Tuesday, May 12

MPs' Expenses


Eitan, despite his serious or even anxious nature, has the capacity to goof. I like this about him.

The noxious smell around ministers' expenses has reached epicness as standard government practices exposed by Fleet Street. And why today? Well, firstly, the 2000 Freedom of Information Act took force in 2005 but with delayed-controversy around certain items relating to "national security." In 2007 an Amendment tried to exempt Members of Parliament and Peers from the 2000 act but failed. Finally come July and nine years later, MPs' expense reports will be released to the public. Brother, this is a leaky ship if ever there was one and The Telegraph, God bless them, has enjoyed insider status all the way. Each new revelation trumps the prior: from inappropriate second-mortgages to the sauna and today a moat and on and on to the next - each front-page news. MPs, for their part, failed to appreciate their hot-potato and get ahead of the curve by releasing their records themselves in advance. Instead they wail: "We acted within the rules." So here is the run-down: our 642 MPs receive £64,766 per year salary+allowable expenses which go untaxed. Many of them commute to Westminster so need a flat or second home and so receive reimbursement up to £23,083+a further £2,812 for London. Fair enough. Staff costs, travel expenses and the cost of running an office: £21,339 and £90,505, respectively; Stationary £7,000. Plus gas, temporary staffing, spouse and family travel &c. It all adds up in a big way. Unfortunately, the majority of ministers view their allowance as an entitlement and have simply gamed the system. Without transparency, human nature takes over and voila: a bona fide scandal. Bare in mind per capita income here is about £25,000. To attract qualified government, we must pay a reasonable rate and know what we are paying. The inner rot only weakens our democracy. I am not the only one itching for the next election.

Monday, May 11

Peddling


Here is all you have to know, from the Huffington Post and The Atlantic:

In 2008, the largest corporate or trade association source of campaign contributions, including employees, was Goldman Sachs at $6.9 million, followed by JP Morgan Chase at $5.8 million while Citigroup at $5.5 million, came fourth; Morgan Stanely $4.3, 7th and the American Bankers' Association $3.7, 10th. Over the past two decades, Goldman has been the second largest corporate contributor at $30.9, beaten only by At&T at $40.8 million. I have blogged about Goldman before, most recently for ripping off the United States by shorting the financial sector, playing part in Lehman's collapse, then trying to repay TARP so their partners can pay themselves $2.5 million each in accrued bonus from the Lehman trade. Take a look at the Q1 report for yourself. Further showing Wall Street's money-pockets, the financial sector never once earned more that 16% of domestic corporate profits until '86 or the Ivan Boesky era (who can forget his Time Magazine cover in December '86? He was later fined $100 million for insider trading back when that kinda money meant something. Prick). From then to 2000 it reached 30% then 41% this decade. Pay followed: from ~100% of the average for all domestic private industries in '83 to 181% by 2007. We have every reason to be pissed - and why are the Democrats and Obama treating this with kid gloves? Our system has been hijacked by a few who take for themselves and I don't yet see an inkling of the regulations needed to address the problem.

Sunday, May 10

Kenny & The Peace Corps


Kenny and Moe, pictured before my wedding to Sonnet at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. That would be August 24, 1996 unless you review my marriage certificate .. but then, that is a longer story. Kenny is Moe's oldest friend from St Louis and remains one of his closest to this day. I first became aware of Kenny and his family from the 1970s when we holidayed together occasionally. Kenny is a pulmonary doctor in Los Angeles and teaches at UCLA. He is also a Rhodes Scholar. I think both he and my Dad had a need to get out of their confines to reach a higher potential. Moe signed up for the Peace Corps (the first Peace Corps, mind you) after hearing President Kennedy announce the program at Michigan University in 1961. Then, Moe was a law student and did not particularly care for the Kennedy family and especially the anti-semite Joe Kennedy; nor was he overly impressed by JFK in the televised Nixon debate. He was, however, mesmerised by the President's vision and decided on the spot to be a part of it. Since '61, more than 195,000 people have served as Peace Corps volunteers, one of them being my mother - Moe and Grace met in training camp and off they went to Malawi, Africa, to get to know each other. How cool is that? This a story I tell often BTW and still to this day - from the Peace Corps to Berkeley, California, in the late '60s. My parent's liberal credentials are deep, man. What an adventure that must have been for two very cool spirited youthful people.

Eitan refuses to do homework. I tell him: "OK, I am going to talk to [Head Teacher] Mrs England and tell her you suggest more homework for the school."
Eitan: "I am going to talk to Mrs England and tell her that you are mad."

Eitan's class prepares for an overnight and today his teacher fields questions and concerns. Eitan volunteers that he once peed down the stairs while sleep-walking.

