Thursday, May 31, 2012

Use Sochi to free Syria?

Since the Syrian massacre is condoned by Russia and China, governments who oppose it should put pressure on these two countries. That would be priority number one. This said, Russia, being the primary ally to the Assad regime should be the primary target of Western diplomatic efforts.

As I had recommended last February, a potent tool that would exert ultimate influence upon Vladimir Putin would be a threat to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics by all countries that disapprove of Russia stonewalling tactics, and in particular from all the National Olympic Committees of Europe, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.

If Russia suddenly changes its tune about Syria, chances are that China will follow and will acquiesce with the rest, and since Putin is so strongly invested into these Games, this might be the only lever available to unlocks the Syrian crisis.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


There must be a significant difference between someone who was born atheist – or raised without religion – and someone who believed or was just exposed to religion in their formative years and then, for a host of reasons, decided to exit their particular belief. I'm thinking of it, because last night I watched a TV show called “Civilization” on PBS and its host, Niall Ferguson, who claimed to be atheist made some presumptuous linkages between protestantism and the so-called work ethic.

To me that is quite weak and let me explain. The Veneto region of Italy is extremely Catholic and at the same time incredibly entrepreneur. So is Bavaria in Germany and the Savoie region of France. A certain type of organized religion may perhaps influence the economy of a region, but only in tiny proportions, not in the momentous ones claimed by Ferguson who linked the proliferation of protestant churches in a Missouri town to some elusive economic boom in America.

 If he had counted as many such churches steeples in Silicon Valley or in any hi-tech region of Japan, I would have bought the argument, but there, I had to stop following the man's argument. Thrift, industrious minds and entrepreneurship maybe endemic to certain ethnic groups, culture or geography, but not to religion. So to return to the opening question of that blog, I am starting to think that the self-made atheist through questioning religion is much better armed to talk about religion than the one who's never been emotionally connected to one...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The evolving “American Dream”

This morning, our beloved National Public Radio (NPR) was announcing an upcoming series about the ailing American Dream. To me, this concept is just an image whose time has past. It was initially fostered by an immense land, taken away from the American Indians, where there were no rules and in which expansion was the name of the game.

Later on, it kept on fueling its legend on international expansion and today, there seem to be no more room for it to grow into. Perhaps, we should look into our society and envision more progress in terms of education, health care and scientific research that could lead to a more sustainable living.

This to me is a logical segue-way to the American Dream. There is one point I'd like to make though, “American” has become a bit too parochial as well as limiting, and I would love to substitute the world “Planetary” instead, so that dream of betterment is available to all humans...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Now, which system?

The 2008 financial crisis has re-open the debate on the merit of free-market capitalism as we know it. Two days ago, I was linking increase in productivity (most of us call this progress, don't we?) to the loss of employment.

That progress seems to also work at counter-current with population growth. In other words, gains in productivity are worsening the situation and augmenting the gap between the haves (those who can work and make good money) and the have-nots (those who can't work or if they do, can't earn living wages).

This would suggest that governments must be able to divert some of the extra riches created towards education, health care and sustainable energy creation. The big question this comes next is whether we can trust government to fulfill that role? Certainly not in the way and manner they currently operate.

Again the problem isn't government, it's the form of government that should be term-limited, independent from the influence of big-money and a true form of public service. Good government is not the problem, our current breed of politicians is.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Qualified for the job?

The other day, my wife and I were talking about the vast and fluid subject of professional qualifications. I then remembered that, when I took my first “real job,” my own qualifications were far from stellar. In fact, I was hired for an international job, on the sole basis of my multilingual abilities, and with very little consideration for the specific qualities the position would require.

So what happened next was a long slug of on-the-job-learning, with no counseling or mentoring whatsoever, and as you might imagine, an avalanche of bad decisions, strategic errors and the like. That scenario almost kept on reproducing itself for a good decade until I began to amass some legitimate skills.

