Monday, August 31, 2009

Deleveraging jobs and salaries

A recent New York Times article was featuring a 58 year old man who used to be making more than $200,000 a year, and is now furiously looking for a job and finding none. What the article failed to mention was that this is a situation we'll see more of in the coming years. Not because the recovery, when it comes, could be rather flat and anemic, but because we'll find ourselves in the midst of a worldwide salary and job re-adjustment phase. Like an old geezer, I always tell people who want to listen to me that “when a fellow makes $2 an hour assembling a VW Jetta in China and $25 in Germany, something's got to give...”

This is precisely what I'm talking about. This won't translate as fast for the beautician that cut your hair or the car mechanic that works on your auto, but it will impact countless jobs and functions that can be accomplished much more cheaply in developing countries; tasks like accounting, law research, x-ray reading or even animation film development as I've seen recently.

This trend is likely to affect our middle-class, but also that upper middle-crust that used to live so well, come skiing a lot, eat well at good restaurants and drive fine, German cars. No one talks about it in context yet, and somehow it has failed to capture the attention of big media, but I've seen that one coming for quite some time...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Park City can't spell (Part II)

Now, the plot thickens; last night as we were strolling the neighborhood, we couldn't help but notice these blue signs that said “Our Mayor Dana Willams.” I know a certain Williams running for mayor, but a “Willams,” not really. At first, I thought the work was that of an impostor desiring to grab the spotlight and perhaps even steal the election. Then, I became paranoid and imagined that our current mayor had been "texting" the copy of his sign while driving or perhaps while... in the bathroom. Although highly speculative, these are plausible causes. What's clear though, is that spelling in our dear city has somehow gone to the dogs (many of us knew that!) and if four years ago Dana could still spell, he clearly can't anymore. No problem; re-alphabetization of Park City could be a noble issue to add to “Willams'” electoral platform and, if re-elected, he might also rid us of the existing misspelled signs that abound around town!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Free market and regulations

As the recent financial crisis has shown, free market needs some good regulations. These rules however must be placed to protect consumers against the market, not the market against competition. Let me explain; there are too many areas like insurance, real estate, and cable or telecom industries – among many others - where regulations are solidly in place to protect a monopoly and and continue price gauging at the expense of lower costs that should normally be provided by the normal law of free markets. These industries generally have an unfettered access to politicians and are well entrenched to defend their turf against open competition. These are regressive regulations. There are regulations and regulations; always remember that the ones needed are those that protect the consumer, not the industry!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The cost of curse

There have been situations when some of us would curse, if we could, people who do us wrong. We generally don't, mostly because we don't know how the how process work; call this an elementary lack of education. That's in fact a good thing, because that's precisely when we ought to remember the good old law of karma, that antidote to curse, something that goes like “what goes around comes around...”

From a theological standpoint, I would imagine that in order to be able to cast a nefarious spell on anyone, it's necessary to make a deal with the devil. Thanks God, unlike the multitude of religions and deities that plague our little planet, there seems to be only one devil. It's a universal busy evil-doer that puts on a catholic or Muslim hat anytime he (she?) is asked to intervene.

My second assumption is that in order to hurt someone real bad through satanic intervention, it becomes necessary to “trade” something that is dear to the spell-caster, like health, a specific bodily function and even life. That contribution should come from the individual's or someone very dear and close. As you see this is a rather complicated program, full of pitfalls and problems that, long ago, has totally discouraged me to get into cursing anyone!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Real estate finally falling!

In the past couple of days, a few key indicators show that real estate prices are starting to though around Park City. A house that was originally priced around $2.5 million is now offered at less than $1.5 as a “short sale”. Another home priced at $1 million that sat for perhaps 18 month without seeing any action until a year ago is today priced at $616,000 after being briefly tagged at $669,000. This clearly shows that prices can tumble if sellers hope to see some action and that this change is perfectly consistent with my earlier predictions. As of today, Park City listings are reaching 3,531. Expect to see this list to grow and this trend toward lower prices increase over the next year or so!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Clearing up the healthcare confusion...

