Friday, April 30

Yo All In The Game Yo

I come home to an inside job as Sonnet tears up the living room. We are going room-by-room and eventually the en suite gold leaf toast. Sooner the better. Our bedroom's green carpet also high on the priority list but, for now, another day. So, pictured, we rip out the existing horrible carpet, correct the ceiling cracks, take down the heavy drapes and change the overhead lights; we sink the flat-screen TV into a wall and re-wire everything. Wi-fi, baby. The fireplace will stay the same, God bless. Sonnet selects a cream and pewter colour palette. Tres lounge. Eitan and I smack Obama-rocks re the new hi-def screen which will cable June World Cup. England BTW ranked eighth going into the finals with, given the talent, a reasonable shot at the title. We have been here before, dear reader. Oh, my, the thought of being in the UK when the World Cup trophy returned to football's founders -- Oooh. oo. oo. I remember like yesterday watching the '98 semi-finals when 18-year old Michael Owen carved up Argentina at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne (France) in a thriller England lost, 3-2. It was like the Cal-Stanford Big Game, '82. Well, almost. Madeleine could care less. Yo, all in the game, yo.

Modern Travel

So I am greeted at Heathrow Terminal 5 ... by this. How Space 1999. The Jr. Varsity knows that T5 is only for British Airways. More expert travellers will tell you that it is the largest free-standing building in the UK and is as big as 50 football pitches or Hyde Park. There is enough glass to stretch between T5 and Buckingham Palace. The roof can be raised to add another layer in the future. There are already seven floors: four above the ground and three below. The depth to the bottom of the building is deeper than the height of St Paul's Cathedral.

During construction, two rivers were diverted around the T5 site. Fish and other water creatures were moved before the diversion, and new channels were made habitable for wildlife. This is probably better than the villagers of Sipson, whose 700 homes may one day be demolished for the third runway. But that is next year's story. There are 11 miles of baggage conveyor belts and baggage can travel at up to 30mph. Since this is Britain, the UK's single biggest dig unearthed >80,000 items including pots, cups, buckets, flints and 3,000BC hand axe. Dude.

T5 was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and capable of 'processing' 30 million people including yours truly. Heathrow's existing two runways are at 98% capacity or around 67 million passengers a year - making us the busiest airport in Europe and the third most visited in the world. Paris CDG, by contrast, is at <70%>annum. Will there be a third runway and T6? It depends on the May 7 elections. Labour has approved the expansion despite the European Union's objection that a third-runway violates the human rights of those relocated or under the flight-path; the Tories oppose it. In the end, it may come down to economics: Heathrow employs 50,000 people and many more indirectly. It is a critical piece of the Southeast's economic engine and enhances London's status as a key gateway city. Not insignificantly, 20 years and several £billions have gone into planning consulting. By chance, I met the head of McKinsey & Company's global transportation practice at an Obama fundraiser who advises British government on Heathrow - he said the third runway "no way" and rather we should distribute the network across existing Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton with hi-speed rail. I would too. But: nobody wants to inter-connect those long-haul flights. Why that when Schiphol?

Tuesday, April 27

The Campanile

Sather Tower, only known in the Bay Area as the Campanile, is visible from my parent's house in the North Berkeley hills. It towers above campus and, happily, one can know the time any time. It is probably UC Berkeley's most recognizable symbol, at least I cannot think of another one. Oskie maybe? The Campanile was completed in 1914 and opened to the public in 1917 (my first ride to the top in '76 or '77 on a school field trip). It stands 307 feet, making it the third tallest bell clock-tower in the world. It has thirteen floors and an observation deck on the eighth floor where the bells rest overhead giving one a slightly anxious feeling like, hey bro, I don't want to be here when they chime off (some of the Campanile's lower floors used to store fossils -- I love this tidbit). As for those bells: there are 61 of them or a full concert carillon. They range from small 19 pounders to the 10,500 pound "Great Bear Bell," which tolls on the hour and features bas-relief carvings of bears as well as the constellation Uris Major. During the Fall and Spring semesters, the carillon is performed from ten minutes at 7:50AM, noon, 600PM during weekdays, from 12-12:15PM and 6:00-6:10PM on Saturdays, and from 2:00-2:45PM on Sundays. The bells also toll the hour seven days a week between 8AM and 10PM. At noon on the last day of instruction each semester, "They're Hanging Danny Deever in the Morning" is played. Following that, the carillon is silent until the end of finals. (Sources: Wiki and UC Berkeley website).