People thought I could do the job well, but I seemed to be chronically unprepared to produce the real performance my employer was entitled to receive from me. Now, how did I stand in terms of peer review? As unbelievable as it may sound, I looked pretty good and always managed to remain at the top, which doesn't speak too well for the overall quality of the entire field!

Can situations like this still happen today? I'd say, most likely if there is no strong mentoring and intelligent training programs for new company recruits. Some firms will do a stellar job while too many will still apply the “sink-or-swim” formula to vet their new hires. What's your opinion?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New jobs, productivity and full employment

Creating jobs is everyone's political leader new mantra. Of course, there are jobs and jobs. Most of the jobs created in recent years have been around technology, with the goal of improving productivity. By making tasks much more efficient, there are less need for workers as automation and smart machines take over, right?

In fact, creating jobs that increase productivity eventually leads to less jobs available for all. This equation is therefore below a zero-sum game, as it ends up creating more jobless individuals. By sharpening productivity we're drifting away from full employment.

At the same time, world population is exploding, from 7 billion today to some predicted 9 billion in 2046, so there will be many more people available to fill less future job openings. It would seem that any job creation in the private sector be balanced with (intelligent) job growth in the public arena, in areas like sustainable energy, education and health care and that, through resource redistribution, each gain in productivity sees more jobs created in these areas of wellness.

This of course is a far cry from what conservatives are advocating: More free enterprise and less government. To me, there has to be a growth in new energies, education and health infrastructure commensurate with gains in productivity. What do you think?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our complex world

So many new things to learn, so many choices to make, so much to do, so many new paths to take... With more new stuff popping its head out everyday, we live in a world that is getting more complex by the day and yet, we only have the same old, limited amount of time to deal with all of these multiplying items.
This abundance can lead to “analysis paralysis,” disable us totally or push us to mental dysfunction. We must be able to stand strong, limit our choices to what counts most for us and to what we're capable to handle with attentive focus and qualitative care.

Doing less perhaps, but doing everything we do a little bit better. In the midst of a multiplying universe, that discipline isn't particularly easy to follow and even more challenging to implement, but at some point we need to turn to it in order to preserve our sanity and keep some modicum of satisfaction in the (fewer) things we do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Action at the auction

Today, we went to the annual tax sale, which takes the from of an auction, in which properties are sold to the highest bidder. It works like this: People who fail to pay their real-estate taxes three year in a row, see their holdings put on the selling block to the benefit of the highest bidder. We occasionally attend these events and have purchased property by that mean, in the past.

The county summit council chamber, where the auction took place, was packed with bidders. In fact, the county employees had to bring extra chairs to accommodate everyone. Before the sale, we had targeted a few properties and assigned a maximum price we were willing to spend on each one of them. Auction sales can take a life of their own and are highly unpredictable; it all depends on the participants and their interaction.

This year, properties sold for much more money than we were willing to pay, which is a good sign that there's more money floating around. We didn't bring anything home but had nonetheless a great time participating and learned one things or two in the process... See you next year!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Can we change our mind?

Are our opinions etched in stone and never subject to change? As we mature, we tend to become more set in our ways and less prone to adapt. We tend to radicalize ourselves, this is why, in large part, the baby-boomers that used to be so liberal, are now, with so much to lose, clinging to a much more conservative agenda.

If we've indeed become so stuck with our sets of beliefs we might have also become dangerous to ourselves, our kids, grand-kids and society in general. Innovation and achievements are generally associated with younger minds, not old geezers, unless of course these people are more like Warren Buffet than John Boehner.
Let's take a good look at ourselves; are we still mentally young enough to truly adapt to new paradigms and change our minds?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


This morning we did our best to run fast. Usually, we kind of drag ourselves quite leisurely through our 4.2 mile course, but this year and on multiple occasions, we've already tried to push ourselves a bit more. As we finished running, huffing, puffing and sweating, we sat on our front bench to watch the world go round.

