Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What do I have to show?

Another year is ending and the question I’m asking myself is what do I have to show for it? I know that I have caused a few things to happen, most of them material, but was it all worth my precious time and my potential? The answer is a resounding NO. Deep inside, I know that I could have done better; I could have gone much farther and could have really surprised myself and those who know me well. As I become older and less nimble, it would be nice to see more “stretching” in all directions that would produce beautiful and rich achievements. In that final day, I don’t know yet what all these efforts will be, but I can guarantee that in 2009, at this time, they’ll have been there…

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Age and happiness

Yesterday, as we were skiing with a friend of ours, the question “what’s been the happiest period of your life?” was somehow weaved into the conversation and my response to it was a genuinely spontaneous “now!” I was more surprised by what I blurted than my chairlift companions, and this got me seriously thinking, starting of course by how we define happiness. To me, this ethereal value remains one’s ability or gift to get as close as possible to his or her dreams; so that’s about it, my candid statement would mean that I’ve got everything I wanted, and I truly believe it. Today, my life is stress-free, I am surrounded by folks I love and appreciate, I live in a perfect place and I can do whatever pleases me. Most importantly perhaps, my insecurities and the tensions that have escorted me through most of my life have lost much of their potency and I feel that I’m almost floating on a cloud. Wow! I’ll stop everything there and pause for a while to seize the moment…

Monday, December 29, 2008

Escorted joy-ride

About three weeks ago, my friend and Air Force Colonel Lynn Carmichael called me to come and discreetly check out the new F/A-22 delivered to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the first operational base to receive the brand new “Raptor” fighter in replacement of the aging F-15. This plane was very expensive to produce as its cost per unit is at this point about $339 million. According to the military, this plane can’t be matched by any known other fighter aircraft. What impressed me the most was its cockpit reminiscent of a giant iPhone. At any rate, after spending a morning in the flight simulator during which my quick-responses didn’t perform too well, my friend Lynn got me all the special gear and somewhat reluctantly, let me fly for a quick twenty minute ride under the name of Paul Feldmann, a Canadian-born pilot at the base. Since I wasn’t supposed to, I didn’t try to execute any Herbst maneuver (J-turn) or the Pugachev's Cobra; I just took off, climbed up to 40,000 feet, made a few turns and landed the plane without breaking anything, under Lynn’s sharp eye who was escorting me closely all along in a two-seater F-15 accompanied by Captain Bert Langford…

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Israeli-Palestinian mess

Israel is a bad as the Palestinian, with one big difference; they’ve got the money (my tax money, by the way!) and are fully supported by the US, Europe and the rest of the industrialized world that is afraid to offend the Zionists. If everyone remains happy with that, we’ll see this situation continue to worsen, we’ll watch more despair and much more terrorism will bloom from the Arab world. By letting Israel acts as a colonial power over the Palestinians, we’re condoning genocide in another time and in another place; we’re also cultivating terrorism for the long term. If you don’t believe that 9/11 started by Israel’s abuse in Gaza and in the West Bank, your understanding of geopolitics might need a serious overhaul.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why we switched…

For the past 23 winters, we have purchased a ski pass at Park City Mountain Resort. The biggest advantage of skiing there was that, of the three mountains we’ve got in town, it was the closest. Because it’s also the most established (more than 45 years of operation) it’s also the busiest and in recent year, its extensive “park” facilities (half pipe, rails, huge bumps) have make it more of a “circus” and less of a skier’s mountain. Deer Valley was an option but takes even more time to get too; perhaps, this will be for later in our skiing careers, or better yet, when our “backward-thinking” mountains suddenly come up with the idea of linking their lifts (with today’s economy, this might come faster than one could believe!) So this year, we decided to try something else and bought our ski passes at The Canyon, the newest and largest resort within our small community. The expanse of terrain is much larger, the variety greater and the tree skiing options superior. In addition, the lifts that we’ll be using most are significantly faster, which mean less time on the mountain for the same number of turns and just more fun. Getting there takes a tiny bit longer, but what the hell, we’re retired!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Perfect storm, Park City style

