Sunday, November 30, 2008

Start by telling a friend...

These days, the topics of discussion are the financial, economic and environmental crisis. Oh yes, you still hear about terrorism (Mumbai) and illegal immigration, yet there’s something that stand behind all of these ills and it’s the world overpopulation. Humanity on planet Earth is like150 people riding in a bus made to carry a maximum of 35 of them, including the driver. There are passengers all over; hanging on the sides, squatting over the roof gallery, filling up the aisle and invading the driver’s space. If God wasn’t such a terrible absentee manager, he would have long brought some order to that mess. That’s right fighting global warming, wild immigration and dirty waters are as many “Band Aids” as we can think of. Addressing the real cause is going after the crowding of the earth. If we want to save the planet, we need to grasp that basic truth that stares us in the face and yet that no one wants to see. We need to educate our friends about it by making them understand that their quality of life and the survival of their offspring starts there. I’m not finished with the topic; you’ll read more of it very soon, but for today, begin by telling a friend or two about the concept…

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Numbed by the numbers...

The other night, Christopher Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee was saying on the news that the entire bailout offered by the U.S. Government is now reaching the $5 trillion level in an attempt to shore up the collapse of the financial system. This information actually originates from CreditSights, a research firm in New York and London; so, it’s not just the $ 700 billion that was passed in October, the $800 billion offered last week or not even the $ 2 trillion that the Federal Reserve is apparently on the hook for. All counted, that’s roughly a $ 16,350 extra burden for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Another way to look at it would be to equate the country’s GDP ($13.78 trillion) to the median annual U.S. household income ($48,000) we would have the following; that household would be spending about $50,000 a year – that is, exceeding what it makes by close to $2,000 – and would have piled up about $43,000 in credit card debt and now would have to face another $17,000 in debt with that impeding bailout. If this is not insane, tell me what is. When these huge numbers are put in perspective, their sheer size clearly shows that our government is now “numbed” by them, doesn’t think clearly anymore and after all, what’s one trillion? We’ve passed that point; today, anything goes under the pretense that AIG, Fanny Mae, Citigroup and the auto industry are “too big too fail...”

Friday, November 28, 2008

The view from 30,000 feet

To seize any economic or financial situation properly in a global context, it becomes essential to take the high altitude view, that is, not be blinded by the immediate nooks and crannies, the very short term and all the current irritations. That is, looking both ahead, around and in a longer time-span to obtain a truer perspective. The immediacy of television, radio and newspapers news doesn’t allow much for reflection and long-term outlook. More often than not it brings us back into the “here and now,” the lowest possible view and yet, nothing smart can be envisioned without seeing from above and envisioning a longer term horizon. For the more than thirty years I’ve now lived in America, we’ve seen a significant number of downturns with their depressing meanings being distilled non-stop on the airwaves and in print, yet we've survived them all. I know, America is particularly resilient and fiercely optimistic when it must get back up on its feet and with tomorrow’s leadership getting organized by Obama, we ought to be much attuned to the future and its promises rather than staying stuck in the negative rut of the present malaise…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another Thanksgiving…

Today I feel young as we’re ready to celebrate our 32nd Thanksgiving even though some folks could say that I’m almost twice that age… That’s right; we’ve been celebrating that all-American Holiday ever since we moved to the United States. At first, we were invited at friends’ houses to partake into the traditional meal, including turkey, sweet potatoes and other pumpkin pie… Since these early days, we’ve adopted the tradition albeit in making some subtle, but key gastronomic changes to the event. Today will be no exception with again a few twists; it will be the first time we have three generations around the table when we’ll host our son, daughter-in-law and our grand-son Finn this afternoon around a delicious... Raclette. That's right, we felt we should give the traditional bird a break…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Express bidding