While visiting Cal, I have a few free hours which I spend at Strawberry Canyon rec to enjoy the sunshine and swim a few laps. This was where we went back in the day, before hard-core swimming took over and we actually enjoyed the pool. I find a small patch on the green grass and am surrounded by undergraduate flesh. It is an orgy. As is the style, the dudes wear baggy trunks just above their Johnson while the girls parade themselves in barely-covering bikinis. A lot of "adjusting" goes on. I realise how outside their world I am so ease-drop like mad. The night before was Saturday - party! - and most of the youngsters complain about A) being hung-over and B) being hung over and studying for final exams. None of these kids in the library so they cannot be that bothered. The more studious read "Catch 22" or "The Brothers Karamazov" but this, I feel, somehow a less than honest effort- and besides, the drinking tonight at "Raleigh's" which, I ascertain, is a bar in Berkeley (located, to be precise, on Telegraph and Haste. Want to join me?). The girls talk about so-and-so and who did what while the bro's discuss investment banking internships and private-equity. They smack hands (the "Obama rock") and check each other out. It is all very tribal with strong sexual current, like, everywhere. It sure was not like this at Brown. Or maybe it was and I have forgotten? Or perhaps I just missed out. Probably that.

Photo from UC Berkeley.

Monday, April 26

Ivor And Habiscus

Last night I re-union with some dear Berkeley friends whom, in some cases, I have known >30 years of my life. Ivor, pictured, and I went to college together and he reminds me that I knew of his acceptance to Brown before he did thanks to an indiscretion from Brown’s swimming coach Ed Reid (Ivor played water-polo). I think I mostly kept my mouth shut. The ten days before college was spent in Bronxville which we used as a launch-pad into Manhattan and the clubs, joined by Dan and John. God bless my Aunt and Uncle, who were in VT for most of our visit. Now that was brave. I did my best to act like a college kid, nipping the family car when I should not have, which still gets play at the family gatherings. Ivor and I lived together Sophomore year next to Delta House, which I famously depledged deciding I did not wish to be in a fraternity after deciding I wanted to be in a fraternity. For his part, he was dating his high school sweet heart,Alison, who was at nearby Amherst College so he was often away on the week-ends (I can appreciate why Alison did not wish to visit us – college living no place for a lady). Today, Ivor and Alison married with two beautiful girls living next to the Claremont Hotel with views of the Bay Area. They are architects and following their early dreams.

So. Habiscus is a dinner club in a cool part of downtown Oakland that is gentrifying. It is not far from the old Fox theatre, which was renovated several years ago and, once again, a top draw for music and bands. Nearby is a Greyhound bus station (with its wonderful logo) next to modern condominiums and Oakland's few sky-scrapers a visible backdrop. I cannot decide if menacing somehow. Christian is an investor in the restaurant and they love him here – before the crew arrives, Christian introduces me to the head-chef, who is a black lady from England. We chuckle about the weather of course. Christian’s interest in Habiscus is presumably for a return but he also supports Oakland and the East Bay. Plus it is a rocking venue.

Sunday, April 25


It is a glorious Californian day for weather, everything a European dreams of. I meet CW at yoga this morning, 9AM. Perry joins us and looks fabulous. The last time I saw her was two years ago in Napa Valley, where her family has a house and we were with our New York friends. She had a different hair style which was then straight and long while now it is curly. It is her hair, though, and not a wig – which she has been using during chemo therapy to kill her cancer. She is recently on the other side of her treatment and has as much, if not more, energy than ever+the cancer is in remission. She continues her life which includes everything Northern California has to offer and her life is blessed. Who knows when life’s curve ball arrives? All we can do is love and fight.

Last night I join my parents in Mill Valley with the Berkowitizes, who host dinner. Our families go back 40 years when Moe and Alan met a the National Labour Relations Board in ’68 or ’69, which was Moe’s first job after Michigan Law. They later became partners at Schacter, Kristoff, Orenstein and Berkowitz doing labour and employment discrimination. Moe and Alan go back and forth on various current and past cases, share some easy gossip, and bemoan today's legal profession which has changed from the Good Old Days when attorneys knew their clients and not pre-occupied with billing hours. Now, it seems more like a meat grinder but a well paying grinder: top lawyers charge over a grand an hour.

