Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our strange street

We live on a very bizarre street, one that loops upon itself and our house is located near where the loop crosses. So when someone gets to that point, all becomes quite confusing because both crossing lanes bear the same name, so where's that person to go?
Most people seem to lack spatial visualization skills and can't figure out what's going on. We see it all the time as we're observing delivering trucks without GPS, visitors or just pedestrians, get to that crossroad and not knowing what to do next.

Yesterday, following our daily run, we were sitting on our stone bench and watching the world go round. Our attention was caught by a lone jogger who, upon reaching that infamous intersection, seemed visibly puzzled, reached for a map in his pocket and tried to figure out where he was and where he should be going. After 5 minutes of frantic search, he finally gave up and turned around. When he got near our house we asked him if he was lost, “Yes” he said; he turned out to be a French PhD student attending Park City's annual math camp, an outreach program of the Institute for Advanced Study from Princeton. We explained the idiosyncratic situation and the young man seemed to understand; after all, he probably was a math wizard himself, but this whole story goes to show that we don't need much to entertain ourselves!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Too old to fly, too old to legislate?

The passing of Senator Robert Byrd, at 92, but still on the job, is one of these sad situations in which people hang on to their political job for too long and obviously won't let go until death takes them away. Make no mistake, I thought Byrd was a good man, had ideals and was a fighter, but please, give me a break, the man was too hold to cling to power.

Like commercial pilots that must leave the cockpit at 65 (a notable and reasonable improvement over the previous 60 mark), politicians shouldn't be able to be elected after the age of 65, which would mean that, in the case of Senator, the oldest they could hold on to power would be 71. That would leave room for new blood, cut into corruption and give us a better chance to have a political body that's in synch with the times, more energetic and less senile.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are my clipless pedal days over?

After skiing came to a close, I didn't miss a beat and moved to mountain biking mode; yesterday was already day three, and that day of rocking and rolling took place at The Canyons in company of my spouse and also my best bike companion. Since I ride down a little faster because of my extra weight and move up quicker thanks to some big thighs, I often stop and wait for her. This Sunday, for some uncanny reasons, I managed to fall several times as my bike almost came to a stop and I remained clipped to the damned pedals and tumbled just like the Saddam Hussein statues did when Baghdad was liberated. This occurred once on the edge of a very steep hill, in which I literally rolled over into a mixture of rocks and bushes and another time, smack in the middle of the track.

Covered with bloody scratches from nose to ankles, holes in my shirt, pants and underpants, my stamina suddenly vaporized and got me thinking about a better way to link feet to pedals. After doing some research, I finally came to the conclusion that considering my age, my increasing frailty and my will to live a long, outdoors life, I needed to get rid of these clipless contraptions and join my spouse in riding “platform” pedals instead. My performance might be less glorious, but my overall safety and longevity will be markedly increased for the good of all of us and the loss of doctors!

How mountain biking may help your skiing

Skiing is a sport in which a vast majority of our cues come from what we see. Since this sport is second-nature to me, I've long learned how to look far beyond the tips of my skis to discover what's ahead and plot my next moves accordingly. Somehow, the line I follow develops in my mind from the information I've been able to gather in the short time I was glancing ahead. My feet pivot, my ankles bend, my knees rotate just at the ideal moment, as if all had been carefully scripted and was now flowing as seamlessly and perfectly as planned.

Around six years ago, when I seriously began riding my mountain bike on single tracks, all my senses and attention were at first totally mobilized on keeping the bike going within the narrow corridor the trail forced on me. More than once, as my entire body was tense and I was trying too hard, I would over-correct, wobble, slow ridiculously down, become totally inefficient and get off track anyway. My field of vision was limited to my handlebar and my front tire, while I was micro-managing the moment instead of following the meandering pathway that was streaming towards me. Of course, I'm mostly talking here about coasting or descending. My climbing rate is still too slow to strategize about speed except for the occasional burst of energy required by a short, steep bump on the trail that can only be cleared through an extra burst of energy.