I then thought that if we're running one mile in about 10 minutes, it would take us almost 4 1/2 hours to complete a marathon provided we were able to hold the pace we picked up this morning on more than 6 times the distance we just covered. Then, I thought further and realized that a top-level marathon racer runs twice as fast as we do when we're thinking we are going all-out.

Disgusting? Not really, it simply shows that we still have a long way to go in lengthening our stride and improving our performance!

Monday, May 21, 2012

No more negative self-talk!

Sometime I surprise myself saying or thinking that I'm old with the implication that I'm not as good or not as strong as I used to be. This self-response never fails to shock me as I'm someone who totally believes that we become what we think and also subscribe to the power of positive thinking.

So that's it, starting today, I will banish that negative self-talk from inhabiting my mind and will always do the best I can and think productively when challenged by situations that require some response from me.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The joy of chores

In the past, when I still had a full-time job, chores where just what we called them: Chores. Today, they are morphing to take a different aspect in my eyes. They're still unique, happen with low frequency and pack a dose of dread that, on second look, is perfectly unwarranted, and can be turned instead into wonderful opportunities.

Chores are activities, just like skiing, mountain biking or river rafting. They bring change to our lives that keep us from attracting sclerosis upon ourselves, they keep us a bit more flexible and maintain us fit by burning excess fat. So with that perspective, chores are suddenly both glorified, deified and perfectly justified. They've lost their sting, they suddenly become sacred opportunities, not to ever be missed...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aging: Mind and body

When we think about aging, we most often put mind and body conveniently together. From that point on, we often assume that both deteriorate at about the same rate, which suggest that an old body means an equally old mind. That's of course not something I totally agree with. Granted, my body is not what it used to be and isn't getting any better each day that's going by, but my mind isn't just still the same, it's in fact getting better by the day.

Can I even assert that it more than keeps up with my declining body? I guess I can and that makes me very optimistic about growing old. The two opposing trends – loss of physical might and getting wiser – adds up to the positive side of the ledger and aging is far better than a zero-sum game!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Most scenic running route, ever!

Yesterday, I was still wondering what was the most scenic route I've ever run on. It wasn't in Hawaii, nor in Europe, nor even in Asia. It had to be just north of Jackson Hole, by Route 89, starting at Gros Ventre Junction, continuing almost by the airport and returning back to the starting point. It's easy to park the car at the junction and then follow the newly built bicycle/pedestrian path that meanders next to the main highway.
On the way out and to the right its all about the Grand Tetons and runners can get their fill of the incomparable mountain scenery for as long as they're willing to push on their legs. Facing south, the return trip is less stunning, but more than good enough to make that run the most unforgettable experience runners will have in their lifetime, unless, of course, they decide to move and settle around Jackson!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where's your bear spray?

Since we got to Jackson, everyone has been spooking us about the danger of bears in the wild. Enough I should say so we were ready to consider buying some bear spray, touted to be a powerful weapon against menacing bears that we might meet at some corner of a trail. This bear spray is not your pocket mace, but the most powerful disabling agent allowed by the EPA. It's in fact as big as a small fire extinguisher and can neutralize a big, bad bear, some 30 feet away.

Since we didn't want to carry any superfluous weight while hiking, we passed on the opportunity to disable such mean bears and simply took a chance. We were well advised; these couple of days might have been when the worst bears took their vacation. We saw herds of marmots, some pronged antelopes, a couple of elks a bald eagle and a friendly, huge crow. That was all for our dose of wildlife, but alas, no bear ready to be sprayed...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jackson Style

Last night we strolled into an area of Jackson Hole, Wyoming that we didn't suspect existed. A neighborhood made of trailer homes and of dilapidated houses that are siting just a few blocks from the bustling and tacky downtown tourist section and close by $1 million plus homes. It stands in nice contrast with Park City much more polished and urbane appearance.