Meanwhile, back in London, Sonnet leads an active week end: she organises a class picnic in Richmond Park. Eitan has an overnight party, swimming practice+two football matches (the Blues win both; Eitan scores the winning goal in the first and sets up both goals in the second). Madeleine has swimming and play-dates and “movie night” with mom while Eitan away Friday. Both kids have home work and, of course, their chores. Was I this busy at their age? I. Don’t. Think. So. It helps that the winter has turned to summer overnight and the temperatures somewhere between mild and warm while the sun sets after 8:30PM. Sweet spot.

Image of poppies in bloom at Big Sur, California, from Corbis.

Friday, April 23


Pictured - Tilden at the Nimitz trail parking lot facing Briones Regional Park where Katie and I once hunted shell fossils along the Old Briones Road.

My morning starts at 2AM Pacific time - wide awake and nothing to do but think. Stress. By 6AM I am grateful to be jogging and eventually my anxiety subsides. I visit Peet's (again) and today am rewarded with a pure Berkeley moment: amongst the elderly hippies, standing in line next to me, is Robert Reich who is unmissable in a blue button-down shirt, jeans and running sneakers, the old liberal dog. He is also 4'10''.

Reich was Clinton's Secretary of Labor from 1993-97 and today a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. Otherwise Reich is an East Coaster having grown up in Scranton, PA, and graduating from Dartmouth. He also went to Oxford, Yale Law School, and then became a Professor at Brendeis University where I was hit by a car whilst running a X-country race in college. Seriously - I went over the hood but kept on going. It is not surprising that Reich is now in Berkeley given his political views - it is hard to see him anywhere else in this country, really. Or maybe Cambridge - so perhaps his run for Governor of MA in '02 not unusual.

Reich the first Democratic candidate for a major political office to support same-sex marriage. He also pledged support for abortion rights and strongly condemned capital punishment (eventually Demo incumbent Shannon O'Brien lost to Mitt Romney who won 50% of the vote and gave us all health care, though he denies it vehemently). We need more dudes like Reich to balance Sarah Palin and Glen Beck and the other dip shits who have hi-jacked the Republican party. What a debate that would be: Reich vs. Palin. Brains vs. beauty. I would put my money on the legs.

Thursday, April 22

74 Years Young

I arrive at SFO following a longer-than-usual flight as our plane skirts around the ash-cloud. What, me worry? I watch two movies including George Clooney's "Up In The Air" about a dude who travels 240 days a year to fire people. Of course there is a love-interest and hard lessons learned &c and etc. but what I find most interesting (other than a film about the soothing emptiness of air-travel) is the relationship between Clooney's character Bingham and his younger protagonist Natalie Keener (played by 25-year old Anna Kendrick) - I side with Bingham and not the the fresh-faced Keener which, I suppose, makes sense as, well, I am middle age. From where I write, in my parents' living room facing westward and looking straight across the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge in the house where I grew up, it is easy to be swept away by youthful nostalgias. This morning, for instance, I jog in Tilden Park on the Nimitz trail where I have memories from age-five, then high-school and college followed by Christmases and holidays over the years and a third or fourth date with Sonnet when she dragged me one summer morning and I couldn't think of anything else but her. That was in '93. After my run I hit Peet's and watch the Berkeley weirdos who sit about and drug up on coffee. Everybody is super friendly and no doubt this is their scene today and every day. Make love not war, man. Sadly, around the corner one of Berkeley's best book shops, The Black Oak, has closed.

Sooo here I am with my father, Moe, at Saul's delicatessen where we each have Reuben sandwiches+iced tea. We talk about the usual father-son stuff: business, taxes and Cal football which, we both agree, faces a challenging season and certainly no Rose Bowl (last appearance in Pasadena: '58. I am getting stressed by this). Today is Moe's birthday - 74! - and we will celebrate at Pizzaiola, which is a bunch of x-Chez Penise. Eitan sings Moe 'happy birthday' without my threatening him. Progress.

Tuesday, April 20

Self Portrait XVII

Today is one of those days that makes you think of England - puffy white clouds, blue skies, no planes. My friend James has been stranded in Moscow this past week so he flew from there to Rome then five trains later, home. Many others remain stuck like the British youth fencing team in Beijing who have been there since Thursday and told the next rescheduled flight to Briton is May 4th. Radio 4 reports that the team is training in the morning and organising cultural activities during the day. Hope they like noodles. Still, things are slowly improving and certain zones re-opening to commercial flights after Air France bravely flies one flight through the haze. KLM tries seven. Bingo! Let's fly, baby. For my part, I check London's weather quality daily which, strangely, remains pure. A little investigation provides a surprising piece of data: according to the Nordic Volcanological Institute at the University of Iceland, Eyjafjallajoekull is emitting 150,000 tons of carbon a day into the atmosphere compared to 344,109 tons by the European aviation industry (source: USGS, BBC, EEA). Over 200,000 tons of CO2 saved by grounding 60% of European airlines. Go figure. This is not entirely fair, though, since the analysis does not include sulphur or methane which are major contributors to the greenhouse effect but still. Recall that since the Industrial Revolution human beings have dumped one-half trillion tons of CO2 into our atmosphere and will do so again inside 25 years.

"Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."
--Carl Sagan

Monday, April 19


Back to Goldman. In the early '90s, I recall, Collateralized Debt Obligations or "CDOs" were taking off on the continuation of mortgage bond market pioneered by Lewie Ranieri the mighty First Boston in 1987 or '88. Back then, "jumbos" and "subprime" strange words but not evil. CDOs are, in theory, an investment-grade security backed up by a 'pool' of low-risk bonds or loans or other assets of different maturities and credit quality. The pool generates cashflows from principal and interest payments, which can be chopped (or tranched) allowing investors various exposures to different risks and returns. The originator, like bank or thrift, could efficiently move the asset, such as a mortgage, from its balance sheet reducing the need to reserve cash to offset a possible default. This new market offered unheard of liquidity benefitting companies and home-owners alike.

By the 90s, hot shot traders realised CDOs highly unlikely to fail as the underlying issuer companies like GE. Triple A, dude. Still, defaults could happen and banks wanted insurance - enter credit default swaps. A CDS guarantees a credit on the issuer so, for instance, should GE fail the owner of a CDS still receives his payments. CDS sellers earn a premium with little worry (they thought) of a default-inducing-payout; and they issued these securities with no money down. In short, the ultimate ATM until, that is, the crash. Firms like Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch made billions issuing and trading CDSs. Commercial banks, for their part, sold and bought CDSs so when the the musical chairs stopped, they owned a net position. Pure sellers, like AIG, were caught unawares once the liabilities crystalised - this amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars they did not have.

So now it gets tricky. By '07, CDOs were mostly a cash market, ie, backed by principal and interest payments from the collateral (bonds). By '07, over 80% of CDOs synthetic. In a synthetic CDO, the bank holds a portion of the reference portfolio (the "stump") instead of selling it off to investors. With a cash CDO, banks transfer the risk to another party through the sale of the assets; however, in a synthetic CDO, banks keep the assets on their balance sheet and purchase protection through a CDS to transfer the risk away to another party. Banks do this today to manage their cash position - it is a "hedge." In the unlikely event the SEC decides that CDS a ponzi scheme and declares them illegal, a large chunk of your banks balance sheet will vaporise.

So why did AIG not protect itself and how is Goldman somehow involved? AIG believed a CDS like any insurance policy where a payout event, like death, non-correlated. My dying has little baring on your dying, for example. Bonds are different: if a bond fails, other, similar, bonds are highly likely to fail.. and their risk of failure becomes exponential. The first defaults in '08 triggered an avalanche of destruction for most, excluding .. Goldman Sachs. As Gretchen Morgenson at the NYTs noted, Goldman, and no other Wall Street firm, was involved in the AIG rescue talks and an AIG failure would have created a hole as big as $20 billion on Goldman's balance sheet as they purchased CDSs from AIG. Instead, they were made whole while Lehman Bros., also sellers of CDSs like AIG, allowed to collapse. Goldman also made money with Paulson & Co on CDS by allowing Paulson, the counter-party, to assist in the creation of a portfolio that Goldman marketed to its clients without informing them Paulson (A) helped construct the portfolio and (B) was shorting it. More will come out.

Sunday, April 18

Sunday News

This photo from several years ago at Bournemouth in Dorset. In the far distance, at the top of the image, is the Isle of Weight.

Travel chaos continues and the British airports remain shut until tomorrow morning and perhaps the end of next week. The volcano has worsened while wind-flows fail to remove the ash cloud. There are 1 million Brits stranded somewhere unable to get home. Us, we take advantage of the warm weather to go to Richmond Park for a picnic. I read the Sunday papers while Sonnet plays Frisbee with the kids. Eitan's KPR seals their division title by defeating the Isleworthians 1-nil in a game notable for blood: one of theirs has his front tooth knocked out in a mid-field collision. Poor lad. The physical game sees all sorts of tackles (in European football, this means a slide tackle) and Eitan earns side-line whistles when he connects with 'studs up.' This the sort of thing that gets a Yellow Card in the professional leagues (later he tells me: "I was feeling a bit frustrated which is why I did that"). Whoever thinks soccer not a physical game sorely mistaken. Next year, KPR will move into Division One.