Yesterday, I had the privilege to take my daughter Charlotte and her friend Kate for some high-power powder skiing under extremely rare conditions. The weather was awful; a real blizzard, a total white-out, and the wind were such that the snow was falling horizontally. Skiing was out of this world with snow well above mid-thighs and face shots to match. The only problem was riding up the lift which was going extra slow because of the high winds and had all of us withstand the bitter, piercing cold all the way to the top. While my team was surprised at first, they soon got into the thick and deep of things, and quickly stayed glued to my tails until their legs started to signal some hard-to-ignore symptoms of advanced deterioration; we stopped in time before we had to amputate...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

For more than thirty years, we’ve been celebrating Christmas as a very small family unit; first with no children, then with one and soon with two. This Christmas marked a new milestone in our lives as a completed clan - three-generation of our own - took part in this season’s Yuletide festivities. The arrival of Finn has finally made us a typical American family. While we’ve always been somehow attached to the old continent when our own parents were still alive, we now stand on our very own. Still a small family, but with a growing set of roots into the greater America…

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snow is snow, right?

To many folks, snow is the same white nasty stuff that makes a car dance or blocks a driveway. To me, it’s a lot different; it’s a world of its own. You see, I’m into my 62nd winter and I have seen tons of snow and can tell you that no snow is ever the same. I’ve seen the white commodity in several continents, under many different climates and during most seasons to assert that – like the 6.6 billion folks living on this earth – each crystal is a tiny bit different and ends up with a very finite destiny. I continue to learn everyday of winter about snow. When I run in the morning, I make it a game to see the part of the snowy road that offers the best traction, when I ski I can pick an appropriate technique from what the white surface communicates to be. I’m not talking here about the myth that Eskimos have a myriad of words for snow; they don’t - but we do and I won’t spell them all, but here’s a sampling of what’s available:
Falling snow: Blizzard, flurry, freezing rain, graupel, hail, needles, rimed snow…
Snow on the ground: Blowing snow, chopped powder, corn, crud, crust, ice, firn, powder, slush, snirt, windslab…
Now that you've gained more understanding about snow, go skiding in you car, sliding on your boards or slipping on your shoes with much greater appreciation, class and confidence!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Légion d’Honneur for Anselme Baud

On December 14, Anselme Baud received the Legion of Honor, a coveted medal that France offers to men and women fit to deserve the recognition. Skiing legend Emile Allais pined the medal on Anselme’s chest. I remember the young Anselme when we were in middle school together and later in Avoriaz. Soon he took off to become the extreme skier he’s best known for along with Patrick Vallençant and a top-notch mountain climber as well as a “professor” at ENSA, the French ski instructor and mountaineering guide school in Chamonix. The “Légion d'Honneur” is a French order established by Napoléon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802. It was the first modern order of merit, that was before limited to Roman Catholics and to noblemen. The military decorations were the perks of the officers. The Légion, however, was open to individuals of all ranks and professions; only merit or bravery counted. This is unlike America where one needs to go to war in order to get this kind of recognition. Oh, I almost forgot, members are still paid a yearly stipend that - with inflation - has now eroded to just over six Euros. Even at that rate, heartfelt congratulations, Anselme!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Purchase of Look bindings by Rossignol

