Thursday, April 30

Trans Am

Who would have ever thought that our largest industry - autos - would be on its death-bed inside half a generation? The largest, General Motors, recently announced that it would discontinue its Pontiac line including this '82 Trans Am, pictured (photo from 

And what an ugly car - no wonder the company restructuring to 38,000 employees down from 350,000 at its peak in 1970. This is deeply sad for the workers who only want to work and provide for their families. Management should be hung out to dry for being caught-out by energy prices. Building an industry around a depletable resource and not preparing for energy-price increases despite A) rising populations, B) global economic growth; and C) political instability in oil-producing regions tom-foolery. 

The Big Three famously built SUVs, city-trucks and hummers while other countries like Korea and Japan prepared themselves for hydrogens and electrics. Of course, dumb-ass non-caring Americans bought the giants during the leverage-years and what me worry? while Congress, influenced by lobbyist, maintained laughingly low fuel efficiency standards; sadly Detroit preferred to sue states rather then raise standards to local MPH mandated levels. China, meanwhile, forces manufacturers to adhere to mileage rates nearly three-times the USA. Their cars reflect this and will soon sell everywhere- not just the local market. 

 Well, we are all guilty and now it doesn't matter so much but as I say - feel sorry for the worker.

The PTA convenes last night and all I can say is: boy, can these women drink. Following several hours of mish-mash concentrating on school-safety, new jungle-gym &c., we end up at the Victoria for a few more drinks. Not that I am complaining, mind you - despite moving rather slowly this morning. This afterall how the community bonds and power shifts. The PTA budget over several hundred thousand pounds thanks to fund-raisings including the Summer Fair. We are somewhat depleted due to the school's new kitchen, which is brilliant and serves 80% of our children (the remainder bring bag-lunches). We are catered by a local organic and the quality of food has a big impact on education, not least because the kids love their meals and eat 'em.

Me to Madeleine: "Has Ms. X (teacher) ever yelled at you?"
Madeleine, gravely. "Yes. Five times."
Me: "And what for?"
Madeleine: "Number one for moving when I should not have. Number two for talking. Number three I don't remember. Number four for not listening. And number five for being there."

The BBC reports, as I write, that 48% Americans think our country heading in the right direction, up 30% since the election. To Bush: good riddance and may you remain gone.

Tuesday, April 28

Heidi Ho

After all the excitement this week end, no surprise to see the Shakespeares looking a bit stoned in front of .. you guessed it .. the TV - this time at Claridges BB. Boy have I grown used to this blank stare. I'm hobbling about since Sunday and taking ice baths to reduce any swelling. Miserable. I hope to start jogging in the next few days but we shall see, oh boy. Today the stairs remain a challenge. A quick glance at the papers shows swine flu and this chestnut from the Daily Mail: "Lessons about the gays will be compulsory." Now that's a headline that catches my eye. Pupils "as young as 11" will be taught about homosexuality and civil partnerships in compulsory sex education classes. Sigh. Eitan, for his turn, will learn about sex this year, though not gay sex, because this love is different from other love. I will preview the G-rated film to be shown in his year-three classroom as part of the sciences curricula. Do not doubt for a moment Eitan's capacity for disgust on the subject - holding hands with a girl nets a shriek of resistance while the boy covers his eye at kissing on the Big Screen, TV or between me and Sonnet. He simply does not care to know beyond the basic concept of boy-meets-girl-puts-baby-in-stomach. I already see his internal conflict: remain tops-in-class or ignore a science/ teacher disapproval? There will be an outcome however it may go.

Madeleine joke: "Doctor, doctor - I feel like a pair of curtains." Doctor: "Well why don't you pull yourself together."
Me: "Isn't that Eitan's joke?"
Madeleine: "Yes, but he won't care." (yeah, right)

Eitan to Sonnet: "Can I watch Chelsea vs. Barcelona?"
Sonnet: "No. You have watched enough TV this week."
Eitan: "Well, I'm going to ask Dad, and he's the master while you are the co-pilot."

