Sunday, November 30
The last time Halley and Sonnet together in May, when with Catherine they met in Rome to celebrate 4-0 (am I allowed to announce that?). For our families it has been one year or Thanksgiving '07. In between there has been some growth (I hope) and plenty of family travel. We, of course, had our marvelous time in Colorado and California for the summer while Halley and Willem visited India and Australia (Willem, who is head of Exeter University's Psychology Department, had some work relateds) and Halley took her children to Maine for July. She, in my mind, is the quintessential New Englander - sensible, pragmatic yet mischiefous with an eye-twinkle (oh, I hope she reads this). Of course she went to school at an all-women's college; of course her favorite protection is duck-shoes and anything from LL Bean; of course her brother could be Governor of Maine one day. Her wedding was a lobster extravaganza on a Maine lake where we young skinny dipped after the drinking and dancing. I, being wet and drunk, stumbled from the water unable to find my glasses which somebody had kindly returned to the main house. Nobody wants to play part of some guy and his lost glasses but happily mine returned the next morning allowing me to enjoy the celebration. Now I ask Halley if she eats lots of lobster non-stop during her annual trips home; to my surprise it is only once or twice - "you get rather tired of it quickly" she notes. Pardieu! It is my favorite meal and I already look forward to New York next week when I will go to Mylo's for the lobster salad.
So anyway, here I am blogging away when I should be packing for America since my flight leaves tomorrow morning early. Over and out.
These cheerful boxes are found on the beach in Exmor. This time of year the beaches empty of bathers but full of walkers - and dogs, including Fozzywho goes nuts with excitement to our amusement (Madeleine BTW is desperate for a dog and she spends her free moments stroking or cuddling Fozzy). The season here is from May until September when the British seaside comes to life. No, it is not Santa Monica or Laguna but there is real charm to the chippies and arcades that line the beach-road inviting middle-class and overweight Brits to their fried up meal and touch of gambling. I always feel transported back to some magical time when the British went to the British seaside for holiday instead of Portugal or Spain. We are not too far from the British Riviera which Sonnet and I visited some years ago - think cobbled stones, family pubs and beach-umbrellas sheltering the brave from the wind and cold. Now this is the England I love - stiff upper lip, and all. On this theme, we stop for lunch at The Little Chef and in the washroom and bloke comments on the weather: "piss'n down on us mate." I reply: "It's our choice to be here" which gets a welcome cackle. We are all of the same spirit when the weather comes down.
"Yesterday, you made not of my -- the lack of my talent when it came to dancing. But nevertheless, I want you to know I danced with joy. And no question Liberia has gone through very difficult times."
W., speaking with the President of Liberia, Washington, D.C., Oct. 22, 2008
Saturday, November 29
Zoe is the precocious child of Halley and Willem. Several years older than Eitan - she was born the year after we arrived in England - she is that awkward cross between teenager and kid. Zoe carries herself with confidence and owns her space - and while she is sometimes silent one is always aware of her presence. She describes to me tectonic activity and mountains, which she now studies in school. Madeleine, of course, fascinated and a bit intimidated by her older friend yet Madeleine's curiosity not reciprocated. As only natural, it is one's elders that glean attention. Zoe recently took her secondary exams and it is pins and needles until January when her scores come home. Under consideration is one of England's top grammar schools requiring exceptional numbers to gain a place. Given Willem's two PhDs and Halley's Smith, I think expectation are deservedly high; yet there is no untoward pressure as I often see in professional families. We all know it will work for the best wherever Zoe goes.
Switzerland becomes the first city in the world to give heroin to its hardened addicts. In today's referendum, 68% voted for the pioneering government programme following ten-years of data indicating drugs crimes fall markedly when users given their fix. In the late 1980s Zurich offered 2,000 needles and 800 condoms daily to combat AIDS in Platzspitzpark or "Needle Park." The police grew frustrated with the over-crowding and abuse by 1990, when then they pulled the plug.
Halley prepares a 10 lb turkey and we stuff ourselves with all the trimmings. Bravo! My favorite "traditional" straight from Maine is is the sweat potatot mash covered with marshmellow. The kids spend the night allowing Sonnet and I an unexpected night to ourselves. Heaven.