It took many rides to tame my attitude and force me into seeing farther and farther away down the trail. That longer view enabled me to estimate my rate of speed, plan when to hit the brake, assess how fast I could negotiate a hairpin turn in relative comfort, and little by little, my choppy pace became much smoother. Today, while it's still lagging behind my half-a-century ski instinct, my bike riding has become a lot more fluid than it used to be. Both sports of course remain different; recreational skiing offers a maximum range of freedom as one can pick from an infinite array of lines on a fairly wide, open slope, through trees or across a totally open bowl. While skiing allows to marry terrain variations with a multitude of routes, creating for a smooth cruising experience, mountain biking also offers that possibility, albeit in much subtler increments, generally within the width of the track.

In fact, mountain biking is akin to going through an alpine race course that could alternatively resemble a slalom, a giant slalom or even a downhill. The pathway is clearly defined and the only other option is going off track which seldom is a good option. In all situations however, and in both sports, there's always an opportunity to pick up special skills that will serve us well for the other. Mountain biking brings a special blend of speed, precision and anticipation that are priceless in skiing. So you have it right there; the more mountain biking you'll do this summer, the more dividends it will pay for your skiing next season. With this in mind, don't delay riding your mountain bike; your skiing demands it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soccer and me

I'm not into team sports and while I tried to play soccer and rugby as a teenager, I was terrible at both and never got attached. I have had little more interest for basketball, even less for hockey and none for baseball and football. Now, with that in mind, how do I process the current World Cup, the French Team's defeat and the Americans pretty good showing, so far?

Well, for my own sake, I'll try to explain where I stand and what I understand about the craziness that seems to possess the entire planet, but me. Much as been said, written and thought about the French debacle at the World Soccer Championships and until now, I didn't care to adding my two-cent. Again I'm not into that sport and just watch it from a safe distance that never taps into my emotions. I would simply say that the French team, that wasn't expected to do well anyway, behaved very badly in South Africa.
Domenech their coach showed that he wasn't up to the task and while there are many French who live for soccer, there are still a few like me who don't give a damn about it. At any rate, life in France is going on and everyone is now getting ready to follow the Tour de France and its colorful cyclists. One thing that's important to realize is that Raymond Domenech, the egg-covered coach was put in place by the French soccer federation, a typical old-boys club, that obviously made a terrible choice.

That same coach who relied on all kind of weird tools, including astrology was living in the past and wanted to cling to some old formula in the hope that the 1998 victory and the 2004 second place would somehow return. He wasn't able to re-invent himself and his strategy, let alone adapt. The players were, as it's been said, true prima donna that were intellectually challenged, didn't respect their coach, their federation, their country and couldn't coalesce as a team.
Now, I see this as a regrettable set of circumstances that is just a healthy and temporary setback for the sport in France.

It will constitute a wonderful opportunity to clean the French house of soccer and start anew. This humiliating defeat however has little to do however with drawing a parallel with a general decline of France like some ill-intentioned folks have said. Its folks will survive it and continue to live to eat and do the later very well. Soccer is just a tiny spec in France's joie de vivre. As for America, soccer is beginning to make an impression after years of chipping at it, but the other professional sports aren't playing dead yet, and it will take many more world championships to begin making a dent in America's psyche...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seeing the tree from the... house

Ever since we purchased our current home, my wife and I have fought about certain trees and in particular those of the juniper kind (Juniperus scopulorum.) We originally had three of them in front of our residence. The two that were on either sides of the garage door got the ax a long time ago, after I entangled and broke my wife rear-view mirror in backing up a little too close. The remaining tree planted far too close from the facade had grown at a defiant 45 degree angle and never corrected its deviant way. This late winter heavy snow falls made the situation much worse by bringing the angle down to close to 60 degree.
Aside from that, it failed the test of giving us any shade, privacy or abating some noise, making it essentially useless. This is something that my spouse understood from the get go; I simply did not. To me, cutting a tree is something unacceptable, akin to dismembering myself. I just refuse the idea, let alone act on it, except of course in the case of the now defunct junipers standing guard by the garage door. Two days ago, while trimming my lawn, the line got entangled into the holiday garlands that I had left on the tree and the incident made me so mad that I decided to cut that tree in a turn-around that shocked me even more than my wife. This is how most of yesterday was devoted to the falling of that lone conifer, now just a memory for a select few, like you, my spouse and I.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Aging, working and aching

