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Thoughts — 20 July 2010 Includes travel notes on Chicago, London & Cliveden House, Vermont , LGA Airport by Subway

This month I’ve been hoarding all my notes and together it makes for a particularly good read.
Our kids have been a real hoot. Jeremy has fallen in love with hot dogs and he’ll just sit down at the table and demand one chirping “HOT DAWG”. Or you can see his face get all excited if he walks outside and smells a BBQ. Once in a while you get your thanks. We were in the airport and I changed his diaper and then he just gave me a big kiss. He plants real smoochers all over your lips….. Elizabeth was walking around the woods in Vermont on what I said was a nature walk to a waterfall and she proclaimed “I don’t see any nature.” Then she saw some leaves on the ground and said “Now I found some nature.” I guess they told her in school that leaves were nature. She wanted to go to soccer camp for a week after school ended; I offered her a camp with air conditioning indoors but she wanted to be outside. Well, I told her, at least there will be arts and crafts so she won’t be running around all the time. “I don’t want arts and crafts” she said. “All the soccer camps have arts and crafts,” I told her. “Well, OK,” she said, “but I just want to play soccer.”

This past weekend, she wanted to be pushed in the stroller and I told her she was getting too heavy for that. I said that when she gets married, her husband can push her around in a stroller. “What if he has a bad back?” she queried, referring to my bad back. Ouch!

Elizabeth does the monkey bars on her own and has been stressing out as the victim of unrequited love with her cousins; a maternal being, she counsels Jeremy to watch out so as not to fall down steps like he did a month before on our trip to Canada.  Jeremy now asks for directions before going left or right at a fork in the road, waits at street curbs, and eats his food very nicely with a fork and spoon. Like to wiggle people’s ears and give raspberry kisses. He refers to his grandma in Australia when he sees a picture of the Sydney Harbor bridge and picks up every public phone we pass in order to call his grandma. If we say we will have a skype call at home with her, he runs to the computer. He’s also rather creative; takes off his clothes in bed at night — just came back from dressing him. He also seems to enjoy playing with his poop; his last creative burst required the bringing in of an industrial cleaner. Needless to say, his nanny was not amused.

Today is Tisha B’av, the Jewish commemoration of the worst of Jewish history and the day that religious Jews are supposed to wish to return to the days of old. I keep wondering what are we nostalgic for? I can’t imagine that anything in our historical past was preferable to our present existence. If the Jews today haven’t rebuilt the holy temple in Jerusalem, it’s because they don’t want it. Most Jews, I should add, don’t observe Tisha B’Av and simply don’t find it relevant.

Here’s an interesting story from one of our company employees worthy of a Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book anecdote. She was stuck at an airport in Denver on her way to a wedding. Holding her bridesmaid dress she was at the gate with 500 stranded passengers in a thunderstorm. She realized she couldn’t get anywhere with the gate agent. So she asked the agent “What can I do for you?” The agent said I’m hungry and could sure use a ham and cheese sandwich. “What would you like to drink with it?” “A latte. So she ran and got her the sandwich and latte. When she returned with it, the agent had a boarding pass for her in her hand. Turned out that flight also got cancelled and she had to overnight. She went back to the agent and the agent booked her on another airline’s flight to get out. Doesn’t this show management potential? The client turned the vendor into her client in order to get where she needed to go. So many people just get all snooty and aggravated because they can’t get beyond the fact that they are the paying customer — and wind up getting nowhere, especially these days when a delay can leave you really stranded since there are fewer empty seats to rebook passengers on.

t seems a new study confirms what you thought — Unemployment benefits encourage unemployment….I think I told you a few months ago in Global Thoughts what has just come out in public — the Americans gave a 100 million dollar contract to a company called XE to do stuff in Afghanistan. The company was formerly known as Blackwater. New bottle, old wine….Speaking of Afghanistan, ousted General McChrystal was unlucky with the wrong reporter. He was saying what others all say and which the usual reporters don’t write about. This reporter wasn’t worried about burning his bridges by printing the story….The Economist has a seminal survey article about Debt. Says it will be the defining struggle of the next generation. Debt is bad and most countries are finding out they can’t keep trying to provide social goods financed through debt. The US is one of the few countries that can because it has young people taking roles in the work force that will provide tax money to support others — Europe, China and Japan have more elders taking out than youngsters putting in. A month ago I wrote about this and cited another article that discussed the same theme.