We spend the afternoon at Exmoth - here the kids and Zoe and Ava scream "the tide is out!" racing from the boathouse onto Lyme Bay. Due South is the English Chanel and West, across Devon, is the Atlantic Ocean. The high-tide is perhaps six feet above Madeleine while the sea comes in fast and hard: high-tides today are 7:38 and 19:57 while the low-tide now 13:30. In February, 2004, 23 Chinese shellfish hunters drowned not far from here at Morecambe Bay's cockle beds. They were eight miles out on foot. The other thing about this time of year is the bitter cold, not helped by the kids lack of wellies which I fail to bring despite Sonnet's urging. Within moments Eitan - who refuses jacket and scarf - is pink from the cold yet he refuses to relent: "I will not wear that jacket," which is a shame because not only warm but rather fashionable it is - I bought the damn thing in Paris. What can I do? After several hours of snail and crab hunting we end up at a true-grit caf which is one of the only locals remaining in an area undergoing rapid development. Willem tells me that most of the condos going up own by Londoners who spend little time here - consequently, the old fishing yards being deserted.
We awake at the Barcelona Hotel in Exeter and there is only one thing on the kiddos minds: buffet! Sonnet goes for a run on the River Exe and I stumble downstairs with the Shakespeares to have breakfast where they load up three or four times. Me, I drink coffee and watch them stuff their happy little faces. Speaking of stuffing, we will do so again shortly celebrating Thanksgiving. I hope beforehand we will do some walking or visit the seaside - Devon offers some of Britain's most scenic pictures and we have gotten to know it well. In fact, Sonnet and I walked the Northam Burrows in Dartmoor when she was seven months pregnant with Eitan. In fact, Devonshire is home to part of England's only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dorset and East Devon Coast, known as the Jurassic Coast for its geology and geographical features. Along with its neighbour, Cornwall, Devon is known as the "Cornubian massif". This geology gives rise to the landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, both national parks today.
Friday, November 28
I photograph Stonehenge at dusk from the A31. Yes, I am driving but traffic slow. Besides half the driving population seems to be tapping away on their blackberry or iphone so why not me just as stupid? We're on our way to Devon to visit Halley and Willem for a late Thanksgiving - which has become our tradition the last five years or so. We have a lot to be thankful for too - healthy and happy family, Sonnet's job+my work, Barak Obama (or better: Bush-Cheney gone). We avoid the M3 and other major routes opting for lesser-roads that cross traditional English countryside. Green and wet. All in, the drive takes four hours including one pit-stop at "the Little Chef" which is the equivalent of Howard Johnsons. Ghastly. I warn the kids they are allowed five "are we there yets" and we debate whether this for each child or collective. It goes downhill from there.
Madeleine sees Stonehenge: "Are we gonna climb it?"
Madeleine, in a robot-like voice: "We are from outer-space. We are here to marinate your planet." (I think she means "exterminate.")
I tell the kids to keep an eye out for ware wolves as we cross the Wiltshire dales in foggy dark conditions. Eitan worriedly: "do you promise that you are not lying? Cross your heart and say it again."
I watch Logan's Run and am taken back to 1976 in an instant. For then, the movie was a big-budget, sci-fi spectacle before Star Wars changed everything. Based loosely on Albert Huxley's "A Brave New World," the story finds the human civilisation in the 22nd century existing in a pod, living their pleasures and guided by computers, secure from the world's outside contamination. In return, they are exterminated at age-30 preventing over-crowding (a crystal on the right-hand notifies your time up). Naturally some resist - "runners" - who are tracked down and executed by Deep Sleep Operatives or "Sandmen" (way cool). Logan 5 is a Sandman whose time stricken so he can locate "Sanctuary" or the heart of the future's underground railroad. Facing death, Logan runs. He's accompanied by Jessica, pictured, played by the gorgeous Jenny Agutter who is still making films today and did a tour on my other favorite sci-fi: "The Six Million Dollar Man." Other sideshows are Farah Fawcett Majors who is Holly or a mad plastic surgeon's assistant and Peter Ustinov who is the old-man-on-the-outside who becomes The Messiah. Brilliant stuff. The '70s production is chalked with funky fashion, space-boots and futurama consistent with "Space 1999" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." The impact of the movie ultimately lost due to timing, but for a ten-year old like me dropped off at the movies (UA Cinema, Shattuck Avenue) it was, well, nirvana.