This is the follow-up to my previous posting regarding what really triggered the sale of Look bindings to Rossignol skis back in 1994. A short bit of history first; Look was founded in Nevers, France by Jean Beyl, an avid skier in 1951. The company that started with a 360 degree plate binding called the “Antifracture” did at first very well with its Nevada double-pivot toe unit paired up with a basic turntable heel that equipped all the famous ski racers of the time. It was then followed by the Nevada II and N-17 (a.k.a. Grand-Prix) combination that remain a classic for many winter seasons. Selling almost exclusively to the high-performance users and unable to sell to the masses, Look unsuccessfully tried to compete in the entry-level to mid-price segments where it was out-marketed by Salomon. Management miscalculations also contributed to the brand going bankrupt in 1982 when it was picked up by Bernard Tapie a corporate raider, high on PR and low on business acumen. Tapie added the German-made Geze ski bindings to the package but the enterprise continued to flounder and its assets were mostly held by a subsidiary of the Credit Lyonnais a.k.a. “Crazy Lyonnais,” a French bank that had engineered the Look and Adidas buy-out by Tapie. Later, Pierre-Alain Blum, the owner of Ebel watches took over the firm along with Authier skis but failed to re-energize it. In 1993, as the conservative regain control of the French Assembly, Laurent Boix-Vives’ friends suggested it was time to pick up Look as Ebel was looking to unload its unsuccessful acquisition. Stripped from most of its debt, the ski binding division was repackaged into an offer that Skis Rossignol couldn’t refuse, and in 1998 the bike division of the company was then sold to Dominique Bergin and became Look Cycle International; knowing Mr. Boix-Vives, it’s very likely that Rossignol recouped more than its overall purchase price on that later sale. Where Olle Larson might be right, however is that upon taking over Look, Rossignol looked at its product and determined that the Geze toe (the system licensed to manufacture the inexpensive Salomon 222) was not only a good combination with the Look turntable heel but was also much cheaper to manufacture. The turntable heel has now been abandoned in racing and replaced by a crude heel-unit reminiscent of the lackluster Look 27 from 1980. In hindsight, and I must confess to my surprise, Rossignol has succeeded in resurrecting Look by streamlining the line and putting its entire organizational horsepower behind the effort.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marker, Rossignol and Look

Olle Larsson is a ski coach who's originally from Sweden, and had competed on the Grenoble University ski team, in France. After coaching the Canadian National Team, he founded Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City (Utah), one of the first Ski Academies in US. Mr. Larsson is recognized among the world’s top ski coaches along with Honoré Bonnet and Hermann Noeckler. Because he’s an older guy and has been around a lot, Olle knows everything and everyone. While, he was at the University of Grenoble he even had a chance to come to Avoriaz and work with Annie Famose’s “village des enfants.” I’ve known Olle for quite some time, and today, as I was side-slipping the course, he told me an interesting story - for which I know another version - but listened to anyway... His brother Jan Larsson was the director of racing with Rossignol. Years ago when Hank Tauber was still running Marker ski bindings, he wanted to petition the International Ski Federation to be allowed to place a sticker with his binding brand right on the racers’ skis. During a World Cup race in Park City, he had lobbied Larsson to support his idea; instead, Jan had told him that it was a lousy initiative and didn’t offer him the help Mr. Tauber was seeking. Some time later, and according to Olle Larsson, Hank Tauber cornered Jan and told him in no uncertain terms that he was mad at his lack of support, that he would talk to Laurent Boix-Vives the owner of Rossignol and use his influence so Jan Larsson would be fired. Unbeknownst to Tauber, Larsson had a rather good relationship with Boix-Vives, so when the former confided in the threat he had received from Marker’s boss in Utah, Rossignol decided to buy Look bindings. Please stay tuned for another version of the real reason behind the purchase…

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Planted in the snow...

With a new winter season, I’m back volunteering at the Park City racing department. December weather is brutally cold and I’m not yet used to it; the days are both snowy and dark and it takes guts or foolishness to do that! As I have for the past four years, I participate in the “Eric Hays” competitions; a four day racing series involving some 250 young men and women aged 13 to 21 and racing in slalom and giant slalom competitions. For the first day, I was planted in the snow, outfitted with headset and mike to signal the moment racers were clearing a certain point on the course that wasn’t not visible from either the start or the finish; with a daily temperature staying in the 15 degree range, this was a cold assignment and after more than 7 hours of doing just that, I was surprised that I was still alive...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Age and wisdom

In speaking with many of my contemporaries, I can detect a massive effort on everyone’s part to “fight” the aging process by staying very active, eating right and looking good. I also must admit that I’m part of that crowd of folks who are dead set against aging and decrepitude. What we fail to appreciate however, is that with aging comes much more wisdom. This in my view is priceless. So instead of seeing a new birthday as a step into a proximate tomb, it brings much more than just that. It’s shedding some part of our purely physical “skin” for a new one, wisdom, which is very much more profound and essentially spiritual, that reconciles us with ourselves and our purpose in life. From now on, I’ll see each new birthday as a form of enrichment and a welcome transition of scenery…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Would I make a good “con man?”

