Sunday, August 31, 2008

Trading ski industry brands

When I worked in the ski industry, we used to joke that “to make a small fortune in the ski business, we had to start with… a big one!” I just heard that Quiksilver finally received a binding offer to buy the Rossignol brands for about $150 million, about one quarter of the $560 million Quiksilver paid when it got the company from Laurent Boix-Vives. The latter didn’t do too well compared to the $1.6 billion Georges Salomon received when he sold his holdings to Adidas, but “Jojo” had really worked his way up bit by bit while Boix-Vives had been more calculated and opportunistic. Then, almost like Quiksilver, Adidas lost almost two-third of its purchase price when it sold that company to Amer. So what’s the morale of that story? Don’t trade ski brands in the hope to make much money no matter how prestigious and how well established they are. Bruno Cercley who heads the group “Chartreuse & Mont Blanc” that just acquired the Rossignol brands should remember that lesson and, unlike what he claims, will have to make sure to move all the manufacturing to China if he hopes to make it in that dog-eat-dog business!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain’s desperate move

The Republican choice of Sarah Palin as VP shows that McCain is backed into a corner and has to take a major chance in order to salvage any chance of success in this fall election. It’s not that the VP choice is that important, but when a race is tight and when it feels like a positive outcome is slipping away fast, every little bit helps. What’s wrong with that choice? First Palin seems to be a “maverick” carbon copy of John McCain. Logic would dictate to look for someone complementary, in order to enrich the ticket. Next, forget about “catching” disgruntled Hillary supporters with a pro-choice female candidate and putting so much political inexperience a “heartbeat-away” from the presidency is not going to play too well as the campaign heats up. I would also had that Palin’s main accomplishments, saying no the “bridge to nowhere” and selling the state jet were just responsible moves, not extraordinary feats. As we say, time will tell, but I give that choice a failing grade at best.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Go Obama!

After watching most of the Democratic Convention in Denver, I now feel very good about who I’ll be voting for this coming November. Barack Obama and his team made a very convincing case for change if we are to restore the American Dream and move forward into progress and into a brighter future. As we’ve heard over and over again: "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It’s almost past time for a drastic change in government and only Obama can steer us clear from a continuation of Bush-McCain’s “insanity.” While I am a definite cynic when it comes to politic and politicians, I now am comforted that Obama will deliver on the promises he’s outlined and feel convinced that standing behind him and his compelling program is what we must do. He’ll take us from fear to hope, from “same-old” to change and will generate the positive momentum this nation so sorely needs. I feel inspired, pumped up with hope and ready do my part so this exceptional young man and his team start re-energizing our country. Join me in doing just do the same and we’ll all be rewarded!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mr. “Know-it-all”

To our friends Frank and Marianne, I seem to have developed a reputation of Mr. “Know-it-all.” Until recently, every time they had a question, they would think or say: “Let’s ask him.” This was until last night at dinner, when I finally “spilled the beans” and accidentally revealed that I wasn’t such a savant after all. We were all talking about certain forms of greeting in general and “high-five” in particular, when someone asked about the origins of the latter. Without waiting one second, I jumped off my chair, dropped into my downstairs office and came back up, a few second later, with some pretty cool answers while, at the same time, disclosing Wikipedia as the source of my bountiful knowledge. You, see there is not day that goes by when I’m not looking for some answers to my questions into Google, Yahoo or Wikipedia. I certainly don’t know it all; far from it! I only know where to go and find the answers to my questions and this is the most valuable lesson that over thirty years of immersion into the American culture have taught me, and this is something I cherish…

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don’t sell me anything!

