Hoops for Hope: Hope for kids in more ways than one

Very sorry I didn't blog this in time for their December 2 fund-raising event. Hopes for Hope is an organization raising money for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In the process the organization is raising awareness of the problem among children and adults in this country. Featured on NBC. And started by a 12-year-old!

This is definitely a hopeful sign that apathy has not completely overtaken our nation's young, something I have talked about before.

Carter Bashing: At least get the facts right

Former president Jimmy Carter has a new book and the old complaints are being echoed again, along with old errors. Consider "He Failed and He Can't Shut Up, Opinion by Allan Saxe, WBAP Political Analyst."
What is it about former President Jimmy Carter? He continually finds faults with the United States and those countries that uphold western civilization and the rule of law.
Presumably those countries include America and Israel and Mr. Saxe thinks former presidents are not allowed to talk about things like Abu Ghraib and conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps. According to his detractors, Carters' sins are numerous:
He has sanctified the elections on the rise of Hamas to rule the Palestinians. On the other hand, he has said that the elections in the United States do not meet up to his standards.
Or is it that years of neocon intoning that democracy will save the Middle East looks dumb when Middle Easterners elect someone neocons don't like? And gosh, everyone knows touch screen voting in America is jolly well accurate, just ask the undervoters in Sarasota, Florida. What's to criticize?

Fortunately, Mr. Saxe understands "why this former President disdains the democracies and inadvertently legitimizes tyrannical societies. And why he is so critical of his own country." Okay, let's hear it:
It is because he lost the presidential election in 1980 to Ronald Reagan. For an incumbent President to lose an election straight away to a single challenger, with no third party taking votes away and scrambling the election like Ross Perot did to President Bush the Elder in 1992 or Ralph Nader’s candidacy affecting Vice-President Gore’s bid for the Presidency in 2000 is very rare.
Hmm, so what about John Anderson, the moderate 1980 Republican turned independent candidate? Close to 6 million people voted for him over Carter or Reagan. Indeed, Anderson took a not insignificant 6.6% of the popular vote. Sure, Reagan won by a landslide. But to claim Carter is a sore loser, and then rewrite history to make his loss look worse than it was? C'mon folks, let's try to stick to the facts.

Smartcar Looks Smart:: We want smart cars now!

Seen here outside Foyles, the largest book shop in London. The sad thing is, that was THREE YEARS AGO! Come on people now, let's sign together: We want fuel efficient cars NOW.

Nothing will cool the tension in the Middle East like a big fat drop in U.S. fuel consumption. Wise old Sheik Yamani figured that out back in the seventies: Jack the price of crude too high too fast and Americans will switch from Caddies and Lincolns to Toyotas and Hondas, cutting demand. Sure enough, gas consumption dropped off at the end of the seventies and didn't rebound until the late eighties.

Believe a former petroleum accountant when I say, there is a nightmare scenario for oil producers: Crude left in the ground. This can happen if price per barrel falls below the per barrel cost of extraction, which rises as an oil field ages. Here is an interesting snippet from Yamani back in early 2005. Note the correctness of his prognostications: oil has fallen off its highs.

And Americans can now buy the 40 mpg Toyota Yaris, the 38 mpg Honda FIT, and 36 mpg Nissan Versa, all introduced in recent months to round out high mileage offerings. Add a bunch of 60 mpg SartCars to the mix and average mpg could drop enough to scare producers into being more amenable to diplomatic negotiation (not to mention the reprise from pollution).

Smartcar for Work: Commercial delivery in Amsterdam

While DaimlerChrysler continues to deny Americans the Smartcar, these superb vehicles are finding many uses in other countries. Here is one I saw in Amsterdam being used for commercial deliveries (with just a driver in the car it can carry a surprising amount of stuff).

Binder Clips to the Rescue: Travel tip for a good night's sleep

I am a big believer in getting a good night's sleep when traveling. This has been made easier by the move to upgrade bedding, led by Marriott if I am not mistaken. But even on a "plush" bed I will have trouble sleeping if the room is not dark. This is especially important when you have shifted time zones and want to acclimate to the new zone.

Of course, most decent hotels provide light-blocking drapes/curtains, but for some reason I have yet to fathom, these often fail to close all the way. The result: the lights from the parking lot keep you awake; or a shaft of blinding sunlight strikes your face at 6:30AM when you really needed to sleep until 8. The answer: binder clips (medium). These are the metal spring clips you get for just pennies a piece at the office supply store. I have had great luck in keeping drapes from drifting apart with just one or two of these clips applied to the inter-folded edges of the fabric. Slip a few into your bag before you head out.

Another room darkening trick is to roll up a surplus part of the bedding (one of those foo-foo decorative cover bits for which I don't even have a vocabulary) and put it across the bottom of the hotel room door, you know, across that yawning gap which doesn't seem too bad when you first turn out the lights, but slowly expands to admit enough light to read by.