Thursday, November 27
The turkey was almost our national symbol, after all. Apparently it is rather clever bird. Here in England I have to be careful about wishing anybody Happy Thanksgiving because, of course, the British lost the colony. I make a point of telling cashiers or service providers "thank you, my dear."
I ask Eitan, whose guitar has gone missing, if it could be at school. Replies he: "Yes, that is a distinct possibility."
Madeleine to me: "If you start annoying me I'll never kiss you again."
Eitan gets a football magazine which comes with 3-D glasses. He happily wears the glasses down the high-street asking me: "Do you think anybody will notice me, Dad?"
Madeleine on Thanksgiving: "Aw, Dad - do I have to eat turkey?"
Madeleine to Natasha on being scolded for climbing a tree. Madeleine: "Natasha, somebody is going to come over and tell me off. They are going to go blah-blah-blah and then it's over. So what?"
Madeleine, conspiratorially: "Natasha, let me tell you: never get married."
Eitan practices his in-house football skills whilst wearing Madeleine's pink slippers.
Wednesday, November 26
Madeleine snapped in June 2004. Man these kids change and fast! I used this photo on a party-invitation hosted by my parents in Berkeley that summer. The gang and others were there and a warm memory.
The kids and I discuss nick-names and we crack up when I suggest "pickles" for Eitan, as in "Pickles Orenstein". It kind of has a ring to it, don't you think? From there we talk logistics about lunch Friday at Giant Burger and decide that it may be too complex. Eitan tells me: "you are the opposite of Einstein." I should be offended but, hey, it is a pretty darn good insult coming from the boy.
It is easy to forget the brilliance of Michael Jackson (and Motown) given his decline, most recently settling a lawsuit filed against him by the prince Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa for $7-million but not before tantalilsing us with the possibility of a live appearance in a London court (Jackson spent the prince's money but failed to do a concert). I think about Jacko this morning during my power-walk listening to "Thriller" which has sold >100 million albums since '82 (the runner-up BTW is AC-DC's "Back In Black" at 42). Thriller continues from '79s "Off The Wall" but slicker, groovier and in perfect tune. There's not one bad song and even the doo-wop silliness "The Girl is Mine" with McCartney does well (Ok, not great) >25 years later. There's no doubt Jackson is a narcissist - who can ever forget his 5-story statue floating down the Thames to promote his '95 album "HIStory"? - but his self-love has given us some of the creepiest (Billie Jean), over-produced (Thriller), and pop-tastic (Beat It, Wanna Be Start'n Somethin') of all time. The year of Jackson's moon-walk in '83 I was in Switzerland but man did I get an earful from my friends. It was the coolest thing ever seen on TV and targeting us, a teen-age music-listening audience. Overnight Jackson changed everything uniting style, theatre, dance, costume, pop and rock and roll. It was also the peak of Motown - but really, how could they have gone higher?
While on Motown, I bought Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book," "Songs In The Key Of Life," "Music Of My Mind," "Innervisions," and "Fulfilingness' First Final" which he recorded during a magical period from 1972 to 1975. The upbeat and soulful music is all the more amazing given the pain and inequality experienced by the African-American community following expectations set in the '60s. A lot of brothers must have made it through by listening to Stevie.
"My goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive... the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance."
Monday, November 24
From generation to generation - the same forced smile, goofy look and posed awkwardness - is it never not the case? Here is last years BTW. These photographs sent to grand-parents around the world finding themselves on the Grand Piano or in the dining room framed in silver for all to see. As it should be. On ours, both kids march to school having completed two-hours of homework on the week end. Madeleine acknowledges that she is prepared and I note that it must be a nice feeling - she reluctantly agrees. Given Gadwell, my aim is 10,000 hours in something. Otherwise it is a cold and cloudy day by the Thames. I await feedback for San Francisco and plan a trip there. Already I will see my folks and Guy and Jeanine+Katie in New York.
Christian sends us a care-package filled with all sorts of great things: a signed Philip Roth book, Kooks poster from the Worfield, Hotel Costes and Brazilian Girls CDs, T-shirts and more books. He also sends Eitan Man-U gear and Madeleine paints and brushes. Beforehand, the kids promptly fight over who gets to open the boxes. I find them on the ground kicking and grunting, surrounded by paper shrapnel; when they see me: boom! tears. Sometimes my anger is best conveyed in... complete... silence.
Memorial Stadium following Cal's victory in the Big Game - thank you Christian.
