Saturday, February 28, 2009

Worldwide GDP, crisis and forecast

The entire world gross domestic product for 2008 amounts to $71 trillion, which means just over $10,000 per capita. Now, “developed countries,” boast a per capita GDP somewhere between $30 and $50,000. My theory is that as long as there are people on the planet willing work for far less money than others in the developed world, we’ll see a continued flight of job towards these low-cost countries. This may take a few more years, and bypass Africa, with most activity occurring in Asia and - to a lesser extent - in South America, but we’ll see that trend grow. Continued population growth to the 9 or 10 billion predicted will also bring increased business all over the world. On the other hand, there will be a point where it will no longer pay to ship heavy products over the oceans, which will reduce that trend as will as a shift from non renewable to sustainable energy, that are more costly to implement and to sustain. With these considerations and the current economic crisis in mind, I predict that, in the near future, the global GDP will grow slightly while that of emerging nations will continue to increase and that of developed nation will see a commensurate decline. Let’s revisit these predictions in 2014 and 2020!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Does religious faith come automatically?

As I confessed in an earlier blog, I never had a “natural” religious faith. I went to church for a while because I was coerced into doing so, but faith never came to me out of the blue. I understand that one tenet of faith is that small children should be taught empirical subjects in the hope that, when they’ve acquired enough life experience and good judgment, they can espouse them. But what if these subjects are wrong or just baseless? That in my view is where lays the problem. I would tend to believe that natural human instinct supersedes faith and is a much more reliable indicator. My instincts make me believe in the future, in having children, in being good and decent with my fellow humans. They also give me sometime a little “extra” inkling in terms of premonition, inspiration and mysterious paths that I’m glad to explore when given an opportunity. However, they’ve failed so far to point out the right religious faith to follow among all the many options competing for my attention. It could very well be that I wasn’t focusing much on the subject… Now, what about you; have you been more tuned to that spiritual calling?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Henri Patty hits the nail(s) on the head!

A few days ago, I was talking with my friend Henri Patty about the ever-struggling ski industry and in particular its ski equipment manufacturers now faced with a double-whammy: A world-wide recession that might erode an otherwise upbeat snow season in the Alps, the continued shift from retail sales into rental transactions and the dwindling number of units it represents. We were also talking about some major companies; Amer, with Atomic and Salomon, Mont-Blanc & Chartreuse with Rossignol and Dynastar and Jarden with K2 and Völkl. These holding companies are faced with the insane mission to driving two brands with similar management and infrastructure, placing them in the same predicament as General Motor with Chevrolet and Pontiac or Ford with Lincoln and Mercury. Under those circumstances, stress is king; further, issues like which one gets the best product, “top-dog” positioning or quite simply, which entity is likely to survive, are the daily fabric of that Gordian knot. To illustrate the absurdity of attempting to resolve these conflicting assignments, Henri used the picturesque analogy of driving with a hammer two nails in just one blow; a daunting task indeed!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A touchy subject

Early afternoon, yesterday, Evelyne and I decided to go skiing. The weather was sunny and mild and it felt more like an April day than the end of February.
We boarded the gondola at The Canyons and found ourselves in the company of charming, forty-something lady. We immediately stroke up a conversation and, as always, made her “earn” the place we were coming from. As she seemed nice to us, we helped her lot and she finally found out we were French. After some more small talk in which we learned she hailed from Charlotte, North Carolina, she asked us what “we french” thought of Barack Obama. Needless to say that she didn’t sound like a fan of our new president and through her sunglasses I could see two GOP elephants staring at me with their pachyderm tiny eyes… We said that he was doing a fine job and a much better one at that than his do-no-good predecessor. She corrected us by saying that Obama was a bit “too negative” and that he should have favored more tax-cuts. I responded that tax-cuts were the only word republicans had on their mouth, that the Reagan legacy was dead and that we were now faced with a change of tectonic magnitude. Her mouth dropped, the gondola stopped, we had arrived…

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Staying positive in this negative world

There’s not a day that goes by with its serving of bad news: Sinking stock market, new financial or political scandal, job losses and natural disasters. How can we keep our sanity, let alone a decent attitude in the midst of all this turmoil? Perhaps, we need to be contrarian, and understand that everything is cyclical, like after the rain, the sun will re-appear or something along this lines. As long as I’m breathing and feeling alive I remind myself that I have absolutely no right to feel bad. It becomes my responsibility to shape my coping mechanisms and come up with an antidote for the day’s most terrible events. Life elements are like a see-saw, when the market is down, it’s a good time to buy, when real-estate collapses, land becomes cheaper, etc. Start turning that negative broth into an uplifting, creative game and your world will transform itself!
Do I hear a better suggestion?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Are we in heaven (yet)?