Monday, April 27

Front Runners

Update correction: the above photographs taken by Madeleine (not Sonnet) and I promise Madeleine to inform you so here it is.

Sonnet takes photographs at nine-miles, including the eventual winners of the wheel-chair race and the men's elite, which is won by 22 year-old Kenyon Sammy
Wanjiru whose 2:05:10 breaks the course record though not the world record he seeks - that's 2:03:59 set by the great Haile Gebrselassie of Ethopia on the Berlin course last year. Yes, that will be my next marathon in September enshala. It is simply unimaginable the pace these guys hold for 26.2 miles - many under 4:30 per mile. Wanjiru discovered when running 10 kilometers to school and back - a Japanese coach recruited him for the Prince Takamatsu Cup Nishinippon Round-Kyushu Ekiden, which begins in Nagasaki and continues for 1064 kilometers, or just less than the KKH which took me and Sonnet a month to complete. Many of my friends from Brown competed in the Kyushu Eiden during and post-college, on strictest invitation. Wanjiru, in 2002, moved to Japan and went to Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School in Sendai, where he graduated in 2005 and joined the Toyota Kyushu athletics team. He won the '08 Olympics Gold, his second marathon. His preparation? At 17, he ran 5,000 meters in 13:12.4 which would easily win the NCAA any year; at 18, he broke the world half-marathon record at 59.17 minutes and then 58.53. What makes Wanjiru unusual is his yuf - usually, the longer distances reserved for post-track, mature athletes with confidence and aerobic abilities maintained into their middle-years. Ok, thirties - but late 30s. Wanjiru is 22. Holy cow- this kid is going to be with us for a while yet. David Weir won the wheelchair in dramatic fashion in a sprint over the last 50 meters before the cheering crowds at Buckingham Palace. Sonnet sees his family at nine, who are in tears when he passes them by.

Me to Madeleine: "what did you learn today?"
Madeleine: "nothing."
Me: "you realise that a day without learning is like a day without bread?"
Madeleine, contemplating a moment: "well, I did eat some bread."

Marathon Sunday

As I write, all I can say is: "thank God it is done." Silly me to think I could somehow sneak through 26 miles and enjoy myself- which, really, was my goal - you know, to have fun. And in fact, the first half brilliant - gorgeous weather with interesting, giant clouds to look at; supremo organisation and the most amazing positive vibe. Initially I had indicated running a fast time so I am placed in a starting pen with .. fast runners. They look at me suspiciously given my attire. "What is he hiding?" I can see them wonder. Pictured with me are Pete, in middle, and Andrew who has been gearing up to break three-hours, which he does by ten seconds. Natalie runs 3:45 smashing her four-hour goal. Bravo! So any way - I start out walking then enter an easy shuffle watching the sea of humanity. Never have I seen so many people jammed together and moving ensemble towards a finish; on display are body-types, colours and costumes; runners tap me on the shoulder: "good one, mate" and "don't let the banana beat you." The spectators are the best: hoots and hollers follow me like the "wave" at a football game. Mooooo is always over my shoulder+the wonderful East London accents hollering: "got any milk for us t'day, luv?" I make a point of connecting with kids, who stare dumb-founded before breaking into huge smiles: cow! And it is true: when you see a cow, the word pops into your head. Cow. Try it. So first half fun while the last six miles decidedly not fun as I drop out at 25 miles with tummy upset. I end up at a medical station until my blood pressure returns and I am able to drink but this in no-way interrupts a beautiful day - London at its best. I also feel good about supporting a charity, raising over £3,000 for the Prison Advice and Care Trust. Thank you!

At restaurant, the kids try to create a secret language not to be understood by adults. It includes hand shuffles and variations of sign-language and they spend a good 20-minutes trying to perfect an outcome much to my and Sonnet's eventual irritation. Says me: "do you really think you can do this while your mother and I watch?" Madeleine: "well, we don't care since it us that will be using it. In school."