I’m certain that, by now, the adventures of Bernard Madoff are inspiring lots of “wannabe” in America and around the world. From time to time, I ask myself, what should I do to have a more fulfilled life? It’s clear that over the years, I built a pretty good reputation and that, as a result, many people seem to trust me. I look serious and now that I’m over 60, with few and white hair and have been around to quite a few places, been in countless jobs and have a huge network of acquaintances. In a nutshell, I have what it takes to start a profitable fund. Unlike Madoff, I’d be more democratic and talk to a broader spectrum of individuals. I’d set the bar a bit lower, let’s say a minimum of $100,000. Like Madoff though, I’d save on administrative expenses and would just email the account balance when pressed by my client. My time will be better spent looking for tax-paradises and ways to maximize the funds’ holdings. What I would also do, is carefully plan my exit as well as my next off-shore refuge, just at the top of the next financial bubble; that way I won’t even have to hear your complaints and see your disappointment. Now, enough chatter; who wants to be my first investor?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The elephant in the room

Overpopulation is just like that elephant. I’m currently reading a book about sustainable living on the planet that details all the steps that must be taken and are currently implemented, but at no moment there’s the smallest mention of the impact of population growth. If you’ve seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” he speaks about all the ills created by global warming and pollution, but fails to address the real cause of the problem, namely the fact that world population is totally out of control. Oh, yes, I almost forgot an exception, one smart man who’s holding a strong opinion on the subject; Warren Buffet, the most successful investor on earth… But in the face of all that evidence, why is such an obvious problem pushed under the rug? It can’t just be religious, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no one has really tackled the issue and made it look as ominous as it should be. Opinion, anyone?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This guy has balls!

A lot of folks have been vocal about their opposition to George Bush and Dick Cheney’s invasion and mass slaughter in Iraq, but none, until two days ago had the courage to act on it and say what he thought of the man in front of him by hurling a pair of shoes. Today, the man is in custody and his brother, Maythem, said his brother did not premeditate his action. He simply exploded when Bush said that his visit was “his farewell gift to the Iraqi people.” Good for Muntader al-Zaidi, the correspondent for Al Baghdadia. To me, without a question, this guy is the true “Man of the Year.” Let’s hope the Iraqis put enough pressure on their government to get their hero freed soon!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Voodoo doll?

Since the end of July, I’ve been struck by a mysterious pain, right above my heart and quite peculiar in the sense that it begins very early in the morning, around 2 am, peaks at about 4, and then lingers on through the morning. After undergoing cat-scan, echography plus other complicated and expensive medical testing, doctors have fail to find anything, including my car keys lost some ten years ago. That absence of definite result has left me immensely frustrated, until last night, when I finally realized that someone, probably living between Norway and South Africa (if that character works during the day) was poking my voodoo statuesque representation with a needle right where the heart is. That theory sounds acceptable to me and I only wonder why my tormentor is only hitting the left side of my chest and never pricking my belly or my neck, among other sensitive spots; thanks god the needle tip is rather dull, blunting the pain! Furthermore that guy never takes a day off and is incredibly consistent with the treatment. In days in which it’s so hard to find reliable help, that voodoo doll operator would have no problem getting a full-time job, but then, what would I do and say without that familiar, daily heartache?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back to "pre-bubble"