If you believe in after-life and in celestial heaven, this article is not for you. I just wrote it for those of us who are not sure these good places even exist or for those like me who are convinced that heaven is right here and now. This of course brings me to the crux of the matter; how can we tell that we’ve made it to heaven – or not? Let’s conduct an experiment by starting first to ask small kids - let’s say up to the age of ten how is their life, assuming they receive enough love, attention, food and protection. If we pay some attention to what they have to say, they might indicate that, for the most part, their live is just like heaven on earth. After that age, things start going downhill and pointing towards hell. Where is the bottom of that pit? This is quite hard to pinpoint as it will vary with individuals, but let’s say that between that point in time and until someone is free from work, there’s a lot of hell going on in someone’s life. What fuels that hellish reality? Fear about everything, stress, needs, pressures of all kinds, learning life on the job, accidents, illnesses, bad luck and many more struggles. Am I really suggesting that everyone makes that trip to hell? I think that for the most part the answer is “yes.” Unless an individual finds the perfect vocation and can draw a lifetime of bliss from it, no one is immune to these regular beatings that life dispenses so liberally. I’m not saying that there are no specks of enlightenment now and then, but the most part people’s skies remain grey and threatening. This said, I’m of the opinion that heaven would begin to occur when someone is freed from all these fears and worries, and this time generally coincide with retirement from most forms of professional life. How do I know that I’ve made it to heaven? Because I’ve never felt so stress-free, I can do everything I want, I have fun doing the things I love and for the most part, I still feel good physically. There is less negativity into my life and I feel at peace with myself. The only element that is in short supply is time, but that forces me to prioritize. If all this is not heaven, then tell me what the real think looks and feels like!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How’s my economic forecast?

On November 13, 2008, I had predicted that the Dow might reach 7,040 by the middle of January, so when we compare my forecast with today’s reality, it clearly show that I was a little low and a bit too early (7,365 on February 20.) Okay, so with that in mind, where do I stand today? I don’t think things have improved a hell of a lot and even though I would be even more pessimistic that I was back in November; today, I envision a Dow at 6,750 by say, the end of March of this year. From that point forward, we might see a slow and anemic uphill crawl, but it sure will take a good decade before we rejoin its 14,164.53 peak set on October 9, 2007… What’s your best guess?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Marc Lumet comes to Park City

As General DeGaulle, Hercule Poirot or even Inspector Clouzot must have said, “if you can’t go to France, bring France to America.” This is precisely what my former boss and very good friend Marc just did when he came to visit us in Park City with a bunch of family and friends. This gave us a great excuse for joining them in skiing and partying. At times, our entire group was ten people strong and there must have been several gods in attendance, working diligently to prevent a collision amongst all these reckless French skiers, including my spouse and me. The week went by as fast as lightning and as I woke up this Saturday morning, I realized that it will be a toll order to replace that gregarious group. I now feel so depressed that I may have to skip skiing for a day…

Friday, February 20, 2009

Follow me!