Saturday, April 25


Madeleine jumps for it. It is hard being a kid - especially like yesterday when I wear my cow suit to the school-drop. Eitan disconsolate and I am ready to take it off until he gets snippy ("all you want to do is embarrass me!" he wails) and I decide to prove a point. More wailing and I threaten (dare, really) Eitan to stay home if he's embarrassed. Madeleine watches transfixed, scoring so many points on sooo many levels without having to raise a finger. So there I am, on the playground, surrounded by children and feeling like the pied-piper - and you know what? It was totally fun, and I loved the attention... which is why it hurt at bedtime when Eitan tells me: "all you want is attention for yourself" and I had not thought of it that way. Yes, I need to treat these kids like.. little dudes, and not inside my own personal vacuum.

Madeleine joins Friday-night-fives which takes place in next-door Barnes and something from Mad Max - 12
miniature, astro-turf'd pitches, surrounded by 12 foot, meshed ring-fences containing the football action while friends, parents and siblings hang from the outside screaming bloody murder. Madeleine's school team first time together and a year-younger than their competition, who cream them 16-0. My heart goes to her, Jackson and little Mattie and the two others I don't know who play valiantly and are beet red after the forty-minutes of "play." From pitch, we go pool - where Madeleine and Eitan have moved to the next level of development. For Madeleine, this means proper training and equipment - kick board, pull-buoy and flippers. Eitan swims sets. We drive home afterwards exhausted - me included, feeling their happy fatigue+Friday - and everyone in a good mood chattering away. We listen to The Virgins in the car CD who at one point use the "F" word, which gets an immediate reaction - both, in unison: "he's not allowed to say that!" then, slight delay: "Snap! - got you! Snap! Snap! Jinx! Double-jinx! I said jinx first!" The loser, of course, not being allowed to speak until named by the other. Just like I used to do with Katie in second grade. But tonight, there are no losers as we head alongside the Thames at dusk, greeted eventually by Sonnet who is home early when she was otherwise to catch-up from jury duty. Life is good.

Eitan and I discuss body-types for sport - distance runners slight, basketball players tall &c. On swimmers, Eitan notes:
"swimmers need a small head so it doesn't get in the way." He's half-right, too, but glazes over when I discuss the concept of drag.

Madeleine wonders if somebody can sleep on the wing of a plane?

"You would most certainly fall off. If it was moving."
"You could use super glue."
"Super glue can rip your skin off if you pull too hard."
"You think you know everything, Eitan!"
"Well that's because I do."
"Dad, tell Eitan super glue would stick me to the wing and that he doesn't know everything!"
"well, Dad doesn't know everything and he certainly doesn't know anything about super glue."

Madeleine observes me writing notes on their conversation:
"You sure can right fast Dad!"
Eitan, matter-of-factly:
"Of course he can - he is an adult."

Pre-Race Smackdown

I pick up my entrance pack for Sunday and am amazed at the scale: entering the ExCel arena (400 acres!) I am greeted by several bull-horns guiding me to 30 multi-media check-in stands, organised by entrance-number, manned by volunteers taking identity-confirmations, and providing race day numbers. From there, I stumble to the next queue to register online and finally - into the Great Hall (347,136 square feet!) which today includes everything running vs other events like the World Wrestling Entertainments "Smackdown." Oh boy. First stop: Adidas, which has several many thousands of square feet and I take advantage of a "free" gate-screening where my stride video'd and computer analys'd for impact-point inefficiencies; I also have a foot-pronation test - again, computer generated - to determine my shoe-type, fit and so forth. I buy a pair of shoes for $150. I then wander about dazed and check out the 1000s of runners, stalls and hype - there is a run-way show for Puma showing off their very attractive clothes worn by very sexy models doing all kinds of music-inspired contortions and wiggles - definitely not runners. I buy some gear. As many of you know, I am running for Prison Advice & Care Trust, which provides aid and ongoing assistance to families with a member in prison. It is a small charity but meaningful and I am fully behind it - we liberals need to do more than bitch and complain about the world's unfairness. Since PACT small, they do not have a stand. Other charities however have enormous booths and it is inspiring to consider the human effort going into their support. I pick up a few more pamphlets, buy some more running crap I don't need (sweat bands! but very stylish) and head for home, Walkman engaged, tapping my feet and loving London.