Here are a few more thoughts about the need for health care reform.
Medicare works very well and goes a long way to satisfy its users. The problem is that it's going to further bankrupt our great nation simply because health care costs are between 60 to 100% of what they should be compared to countries with better health outcome, and when factoring our higher, per-capita GDP.

The reason why Obama wants to reform healthcare is to start bringing runaway costs down, but all the entities that are behind the outrageous price tag don't want to do anything. There are several components: Health insurance and their cortege of insurance agents, pharmaceutical and medical device suppliers, doctors and hospitals.

For the time being, these groups just want to buy themselves out of doing anything to change the status-quo, except bribing congress, and by zeroing in on health insurance reform, our president is attacking what seems the most egregious pillar of these uncontrolled expenses. The rest should logically follow. Again, there's plenty of room for tort reform and for offering free tuition to nurses and general practitioners (specialists are another breed, thus another story.)

Conservative Americans who support the right-extremist and republican approaches, feel that people should be able to fend for themselves, period. Yet, these same folks are generally calling themselves Christians, but can't obviously walk the talk. They're just good American hypocrites and speak from both sides of their mouth. In a civilized nation, health care should be a human right. While I don't always agree 100% with everything our new administration does, I have to say that we would infinitely be worse off under a John McCain presidency.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How much mulch?

Yesterday morning, during our daily jog, we noticed a sign near a house being renovated that said “free mulch,” next to a heap of chipped wood particles. After another leisurely breakfast, I hooked up our small trailer to the car and we were on our way to pick up that precious cargo that we would use to replenish the carpet surrounding our trees, bushes and flower beds. When we arrived on the spot, we had already been beaten by a lady who was busy loading the back of her BMW X3. As I was turning around the block to better park my car and trailer, she asked my wife some pretty pointed questions, like “are you going to take several loads?” “Where do you guys live?” and concluded by seriously saying “don't you think it's unfair to come with such a big trailer to pick up that stuff!”

At first, we let her finish loading her brand new SUV (she used a large Home Depot orange bucket to do the job). We then picked up our share and took off. When we returned she was loading again, and this time, a competitive wind floated in the air. From where we were parked, we could see that she was committed to take as much mulch as she possibly could, hurrying and lurking from time to time towards us, parked in the corner. The recycling drama suddenly escalated when we came to haul our third load. Now, the tension was clearly palpable; this time she took her time to carefully arrange what seemed to be a blanket inside the cargo area of her X3 to maximize the volume(the rear seats had been folded all along.) She rolled down the passenger rear windows and after amassing her regular load closed the hatch.

It's only then that the situation reached a crescendo; she began pouring buckets of mulch through the passengers windows in an effort to fully fill up her car. She did that from both sides, extending her arms inside to spread the precious material as far as she could into the vehicle. For us, powerless spectators, this topping procedure seemed to last forever; the car was never full enough and she was evidently not going to leave us one sliver that she could manage to stuff into her four-wheel container. After an interminable wait, she finally took off. We loaded the remaining portion of the mulch while laughing at this ridicule mountain drama and imagining the time it would take our lady to clean up the mess inside her German sport ute...

Monday, August 24, 2009

House quandary

Yesterday afternoon we walked again into one of these realtors open-house, as we often do. The one we saw that time was built in 1981 and was still in its original state, wear and tear excepted. This meant that it was frozen in time in terms of style and a nightmare in terms of what to do with it. The key question was an alternative between leaving it the way it was, remodeling it or tearing it down. The problem is with a price tag of $589,000 none of these second and third options is affordable. Short of not selling the home, the solution is to lower the price to no less than $400,000, but ideally $300,000.