Ever since we’ve owned our small house, we’ve been doing a new improvement each year. Next spring won’t be an exception; in April or May, we’ll redo our furnace room and upgrade our heating and hot-water systems to state of the art and much “greener” equipment. So this week, we started the bidding process for this remodeling job and, as of yesterday, had already seen four contractors. It’s amazing how each one approaches the task; some are pontificating and seem fixated on certain issues, others take abundant photographs and want us to do the job right away. Only one out of the three first contractors we saw stood out by his thoughtfulness and his grounded attitude; all the others displayed some “suspect” traits. That was until a fourth one came late afternoon, barely took five minutes to seize the scope of the project before declaring: “This will cost you $11,300; call me when you want to start.” No calculator, no paper, just these exacting figures… Some Park City contractors are real geniuses!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crumbling trust…

Besides having taxpayers explicitly picking up the tab for losses and “toxic” assets, the recent “rescue” of Citigroup opens up a cortege of questions. First, why in the world its new CEO Vikram Pandit didn’t see that train wreck coming a month ago? I don’t care what others think, that guy should go. Everyone is saying that “Citigroup was too large to fail” but this bring up another lesson; why in the world did the Fed allow banks to become so huge in the first place by swallowing its smaller competitors and picking up so many “garbage companies” in the process? Also the saved giant now has an unfair advantage over its competitors that are all going to turn to us, the taxpayers, when problems start to emerge with them (and they will...) Finally, isn’t it ironical that congress spends the time to place our three top auto execs on a hot seat while giving our same financial chiefs a blank check. Well, as I’ve said before, I trust Hank Paulson and the bank chiefs even less and believe that the average American still has no clue on how bad the banking mess really is. Again, we’re still talking about a couple trillion dollars worth of catastrophe in the making… Tighten your belt even more, America!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moving from quantity to quality?

Could the outcome of this economic-financial crisis going become a dramatic paradigm shift as I suggested late October? Could America and its western brethren known until know for everything “large,” “big” “biggest” and “fastest” evolve into a culture that could be focusing on what’s at least “better,” “sustainable,” or “more secure?” In the past years leading to our current mess, everything had to be impressive, done quickly and on a massive scale. Speed, productivity and panache were always sacrosanct considerations, allowing large quantitative output but more often than not at the expense of quality, the environment and other folks’ impoverishment, whether we consider the production of goods or the delivery of services. Big numbers and impressive feats have always been worshiped, and our prosperity was built on economies of scale and shock value. One of the fuels behind this frenzy has been the ever-increasing global population that kept on growing and would in turn guarantee that Coca-Cola, GE and Nestlé would keep peddling their “stuff” to an ever-increasing market. You know what I think about increasing world population and with future stabilization and hopefully, reduction in mind, these times could be the right opportunity for switching gears and going into a quest for quality in everything humanity strives to accomplish. Since high-quality warfare is an oxymoron, this decadent option might have to be removed from the nations’ economic quiver, but everything else would work beautifully if we were to reduce the portions and increase the nutritive value of each serving…

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Practicing fortune-telling...

There are events that can be very difficult to predict, like “acts of god,” natural catastrophes as wells as many accidents and forms of death. While everything can always be somehow explained in hindsight, the domains that are easier to foretell are those linked with human behavior, man-made schemes and economic evolution. Today, we’ll focus on what it takes to make smart and accurate predictions. First, like the street-corner fortune teller, it helps a lot to have a great amount of practice. This is something I’ve been trying to do on a daily basis when I focus on the stock market and attempt to guess where it will go for the day. Sometime, I get Evelyne involved in the exercise, and most often than not, both of us can guess its movements with a fair amount of accuracy. What I’ve also learned so far is that, barring a catastrophic and unforeseen event, predicting is a subtle mix between listening to one’s gut feelings and integrating it with a related knowledge-base, but it needs to be done both in an intuitive yet detached manner. That mean you need to learn a lot through reading, listening around, observing as well as probing deep into yourself. That also means that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the television’s “talking heads” or other gurus because these folks are there to put up a show and seldom will speak from their heart and will certainly try to peddle their own bias. You should also remember that no one will every say truths that could profoundly disturb the populace and create a run on the banks, so the final analysis will always be up to you and no one else. With all this, you may want to conclude that seeing forward is more an art than a technique, but we all knew it already…

