Battersea Station, facing north across the tracks.
Eitan and I watch the morning swimming heats from 8:30AM, as we have done every day this week. Today Dara Torres competes the 50 meters butterfly but it is Michael Phelps we anticipate: his 100 meter fly up shortly. The swimming nice background noise, and I also catch the evening finals usually with my feet up. The pool's camera work everywhere - rigging above the pool gives overhead shots while the under-water system offers a perfect stroke review. I think the side-tracking most powerful especially for the breast stroke or fly where one has a sense of the speed and racing. The men, or what we can see of them under their polyurethane rubbers, have beautiful, lean bodies with soft muscle tone unlike any other sport. I think fillet Mignon. It really is the best training - no pounding nor injury. The body horizontal so the heart works less or for longer. Training a combo of stretching, aerobics, power and yoga. I love the transition from poolside into the water which is a complete sensory shift in a fractional moment (usually I concentrate on the temperature shock since a good pool heated at 78-80 degrees and this initially no fun). The first arm strokes most amazing, jump starting the heart, sending blood through the body and pumping oxygen into the brain. It also leaves a wonderful, full-body fatigue afterwards. Very mellow and stress reducing. I have never had a worse day for the sport.
Thursday, July 30
Battersea Station, facing north across the tracks.
Pictured - the Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy.
From the museum we head to the dog pound so Madeleine can see the various breeds. And to look into a "rehoming" too, of course. The pound dates to 1860, when The Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs established by one Mrs. Mary Tealby of Holloway, North London (later named Battersea Dogs & Cats Home; Battersea, where we are today, became the permanent location in 1871). In 1885, Her Majesty Queen Victoria became Patron of the Home, and it has remained under Royal Patronage ever since. Queen Elizabeth II is the Patron today and Prince Michael of Kent the President. Over the years, the kennel has been profiled by Charles Dickens to the BBC and today has a income >£12 million financed entirely by voluntary donations. It is where London's strays and lost dogs and cats are homed and several beefy catchers with their nets on site. This is a caring institution - in many ways, it shows London at its best. The animals well looked after and the volunteers and staff committed to finding homes for their friends. There is never an indication of ill-treatment, the pens spotlessly clean, and the building architecturally interesting with central ramps leading up the yards to an impressive sky-window casting sunlight downward. The dogs are eager to please and how sad not to be able to help each one. I would love to take pictures of the many personalities but photagraphy prohibited as the poor animals already agitated by us visitors.
Rome update: since Sunday, 28 swimming world records broken covering 21 events (a number of races improved from heats to finals). Swimming's governing body FINA has completely failed the sport regarding the swim suit.
Madeleine to a dog: "Don't you worry. I am going to come back for you. I am going to bring you home."
Over breakfast I mention a visit to the Royal Academy which gets an immediate, negative response. Madeleine: "That is so not part of the program" and Eitan lends his full, indignant, support. I sigh - it is not like going to the dentist for Pete's sake. Once the Shakespeares realise their fate sealed it becomes a negotiation of time - like, how much we will spend there. We start at thirty-minutes and take it down to 20 but then their attitude irritates me so I bring it up to 25 then 30 and 35 (Eitan: "Madeleine, don't you see? Just stop talking!"). So from breakfast we stroll along Piccadilly to the RA's Annenberg Courtyard. Last time we were here we met Bryan Kneale whose work then on display. Today three new sculptures on offer - pictured, with the Burlington House reflected. I don't have the artist so will have to return later.