I hear Malcolm Gladwell speak about his book "Outliers: The Story of Success" - Gladwell is best known for his book "The Tipping Point" - that illuminates secret patterns behind everyday phenomena. He begins with the NHL where players are mostly born from January to March (this BTW applies to European footballers and other sports). It turns out that youngster selections occur during this period and the biggest kids chosen who in turn receive the most training and resources; they may not be the most talented but this hardly matters over the long-haul. Gladwell argues that mastering complexity - music, sports, finance - requires 10,000 hours work and those who achieve do so because they have the opportunity to put the time in (swimming, any one?) He then explains cultural aptitudes - Chinese and maths, for instance. Asians for thousands of years have cultivated rice which is the most sophisticated early production known to man requiring 3,000 hours of labor per year+an understanding of drainage, seeding and multiple plantings. Contrast this to European's wheat at 1,000 hours and fairly straight-forward. Given this 10,000 year legacy is it no wonder that the Chinese thrive in arithmetic?
Gordon Brown announces a stimulus package and tax cuts in his new budget. Worringly, the Financial Times reports that the Britain's jobs boom from 1998 has been fueled by the public sector creating two out of three jobs. This suggests the private sector may not be equipped to weather a recession.
Sunday, November 23
The Axe, which goes to the winner of the Cal-Stanford Big Game, returns to its rightful home in Berkeley (picture from the Cal Daily archive) as we thump our private school preppy lame ass rivals 37-16 at Memorial Stadium. Go Bears!
The first Big Game was March 19, 1892, on San Francisco's Haight Street grounds when Stanford beat Cal 14-10. It is the tenth longest rivalry in NCAA Division 1 football while the Cardinal leads the series 55-45 with 11 ties though I have never seen one (in '96 the NCAA created over-time).
Happily, Cal has won six of the last seven including yesterday. This year, as every year, the Big Game makes up for a season's failings - Cal, we know all too very well, has not been to a Rose Bowl since '59 and Stanford 2000 (Brown went strangely in 1916 and a first college-memory is an advertisement for that in the Brown Daily Herald).
While there has been many a cliffhanger, including 2000 when Stanford caught the winning touchdown on the final play of overtime, nothing matches '82 or the year of The Play. Grace, Moe and I were on the 40-yard-line to watch Cal's five-lateral run through the Stanford band including my distant-cousin Carl who plays trumpet (and was tackled by Kevin Mohn). John Elway shed teards on the following morning's Today Show.
Ah, sweet Jesus that is a fond memory and a moment right up there with getting into college or my wedding. I am glad I was present.
Sunday morning and we find snow which has now rain and sleet or a perfect reason to stay inside and do homework. Or blog. Sonnet breaks out to run around Richmond Park and I follow with a long-walk allowing me to listen to Led Zeppelin's "Mothership," a compilation of their best 18 tracks. Led Zep captures, better than any band I know, the emotional upheaval of the teen-age years: the volnerability, sex, break-ups, power-shifts and weirdness of it all. And the band not shy about their lyrics: "Way, way down inside, I'm gonna give you my love, I'm gonna give you every inch of my love, Gonna give you my love." Nothing ambiguous about that. Eric introduced me to songs like "D'Yer Maker" and "Fool In The Rain" my Freshman year when everybody was wiggy and exposed. Robert Plant's high-octive, nasal and whining chords captured the feelings of his message perfectly. What else on earth could send >70,000 into euphria ensemble? While there are huge bands today - Sonnet and I have seen some of them in London - none Godlike. Plant with is wavy golden hair, skinny body and stuffed trousers and Jimmy Page on guitar made the The Biggest Band In The World from 1972-79. Sex and drugs and Rock n' Roll (oh yeah). The band broke by 1980 when Plant grew tired and John Bonham asphyxiated on his vomit at 32. In December 2007 the band re-unioned for the first-time in >25 years at London's O-2 Centre.