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Be wary of signs…

Some can be intimidating, forbidding or just… misspelled! I’m sure you too have picked up the “suspisious” at the bottom of the sign and realized that its author’s command of English is downright suspicious, even though these signs are plastered all around Park City. This is not unique to our Utah town though; when I worked in Vail in the early 2000’s, my office was situated in a complex where the local lawyer displayed an impressive hand-painted sign pointing to his place of business, with a British-inspired approach that said “Attourney”. While this might have looked upper-class it was nonetheless misspelled. I know that languages are constantly evolving but most graphic artists' ability to master their very own is falling like a rock!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Linking health care to immigration control

In the midst of the financial and economic crises, both health care and immigration reforms have taken a back seat, yet both could be effectively addressed by linking them intelligently. Let’s first address health care; by this time, most parties seem to agree that any reform must include universal coverage. In other words, everyone will have to be insured so no single individual should “fall through the cracks;” this means that everyone would need to pay some kind of a premium and there would be no more “free ride” through the emergency back door. At that point, let’s imagine that each American and legal resident is given a smart card (like its “Vitale” French counterpart.) Now, when anyone shows up for any kind of treatment without this card, it will red-flag that this person is either a tourist or an illegal alien. From there, health authorities will have to inform the immigration services about the person’s status. Two things will occur; the individual will be held financially responsible for the care received and it will have to be paid through assets held in America, in the foreign domicile, or through the country’s Embassy (tourist situation.) In addition, a one-time grace period of six month will be offered to legalize the person’s immigration status – if possible - while staying inside the United States; should that prove impossible, voluntary departure or deportation will follow. Without exception, both health card and driver’s license would solely be issued to citizens and legal residents. Unless, this idea proves unconstitutional (any lawyers out there?), it would go a long way to solving our illegal immigration problem…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mud and mountain biking

Two days ago, thinking that our warm November sun had finally dried up all the nearby trails, we took our mountain bikes back from storage and went out for one hour or so. Well, it was still a bit wet and any kind of “wet” is always too much for single track riding, especially in shady spots. Fat tires collect mud on their periphery and spit it in the rider's face and back, making for a sticky, arduous and dirty experience. In addition it's the bike that controls the rider which is never a good outcome. Shortly after we started we altered the itinerary we originally had in mind, sticking to the driest possible route that was still too "spongy" and made our workout even harder. Don’t get me wrong, we still had plenty of fun and are seriously planning to ride later on this weekend if the good weather holds; that late season biking experience was a reminder however, that great mountain biking can only be enjoyed to its fullest in super-dry places like the Rocky Mountains and California. Not in places where mud is an ordinary occurrence!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Making pirates think twice

Here’s a novel idea; put our international institutions and armed forces to (good) work… Have Mr. Ban Ki-moon spearhead a UN resolution that would provide for a permanent naval presence along the coast of Somalia, or any other pirate “hot spot” in the world for that matter, and make sure an aircraft carrier is stationed in these areas at all times. There are plenty of these vessels that could be put to good use; as a matter of fact twenty-two of them are in service with the navies of the USA, United Kingdom, France, Russia, Italy, India, Spain, Brazil and Thailand. An alert system would be setup and when a tanker, cargo or any ship would feel threatened, appropriately armed aircrafts would be dispatched. After visual confirmation and identification, a summons protocol would then be issued and if not immediately obeyed the aggressor’s watercrafts would immediately be sunk and their surviving crew left to negotiate with the local sharks. Quick, simple, dissuasive and for once, our expensive military forces would be used more wisely and they could still bill the ship's insurance company for services rendered…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