Canary Wharf

I am way-East London to pick up my marathon number at the ExCel Center, which is London's largest convention center replacing Earl's Court. My photo unusually faces westward towards the Isle of Dogs and the other side of me is wide, open river - something I rarely see. Eastward one enters the flood planes where yes, you guessed it, Gordon Brown considering residential property development to ease the city's density. Stupid. So Canary Wharf: built on the site of the West India Docks, which from 1802 the busiest in the world. By the 1950s, the port industry began to decline, leading to the docks closing by 1980;he Canary Wharf of today began when Michal von Clemm former chairman of my old firm First Boston came up with the idea to convert Canary Wharf into a back office. Others joined, needing more space than The City could offer. Soon, Olympia & York signed a Master Building Agreement and construction began '88 - the largest commercial project in Europe. One Canada Square, pictured - tallest, was topped out in '90 becoming the UK's tallest building and a powerful symbol of the regeneration of Docklands. Upon opening, the London commercial property market had collapsed and O&Y Canary Wharf Limited filed for bankruptcy in '92. By '95, commercial real estate resurgent and a new set of owners, including O&Y, bought the scheme which today houses Credit Suisse, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. Oops, scratch that last one. I've always felt sorry for the poor snooks who have to work at London's way-out and I make a point of never meeting anybody there. I don't care how important - it is just not worth the hastle from Mayfair or Richmond. After 9-11, many of the buildings in construction capped - nobody wanted to be a target.

Any fan of Bob Hoskins and perhaps the best gangster move ever, "The Long, Good Friday," will recognise this area - or maybe not, given its change from 1980. The move includes a Thames redevelopment vision - and who would control it - for the East End's docklands area, much of it concreted and wide open space at the then. England was a mess, one year into Thatcher, yet the seeds planted for the city's revitalisation.

"What I'm looking for is someone who can contribute to what England has given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than an 'ot dog, know what I mean?"
Harold, in The Long, Good Friday

Thursday, April 23

The Cow And Kidney Pie

Tower Bridge, Southside
Stan and Silver to us yesterday and we pick up the Shakespeares from school. Madeleine, especially, loves the attention and I can still scoop her up for a playground hug; Eitan now decidedly cool about PDA. Madeleine and I play an endless game of "tag! you're it!" with trees being "homey" (of course). Stan makes his perfect lemon meringue pie and imparts the tradition to Sonnet, who has been experimenting with pies this past year - lucky us. Stan notes that "it is all in the crust."  Me, I think it would be good to have a signature dish and for a moment I consider steak-and-kidney pie, which was on BBC4 yesterday following a national competition for England's best. Pie. By coincidence, we supped at The Guinea last week which is a London institution whose steak-kidney has been awarded tops numerous times across the ages. Located in W1 near Berkeley Square, it caters to office workers and the like with a wonderful bar facing street side. A guy from Park Place Capital, where I shared an office momentarily, went every day to drink pints with his mates, and then return before home. He, of course, being the firm's administrative officer keeping record of all trades. His other vice the Tottenham Hot Spurs, who haven't a chance. So sadly, we say our good-byes to the Stanfills last night, who return to Montrose today. We enjoyed their visit and them, and everybody a bit teary eyed at the parting. 