My intention to drag, er - show - Eitan and Madeleine the pre-Raphalites but realise the Summer Exhibition still with us until mid-August and much more compelling for them. The collection includes a wide range of new work by established and unknown artists in all media including painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture and architecture. Much of it strange or shocking, like the piercing eyes of an Iranian women whose over-sized print line-stripped with a cutting knive. Or a Damian Hirst sculpture of silver-man who has removed his skin with cutting scissors. All wonderful and I ask the kids to pick a something that moves them, to be described to dear me later. Madeleine goes straight for a modern: "Lots of swirling paint. Blue. Red. The strokes are heavy and wide; the artist must have used a large brush. It made me feel happy and a bit worried." while Eitan finds an architectural model: "I like thinking of all the people living there"
Thursday, and I have the kids all to myself. The day begins promisingly - sunny and kids in a good mood until Madeleine learns, to her horror - public transportation! She breaks into tears "can't we just take the car, dad? Oh, please .." I consider her sad sack for a moment but no way. Firstly, traffic into town a drag. Then: £8 congestion charge which I would probably forget to pay netting an £80 fine; then parking and finally the planet. Why on earth would we not take public transpo? which gets us exactly to where we want to go: Green Park in Mayfair for breakfast at The Wolseley. A nice bonus is we talk, something which rarely happens when driving and the tuned out passengers watch their urban existence sail by. So on the train, I receive favorable looks: aww, dad with his children. A younger fellow vacates his seat so we can sit together; a lady comments that Eitan and Madeleine well behaved. I'm, like, what? The Shakespeares well behaved? To their credit they are not running around or shouting (to my credit, they know the Hand of God will fall upon them for such behavior). Self contained we comment on various things like Battersea Power which flashes by or who Manchester United will buy with the £81MM transfer money from Ronaldo. It's an ad-ven-tur, which we all enjoy happily once en route. My photo from Waterloo Station underground.
Wednesday, July 29
Ok, so back to Goldman Sachs for a moment. It appears the firm using its new taxpayer-subsidized status to bring increased risk to the financial system, a group of House members charged Monday. Here is the letter:
Dear Chairman Bernanke,
In the fall, Goldman Sachs secured access to government funding by converting from an investment bank into an ordinary bank. Despite this shift, the CFO of the company, David Viniar, said last week that the company is continuing to operate as if it were still a high-risk investment bank: "Our model really never changed," he noted in a quote to Bloomberg. "We've said very consistently that our business model remained the same.
This statement appears accurate. Earlier this year, the Fed granted a temporary exemption to Goldman from standard bank holding company Market Risk Rules, allowing them to continue operating as an investment bank. Goldman and its employees have taken advantage of its new government subsidies, and the retained ability to bet big. In its most recent quarter, Goldman earned high profits of $2.7 billion on revenues of $13.7 billion, with 78% of this revenue derived from high-risk trading and principal investments. It paid out much of this revenue in compensation, setting aside a record $772,858 for each employee at an annualized rate. The company's own measurement of risk, its Value-at-Risk model, recently showed potential trading losses at $245 million a day, up from $184 million last May.
Bloomberg reports that despite Goldman's exemption from bank holding company regulations, thay have accessed taxpayer subsidies, including FDIC-backed bonds, TARP money (since repaid), counterparty payments funneled through AIG, and an implicit backstop from the taxpayer that allowed a public equity offering in a queasy market. The only difference between Goldman today and Goldman last year is that today, the company is officially gambling with government money. Ta da - "heads Goldman wins, tails I - the taxpayer - loses."
Photo of Goldman Tower in New Jersey from earthinpictures.com.
Shot of the OP from several moments ago, sent to me by surfing and investment buddy Hans (note the order). I cannot compare to Britain having never surfed here, but I do know there are good breaks in North Devon - here is a description of Cambeak from Global Surfers (dude!): "Left hand point breaking over rock. A hideously shaped stand up barreling sledge hammer lipped peak. Take off is free fall into a dredging pit, the wave then chills to a fast vertical wall. If the bottom turn from take off doesn't rip the fins out then you have pretty much made it. " Sounds about right.
There is no feeling that compares to knowing a swell hitting the following morning and you, up at 4AMwith your best friends, to paddle into 60-degree water to .. surf. Or boogey board. It is like being eight years old all over again - and sadly, very few things in life compare to that. One day I will return to my beloved ocean but it won't be for a while.