The eighties-style contemporary design of the residence comes with an atrium with a large skylight area, a no-no in our harsh mountain environment, and unrelated to it, the home has no views. This dual liability can be turned on its feet by redesigning the exterior shape of the atrium and “capturing” the views, a great creative idea of mine that I can explain to those interested... Yes, there's a solution to every problem, even the diciest ones!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shrinking ski industry

The recent indirect acquisition of the Rossignol Group by Jardine which already owns K2 and Völkl, along with Amer's stable now comprised of Atomic and Salomon, represents the greatest consolidation ever seen in the ski industry. This business, that used to be around 4 million of units 20 years ago has probably shrunk by half today and is likely to further shrivel for some very obvious reasons. Restrictions placed on luggage for snowbound vacationers will institutionalize rental equipment as the only way to find gear at destination resorts. Whatever was sold at retail to fill that segment will shrink by some 75%, an enormous but quite realistic proportion. I have not even mentioned the fact that with less sizes now available, ski manufacturers can no longer sell as many lengths to retailers and the board-binding marketing combination is creating a sticker shock that will make would-be gear owners to think twice, and will further precipitate the manufacturing flight to Asia. Who is the “marketing guru” that could have predicted this?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Macro-economic view of the day

After Bernanke's optimist economic remarks echoed from the walls of the Grand Tetons yesterday, boosting the stock market, the question many of us have is what economic near term future can we expect. To help answer that question, I took my calculator and followed the following reasoning. Our GDP is about $14 trillion, and 70% of it is pure, unadulterated consumption. Before the “crisis” our saving rate was about -1% per capita, which meant that we were all running a deficit in our personal affairs. Now that our home, our personal little ATM that we've been liberally using to buy SUV, luxurious goods and far-away vacation is no longer working, we need to accumulate money the old-fashioned way, that is, by saving it.

So if we have to rebuild our retirement nest-egg, our “rainy-day-fund,” and pay some of our credit card debt, we will have to save 10% a year. That's about $1 trillion less in GDP and that reduction is going to leave us in a prolonged stagnation for many years to come, having a continued negative impact on employment and personal income. I'm not even factoring the fact that global “leveling” will continue to hurt good paying jobs.... Less fancy cars, handbags, restaurant meals and exotic vacations are going to become the norm and all that excess “fat” is likely to get trimmed for a while. The obvious question is for how long. . .

Friday, August 21, 2009

Republican retrograde

The current health care debate, I should say screaming match, is another sign – if it were needed - that the republican ideology is on its last legs. Republican don't bring anything new to the table; instead they cling to the failing “old” and have become systematic obstructionists. In a country that was founded upon invention and conquest, including that of space, this major political party is now curling up on its outmoded beliefs, refusing change – that is in intrinsic part of life, and turning to the past as sclerosis takes it over and extinction rears its ugly head. Something I hope for...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anticipating a tough winter season

I'm one of the few that think the upcoming snow season will be a challenging one in terms of destination visitors, and I've been advocating two simple action items: Make multiple-day lift tickets more attractive and improve our product, that is, begin an interconnect between at least two of our three resorts. Yesterday, the most recent data from Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) shows that destination travel continues to struggle and that the battle might get even more ferocious as winter bookings begin to trickle in. While summer destination business was down, so far, between 10 to 15% in spite of a 10% drop in prices, early bookings for December show that destination resorts continue to decrease rates, up to 20%, compared to last year. Ralf Garrison, the study's author aptly says that “if demand isn’t there, price alone won’t motivate travelers,” which clearly indicates that 2009/2010 will see a fierce battle for market share and it would be nice if at least a couple of our three Park City resorts proactively took the steps I suggested before we all feel sorry for ourselves...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Park City can't spell

Our town is a great place to live in with all of its sunny days, fluffy snow and its seemingly endless recreation opportunities. This comes at a price though; Parkites can't no longer spell; at least our City officials or whoever is in charge of sign procurement. Last November, I started noticing a sign warning folks about “suspisious” activities in the Ridgeview subdivision and just last weekend, I noticed the new “oridinance” about dogs roaming around unleashed, at the corner of Payday and Prospector Drive in the Thaynes neighborhood. What will come next? Courchevel spelled “Courcheval” at the entrance of town? Ouch! I know that we conveniently blame the Hispanic community for whatever bad happens to the rest of us, but this time, our City can't pass the buck for its own misspelling problem, nor can it lay the responsibility on the handful of its residents of French, Swiss or German extraction. That shameful situation rests squarely on some "Anglos" shoulders.

