Thoughts — 31 July 2011 including Travel to Quebec, Canada

At Skytop in Pennsylvania, Quebec City, Canada and at Home.  Also at the Gazillion Bubble Show.

“This camp is my camp, this camp is your camp, from the rooftop garden to the basement we tramp;” we all are singing so joyously, this camp is called the JCC……just can’t get enough of that country life in the city….our kids just came back from a weekend with their cousins. Elizabeth was so exhausted she fell asleep with her head on the wood floor of our apartment in the living room holding a popsicle….Jeremy is using lots of new words such as Transportation, Horrible (a horrible mattress) and Relax (I just want to sit in bed and Relax).

Ta Da! I have finally achieved status in NY! Today I sat down at the counter at Ben’s Deli and the guy who works the counter said to me “You want water with your meal, right?” The guy (I know by now his name is Miguel) knows my drink preference. I’ve been going there close to 10 years but now for some reason THEY KNOW ME!

This French guy sex scandal thing with the dropped charges – anyway you slice it, a guy having sex with hotel maids is not the kinda guy who should be the next president of France.

US Budget — I don’t know what to believe. First they tell you they are going to cut 4 trillion dollars and then the Republicans say it is phony cuts and that it is all coming from cuts in Afghanistan war expenses. The effect of a default is overblown but it is real sad that America just keeps going from election to election and keeps putting off its problems saying that it is for the next election to decide things. It seems that Iran has more economic reform going on nowadays than America does.

Libya – This International Court of Justice makes it unlikely that dictators will take asylum; they know they will be arrested and jailed. It might be better to stop trying to prosecute them and better to just let them get out. People see Mubarak and it is not a good way to go. Deterrence is not going to work for crazy people who are brutal dictators. Had Hitler been offered a way out in 1944, maybe a few million people would not have been killed in the last year of the war.

Palestine — I refuse to get caught up in the excitement and anxiety over this possible UN declaration of anything in September. The Palestinians are broke and they can blame the other Arab countries around them who made unfulfilled pledges to them. Saudi Arabia just announced $30 million to them which they probably won’t pay — over the past year the Saudis have contributed $1.4 billion to Jordan. Clearly, the Arabs are not interested in having a Palestinian state next to them, so why should the Americans and Europeans be pushing for it? The Europeans are really not interested — they don’t want all kinds of other separatist groups coming to the UN next year with their own claims.

Israel — the middle class is protesting after being inspired by the Arab Spring. When I was last in Israel, taxi drivers told me their #1 concern was the lack of affordable housing, a fact that I reported on Global Thoughts. Now the country is protesting. A friend of mine who moved there says he is so disgusted with the fact that the country is one of the world’s highest retail mark-up countries that he is thinking of moving away from there. The fact is that in Israel about 10 families own something like 90% of all industry and resources — the land, banks, newspapers, food production and retailing, TV, etc. Everything there is broken up into oligopolies or monopolies. The politicians go to work for these companies after holding office and everyone knows the game, so nobody can take them on if they want to survive. It is all very corrupt and the middle class who has been milked all this time is rising up. Earlier this year they protested against the oligopoly on cottage cheese and saw that they could get results with a Facebook boycott. So now it’s off to the races. Netanyahu keeps talking about breaking things up but so far he’s just giving lip service. They had privatization under him but that is usually a codeword for taking state assets and handing over to the oligarchs. The way forward in that country is to bring in foreign competition, but the government ministries (controlled by the oligarchs) are resisting.

We bought tickets to Austria earlier in the year for our summer vacation in August only to see them drastically rise and now fall just 4 weeks in advance along with heavier advertising by the airline which raised the prices too high. We can see that tourism to Austria is going to be down when we get there because everyone has already committed elsewhere. Serves them right – they priced themselves right out of the market. We are basically OK – the prices are what we paid in January.

