Global Thoughts — 17 September 2009

Ah, to have a wife that is more important than you are. Karen got a blackberry this month along with increased job responsibilities and more to worry about. You notice these days at weddings and concerts, in elevators and subways, that everybody just stands or sits and looks at their blackberries. I personally have no interest in owning one and feel a lot better when my cellphone is switched off.

I think that wives should consider men’s ability to do good takeout as an essential quality in a potential husband. And vice versa. My wife asked me to make a vegetable to go with the fish entree and I ran right downstairs to the market and came back with two beautiful sides in under 10 minutes. Not everybody can cook but not everybody can come up with interesting takeout either.

Here’s a tale why health care reform is absolutely necessary. We went to the pediatrician with Jeremy for his 2 year checkup known as a wellness visit. It comes up in conversation that he is not yet speaking words. When I get the bill, there are charges and copays for two office visits. Because the doctor wrote in his notes that we discussed developmental issues such as speaking, this counts as a second office visit, so he can double-bill the insurance company and we get hit for a second copay. I think this is insane not to mention unethical. I called the doctor afterward because I couldn’t get anywhere with his receptionist; he immediately backed off and told me that they remove the second copay when patients object but that they anyway double-bill the insurers because they can. That means a $250 office visit became $500 because we discussed a child’s ability to talk at his 2 year checkup; what else do you think people talk about at such checkups? You can be sure that most daddies don’t call back later about the copays and that mommies wind up paying it.

Another point. Elizabeth started school yesterday. I spent a half hour in the supermarket on Sunday trying to find healthy things to put into her lunch box because it’s bring your own. There were 5 rules: Food has to be kosher. No meat. No nuts or food from a facility that uses nuts. It has to be healthy. And it has to be something a 3 year old kid will willingly eat. There is a reason that 70% of all adults and 40% of kids in the US are obese — it is nearly impossible to find such edibles. I just happen to live a block from a supermarket that has an upstairs organic food department and that helped a lot. But that stuff is also pricey and obviously out of the range of most Americans. If you want this country to change, the government has to get the food companies to start producing decent food. In Miami there is a service called bonappetitkids.com where for $6 a day they will deliver a hot organic lunch to your kid’s school. They have a menu for each day with several alternate entrees available daily. Sounds like a great business idea good in almost any city.

Sometimes you have those moments. We were on holiday this month in a swimming pool and I am bouncing up and down with Jeremy. He is very happy and says “Dada” to me for the first time. And then he opens up his mouth real wide and screams at me and I scream back at him.

And then there are other moments. Our just-turned 2 Jeremy is really frisky and all-boy. This past week we were at the Bronx Botanical Gardens in NY City. He climbed rather quickly into a wheel barrel full of water that had watering cans in it; I tripped over the barrel chasing after him. He was laughing (until I hit him for causing me to get hurt); I was limping. Then this week he ran out of our hotel room while we were removing the suitcases at checkout, went down the elevator to the garage and put himself in our golf cart while we were vacationing at Fisher Island in Florida. During the trip, every time he would be bored with the beach, he’d leave us at the beach and walk to the golf cart as if to say time to move on. At his cousin’s house in Florida, he wouldn’t nap all day and then after looking all over the house for him after we noticed it had gone quiet, we found that he had gone up to the top of a bunk bed and fell asleep there with a toy car by his mouth. What else — he loves to walk backward and knows how to get himself home from the park as he walks ahead of us and always knows where to turn. He also showed me where the microwave was in the holiday condo when he wanted his milk; I kept looking all over the kitchen and couldn’t figure it out.

A word about Elizabeth — she loves cooking, knows how to separate eggs, takes Jeremy to the potty and knows that the dining room carpet is shaped like an octagon. We are sure she is ready for school.

Now about the world at large. 

Afghanistan — A year ago I said on these pages that the war in Afghanistan was a losing proposition and that we should not be doubling down there. I still feel that way. I think that Obama will get more pressure as support on this effort becomes more questioning. The Russkies couldn’t manage this country and we are not able to do it, especially with a partner like Karzai.

Iran — Another 3 months and we’ll see if Obama and Co. have any teeth to deal with Iran. I suppose the Israelis will deal with this in 2010 if there is no real action by the West by end 2009. I think a sanctions regime will go nowhere; the Russians and Chinese are in no mood to cooperate and the Europeans will cheat. And we all know that. What is very important is that the US today dropped its plans for the Ballistic Missile Defense program in Poland and Czech. I stated last year that this would be the grand bargain — the US drops this and Russia stops arming Iran. The Israelis have been doing shuttles with Washington and Russia for the past month pushing both sides and you can no doubt guess that this was the main issue on the table. We will have to see if this is enough to make a difference. 

Warren Buffett — He is looking again like a smart cookie. I went out and took his advice this year. Bought stocks when he said to; bought all the companies he’s invested in and they turned out to be the right ones. If the US is favoring 5 companies such as Goldman Sachs and GE, we might as well all be invested in them, right? I am ticketed to go to Omaha for May Day this year to attend his Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting. I’ll be going with a friend of mine and I expect the audience with the Sage of Omaha to be a blast.

Fisher Island — Just spent a few days there with wife and kids. It is a great hideaway an 8 minute ferry ride from Miami Beach. There are great summer specials there from May to October (contact the hotel directly for details) and food and beverage prices on the island are lower than usual for 5-star level hotels. You get your own golf cart; the surf and pools are beautiful in September; if you go out early morning and late afternoon the weather is delightful, and the island offers such amenities as an aviary with beautiful birds and pets, a star-gazing observatory, strolling peacocks, an extraordinary gym and lovely scenery and views of the ocean, South Beach and downtown Miami. It is an exclusive property with only 37 condo-like villas and at this time of the year 70% of them are empty — we were the only ones at breakfast, dinner and at the beach and pool most of the time.

Another important milestone this week was the return of Jay Leno and his comedic monologues to nightly TV now at 10 instead of at 11:30; I haven’t watched anyone else late night after I watched Conan O’Brien for his inaugural show in May and decided it wasn’t for me.

Something wrong in America — you can fly 4 people from New York to Baltimore for under $500 round trip. You can take the Express Train for over $1,000 for a similarly timed trip. The regular train is a bit less than the airplane (about $400) but takes a good deal longer, especially since the trains are not reliable.

Coming up next month will be a family visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

I’m working on something of more than usual interest; stay tuned for details.

Best wishes to one and all for a happy Jewish New Year and Eid Mubarak at the end of Ramadan.

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