People I admire…

Some of us have role models; they’re generally so good that we stand in awe before them and sometimes they propel us to go beyond what we would ordinarily do and can be inspiring enough to get us on the way to reach our true potential…
There aren’t too many of these on my list. I could start with Leonardo Da Vinci who was the consummate creative machine, followed by Jean-Claude Killy who literally sucked me into the world of skiing, Mother Teresa the spiritual as well as minimalist "giant" and Mozart who stands there, no matter what along with my favorite band, the Beatles. In my working environment no one, around my peers or my bosses ever stood out, with the exception of Georges Salomon, a competitor. For the most part, I had to find my inspiration elsewhere. Sure they were folks that I envied, admired but not to the point that I would model my life after them. Mediocrity was more often the rule than the exception. I shouldn’t go into the realm of politics as it’s overflowing with the worst society can produce, except perhaps for someone that has popped up very recently. He’s much younger than me; is name is Barack Obama and promises to act like another formidable inspiration on me and millions…

Monday, November 17, 2008

An almost perfect “kill”

Major Snelson from the 4th Fighting Squadron was about to conclude his mission over Duschene County and was now ready to head back towards Hill Air Force Base. As he was flying over Route 40 on this Sunday afternoon he noticed very little traffic; everything below looked brown and dark and the highway just an undulating grey ribbon. He barely could see it at first, but now he could discern a lone silver car moving westbound on that gray line of asphalt. Just for fun, he aimed at the vehicle, locked it in with his laser and could have fired one of its Maverick missiles into the target. Problem was, these rockets are expensive, it would have dug a huge crater into the road and there would have been a lot of explaining to do for the smashed car. Had that happened over Iraq or even Kuwait, that wouldn’t have been a cinch, but not here, in Utah.I was driving back home in that late afternoon. The weather was perfect, nature ready to take its white winter coat and I was just wary to make it back before dusk. You see, the unique and big danger on these rural roadways is always wildlife; I’ve already hit three deer with my car and don’t like it one bit. For some reasons I happened to be just a bit apprehensive for a moment. A fraction of second later, I heard a huge roar, saw two F-16 passing me overhead and veering suddenly to the right, over the hill. God, I love these flying machines!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Where do we begin solving the financial crisis?

After a big, impressive meeting in Washington, twenty representatives of the leading economic countries in the world didn’t bring anything new on the table. Of course, with Bush on his way out and Obama not ready yet to fully participate in the debate, no one expected a landmark decision following that get together. Yet, I believe in simple solutions to most problems and there’s one thing that should be agreed upon in this financial realm; it could go like this: “Thou shall play no games.” Investment and financial undertaking should be positive and discourage nefarious speculation like short-selling, derivatives, betting on others’ demise (CDS) when one has no underlying interest and “products” that aren’t positive or fully transparent. That toolbox of tricks is a huge parasite on society and doesn’t contribute to creating wealth. Had our bright twenty participants only stated that, they would have contributed to cleaning up 90% of what has caused the mess we’re in at present, but did I say that “courage” was part of most politicians’ attributes?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It’s skiing time again!

Yesterday, I got back on my skis, less than six months after I quit, and still at the same place, in Snowbird, Utah. The resort received 46 inches of snow early November that enabled it to open for more than ten days now, and I must say that the conditions were pretty good. Since the beginning of the month, snow had kept on piling up and the night before it rained and froze solid on the lower third of the mountain, making for an excellent base at this early stage of the season. The upper two-third was just perfect, and I skied most of it in windblown crud and had a great time. I mostly rode the tram (ten of these skiing non-stop) that was almost jam-packed with its 125 passenger load each time, eavesdropping on banter and summer accomplishment of all kinds, and ended up logging 30,827 vertical feet by 2:55 pm when I got back to my car. I’d never skied so much on a first day of the season, and this morning, my legs reminded me…