That’s what ski instructors usually tell their clients, and that must work… to a point. Yesterday, as we were skiing with our group of friends, I offered to have some individuals directly ski behind my ski tails to help them negotiate a few dicey sections of the mountain. It never failed to work as the person following me ended up mimicking perfectly all my turns, and without much thinking, came down the hard stretches of the hill without even noticing its challenge. Because she’s too independent and also because I’m her spouse, my wife won’t follow me like these individuals, but if she had, skiing would have been a lot easier for her as it would have removed one of the toughest decision skiers need to make; namely, where to make the next turn. That’s right, choosing the perfect line is the key to good skiing and this is why when students follow their instructors, it’s not only super-easy, it becomes addictive and if they can afford it, indispensable. This brings me to my next thought. French ski instructors have always focused on form and skiing technique and paid lip service to pedagogy, while most of their North American counterparts can’t ski but are pretty good at understanding and teaching the most obscure aspect of skiing technique. Who keeps clients forever? The French; simply because they don’t tell their secrets and exploit their clients’ addiction by asking them to follow religiously, getting them to repeat their business into half- or full-day private lessons for as long as they life or can ski, while the vast majority of American instructors are so boring to their students that they only get hired a few couple of times. Now, do you follow me?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ode to imagination

Imagination is one of our greatest, yet so underutilized gift that we ought to pay more attention to. It should be our number one mental energy source. It seems that as I grow older, I find it tiring to tap into that well of inspiration and ideas and too often, I end up ignoring it. Imagination is the gateway to great ideas, inspiration and creativity, and we ought to keep that door wide open and use it to fuel our continued personal growth. I’ve also found that even though I think of myself as a positive individual, negative thoughts leading to the darker side of imagination come up a lot easier than positive ones. I wish I could return to my free-wheeling childish imagination; at the very least, I plan to work on it… How do you manage your own imaginary wealth?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The tyranny of multiple choices

As we had dinner with visiting friends last night, one big decision came about where to ski in the next following days. It’s true that Utah is blessed with many great ski resorts. A few names were tossed around: Park City, The Canyons, Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird and even Snowbasin, all located within one to sixty minutes drive. After much debate, a decision was made to the satisfaction of some and the dismay of others. This plethora of choices illustrates too well what might be wrong with our society of plenty. Go pick a movie, a musical selection, a bottle of wine or a meal from a restaurant menu, and each time, too many choices make the process a real torture. When I was a kid, scarcity of options made life simple and I would argue, a lot less schizophrenic. Today, most people fall prey to never-ending temptations and always would “like to have their cake and eat it too.” This overabundance paralyzes our decision-process and often is counterproductive, if not obscene, considering the abject poverty in which some folks live in. Will the current severe recession shrink that dizzying array of choices? I wish, but frankly doubt it…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama’s Suggestion Box

After a chaotic legislative process that gave birth to the stimulus package president Obama will sign today into law, one has to wonder about our Congress ability to legislate meaningfully. On the one hand, you find the Democrat majority that seems to lack assertiveness and fresh ideas and on the other, there are the “obstructionist” Republicans stuck on old and losing ideologies that have even less imagination than the majority. In conclusion, our congress is only good at one thing: Raise tons of money to get and stay in office, period. So what are we to do as a Nation? Don’t despair; they are plenty of smart Americans who could and should contribute to moving that country in the right direction. The reason I say that is because I’m an avid follower of readers’ comments found following most thought-provoking press articles. The vast majority of them are right on the money about most issues and many of them are just outstanding. Their ideas are based on sound common-sense, not political B.S.! So what do we do with that? We set up a suggestion box for the use of the Obama Administration. We organize it by categories, make it highly interactive, have the president appoint a task-force to sift through them, select the very best and push them through Congress!
More on that later; just stay tuned…

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alain Lazard responds...

Alain Lazard, a former ski racer, ski coach and retired ski industry consultant who lives in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California, made a response so complete and compelling to my last posting, that I had to publish it today!

Let me begin by commenting on your intro; I totally agree with you that the Super G is technically speaking, a useless event. In addition, it costs a lot to organize it while other alpine events are already expensive enough.

Downhills that are like freeways have also become without interest. In fact, a hybrid event between GS and Downhill should replace both. I’m thinking of terrain configured like the “Green” in Les Houches, France, for example.

Regarding slalom, I disagree with you. I don’t think rapid-gates and short skis with deep sidecut have negatively changed the event. On the same hill, slalom courses have become more “turny” with boots cutting it now close to the poles instead of just the shoulders as it used to be in our times. Today’s slalom racers look more like gladiators armored from head to toe; this is a very different event from other alpine competitions where the intrinsic qualities of skiers are secondary to their speed, reflex impulses, etc… The example of Gérard Bonnevie comes to mind; while he finished fourth at the 1974 St. Moritz World Championships, he wasn’t someone I’d call “a good skier.” He would have had a terrible time free-skiing down a long, steep run with one foot of fresh snow covering it.