Eitan and I go to the Chelsea-Newcastle game yesterday, which ends in a nil-nil draw. Woo hoo. It's a perfect afternoon for it - cold and mostly clear though the few hanging clouds turn pink and orange over London as the sun sets around 4PM. Chelsea dominates the game taking 27 shots on goal (vs two for Newcastle) but no net. The fans are grumpy then angry and shout epitaphs not suitable for an eight-year old but hey - this is half the fun. Eitan, as my fearless readers and family will know, is a committed Manchester United fan and the boy refuses to compromise wearing his Man-U reds: shirt, hat and scarf. He makes a point of telling anybody who will listen that he hates Chelsea until I order him to put a sock in it; eventually he notes "I am a bit scared of the fans." Regardless of team-colours we see our heroes: Lampard (pictured), Joe and Ashley Cole, Deco... for Newcastle, there is only one: #10 Michael Owen, who exploded on the scene with a marauding run straight through the Argentine defence from the halfway line, finishing with a thumping shot to give England a 2-1 lead in the '98 World Cup second round, a match which England eventually lost on penalties - of course. I watched the game at a pub in Fulham amidst a delirious, joyful and ultimately irreconcilable audience. Magic.
Sonnet spends the afternoon with Madeleine taking her to the movies and pizza (pepperoni of course). The girls do some shopping on the Richmond High Street. Madeleine has fallen in love with my hat and begs me to get her one too - she looks rather cute in it, I must say. Scrappy.
Madeleine, making an omelette: "Can I put peanut butter in mine?"
Sunday morning it snows; the kids listen to Harry Potter CDs in Eitan's room where their "buddies" cover the floor (Madeleine has 83 "buddies" and transports them from her bed on a sheet. Smart). It is a big weekend in sports as Brown ties Harvard for first place in the Ivy League football (photo of Brown vs Harvard in 1959 from the George Street Journal). The Brown Bears earned its place defeating Columbia 41-10 playing in sub-freezing temperatures on the frozen Brown Stadium before a capacity crowd of 7,865. Just the way it should be. This is Brown's third Ivy title in the last 10 years and fourth ever league championship. I remember trudging to the athletic complex for football or track meets - it was about a 35 minute walk from campus so not taken lightly; the walk passes through Providence's East Side, a lovely tree-lined area with the highest concentration of Victorian houses in America - I should now since I painted many of them. While thinking of Brown, when I was a student the schoolchanged the team mascot from the Bruins, which I thought was kinda tough and fighting to the Brown Bears - which is sorta girlie, if you ask me. Going back further, Brown's first mascot was a burro, introduced in 1902 in a game against Harvard. The burro mascot was not retained after it seemed frightened by the noise of the game, and due to the laughter it provoked. The University eventually settled on the bear after the head of a brown bear was placed at an archway above the student union in 1904. In 1905 The Bears introduced Helen, the university's first live bear mascot, at a game against Dartmouth. Bruno, Brown's current mascot, was introduced in 1921, originally also as a live bear. A number of bears represented Bruno over the years, later being represented by a person in costume by the late 60's, including my friend Sarah who served from 1887-89.
Brown BTW played its first football match against Amherst in 1879. Playing for Brown was John Heisman, who attended the college from 1887 to '89 before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania 1890-91. Heisman's statue of course is famously given the America's best college footballer.
Friday, November 21
From the RA, I walk to the Portrait Gallery to meet James for an afternoon with the impressionists (my favorite freebie). James and I met in the early Internet epoch when he was CEO of UpMyStreet.com, a promising directory business that eventually bit the dust. He then spent six years at Yahoo and became part of the founding team of Skype which was famously sold to eBay in September '05 for $2.6 billion, half of it in cash which presumably found its way to James's pocket. Today he advises venture funds and start-ups and we lament the lameness of the venture culture in Britain, which probably offers the most forward tech market in Europe. If it was bad then it is worse now - raising money for anything webby is nigh impossible. I used to follow the action, and the people, closely but the community has been decimated no doubt. In the go-go years I started a poker club which included a number of the new media luminaries - founders of sexy companies and their financiers. From about 2004 we lost momentum as the moribund tech market dragged on (and on) and the ex-pats repatriated. Our last game was in '07. I think of this because Sonnet and I have dinner with Jenn and Stephen, who was part of the cards table and a super quant jock so not too surprising that he thrives in the hedge fund world. Here he is pictured at Thanksgiving four years ago - he just looks like somebody who studied maths at Columbia and Chicago... which he did.
The average British teenager on the street is wearing clothes and carrying gadgets worth £655. (Daily Mail)
The Bank of England's base rate is expected to fall below 2% for the first time since the Bank was foremd in 1694. (Financial Times)
"I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."
W., Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000
And yes, here it is Friday again. I have a cultural afternoon in town, visiting the Royal Academy and the Byzantium exhibition. The collection moves from 330 AD or the the foundation of Constantinople by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and concludes with the capture of the city by the Ottoman forces of Mehmed II in 1453. The remarkable piece in the collection is the Antioch Chalice (on loan from the NY MOMA). After its discovery in 1911, the silver gilted AC was believed to have been the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. Holy cow! Other highlights are the two-sided icon of Virgin Hodegetria (obverse) and the Man of Sorrows (reverse), 12th century, from the Byzantine Museum, Kastoria, an impressive 10–11th century imperial ivory casket from Troyes cathedral depicting hunting scenes and riders and the Homilies of Monk James Kokkinobaphos, a manuscript from 1100–1150AD. I learn how the epoch produced icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary and other figures which became powerful religious symbols recognised then and today. In fact, the smartest thing Constantinople did was accept Christianity, which became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within 100 years. Last month I saw Hadrian at the British Museum which covered his reign up to about Constantinople.
Indiana Jones: The Ark of the Covenant, the chest that the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments.
Major Eaton: What, you mean THE Ten Commandments?
Indiana: Yes, the actual Ten Commandments, the original stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Horeb and smashed, if you believe in that sort of thing...
[the officers stare at him blankly]
Indiana: Didn't any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?
Wednesday, November 19
Here's a reminder to all those who forget Year-One. Picture taken BTW at 4AM. On a work night. Still, there is no other way and we love them all the more for that endless first year of life.
For the record, Eitan is 138 centimetres and 30 kilograms and Madeleine is 125 cm and 25 kg. A year ago, Eitan was 131 cm (increase of 5.3%)and 26 KG (+15.4%) and Madeleine 120 cm (+4.2%) and 23.4 KG (6.8%).
Alistair Cooke was on Radio 4 this morning - he passed, of course, 30 March 2004 at age 95 following 58 years of "Letter From America" the Jewel of the BBC. John Humphries and all of us recall him fondly and who could not? He is the face of Britain for most Americans beginning in '71 with PBS's Master Piece Theatre and then for us youngsters, Sesame Street's "Monsterpiece Theatre" which of course I remember. Cooke entered his permanent emigration in 1937, swearing the Oath of Allegiance six days before Pearl Harbor. Eventually he stood yards from Robert F. Kennedy when RFK was assassinated and then New York on 9-11. He was friends with politicians, sportsmen and celebrity- Charlie Chaplin the Best Man at his first-wedding (Chaplin did not show BTW) and received an honory knighthood in '73; he addressed the U.S. House of Representatives in '74. I became aware of Cooke's unique voice from '97 when I listened Letter every Sunday 9:15AM sharp. I sometimes wondered if his broadcasts taped or repeats but they never were - his last being March 3, 2004 and aired bedside. In the end, Cooke was not only a historian but lived through modern history. Like no other broadcaster he brought poignancy to then and now, here and there. I remember a missive about the Brooklyn Dodgers segueing into the modern business-media bridged by '50s shaving ads. Brilliant. Above all, Cooke was iconic - something recognisably British and good - like the BBC, 007 or WW II. Also like Churchill and the Empire - irreplaceable. Photo from PBS.
Here he is in '74 before Congress:
.. A great privilege to warmly welcome Mr. Alistair Cooke.
Alistair Cooke: Mr. Speaker, Mr. McDade, Members of the House of Representatives, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Of all the times that I have sat in this House in the past 30-odd years as a reporter and listened to Presidents requesting from you declarations of war -- not many of them anymore since you lost the power! -- listening to pronouncements that the state of the Union was good or bad or indifferent; and listening to debates on everything from the price of battleships to the coloring of margarine; I can assure you that this occasion is for me far and away the most terrifying. It was not at first put up to me as an ordeal, or even as a very great privilege, which indeed it is. I understood that there was to be a cozy get-together of some Congressmen, somewhere, a breakfast perhaps, at which I might be called on to say a few impromptu words. But standing here now I feel as if I were just coming awake from a nightmare in which I see myself before you unprepared and naked, as one often does in dreams, looking around this awesome assembly and blurting out "I accept your nomination for the Presidency of the United States."