Friday, November 14, 2008

Salt Lake City no longer landlocked…

A couple days ago, Delta announced that it will start direct flights from Salt Lake to Tokyo early June of next year. After the Salt Lake – Paris flight that apparently is quite successful, we’ll now be able to walk in Ginza only a few hours after taking off from Utah. I remember my days in the ski business when I used to fly a lot internationally; I would buy round the world tickets that were Delta-Swissair “combos” and would take me from Salt Lake, to Portland, then Tokyo-Narita, then Zurich after making a quick stop in Seoul. Then, I’d often stop in Geneva, to go and visit my folks, or Munich and London, and then back home in the USA via New York, Cincinnati, Chicago or Atlanta; too many stopovers always making for an exhausting journey. A direct “arc” between two points is always much quicker and easier and Delta that has just grown to be the largest airline in the world is already talking about adding a direct flight from Utah to Amsterdam, thanks to its Air France – KLM partnership. In these changing times I should perhaps get back to work and resume traveling for a living…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stock market predictions

Since I love to play the game, this is what I see ahead for the stock market. If we’ve not reached that level yet, we’re very close to the bottom, but that one could still be a 15% drop away. Let’s take only one index, the Dow Jones and let’s run the numbers: While hitting a low of 8283 yesterday, the Dow could go reach 7040. Sounds impossible? Nothing does these days. From a practical standpoint, this will be hard to exactly pin-down, but let’s say that if an investor were to enter the market now, he or she might have to sustain some unpleasant tummy aches until the elevator starts returning towards the upper floors. As for when that ultimate dip is likely to happen? I’d say sometime in January, perhaps a few days before Obama’s inauguration. Let’s settle for January 15; we’ll see…

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where’s “Plan B?”

On October 29, I attended the Park City’s Chamber pre-season presentation a forum in which self-congratulations abound. Along with our three local resorts, Deer Valley, Park City and the Canyons, Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief at Travel Weekly spoke and express some dire warnings about this year’s snow season. Among other predictions, he said that the economic crisis and higher plane fares are affecting all forms of tourism, and the cruise industry, Las Vegas and eastern ski resorts will make it tough for Park City and the other western resorts. In spite of an admitted decline ranging between 15 to 20% in early bookings as of the end of September, all three resorts and no one in the Chamber’s leadership appeared too worried and what’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be any “Plan B” should the booking situation and visitations keep on deteriorating as the season advances. This to me is denial at its best. We certainly are competing with the cruise business, Las Vegas and other warm destinations, but also against the Vail, Whistler and Lake Tahoe of the world. Why is there no mechanism in place that would declare and promote a roll-back on prices and rates, attractive “specials” on lift tickets and all kinds of creative “product bundling” ideas, should bookings keep on dipping south, in order to steal some clientele from our neighboring destination resorts? Of course, we’ve got too good a product in Park City to even take interconnecting seriously to give our visitors a much better reason to pick us over the rest… I am missing something or has “competition” become a dirty word?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where’s the bottom?

This is the $64 million dollars question as we’ve already seen a number of recent false starts in the market, also known as “dead cat bounce.” Savvy experts however don’t believe we’ve reached the lowest mark yet. If we’ve seen the ugliest part of the financial crisis, we still need to see how severe that recession will be and which effect it might have on the markets. Further, we’re not quite sure that we have seen yet the “market capitulation” predicted by some. We should also see some more de-leveraging going on between now and the end of the year which will dampen economic growth and slow down recovery. There are also some folks who think that certain emerging markets like Latin America and Eastern Europe might catch Iceland’s “cold” and finally we still have these credit default swaps lurking in the dark and no one really can fathom how big or toxic they are. So, now more than ever, let’s use some more patience if we want to catch a real good glance at the “bottom.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Presidential transition