Regarding the required qualities to win on skis, I generally agree with your analysis, but I’d get there somehow differently by adding two categories and by incorporating some "best practices" to round-up these winning traits:

1 - For me, the essence of an excellent technique can only be acquired through “free-skiing:” That's the ability to feel the snow, or the “intelligence of the feet” as a very controversial coach used to call it. I’d even go further and suggest that “premature” racing is counterproductive. I experienced this when I was in charge of the Far West Division for the USSA/USST. Parents were enrolling their 10 to 12 years old kids for one or two races per weekend (25 to 30 races per season) in order for them to garner points ... all that grueling schedule prevented them from really skiing. To counter this situation, I established a point system that took the two best results per event and removed 10% of the points for the rest of the season races, following 6 competitions in the same event or a total of 12 races for the season. At the same time, I organized camps where kids would free-ski all day long behind naturally talented skiers like Philippe Mollard. Tamara McKinney went through that program and her results speak for themselves.

2a - The second portion of technical skills – running gates – can only intervene after the skier is able to reasonably master “free-skiing.” For an accomplished skier, this threshold isn’t difficult to cross. However, the qualities required from the coach who facilitate that transition are drastically different from the initial phase. Some coaches excel in the first, other in the latter, very few in both, and a large number in neither one of them.

2b – Just running gates might suffice to improve motor skills unless weaknesses have been spotted and specific exercises are available for alleviating them. In this area, the key element for progress is to expose racers early on with top talents. It's a major problem in Alpine countries that have a plethora of World Cup racers who hang on inside the team very late and are road-blocks to young talent who would quickly blossom if given a chance to be exposed to that senior talent pool.

3 – Without a doubt, physical training is paramount. Cardiovascular development should be close to that adopted by 400 to 1500 meter track runners, although some endurance training is required to handle long days spent on snow. Muscle building should combine both strength (especially for downhill) and a combination of strength with speed (slalom.)

4 - As for mental strength, the situation varies from one individual to another. This is where the coaches’ influence can either be great... or devastating. Some racers reach the World Cup circuit armed with nerves of steel and need no or little assistance to make it. Others are very sensitive and show patchy performance from race to race or season to season, not to mention superb training runs followed by dismal race results. This is an area I don’t know well enough and that requires true experts seldom found within a team’s coaching staff.

To rank these prerequisite talents, I’d put the intrinsic qualities of skiers (# 1) in first position at 40%, then mind control (# 4) at 25%, racing technique (# 2 a & b) at 20% and finally physical fitness (# 3) at 15%.

This pecking order is highly subjective, and a few missing ingredients will prove to be enough to negate the benefits of others elements, except perhaps for the mental fortitude which lack thereof may open the door to a once-in-a-career exploit but will impede regular performance.

We must also take into account the interaction of the above traits. Without a sound technique and a potential for solid results, a steady mind-set is of little use, except for prolonging a lackluster career. The essential ingredient remains therefore a solid technique that opens the door on good results. Achieving the latter enables the proper mental attitude to take over.

Motor skill elements can be easily acquired earlier in life. As age sets in, this becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, improving both physical and mental conditions is always feasible later on. This is why things should follow a certain sequence, something that the national selection process generally fails to facilitate.

One last point: The importance of what you call "be one with the element." This is the quality of the “natural skier.” Once acquired, the mind is free to focus on technical, tactical and other issues and allow progress in other areas. Let’s not put the cart before the horse!

Nothing was said of the equipment; yet, it's pretty obvious that it should be of quality and well suited for the appropriate skier style.