Each season brings its kind of chores around the house that never fail to be a test on our resolve and fitness. The only problem is that – over the years – the body begins to balk loudly at these rites of seasonal passage. Take anything that requires bending over a lot, like gardening for instance; the older back doesn't seem to appreciate it too much. The disks in our spine are no longer pristine and decide to act like worn-out universal joints. If they can't get easily replaced like the set on our front-wheel drive automobile, they creak, bulge and protest.

That's right, we're building up mileage and, for the most part, have run well past our warranties. The ride is no longer like it used to be out of the showroom and we now start feeling each pot-hole and pavement imperfection. The problem is that we have to live with one single body and must realize that activities we breezed through only a few years ago are now exerting a toll we no longer can pay. There's probably a good reason why most advanced countries “retire” their workers when they reach their mid-sixties. Anyone knows of some legal and elegant way to “roll-back” the odometer?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thinking of you...

Without getting into esoteric or spiritual discussions, I wanted to touch on the benefits linked to the mere fact of thinking about someone – in that case, in a positive way – and its beneficial implications for both the thinker and the target of that communication. My instinct tells me it's a good thing, even if the recipient of the good vibes has apparently no way of being aware of what's going on, yet alone detecting it. It certainly does a lot of good for the person who initiates the thought as it's akin of doing a, random and anonymous good deed. This action always make the originator feel good.
Likewise, if the person at the receiving is told that someone is actively thinking (positively) of him, or her, it has to be heartwarming, but the caveat is that someone needs to let that person know about the perpetrated thought. In the absence of ESP or any special talent that still eludes the scientific community, this practice unfortunately remains a one-way street, and in spite of all of its kindness, may remain a moot point. Unless someone can prove that it indeed works; any volunteer?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can we see proof of income?

Many people in the Gulf of Mexico have seen their income drop like a rock and have been or will be asking for money from the special escrow fund set aside by BP. Problem is there is a need for some kind of substantiation to be eligible for receiving compensation and in the absence of pay stubs, proper paper trail or hefty tax-returns to show for what used to be purported earned income, it becomes very difficult to collect. This is an age-old problem linked to tax-evasion and that tricky game cuts both ways.

The American small business owner is one of the world's best positioned to cheat on their income taxes and with a collection system that has no teeth, huge amounts of money go untaxed. Now, this “cash” economy is getting harshly sanctioned, and a crisis like the oil spill proves to be as harsh a “taxman” as the government...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Would you live anywhere else?

Every now and again, it's quite healthy to ask ourselves where we would like to live. I'm not advocating wanderlust here, but simply recognizing that some of us like to move around and are, at times, looking for a better place to live, start over or just kick back and enjoy life.

To make it effective, we should add a caveat, that is, pick a place such that if we could never ever leave it, we'd still be happy; this makes the proposition quite potent and strengthen the meaning of the answer. I happen to believe that we ought to regularly ask ourselves that question, just to make sure that we're not at the wrong place, at the wrong time in our existence. I just did it last night – silently – as I was falling asleep. My conclusion was crystal clear. I'm quite happy where I'm at the moment. My own levels of “wanderlust” have stopped poking me around, I guess, and I could live forever in Park City...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Putting a stop to the ski season

Yesterday was just one day short of the beginning of summer, but happened to be the last day of our lift-served ski season - at least here in Utah. At first, I wasn't sure if I would participate, but I couldn't fight what's in my DNA and drove the 39 miles that separated my home from the last turns of a long season. While the weather was just perfect, the conditions weren't great around 8:30 am, as the snow was bullet-proof and made it quite hard for most skiers to get around.