Have Detroit fast-track Tesla

We’ve heard more than enough this year about Detroit begging for a bail-out following its biggest fiasco in product-planning history. Not only should our government attach some drastic conditions to any financing aimed at helping the big three U.S. automakers. An great idea and superb opportunity would be to fast-track Tesla Motors, Inc. the Silicon Valley electric automobile start-up into full-fledged mass-production. Currently, there’s just the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car that offers an impressive performance along with a substantial driving range (221 miles - 356 km) and a low powering cost estimated at US$0.02 per mile. Production began on March 17, 2008 and in addition to that model, Tesla is also currently working on a sedan to be introduced as a 2010 model, to compete against the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. Another future model with a cost in the $30,000 range is to be released in 2012. The idea would be to Detroit’s pool its mass production know-how with all the engineering already developed by Tesla and have Motown act as a contractor in that project. With the proper extra funding and with incorporating Tesla as the flagship of a revived American auto industry, the country could use this synergy as the centerpiece of its new energy policy. This would go a long way to capture everyone’s imagination and would be poised to garner all the support needed to give everyone a solid reason to buy a brand new car.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Enters “deleveraging...”

I am a staunch optimist and never quite accepted in my mind that we could get right on the brink of a total economic collapse. I wasn’t counting on one simple principle, which we might call “wiggle room.” You see, it always pays to have reserves, be they in the body, as extra fat, under the mattress in wads of cash or during a marathon race in the of minutes we’re ahead of our next pursuant. Should something happen with some extra insurance, bad situations can repair themselves pretty fast and we can just keep going...
Today’s economic mess is going to feel much harsher because it’s drastically different than anything we’ve experienced in the past half-century as there are absolutely no reserves left; we’ve run our economic ship aground. Real estate developers as well as retailers have sold merchandise “in advance” of the anticipated needs. In the U.S., consumers have purchased automobiles because they couldn’t pass “employee pricing” or some other gimmick too good to miss. In financial terms, we’re all overbought and this recession is the result of multiple bubbles in the housing and the credit markets that took years to build and could probably take three solid years to correct.
This “overfill” situation will be compounded by a new urge to save as most retirement accounts have recently been so battered that serious “need” may prevail over the frivolous “wants” of consumption. No stimulus package, no extra hand-outs to car manufacturers and other sectors will really alleviate the pain that’s coming. Only old recipes of sacrifice and thrift will do. In other words, a new American revolution!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

From Russia with love…

I’ve always dreamed of flying in a “Fulcrum” MiG-29 and that day has finally come! This was last week and I won’t tell you how much my wallet has bled from the fantasy, nor how I’ve exceeded my carbon footprint allocation for the year, but once more I must have muttered “what the heck!” I had planned for a very long time that half-an-hour flight that included breaking the sound barrier (no, I’d never flown the Concorde,) special maneuvers like tail-slide, Pugachev’s cobra, roll, immelman, loop and what they call split-S. Plus a lot of climbing and diving at full throttle as well as high velocity turns and tons of Gs in the process. I flew from Salt Lake to Paris, then to Moscow, and finally we drove to Zhukovsky Airbase with my accompanying interpreter. After a hearty breakfast at the base and the routine security clearance, pre-flight medical check, briefing and getting outfitted in the helmet, G-suit and communication equipment, I looked up at the bird that seemed in pretty good shape and managed to climb up into the tight seat that was adjusted to my size by Igor, the flight squadron chief engineer. Dimka Sidorov was my pilot; he didn’t speak much English if at all, and from the explosive take-off through all the time we managed to stay up in the air, I prayed to God that I’d understand him if he ever screamed “Eject!” I didn’t puke my morning meal, stayed brave and kept my big eyes scared-open the whole ride, that I regrettably found a bit too short when the plane touched down. It couldn’t have been thirty minute…