All this is a bit rough, but that’s what went through my head of this beautiful Sunday in February…

Alain Lazard, Penn Valley, California

Editor's Note: Make sure to read the other comments that were made about yesterday's posting; they all add some extra perspectives to my views that, I have to admit, were pretty limited...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Recipe for winning ski races

As the Val d’Isère alpine world championships are now over, I was fortunate to watch most of the events on the NBC Universal Sports channel. Giant slalom still remains my favorite event, before downhill (that I find too smooth and a bit too “civilized,” even on the grueling Bellevarde run.) I’m not crazy about slalom, its super short skis and “rapid-gates,” and feels that the Super G is a total waste of time. This said, as I was watching these events, I was thinking that it takes three components to win in these ultra competitive contests. In the past, I had postulated half-jokingly that skiing was “90% all in the head.” That might work for some recreational skiers like me, but probably not for champions like Lindsey Vonn. In fact, I can see three areas that are essentials for winning ski races:
1. Technical skills: You could call it the ability to ski, but more than that, “sense” the snow, be “one” with it and have all your moves perfectly programmed in your mind. Intelligent mileage, good coaching and a keen sense of observations are the essential building blocks for acquiring these skills.
2. Physical fitness: That starts with a good body; then your muscles need to be up for the job. You need to train, run, bike, lift weights, do something significant to take the “Gs”, the constant pummeling and to drive these skis in the ice instead of having them drive you to exhaustion.
3. Mental attitude: You need to be in control of the situation and able to coldly and intensely focus and yet not care too much about the outcome. This is the dimension that at the end of the day makes the difference between athletes that step on a podium and those that are excellent, try really hard, but never seem to get there.
Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration a host of variables like visibility as well as snow, slope and weather conditions that affect racers pretty much equally.
In conclusion, I am now arbitrarily giving an equal one-third weight (33.33%) to each one of these three categories. Do you agree with it, or are you proposing a different split?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New GOP (Grand Obstructionist Party)

Now that the stimulus package has been passed, it has showed that the Republicans have become the Great Obstructionists. While I’m not 100% sold on that stimulus plan, I’m totally incensed at the way Republicans choose to ignore a constructive debate and to participate into a normal democratic process. Like their Bush and Cheney role-models, they appear to lack the intellectual faculties needed to engage their adversaries and instead, use tired rhetoric against them, claiming that the only magic formula is tax-cuts. When you listen to GOP members, tax-cuts are so potent that they could make a pig fly or could power a Hummer across the country. I only hope that American people finally see through that naïve set of beliefs that remind me of literal biblical interpretation and tired ideology. The Republicans have now become an obsolete force that need to transform itself very soon in order to constructively counter-balance the new Obama administration…

Friday, February 13, 2009

More reasons for a united Palestine

Bringing Israel, Gaza and the West Bank into a one-nation with citizenship and equal rights for all of its inhabitants, regardless of ethnicity or religion, would have positive global consequences. The main one would be the creation of an inclusive community in tune with the times we live in; look, we’re all crowded on a small planet that has little room for sectarianism, narrow ideas and theocracies. In spite of all its travails, America’s “mixing pot” sets a great example for what could be a more united, tolerant and vibrant Greater Palestine, where every one of its inhabitant should more concerned about the continued good health of the planet than his neighbor’s oppression. This one-state solution would allow dismantling the Israeli nuclear force (this ought to be negotiated against denuclearizing both Pakistan and India), reducing the obscene amounts of money and resources spend by the Israeli Defense Forces (about 10% of GDP, or $20 billion) and save billions to the new country and the rest of the us that must regularly fork up money for fixing and rebuilding what has been recklessly destroyed by the belligerent parties. The six billion dollars that are provided yearly by the United States to Israel and Egypt to condone the current conflict could instead be invested bringing the Arab population up to par with its Jewish counterpart and facilitate its integration into a united society. Such an amalgamation would go a long way towards diffusing the so-called “Islamo-terrorism,” help normalize relations between Muslims and the West and save untold amounts of precious resources in the process. While this one-state solution is not favored by the “backwards” minds that thrive on destructive behavior and don’t pay for its consequences, a two-state solution is precisely what needs to be rejected in order to stop that schizophrenic cycle of violence and destruction… Better ideas anyone?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Palestine in perspective