The snow was also generously peppered with rocks of all sizes and was a good test on everyone's maneuvering skills. At first the crowds were thin, but began to show up just after 11am which was a good enough signal for me to get ready to leave. All the skiing was around the "Little Cloud" chair and was discouraged all the way to the bottom, but on my last day, I didn't want to be a woos and ride the tram down to the resort; instead I decided to ski down, which for two-third of the way sounded like an excellent idea.

Very soon, however, it began to feel like a succession of frequent taking-off-and-putting-skis-back-on, until I literally ran out of snow to slide on and had to scramble down the last steep 600 vertical feet among tree, bushes and muddy paths all the way to the parking lot and my car. This by far was the most challenging and dangerous portion of the day, but as any nut skier would say “still well worth it.” See you again on snow in less than five month!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Changing personal values

I believe that our values often are like a weather-vane. They change as the wind shifts and that wind might take the form of our varying moods, fortunes, outlook on life and can reflect all the other challenges and joys that we encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps a minority of us can claim steadfast values no matter what happens around us, but I surmise that in most cases, our own values are not immune to our own life-cycles ups and downs and that if they don't change that drastically, their nuances do move around...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Apple's good choices

I'm a marginal Apple customer as only own an iPod. Yet, I admire the company and Steve Jobs, its founder and cheer for them.
The high-tech firm embodies most everything that is right with business and in particular a relentless search for innovation. It stands heads and shoulder over its competition and one can bet that the only ones that will come after it are going to be some Chinese companies.

Apple shows that a culture of constantly obsoleting your own products, a generous commitment to research and development and a strict discipline are key to survival, success and leadership in today's developed society. What's amazing is that all other companies in our so-called developed countries are watching that story develop, affirm itself and are still seemingly sitting on their hands...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Not impressed with Tony Blair!

On Charlie Rose, one of my favorite TV talk show, Blair was talking about his official new responsibility, that of official Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia. I've never been found of Blair, but on this interview, he startled me as being clueless and shockingly ignorant of a subject – the Israel-Palestinian conflict – he should master better than his host Charlie Rose. It was, in fact, quite the opposite.

There are of course, two obvious strikes against Blair. First, the man has deep feelings for Israel, born in part from his faith and because he's been a long time member of the Pro-Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel. Second, like most ex-political leaders, he's too busy piling up money doing speaking engagements, special appearances and consulting gigs, and spends no quality-time on his special envoy mission. Finally, this goes to show that certain politicians are only good at getting elected and no much else. I think there's is no creative spark inside Tony Blair, that he's most an obstacle than a facilitator in this peace process, and what a better proof than his unconditional support for the Iraq war!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When the unexpected takes precedence

We all lead an existence made of a collage of fun and dreary parts. We apply ourselves to deal with problems the best we can and use the joys sprinkled around to take a breather and make the whole package that much more livable. Then, a bigger, unforeseen event happens and throws everything off kilter. We then have to assimilate the “new-comer”, accept it and move on, taking care of the new priority (good or bad) as it should in light of all the other chores that are on our plate.

Being able to accept the new situation with all of its unfairness, greatness, ill-timing or disturbance is by far the most challenging, but the sooner it gets processed, the faster we're on our way to integrating it with the rest of our little lives...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's your excuse?

In yesterday's blog, I discovered that excuses often are at the center of our very life and our own dysfunctions. As time goes on, we become very good at relying on increasingly bad excuses as we fail to plan, miss returning phone calls, forget appointments, dismiss personal development and forgo maintenance of all kinds. There's an excuse for everything, from not learning Spanish, to being late preparing one's own tax return, not exercising, taking another slice of pie or sipping another beer. The excuse has become our universal band-aid and we couldn't live without it anymore. So why are you still browsing Facebook today? Excuse me, I wasn't... thinking!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saying vs. doing

We all have great plans, unique ideas and original solutions at one point or another in our life, year, month or even day. Yet, most of them seem to fall flat on their faces as they dry up, untested, untried and unfulfilled. It sadly reminds me of an abortion clinic designed on Ford's assembly line principles. We could have acted on these fine initiatives, but somehow we failed to and we certainly have a lot of great excuses for not turning them into reality. We were just too early, too narrow, too right, to young, too poor or we simply couldn't make them happen because of a person, a family, a company or a government system that got in the way.