These days, most sales department are trained to convince clients not only to purchase something they don’t really need, but also to get additional services or to upgrade their main purchase in a number of ways. Everything go in the attempt to produce that result; hard-sell, subtle or not-so-subtle manipulation and sometimes “tricks of the trade” are used to attain the desired result.
We visited a place yesterday where we enjoy an important-client status and we like it because there is absolutely no pressure applied upon us to “buy” something. We are respected as clients and enjoy it a lot. The quality of service this institution provides us and the trust that emanates from its departments and staff is part of what makes us want to buy. The owners have – for now a very long time – understood and applied the new paradigm that we, the clients want to remain in full control of our purchasing decision; we don’t want to be sold anything and instead, want to retain full mastery over what we buy. This is why we like that company and are ready and willing to buy from them. It would be nice if other sellers of goods and services trained their salespeople into figuring out what makes clients genuinely want to buy instead of trying to force something down their throats. Granted, this drastic change in point of view takes some time to mature and bear fruits, but it’s a necessary shift whose time has come and that will prove highly beneficial and create a more sustainable and profitable selling environment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late bloomers

This year has been a great year for all the flowers that populate our garden. They’ve all been magnificent and were a tribute to years of hard work by Evelyne (I never did much in the past in that particular “department”.) Now, as most of them have faded it’s our splendid hollyhocks turn(Alcea); these flowering plants in the mallow family Malvaceae are native to southwest and central Asia. For us, they're short-lived perennial plants growing to up to 10 foot tall, with broad, rounded leaves and plenty of pink, yellow or even dark flowers. Our hollyhocks are very drought-resistant, and do extremely well in full sun locations that might be too hot or dry for other plants; we don’t water them at all and this summer was particularly dry with just four of five hour of rain since our last snowfall on June 15...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Incubating ideas

For some time, I’ve been wondering what I should do next. Being retired is a lot of fun, but much more than being intellectually as well as physically active, I felt that I was missing a “mission” within my new life. Well, I’m happy to report that some two-and-a-half years after I officially “retired,” I have found the framework of a new vocation. I won’t get into the details of what I plan to do next, but suffice to say that it will fully compatible with my current goals, my new lifestyle, and it’s something I’m excited to welcome into my life. In other words, it has “passion” written all over it. The main point I want to make however is that it came straight from thoughts I’ve always had about creativity and that I had expressed in that blog about ten month ago. What I wrote at that time did work beautifully in real life; so more than ever before I’m sold on the power of creativity!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Broken chain!

When was the last time you broke your bicycle chain? Perhaps that has never happened to you; at any rate, that’s what happened to me yesterday as we were cruising along “Old Prospector” one of our favorite single-track around Park City, the very one that successfully overlooks old town, the main business district and the Prospector subdivision. It just happened because I must be so strong… No, it did because I failed to lu-bri-ca-te my chain and my gears more regularly! I shouldn’t be surprised that we all the dust we have this season, the little particles of sand can do a terrible grinding job on anything that moves. I feel ashamed but that doesn’t fix the chain… We had to turn-around and alternatively walked and rode our bikes back to a technical solution that we found at “Destination Sports,” the closest shop that has a good bike mechanic by the name of Eddie who knew much more about bikes than me. The chain was changed, I was admonished to be much kinder with my machine and within one hour, we were back on the saddle to enjoy another great ride.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Buy and demolish!

A few months ago a completely remodeled house (in and out) was purchased for just below one million dollar in our street. The house had been entirely redone about two years ago; from the outside, it looked like high-quality workmanship and we can only guess that the interior was as attractive as well. The new buyers probably didn’t think so as they immediately began to tear everything apart, not just the exterior siding and stone, but the entire contents of the house. Today, the only thing that is left is an empty shell that might at best be worth only one-fifth of the original home value. To us, it would have seemed more logical for the new owner to buy an empty lot in a better location. It’s also a pity (bordering on the obscene) that so much quality materials were destroyed and discarded just to make place for a slightly different execution. This is worst than a “tear-down,” because the basic outline and footprint of the residence are staying the same. The way some people do such things is simply beyond us and symptomatic of America’s wasteful habits. There was in that house some “true value” that could have benefited someone, but that disappeared following what appears like a capricious whim. We haven’t met the new owners, let alone seen their faces yet, but that should be an interesting encounter…

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fake moose

A few days ago, as we were walking by a house in our street, we noticed a freshly poured concrete platform in its front yard. The new owners have already done a lot of upgrades and are continuing with more projects. Last night, as we were taking our evening stroll, Evelyne noticed that a life-size male moose was now bolted on to the rectangular cement base. We’ve seen these statues before; they’re actually made of thin aluminum alloy that is finished as if it were bronze. They are not too expensive; I believe one thousand dollars can buy such an “animal;” last year a merchant rented the Park City Middle School lawn to display his “menagerie” complete with buffalos, elks, mountain lions, deer and of course moose. All these animals look mass produced, quite “cheesy” and frankly, I’d rather get a garden dwarf before we place one of these in front of our home!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The big Fall election