How to make steak and kidney Pie (from BBC Food):
225g/8oz lamb's kidneys
700g/1lb 9oz chuck steak
1 tbsp vegetable oil
knob of butter
2 onions, chopped roughly
2 tbsp plain flour
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
570ml/1 pint beef stock
4 field mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp mushroom seasoning or mushroom ketchup (if not available, use Worcestershire sauce)
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and feshly ground black pepper

For the pastry:
175g/6oz butter
225g/8oz plain flour
8-9 tbsp water
1 beaten egg, to glaze

1. Halve the kidneys and cut out the tubes. Rinse in cold water and peel off the skins. Cut in small pieces. Trim and cut the steak in cubes.
2. Heat oil and butter in a large pan, then fry the onions for 3-4 minutes, stirring. Fry the meat for 2-3 minutes until it loses its pink colour. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the herbs and stock. Stir until thickened and coming to the boil.
3. Add mushrooms and purée, lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 1½ hours until, the meat is tender.
4.Make the pastry: wrap the butter in foil and freeze for 45 minutes. Mix the flour with ¼ tsp of salt.
5. Holding the frozen butter in foil, dip it in the flour and grate coarsely back into the bowl, peel the foil back so it does not get grated. Keep dipping it in the flour as you grate.
6. Mix in the butter with a knife until evenly coated with flour. Stir in the water to form a dough. Gently form into a ball. Wrap in plastic film and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
7. When the meat is cooked, remove bay leaves, season with salt, pepper and mushroom seasoning (or Worcestershire sauce), then cool slightly.
8. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to 5mm/¼in thick and 2.5cm/1in wider than a 1.2 Litre/2 pint pie dish. Cut out the lid so it is slightly bigger than the dish. Cut a strip of pastry the width of the rim. Stir the parsley in to the meat and transfer to the dish.
9. Brush the rim with egg, lay pastry strip on top and seal. Brush with egg and put lid on top. Seal the edges, knock them up with the back of a knife. Flute the edge. Cut a slit in the lid, brush with the egg (but not the edges or they won't rise).
10. Bake for 20 minutes, then brush with egg again. Bake for 10 minutes until the pastry is golden.


It is good to be in-season, though difficult for me to follow the A's and Giants from far away. I check the scores daily but it is not the same as having the constant radio loll in the background. This, to me, is summer. Nor do I know the players like I did coming up - and really, the personalities make the game enjoyable. Rotating through a cycle, awaiting the clean-up hitters, eager for the fourth batter who is usually the home-run slugger. My photo BTW from the British Baseball Federation, whose office in London W1 - go figure. (Vagualy similar) cricket is a Big Time sport in England and the colonies .. er, former colonies .. thrash our team and deliver punishing humiliations, multiple day humiliations in "test matches." The Brits take it all in stride - somehow it feeds into their national sense of fairness and an enjoyment of the under-dog status - so the West Indies beat us, well - we put them in business during the Industrial Revolution and all that. The Baseball Federation exists, presumably, to spread baseball across the home counties and indeed, their website paints a nice portrait: "At its heart, baseball is a simple game, with two teams who take turns batting and fielding, each trying to score more runs than the other. It has a range of complex rules and terminology and tactical subtleties and techniques, though, that make it a complex sport with a true depth of understanding." And there you have it.

I shuffle a loop of Richmond Park in my cow-suit preparing, of course, for Sunday's marathon. It is my first time out en regalia and I receive an assortment of bemusements. Cars honk; workers raise arms in goodwill cheer; grannies look at me in fear .. my favorite moment passing two elderlies who stare at me for some 40 meters, their heads cocked and uncertain. I give them a well timed and curt "moo" as I pass - they break into laughter. So about this marathon: I plan to have fun and not fuss about the time. Depending how I feel, I may pull out if my legs not ready or I feel a pinch. Of course the weather forecast dire. Yet, I am filled with joy and anticipation and am grateful to everybody for their encouragement !

"Dad, seriously, are you really going to run in that cow suit? Are you going to be on T.V?"

Wednesday, April 22

Beef Burger

Consider the classic "beef burger" (in England, sans lettuce, tomato or anything) which took Britain by storm in the 1970s but the country still adjusting when we arrived in '97 - I do recall several formal lunches eating a burger with my hands and receiving shocked - and I do mean shocked - looks from my compatriots. The English, you see, once ate their beef burgers with fork and knife. But now, no longer as we confirm last night at Oriel on Sloan Square. Cultural changes so often subtle.