Traveling Light: A good idea gets better

Here's an old travel tip made newly useful by the increase in lost airline luggage, due to the increase in checked luggage, due to the reduced-liquid-in-carry-on rule: travel light. Easier said than done maybe, but think about the last time you flew. Did you wear all of the clothes you took with you? A lot of people will admit that they did not. Next time, take two items out just before you leave. I bet you won't miss them. Repeat each trip until you are down to the bare essentials.

And what about the essentials? Could you have packed fewer items if you had a chance to wash your clothes during the trip? Well you do. Here's what I do when traveling on business in North America, i.e. staying in hotels at night and wearing a shirt and tie during the day. I take just two shirts and wash one every night in the sink in the hotel bathroom. Tepid water and a touch of hotel hand soap. Then I wring them out in a hotel towel (I will post some pictures if this is hard to visualize). Then I hang the towel and the shirt to dry, smoothing out the main wrinkles in the shirt and putting it on a hotel coat hanger in the bathroom (for hotel hanger's that don't have proper hooks just hang the shirt on the rack or use a twist tie--I carry several with me, plus a few rubber bands and binder clips--more on those later).

The typical American hotel is so dry that the shirt is bound to be ready by morning, plus the shirt and towel will have eased, slightly, the humidity in the room, which is good for you. Use the hotel iron to remove any remaining wrinkles (I've noticed a lot of budget hotel chains are now providing irons). To make life easier, chose a good no-wrinkle shirt to start with. I find JCPenney Stafford shirts work great and look great after dozens of washings, but still have the feel of 100% cotton.

Wash-as-you-go helps reduce the amount of stuff you carry on with you, and the impact of misplaced bags. Since I travel in a good shirt, lost luggage won't stop me looking good the next day. I became a believer in this strategy about 20 years ago when I took a day trip down from the home office in San Francisco to a client site in LA for 8 hours of consulting that stretched into two days. The client was delighted that I could stay the extra day and didn't even notice that I had not brought a change of clothes with me. I just washed the essentials overnight.

Images Abound: Goosing a blogspot blog template

Just a quick word about the images on this page (all Cobb originals). They are, clockwise starting at the top left:
  • The nose of the DaimlerChrysler Smartcar, photographed in London. There are over 750,000 on the streets of the world, but they are still not sold in America. How backward is that?
  • Aeroflot Tupolev Ty-154M passenger plane, taking off from Moscow airport.
  • Maserati Quattroporte, the most elegant four door passenger car design ever (IMHO), photographed outside a showroom in Moscow, then turned into a pencil sketch with PaintShop Pro. See the real thing below.
  • TGV high speed train, photographed in the Gard du Nord, Paris, after I arrived there from Amsterdam on the Thalys, another high speed train. The lack of high speed trains in America is testament to the continuing power of oil companies and the trucking/road building lobby (favored by a certain governor turned president).
A train, a plane, and two automobiles. A taste of things to come.

Oh, and the blogspot template that formed the basis of this page? It is called Lighthouse, but it looks a lot different from this when you first install it.

Catalogue Craziness: 13 per day is just too much

Right now we are getting an average of 13 catalogues in the mail every day. What a waste! We hardly look at them. We usually just toss them in the trash.

Yesterday we got back from a Thanksgiving vacation and found the accumulated mail from 10 delivery days included 131 catalogues, that's over 35 pounds of paper. Harder to delete than spam.

Is there no way to stop these from coming, other than writing to each and every one of the 131 senders (okay, some senders sent more than one, but it is still about 80 different entities that are doing this).

On the Road Again: Cobb blogs travel

Looks like I'm going to be doing some more traveling and so I figured I would start a blog to share some of my experiences and maybe help people get more out of their travel. Will also post some photos from along the way.

Hope you enjoy...Stephen

p.s. When someone says "On the road again" do you think of Canned Heat or Willie Nelson?

Iraq Solution = A Lot More Troops, A Lot More Diplomacy

Okay, so the long-awaited Baker/Hamilton report is out. Hands up who thinks Bush will listen to their suggestions. And what are those suggestions? Basically, more diplomacy and less troops (via phased withdrawal). Personally, I would back more troops if it meant a LOT more troops, like twice as many as we have there now. Anything less is unlikely to work. Of course, some people say we haven't got that many troops to send (we could get them if we re-instated the draft, but that would take time and man would it get Gen Next off its butt and into the streets).

I'm with Colin Powell and former U.S. army chief of staff Gen Eric Shinseki (and others) in thinking that you would need something like 500,000 boots on the ground to stabilize a country the size of Iraq (I am also mindful that we couldn't stabilize Vietnam with that number). And for Iraq that 500,000 number is probably good for a time before people living in Iraq suffered a couple of years of daily double digit body counts to make them really unhappy about American presence in the region.

And sending any more troops without a serious new diplomatic effort to engage Iran and Syria in meaningful talks, well that would be a complete waste.