As we’re moving closer to our next presidential election, the gap between Obama and McCain seems to be narrowing and what should have been a wide-open opportunity to win for the Democrats might not be so obvious anymore. Even though most Americans will dispute this, the outcome of the vote will hinge more on race than on hope, desire for change and mature thinking. McCain truly represents the extension of eight years of catastrophic governance by the Bush Administration. Obama now needs to think fast and smart to come up with the building blocks that can convince the “old America” and pull it away from its retrograde thinking. All hinges on absolutely clear and convincing communication. Will he do it? I still hope so…

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Musharraf's update

In my April’s Fool blog, I predicted that Pervez Musharraf would get a job as a “lifty” in the nearby ski resort of Deer Valley, Utah. This past Monday, Mr. Musharraf resigned from the post of President of Pakistan under impeachment pressure from the coalition government there. That same day, Shuja Navaz, a Pakistani journalist and former IMF official said on PBS that "based on conversations with people in Pakistan, he's likely … to leave the country, and that a possible immediate destination may be Dubai, and then eventually may be New Mexico in the United States." A US state department spokesman told reporters that day that Musharraf has so far not asked for asylum in America but added that the resigned president "has a right to live wherever he wants".
So after all, if you visit Taos ski area this winter, you might be able to spot the former general. I remember having said that he wanted to ride a snowboard, and unlike Deer Valley, Taos has just allowed “knuckle-draggers” on its mountain. Now will Pervez be a lifty, an instructor or just a regular snowboarder? Who knows... Just make sure to look out for him!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The real American Dream

Much has been said and written about the ideal, if not myth, of the “American Dream,” and if we truly look at what goes into it these days, we can see in it the seeds of our future decline and the present demise of our economy. For the past years, our genuine dream has been to be able to consume literally “until we drop,” drive dumb, big SUV and live well over our means on credit. By creating a 24/7 shopping society, we’ve told our manufacturers to go and produce their goods cheaply and in huge quantities in the developing world, debasing in the process our entire manufacturing infrastructure, we have funded some of our worst enemies by importing more inexpensive oil and making sure that it wouldn’t be taxed (like it is in the rest of the developed world) and our financial system has elevated credit to becoming the new “opium of the people.” All this has taken place with our government’s blessing, as while we where busy “buying stuff,” we wouldn’t even question their lackadaisical policies and the prosecution of a useless war in Iraq. Unbeknown to most of us, we’ve just been accomplices of an incompetent congress and a vicious administration by listening to Madison Avenue and splurging on objects that were supposed to make us happy. Today, as this most celebrated dream is turning into a nightmare of epic proportions, don’t count on government to fix the mess. Instead, the buck stops with us, the people. It’s about time that we took the time and looked at ourselves in the mirror and finally asked: “What were we thinking?”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Who owns the earth?

Ask someone this simple question and the answer is likely to be “all of us.” Yet we create borders, we build fences and erect wall to prevent the free circulation of people just like us. Chief Seattle is quoted to have said “We are part of the earth and the earth is part of us.” I’ve also seen bumper stickers attributed to him saying, “the earth don’t belong to us, we belong to the earth.” So where does all that debate about immigration that rage from North America to Europe or even Asia fits into that noble and truly global scope? The states and their arbitrary borders don’t make much sense in this day and age, but for the politicians who want to hang to power and would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small one on one unified blue planet. It’s the old “divide to conquer” doctrine. Going supranational would get rid of wars, of waste and open up the way to managing our resources much more effectively. Sounds great, so let’s do it! Now, who do we call to set that program up?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The making of a super-champion