With a population just over 7 million which includes more than 1.5 million Arab-Israelis, the Jewish state represents about one-thousand of the world’s population, yet has managed to top the planet’s foreign-issue agenda for more than half a century. If we’re looking at the entire Palestine territory including Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the entire population is about 11 million people almost equally split between Jews and Arabs (about 5.5 million for each group.) Including the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the Jews enjoy about 80% of the total land mass while the same number of Arabs needs to make do with the remaining 20%. Even more striking is the fact that Israel’s per-capita GDP is $28,900, while that of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is a paltry one tenth of that at $2,900. This abject poverty is among other reasons the source of its exploding population growth rate at 2.7% vs. 1.7% within the state of Israel. Based on that vital information, it seems to me that a two-state solution is never going to work. Not only the two separate enclaves of Gaza and the West Bank will never be able to operate as a unit, but the Arab population confined to what amounts to concentration camps will keep on exploding, becoming poorer, angrier and will keep on fueling the conflict. This in turn will radicalize the Israeli that will eventually justify a pure and simple eradication of the entire Arab population. Put simply, this is not sustainable and the reason why a one-state solution, where Arabs and Jews must learn tolerance and share the same destiny, is the only viable answer to the region’s future.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Geithner spooks Wall Street

Yesterday’s event reminded me of the days I had terrible grades at school and did everything in my power to hide them from my parents. No one wants to stare at bad news, let alone accept them when they start becoming a reality. In his public statements, Timothy Geithner failed to please Wall Street and the major indices took it in the chin in a big way (almost 5% loss for the day!) The big reason for that is that we haven’t seen the end of the financial crisis and most importantly, Wall Street doesn’t want us to see it. What Geithner did yesterday was to “prepare the patient.” I have said earlier that major banks are facing trillions of dollars in losses due to the ever-eroding real estate market, and when the US Treasury begins x-raying what goes into their financial statements they’ll find that these are no longer solvent. This is in part why Geithner’s plan is obscure enough so as to not spook folks like us, but before all is found out, said and done, the government will have to find $3 to $4 trillion to nationalize Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, among the main “suspects.” Getting rid of these “toxic assets” before hand would be more elegant, but at which price? Should it be at 50% discount or as low as 10 cent to the dollar if we want some brave investors to stick their neck out and make some profit for their courage? The hole is so big that no one wants to come close to it, but if we want to get over the crisis, we’ll first need to accept that reality, like the alcoholic needs to recognize he has problem before treatment can begin.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Do you want to totally empty your mind? Chase away worries, problems and all that nasty stuff for a few hours or a full day? Go to the mountain and ski. Just like meditation, prayer, or any other mind-cleansing system, skiing will erase what’s on your mind and what’s bothering you at the moment. This advice doesn’t apply to beginner skiers or those who might venture on terrains that exceed their normal abilities. You know it; when you’re on the boards, you need to really pay attention, be present and never let your concentration quit, even for a few seconds. At that moment, you’re witnessing the moment, seeing the obstacle, the bad snow patch, the nasty bump, or the steep and narrow couloir. You’re just witnessing and acting upon a given situation. You’re not actively thinking. Your mind remains free, pure, unencumbered. You’re in the middle of the “here and now,” a mind-relaxing moment that for lack of a better expression I call “nirvana-on-snow.” When I ski alone, I generally listen to my music, but unless it happens to be a tune I particularly like, I don’t even pay attention to what goes through my ears... How’s your own skiing experience?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Adversity, fuel for achievement

In November of 2007, I wrote a short essay about finding strength in adversity. The subject was very general, and yesterday, as I was skiing in rather difficult conditions (new snow, variable visibility and nasty bumps) I was reminded that we can only get better in certain areas through meeting and battling challenges found in these places. So while the original piece was about handling unpleasant situations, my thoughts went in the direction of a deliberate search for adversity in order to gain more strength, more knowledge and more experience. With this in mind, we should never fear anything in life as it always bears the seeds of personal betterment. Only preventable early death is the only negative outcome we should stay away from for as long as we want to live… How is your personal view of adversity?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Will the stimulus package work?