But enough of blame throwing between our various ethnic groups; what's needed now are some serious measures and I propose that our mayoral candidates include “spelling skill enhancements” as part as their political platform. That's a simple enough measure that we all can support and that may prevent our signage from going to the dogs; we already have too many of these...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The pizza trap

Yesterday, I fell yet in another trap when a well-meaning, but misguided friend recommended that I tried Maxwell's for its pizza. You see, Maxwell's is a new eatery, just in the middle of what I find to be this awful place called Newpark, that has been built near the I-80 interstate exchange, 6 miles away from Park City, at the so called Kimball Junction. I would love to say that the horrible architecture of that rushed and sprawling development contributed to coloring my pizza experience, but the pie – if super-sized – was bad, poorly baked and fell short of about everything it represented to be on the menu.

A good Utah, let alone American pizza remain an oxymoron, expect perhaps at Settebello's in Salt Lake City and in the Costco's frozen selection. So that's it, I will never ever believe a non-European that recommends a “good pizza place” to me, and it could well be that the shortest and most rewarding way for me to savor a great “old world pizza” is to jump on the daily Salt Lake to Paris flight and eat a good one in the City of Lights!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A peek into the upcoming real estate crash

Yesterday, my wife and I stopped at one real-estate open-house in the Thaynes neighborhood of Park City. The 6,000 sq. ft. house, originally built in 1990 had been totally redone for a total price (including the original) of $2.3 million and after being listed for 2.75 was now reduced to just under $2 million. That's not the end of the story though, the owner/agent told us that she owned the house next door, and needed to sell that one to move into some of the “white elephants” that have been build in nearby Promontory. In addition she said that she owned multiple other properties, all in the million dollar multiples.

My first thoughts were “who needs that and what was that woman thinking?” In spite of that she still sounded like she believed in the “multi-generational mountain property concept,” in which an entire family congregates, season after season, around a wealthy patriarch, a fable crafted by some smart Vail developer I know very well, the whole experience sparkled with some artificial, made-believe forms of mountain entertainment that homeowners end up paying very dearly for. Well, all of that delusion sounds to me like the end of an era...

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Months ago I was discussing the idea of reconnecting with old friends. As I have said before, the past is the ideal storage area for good memories. That's what I use it for and I always make a conscious effort not to ever place in it hurtful thoughts or plain bad remembrances. Reconnecting is great and worth trying, with however a note of caution: Things and circumstances do change and we might not find the environment in the same state we remembered it. It's about people changing; we all do, we're shaped by our environment, personal experiences and a host of other external events.

The friend or acquaintance left thirty years ago is likely to have changed a lot since that time. Add to that observation that we probably have changed a great deal too. Most of the times, the old good connection still works, but there are times when it won't. The chemistry is no longer there, the electrical current doesn't pass anymore and there is no longer any good things to share.

The phenomenon also works in reverse; sometimes, folks that were lukewarm to us, suddenly find in our changed persona an edge to grab into, and what used to be not much of a relationship can blossom into something enriching. It simply comes down to a leap of faith and courage that we all ought to take!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Henri Marullaz, 1944-2009

Almost 40 years ago, I was admitted to the Avoriaz Ski School in France to begin a rewarding career in the ski industry. Henri Marullaz was the school's technical director and took all the newbies under his wing and taught people like me how to ski, and boy, did I need his expertise! He patiently showed me how to train, perfect my technique and continuously motivate myself so I would become a much better skier. He was always nice, patient and exuded a “quiet leadership,” the one we naturally respect and learn the most from.

While I taught skiing in Avoriaz, we were good buddies too, further went to know each other better and our mutual respect and admiration kept on growing. The sad thing about this story is that, over the past 35 years, we gradually got out of touch, the typical way, out of routine, neglect and procrastination. Last year, Henri underwent a severe surgical procedure and I promised myself to give him a call to say hi and ask him how he was doing. I put it off and never got around to picking up the telephone and reconnecting.