Friday, November 7, 2008

(Re)building bridges

I much prefer construction over destruction, having a positive outlook over complaining and acknowledging instead of ignoring. Today, I’ll focus on the latter. During a very active live it’s hard to tend to the many acquaintances, friendships and other relations that we’ve accumulated since we were kids. As a result, many of these will drift away on the oceans of forgetfulness and indifference. One of the beautiful aspects of retirement is that it affords us more time and a chance to reconnect with many of these folks who have been cast away from our thoughts, attention and ordinary memories. When that reunion finally happens, be it by phone, email or in person, it’s as if we were reclaiming a piece of ourselves that had been lost or suppressed for too long. Very rarely is the outcome depressing; instead, it’s almost always enriching. A little something has been added; we’ve given a thought and someone has received the attention with absolutely no strings attached. Stevie Wonder’s beautiful song on the subject tells it so touchingly... Since the advent of internet and affordable world communications, I have been actively reconnecting; for the most part, it’s been incredibly rewarding and I'm determined to go on for as long as I can...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time to involve religious leaders!

With 6.6 billion folks living on it, our planet, just like a massive aircraft carrier can no longer be turned on a dime culturally and otherwise. The astute leader will have to find the catalyst, let’s call it the yeast that will slowly, but surely turn it around and position it towards a sustainable future. I’ve said it before; we’re just too many on this place and are breaking the basic safe occupancy rules, so the first order of business would be to put a stop to an uncontrolled birth rate in some specific places of the world. In most cases however, and including my own state of Utah, religion is a major roadblock towards reducing human fertility. That’s where political leaders need to initiate a very serious dialog with their religious counterparts and place the subject on the center of the table. Not much has ever been done in that direction, because religion has always been a convenient conduit for controlling the masses and bringing in their votes and yet, has served as a major road-block in terms of sustainable living, environment best-practices and peace. Ecumenical rapprochement doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the “big boys” whether they’re among others Catholic or Muslims as it might frail their rigid and fragile “book-based” doctrines, yet that job has to be initiated as we can’t count solely on Hollywood to reshape the human conscience. That step must be taken and the idea must be astutely conveyed so that theologians can realize and accept the fact that by overpopulating the earth we’re no longer the good stewards God had in mind, but rather a bunch of messy and irresponsible squatters. Because this issue has been traditionally pooh-poohed on grounds of religious taboo it’s now time to bring the subject into the open and place the monkey on the back of our religious leaders as an essential element of the “sustainability package.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

About last night…

Amidst drinking too much champagne and "irrational exuberance," I passed my normal bedtime hour, started to sleep and had a dream; I was on Grant Park in Chicago, ready to move out on the catwalk, toward the lectern to deliver my acceptance speech. Can you imagine, the first French-American to be elected at the nation's helm? Problem was, I was dressed like a bum; wearing a dirty sweat-shirt, a ragged pair of Levi’s with one hole over the right knee, an old pair of Adidas and my beret. I felt terribly self-conscious like you only can in dreams; I wish I had a nice Armani suit with a white shirt and a tie to go… Soon enough, I was addressing a crowd that didn’t sound overly excited and didn’t even look towards me; I started by thanking the usual suspects, my family, my campaign manager and the voters. I continued into painting what I thought was a bright picture of the future I'd offer, made sure I promoted my talents, inserted a few bad jokes along with some tired slogans that no one seemed to pick because of my accent and concluded with a loud “God bless America.” I woke up when the crowd that barely applauded was already walking off the field. Sweating and uneasy, I was relieved to remember that Obama - not me - had indeed been elected, and soon realized that for the first time this season, I had to get up and shovel ten inches of new snow…