Are you impressed by the list of excuses? You definitely should not, and if you are giving that one person who didn't act, the benefit of the doubt, you're dead wrong, because there never is a valid reason for inaction! As a follow-up to that sad state of affairs, I suggest that we reform that paralysis and bring more movement into our lives, let's call that dynamic action instead. That practical passage from thought to deed would be such an innovative concept!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Would you trust this politician?

There's only one billboard in Park City. For one month or so, it was featuring a public service ad for preventive screening, with PROSTATE letters taking the whole available space. That singular display was replaced by a political ad, featuring Mel Brown, a republican incumbent running for Utah house district 53, our very own. Not only is Mr. Brown, a republican, which I'm not found of, but he looks really bad; I mean his picture is particularly unflattering and frankly, I'd never vote for someone looking like this. Perhaps it's the “prostate” message that still lingers in the back of my mind. Instead of his face, he should have blown up the elephant, symbol of its party. So, while I still like this guy better than BP's CEO Tony Hayward, I'll vote for his democrat opponent Glenn Wright, I've met him and talked to yesterday as I was walking to town. He looks much, much better. Okay, guys, I was just joking!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Yesterday's Japan, today's China?

China's going to take over the world, right? Well we thought the same about Japan in the eighties and look what happened; after years of buying everything in sight, including American debt under Reagan, the land of the rising sun fell flat on its face when the Nikkei bubble burst and, as of today, has never been able to fully recover. So could that aborted Nippon success story be written into the script that is developing for China? Who knows; some pundits are predicting the formation of a massive bubble, at the core of which is a growing real estate speculation fueled by China's massive stimulus package.
My take is perhaps subtler as I see more a looming danger coming from the corruption of Chinese traditional values colliding with western-style hedonism and all-out consumption. We'll see, but instead of counting on the fall of the giant, we might be better off thinking of practical ways to rewrite, re-engineer and restart our own economic engine...

Winning the battle of Lumbago

After day 19, the battle of Lumbago was won by... injection! That's right, good Doctor Zaman saw me last Monday, examined my MRI and decided that I needed some chemical help to overcome the monster that had taken hold of my lower back. The shot was fired, and two or three days later the dragon died, hopefully never to return again...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fleeting “vertical” values

I've recently focused my attention on “vertical skiing” records and have come to ponder the value of these performances. Their meaning isn't solely reflected into numbers when descents are conducted on easy, groomed runs. Most of the time, there's very little athletic prowess in them, if at all; one just need to stand up on the skis, go through the motions and that does it. For instance, when we broke the Utah record for the most vertical skied in one day at Deer Valley this past January, I didn't feel much strain and fatigue, but when, eight weeks later, I happened to ski 25 laps non-stop on “Ninety-Nine-90” at The Canyons, I was almost on my knees. This is just to say that all “vertical” records aren't created equal. The difference in difficulty between what's relatively easy and what's challenging can easily range by factors of one-to-two or one-to-three!

The variables that account for this enormous difference are many. If we begin with snow quality, it can be groomed or not (huge variable!) It can be deep or shallow, powdery, heavy, slushy or icy, not to mention further nuances in quality. To a lesser degree than snow quality, the terrain also plays a significant role. If it's very steep, it definitely adds to the difficulty; same story if it's uneven or if there are obstacles such as trees, rocks, or cliffs close together. Then there are outside factors like visibility which can turn some great conditions into hellish ones when the light is flat, when it snows hard or there's fog.

Extreme temperature variations that can also contribute to making a performance miserable if they're too low or even too warm. Finally, slope traffic ought to be nil or as light as possible to minimize the risk of collision and allow for top cruising speeds. As you can see, setting a record is only possible when difficulties are down to a minimum. When the going gets tough, an “easy”112,750 feet vertical record can turn into half or a third of that, and still amount to be much more work than what was required to chalk up an impressive number!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The good news about BP...

Yes, there's a silver lining about this catastrophic oil spill and it's quite simply that it will be the overdose of insanity that pushes our government to finally do something about our dependence on foreign as well as domestic fossil fuels.