I have to admit that I already watched much more Olympic competitions than I said I would. Last night, with so many cliff-hanger events, we had little choice but watch the Beijing program. My favorite was the women’s marathon won by Constantina Tomescu of Romania with a powerful style and a formidable lead. The evening’s major event – for the media – was of course Michael Phelps victory in the medley relay as he surpassed the seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz in 1972. There is no question that the man is talented, built for swimming and truly is a super-hero. The question remains “will all that make him a ‘super-champion’?” In other words, is he someone that can parley a great physical accomplishment into an image that truly inspires and captivates billions of people. To put it another way, is Phelps too much of a machine and not human and charismatic enough to capture the hearts of crowds of supporters after capturing their minds and logics. Charisma is that magical ingredient that comes in handy to transform a formidable accomplisher into a great champion. Being technically superior requires huge amounts of discipline and concentration that often take away from the human and likable side of a personality. Finding the right balance between extraordinary accomplishments and the ability to connect well with others can indeed be very hard. Personality, style and opportunism are the crucial ingredients that often deliver the frosting on the cake for a historic achievement and can transcend a remarkable victory into legendary exploit. Michael Phelps certainly brings the later, but has he got the “stuff” that can synergize everything and turn him into an unforgettable hero?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Putin 1 – Bush 0

The conflict between Russia and Georgia has demonstrated that Vladimir Putin could get his “pound of flesh” out of George Bush. After being humiliated, chastised and lectured for years on end, the little Russian leader has showed that the United States has become a de-facto “paper tiger,” with its army caught in the quagmire of two impossible wars and its economy faltering. Sure, Mikheil Saakashvili wasn’t too smart to provoke the Russian Bear and should have known much better, but as soon as the genie got out of the bottle, Putin jumped on the opportunity to get even with the West, settled the independence of Kosovo along with the location of U.S. missiles in Poland among other contentious issues. In sport vernacular, Russia has clearly won the event and the match Putin-Bush has eclipsed most of the Olympic competitions…

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bad cold or huge allergies?

Ever since we came back from Europe in June, we believe that we’ve been plagued with allergies. We spent a lot of time in our garden while the air has been unusually dry and dusty (we only received 6 hours of rain in two month) and our discomfort which share the same symptoms as a severe cold has come and gone with alarming regularity. Aside from taking anti-histamines we haven’t found yet a durable solution to the problem. Yesterday, the pollen count for chenopods (the chenopod/amaranth family of weeds includes pigweed, Russian thistle, iodine bush, lambs quarters, scale, greasewood, burning bush) had never been as high and to add insult to injury, the day before that I shoveled a few cubic yards of super-dry bark and dirt creating a dust cloud that almost choked me. The net result was that I had to go to bed for a while and really felt weak and terrible the rest of the entire day. We haven’t seen a doctor yet to determine if this is allergies or not, but it doesn’t feel quite like a cold, so for the moment, we’re fighting it as if it were an overreaction of our immune system. Let’s hope that the medication will work and today will bring some improvement!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Assault on time

It seems that in the past, we had more time available and that there were far less assaults perpetrated against our moments of pure freedom. Nowadays, every single hour and minute is automatically filled with some kind of activity; no matter whether the reason is worth its while and whether it must absolutely be done now or remains an option. As our lives become more complex and filled with more “stuff” to do and options to contemplate, it seems that there’s always something that pop its head up with the intention of “occupying” us and making our free time scarcer or non-existent. We sure live in a very complex environment with too many moving parts and events going on at the same time. Now might perhaps be a great time to start “simplifying” everything…

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Managing memories

I’ve already written about storing and retrieving memories; it was about an acquaintance of mine who is a complainer. The whole concept stood as a great refrigerator where a wide variety of past pictures, feelings and thoughts can be securely stored. The good and the bad, the notable and the mediocre, the stuff that hurts and the precious elements that make us feel good. This is on these last two categories that I’d like to focus my thoughts for the day. Over the years, I’ve trained my mind to only focus on positive memories and have decided that this storage space of mine was too limited and valuable to “stuff” anything and everything in it. As a result, I’ve made a conscious effort to evict negative events, painful souvenirs and other bad deeds from this pristine storage space. This said, I still can’t comprehend how so many people won’t let go of their retrograde memories and are always ready to “warm them up” to serve them at a moment’s notice. Letting go of bad things is one of my life’s foundation and this is one of few good moves I adhere to in order to maintain my sanity. If the same folks that seemingly love to steer up that horrific caldron made an effort to eradicate these “weeds” from their psyche, life would suddenly become so much more pleasant…