Sonnet with the kiddos today as Madeleine having her neck lump scanned to make sure not dangerous. Sonnet reports back nothing - absolutely nothing - to worry about.
Tuesday, July 28
This neat photo by the AP of
And what of the suit? The LZR Razer, which is sooo yesterday, uses ultrasonically bonded seams that fit a swimmer like a true second skin, as opposed to the stitched-up suits of the past. With low-drag panels embedded within the fabric, the suit designed in conjunction with NASA scientists to find the best performing fabric. The suit's pressure pulls in body mass, making the user more streamline. This has a particularly powerful effect with larger, muscled athletes like Dara Torres, who maintain a consistent exertion yet propelled further thanks to less water resistance. The LZR and similar suits also raise a swimmer's buoyancy levels, which also play an important part in speed. Ian Thorpe introduced a unique and powerful swimming style which took advantage of the saran wrap. Some of the women wear two of them at same time. These suits speed pace by 3-4%.
So swimming's governing body FINA reacts, finally, banning the seal skins from January 2010 making Rome the last competition where they are in use. This presents its own problems like what to do with the great majority of the recent records aided by technology? Do we ignore them or an astrix? Eventually things will equal out but it may take years for the last two to be surpassed. It bothers me that my times, which I worked hard for and am proud of, cannot be compared to what I see on television. It's like juice in baseball - it robs today's participant of their legacy and us old timers of our bragging rights.
"We've lost all the history of the sport. Does a 10-year-old boy in Baltimore want to break Paul Biedermann's record? Is that going to make him join swimming?"
--Bob Bowman, coach of Michael Phelps
Drivers who text should make everybody on the road more than mad (photo from arkansasonline.com). I often wag a finger when I see some dude or mum driving a Range Rover looking at their blackberry or iPhone. It happens all the time. So today the NYT reports on a Virginia Tech study that finds when a driver texting, their collision risk 23 times greater than when not texting. And here is something equally scary: in the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field. I am not particularly worried about the SUV drivers BTW they are plenty protected behind their tons of steel. Pitty the fellow in a smaller car, minding his own business. Driving his kids to swimming practice .. What is further remarkable in the US is that it is not illegal. Thirty-six states do not ban texting while driving. This while texting has soared: in December, phone users in the United States sent 110 billion messages, a tenfold increase in just three years, according to the cellular phone industry’s trade group, CTIA. I don't have the data for the UK but as I mentioned, I see these assholes thumbing at red lights or while driving; using a hands-free mobile is illegal and nets 3 points on your driver's license if caught. This is some stupidity that must not be tolerated.
Monday, July 27
Here is something to consider: "tomorrow's professional is today growing up in a family richer than seven in ten of all families in the UK" says former Home Secretary Alan Milburn Sunday. This means that lawyers beget lawyers, doctors doctors, accountants accountants and so on and so forth. This not particularly surprising since the motivated wealthy guard access to the best opportunities via internships, professional introductions, exclusive networking and private schools which account for 75% of the professions. Social mobility, always questionable given Britain's ancient social classes, more rigid in the economic downturn which leaves fewer jobs at the top and everywhere. Any parent the fool who ignores this phenomenon. A solution might be to direct one's child towards above average opportunity like renewable energy or elderly something-or-other; teach them Chinese or Spanish. If not private school, grammar - which means pushing the brats hard in their academics. The alternative today's yobs, who are often in trouble with unwanted pregnancy, alcohol and drug (The Times reports that a million Britons used coke last year and 60 children admitted to hospital with acute cocaine poisoning; these stats a month after Britain dubbed "Europe's cocaine capital" by the UN). It is no good if our talented never see the light due to their birth station but it is also not government's job to bring this talent forward. It starts at home then the community.