It's just great that this unprecedented mess happened when Obama was president instead of Cheney, and after all the pictures of oil-drenched pelicans – which by the way were even more powerful than the humongous leak spewing out of the riser pipe – even the reddest of the American red-necks will begin to understand that it's perhaps time to explore something outside of the old oil and gas well. Perhaps even our moron republicans will be inclined to seek some alternative to stupidity. That would be quite a change; it would in fact be a revolution!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hanging in there

Some of us are already retired, other wish they could do it someday, if possible sooner than later, but many still hang in there, even though they have enough resources set aside for their “golden years.” Yet, they seemed terrorized by the mere idea of embracing a different way of life. So tell me, why do these folks refuse to let go? One reason might be that their current job is their only life and leaving it would be like entering a “big void” and not knowing what to do. Some might experience a hint of “fear of failing” or a lingering apprehension to even learn something new or embrace a new behavior.

Finally, there is a large number that want to hold on to making money they don't really need, maintaining power and dominion over people, thoughts and things. This individual have a craving for being recognized as “big shots” and strongly believing they're irreplaceable. With job so scarce nowadays, wouldn't retiring when one can afford it be the “right thing to do?”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fear and probability

I have regularly explored the issue of fear and found that it has a lot to do with our individual amount of experience, lack of control and levels of certainty or probability. When the probabilities of danger are clearly defined and stay within quantifiable reason, I seldom fear much; I can clearly appreciate my maneuvering limits and the margin of success available to me.
When, instead, nothing is well-defined or clearly delineated, uncertainty clouds everything along the way with an improbable outcome, I fear the most. I can live with high-risk stake when I can see the edge of the path but feel ill at ease when it becomes invisible, fuzzy or take the appearance of a moving target...

François “Michigan” Rulland, 1936-2010

The French ski resort of Avoriaz, France had its colorful legend and heroes, and François was one of them. Nicknamed “Michigan” after the U.S. made earth and snow moving front loader on wheels of the early sixties that he skillfully piloted during the resort's early days, he was the man who alternatively removed the snow, pulled up building materials up the long winding and snowy road between Morzine and Avoriaz, and carved many of the new resort's ski runs, most of them into sheer rock; always available to lend a hand and tremendously appreciated, he is a large piece of Avoriaz history that left us quite suddenly on June 5th.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Freedom of expression?

At the end of May, longtime White House correspondent and columnist Helen Thomas was dropped by her speakers’ agency on this past Sunday and subsequently retired at the age of 89. In a video clip filmed on May 27 during a Jewish Heritage Celebration at the White House, Rabbi David F. Nesenoff, asked Ms. Thomas, “Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today.” She quickly remarked, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” When the interviewer asked, “Where should they go?,” she asserted that they “go home” to Poland, Germany, the United States “and everywhere else.”
Helen Thomas just stated, what many around the world feel about Israel and its illegal as well as immoral position against the Palestinians. Her remarks were neither racist, bigoted nor anti-Semitic, they were crude, but factual, which says a whole lot about freedom of expression in the United States and a subject like Israel which is forbidden domain. The difference between China , Iran, North Korea and the USA is that she may not get imprisoned! This is another situation where the tail (Israel) wags the dog (our Country.) Let's hope Helen Thomas' legacy will be to become the lone courageous journalist who began chipping away at the biggest political taboo of all!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Where's the fun?

After reading my account of the 67 year old man that just logged 6 million vertical feet skiing in Snowbird, Patrick Wahle, from Toronto, Canada, was impressed by that massive amount of skiing, but wondered about the technicalities involved with accomplishing that feat, like skiing non-stop, weaving through the crowds and lift lines, but most importantly raised a simple and critical question by asking, “where's the fun in doing that?”

In truth, this is something I'd never asked myself and is a pointed question about what motivates certain individuals to seeking records for record-sake. Among some of those, I was wondering about Reinhold Messner the famous Italian mountain climber from South Tyrol, renowned for making the first solo ascents of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and for being the first climber to ascend fourteen "eight-thousanders" (peaks over 8,000 meters) in the Himalayan region.