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An archaic rule

Today is election’s day in America, and while we voted more than a week ago, our vote for Obama won’t count in Utah. This insane rule started at the beginning of this nation when the Constitutional Convention created the Electoral College as a compromise to appease the less-populated Southern slave states, and thus win their support for the new Constitution. The Southern states were fearful of a popularly elected President from the more populous North that would voice opposition to slavery. By creating an "independent" electorate, the Convention hoped to isolate the Presidency from a prevailing popular sentiment, thus avoiding regional domination of the Presidency. Times have changed in America. The Electoral College is no longer the independent body of “intellectually and morally elite men,” as was originally intended. Most Americans have no idea who their “grand electors” are. The President is no longer isolated from public sentiments; it’s the public that elects him or her, although in an unfair and discriminatory manner. Each state is awarded an equal number of electors as its total number of congressional representative. While House districts are theoretically divided into equal population segments, there is no way to balance that equation into perfect equality. Each district has a constantly varying population, and each state has exactly two Senators. Given these variables, there are no two states in America where an electoral vote equates to the exact same number of popular votes.
The Supreme Court has ruled several times that pro-rating votes on a geographic basis is inherently discriminatory and against the spirit of the Constitution. The Court, however, does not have the authority to apply this on a national scale. The inequality created by the Electoral College and the unfair distribution of votes is built into the Constitution. The Court only has the authority to overturn unconstitutional laws, not to amend the Constitution itself. This is a decision that belongs to congress. This easy solution would allow for a direct election of the President. Logistically, there are no fundamental changes to make; the popular votes would be tallied to determine the awarding of electoral votes. The time has come to abandon this useless relic of a bygone era and relegate it to the pages of history with racial and gender discrimination.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Feast for the curious

Most people still underestimate the explosive potential of the internet and its enormous value to mankind. Having the tool at one’s fingertips is like sitting on the largest encyclopedia ever built by man and having unfettered access to it. Those who can take advantage of that situation will accumulate more knowledge and will advance much faster than any other of their peers, simply because knowledge is power and powerful knowledge can surely be superpower. What’s needed is some hunger for learning combined with an internet connection. I can see that at work for me, a person past his prime, who tires more quickly and is a bit more cynical than younger people; it’s literally given me a second lease on life. So my message is clear; the online culture is not something that ought to be tip-toed into, it should instead be embraced because no matter where your station in life is, time is always of the essence.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shock absorbers, strike and self-reliance

My friend Philippe Grolleau responded to my recent posting, itself triggered by a message from Bill Bocquet. You can read what he had to say as the second set of comment pertaining to that message. Here is my reply.
We certainly all have made-up images or “clichés” of each national group and a bias for what we think is their own “conventional wisdom.” I also recognize that it’s very difficult not to see events and issues through some “cultural” lenses that we end up adopting after living in, and understanding various cultures. Much has been written about the current financial crisis and there is not a week that goes by without new revelations made or symptoms and causes unearthed by the media and sent through our information-hungry networks. I have copiously dispensed my point of view on that disaster and won’t return to it. Like Philippe, I would hope that some intelligent regulation are put in place that work in concert with a global scope, but I’m no longer naïve enough in believing they’ll be totally perfect and won’t be up for revision in another two years. As for expecting a rebalancing of wages and earning out of this crisis, I don’t believe this will happen. You see, the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily share the European and particularly the French ethos of an egalitarian system. Most societies have fully embraced a concept of a life in which the smarter, the luckier and the most daring get the top prizes. For some reasons, France is still held up in its revolutionary and utopist mantra of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” at all cost, even though each French citizen knows deep inside that it can’t quite work that way. The fundamental difference between the French and the American worker is that the former will have a tendency to go in the street and demonstrate, still believing in the effect mass protests might have on society, while the latter will take on a second job, pack up his or her stuff and move across the country or take classes at night to get a better position or a new job, believing solely in their rugged ability to master their own fate.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My election guess

Now is time to formulate a forecast for the upcoming election. While McCain claims that he’s closing the gap between him and Obama, while the latter urges his supporters to keep on working very hard. Like us, millions of Americans already have taken advantage of early voting and cast their ballots. At this point, I predict a landslide for Obama, with up to 350 electoral votes. I also predict that 58 senate seats and 265 congressional seats going to the Democrats. That’s it for my predictions; we’ll see next Wednesday how right my forecast was