This morning, I learned that he had just passed away. I felt terrible, not just for his passing and the pains it means to his entire family, but for not having reached out and touched him while he was still with us. I'm terribly sorry to have to say goodbye this way. Henri, your passing is teaching me the painful lesson to say to friends and loved ones how much we appreciate them while they're still here to hear it from us. I'm gonna miss you a lot, but somehow, a great part of you will come back and accompany me every time I'm back on my skis...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Park City's high-end home market

In the last issue of the Park Record, local realtors insist that the “bottom of the market is near,” as total real estate transactions in the greater Park City area for the first six months of 2009 are down about 50 percent compared to the same period in 2008 and 75 percent down from their peak period of 2007. Obviously, realtors list and sell properties and they would like to tell the would-be seller that it's now okay to list and the prospective buyer that the market can't go any lower. Talk about like having your cake and eat it too!

The reality is different; the market is spooked and investors are still waiting on the fence. One big thing is that jumbo loans (those that exceed the $729,750) can no longer be re-sold to Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac or investors who don't want them. That's a relatively small amount within the Park City limits where the median sales price for a single-family homes during the first half of 2009 was pegged, in that same article, at a staggering... $2.3 million! These loans are therefore much harder and more expensive to obtain while loans for condominiums to be used for nightly rentals, are all but impossible to get. These two segments make up for a huge portion of Park City's real estate market. In the old system, anyone would could state an income at $1 million a year would qualify for a $1-million loan. As a result, inexperienced contractors and novice investors suddenly became residential developers during the boom and got plenty of loans.

After last September's credit crisis, lenders were left holding loans for over-priced homes and half-completed constructions; the result is that today, if banks lend jumbo loans, they've got to keep them. Even if a bank can afford to do that, they're going to price those loans at a higher rate. So here you have the reason why the Park City real estate market has not bottomed out yet. With currently about 414 homes and 225 condos listed over the $1 million price-tag, the fall promises to be spectacular. For my most recent predictions, please check my June blog on the subject...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What's just plain inefficient?

Plenty in fact. Right here in America, we could start with health care (almost 16% of GDP spending vs. less than 10% for similar developed countries), real estate sales where we still need to pay 6% commission for a sliver of service, unlimited mortgage deductions that are subsidizing that same industry, telecoms where bundled services like broadband, cable TV and voice over IP can be had for half the price in countries like France, for example.

Then there is something that is terribly inefficient and its government bailouts and subsidies; like the ones given to AIG, Citycorp, GM and Chrysler, but also to the farm industry. The military-industrial complex also has been a leach in our treasury for years. Finally, there are insidious inequities like religious tax deductions or lavish company perks that are contributing to increasing our overall tax burden. In the same vein there are some social systems, like France for instance, that generously encourage procreation by bestowing money on families with three kids or more.

I must have forgotten tons of these pesky inequities, and if you can think of some, please let me know. In the meantime we should aggressively go after a deep and true election reform that chases the lobbyists out of Washington and keep our Congress and politicians on their toes. Oh yes, I almost forgot, we should ask Google to run our government; that probably would be the cheapest and fastest solution to all these anomalies!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's efficient?

Recently, I've been suggesting that an efficient society combined with a mind turned towards innovation will keep us going into the future. Today, we'll try to take an inventory of what is efficient in our lives. It would make sense to start with communications, which is where more efficiencies can be found, starting with the internet and all of its by-products ranging from email, to search tools, to video or sound transmission, on-line shopping, all the way to reading the morning “newspaper.”

Another area is air transportation where oversupply, open-skies and obvious transparency are a boon to travelers. Consumer products are getting very efficient too as computer aided design has been regularly updating and enhancing products instead of re-inventing everything at each iteration, from autos to TVs, to electronic chips all the way to running shoes. In all of these instances, prices have dropped while features have skyrocketed.
Make sure to comment if I have forgot anything; tomorrow, we'll take a look at the areas that are still bathing in the dark age of inefficiency...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How we look at economics...

It's almost impossible to find an economist or an economic journalist who can address the general economy from “30,000 feet.” All tend to focus on one small piece of the debate at a time, whether it can be the need for regulation, the end of the financial crisis or the beginning of the recovery. No one, it seems, wants to take a stab at the overall view of the situation and prefers to address the bits and pieces as if they were independent from each other and almost have a life of their own. Instead, all these floating particles are fully interactive and are adding to the overall life, direction and intensity of our economic future.