Probably because it's located in the middle of nowhere, Jackson can remain attractive to genuine ski bums and “Trustafarians” that can hide in that beautiful mountain paradise. What struck us was how none of the many bicyclists we saw ever wore a helmet while riding, a defying and non-conformist trait that has long disappeared within our Park City community.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Return to Jackson Hole

The first time I visited this Wyoming mountain resort was in 1983, I believe. At the time, I was still working for Lange in New Jersey and had seen a clothing store advertised for sale on the Wall Street Journal. I flew there from Denver and was stunned by the incredible and wild beauty of the place.

We didn't purchase the store and never moved to Jackson, but it always held a special place in my heart. The nature is beautiful there and, over the years, I had the chance to go there four of five times. Situated five hours north of Park City, the town of Jackson has always been a very unique destination for us. This time we'll focus our time on visiting the village inside-out and the Grand Tetons National Park that stands next door.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mr. Dimon's gift to Obama

I can't help but think that the CEO of JP Morgan Chase was intent on giving a positive nudge to Barack Obama in creatively causing probably more than a $2 billion loss in the credit derivatives index on which JP Morgan is believed to have amassed a huge position.

This time, and after all Dimon's apologies, it will be really hard for folks like Romney, to claim that banks ought to be further deregulated and the the Volker provision in the Dodd-Frank financial law shouldn't be implemented at all...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Financial crisis: Another view

Yesterday, a friend of mine guided me to a disturbing video that showed a conference held last December by two experts in finance and economy that sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, but unfortunately, appears much closer to reality than I would like to admit.

One of them is Myret Zaki, an economic and financial journalist residing in Switzerland and the other is Étienne Chouard, a French economic professor that came to attention when he argued around 2005 against the French referendum on a European constitution.

Neither one can be googled on english speaking sites or found on the english version of Wikipedia, yet both seem to enjoy a certain following in France and Switzerland. So while I remain a bit skeptical of the foundation and motivation of these two speakers, I wanted to share the portion of the video involving Ms. Zaki (in French with English subtitles) and would love to hear your feedback...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Last turns of the season

My 2011-2012 ski season came to a close yesterday in Snowbird. The conditions were excellent, very few people and the best corn snow of the spring. The only bad news was that I was sick.

I probably got food poisoning at a lunch place the day before, felt sick to my stomach and did my best to stand on my skis struggled to ski until about 1 pm. I was glad I did it, that was my 100th day on skis this season... Now, on to something different, like mountain biking!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ideology vs. Common-sense

In most instances, next November, we'll be called to pick new politicians or keep the ones we already have. The problem with that process is that we are likely to hear more polarizing ideology that won't address our main problem which has become political corruption. In that new reality, all politicians have lost all credibility and have become the instrument or better yet, puppets, of special interests.

 Instead of addressing that cancer which is devouring the fabric of our society, our politicians will make promises like creating more jobs, defining new energy policies, controlling immigration, reducing our bulging debt and doing something (?) about gay marriage.

While it's true that our political leadership can create a favorable environment for the first three points listed, it's woefully incapable of controlling them. Regarding the debt, that same leadership lacks the backbone of making the necessary cuts because it would create too much upheaval and endanger its re-election.

As for social issues, government should get out of that entirely. So what does that leave us with? An opportunity to ask the candidates what their plans are in dealing with lobbyists, how they plan to finance their re-election and how much time they'll actually spend working for us instead of raising funds for them. If they can't give us clear and satisfactory answers on these points, we simply don't need them.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nuances and opinions

Often times, we can't remember that everything is hardly ever black and white. Whether it's our political choices, the car we drive or the film we just saw. It's seldom 100% great, even though we tend to call it that way and identify our choices with our illusions of personal perfection. In everything we judge, desire or identify with, there's always some sort of gradation.