I must be obsessed with the real estate market. Yet, it seems to me that no one, in the entire United States of America, has accepted the fact that it may continue to go down. Why? Because first and foremost there’s no way to locate its bottom at that point and second because the brutal answer to that question is that it’s situated around its "pre-bubble" level of circa 2002. Until now, everyone has been hoping, wishing, and crossing their fingers for the slide to stop, but as any savvy investor knows, these tricks, including prayer to God don’t work. On one hand there are the realtors trying to hide the depth of the abyss from onlookers and on the opposite side the banks, the government and all the homeowners in a profound, collective state of denial. Get real now, take your blinders off! Your home is no longer worth what it used to…

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The era of transparency

Want to buy a car, a book, a new computer, travel or trade stocks efficiently (with minimum commission)? Go on the web. The internet has become the crystal-clear fish bowl in which you can see where real price levels are at. Now try to do the same with selling or buying real-estate, it won’t work. You’ll only get a murky picture at best, compliment of the National Association of Realtors. Under the guise of preserving their business monopoly and juicy commissions, this entity is one of the last bastions of institutionalized opacity, and because it only promotes a fractional picture of its business, its members don’t even know that their organization is driving their business into paralysis and contributing markedly to this country’s current recession. Time to wake-up “Realtors,” give up you isolationism, dare to reveal some useful data, expose yourself to the changing world and show us that you can compete in the open!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Time to (really) tax gasoline?

Yesterday, as I was filling up my tank, I was shocked to discover that the premium’s cost per gallon had fallen to almost $1.50! Not so long ago, in July if I can remember, we were still paying $4.30 or so for the same quantity of gasoline. Wow! That means we are doing to almost one-third of what we were charged at the peak… This brings me to the next, logical idea which would be to seriously tax gasoline now, let’s say by adding an extra dollar per gallon. In the course of one full year, this could produce one trillion in taxes. It would pay the current financial bailout and would go a long way to start mopping up the ten trillion dollar debt we’ve accumulated. I really think that Obama should seriously think about it, before we start believing again that gasoline at around one dollar a gallon is our God-given right…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Writing and running

In the sport of running, I’ve always been biased in favor of the marathon, because it’s long, hard and truly represents the suffering and the survival of the fittest; yet, in analyzing it against the sprint, it offers more chances to redress a mistake, make up for lost time or affords a change in strategy as the race goes on. The one-hundred meter dash, on the other hand, requires absolute perfection from beginning to end. The start needs to be flawless and both the concentration and the available power must be one-hundred percent. In thinking about it, the sprint is much harder. Writing is the same; a long story can be good, will have its ups and downs, but can survive with less than perfect prose. The short story has to embody perfection; it must make sense in a tight space, be well crafted and tell itself in very few precious words. All other things being equal, a short story will stick into someone’s mind more vividly than a very long tale. I like short stories…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Listen up… And stop political corruption.

The arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was another spectacular example of a politician who had became a monster of corruption. Charged with nominating a successor for Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat, the man tried to make some personal hay from it and got caught thanks to an ongoing FBI investigation involving extensive wire-tapping. In recent time, and probably since the beginning of politics as we know it, politicians have had a rather troubling relationship with bribery and corruption. Some have gotten caught, but the vast majority has not. After this latest incident, I now see all politicians as suspect and it’s difficult for me not to entertain the thought that somehow, whether it’s a tiny bit or an awful lot, opportunistic or premeditated, all the folks who govern us are untangled into some form of graft. Since I’m a man who loves simple solutions, I propose that we wiretap each and every one of them, twenty-four-seven, starting with our mayors and going all the way up to the Oval Office. A group of “listeners” who could be folks like me, that is, who have nothing better to do, bi-partisan and volunteers would release a monthly report detailing all the bad things that are being said behind close doors and on the taxpayers’ back. The good, funny lines could be sold to Saturday Night Live in an effort to make us laugh and use the proceeds to beef up our bridges and repave our roads. Politicians would no longer have to say and do stupid things, would no longer have to worry to end up in jail and our tax dollars would go much further. Who’s objecting?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How “green” are you?