Was this guy simply pursuing pure fun or just in the business of collecting some unprecedented records? There's always a fine line between fun and obsession; sometimes the former leads to the latter with very little warning and before the performers know it, they become enslaved by some hollow pursuit of their own making. So whether our fancy is skiing, biking or rock-climbing, we always need to stay alert to what motivates us and make certain we don't become another record-producing robot by asking ourselves, every now and then: “Is it still fun?”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Changing the world's economic model

While BP and the oil companies are being blamed - as they should - for the oil-drenched pelicans that are dying the Gulf of Mexico, we need once and for all to understand the root causes of the environmental dead-end we've created for ourselves: It's not global warming or lack of resources per se, it's overcrowding our beautiful planet. We must start the process of downshifting now, and begin sooner than later by reforming the way we look at growth. You often hear me talk about shifting from quantitative to qualitative growth as a way to discourage runaway birthrate (and overpopulation, its corollary).

The problem in my communication style is the improper choice of words. In fact, there are just two and only two ways to grow any economy. We can either increase the population or increase productivity, and productivity is therefore what I meant by “qualitative growth;” so please correct my record on that count. The symbol “delta” means difference or change, so if we want to change a country or the world's GDP, we should consider the following equation:

Δ GDP = Δ Population + Δ Productivity

This places the challenge squarely where it ought to be, namely that if we understand the root cause of our environmental problems, we first want to stabilize the earth population instead of accepting willy-nilly that it will top 9 billion in 2025 and keep running away past that date. That would mean that if our population suddenly plateaued and then decreased, like this is currently the case for Japan, we need to increase our productivity even more and this is the type challenging stuff that seats in the realm of scientific innovation and can only push our civilization forward instead of trapping it into the hands of conservatism and creationism. But like the chronic alcoholic, we first need to admit to ourselves that we have a big overpopulation problem and that its time we did something about it!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

An awful lot of skiing in one season!

A couple of days ago, I learned that a 67 year old skier (today is actually his birthday) has logged an impressive 6,008,159 vertical feet while skiing 122 days in Snowbird, Utah, from November 20, 2009 to May 28, 2010. That's an average of 49,247 vertical feet a day! To most serious skiers, this might seem hard to believe, even for me who thought I was a big shot in breaking the 2 million mark the first time this season, only one-third of what this man accomplished.
Of course, with an excellent physical condition, a deep passion and a total dedication to the sport, that performance is totally possible, but what's truly amazing is that its author is well into his mid sixties. As I'm currently nursing my lumbago, I'm looking forward to interviewing this amazing individual with legs of steel, and re-setting my personal goals. I find this to be incredibly stimulating!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Managing pain and tough times

There's a silver lining in everything, at least I think there should be, because the presence of some sunny side in adversity makes it so much more bearable. Some sweet words must also be said on the account of the competitive spirit that lay somewhere in all of us. Let me explain; when a mountain climber sees a mountain, he sees path to its top, when an extreme skier observes a couloir, she visualizes how she'll negotiate its most narrow passages. The subtle beauty of difficulties we haven't picked or don't particularly like is that it provides great diversion and constitutes a further test in broadening our skills and deepening our experiences. The challenge turns into a game of skill and another opportunity to measure oneself against what most people think is impossible or just beyond their ability.

That's exactly the way I try to see pain and suffering. It's another challenge that had been placed across my way to test my ability to transcend it and do much better than I would if I acted like the average Joe. I'm no average Joe and to me, this type of personal challenge is like rocket-fuel that will propel me into not only overcoming, but living more intimately with pain and discomfort. I see it a badge of honor or an extra feather in my cap. That's my way of managing the unpleasant side of life; at the very least that is the way I try to approach it. This approach gives me huge strength, makes me tough, is totally me and is what keeps me smiling while I gnash my teeth!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Linear expectations

I'm a believer in trends and when something begins to look good, I expect it to become absolutely perfect. Same situation if I'm not well and start feeling better, I'm only expecting that pain will go away sooner than I will have time to dwell on it. In other words, in my simple world, I'm not expecting relapses and other ups and downs. Yet, this cyclical situation is what has been happening with my acute back pain problem. Hopefully, this is just a spike (ouch!) that will take me back to “linear” and down to zero-pain very, very soon!