When I vote for a new president this November, I doubt very much that I will be 100% in favor of that individual. Perhaps only 58%, but his opponent (yeah, we'll have to chose between two men!) may only rank at 48 or 52%. Nothing or no one is ever perfect and worth the perfect score and that even holds true to the latest version of the iPhone!
 Now, if we all could be more nuanced in our choices and the things or folks we support, we would be less radical and much more credible. I believe in the “60% candidate” or the “72% car,” but certainly not in the 100% version of either one of them. Just think about it more and welcome to the equitable and smart universe of nuances!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finding pleasure in doing what's difficult...

Some folks can call me masochist or nuts, but I'm hopelessly attracted by what's a tad more difficult than the rest. Call it taking the road less traveled, the trail that is not as well paved, that's narrower and filled with challenging “surprises.” After all why repeat the boring existence, the easy task and the accessible path when it's always possible to find some excitement by dialing up the difficulty, feeding one's own curiosity and better yet, learn one thing or two in the process?

Even though I consider myself the farthest there is from a physically flexible person, I subscribe to the belief that it's salutary to continually stretch oneself and always try to reach for the high-hanging fruit. The reason I find it important is that, as we enter our sixties, decline (both physical and mental) gradually seeps in, and it becomes more important than ever to fight it by going the extra mile and making whatever we enjoy feel a little better and last a little longer...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Golden years and goal-setting

Goal-setting and getting results is something I'm totally convinced of. It does work and has worked pretty well for me. Sure, I could have done a better job in using it at times, but it's never too late to reset the process. In a sense, goal-setting constitutes life's fuel and it is what makes the difference between a successful and a mediocre existence.

The thing with it however, is that it must materialize into a continued thrust until of course we leave the scene, and even though it's okay to adjust the goal according to our dwindling physical and mental possibilities, it remains crucial to remain engaged and paying attention to driving our lives with a chosen sense of direction.

 No random drifting allowed! Reaching retirement isn't reaching any abstract finish line, it's just another stage, just like changing gears in a car, and we must constantly re-set our goal-setting device so we can forge ahead with a new exciting script in hands...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Communication is what we remember!

In my view, Sarkozy lost his re-election to his terrible communication style. He might have also been a small tyrant, but he dug his own hole through his poor interaction with the public. In trying to be a populist and thinking to be closer to the folks in the street, he brought into his style a brand of vulgarity and questionable spontaneity that rubbed his electorate the wrong way.

On the other hand, he probably was the best candidate for the job for steering France in the midst of an unprecedented financial and economic crisis and fought like a lion during these trouble times.

Yet, the French electorate and the media only retained the style, not the substance, and France's president appeared so self-confident that, to the last day, he ignored that reality and stuck to a communication style that had been and would be is undoing. A lesson for all of us!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hollande got the job!

As expected, the gap tightened a bit between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, but still was large enough to lead the socialist to victory. So now, the next obvious question is wether France is going to fall off a cliff or survive the upheaval?

For one thing, the scenic European country isn't going to disintegrate, just like it failed to do 31 year earlier when another François, by the last name of Mitterand, that time, took power. Some French people wrung their hands, a few moved out of their beloved country, but at the same time, the standard of living of their peers that stayed kept on creeping up like that of the rest of Europe. In addition, the socialists invented the 35 hour week and kept the country's gates open to immigration as this had been the tradition since the end of the colonies.

 In the short term, and if you have some cash to park, buy some equities on Monday as the markets are likely to tank between the French and Greek weekend election, plan a vacation to Europe as the Euro may lose even more of its bite against the dollar and just enjoy how smart you are. Life will go on, the right will eventually return to rule France, just to make Hollande's socialists supporters mad again...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sundance neighborhoods...

Yesterday, we made our traditional trip to Sundance resort, that is about 45 minutes away from Park City. We hadn't been there for at least a couple of years and after strolling around the base lodges, shopping the general store and eating an ice cream at of its restaurants, we hiked up the ski runs and found ourselves walking on Steward Road, which stands as the central nerve of an entire wooded subdivision, we had no idea existed.