I didn’t sell or buy on the market gyrations of the past month or so. I think the general economy is on an uptick. I did tweak my portfolio and get rid of expensive items such as Goldman Sachs in favor of cheapies such as Citibank and Ford. This rather persuasive article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal blogs online gives 7 good reasons to doubt a double dip recession is in the offing. It basically says that yes, some indexes are down, but they were down from unsustainably high jumps in the spring and made sense in a broader economic context. The general picture is improving, he writes.
http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2010/07/19/guest-contribution-double-dip-seven-reasons-why-not/

In Israel, I wonder how long Netanyahu will keep Lieberman as foreign minister in the coalition. The guy is a real liability to Israel’s image. The problem is that even his political enemies admit he is a serious player who is intelligent. He is also a straight shooter which makes him preferable to many of the others. He is also a stable coalition partner for Bibi. Bibi and him will snipe at each other but neither will leave the other except as a last resort…. Mubarak is clearly on his last legs and newspapers are reporting he is terminal with cancer….. Saudi Arabia will likely have a change in kings sooner than later and perhaps they will skip a generation and get a king who is likely to last longer than a few years. …In the UK, my friend who did some political work for the Conservatives said he is pretty happy with the new team and that the finance minister knows his stuff.

A few thoughts about the Jewish story and its place in the world….The new budget director of the US is an orthodox Jew who held this position under Clinton; he ran up a big surplus at the time. Only time in the last generation it’s happened. Maybe he can figure it out again but now the deficit is even greater. …..I was in Toronto and overheard a bunch of Arabs talking about Jews at an outdoor cafe. One said, “You know why they succeed? Cause they look out for each other.”… My wife noticed that in the NY Times society section, whenever they announce a Jewish fundraiser it tells you how much money was raised. Often several million dollars at a shot. Whenever it’s a Christian event, it doesn’t say and if it does it’s a few hundred thousand dollars….I’m reading Start Up Nation, a book about why so many startups exist in Israel. Someone noticed though that many of these startups become large companies in other countries. I’ll let you know what I think after I finish the book….Some Jewish guy set up a website called lendforpeace.org, designed to raise small amounts of money for Arab entrepreneurial projects in the West Bank. Cute idea, but hardly any money was raised over the past 18 months since the projects were first posted to the site. $10,000 could have funded virtually every project on that site. I wonder why nobody contributed. I guess people just don’t think anything is viable in that space.

There is this YouTube video produced in Jordan called Birds of Paradise of Palestinian children singing that they want to be martyrs and that there is no childhood without Palestine. They stage mock suicides. Then an adult tells them they have fulfilled their obligations of manhood and they say a prayer together calling for Allah to take revenge. I understand that this video is very popular all over the Arab world, as well as among Arab youth in Western countries.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illF1vt5g1Q

Here’s one take on the above — Judaism says you have to repair the world; Islam is living for the next world (at least if you are a fundamentalist who finds no hope in this world) and Christianity lives in original sin, so there is not a lot of sense in changing the existing world. That might seem simplistic but it seems to make the above make sense.

related point. Something I keep noticing in articles is that when Palestinians demonstrate for Palestine, whether in Arab countries or in the West, they are not calling among themselves for two state solutions. They want one state and they want it to include where Israel presently exists. The non-Arab liberals who attend these demonstrations either are disillusioned when they realize this or they simply choose to ignore it. But it is really all that matters — if people are too afraid among themselves or really don’t want to call for a two-state solution to this problem, there really is nothing to negotiate. It is not really my opinion — it is a matter of fact that the Israelis will not be interested in negotiating with a party that cannot reconcile itself to anything other than its destruction. Making propaganda like this ensures never-ending hostility. I googled around and haven’t seen anything in the Arab world that has come out against this video. But if this is what passes for entertainment in the Arab world for their kids even in Canada and the US, it will not be hard to understand that there will continue to be nobody for the Israelis to deal with. That said, you might ask, what to make of recent statements by some Likudniks such as Moshe Arens that call for a binational state? I think the answer is you have to read those statements very carefully between the lines. The vast consensus among Israelis is for a two state solution. I personally don’t see any kind of binational state succeeding for the long term. I just don’t think it suits two very different kinds of people and you can see from Belgium and Yugoslavia that these binational states just don’t work. If it can’t work in Europe, why should it work in the Middle East?