Me to Madeleine: "What on earth are you doing?!"
Madeleine: "I have no idea."

“to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.”
John F. Kennedy

More Silvio


It is hard not to turn my family blog into a lingerie site given the antics of the Italian Prime Minister. Here we have 18-year old model Noemi Letizia who is, apparently, the reason for Berlusconi's wife of 19 years Veronica Lario to throw in the towel. Since my prior images have focused on political bunnies proposed by Berlusconi's People of Freedom party to the European Parliament, we must wonder about Noemi's youthful ambition. In a wonderful interview in the Italian La Repubblica newspaper, she indicates a lack of preparation for the summer's regional elections; instead "I prefer to stand for the lower house of parliament" adding: "Papi Silvio will fix it." This a rather, ahem, amazing observation even for Italy. Noemi goes on to explain her insider's access: "He [Berlusconi] calls me, he tells me he has some free time and I join him in Milan or Rome. I stay there listening to to him. That's what he wants from me. Then we sing togther." I'll bet. Given Letizia a minor until two-weeks ago, one would think that voters might take umbrage but they don't: a poll by Ipr Marketing last week shows his popularity to be 66% or the highest of any European leader. I bet he and our Bill have some fun comparing notes - imagine Clinton's advise (in a word): detergent.

I am not unawares that Italy offers a lovely distraction to our ailing planet and ripped-off democracies. Berlusconi seems to be daring us - go on, you can't stop me or the embarrasment I cause and really, I respond: go fuck yourself (and I do mean literally).

Manchester Darby


Eitan and I watch the Manchester Darby pitting arch-rivals Manchester United vs. Manchester City which has moved up the league tables since being owned by the Arabs who have spent lavishly on the players. Eitan notes that ManCity's Robinho set the transfer record at £32 million ("32.5, actually"). When I ask Robinho's first name, Eitan shrugs and notes - "doesn't have one" placing him with Madonna and Prince or the great Pelé, which was actually a nick-name. Top players earn >£50,000 per week and I look at Eitan: "remind how much you get for allowance?" and we both crack up. The number of weeks of savings to reach one week of Ronaldo (£150K/ week) incalcuable to him. What makes Manchester so divided is that the die-hard fans who have been supporting United or City date back >30 years, before ManU took the world by storm in the '90s with their glamour pusses Ryan Giggs, Dwight York and the Neville Brothers. Then there was David Bekham - an androgynous sex goddess who remains remarkable on the pitch - few can match is cross-field placements and he holds the record for England caps at 110 (and counting). I've been to Manchester and there's not much exciting - urban redevelopment, a few lavish, out-of-place sky-scrapers (even these only 20 stories) and an ancient canal from the Industrial era which I have jogged. Well, anyway, ManU up 2-nil at half so the boy is happy.

Rules


The British hate to diverge from their unspoken little rules, which is why they are so early to queue and irritated by those who fail them. I have seen nastiness in the parks, on the roads and in shops over simple things that could otherwise be easily ignored and yet. For instance, today, jogging in Richmond at the Richmond Gate there is a busy round-about that unites cyclists, joggers, families, walkers and autos who simply go out of their way to own the intersection. Adding to the grumpiness is the batch-nature of the culture: everybody does anything at the same time. I pull into the athletic complex for Eitan's football Saturday morning, 9:15AM, which is empty until 9:30AM when the parking lot overfloweth. Boxing Day is one long traffic jam as London arrives, en masse, at the same parking garages for the same sales. Commuters commute on three train departures bunching around 8AM looking grouchy as they stand crammed together like sardines. Grocery shopping at Waitrose peaks Sunday morning .. and on and on it goes. CCTV ensures we march to order. We could easily become a distributed society spreading ourselves across the day, lessening tensions and going counter to the lemming mentality of our island nation. Maybe this would reduce the national passtime of binge-drinking. It would require a mind-shift impossible from everything I have so far observed. The British are engaged by rules, you see. They love structure. And everything has its place from top-to-bottom, which we all accept happily or not (compare this to the US where nobody content with their lot and always looking for a leg up). Perhaps the UK's 60 million odd survive in this confined space the size of Kansas due to its nature. Or perhaps their nature simply trends towards a natural identity different from anywhere else.

My photo, taken Thursday morning 10AM, of Smithfield's Market in Clerkenwell facing Holborn at New Fetter Lane and the boundary of the City. I used to work nearby shortly following our arrival to London. The glass buildings new - or at least since '00 - and the distant one the HQ for Sainburys which is the second largest grocery chain in the UK following Tesco. This is London's transformation - from the grim and grime of post-War '60s-style concrete to shiny glass and steel. Do you think improved?