Driving in Richmond Park: "Dad! There's Joe! Stop the car"
Me: "There is no parking"
Eitan: "Aw, I would have loved to see Joe."
Madeleine, whispers: "Are you g-a-e?"
Sonnet: "There is nothing wrong with being G-A-Y."
Me: "Madeleine, do you like gals or guys?"
Madeleine: "Neither, dad!"
Me: "What about that boy in year 6? You said you were in love with him."
Madeleine: "Did not!" (Eitan sniggers)
Me: "Or how about Kenny? You were definitely in love with Kenny."
Madeleine: "I am no longer listening to you, Dad."

Saturday, April 17

The Tower And Torture

The gang re-unions at the Tower of London. The last time I was here was in November '97 with some visiting friends and Alex and Spencer, who shared our first Thanksgiving shortly later. Alex on the fast-track at JP Morgan and Spencer a hedge-fund investor; both are now retired, living in Connecticut with their three kids. Back then, we drank martinis and thought, wow, London. How sad when they left us after two years.

But, dear me, I digress. Eitan enthusiastic to meet the "Beef Eaters" while the kids learn about England's medieval hanging, drawing and quartering described as "a spectacularly gruesome" and public torture saved for the most "heinous of murder" and treason; it was applied only to men while women burned at the stake (changed to hanging by the Treason's Act of 1790). Women were lucky. The convicted men were (1) drawn or dragged on a hurdle (a wooden frame) to the place of execution; then (2) hanged by the neck for a short time or until almost dead; and finally (3) the body beheaded, then divided into four parts (quartered). Typically, the condemned were disemboweled and emasculated, the severed genitalia and entrails burned in front of the victim, before the final, fatal, beheading after which the resulting five parts (ie, the four quarters of the body and the head) were "gibbeted" (put on public display) in different parts of the city, town, or, in famous cases, in the country to deter would-be traitors who had not seen the execution. After 1814, the convict was hanged until dead and the mutilation performed post-mortem. How nice. Gibbeting was later in 1843, while drawing and quartering ended in 1870 (source: George Neilson, "Drawing, Hanging and Quartering;" 1891).

A joke on Radio 4: A man in Colchester is accused of having sex with a horse and a donkey. The court does not release him on bail since he does not have a stable address.

Abacus 2007-AC1

Goldman Sachs accused, Air Space closed across Northern Europe, Big Brother comes to its end in Britain. Talk about a strange series of events to end the week, none of them, dear reader, could have been predicted - especially Goldman, given how deep they are in Washington's pockets (though some saw it coming when the firm moved to New Jersey. Hello? Tony Soprano?). We know about Goldman alums Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin running the economy and handing away tax-dollars but how about Michael Paese, a Barney Frank staffer who is now Goldman's top Washington Lobbyist? Paese's position formerly held by Mark Patterson who is now the current Chief of Staff at the Treasury. You don't have to be a genius to put those dots together. So here is the pig in the poke: John Paulson (no relation to Hank) knew the subprime market over-valued trash so he went to Wall Street to find a partner who could express his vision. Enter Goldman, who aided Paulson by building a portfolio of shit, Abascus 2007-AC1 and 100 other similar vehicles, which Goldman sold to unwitting pension funds who are the country's workers, families and grandparents. While the pensions anticipated a gain, Paulson bet against it and made $1 billion when Abascus value collapsed; Goldman also took part in the trade. Unlike Paulson, who made his views public, Goldman flogged their product as investment quality without informing their buying-clients that Paulson had selected some of the portfolio's securities. As one trader says, "this is like betting on penalty kicks and not knowing the other guy a goalie." What is surprising about all this that the SEC, who famously flubbed Madoff and, so far, has failed to identify one crooked arrow despite trillions lost since '08, finally shows some teeth going after the biggest bad-ass on the block. Could it be public pressure?

Meanwhile, the volcanic cloud over Britain halts air travel for a fourth day including my trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon with Eric and Roger. From where I sit now, outside blogging, one would never know the ash - blue skies and warm sunshine, dude. I check London's air quality on the Internets: all clear. Iceland's air-traffic disruption worse than 9-11 and the first time ever travel has come to a similar grinding halt. Pity those poor souls trying to return to London: the Eurostar over-sold for days; ferries jammed and the Chunnel not taking new bookings until next week. In short, enjoy the holiday. One benefit: no planes overhead and the birds chirping.

