I come home to an inside job as Sonnet tears up the living room. We are going room-by-room and eventually the en suite gold leaf toast. Sooner the better. Our bedroom's green carpet also high on the priority list but, for now, another day. So, pictured, we rip out the existing horrible carpet, correct the ceiling cracks, take down the heavy drapes and change the overhead lights; we sink the flat-screen TV into a wall and re-wire everything. Wi-fi, baby. The fireplace will stay the same, God bless. Sonnet selects a cream and pewter colour palette. Tres lounge. Eitan and I smack Obama-rocks re the new hi-def screen which will cable June World Cup. England BTW ranked eighth going into the finals with, given the talent, a reasonable shot at the title. We have been here before, dear reader. Oh, my, the thought of being in the UK when the World Cup trophy returned to football's founders -- Oooh. oo. oo. I remember like yesterday watching the '98 semi-finals when 18-year old Michael Owen carved up Argentina at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne (France) in a thriller England lost, 3-2. It was like the Cal-Stanford Big Game, '82. Well, almost. Madeleine could care less. Yo, all in the game, yo.
Friday, April 30
So I am greeted at Heathrow Terminal 5 ... by this. How Space 1999. The Jr. Varsity knows that T5 is only for British Airways. More expert travellers will tell you that it is the largest free-standing building in the UK and is as big as 50 football pitches or Hyde Park. There is enough glass to stretch between T5 and Buckingham Palace. The roof can be raised to add another layer in the future. There are already seven floors: four above the ground and three below. The depth to the bottom of the building is deeper than the height of St Paul's Cathedral.
Tuesday, April 27
Sather Tower, only known in the Bay Area as the Campanile, is visible from my parent's house in the North Berkeley hills. It towers above campus and, happily, one can know the time any time. It is probably UC Berkeley's most recognizable symbol, at least I cannot think of another one. Oskie maybe? The Campanile was completed in 1914 and opened to the public in 1917 (my first ride to the top in '76 or '77 on a school field trip). It stands 307 feet, making it the third tallest bell clock-tower in the world. It has thirteen floors and an observation deck on the eighth floor where the bells rest overhead giving one a slightly anxious feeling like, hey bro, I don't want to be here when they chime off (some of the Campanile's lower floors used to store fossils -- I love this tidbit). As for those bells: there are 61 of them or a full concert carillon. They range from small 19 pounders to the 10,500 pound "Great Bear Bell," which tolls on the hour and features bas-relief carvings of bears as well as the constellation Uris Major. During the Fall and Spring semesters, the carillon is performed from ten minutes at 7:50AM, noon, 600PM during weekdays, from 12-12:15PM and 6:00-6:10PM on Saturdays, and from 2:00-2:45PM on Sundays. The bells also toll the hour seven days a week between 8AM and 10PM. At noon on the last day of instruction each semester, "They're Hanging Danny Deever in the Morning" is played. Following that, the carillon is silent until the end of finals. (Sources: Wiki and UC Berkeley website).
Monday, April 26
Last night I re-union with some dear Berkeley friends whom, in some cases, I have known >30 years of my life. Ivor, pictured, and I went to college together and he reminds me that I knew of his acceptance to Brown before he did thanks to an indiscretion from Brown’s swimming coach Ed Reid (Ivor played water-polo). I think I mostly kept my mouth shut. The ten days before college was spent in Bronxville which we used as a launch-pad into Manhattan and the clubs, joined by Dan and John. God bless my Aunt and Uncle, who were in VT for most of our visit. Now that was brave. I did my best to act like a college kid, nipping the family car when I should not have, which still gets play at the family gatherings. Ivor and I lived together Sophomore year next to Delta House, which I famously depledged deciding I did not wish to be in a fraternity after deciding I wanted to be in a fraternity. For his part, he was dating his high school sweet heart,Alison, who was at nearby Amherst College so he was often away on the week-ends (I can appreciate why Alison did not wish to visit us – college living no place for a lady). Today, Ivor and Alison married with two beautiful girls living next to the Claremont Hotel with views of the Bay Area. They are architects and following their early dreams.