Two markers of Englishness:
1. Starting from today, British children from the age ten are to be routinely asked by GPs how much alcohol they drink.
2. English Heritage is to rewrite its guides to ensure they can be understood by visitors with the reading age of a ten-year old.
I am not the only one who sees a striking similarity between Peggy Hill and Sarah Palin other than the fact that they are cartoon like characters with an attractive form.
For those not familiar with "King Of The Hill," the cartoon launched in '95 or '96 by Mike Judge (Beevis and Butt Head fame) and unfolds in small-town, family-values Arlen, Texas, or one of the last places where "real Americans" can be found. Peggy, on left, is a substitute Spanish teacher who has a poor grasp of the language (referring to it phonetically as "es-puh-nole").
Peggy is also a freelance newspaper columnist, real estate agent, notary public, and Boggle champion. She oftens displays her naïveté and arrogance with an inflated sense of her intelligence and appearance.
She considers herself knowledgeable, clever, and very physically attractive. More often than not, Peggy's ego preempts better judgement, leading to actions that, while initially "helping" her, ultimately lead to a path of agonizing realization of what she has done. Uncanny, no?"
We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. ... We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation." --Sarah Palin, in Greensoboro, N.C., Oct. 16, 2008
"As long as it took that river to carve the Grand Canyon, that is how long women have been learning to subtly manipulate relationships."
--Peggy Hill, undated
Sunday, July 26
Aggie has Eitan and Madeleine over for Saturday night allowing me and Sonnet "a fabulous time to ourselves" says Sonnet. We go to yoga. We stroll Richmond. We have dinner out and go to a movie ("Moon," which we like). This morning, a lie-in and I run 20 miles for my marathon. While I'm out, Sonnet goes through each kid's room and bags le crap then to the dump. Agree, it is a gross violation of their trust, my dear, but every now and again it must be done.
This photo got me thinking - what worries our kids? I ask Eitan: "war" (without hesitation). I suppose good that he is aware of these things. Madeleine more personal: "I worry about getting left at Waitrose" (Sonnet notes that she was lost several times at Carrs Supermarket in Alaska. Stan, Silver?). We try to shelter or filter Eitan and Madeleine from the world but it is always there seeping onto the computer or background on the radio and the television which is often fixed to the BBC. Eitan notes BTW that "it (the news) is always bad" and I try to explain that usually "bad news" is interesting or news. "Who wants to hear about ice cream cones?" I ask him. We chat a bit about sports which at least is not violent accept that Felipe Massa, a Brazilian Formula One driver, nearly dies yesterday in a crash. Eitan chooses to worry about the data. Madeleine, on the other hand, A) is an optimist or B) doesn't care. A simple test: before visible, I ask Eitan/Madeleine if the guard rail will be 'up' or 'down' at a nearby level crossing. Every time Eitan says "down" and Madeleine "up". This says something. I think.
Eitan: "The World Cup is in South Africa."
Eitain, after a long pause: "We have to get ourselves to the England games."
Eitan (while watching the World Swimming Championships in Rome): "Can you do two sports when you grow up?"
Me: "Very difficult at the professional level."
Eitan: "Tevez is a rock star. And Michael Owen races horces."
Me: "Michael Owen races horse?"
Eitan: "I could do football and swimming"
The finish of the Tour de France takes place now, with laps around the Tuileries Gardens, Le Champs and, of course, the Arc de Triumphe (photo of Carlos Sastre of Spain winning last year's race from the Independent). Brit Mark Cavendish leads the last stage sprint to prove he is for real - he is otherwise fourth. Speeds, including cobblestones on the Place de la Concorde, are 25-30km per hour. The race otherwise all about the peloton, or a "moving platoon" of cyclists described, in elegant detail, by wikipedia:
The peloton travels as an integrated unit, each rider making slight adjustments in response to the riders around him (or her) (particularly the one in front of each). When developed, riders at the front are exposed to higher loads, and will tend to slip off the front in order to rejoin the pack further back. In some cases, with sufficient room to maneuver, this will develop into a fluid situation where the center of the peloton appears to be pushing through its own leading edge.