You probably recycle religiously and already run all your errands with a special canvass bag; you may drive a hybrid or commute to work on your bike or by using public transportation, and yes, I forgot, you replaced all your incandescent light bulbs with new, efficient ones, so you’re feeling a bit better as you’re doing your share to improve our planet’s chances of survival. The problem is that you’re sticking your finger into a hole of the proverbial dyke hoping it will hold. You’re in the “band aid” mode. While it’s okay to keep on doing all of these nice things, you need to do much more than that; you must start believing that we need to do something about overpopulation which is the cause of all that environmental disaster. I believe that if many more of us understood that we’re overcrowding our earth, we’d start communicating that to our neighbors, our politicians and all the philanthropists and folks with good intentions but no idea on how to channel them. Well orchestrated, that pressure may turn into a tsunami that will go a long way to influencing religious leaders who still believe that “multiplying” is a laudable goal and also convince the world at large, that a massive and sensible education will eventually relieve the pressure of unsustainable birth rates. You see, just like with smoking cessation, we can’t force people, we need to help them see the light and grasp the truth. We’ll do it by bringing the subject to the attention of the many. Now, that’s also being “green” but this time, it will make a huge difference…

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thoughts on helping foreclosed homeowners

Another element of solving the real-estate/financial crisis would be to help homeowners saddled with unmanageable mortgages in a way that might be fair and workable. First, this idea is very remote from FDIC Chair Sheila Bair’s recent proposal.
Again, my plan is simple; let’s say that faced with a troubled loan (the house is worth far less than the loan, the rate may readjust soon and the owner can’t no longer make payments), the financial institution that owns the mortgage would discount the amount of capital to address the current situation; for example, if the house is only worth $300,000 and the mortgage amount is $450,000, it would re-set the mortgage at $250,000 which would make possible for the homeowner to either keep the property or liquidate it. This would leave that same owner still owning the bank the $200,000 difference, interest-free, that would be carried forward as a deed-restriction and/or on the individual’s credit records, in the form of a floating debit following any transaction that he might enter into in the future. For example, if that same person keeps the home and then sells it ten years later, any capital gain would go to reduce or satisfy that interest-free debt. If the property is sold right away, the ex-owner would continue to carry that debt that wouldn’t be counted towards his personal financial statement, but would remain available to offset any future real-estate or financial capital gains. There would be no government guarantee; the system would be painful on financial institutions, very generous to those troubled homeowners, but extremely fair to folks like you and me who just live below their means…

Sunday, December 7, 2008


The current crisis is asking the American people to “switch religion” and go from deficit spenders into savers. Some of you may know that on average, Americans save in “negative territory” compared to their developed nation’s counterparts that are well into the black. Cushioning the transition - if it happens - may be extremely painful and could define a long hiatus in the economy that will have everyone tighten their belt in ways never felt before. The only hope is that once reversed, that trend toward positive savings becomes an ingrained habit… We’ll see!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A cheaper way to fly

