

The recent stock market jitters have arrived at a momentous confluence between the end of Bush presidential term, record high commodity prices, a financial crisis spreading into the entire world and the coming of age of the “BRIC” nations (Brasil, Russia, India and China.) So what’s an investor to think and what seems to be the best strategy? While it’s quite difficult to peer into the future and plan a well defined pathway, it seems to me that human ingenuity will, once more, come to the rescue and get us out of that “pickle.” Let’s start with America. If, as I hope, Obama becomes our next president, he will be able to inspire and mobilize the entire nation and get things rolling in areas like new energy policy, health care reform and pragmatic fiscal responsibility (not quite the Wall Street Journal’s kind, but never mind!) There maybe a tough couple of years ahead for all of us, but it will be, at the end, worth it. The financial crisis will bring real estate values substantially down, especially in hard-hit areas that were dominated by speculators, where from “constipated” as it stands now, selling and buying will resume, albeit at drastically reduced and much more realistic prices. Finally, the BRIC nations are here to stay and will continue to flourish, even though they may never enjoy the excessive standard of living we’ve seen for decades; they’ll probably meet us “halfway” however, and that may be the point that’s going to hurt us, the so-called “developed nations.” We’ll finally have to accept to go down quite substantially in order to survive a bit longer…

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What to do with Mugabe?

The international community is at an absolute loss at it faces the situation in Zimbabwe. This is in part because it has ignored that issue for too long and now, as the events are reaching catastrophic proportions, no one knows what to do. Unilateral sanctions (such as the ones the USA and France say they’ll take) are not just ineffective, they are just likely to add fuel to Mugabe’s fiery rhetoric on colonialism. Short of having an African Nation take responsibility for “eliminating” Robert Mugabe, the only pragmatic way to deal with Zimbabwe’s mess would be for the G8 to force South Africa and the nations that strongly support Mugabe to change their positions by “bribing” them with economic or financial aid. That way, they could force another African Union summit aimed at unequivocally condemning the old tyran and unseating him for good by mean of occupying the country and cleaning it up. Without strong medecine, the World and the Zimbaweans may just have to wait until the man’s dies of natural causes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One way to beat OPEC

Recently, my friend Pierrot Anthoine, from Sallanches, France, told me that he just bought himself a 1951 2cv Citroën. That purchase only set him back $9,300. This is an early vintage automobile, made in 1951 and that still runs well; in fact, it’s so road-worthy that he plans to use it from Haute-Savoie to Brittany and back, during his summer vacation. The car has received a new 425 cc engine, up from its original 375 cc, and can now reach 45 mph. The fuel gauge is fully analog which means that you have to drop a dipstick into the opening of the gas cap to know what’s left in the tank. The bottom line: The car runs on regular and gets over 50 miles per gallon, plus it’s virtually sheltered from speeding tickets!