Today a lovely spring and the chestnut trees bloom. The country turns overnight to green and we rejoice - kids way happy mood, Sonnet day-off from court .. and me, an early swim and without computer as I convert to Apple with some trepidation. Will the transition kill me? It has been 15 years since my last Mac. Then I was with non-profit Help The World See (in '93, I secured - one of the early American Online accounts when it was otherwise normal to have numbers). Business school and since demanded Microsoft and I am hell-bent on getting away from the tyranny's strong-grip; I am also bored of spending endless time fixing, upgrading, guarding and dicking around with Windows. While I love Outlook, I believe there is another, better life over the rainbow. Sorry Roger.

So back to beef: our local butchers, I learn just now with Sonnet, serving East Sheen since 1912. The meat proudly "British" and I learn something rather shocking : meat imported into the UK after one month of freezer-storage can be called "British." No doubt this meat is lesser quality fair and used mostly by restaurants (our butcher tells me) who are after margins. He notes nothing dangerous about such a "loop-hole" but the quality inferior. Well, pinch my ass.

Photo from

Berkeley Barracudas

Another photo from Devi circa 1979 I think .. hard to imagine but at the time Katie and I logging close to 15,000 yards a day or about ten miles .. swimming ! I would not contemplate running this distance at my now, ahem, advanced age - or any age, for that matter. On top of the swimming, we were doing the usual weights, pull-chords and stretching for about five hours a day at King Jr High pool - which was a nasty little place but for many years my second home. Moe would drive us to practice in the Volvo 544 rain, sleet or shine while he would swim his laps and we had our own lane, usually to ourselves though sometimes with another Barracuda. Mondays were the hardest, knowing a full week ahead+my shoulders and body not fully prepared for the mileage and always achy. And the goal then? Well, initially it was Far Westerns which were held twice a year for the short course season (25 yards) and long-course (50 meters) requiring "AAA" qualification times. Then Junior Nationals and finally Seniors and college. Similar to Eitan's room postered every inch with Ronaldo and Manchester United, I had John Nabor who won four golds at the '76 Olympics and set World Records in the backstroke. He stared at me blankly from the back-stroke start and I dreamed of his success. Other hero's were Jeff Kostoff who set every American short-course distance record but failed at the Olympics; old-timer Rowdy Gaines who hung around for '84 to win a gold in the 100 meter freestyle ('80 boycotted, of course) and the great Vladimir Salnikov - the first man under 15 minutes in the 1500 meter freestyle. My mind's eye sees his finish: beefy arms held gently yet triumphantly skyward, eyes closed in relief or pain. Wow. Pictured in front from left: me, Mari, Katie and Leslie Hunt; back row, Tom Vorhees (whose distance records I broke in High School and still hold today - true, Moe?) and Maggie Kelley the backstroker.

Tuesday, April 21

Martin And The Death Business

Here is my man Martin, who I will see at noon-time shortly to work on a ham-string pull. Martin has devised a punishing cross-training program for London Sunday, and eventually we will focus on Berlin (which will not be in fancy costume). So the world focused on Susan Boyle and I have to ask: who the f*** is she? Well, turns out she is A) butt ugly; and B) has a lovely singing voice. Bloggers, like me, go nuts - ooo we are all so shallow for thinking she a dud because she is unattractive .. and before her "Britain's Got Talent" performance, she was booed and heckled .. then a standing ovation and tears from the judges Piers Morgan, Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden who, BTW, is only a judge because she is hot. And while it is nice to listen to Boyle's "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Mis, there is plenty of better stuff in London - tonight, for instance, we are at Cadogen Hall to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Opus 60 (Concert 3 of 4) by Grzegorz Nowak and Emer McDonough; the programme is Mozart: Flute Concerto No.1 and Schumann: Symphony No.3, ‘Rhenish.’ And I could really give a toss about Boyle's appearance.. nor do I care if Mozart performed by trolls, though it would be something to talk about during intermission.