The shape or formation of the peloton changes according to many factors. A strong headwind or a hard effort tends to spread-out or string-out the riders, while a slow tempo or tailwind tends to bunch up the peloton into a wider formation. Side wind forces the peloton to form into echelons in the direction of the wind. Often, the width of the road forces the peloton to form into several echelons. When more than one group of riders want to contest control of the peloton, several lines may form racing one another.
While only the riders exposed to the wind at the front (and the windward side when there is a significant crosswind) of the peloton are the ones doing most of the work, it is usually advantageous to be positioned closer to the front of the peloton. One reason is to avoid being affected by the 'elastic band effect' in which a change in speed becomes amplified as it propagates to the back of the peloton. The rider riding behind a rider who is changing his/her speed must make the adjustment at a slightly faster rate (due to reaction time) to avoid collisions.
Moreover, being closer to the front means that the rider can react to attacks and changes in position with less effort. Gaps sometimes form in the peloton, and being closer to the front also reduces the risk of getting caught in the rear group when the peloton breaks form. Also, the chance of ending up in a crash declines when nearer to the front, because the frontmost riders have the fewest fallen riders to evade. Finally, being at the front of the peloton means dictating the tempo to some degree, and some teams or groups of riders may prefer different speeds as part of their tactics. Being at the front of the peloton is also necessary to initiate a breakaway.
Tactical factors also apply. Teams generally attempt to cluster their members in the peloton in order to maximize their ability to affect the pack as a whole. For instance, if a team member is currently in a breakaway in front of the peloton, it is advantageous for the remaining members to slow the peloton as much as possible in an attempt to avoid catching the breakaway. This can be particularly effective in tight turns or narrow roads, where a single team can block the progress of the pack if they are in a favorable position. A similar situation occurs at the end of the race when teams will cluster in front of their sprinter, blocking the wind as long as possible while still leaving an open path in front for the sprinter to break out near the finish line.
It is typical for large hills to split up pelotons, as the aerodynamic factors are less important at the slower climbing speeds, and power-to-weight ratio is the key determinant of speed.
Alberto Contador of Spain is the overall winner while Cavandish leads a powerful charge to become the first British cyclist to win the Paris stage.
Saturday, July 25
Swine Flu has captured the nation, with government last week announcing out of the blue that 100,000 caught the virus, which could inflict 40% of the population (here's a live shot from Mexico and they seem to be doing OK). Not surprisingly, Government's new online diagnosis service crashed within minutes as >3,000 people per second tried to log on. Otherwise, there are 840 patients in England receiving hospital treatment for H1N1 virus, with 63 in intensive care (comparable figures for the previous week were: 652 in hospital and 53 in intensive care); our Chief Medical Officer reports 26 "provisionally validated" swine flu deaths in England since the beginning of the outbreak. Combined with four deaths reported in Scotland, the UK total stood at 30. Out 60 million. This is no laughing matter but reason to panic? Flu occurs every season, and kills people too - probably many thousands. And why are we like the only country in Europe to suffer the virus?
Britain loves a good crisis. Two years ago it was "bird flu" which was going to wipe out a quarter of the population. There was a scramble for the anti-virus like nobody's business. Pandemics legacy has been with us forever - population density, poor hygiene and the Thames have made our island nation vulnerable over the ages. Plague did kill half of London in the 15th century. Pets quarantined for six months on arrival though no rabies for a century. Still, we are a different country today and the NHS an efficient primary care provider including distribution of vaccine, if needed. We also know to wash our hands. Unfortunately, Government releases a worst-case scenario without its risk weighting (like: there is a .001% chance 40% of the population will get blah blah). Governments job to keep us informed of reasonable risk, not terrify the old age pensioners and every mum in town.