Saturday, May 9

Kermit The Frog

Madeleine picks the "Muppet Movie" for tonight's home-screening and boy, does this bring me full-circle: I remember seeing the film in '79 and now again as a parent. Sonnet and I are cackling within the opening credits where we see all the favorites: Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog, Dr.Teeth, Rowlf and Waldorf; Frank Oz as Fozzie, Piggy and Animal; Jerry Nelson as Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry; Richard Hunt as Janice, Statler,Beaker and Scooter. Dave Goelz as Gonzo, Dr Hunnydew and Zoot. Charles Durning and Mel Brooks. Wow. Wow. Wow. Kermit opens with the wonderful song "Rainbow Connection" while Fozzie gets booed off stage setting up one of those great friendships enjoyed for the ages by the ages - right there with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin or Bogey and Bacall. The travel-buddy plot finds Kermit and his new found friends treking across America to find success in Hollywood, but a frog-legs merchant is after Kermit. Somehow life's humanity distilled in a frog, and we are saved from ourselves, hallelujah.

Movie's first lines:

Statler: "I'm Statler. "
Waldorf: "I'm Waldorf. We're here to heckle "The Muppet Movie".
Gate Guard: "Gentlemen, that's straight ahead. Private screening room D."
Statler: "Private screening?"
Waldorf: "Yeah, they're afraid to show it in public."
Sniggering follows ..

"This is a narrative with very heavy proportions."
Dr Teeth

Camilla Ferranti


Here is another Berlusconi selection for the European Parliament - as if you had to ask. Berlusconi's wife filed for divorce - finally - over this and comments made by Noemi Letizia at her 18th birthday party two-weeks ago which Silvio attended, to everybody's surprise including Noemi, and gave her a gold-necklace ("When Papi Silvio calls I come!" she gushes). Noemi also a babe and one can see her plump rump on the Internets. I guess she is yet too young for European politics but give her a couple of years, unless she does something against the grain like get a degree or, horror, experience. So the divorce: let us not think that wife Veronica Lario did not know what she was in for. Born in Bologna, Lario was a hot actress in low budget films but retired after meeting Silvio. Oh, and she is twenty years his junior. So Berlusconi consistent. All of this would prove less amusing if we were not talking about the longest-serving Italian Prime Minister since il Duce was hung to bleed in '43. By my count there have been 35 between the war and now. So Berlusconi doing something right or, at least, he owns Fininvest which controls three (out of seven) national television channels, various digital television channels, and some of the larger-circulation news magazines together totalling about half the Italian market. Think his voice is heard?

Madeleine wants to contribute a letter to this blog. I tell her: type a letter, any letter, and here she goes (after a long hmmm): J

Wig+Run


Here is Catherine and hubbie Peter at her "gett'n jiggy with the wiggy" party (I pinch the photo from her FB). Neat couple, and we remember her wonderful wedding in Pacific Palisades - which was about 115 degrees and me in a very black tuxedo+disco dancing then a drive north to San Francisco on the HW1. What else compares?

This morning is the school "fun run" or a five-mile jaunt through Richmond Park ending on the playground. 350 children, parents and teachers participate or maybe 100 more than last year. I might suggest the morning a fairly relaxed affair and while the course measured there are plenty of short-cuts pursued en route. Strangely some of the adults pretend like it is the Iron Man or something and complain about finishing in one piece. I guess the complaining a bonding thing. Or complacency makes one week. I run with Eitan, Harry and Luke who I take to calling "Lukazade" after the sports-drink. I ask the boys to join me in maths calculations to help endure the pain, dear reader, which gets their stony silence between huffs and puffs. We walk a few times and work out a stitch (Harry had flap-jacks an hour beforehand but insists he is not going to barf). We finish in 52:25 which not a bad go for a bunch of 8-year olds. I spend the morning's remainder working the BBQ serving up beef-burgers and sausages, Cokes and Krispy Kremes with the other volunteers - you know, healthy food. Eitan wraps it up with a pick-up football match and I let him play, sunning myself in the warm sunshine.

Friday, May 8

Badgers

Here is the Badger Squad, all from Madeleine's school-class and still learning how to play together. They participate in Friday-Night-Fives while this evening their third match, which they lose 7-nil, God bless them (Madeleine notes: "their eighth goal didn't count.") Andrew offers himself as "manager" (not Coach, he insists) and we watch the kids run back-and-forth generally enjoying each other if not somewhat non-plussed by the outcome. I say: who cares? as long as they are having fun.

On the car ride home, I ask Max how he played. He, after a thoughtful pause: "We took a thrashing."