So. Habiscus is a dinner club in a cool part of downtown Oakland that is gentrifying. It is not far from the old Fox theatre, which was renovated several years ago and, once again, a top draw for music and bands. Nearby is a Greyhound bus station (with its wonderful logo) next to modern condominiums and Oakland's few sky-scrapers a visible backdrop. I cannot decide if menacing somehow. Christian is an investor in the restaurant and they love him here – before the crew arrives, Christian introduces me to the head-chef, who is a black lady from England. We chuckle about the weather of course. Christian’s interest in Habiscus is presumably for a return but he also supports Oakland and the East Bay. Plus it is a rocking venue.
Sunday, April 25
It is a glorious Californian day for weather, everything a European dreams of. I meet CW at yoga this morning, 9AM. Perry joins us and looks fabulous. The last time I saw her was two years ago in Napa Valley, where her family has a house and we were with our New York friends. She had a different hair style which was then straight and long while now it is curly. It is her hair, though, and not a wig – which she has been using during chemo therapy to kill her cancer. She is recently on the other side of her treatment and has as much, if not more, energy than ever+the cancer is in remission. She continues her life which includes everything Northern California has to offer and her life is blessed. Who knows when life’s curve ball arrives? All we can do is love and fight.
Last night I join my parents in Mill Valley with the Berkowitizes, who host dinner. Our families go back 40 years when Moe and Alan met a the National Labour Relations Board in ’68 or ’69, which was Moe’s first job after Michigan Law. They later became partners at Schacter, Kristoff, Orenstein and Berkowitz doing labour and employment discrimination. Moe and Alan go back and forth on various current and past cases, share some easy gossip, and bemoan today's legal profession which has changed from the Good Old Days when attorneys knew their clients and not pre-occupied with billing hours. Now, it seems more like a meat grinder but a well paying grinder: top lawyers charge over a grand an hour.
Meanwhile, back in London, Sonnet leads an active week end: she organises a class picnic in Richmond Park. Eitan has an overnight party, swimming practice+two football matches (the Blues win both; Eitan scores the winning goal in the first and sets up both goals in the second). Madeleine has swimming and play-dates and “movie night” with mom while Eitan away Friday. Both kids have home work and, of course, their chores. Was I this busy at their age? I. Don’t. Think. So. It helps that the winter has turned to summer overnight and the temperatures somewhere between mild and warm while the sun sets after 8:30PM. Sweet spot.
Image of poppies in bloom at Big Sur, California, from Corbis.
Friday, April 23
Pictured - Tilden at the Nimitz trail parking lot facing Briones Regional Park where Katie and I once hunted shell fossils along the Old Briones Road.
My morning starts at 2AM Pacific time - wide awake and nothing to do but think. Stress. By 6AM I am grateful to be jogging and eventually my anxiety subsides. I visit Peet's (again) and today am rewarded with a pure Berkeley moment: amongst the elderly hippies, standing in line next to me, is Robert Reich who is unmissable in a blue button-down shirt, jeans and running sneakers, the old liberal dog. He is also 4'10''.
Reich was Clinton's Secretary of Labor from 1993-97 and today a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. Otherwise Reich is an East Coaster having grown up in Scranton, PA, and graduating from Dartmouth. He also went to Oxford, Yale Law School, and then became a Professor at Brendeis University where I was hit by a car whilst running a X-country race in college. Seriously - I went over the hood but kept on going. It is not surprising that Reich is now in Berkeley given his political views - it is hard to see him anywhere else in this country, really. Or maybe Cambridge - so perhaps his run for Governor of MA in '02 not unusual.