The discussion has become planetary, global exchanges are defining our economic future and the form it's likely to take in the near future. To me, the economic picture is geographic and fully global; its vitality is a function of the spread of business-English, international business culture, cheap communications, trade exchanges, financial networks, education, culture and natural resources that are available to all of us. Looking at less than that unified picture is not of help at all.

I will revisit that subject, but for now, suffice to say that the interactive nature of business exchanges will act to equalize revenues, increase efficiencies and force old economic models based on monopoly, bribery and good old politics progressively out of the economic picture. That is great news!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Can internet shrink GDP?

Recently, I've been lauding Craigslist's effectiveness on this blog; interestingly enough, this (mostly) free service bears a significant responsibility in the American newspaper demise. From my own research, in 2000, classified advertising accounted for nearly $20 billion, or about 40 percent, of the U.S. newspaper industry's revenue. While it was still pegged at $16 billion in 2005, it's likely to have plummeted to an an estimated $5 billion or so by the end of 2009. All started to fall apart in 2003, when classified advertisers started to shift to Craigslist. The online service revenues took off like a rocket, but instead of being the newspapers' billions of dollars, Craigslist can only claim millions. The moral of the story is that internet, with all of its efficiency and freebees, might eventually make a dent in our countries GDP. What's do you think?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Another twist to Craigslist

For year, we've had an extra mountain bike that we would store in the shed during winter and put out come spring, but we actually never use. Yeah, this was an old, suspension-less Scott Boulder that - like thousands of other things – we thought we might use one day but ended up never touching. So, embolden by a recent sale on Craigslist, I decided to list that two-wheeler too. I received just three inquiries for it; two didn't pan out and only one seemed to have some legs; it came from a certain J.J. Beaver.

The man had a website that I checked out and I found that he was running a tool shop. I assumed he lived around Salt Lake, or even Beaver, Utah, given his name. When he announced he finally wanted the bike, he said he'd come and pick it up early this morning. I said “Are you from Salt Lake?” He responded, “no, I'm from Dallas; I'm just flying this Sunday into Salt Lake and will be picking up the bike up upon arrival...”

Just as he said, he came bright and early, wheeled the equipment out of my house, paid me and told me that he was driving to Bonneville Salt Flats to check out some car designs as he had been asked to build one for a friend in Texas (the speed trials are scheduled for September 16 to 19.) The Scott bike will enable him to snoop around, without making too much noise, and find the necessary inspiration. When his mission is accomplished, he'll try to find a Texan driver to haul the bike back home, try to find a buyer on the spot or just leave it there...
Amazing what Craigslist can do...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More temptations, same resources...

The complaint is heard all over the world. Cost of living is going through the roof and there is no end to the trend. Europeans are blaming it on the introduction of the Euro, Americans on the weakness of the Dollar, and I think both are mostly wrong; here's how.

I've already discussed the overabundance of choices assailing us from all sides. Options are multiple and like most plagues, they keep on procreating. That plethora of alternatives is often causing a paralysis in our decision process, but remain very tempting, nonetheless. It's clear that the number of ways we can spend our hard-earned dollars has exploded in the past year. The sneaky side of this phenomenon has taken the appearance of “recurring charges;” all these pesky payments that return month after month to pay for cable or satellite TV, internet, cell phone, satellite radio, computer anti-virus, gym dues, etc. Those little rivulets end up becoming a devastating torrent of expenses that's setting us back and making us feel that we are in this rotating cage/treadmill and can't make it. I'm not even talking about foodstuff, like fruits that aren't local, not in season or wines that are nifty and so-special micro-brews.

We all want quality, some tiny luxury, something a bit special and out of the ordinary, yet that lifestyle is taking us to the poorhouse or at the very least to the cleaner. We also all have to many clothes, too many toys and too many services that we don't really need and many times don't even remember we own. So here we have it; on one end that tantalizing, endless offer of better goods and services and on the opposite side, revenues that are not increasing accordingly. A form of torture? You bet, but totally self-imposed...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Park City Mayoral elections

On September 15, we'll be called to vote on a primary election to sort out a field of candidates for mayors. The two likely to make it into the final November roundup are Brad Olch and Dana Williams. I took a few moment to reflect on the two men and read the issues one appropriates and the vision the other brings forward, but first I'd like to brush a quick portrait of both.