And finally Big Brother, launched by entertainment company Endemol in the Netherlands and arriving in Britain the following year. By 2000, the entire country mesmerised by the idiocy of a bunch of morons trapped inside a habitrail making nasty. Of course we, the viewing public, empowered with the ability to boot the worst characters from the show. I recall walking in Maida Vale on a sunny day reading the dailies which all covered the final episode - the entire country Big Brother and I was just cluing in. Weird, man. Like those busted venture firms or crappy funded Internet companies ( any one?), Big Brother one awful hang-over from that indulgent period when people's ability to be mean and caddy went public. I saw this first hand with my piece-of-shit business partner, may her career RIP. So to Big Brother I say: Good bye and stay buried - and all you dumb schmucks who made it popular - may you own a bit of Abacus 2007-AC1. You deserve it.

Photo from Getty Images. Volcanic ash BTW consists of tiny, jagged particles of rock,minerals and volcanic glass. These fragments range in size from 0.0004 to 0.08 inches, or roughly the diameter of a grain of rice.

Thursday, April 15

The Eye

Any blog from London at some point must include a description of the London Eye, one of the most surreal objects here or anywhere. It rises above the river with burnt South Bank, Lambeth and Southwark behind it. I snap this photo crossing Westminster Bridge on a clear, windy, night following a fancy, schmoozy, dinner at Whitehall honoring excellence in private equity. My friends at Astorg Partners take top-honours for France and we share a celebratory table. Bravo. The Eye, meanwhile, inspired by the Grande Roule which seems appropriate given my mates. It stands 135 meters and the largest Ferris wheel in Europe; it has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over three-million people each year. Good God. When built in '99, it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel, since surpassed by others, yet remains "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel" as the entire structure supported by an A-frame on one side only. Still Number One, people. Still Number One.

A spin around the wheel takes 30 minutes and each 'pod' carries 25 people, who queue for hours to see London from above. It is also popular with local companies who serve champagne and prawns wooing Chinese clients. Or such. The views are, indeed, splendid and uninterrupted when facing north until the BT Tower or City Centre then the Millbank Tower west. The building behind the Eye, lending some perspective, is the Shell Centre at 27-stories. The last time I took a turn with Bill and Martine.

"The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the hear of London."
--Sir Richard Rogers, architect

Wednesday, April 14


We have a family morning in town to renew our passports - here is the boy before the American Embassy, next to Grosvenor Square. Once upon a time, before 911, the Embassy open to the street and we strolled inside with no security. It is an administrative building, after all, and US soil since 1960 when the offices relocated from nearby Portland Place whose grounds now a private club popular with New Media during the go-go years. I hung out there once. Today, the Embassy a concrete monster consistent with the architectural style of that era when London awakening from the war and pouring concrete like nobody's business. In front of the Embassy is a statue of Eisenhower whose Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was kitty-corner to where I stand now taking Eitan's photo. By 2001, the building surrounded by road-blocks spread ten feet apart; by 2003, a steel gate, CCTV and entry check-points+police in Kevlar vests with machine guns. For final access, a US soldier sits behind a bullet-proof glass - his sole job to unlock the entrance door. He sits straight and looks directly at us. Before him yesterday, we pass security similar to any good airport and I must leave my wizzy gadgets with a guard. Sonnet brings water for the kids which I am asked to sample or spill. I drink. All this will one day be in the past, at least in Central London, for the Embassy will soon move.

After our passports, a fairly straight-forward process lasting maybe two hours, we have hot-chocolate and croissants ($50) and then to East Sheen (parking+congestion charge: $30). I spend my day in the office ringing my hands over the private equity fundraising business, down 70% last year, while Sonnet takes the kids into the park and other such playful things. As the sun sets near 7:30PM, I am home in time to run Eitan through some football drills before dinner. What am I doing here?

Eitan: "Dad, I just thought of a great name for a horror film."
Eitan: "It is 'I Thought The Game Was Over.'"
Eitan: "Or what about 'Friendless' (Eitan makes a grimacing face). 'Friendless.'"
Eitan: "I have another good one for an advertisement: 'What would happen if everything became chaos.'"
Eitan: "Or another one for a film: 'Dirty Blood.'"
Me: "Well, you certainly have a talent."