Since Sonnet and I invested in the largest funeral services business in France, OGF, I am learning snippits about the industry. Did you know, for instance, that cremations in France account for ~30% of "disposals" or up from 20% 15 years ago? (in the US, it is 37%, up from 25% in 2000). A growing trend since cremations cost less than the traditional burial causing, no doubt, grief (for the mortician) - modern revenue streams now include "organics," media-histories, and "in-house services" (the backyard? I wonder). Also, death turns out to be a cyclical business - some years more, others less but always a reversion to the mean of approximately 2% the French population .. and the anticipated number of deaths called, matter-of-factly, the "inventory." We bought OGF in a favorable down-cycle following the summer of '04 when a hot French summer resulted in an increased inventory - sadly (and shockingly), many elderly succumbed for lack of air-conditioning or ventilation. Today, this being worked through OGF's cashflow statement. I recently met OGF's CEO and he is not exactly what I would imagine - no black skinny tie nor accompanying black fitted suit .. yes, a bit dour and certainly, too, a sales-man. He knows his business like anybody and came up through the ranks. In short, a company man who could easily be drinking three martini's at lunch then commuting home to Connecticut on the New Canaan line from Grand Central. Of greater importance, this fellow has a genuine understanding of a complex, emotional and necessary service - and so far since us, OGF beating its acquisition budgets .. so yes, it appears recession proof so far. I must ask, however, if not - then what?

Monday, April 20

Green Fields

Here are the kiddies at David and Tab's country house above Bath spa. Photo taken before dinner to catch the fading sun and believe-you-me there was some bribery involved - no photo? no desert! Finally Madeleine decides enough and off she goes followed by everybody else in one, disorganised charge.
So I am listening to The Archers as I write, and as often with the Archers, I have no general understanding of what the hell is going on. It is nice back-ground noise, you see - like Chopin. The Archers a radio program which airs on BBC Radio 4 as it has done since piloting May 29, 1950 - making it the world's longest running radio soap with more than 15,000 episodes broadcast (originally billed as an "everyday story of country folk"). Since 1998 there have been six episodes a week from Sunday to Friday, at around 19:02 (preceded by a news bulletin). All except the Friday evening episode are repeated the following day at 14:02. The last five years has seen scandal as the Archers have taken on abortion, infidelity and homosexuality ("the gays" they say here). I think most find its regularity soothing - like a nice bowl of bran cereal. This is one thing very English, and nobody can take it away from the old-age-pensioner nor the yuf having recently discovered the programming's charm.
The kids back to school this morning, and of course home-work left until last-minute including a book report for Madeleine. I mean, I procrastinated in college and recall a few unpleasant all-nighters and mediocre outcomes at Brown but, seriously, Eitan and Madeleine too young to put things off so. Each upset when we order their work to! be! done! and Madeleine reports on "Six Dinner Sid" which has been a staple in our house for like five years, ie, not particularly challenging. The book about a cat who canoodles six dinners from six families. Still, she goes at it with determination and tongue jutting out from the right-side of mouth like Charlie Brown. I ask for at least five pages - "five pages! Aw, dad - I cannot even read five pages" and settle for one+a picture of Sid with his food-bowls. Madeleine concludes, in writing: "Six Dinner Sid is a lovely book that I like and so will you!!!"


Henrietta, known in school and everywhere as 'netta, on her two wheeler. She and Madeleine share a rough house and tom-boy nature, and Madeleine gets her goat by calling her "Henrietta" - kids to be kids. 

We have known 'netta before she was born - in fact, Sonnet and Tabitha met when both pregnant and hiking around North London. Tab and her family in Bath and we have visited their lovely home before and this time with Stan and Silver, who enjoy the English country-side. The kids go nuts on the play gym and David sets up a bona-fide "bouncy castle" which inflates to house-size using a generator. The thing is heavy, too, and takes some effort to get from the garage to the field. 