Here’s a sobering thought: I walked into the last few minutes of a screening of the film Exodus. A soldier is burying two comrades, a Jew and an Arab. He says at the gravesite: “the dead lie with each other in the earth in peace.”

Here is the full quote to an item I mentioned a month or two ago in paraphrase: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Upton Sinclair.

I flew to Washington for an evening to attend an extraordinary event, a dinner on Capitol Hill featuring the first public appearance of the fellow whose father founded Hamas who decided to convert to Christianity and become an Israeli mole. He has since moved to the US and written a book called the Green Prince. For 5 years he worked with Israel’s Shin Beth security service to save lives on both sides; he was that week facing a deportation hearing in the US for, of all things, being affiliated with a terrorist organization. The Knesset issued a letter thanking this guy for his service; the deportation hearing lasted 15 minutes after the US Government decided not to press the issue any longer. A senator got up at the dinner and said “By God, if his deportation hearing goes against him, we will take this up in the US Congress.”This fellow made a stirring speech at the dinner in which he said he wasn’t against Islam but he was against terror, and that he believed that in order for Palestinians to have a state, they have to inculcate democratic principles within their society, something he feels has not yet happened. If Israel disappeared tomorrow, the Palestinians would just be killing each other, he said. He was rather biting about Islam. An example was “Salam means peace. Islam means submission. And if you don’t submit, the options are not good.” Another highlight was that his case officer from the Shin Beth also showed up and publicly revealed himself to the audience. This was also at personal risk, since he had not yet received authorization from Israel to be there or to testify at the guy’s deportation hearing. But the Shin Beth officer essentially said that he owed it to this guy named Mosab to show up and vouch for him, for all the good he had done for Israel.  He knows that Hamas wants to get even with him and that Moslems want to kill him especially since he converted out of the faith and quite likes to talk publicly about Jesus. The guy is about 33 years old, looks the part, and I met him afterward. Someone from the podium suggested he be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I told him that the Nobel Peace Prize would be an insult to him, who has done more than many other recipients have. I also thanked the Israeli for breaking the rules and telling the truth on this auspicious occasion, even if governments often have to not tell the truth. The venue was a senate hearing room which had hosted all sorts of famous historical hearings such as Pearl Harbor, McCarthy, Watergate. The dinner was standing room only with about 250-300 present including several members of Congress and public notables such as a former head of the CIA. Another speaker at this dinner staged by the Israel-advocacy organization Emet (meaning Truth) was a Persian who was running an organization of Iranian exiles. His meaningful quote was “Tolerating Hate is not tolerance; it is a crime.” For me it was worth the flight in for the evening; here was an example of one person who really did exert an influence on a corner of the world, who has moral authority to speak his mind, and insists on doing so, on pain of death. Many of the Nobel peace prize winners of this generation have not been nearly as impressive…. A good hotel choice near Washington National airport is the Marriot Crystal City. Right by the metro, free shuttle to the airport, decent rooms and a great gym.

Here are some travel notes from the month.

Chicago: Haven’t been here for almost 5 years and wanted to see what’s new. Trump opened a hotel at a great location right across from the Wrigley building along the river on Michigan Avenue, and the hotel itself is excellent; nice amenities like free business center; beautiful spa and extraordinary gym; and good breakfast in a nice room with nice rooftop views. Nice chocolate treats at check-in. Only two complaints with Chicago is the traffic to and from the airport and the 25 minute line at security at the United terminal at O’Hare airport. TSA people there say the agency doesn’t send enough people there. Almost pays to take the train vs the $40 taxi. Might be the same time and the train station is a few blocks from the hotel. Dinner tasting vege menu at Avenues in Peninsula Hotel was outstanding. City is filled with new things that are pretty public spaces. Enjoyed Chicago Blues music club and fireworks at Navy Pier which are on Wednesday nights too at about 9:30 during the summer

Here’s a very useful travel tip as to Laguardia Airport in NY City. Getting to LGA with subway from Manhattan is not all that bad.  It takes 40 minutes from 72nd street and Broadway station (3 minutes more from Times Square). Take the 2 or 3 train to 125th street and Lenox Avenue, which is about 10-15 minutes. I know it’s Harlem but it’s fine these days except at night. From there you can get a taxi across the bridge to the airport; fare will be $20-25 and allow 20 minutes. If you don’t get a yellow cab, the car service is $35 plus tolls which is the same fare you would have paid from elsewhere in Manhattan without the subway ride. But there is also the M60 bus which takes 45 minutes from that subway stop transfer station to the airport, so for an extra 20 minutes you can get all the way to the airport for the price of a subway ride. Coming from the airport it is easier to catch a yellow taxi so all you have to do at 125th street is jump on the train.