I’ve not been a fan of the stimulus package. First, when things are bad, there're always two options; do something or do nothing. Sometimes, the latter has more merits than doing something for the sake of having good conscience. This said, I would agree with the republicans that the package originally proposed by the house was a lot of repackaged “pork” but where I have a big problem with these same republicans is that their proposal was a return to the past and to solutions that have proven they didn’t work: More tax cuts. This showed that the Republican Party is out of new ideas, and like a herd of dinosaurs, is on its way to extinction (a good thing as far as I’m concerned.) Okay, criticism is easy, but would I have proposed if I had paid a bit more attention to that issue? I would have attached more tax-credit to job-producing investments, I would have weighted the tax-credit more heavily towards economic activities of the future (renewable energy, high-tech, broadband infrastructure and starting the foundation of a true healthcare reform). Want more details? Ask some specific questions and I’ll deliver the answers!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Religion and me

After seeing Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous,” a funny but thought-provoking documentary on religious beliefs, my wife asked me how my thoughts have evolved over time on that issue. This question begs for a big answer that I’ll try to keep short. I was raised as a catholic, went to CCD, became an altar boy and dropped it all when I was 17 or 18. I don’t think I ever had any faith in God, because the character was frightening me; I saw him as a severe enforcer, the prospect of dying and going to hell were quite spooky as the bar for heaven seemed to be set too high for me. I also thought Jesus was a good man, but was never ready to follow him as I found his teachings much too demanding and running counter to the capitalistic system I wanted to embrace. I loved the technicalities involved with the practice, like being an altar boy (in exchange, I got a free subscription to Fripounet and Marisette, a kids’ magazine,) handling wafers, mixing water and wine, being close to the holy week’s drama and some other unexplainable mysteries. What kept me hooked on religion longer than I should have was the fact that my parents were obsessed with falling victims of local alpine witchcraft and that spooked me to no end. As a teenager, I was utterly confused by the dysfunctional relation between faith and sexuality and this is what did it for me. Shortly thereafter, as the spiritual fairy tale crumbled, I discovered that there was more to life than this mythic stuff which wasn’t worth my precious time. In recent years, I’ve come to look at religion as the ultimate people manipulator and the most lethal activity on the planet; that probably goes to say that our opinions are meant to evolve over a lifetime and I’m grateful for that. How’s your own relation with religion?

Friday, February 6, 2009


Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy went center stage, grilled by four journalists, for a televised, 90 minute question and answer session addressing the current economic crisis. At first, we were a bit skeptical about a man portrayed by the media as more preoccupied by his rock-star status than by governance, but very quickly, faced with press representatives that were mediocre both on economic matters and on interviewing skills, the man displayed a vast knowledge of the issues and didn’t hesitate to delve into their minutia. We believe that he had previous knowledge of the questions that would be asked, which might explain how deftly he dealt with them; like a talented ice skater he danced flawlessly around them. It’s undeniable that France’s president is a consummate populist with a penchant for demagoguery, but also someone who’s on top of what’s going on in his government, who’s also highly focused, organized and willing to work hard. Just like De Gaulle, Sarkozy is an autocrat; without a doubt, he is the kind of leader France really needs, especially in the absence of any real socialist opposition. He managed to answer all questions launched at him and with few exceptions didn’t attempt to evade the issues or get away with fuzzy answers. His intentions seemed very genuine and my only criticism is that Sarkozy comes across as a micro-manager as opposed to a statesman able to focus on the big picture (as he probably should) and capable of letting his lieutenants tackle the nitty-gritty of each issue. This said, I’d conclude that he’s a good leader for France. Now, how does he compare with Obama? That’s a particularly hard question because what’s facing France pales in comparison with what President Obama has on his plate. I think Barack Obama displays a superior intellect and a better hands-off approach to tackling the many thorny issues that are barreling towards him. In the US, and considering the makeup of our congress, Sarkozy wouldn’t stand a chance, but in France, his pragmatic and populist approach might suffice to produce results…
If you’ve seen the interview, or have something to say about Mr. Sarkozy, share your comments here...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ski, golf and satisfaction