In these days of financial crisis, if you don’t mind being cramped for a while, feeling extremely cold, if you have good lungs, own warm clothing, some specialized equipment, travel without luggage and are willing to forgo mileage credits, you might want to consider doing all of your air travel as a stowaway, tucked into the landing gear well of the airplane that will take you from your closest airport your final destination. I have researched this mode of transportation extensively and have found that, if you own the necessary gear, it’s by far one of the best values in the travel market. Of course, you should be mindful of local regulations as this mode of transportation might not legal everywhere. Start by choosing a trip that is not too long, like an eighteen hour Mumbai to Atlanta flight; you could get so cold that you might drop like an icicle as soon as the plane it on its final approach and drops its landing gear. Instead, pick shorter flights and unless you take supplementary oxygen with you, stay well under a ten hour flight time. It’s always a good idea to pick a large enough airplane; I personally recommend the Boeing 777 as it has the largest landing gear in the business, a six-wheeler on either sides, that requires a super sized well making it easier to nest and far less dangerous when the doors close and the whole wheels and struts assembly collapses inside. It goes without saying that short of getting a detailed sketch of the interior space from the company that has designed the plane, you should visually inspect the space and visualize the safe, empty volume where you’d tuck prior to taking off. If you want to survive your trip, it’s critical to dress warmly as if you were going to ski in New England at sub-zero temperatures. Don’t skimp on the number of layers, put after-ski boots, ski hat, goggles and gloves on. I know, you might look weird if you board in Miami in that attire, but it always beats arriving frozen-stiff. Include a “Camelback” filled with water that you’ll wear under your parka and just pack a bag of granola for snacks. If you don’t mind a carry-on and the extra weight, I strongly recommend bringing along one or two bottles of oxygen plus a mask; these will come in handy on the longer flights. Do not take sleeping pills as you might find yourself sound asleep at arrival time, which is never a good idea, as you don’t want to deplane before the aircraft touches the runway. It’s always a good idea to bring along a pair of nylon straps and if possible a harness to secure yourself to some fixed hardware inside the wheel well (do not attach it to the struts or the wheels!) If you follow my instructions, you’ll find that the hardest part of the journey is to get in and out of the tarmac, through the chain-link fence. Gee! I almost forgot to tell you to bring along a pair of wire-cutters… Now that you’ve got all the information, enjoy your low cost trip!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Not excellent at everything!

By now, if you’re reading that blog with some regularity, you’re well aware that my number one hero is Leonardo da Vinci. Besides being a lefty just like me, Leonardo could almost do anything and was a creative genius. That’s why I like the man and often convince myself and my entourage that I’m almost just like him. This kind of attitude comes with a price though, because living up to such a reputation demands being good at everything, all the time. Yesterday, as I had left the coffee machine on, which in our household is tantamount to committing a crime, I acknowledged my failure by saying “I can’t be excellent at everything” and was in awe as I discovered the exonerating power contained in that very short sentence. That’s true, leaving the coffee pot on was in my view such a minor transgression that it couldn’t really hurt my almost-perfect image. I liked the effectiveness of these few words so much that I plan to re-use them as soon as I have the opportunity. Promised!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Solving the real estate crisis

It seems that resolving our current financial and economic crisis hinges upon “breaking” the current real estate “paralysis.” That’s right; not just in Florida or Nevada, but in places like the most expensive vacation retreats, England or continental Europe, real estate isn’t moving. Investors are waiting on the sidelines for some kind of magic signal that the bottom has been reached and that it’s now time to re-enter the market. The problem with that way of thinking is that all pundits are predicting that the real estate slump may not see its bottom for another year of two, and that’s a major issue, because this paralysis may go on for a very long time. Obviously, one could expect prices to keep on going down albeit too slowly to generate maintain investors’ interest. In the meantime, a trickle of transactions is taking place, simply because a few savvy buyers are able to get the property far below its advertised price and that way, the real market price level remains total invisible to the public at large. So here we are, on one hand faced with a plethora of properties, all overpriced and that no one really wants to seriously consider, and on the other hand, a very limited of sales that take place for a variety of reasons, that very few see, even less have the courage to analyze and that, because of these reasons, remain largely hidden from the broad market. We can first try to imagine why these rare properties do sell. First, a tiny number of individuals buy with little or no negotiation, either because they’re stupid, are infatuated with their purchase, or are filthy rich and don’t care or don’t know any better. Then, you have the most astute crowd that wants a property, does its homework, knows what kind of latitude (read equity) the seller has, is very patient and wait till the seller is near the end of his or her psychological rope to lowball the property and eventually get a good price that is more reflective of the “pre-bubble” levels. The challenge for the market at large is to get a clear picture of these transactions given the level of secrecy afforded by the realtors’ multiple listing service (MLS). That situation contributes to hiding the reality of the market, thus protracting the “freeze” of activity and torturing to no end the sellers, the realtors, the financial institutions, the would-be buyers and the economy. The current situation shows the widespread “denial” on the part of the key protagonists that are the realtors and the financial institutions and its suicidal effects. Instead of accepting to see the situation as it is, they’re still hoping that it will somehow “come-back” soon to its pre-crisis levels. Dream on…
To address that continued inaction, I propose that the realtor community brings a bit more transparency to its MLS information system and starts broadly and overtly publishing the actual selling prices. This would help defining that “floor” price ranges instead of the inflated, bubble-era asking prices that are discouraging buyers and shutting down any activity. It would in turn promote a more realistic pricing that would restore both interest and confidence. Granted, that real “floor” may still continue to creep down, but at least knowing where it is and where it’s going would provide a basis of reference and would go a long way to encouraging broad market participation. My solution is simple, badly needed and guaranteed to work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Undersecretary of “la Joie de Vivre”