Stowe, Vermont — Burlington VT is a short flight from NY with a small airport, and then another hour’s ride takes you to Stowe. Its town is two blocks long but people come here mostly in the winter to ski. Summer is fun too; we had a good time and would come back. We stayed at Stowe Mountain Lodge, a brand new 5-star hotel right by a major ski area. We especially liked the decor, food and beverage was very good to excellent (and rather reasonably priced), and the activities in the back of the hotel were major fun for the kids and kids under 6 are free (ie: alpine slide, gondola ride up the mountain, bungee jumping on a trampoline). There is a nice easy nature walk to a waterfall about a mile away from the hotel. Also a very good pool, gym and spa. They had fireworks over Fourth of July weekend at the hotel. Lots of families with small children here. Tourist attractions include Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour (about 20 minutes drive) and Shelborne Farms, a petting zoo with some hands-on activities such as milking a cow (an hour away; allow 2 hours to visit; it is 25 minutes from the airport).  Visited the Von Trapp Family Lodge at Stowe; looked decent but the menu was mostly meat and we thought we would have been bored there; it’s not like the Von Trapps come out and sing around a campfire nightly. The Inn at Shelborne Farms looks like a nice romantic spot right on Lake Champlain and the rooms are nice; but there is no air conditioning or TV, the dinner menu lacked fish, and the farm is 2 miles away, so you have to know what you are getting into. We ate in town one night at Partridge Inn, which had fish, and it was OK but no big deal. Dinner at the Cottage on the Golf Course was beautiful with a table overlooking the mountain al fresco at sunset. Funny thing — everybody writes on their brochures about the abundance of organic fruits and vegetables and then you go there and they are very sparse with it. We were here as an unusual heat wave hit but otherwise we preferred the Stowe region which was less buggy and a bit cooler than the area we visited last year on Lake Champlain (Basin Harbor Club at Vergennes VT).

UK Travel Notes — LONDON — Delta’s new lie-flats to London make this a good option especially if you get a good price on the ticket. Internet shopping is essential; prices vary tremendously in this market. If you are bored with vanilla ice cream sundaes, they at least offer a second dessert choice. Fast Track entry at Heathrow passport control offers one window only; if there are empty windows elsewhere, they won’t take you at them. Those crazy Brits. Here’s another one — if you go to a sandwich shop and take a cold sandwich out, you don’t pay 17.5% VAT. If you eat it at the shop, you pay the VAT. If it is a hot sandwich, you pay the VAT either way. Right now, the UK is a good place to be a tourist; the prices are not so awful with the exchange rate at 1.5 USD to the British Pound; much better than 2.0. Some things are actually cheaper now than the US, such as subway rides and takeout food. Taxis are at parity with NY. First time I’ve been there without feeling miserable about my money being worthless here.  So now is the time to splurge on that better level hotel you were thinking about. I went to the Milestone Hotel in Kensington, one of the city’s better ones. Via the Amex Platinum I got a super upgrade to the Tudor Master Suite 102. That was rather exceptional for a city hotel. This hotel has been rated #1 in London on Trip Advisor and it deserves its rating. No reason to look elsewhere in this category unless you want to be within walking distance of the West End theaters or Oxford Street shopping. It is within 10 minutes taxi to Paddington station. I’ve been scoring real well on hotel upgrades with this Amex card. I saw 5 other rooms in the hotel; anything double/king deluxe or better is  fine. Hotel has a 3 course lunch which has vege options and is excellent; they burnt my french toast at breakfast; thank goodness you can count on the Brits to cling a bit to their reputation in the food department although eating here in London has improved a lot. Pret A Manger in London is much better than NY, and there are interesting fast food chains such as Leon which offers a sweet potato falafel wrap. Early Learning Center is a truly excellent place to buy children’s toys; there is a store at 174 High Street in Kensington. Prices are reasonable (and much less than their overseas franchisees charge) and the toys are more creative than ones found in many other toystore chains. Saw a great musical called Sister Act, a stage version of the Whoopee Goldberg movie but 10,000x better than the movie. Theater audience was electric and it was most fun I’ve had in theater since Billy Elliott. Show is said to be coming to Broadway Spring 2011. A subway ride is 4 pounds within the city center but a day ticket is 5.60. Near the hotel was a demonstration of hassidic anti-zionists as the Israeli embassy is nearby. They were upset about the construction of a cemetery in Israel that they say was desecrating human remains. The scene was rather amusing to the police watching it. Visited various stores including Harrods — they remain a gifted retailer. Every room has great music, lights, costumes, layouts. Lots of Gulf Arabs buying $500 outfits for the kids. Lots of Moslems in black veils and otherwise all over the main shopping streets; you’d think the country was being overrun by them but it is an illusion — Moslems count for a very small percentage of the country overall — about 3 million over 60 million. Jews number less than 100,000 but for some reason they count for a lot — perhaps it is because Israelis and Israeli projects count among the top 15 investors in the UK according to an article I read this week. Most important point for last: Laduree, the french pastry shop, has a branch right behind Harrods. Their stuff really is that good.