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Transatlantic flights, economy class

International travel in economy class can be decent... or just terrible. Last year I took a few trips to Europe. One of them was on Lufthansa, between Denver and Frankfurt. It was rather comfortable and both the food and the service were excellent. That flight was co-shared between the German company and United. On the way back, I was on the same route and co-shared segment, but this time on a United 747-400 where the cabin was dirty and the service and food were terrible. A few months later, I took another round trip to France on Delta, another big disappointment that confirmed the dismal state of our “international American flying class.” In June we flew again to the old country, this time on Air France planes and enjoyed excellent service and decent food. At the same time, our US airlines are cutting back, hemorrhaging cash and on the brink on not making it. European airlines still seem to survive, even thought they must have pension costs and personnel expenses that are even higher than their American counterparts; I certainly realize that a barrel of oil over $100 makes for severe economic challenges, but overall, foreign airlines seem to cope much better with the situation and are able to maintain a minimum of comfort for those of us who have to travel in the “back of the bus.” So how can you explain this dire state of affairs? Are the CEO of these U.S. companies siphoning all the difference into their own pockets?

Monday, August 11, 2008

No-knead bread

Bread baking must be at least 5,000 years old and innovations in that domain have been few and far between. Years ago, we tried to do our own bread, bought a special machine and the end product was always so mediocre that we quickly abandoned, forgot about the whole idea and continued to buy our bread baguette at the store. A few days ago, our daughter-in-law Juliette urged Evelyne to try a minimalist bread recipe invented by Jim Lahey a New York baker. His method requires no kneading, no extra ingredients and no special equipment; in addition it’s so easy that as he says: “A six-year old can do it.” Without getting into the details of this wonderful recipe, it really worked the first time we tried it and we’ll do it again. The end result is a European-style “boule” of prime-bakery quality with great crackling crust; it’s best made with bread flour, but we’ll try all-purpose flour next time and let you know about the results. It is simply a triumph of time over technique (you have to get started some twenty hours before you can sink your teeth into a slice of your bread!). We’re sold on it, so now it’s our turn to summon you to experiment with it!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cairo-Park City

When we first arrived in America, we rented a small apartment in a three-family home and its main particularity was that the three households that lived there were all able to converse in French in addition to English. Our landlord who occupied the third floor hailed from the former Yugoslavia and had spent some time in France before moving on to the United States, while the first floor occupants were Liz and Nagui Khalifa who had met at the Sorbonne in Paris, had just married and were ready to settle in White Plains, New York. In the eighties, the Khalifa who had just started a family, moved to Cairo, Egypt. We traveled to the Middle-East to visit them with the children in 1989. In the meantime, Liz also had a brother who studied medicine at the University of Utah and decided to stay and work in Salt Lake City. He soon was joined by their dad, who like his son was an avid skier and an accomplished sportsman. In 1991, the whole Khalifa family came from Egypt to spend a month vacation in Park City. We then had less contact and met Liz again in Park City sometime in 1999 and 2002. This month, she returned to Park City as her younger son Timmy was attending a swim camp in town and we seized another rare chance to spend a few moments together… More than 7,000 miles apart, yet what a small world!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics anyone?

Every Friday evening, the television we usually watch is on our local PBS station that airs some of the best news programs recapping an entire week. Last night, for some technical reasons, the reception was so sporadic that we switched to NBC in order to catch the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. We saw them in HDTV and where amazed at the level of sophistication that now goes into an Olympic opening. It’s clearly like the latest edition wants to outdo the previous one, thus escalating production costs, the perfect recipe for exacerbating the excess commercialism the games have come to represent. Before falling to sleep, we also watch the seemingly interminable and non-alphabetic parade of nations; with nothing really new in that department except the occasional creative outfits and in fact, more of the same, year after year. This morning, all these costumes are mixed up in my mind and I will only remember the lone Iranian flag-bearer with her legal-hide-everything-outfit. To me, and I’ve said that before, the games have become too sophisticated and so complex that they’re slowly but surely choking the humanity that should remain their fundamental fabric. I feel very sympathetic with the participating athletes that will have to endure scorching heat and dirty air. I only hope that soon the technicians restore our PBS reception and that instead of watching the endless commercial for Nike, Adidas and GM, brought to me and carefully “processed” by NBC, we’ll spend the rest of August doing a lot more running, walking and mountain biking instead of staying glued before an Olympic screen…