Up until the election, I actively supported Obama by planting a sign in my yard, placing bumper stickers on our cars and attending his volunteer seminars. All along, I was secretly hoping to get a position in his new administration. My plan was simple; I wanted to become the undersecretary of “la Joie de Vivre” (the happy life) working for Tom Daschle who will be heading the Department of Health and Human Services. The platform I had developed would have changed America; consider this, among other social improvements I would have built a coast-to-coast skateboard lane along highway 66, I would have offered free Botox, breast or hair implant to folks over 55, I would have made available free energy drinks and potato chips at town and city council meetings to foster participation to civic events and I would have forced cable and satellite dish companies to offer at least one free movie and sport channels. I would have invited Hugo Chavez to talk about self-promotion on television, Fidel Castro to discuss maintenance and care of military “fatigues” as well as jogging suits, and brought Martine Aubry, a French socialist, to introduce the concept of a 35 hours work week, something she'd invented and successfully introduced several years before in her country. All these programs would have been paid by a small tax on food stuff that nobody would have even noticed. Well, apparently Barack Obama didn’t seem to value that plan and turned it down along with my candidacy. Am I crushed? You bet. Would I consider suicide? Probably not, because I’m afraid of death. Would I vote for McCain? Definitely, but it’s perhaps too late now…

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to manage worry

What worries us the most are things we don’t control like for instance death and the stock market, so what are we to do if we don’t want worry to terrorize us for the rest of our lives? I have already attempted to address the issue last summer, but will revisit it today by adding a dose of prevention. That’s quite simple, to address the devastating damages and the uselessness of worry, let’s act on matters that can be changed and let’s ignore those that can’t; this of course is no quick fix; it’s a long term endeavor. Let’s take health for instance where we can make a habit of not smoking, eating right and regular exercise. We can take the same approach with our mental health by feeding our mind with all the right resources that are available; good reading material, smart information gathering, cultural activities and a lifelong approach to learning everything that surrounds us. We could add to that list our political and civic involvement that can influence the way we are governed or we live, and the list could go on forever. The bottom line is that there’s a way to control our long term horizon and root out most worries that can populate it. As you can see a well managed life is likely to cut out most of the worries we can act upon and leave our minds free to have good, clean fun. Oh sure, don’t go in the middle of an empty field during a thunderstorm and don’t do aerobatics next time you fly your single engine plane, but I already hear you telling me that there’s a HUGE margin between a quick adrenaline rush and deep lingering concerns!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Are these realistic expectations?

Yesterday, I spoke with my friend John Evans from Vail who told me that his company and most Colorado resorts are expecting business to be down by about twenty percent and are planning their business accordingly (no new hires, salary freeze, scaled down budgets, etc.) Vail Resort is doing its part with discounted lift ticket and attractive lodging packages. Their only fear is that business could even fall beyond that, making it much harder to keep cost and profitability in check. Aspen has already put a promotion together with UPS to counteract the luggage fees charged by airlines and give an extra reason for visiting Ute City. Compare that the rose-tainted glasses worn by the Park City Chamber and its business community. That’s what could also be called “arrogant denial” and might bite everyone too soon and too painfully. A few weeks ago I was wondering if there was some “Plan B,” just in case; apparently in the land of Zion we’re much too good for that and God still loves us…