David recently retired from Morgan Stanley and now advising government - he takes advantage of his specialist experience, love of politics (his first job post-uni on Capital Hill) and his liberal instincts for fairness .. I listen to what he says and much of it goes over my head - it strikes me that few in politics equipped or educated to understand the grand complexity of the financial melt-down. 

Trillions of dollars in play and do we really trust the guys entrusted to met out the stim-u-lator? Or if capable, conflicted? Ever since I learned that Larry Summers, (only) the White House's top economic adviser, took $5.2 million (that is $5-000-200) from hedge fund D.E. Shaw I have become nervous. 

David notes that a bubble occurs when a small, elite group channel funds irrationally to their interests .. which sounds a lot like Wall Street to me.

"You just think you're Dad so you can toss us about."
Madeleine (angrily)

Romans And Goldman Sachs

Well, it is hard not to think of Monty Python and make a snide remark .. but actually, these dedicated servants of Bath have dressed in costume to entertain us. Unseen in my photo the tens of hundreds of people surrounding the plaza to witness the Roman solider's technique when charging an enemy - usually together, marching forcefully with shields facing forward in advance of a surge (the Japanese tourists video everything, God bless them). Hey, it worked for the Romans for a pretty long good while.

Goldman Sachs has announced that it will return to the tax-payer the '08 £6.1 billion TARP they received to stay in business. Good news, right? Well, yes - until one realises that they have accrued close to £5 billion of bonus money in the first quarter of '09 alone. This is aprox. £2.5 million for each of the 443 Goldman partners. Goldman cannot pay out these bonuses, you see, until they have repaid the TARP early and at the severe disadvantage to the US government. And here is what is so galling : no doubt we are in a liquidity crisis thanks to Lehman Bros.' collapse in September '08, which panicked the market and tightened the credit sphincter with a whoop! The government tried to put together a Lehman-saving public-private package which failed because one investment bank balked - yes, that was Goldman Sachs, who had A) amassed huge long positions against Lehman's counter-balance; and B) shorted the fuck out of the financial sector. In other words, the perfect hedge which they completely controlled. When Goldman forced Lehman to fail, Goldman off the hook for millions in obligations while making a fortune for themselves - at least £5 billion - by shorting the subsequent equity market collapse. Nice work for those 443.

"My policy on cake is still pro having it and pro eating eat."
Boris Johson

Sunday, April 19

Aquae Sulis

We visit Dave and Tabitha in Bath this week end, and Saturday morning visit the Romans (several joke: "taking in the waters, are you?"). Sonnet and I saw the baths maybe ten years ago and the kids now old enough to appreciate their heritage, for Pete's sake - but complaining we do here. Since '98 or '99, the ruins have been upgraded including a most excellent acoustical guide; I learn: Britain's only hot-springs originate in the Mendip hills, about two miles from the spa, from rains that fell over 10,000 years ago. The water collects and descends 3,000 feet where it is filtered through limestone and heated to 75C by the earth's core; the ensuing pressure forces the liquid gas upwards through rock until it finds a break - three springs the outlet for roughly 1.3 million litres of water a day which bubbles forth at 45-47C. The early Romans marvelled at the hot-springs and attributed it with spiritual meaning; they converted swamp-land into a temple by 70 AD and a bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years (pictured). During the Roman occupation of Britain, and possibly on the instructions of Claudius, engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide a stable foundation and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building, which housed the three baths: hot, warm and cold. This an engineering marvel and most certainly the largest building known to Britain and must have been simply awe-inspiring. After the Roman withdrawal in the first decade of the 5th century, the baths fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to mud. They remained buried under 20 feet until "discovered" in the 18th century and restored today.

Part of the Roman fascination stems from places like here - the springs offered a place of worship where animals slaughtered and sacrificed to the Gods .. meters from where men and women bathed together naked and no doubt cavorted. Imagine today attending church or synagogue in racy clothing let alone nude. Or humping right next to the religion. It remains ever difficult to reconcile these two visions of the ancients.

Did you know that a European cow receives £2.50 a day or a sum > than 75% of Africa wage-earners?