Friday, August 8, 2008

Modern bandits

In our mercantile culture, it has become a standard procedure to ask for the “add-on sale;” so each time we want to purchase one particular item, the salesperson is trained to either ask us to “upgrade” it into a better one, to buy the “accessories” or “extra product” that somehow complement the object we need or sell us the too obvious "extended warranty." As a natural response, many of us have trained themselves to automatically say “no, thank you” to these systematic dives into our wallet. Sometimes though, the aggression goes a bit farther. You must be familiar with subscriptions that automatically “renew” because we paid them by credit card and since the publication still has the information on file, they simply sent us an ambiguously worded renewal card that set us up for another year. A few days ago, as we returned from our trip, we had a notice from Dish Network - our satellite TV provider – saying that we needed to upgrade our dish; in reality the device needed to be reset from West to South in order to aim at a new space satellite and by the same token they would place a more powerful receptor. We arranged for the (free) installation and two fellows from Orion Satellite, a subcontractor company came, did a marginal job with their installation, barely set it up and promptly left the job site just to call us a few moment later and advise us that, in the process, they had added some channels and our bill would reflect that change by going up “just a few more dollars” each month. I was furious; I said I never asked for any upgrade, to which the installer told me that it had been done by the provider, not him. Sensing some kind of obvious collusion between him and the company, I immediately called Dish Network, spoke to an agent and told her to take all that extra programming off, returning my account to its original configuration. She apologized and said she would, and any charge incurred would be credited. This happened because I had plenty of time to call the company and fix the problem, but most people who are too busy running a hectic life just shrug, maybe curse two minutes and find themselves saddled with a larger recurring bill for services they don’t need. Do these “modern bandit attacks" happen to you too?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Drivers and pilots, watch out !

That is, if you happen to drive the limos or pilot the airplanes occupied by Messrs. Bush or Cheney during their presidential and vice-presidential mandates, you might find yourself in a pickle a few months from now. As a reassurance, this could only happen if your bosses are suddenly prosecuted and found guilty for war crimes associated with the invasion of Iraq and its ensuing bloody war. Just yesterday, as a panel of six military officers convicted Osama bin Laden’s former driver of one war crime; namely, providing material support for terrorism. This obviously set a grim precedent for you if one or both of your chiefs were placed on a hot spot after their term comes to an end. Sure it would take a military commission trial to expose you to a possible life term. However, I doubt that our two leaders will receive the full “Gitmo” treatment, which might mean a much lesser exposure for you. The good news however is that Salim Ahmed Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy, the more serious of the two charges he faced. If you find yourself on the bench having to defend yourself, just look at the bright side; first, realize that you won’t risk a death sentence and that you should have accumulated enough material to write a great best seller that any one may enjoy while some of the protagonists get in the “shade” for a while… Is this story “far-fetched?” Perhaps, but it’s quite consistent with the “kangaroo court” decision handed over Mr. Hamdan.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Urban, rural, ocean-side?

As we were driving back from sunny but crowded California, we were wondering if it would make sense for us to own a second-home there. Once more, we’ve been a bit ruffled by the high-pace of living, the traffic and all the congestion. Do we need that kind of lifestyle at our age or are we much better off focusing on Park City which remains a fantastic place and a perfect compromise between urban and rural lifestyles. Sure, being close to the ocean would have its benefits, but we don’t like to get wet, and after contemplating the water for a few hours or perhaps a day, we’ve got our fix for a few months… So does it make sense to complicate our life a bit more in order to grab a place near the ocean, whether it’s in the city or by the beach? For the moment, we aren’t so sure and are still on the fence…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reno’s car museum

I’ve been to Reno at least 20 times, but never took the time to visit its renowned National Automobile Museum. This is something we finally did yesterday afternoon. Voted among the top 10 in America and top 16 in the world, this place features more than 220 antique, vintage, classic and special interest vehicles. Its strong emphasis is on early designs and on American production, but features some interesting European products, like Porsche, VW, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, Fiat, Renault, Panhard and Peugeot. I only regretted not to find modern cars from the modern era, like a sampling of Citroën, NSU, Mini, Raymond Loewy’s Studebaker Avanti, certain Fiat and some early Japanese autos, all from the 50s and 60s that made their mark on the sector and were unforgettable for auto fans. This said, the stop was well worth the 90 minutes it took to cruise through the exhibit…

Monday, August 4, 2008

Is Kmart going to survive?