Tuesday, November 18
Yes, the bliss of childhood. I have no memories of Viet Nam or Watergate, Patty Hears (in Berkeley for Pete's sake) or any of the nastiness from the early to mid-70s. I was old enough to see Saigon or Nixon but have no recollection whatsoever. My earliest civic memories are the Iran hostages and Reagan assassination attempt, bailing out Chrysler. So today the economic news seems forever bleak - Citicorp announces 54,000 job cuts, holy mackeral. The bank's losses to be concentrated in London - specifically, at Canary Wharf where there is a tower named just for the firm. No more. Britain is particularly volnerable to the recession given the high-consumer debt (the most, or worst, in Europe), housing over-reach and depence on The City which is London's Wall Street and now getting wacked hard. To counter the forces of evil, Gordon Brown announces tax cuts paid for by borrowing, placing further pressure on sterling which has fallen from 2.12 against the green-back to 1.45 - allow me to grunt "ouch" for the American ex-pat community. Stupidly George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, suggests that Labor's strategy may cause a run on the pound - as these things can be self-fullfilling I consider moving our everything off-shore. Brown's position BTW justified by our national deficit which is in the middle of the Industrial World compared to GNP, though the comp group ain't great: Japan is >100%. Am I the only one to observe that we are in trouble due to our snout-in-the-consumer-debt-trough and now we are told to... consume! Don't save - spend it all! Now! On the High Street! And when it is gone, then you can save. Me, I just bought a new pair of trainers so the plan is working. God save the Queen.
Monday, November 17
Here is your humble writer hard at work Monday morning. Oh brother. I do go for an early-morning walk+a six mile run all before lunch. Not bad for 41. In fact for the first time in >five years I think about a marathon. That would be an accomplishment but since my hero did London this year... what excuse do I have, really? The problem has never been motivation but rather injury so this go-around I do more cross-training with swimming and weights added into the mix. Stay tuned as I'm sure all ten of you on the edge of your seats. Yesterday the original Star Wars is on the the tele. Every little kids was a sci-fi nut in the 70s and mine no exception. So as ever I happily catch up with Luke, Lea, Hans and of course Obi-Wan Kanobi ("now there's a name I have not heard in a long time") - Katie and I caught a few S-W matinees my second-year of business schoool and then again at the IMAX in London one gloomy London afternoon (what could be better then popcorn+Star Wars+your little sis at a rainy-day movie?) plus Sonnet and I saw the re-mastered version in Sarasota, Florida when visiting Grandma Dorothy. My first-time viewing at the Coronet theatre in San Fran in '77 and believe you me we queued around the block. The Coronet was an old-time theatre too and the way it should be with a huge screen sitting maybe several thousand. Seeing the scale of the Imperial Star Destroyer chasing the rebel ship in those opening scenes - wow! I still get excited, as I did yesterday with Eitan and Madeleine - though they are cheated out of the Big Screen this time. We go around saying "Luke, use the force" and it is like 30 years ago.
Madeleine does her Sunday home-work, which includes Kumon, maths, time-telling and reading. She concentrates though sometimes her imagination takes her elsewhere. Saturday I do a jog-swim then spend the morning gutting our back-yard which needs a winter pruning. Unfortunately and to my regret I learn not to prune the hydrangeas ex post facto. Madeleine accompanies me to the dump where we recycle about everything including the ten bags of backyard organics (the BBC reports BTW that the countries buying our recyclables, namely China, cannot afford to do so and our efforts going straight into landfill. It makes me weep). Saturday we head for the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre where Sonnet organises a family-evening around the London Jazz Festival - Fun! We haven't been here in a while. We catch a crowded train into Waterloo (teens into town to par-tay) then have dinner at Wagamama's overlooking the Thames and north-side, which aglows. Eitan and Madeleine wide-eyed and there is plenty of excitement- despite a recession, this area is humming: bars, dates, skate-rats, strollers, teens smoking fags, elderly couples holding hands, jazz, restaurants, above-ground subways, noise, noise, noise, joggers, skips, the London Eye and the millennium bridge crossing a full Thames reflecting an equally full moon. Wow. Wow. Wow. Hard to believe that Tony Blair promised to rebuild this area by '02 when the concrete was considered an artistic abomination. We see Melody Gardot BTW who is a jazz-youngster at 23 but recognised for her brilliant voice; she is surrounding by her band noting "all jazz is from the blues, which is only about suffering." At 19 Gardot was struck by a car and music her way back to life. By the second performance Eitan is snoozing on my shoulder, poor kid, but the suggestion of leaving nets a protest from our night owl - yes, Madeleine gets going in the late hours. She is a cool cat.