This neighborhood goes back to the mid 70s and is populated from homes, which for the most part, where built in that era.  They now sure look their age and for the most part are in a state of advance aging that makes the place look dated like no other American ski resort I know of.

Frozen in time! This perhaps is exactly what Robert Redford had in mind for his very special, pristine mountain resort. Yet, while I sometime love the “good old days,” there's a larger part of me that inhabits the present, the future and a life creeping up towards some modernity. I like to see things evolve organically and I'm not so sure I'm still such a big fan of that aging Sundance that's getting a bit decrepit...

Friday, May 4, 2012

How to lose a presidential debate

Sarkozy was certain he'd crush Hollande, like he had crushed his ex-common-law wife five years before, but this time it didn't work; the magic was gone. The resulting stalemate had actually nothing to do with magic; it was a blatant lack of strategy and lack of discipline at work.

For some weeks, I have thought that Sarkozy strategists were missing the target by not fully taking into account the deep-seated anger that a majority of French electors harbored towards their president and that the latter had brought this wrath upon himself through his vulgarity and erratic behavior, at times.

These advisers should have factored that, to address that pent-up dissatisfaction they had to stress their candidate's essential qualities: Pragmatism, unbound energy, ability to govern under stress and road-tested experience.

In the debate, Sarkozy just had to wait for Hollande's barbs, answer them by asking probing questions in order to debunk them and challenge their inaccuracies, always remain dignified (no name calling, please) and state over and over again that he, Nicolas Sarkozy, had huge energy in store for another five years, offered crisis-tested governmental experience and thus stood as the perfect and more desirable alternative to his opponent.

It's possible that this approach precisely was what his advisers had told him to follow, but a pugnacious and defiant Sarkozy believed he could crush Hollande and even obliterate him forever by being plain disagreeable instead of disagreeing with class and smart tactics. I tend to believe in that second possibility, based on my grasp of the incumbent's personality.

In spite of that poor performance, will he lose the election? Perhaps not as the difference between the two candidates is likely to tighten-up as we move towards election day and as the French polls have proven to be a poor indicator of way folks actually vote. At any rate, I predict a cliffhanger...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The French presidential debate

The three-hour debate was a burdensome marathon and a disappointment across the board. The two moderators where totally useless and impotent. Sarkozy could have dominated the debate and gained enough momentum to push him over the top, next Sunday, but somehow, shoot himself in the foot.

François Hollande followed his script, was boring, tensed at times, getting red in the face often and Nicolas Sarkozy in spite of a more attractive elocution, failed to gain much traction and reverted to his natural instinct of calling his opponent names (“you're lying”) and could never get a comfortable upper hand.
 The discussion dealing with immigration was his only favorable moment and when all was said and done I would call the joust pretty much even. While he tried to zero-in on the center and far right electors, Sarkozy's strategy was too aggressive, didn't show as much self-confidence as it should have and rolled down into the gutter when he brought Dominique Strauss-Kahn's name into the debate.

I still think that of the two, “Sarko” will be a better president, but I'm now afraid that barring some divine intervention, Hollande as the most chances of becoming France's next president...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Obama's financial blunders

Last night the wonderful “Frontline” show cast a dark shadow on Obama's presidency and his relationship with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. It shows that the Geithner didn't want to create “damage” on Wall Street, under the pretext that it would create more damage than do good, and Obama followed him on that path that gave big banks an exit path out of the sanctions that they deserve.

Of course, and as always in Politics, it doesn't make Obama worse than Romney, but this is something of importance to know and keep in mind. Great show, make sure to watch if you missed it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Failure to communicate

Some people can't communicate, we all know that! But when professional individuals seem to be unable to respond, this is very frustrating. This is happening to me at the moment and, knowing the person a little, makes the behavior even less comprehensible to me.

In that case this person might be experiencing a time-warp phenomenon. He has the means of communicating and doesn't use them, yet his clients or people who expect much more for him can't understand his behavior. He's been left behind progress and looks very bad.

This reminds me of the expression: “If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”