I have yet to meet a swine flu. Sonnet notes that a nearby day-care closed for for a week when one child diagnosed. I am told somebody in my office has the virus (he's quarantined) and we now have sanitation gel and wipes everywhere in sight. So life goes on and we hope Government's assertions, most aggressive assertions, prove to be yet another misplaced communication.
Friday, July 24
Speaking of children in the penalty box, Silvio about to get there following publication of his third sex tape (nearly a box set!). Recall "high-end" call girl Patrizia D’Addario recorded the pair having sex and then discussing performance (Silvio: "it's a family thing") and there is an impact: political outrage in Italy. Massimo Donadi, parliamentary leader of the left-wing Italy of Values party, called the Prime Minister’s behaviour “morally reprehensible”. Dario Franceschini, leader of the main centre-left opposition, said Mr Berlusconi was trapped in his own reality show. Voters are also growing tired of the PM, whose popularity now below 50% (three months ago it surpassed 70). Trying to brush these things off, notes Silvio casually: "I'm no saint." You can just hear the Italian drawl. Wonder what the Pope thinks?
For all of us ex-pats, and particularly followers of Vitter, Craig, Jon Edwards, Sanford et al, we can finally rejoice: a scandal that lives up to the Americans! Hookers, under-aged mistresses, political intrigue, island sex parties and divorce. All this from our main guy Silvio! I am forced - forced, dear reader, to ask myself if there is another motive. Silvio too sly a fellow so maybe, just maybe, he is putting his business - his shareholders' interest - first. Afterall, Burlesconi owns three national television channels, which together have approximately half the national viewing audience; his Arnoldo Mondadori Editore the largest Italian publishing house in Italy whose publications include Panorama, one of the country's most popular news magazines; he retains substantial interests in cinema and home video distribution firms and we know today's antics good for that. Indeed, Silvio's performance may be keeping an entire industry erect employing thousands of people while creating corporate value. Rather than a philanderer and baffoon, he is a philanthropist shareholder, sending young women into politics, paying them direct aid for services rendered, saving jobs and providing a distraction for his people otherwise suffering the economic crisis. He will be remembered as one of the Great Ones. Of this we can be sure. Photo from the Telegraph online.
“You should have sex with yourself — you should touch yourself often.”
--Silvio Berlusconi gives some advise to "high-end" call "girl" Patrizia D’Addario
The kids are going through a phase where they fight. Not, like, yell and shout but punch, really punch, and kick each other. I often observe with a cocked eye - they do need to burn off some steam, the little buggers, and what better way then a smack down? Usually the losing party (and usually Madeleine) resorts to tears knowing full well the battle not over until it is over. The post-action recount often concerns the first punch (or kick, or whatever). Madeleine no dumby - by proving the instigator, she can still stick her brother in the penalty box and no TV or Harry Potter.
The other night, for instance, I turn around to find Eitan on top of Madeleine choking her.
Eitan: "Well, she started it!"
Madeleine: "Did not!"
Eitan: "Did! You did!"
Madeleine: "So what if I did. You were choking me!"
Me: "Eitan no TV. No Harry Potter!"
And so it goes from generation again.
Thursday, July 23
Here is Eitan's classmate pal Luke ("Lucozade") who is from an impeccable family. His sister goes to one of the most prestigious secondary schools in London and his family vacations in St Lucia on a sailing boat hopping from island to island.
Luke uses knife and fork properly, placing his utensils on the plate between bites. I quizz him on multiplications and he knows his tables.
These kids have boundless energy and, though I might try, it near impossible for me to entertain them as I once did. I am out of shape not having spent large chunks of time with the brats since Christmas BUT I pride myself on being goofy at their level, a wonderful training from my mother.
Today instead I find myself reading the riot-act on several occasions and giving Freddy a time-out for rude behavior (says he: "so what?" and looks at me coolly). Sometimes it is a matter of breaking their will. One. Day. At. A. Time.
Madeleine: "Dad, you are the best dad ever. And it is not like there is a lot of choice."