NPR reports that "lame-duck" was used in the British stock-markets of the 1700s referring to somebody unable cover his debts; by the early 18th century it was applied to British politicians and eventually embraced by the Americans (presumably after '76). And why a duck? Who knows, Dear Sir, who knows.
Friday, November 14
I have some hopes for Madeleine's swimming. Assuming her interest sticks, Madeleine just may have the temprement and body-type to become a "swim-racer," as the kids call it. The first easy: determined, competitive and stubborn. Perfect for the isolation and work ethic required of aquatics. No coach nor team will drive achievement, that is for sure. On body type, Madeleine already the second or third tallest in her class though her birthday falls towards the beginning of the school year. Since age-two, when we doubled her size to estimate her growth prospects, she has been on the right of the bell-curve: her charts suggest 5'10'' or even, gulp, 5'11'' (this from Sonnet's side as Stan and his brothers tall - Uncle Bill, for instance is 6'4''). Most swim-racers these days are tall and lanky with developed upper-bodies, big hands and flipper-sized feets. Darra Torres is six foot and can probably bench press a truck. Or check out Katie Hoff. Madeleine for her part has never been a girlie-girl eschewing doll-houses, frilly dresses and Tom Puffery. She loves a good tree or pair of dungerees. This may be the earliest indication yet - any swimmer will tell you that to be half-way good you myst be different. >four hours training a day? Crazy.
For the record, I like Charles who celebrates his birthday. HRH has the worst job ever: awaiting his mum's death. In the mean time, he faffs about with his various charities and travel, promoting everything Britain but getting little respect in return I imagine. Rumours abound that The Queen and Philippe have always found Charles undependable and only this week - and for the first time I can remember - Elizabeth praised her son publicly. She is 82 BTW and fit as a fiddle+the Queen Mum was 102 when she bit the dust so Charles may have another twenty odd years before crowned. And poor Wils could find himself in the same spot - going to night clubs, courting the paparazzi and dating Kate Middleton into the latter half of his life. And forget about Harry. But back to ze Prince: he oozes royalty wearing his Saville Row double-breasted blazers with a neat kerchief poking out. His demeanor looks, well, kinda lazy or maybe aloof - his attitude suggests Ascot or the fox hunt. Charles gets little praise, though he deserves plenty of it, for starting Duchy Original in 1990 to promote organic food and farming and sustain the countryside and wildlife - we buy plenty of it and often. Charles indeed has gumption and who knows? maybe he will get his suffix "III" yet.
Well, yes, and here we are at Friday again. As my receptionist points out: "Thank God for that." Sonnet and I attend last night's Columbia Business School Fall Gala at The Lanesborough. This year's honoree is Richard Lambert, the Director General of the Confederation of British Industrialists; Richard also edited the Financial Times Lex column in the 1970s, becoming financial editor in 1979 then moved to New York in '82 as the Bureau Chief, returning to the UK a year later as deputy editor. He was the editor of the Financial Times from 1991 and launched the US version of the newspaper. From 2003-'06 he was a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and now the CBI. So his views on the world kinda timely. He gives us a blast of it too: "Britain's worst conditions since the monetary collapse of 1914;" "consumer debt levels disproportionate to income;" "deficits unsustainable" and so on and so forth. Blimey. He does give some hope noting a global coordinated response may prevent us from returning to the stone age. So we are happy about the G-20 meeting in Washington, D.C. this week end to discuss the prospects for a global coordinated regulation (I think (hope?) el Presidente will serve the coffee and croissants). The gala attracts 120 alum+Dean Glenn Hubbard who I swap thoughts re the elections - Glenn is an arch conservative and was on the short-list to run the Federal Reserve post-Greenspan. Obama was, ahem, probably not his first choice. Still Glenn is gracious and positive as ever while we also discuss the MBA prospects - it may be a tough jobs market but applications are up 40% this year. Surprise, surprise - where do you go if your out of work? Business school! FYI I jump started the Columbia Business School club in '01 and am quite happy to no longer be responsible for it.
"I don't see it as women needing help - I see it as public debate needing women. Half of the smartest minds in our nation our female."
Katie in The Huffington Poste