Visit to Quebec with the wife and kids…Auberge St. Antoine is a great property in the lower level of the old city which is a beautiful district. Right next door to the museum of civilization and about 3 minutes from a funicular to the upper city level. Chateau Frontenac is a zoo; here you are not a number. Room 601 was a kick-ass suite with a big terrace overlooking the port and that terrace was a hit with the kids. Food and beverage were excellent; and you can get brekkie outside and take the table in the back where it’s nice and shady. Jeremy just goes all nuts when they bring him a smoothie – “Smoothie – YUMMY!”.  Hotel is just not perfect for little kids; you have to figure out the kiddie menu and get them to serve stuff to you and they don’t seem to be all that used to dealing with small kids but it was an excellent property and we’d go back. 10am changing of the guard ceremony at the Citadel is a thing to do although it can be hot and sunny. Get under a bush or go to the 6pm ceremony – no big deal either way but the band was excellent. No bad food here but the hotel food is great. There are lots of free things at night such as a 3-D show at the old port at 10pm and the cirque de soleil show under the highway overpass at 9:30. If you go to cirque and don’t get there early, getting a view of the stage is difficult but if you go outside and stand at 3:00 to the stage at the top of the rocks (think of 3:00 on the clock if you were standing in the back on the inside of the area), you can get a straight view to the stage but it is distant. Frankly, it wasn’t worth it even though it was free and the show itself was great. I’d rather pay and have a good seat if I’m going. There was this excellent pastisserie that we discovered as we were leaving the lower level of the old city of Quebec but it was all home-made fresh pastries and sandwiches and the line was pretty steep – it’s called La Petite Cochon Dingue (The Little Crazy Pig) and it is a must-go-to. Karen had her brush with English royalty –William and Kate were in town and Karen waved to William who passed by in a car and was sitting at the window (but he didn’t wave back). We drove to an old haunt of mine – La Pinsionniere in La Malbaie, 2 hours drive away. Remains a favorite. There is a junior suite with terrace overlooking the river and you it has a pullout couch. It is the best room there that I know of and you can put two kids in there as well. Food is excellent there throughout. On the way to the airport, we had two choices: Canyon St. Anne, which others went to and told us was really cool. You walk across a canyon on a suspension bridge. We thought that a bit risky with the kids, so we went to Les Sept-Chutes. There is a visitor center with a playground and an old historical house which is easy to enjoy. You can drive the car to several walking trails that are about 3-5 minute walks from things to see and that have picnic areas, such as a view of the water falls and dams and a walk on top of the dam. Allow 2 hours at this site and then another 90 minutes drive to get to the airport. This site was an hour or so from La Pinsionniere. Our flight to NY was 75 minutes; it took almost an hour to get through US passport and customs on arrival in Newark on the fourth of July.

On the way back to Manhattan, we realized in the taxi that we were going to never get into the city because of all the people going there for the fireworks. It’s amazing how many people are still trying to get to a fireworks show even after it is clear that they will never make it in time. So we wound up in Hoboken, New Jersey to try to get on the PATH train to New York. When we got to the station, everyone was lining up to watch the fireworks from the NJ side. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So we took all our suitcases, car seats and stroller and two rather tired but excited kids, and headed to the pier in Hoboken at 9:30 at night to watch the fireworks and actually Elizabeth and I had a really great view of them. We finally got home close to midnight and used a lot of handicapped elevators to get between there and here because the streets of Manhattan were in chaos even an hour after they were finished so we were using subways and trains to get all the way home. A real family adventure!

Today’s NY Times has big articles on camp and school. Clearly it is about families here and we know that the number of families with kids in the City has grown tremendously. Evidently readers of the Times want to read about this subject. Population of kids under age 5 in Manhattan is up 32% and the number of spots in top independent schools is up only 400 spaces in the past 10 years, mostly to siblings and legacy children.  There are some beautiful new parks in Manhattan such as TearDrop Park. Our kids went on the slides – born for public service, they were the only ones that kept watering the slide.    9/11 was actually a real gain overall for the city; beautiful new neighborhoods rose up in areas around the World Trade Center that were dead. The city can do without what really was an ugly twin tower but the whole area around it has a new life.

Changes in the news business and how I get my news – The Economist talks about how news is going back to the coffee house; more non-career journalists piping in news to the universe as consumers become news producers themselves making the traditional pipelines of news less vital and controlling. I actually like this change; it is forcing the news business to become more honest instead of pretending to be objective and not really living up to that task. I like the idea that anyone with a story has a shot at reaching everyone and never liked the idea that freedom of the press was limited to those who owned one. To some degree, there is media that panders to its base, such as Fox and Al Jazeera, but we all know what it does and those of us who are not simply interested in being validated via our media know to discount it. Although I don’t use Facebook or any of the social media, I have looked at some YouTube items and I do look at internet pages of major media sites, but I still like subscribing to print media. The one major change I’ve made over the past decade is that I’ve stopped watching the nightly news on TV, and I don’t appear to be any less well informed. I just don’t want to sit in front of a TV for 30 minutes waiting for something I’m interested in to appear. And by the time I get home, see my kids, eat dinner and clean up after the kids and dinner, it’s about 9pm and I’ve got an hour before it’s time to get ready for bed. I don’t watch 10 minutes of TV a whole week at this point.

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