A painful transition

In recent years, I have skied more than my share and this season was no exception. I believe that at last count, I have been 100 days on my skis; this, by my own admission, is an awful lot and I would need to travel back to my twenties to exceed that impressive attendance on snow. Over the past five years, besides skiing a lot, I've also experienced my share of mishaps; none of them too bad, but between some broken ribs and a snapped Achilles's heel, I can't say that my past seasons were totally pain-free. So once again, this ski season ended up absolutely flawlessly, without one single injury to report. I had dodged the proverbial bullet. As I put away my ski gear, my next move was to take our mountain bikes to the local shop for a full tune-up in time for another riding season. I was already picturing myself coasting amidst a sea of sagebrush and clearing hairpin turns almost flawlessly.

This was without counting on some real labor that was waiting for me between the skiing and the mountain biking seasons. I had been extremely ambitious and had set to repaint a deck composed of an endless metal railing wrapped around a large wooden floor. I'm not as good a painter as I'm a skier and even though I consider myself a medium-level mountain biker, I tend to ride the single track much better than I can pilot a paintbrush around intricate wrought iron patterns. This means that it takes me a lot of time to do an okay job, not even including all the contorting, bending and laying on my back that come with reaching these almost invisible and unattainable spots. After two days of doing that, my body began to revolt, my legs ached and I was visibly limping as if I had aged an extra 20 years! I was in fact so tired, that I took two days of pure rest. A wise move that very unfortunately, happened to be “too little, too late.”

The next morning, while standing up from my office chair, I must have snapped something and my lower back was elevated to a dire state of lumbago or acute back pain, as doctors like to call this ailment. I instantly visualized my ski career coming to a screeching stop and my anticipated mountain bike exploits vaporizing on the spot. I made an appointment with a physiatrist who listened to my story with extreme empathy, asked me lots of questions, ran me through a series of physical tests and reassured me that there would be more ski and mountain bike days in my future.

The morale of that story is that there are many activities more dangerous than skiing or mountain biking, but what I appreciated the most was that my doctor didn't ask me if I wore a helmet at the time of the incident!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One step forward, two steps back...

One of the pillars of my physical rehab philosophy is too steadily push the envelope. So far, this has always worked until... last Sunday when I decided to suddenly transition from walking into running three and a half miles. This was a very bad idea and today, I'm paying dearly from it as I can no longer run, as pain reminds me of my speed limit that has just been reset to some lower level.
Well, faced with this reality I can only learn from it and better understand that pushing too far, too fast is playing Russian roulette and can sometime backfire. Until I feel good enough for getting back into running, I'll be more patient and more prudent. Promised!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Time to boycott BP, China, Israel?

When politicians fail to do their job or just don't attend to what's the sensible thing to do, it's a pretty clear indication that we ought to follow-up, either as taxpayers, consumers or both. Take the BP oil spill, for instance, it would seem fair to me that if there were a BP gas station in my neighborhood, I'd go the distance if I had to, not to refill with their brand of fuel.
I feel any American, or world citizen for that matter, who's followed the account of British Petroleum incompetence at mopping up its own mess should never patronize that brand until it succeeds at fully exonerating itself of this environmental disaster. Same situation if you happen to be unhappy with China's stance on certain world issues or don't like our lopsided trade balance with that country, just stop buying goods that are made in China until it mollifies its stance on these contentious issues; short of seeing “made in china” on a product or on some foodstuff, you can always tell by the UPC code: All bar codes that start at 690 - 695 are for products made in the People's Republic of China, while 471 is Made in Taiwan.

Same thing with Israel, if you think like me that its attack on the humanitarian flotilla was excessive use of force, simply refrain from buying products carry a UPC code starting with 729. I think it's time to revisit boycott as a mean of supplementing our political class shortcomings; let's begin now!