Dana Williams is the quintessentially amiable guy who smiles all the time and appears to emphatically listen to you. I've worked with him for a short while and was able to seize most of his personality. He's not a bad guy but he is not awesome either; don't count on him to move mountains; he just seems to like the job.
Brad Olch is the antithesis of Dana; he isn't Mr. Congeniality. He might come across as someone taking himself a bit too seriously and always appearing preoccupied; he seems to be pondering a large number of issues in his head that many of us don't even think about...

Now, after examining both candidates websites, I am struck at the lack of idea's or vision on Dana's part. He seems willing to go with the flow and submit to whatever issues come his way without giving much of a fight; his business views aren't as deep as they should through his interpretation of the present economic situation.
Brad, on the other hand, opens more questions, brings new views to the table and offer some good ideas (one of them was my suggestion, and that's alright.) He doesn't appear to be as fatalistic as his opponent; further he also has an eight-year term under his belt that balances with Dana's.

Against that, there's the economic reality our town is facing. It's serious, and as Bill Clinton used to remind himself: "It's the economy, stupid!" The unflappable truth is that Park City is at the cross-roads and must chose between being a survivor or a victor. It's time to re-invent, re-energize and re-focus this entire community. A sound transportation plan, the interconnect advantage, more "out-of-the-box" ideas are needed to take our City to the next level and make it the best ski town in the entire Rocky Mountain West!

My personal conclusion? As a voter, I'm faced with a congenial son of gun, band leader and populist who is not going to change anything, and on the opposite side, a not so charismatic individual that appears very serious, overly preoccupied and has a few good ideas. I'll go with the later...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Monetize me!

Some of us spend an incredible amount of time working hard and yet don't see any good money for it. It doesn't matter if we deliver outstanding quality, if many people appreciate it but none is willing to justly pay for it. That's the problem of these ages and the curse of intellectual property! All precious resources have become free; consider this, everything internet, like Google, FB, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. In fact, herein lies the essence of our problem, we've become too good to be paid. Seems to me that if we must seriously monetize ourselves (or better yet, get a Federal bailout, like AIG or GM,) we ought to start slipping into questionable behavior or good old mediocrity; more about that fascinating subject very soon!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is ignorance true bliss?

In the spring of 2001, I attended a class at Cornell University and among my adult classmates were the omnipresent Japanese students. At some point, the two girls asked me to show me my cell phone, I used then a pretty “dumb,” clunky Nokia, and when they saw it, they burst into a muffled laughter like only Japanese know how to... You see, back at the turn of the century Japanese already had “smart” phones and we had no idea those even existed. With them they did their banking, got into their home and much more.

The point of that observation is that unless someone has experienced innovation, progress or any kind of modernity, it's impossible to just describe it. That concept applies to Health Care; the French have such an advanced system, complete with a personal “smart” card that can keeps track of a patient's personal data and have the rest of their entire system so seamless that it would be anathema to try to describe to the average American. Closer to home and to deep into my skier's heart, the same French also have interconnected ski resorts which we could easily replicate, right here in Utah, but that's right, I need to level with my audience!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dear season passes...

We have three mountains in Park City and three different pricing structures for each one of them. I'm not talking about the full price day lift ticket that has reached $90 during the peak season at our very own Deer Valley, but of season passes. This coming winter season, both Park City and the Canyons have realized that with a bad economy and a negative inflation, it might wiser to keep prices flat.

Deer Valley thought otherwise and since they were voted the number one resort by the dubious Ski Magazine's reader poll they felt they could nudge their prices a bit higher. They probably didn't pay close attention to the fact that – for the first time – richer Americans that are their prime clients are hurting; many of them are on thin ice with their jobs, all of them have lost 35 to 50% on their personal retirement accounts depending on how they have reacted when the market sank and the vast majority of them that had a house worth more than one million dollars have a residence now worth significantly less and that can no longer be used as the magic ATM homes used to be.