Reich the first Democratic candidate for a major political office to support same-sex marriage. He also pledged support for abortion rights and strongly condemned capital punishment (eventually Demo incumbent Shannon O'Brien lost to Mitt Romney who won 50% of the vote and gave us all health care, though he denies it vehemently). We need more dudes like Reich to balance Sarah Palin and Glen Beck and the other dip shits who have hi-jacked the Republican party. What a debate that would be: Reich vs. Palin. Brains vs. beauty. I would put my money on the legs.
Thursday, April 22
I arrive at SFO following a longer-than-usual flight as our plane skirts around the ash-cloud. What, me worry? I watch two movies including George Clooney's "Up In The Air" about a dude who travels 240 days a year to fire people. Of course there is a love-interest and hard lessons learned &c and etc. but what I find most interesting (other than a film about the soothing emptiness of air-travel) is the relationship between Clooney's character Bingham and his younger protagonist Natalie Keener (played by 25-year old Anna Kendrick) - I side with Bingham and not the the fresh-faced Keener which, I suppose, makes sense as, well, I am middle age. From where I write, in my parents' living room facing westward and looking straight across the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge in the house where I grew up, it is easy to be swept away by youthful nostalgias. This morning, for instance, I jog in Tilden Park on the Nimitz trail where I have memories from age-five, then high-school and college followed by Christmases and holidays over the years and a third or fourth date with Sonnet when she dragged me one summer morning and I couldn't think of anything else but her. That was in '93. After my run I hit Peet's and watch the Berkeley weirdos who sit about and drug up on coffee. Everybody is super friendly and no doubt this is their scene today and every day. Make love not war, man. Sadly, around the corner one of Berkeley's best book shops, The Black Oak, has closed.
Tuesday, April 20
Monday, April 19
Back to Goldman. In the early '90s, I recall, Collateralized Debt Obligations or "CDOs" were taking off on the continuation of mortgage bond market pioneered by Lewie Ranieri the mighty First Boston in 1987 or '88. Back then, "jumbos" and "subprime" strange words but not evil. CDOs are, in theory, an investment-grade security backed up by a 'pool' of low-risk bonds or loans or other assets of different maturities and credit quality. The pool generates cashflows from principal and interest payments, which can be chopped (or tranched) allowing investors various exposures to different risks and returns. The originator, like bank or thrift, could efficiently move the asset, such as a mortgage, from its balance sheet reducing the need to reserve cash to offset a possible default. This new market offered unheard of liquidity benefitting companies and home-owners alike.
Sunday, April 18
Saturday, April 17
The gang re-unions at the Tower of London. The last time I was here was in November '97 with some visiting friends and Alex and Spencer, who shared our first Thanksgiving shortly later. Alex on the fast-track at JP Morgan and Spencer a hedge-fund investor; both are now retired, living in Connecticut with their three kids. Back then, we drank martinis and thought, wow, London. How sad when they left us after two years.
Goldman Sachs accused, Air Space closed across Northern Europe, Big Brother comes to its end in Britain. Talk about a strange series of events to end the week, none of them, dear reader, could have been predicted - especially Goldman, given how deep they are in Washington's pockets (though some saw it coming when the firm moved to New Jersey. Hello? Tony Soprano?). We know about Goldman alums Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin running the economy and handing away tax-dollars but how about Michael Paese, a Barney Frank staffer who is now Goldman's top Washington Lobbyist? Paese's position formerly held by Mark Patterson who is now the current Chief of Staff at the Treasury. You don't have to be a genius to put those dots together. So here is the pig in the poke: John Paulson (no relation to Hank) knew the subprime market over-valued trash so he went to Wall Street to find a partner who could express his vision. Enter Goldman, who aided Paulson by building a portfolio of shit, Abascus 2007-AC1 and 100 other similar vehicles, which Goldman sold to unwitting pension funds who are the country's workers, families and grandparents. While the pensions anticipated a gain, Paulson bet against it and made $1 billion when Abascus value collapsed; Goldman also took part in the trade. Unlike Paulson, who made his views public, Goldman flogged their product as investment quality without informing their buying-clients that Paulson had selected some of the portfolio's securities. As one trader says, "this is like betting on penalty kicks and not knowing the other guy a goalie." What is surprising about all this that the SEC, who famously flubbed Madoff and, so far, has failed to identify one crooked arrow despite trillions lost since '08, finally shows some teeth going after the biggest bad-ass on the block. Could it be public pressure?