Madeleine reads from her hand: "Iceland is up top. And Britain is below her. France is next to Germany."
Me: "Well done. Why don't you get a piece of paper and draw a map?"
Madeleine: "No way" (she bolts the kitchen)
Me: "You are losing your chance."
Madeleine: "Of what?"
Me: "Impressing me."
She's gone.

Monday, April 12


Chatting casually at the family dinner. Me: "Madeleine, where is Britain?"

Madeleine: "Well there is France. And then there is Italy with that island. And Britain is below that...."
Me: "Atlas, please."
Madeleine: "Oh, Dad. Not this again. You always ask me things I don't want to do!"
Me: "Well, you are going to know where you live."
Madeleine: "I don't care where I live. I only care that I am alive."
Me: "That is all very fine and dramatic but no Britain, no desert."
Madeleine, tears: "Noooo!"
Madeleine opens the Atlas and scans the index: "How do you spell Europe?"
Me: "Well, it is... but you want Britain. Or England."
Madeleine eventually locates Britain on page 48.
Me: "You had better remember that page."
Madeleine: "I am going to write it on my hand."
Madeleine: "I am going to draw Europe on my hand." Pictured.

Tommy Gun

Madeleine loves this hamster who, I admit, the cutest of the bunch we have so far enjoyed (I recall from my own yuf that hamsters are a trial-and-error sort of thing. They escape. They die. The pet store has an endless supply). On the week end, Madeleine brings Tommy downstairs 3-4X a day for a cuddle and the poor, shell-shocked, creature puts on a good face, being woken from its deep daily slumber. Yesterday, however, Tommy decides enough is enough and gets his front teeth into Madeleine's plump, middle, finger. All hell breaks loose as the poor kid screams - Sonnet and I bolt for her - then tears. Oh, sweet tears! We gently wash our darling's finger then sanitise and bandage the wound while soothing her anxiety. A trail of red blood follows us from Madeleine's bedroom to the sink. Poor child, innocence lost. Today, Madeleine unable to practice her trumpet since "my pushing finger" still hurts. The ramifications, dear reader, profound.

Madeleine reads from her book: "What does 'P U' stand for?"
Eitan: "Personal understatement?"

"Tommy gun - you ain't happy 'less you got one
Tommy gun - ain't gonna shoot the place up just for fun
Maybe he wants to die for his country
Maybe he wants to kill for his country
Whatever he wants, he's gonna get it"
--From 'Tommy Gun' by The Clash

Sunday, April 11

Retard On Retard

Madeleine wears my shades in the park.

The political season in Britain is "open" with the next elections called for 7 May. For some time it looked like the Tory party would trounce Labour given Iraq and the financial crisis and all that but their numbers have fallen: according to today's Sunday Mirror/ComRes survey, the Tory lead over Labour is 7% (39% to 32%) - down from 25%+ in mid-2009; if the figures stand, the Tory party will fall 15 seats short of the 326 MPs they need to win power outright. "Hung" government, dude, the last thing we need. David Cameron, to his credit, is sure trying: he kick-started his campaign to be PM with two tax give-aways which us voters have pooh-poohed. The math worked out to, like, £3 per week for married couples. Yaaawwwn. To be sure, the vote is Cameron's to lose. Recall that the 1 May, 2008, local elections saw Labour suffer their worst result in 40 years finishing in third behind the torries and lib-dems with a projected 24% share of the national vote.

The good news about campaigning UK-style: it is only one-month. Politicians are otherwise prevented from fundraising and vote-getting which is much more sane way of doing things. The United States, of course, a two-year run-up at minimum - kinda like Christmas beginning in September. Or July. The downside to UK politics: it is not nearly as interesting. No Playboy Bunnies nor red neck Tea Parties; morons and dip shits and hypocrites exposed. Plus British politicians do not hate each other in the way our Democrats and Repubs do. Sure, there are insults and stuff but nothing like the Congress or Senate going at each other+the opposition party does not simply check out for political gain. For the record, I do hope the Republicans try to roll back Obama's health care - I will enjoy watching them eat dirt. Just look at that fool Mitt Romney who tries desperately to disown his same-plan for MA. And Sarah Palin? Run, baby, run!