So what was Deer Valley thinking in pricing their passes? They must know something I don't and if they enjoy a record-breaking season, I will ask to borrow their crystal ball... Oh, by the way, according to my computations, The Canyons comes as the very best value against its neighbors and 2 to 1 against Deer Valley!
Click on table to enlarge it...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mid-mountain torture

As recreational mountain bikers, we like to ride on easy, short trails. While we mostly ride single tracks, we generally don't do it for more than 90 minutes. Last year, half-way into the season, we had ridden on the mid-mountain trail that spans between Park City and Deer Valley and passed the test with flying colors. Yesterday, we decided to accomplish something similar, albeit longer and with significantly less training (only our third time out!) At 10 am we rode the gondola up to the Red Pine Lodge and were soon gone on the trail. After an hour or so, we wondered if we should return or continue all the way to Park City. We were feeling good, the trail looked great and without thinking much more, we carried on. This was without factoring normal fatigue and a nasty, uphill stretch on a trail that was a little too rocky for our smooth tastes. Soon, we were exhausted and had to walk our bikes on more than one occasion. This was not a pretty sight; I was concerned that because we were feeling so weak, we could take a bad fall, make a dumb mistake or just get a flat tire... Three hours and almost 20 miles later, riding up and down at around 8,000 feet, with beat up wrists, arms and shoulders - the legs held up surprisingly well - we finally made it to the bottom of the Park City resort and, a few moments later, reached the safety of our home, unscathed... Once more, that adventure reminded us that “if it didn't kill us, it would make us much stronger...”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The end of the Palm era

Yesterday was a bittersweet experience as I sold my Palm device and got forever (?) out of the “Palm culture.” Recurring problems with Microsoft Vista caused me to end that long relationship. A new smart phone will soon replace the magic machine and hopefully I will be quite able to adapt. My addiction for what was once a very innovative device came to an end as a Craigslist buyer from Salt Lake City drove all the way to pick it up, pay me in cash for it and take it over for good.

That's right, it was in 1997 when I got my hand on the first Palm Pilot ever marketed, learned its arcane “graffiti” writing and soon became an expert at it, taking copious notes with its stylus. I then navigated through various iteration of the technology until it became a true wireless device. I even did my very best to “sell” it, with dismal success, to the my wife and children, and in spite of my sincere and selfless efforts remained the only loyal user in the family...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Understanding the “single payer option”

My friend Alain Lazard has sent me a great explanation of that so-maligned option. I'll try to summarize it today. The idea isn't new; it's used in the world's most developed nations, except the USA. Single payer insurance returns up to 97% of the premiums to be used for medical services instead of only 65% to 75% by private insurance companies, that's not counting the cost of processing insurance claims that adds another 10% or more to the cost of health care, something single payer insurance reduces dramatically, or can even eliminate altogether with proper computerization.

Furthermore, it doesn't have to be government-run; it can be an independent fund that operates within a legal framework. The so called “Public Option” fits that description perfectly. In it, medical doctors are the gatekeepers of the system and no middle man sits between them and the patient, as is the case currently with private insurance pre-authorization and denial of claims. In the private insurance model, monthly premiums are paid in advance. With a large deductible, months, years or even decades can pass before being reimbursed for “qualifying” medical expenses. If the insurance company has 100,000 subscribers none of the monthly premiums earn interest or accumulate and create a leftover capital.

Only 65% to 75% of all that money is available for medical services after deducting administrative expenses, advertising, lobbying, huge executive salaries, bonuses, perks, agent’s commissions and profits. This doesn't compare favorably to a bank or to a credit union in which the monthly management fee is very small and all of the money, possibly more with interest, is available to withdraw at any time. In fact, the only productive expense required, besides the reimbursement of medical expenses, is fraud control.

Bottom line, the more private health insurance companies compete, the lesser the value for their subscribers. Profit can only be generated by denying services from the funds left over after a plethora of unproductive overhead expenses. The approach of the current administration might be the only viable compromise: Creating a public insurance fund that competes with private insurance. If private insurance companies compete on the same basis with the public fund (no precondition clauses, same level of coverage, etc.) they it will cost them a lot and we can safely forecast that they might become a thing of the past before we know it.