Thursday, April 15
Any blog from London at some point must include a description of the London Eye, one of the most surreal objects here or anywhere. It rises above the river with burnt South Bank, Lambeth and Southwark behind it. I snap this photo crossing Westminster Bridge on a clear, windy, night following a fancy, schmoozy, dinner at Whitehall honoring excellence in private equity. My friends at Astorg Partners take top-honours for France and we share a celebratory table. Bravo. The Eye, meanwhile, inspired by the Grande Roule which seems appropriate given my mates. It stands 135 meters and the largest Ferris wheel in Europe; it has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over three-million people each year. Good God. When built in '99, it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel, since surpassed by others, yet remains "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel" as the entire structure supported by an A-frame on one side only. Still Number One, people. Still Number One.
Wednesday, April 14
We have a family morning in town to renew our passports - here is the boy before the American Embassy, next to Grosvenor Square. Once upon a time, before 911, the Embassy open to the street and we strolled inside with no security. It is an administrative building, after all, and US soil since 1960 when the offices relocated from nearby Portland Place whose grounds now a private club popular with New Media during the go-go years. I hung out there once. Today, the Embassy a concrete monster consistent with the architectural style of that era when London awakening from the war and pouring concrete like nobody's business. In front of the Embassy is a statue of Eisenhower whose Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force was kitty-corner to where I stand now taking Eitan's photo. By 2001, the building surrounded by road-blocks spread ten feet apart; by 2003, a steel gate, CCTV and entry check-points+police in Kevlar vests with machine guns. For final access, a US soldier sits behind a bullet-proof glass - his sole job to unlock the entrance door. He sits straight and looks directly at us. Before him yesterday, we pass security similar to any good airport and I must leave my wizzy gadgets with a guard. Sonnet brings water for the kids which I am asked to sample or spill. I drink. All this will one day be in the past, at least in Central London, for the Embassy will soon move.
Monday, April 12
Madeleine loves this hamster who, I admit, the cutest of the bunch we have so far enjoyed (I recall from my own yuf that hamsters are a trial-and-error sort of thing. They escape. They die. The pet store has an endless supply). On the week end, Madeleine brings Tommy downstairs 3-4X a day for a cuddle and the poor, shell-shocked, creature puts on a good face, being woken from its deep daily slumber. Yesterday, however, Tommy decides enough is enough and gets his front teeth into Madeleine's plump, middle, finger. All hell breaks loose as the poor kid screams - Sonnet and I bolt for her - then tears. Oh, sweet tears! We gently wash our darling's finger then sanitise and bandage the wound while soothing her anxiety. A trail of red blood follows us from Madeleine's bedroom to the sink. Poor child, innocence lost. Today, Madeleine unable to practice her trumpet since "my pushing finger" still hurts. The ramifications, dear reader, profound.
Sunday, April 11
Madeleine and I visit Richmond Park this morning to feed the ducks (or "the quackers" or "quacky quacks" as she once called them). This one smart enough to be away from the badelynge and I reward her with bread for being an entrepreneur. We do not have enough of these birds in our country and soon it may get worse as taxes go up and people bail. Jim Ratcliffe, for instance, the UK's most successful post-war entrepreneur is moving to Switzerland to escape Gordon Brown; Ratcliffe founded Britain's largest private company -- chemicals group Ineos in 1998 -- and is taking 20 of his execs with him. This will save him, and cost us, over £100MM but worse (for us) he will not try another company in Britain, taking his potential with him.
Saturday, April 10
Friday, April 9