Yesterday, I went to shop in Kmart with Charlotte and Evelyne. Charlotte had somehow received a credit with that particular store and had settled on a flat LCD screen TV, so we looked into the electronics department. She liked a Sony model that wasn’t in stock and since only the floor model was available, we naturally asked if we could buy it, minus some kind of discount perhaps, but the answer was that it was against “company policy” and that they didn’t sell “floor samples” this way. She finally decided for another brand and model, along with a DVD player. Since she was left with about $15 on her credit, she spent it on sundry items. We had little expectation when we stepped into the rather unappealing “Super K” store and I frankly didn’t think we’d find what we bought, especially after browsing at their on-line offering, but we finally made it happen. This said, I doubt that Kmart and its Sears sibling will be able to make it into the future. They seem so “frozen in time” and their target clientele is on the way to extinction. Over the years, I’ve learned that “agonies” of that nature can be quite long and I think that by 2012 or at the most by 2015, they’ll both be history…

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The bottoming out of U.S. real-estate

Here’s an interesting question; when is the American real estate market going to hit its lowest point and when will it be time to buy at bargain prices? This means that point in time should come when the sky is about to fall and when all of us are so desperate that we’re ready to move out to Canada, to New Zealand or some place in between providing there’s a vacant island on that spot. My personal guess is that our current real estate crisis isn’t going to get resolved before sometime in the next three to four years. Certain financial analysts claim that, as of today, there are 3.5 million excess homes that will have to sell. This further means that the close-to-one million homes we're now building each year will have to go down to 400,000. The bottom line is that it's going to take some time to work through this surplus for the prices to drop enough so that more people can either buy them or rent them. That’s why we’re probably talking about 2011 before we finally work through this glut and get back to a normal market where housing contributes significantly to our country’s GDP growth. So when is the right time to buy? It certainly depends on our regional various markets, the strength of the dollar, the rate of inflation and the state of our economy, but it seems that the right moment may fall between 2009 and 2010 at the earliest; and once more, savvy investors might want to be both extremely careful and very patient…

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Blessed are the meek!

Some people make huge strides in life because they know how to be pleasant and accommodating; yet this doesn’t have to mean they’re push-over. They still can disagree and say “no” when they have to, but they do it with class, style and in ways that always command respect and are never confrontational or negative. They have the knack for wrapping their fingers around other folks without ever being “sticky” and overbearing. They are in synch with their surroundings and have learned how to “read” their audience. These lucky individuals are like virtuosos violin players. They have trained their instinct to smell and breathe their surroundings and can turn their good senses into information that always help them forge ahead with success. These people generally have no agenda, and aren’t calculating. They are strong and they believe in themselves so much that they leave no room for tricky maneuvers; they simply know that their good deeds will always put them on the winning side of the equation; so they’re willing to lose sometimes a lot, just to regain it tenfold a little later. These individuals may not have any degrees, but they’ve learned a lot and understand almost everything!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Yesterday and today in Haight-Ashbury

Yesterday, we visited the fabled Haight and Ashbury district in San Francisco to check how today’s hippies are faring. Even though I might have visited the famous street corner during my first trip to San Francisco in 1971, I really had no recollection of the place. Like many old things in this world, the block has not aged too well and aside from the Amoeba records store and of its fascinating paraphernalia of old vinyls and vintage rock concert posters, nothing in that street stood out as really unique or interesting. Everything was mostly dirty, tacky and struck me as being out-of-date, like frozen in time. I bet that I would have loved it the way it is today when I was in my mid-twenties, but I must have changed an awful lot in the forty year interval. That says a lot about the passage of time; the “free-spirit” that inhabited me back in the sixties and early seventies must have faded a lot and has made room for a much more conservative mindset, even though I try my very best to resist the idea…