Cliveden House — A 45 minute train ride from Paddington station takes you to Burnham station where a taxi rank awaits upon arrival. Take the card from the taxi so you can call them from the hotel; hotel takes a 50% markup on the quoted fare if you order through them. Another 10 minutes to Cliveden House, a mansion/castle lived in by British royalty and sold to the Astor family a century ago.  Not quite the wow of a castle like Chateau D’Esclimont in France, but the French are just more grand than the British. You do get beautiful views of the English countryside and the Thames River with hardly any industry in sight. Heathrow is 20 minutes away and I saw Cliveden from the plane. The Terrace Dining Room is the place for dinner overlooking the gardens and the scenery; food and bakery were fine. Skip the gourmet dining room in the dungeon or the Tavern across the driveway. The common areas have knights in shining armor and the French dining room is a national treasure. I had the Westminster suite on the second floor of the main building which offers a full view of the gardens and the countryside and insurance of a cool breeze at night in the summer since there is no air conditioning in the main building; the Lady Astor suite on that level is stunning and has its own grand terrace. I was able to photograph it and you’ll see photos of it below. It takes a nice 45 minutes to walk around the property and you can walk down to the river and through the woods to see some beautiful fountains and statues. Hotel also has a spa. In town are several world-famous restaurants. Evidently a nice place to live. At night it is a bit quiet but there is cable TV in the rooms. This was a great little hideaway near Heathrow and London; a bit of a faded rose but if it were perfect it would be overrun by the hordes and cost more. Also 20 minutes away is Windsor Castle and LegoLand. Changing of the guard at Windsor is at 11am; allow an hour to see it all. This hotel was part of the Von Essen Collection; they have several family-oriented properties in England and Scotland which look like nice hideaways for those in high demographics who want to go to England with kids in tow.

Upon departure from Heathrow Terminal 4 I was at the Etihad Airways lounge. Quite stunning, with a 6 Senses Spa, a sit-down restaurant and a full buffet. I flew Kuwait Airways which sold seats at a deep discount over other carriers. I think I know why. The food is quite good but the seats are a good 10 years behind the rest and do not lie flat even in first class. They really need to spiff up the airline. At the airport, they consistently call people from the lounge to the plane even though they are nowhere near ready to board. The flight to NY is a stopover from Kuwait and it often arrives and departs late. I’m surprised that a rich country like Kuwait can’t run a first class airline on the order of its neighbors. The others in that neighborhood really do set the standard in this industry. I was told by a Kuwaiti on board that the parliament keeps holding up the acquisition of new planes; they seem to be fighting over who gets the kickbacks from the orders. Kuwait, he says, as a country is 10 years behind the times. He was an interesting fellow I met, on his way from making an appearance as a speaker at a Ted Convention at Oxford who was also an award recipient at the World Economic Forum. Check out ted.com if you are not already familiar with this program. 18 minute speeches online from people in the world making a difference and holding conferences around the world.

Here are some pictures from Cliveden House including the Lady Astor suite which they allowed me to photograph:

Here is a link to the other article posted this month on Global Thoughts for your convenience: On Middle Age, Posterity and Self-Importance.

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