Every time I ask a golfer how his game is, I always get the ambivalent answer, “I love the sport, but I’m terrible at it” or another deprecating version of that. Isn’t it amazing that most golfers seem to cultivate a terrible self-image and appear to wear their miseries as a badge of honor? Some go through long “dry spells” during which their game is downright terrible and nothing seems to go right. This almost never happens with skiing… While I subscribe to the belief that there’s no such a thing as a bad day skiing - I probably stand as an extremist in the category - most skiers asked after an average, decent day on the slopes, will say they had a great time. Few complain about their form, their technique or their equipment; sure it probably could be a tad better, but you won’t hear many skiers verbalize it. My conclusion is that golfers must be very hard to please and rather difficult people, while skiers are all nice, simple and happy-go-lucky folks. Perhaps doctors should start prescribing winter sports to their depressed patients and life would take a turn for the better. We might not need such a big economic stimulus package after all… And you, where do you stand on that skiing-golf attitude divide?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jesus prevailed…

...and inspired everyone as Daschle withdrew his nomination yesterday to the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services! How did that happen; was it divine intervention? Not really, in my view, the “vox populi” triumphed through the power of the internet. For the past three days, all on-line newspaper articles inviting reader’s opinions were deluged with negative comments about Tom Daschle, not just because of his “fuzzy” views about taxes, but mostly because of his de facto lobbyist role and speaker with health industry companies, that among other sources netted him a juicy $5 million revenue in less than four years. The internet helped install Barack Obama in the White House but it’s a powerful tool that will keep on cutting both ways as a growing army of online citizens won’t tolerate major deviations from proper and ethical governance. Even Jesus today, realizes that the net is the new master! Now, remain watchful and ready at your keyboards…

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What would Jesus think?

Okay, we all know that Obama has got his hands full and is under incredible pressure to make good decisions, but excuse me Mr. President, in the case of Tim Geithner (our Treasury Secretary) and Tom Daschle (our proposed Secretary of Health and Human Services) there are some big problems. Both have “forgotten” to pay some of their taxes. Yet they’re highly educated and have reached top-notch positions before their recent nominations. One of them (Daschle) is a lawmaker who’s supposed to make laws and - I assume - know their meaning, while the other (Geithner,) is now overseeing the IRS. Now, here I am; I’ve never been to college, I’ve never been a celebrity, but I know enough about not getting in a pickle with the taxman; further, I’ve found that by using common sense, I get the right answer to most of my tax-related questions. Again, President Obama, if you’re too busy assessing your team members’ ethics and deciding if you should keep them, simply ask yourself “what would Jesus do?” This is precisely what I did and after I invoked his wisdom, the woodworker from Nazareth told me without hesitating “both men could be used-car salesmen or real estate agents, but should not be trusted with a top Administration’s job.” So smart that Jesus, even more than you, President Obama!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thanks God for the Mormons!

Everyone knows that Utah is Mormonism’s capital of the world. When we arrived almost a quarter century ago, Mormons accounted for 70% of the State population. Today that percentage is down to 60% thanks to the influx of newcomers in general and Hispanics in particular. We’ll have to wait till about 2030 to see an end to the “Latter Day Saints” current majority. I know, these are statistics, but if you’re a skier, you know that weekends are always very crowded because that’s precisely when most people have two days off to hit the slopes. Well, the good thing about Utah is that good Mormons only show up to ski on Saturday, crowding the mountains with their countless wifes and kids, but when comes Sunday, we can reclaim the mountain as all these faithfuls crowd into their houses of worship, studying scriptures, eating do-nuts, slurping Jello and drinking Cool-Aid all morning long, before returning home and praying some more, family-style, for the rest of the day. This leaves the ski resorts almost empty and those of us who believe in different Gods, or none at all, can ski or snowboard our heart content. This obviously is one compelling reason why I intend to ski an awful lot between now and 2030!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekend pleasure

One of the best aspects of our weekends is that we don’t go running in the morning; that’s right, we’re off. We take a two days vacation from beating the pavement, pushing ourselves up the hill and trying to forget how hard it is. Sure, if we miss a day because of weather, special circumstances or occasional illness, we make it a rule to “catching up” during these two days, but that doesn’t happen every week. This special arrangement makes us look forward towards what we feel is a well-deserved “break.” Another benefit is that – when Monday comes – we feel fresh, in mint physical form and ready to climb mountains. Does your own training regimen include special considerations like that one?