"They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh was using satire. I didn't hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with 'fucking retards,' and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there."
--Sarah Palin explains, on Fox News, why it is okay for Rush Limbaugh to use the word "retard" while it is not Okay for Rahm Emanuel to use the word "retard." February 7, 2010

Golden Duck

Madeleine and I visit Richmond Park this morning to feed the ducks (or "the quackers" or "quacky quacks" as she once called them). This one smart enough to be away from the badelynge and I reward her with bread for being an entrepreneur. We do not have enough of these birds in our country and soon it may get worse as taxes go up and people bail. Jim Ratcliffe, for instance, the UK's most successful post-war entrepreneur is moving to Switzerland to escape Gordon Brown; Ratcliffe founded Britain's largest private company -- chemicals group Ineos in 1998 -- and is taking 20 of his execs with him. This will save him, and cost us, over £100MM but worse (for us) he will not try another company in Britain, taking his potential with him.

No doubt I hear rumblings of re-location from my group and this year we will see a number of our best friends leave London. For most ex-pats, there is an exodus after a couple of years when a rotation is up and before strong networks established; then again (we found) between five and seven years as permanency looms. Following seven the die usually cast: passports, property ownership, kids in Brit schools and, generally, a sense of citizenship. That is us, anyway.

Now we all do the math: 50% top-tax rate, (from April 6) £30,000 levy on non-domiciled tax payers and the cut in pension tax relief for those making more than £130K. HM Revenue and Customs threatens to tax more of our income earned over seas. Once, smart people came here because they trusted Britain's stability and relied on her promise not to soak the wealth from the economy's earners. This is by no means an inexpensive place to do business - London ranked 16th costliest in the world in '09 by Forbes, down from #3 due to Stirling's depreciation - yet there are many reasons to be here starting with a density of educated, specialist people in media, finance, arts and banking. They are also the most fluid and likely to leave. Will we bugger the Golden Goose?

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
--William Butler Yeats

Saturday, April 10

She Sells Sea Shells

Madeleine's visit to Exmouth scores a crab's shell, which she brings home to me: "I like that it is not a perfect shell. It is nice but not perfect. I don't like fancy shells. Well, I do like them, but I think this one is really cool." I agree with Madeleine - cool. This exoskeleton makes me think of something other-worldly which, perhaps, is fair since the first crab fossils date from the Jurassic. This one, pictured, about the size of my hand while the smallest, a pea crab, a few millimetres wide. The Japanese spider crab, on the other hand, has a leg span of four-meters.

Madeleine: "I have spring fever!"
Sonnet: "What does that mean?"
Madeleine: "It is when you really want to do something now."
Sonnet: "What do you want to do?"
Madeleine: "Run around in Richmond Park and be crazy and be free."

Friday, April 9

Tube And Arab

My friend from the go-go years, Azeem Azhar, takes this photo using a Helga Viking lens, 'float' film without a flash. Way cool.

So here is my weird Underground factoid which, dear reader, I consider more often than sometimes when on the tube: the record for visiting all 275 stations is 18 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds. No kidding. It was done by Geoff Marshall from Epsom, Surrey, and Neil Blake from Deptford, south-east London, on September 28, 2004. They have kept their route secret, God bless.

My first commute in London originated from our flat in north-central Maida Vale: I caught the Bakerloo Line from the Warwick tube station (in Duffy's '09 Billboard top-ten hit "Warwick Avenue") to Oxford Circus then the Central Line to Chancery Lane and Botts & Company. The trains crowded and the transfer not pleasant - we marched long, florescent tunnels affronted by bill-board advertising and cinema posters. Sometimes a dude would read The Sun with its Page 3 girl - tits! - and I always thought: no shame? There are serious women in pantyhose on the trains. But The Sun is Britain's #1 daily so what did I know then (and now)? My favourite commute, BTW, several years later from Lauderdale Mansions (Maida Vale) to eZoka's offices, a strait shot from W9 boarding a route-master on Maida Vale Avenue to the Edgware Road (once a Roman thruway) to Nutford Place. This strange area, a few blocks north of Hyde Park's speaker's corner, most Arab. London perhaps Europe's most accommodating city and the Edgware Road where the wealthy Middle East comes during their summer when temperatures 35-degrees C or higher. From June to August it is also 24/7 and young people and men smoke hookahs, spilling onto the busy street from restaurants like Abu Zaad, Patogh and Beirut Express. Sonnet and I once had Friday dates at Lebanese Fatoush where I ate raw, spiced lamb and tabouli. These are good memories if not always the best times.

"I tried many times before, but not managed it because of the trains or injuring my knee."
--Geoff Marshall on setting the Tube record