Max, Madeleine and I discuss the meaning of a [workers] "strike," which they overhear on the BBC radio News Hour between rape and murder. When I ask for a definition, Madeleine: "It is when you smash things. You hit people, and you get really angry." Max adds helpfully: "It is a protest where you kill the people you don't like." And yes, I am a bit concerned by their response however it does indicate a certain competitive nature I suppose.

Barbican

Sonnet and I go to the Barbican to see, appropriately enough, the Le Corbusier exhibition. Sonnet introduced me to the architect in '98 when we visited his masterpiece Villa Savoye in Poissy outside of Paris. We had a picnic on the green grace. 


The show is one of the worst displays I've seen, not nearly matching the opening statement which notes "Le Corbusier the most influential and important architect of the 20th century." On display is a mish-mash of various chambers showing uninspiring sketches, furniture and paintings which is not surprising given his best friends the post-cubism elite like Picasso, Miró, Calder, Giacometti and Braque. Only one room dedicated to his most influential works including Ville Voisin, a grand vision to plant 20 enormous towers into the heart of Paris's Left Bank adjacent to La Cité and Notre Dame. Mon Dieux - it would have been a catastrophe. 


 The Barbican, pictured, I find more compelling: the name medieval Latin barbecana, "outer fortification of a city or castle" which sums it up perfectly - inside, one feels surrounded and sheltered from the outside horrors. The estate was in planning from WWII and includes 13 terrace blocks, grouped around a lake and green squares inside the complex - immaculately maintained I may add. The main buildings rise to seven floors above a podium level, which links all the facilities in the Barbican and providing a pedestrian route above street level. 


Coloured ground-lines guide us about. Some maisonettes are built into the podium structure. There is no car access but there are several car parks; there is also The City of London School for Girls, which is one of our best, if kinda creepy given its inner local. Along with a world class Arts Center (whose Director I once met for a role of some sort via Sonnet's uncle Shelton) housing the London Philharmonic and Royal Shakespeare Company, the complex contains London's three tallest residential towers at 42 stories. Ghastly and depressing are two words that come to mind. 


 Yet. And yet - it is a fabulously interesting work and one wonders: who on earth would live here? Indeed, given the Barbican's proximity to the City, there are bankers and financiers who enjoy a pied-a-tier or old-aged pensioners who moved in during the '70s when the thing was built. I am told on good authority that a two-bedroom flat sells for a cool £1 million minimum. The crow-like one would have been proud.

Prior to Le Corbusier, whe go to St Paul's for choir music then after to St John's for dinner, where I eat bone marrow and herbs then ox heart with horseradish mash. We spend the night in Clerkenwell at a lovely hotel whose premise dates back to the 16th century. Ho hum.

Thursday, May 7

Data Control

In a victory of civil liberty advocates and me, UK DNA profiles of innocent people will be deleted from the national database after the European Court deemed this profiling illegal. I learn that Scotland Yard maintains DNA records on 10 million British citizens ! From today, all genetic material taken from the unconvicted, such as blood or swab samples, will be destroyed. This amounts to 850,000 files. Wow - go figure. Still, others accused of serious violent and sexual offences who are released without charge will have their genetic profile stored for 12-years under the Home Office plans. And those falsely accused of less serious crimes will stay on the database for six years before being removed automatically. I don't doubt for a minute that the DNA database will play a vital role removing shitheads from the street, but we must continually battle government's over-reach: eventually and inevitably, our DNA taken at birth and kept forever linked to our ID card with our vital data but for now - rejoice in our small victory. I listen to the radio meatheads who call in to argue that since they have done nothing wrong, they don't fear Big Brother. This a slippery slope, my friends. CCTV, for instance, initially to thwart serious crime and now local councils spying on dog owners who don't pick up. Soon we are all looking over the shoulder. And further, it took the EC to reel in civil violations - not our earnest Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (recently embroiled in housing allowance abuse and her husband's porno-stash, which she unwittingly expensed). The Magna Carta? you may ask. My guess most British cannot say one thing about it. Datacenter photo from Hosted Solutions in Raleigh, NC.

The Magna Carta BTW was issued in 1215 and protected certain rights of the 'King's subjects;' it became the writ of habeas corpus.

Self Portrait VI


I watch Chelsea robbed in last night's Champions League semi-final, which nets a draw with Barcelona 1-1 at Stamford Bridge. Because the blues failed to score an away goal at Barcelona in their prior qualification match, they had to win outright to advance to the final against .. you guessed it .. Manchester United. The Norwegian ref blew three calls that would have netted a penalty-kick, the most glaring an open hand ball inside the penalty box. Barca's goal came at two minutes into injury time or 92 minutes, so particularly devastating for Chelsea. Afterwards, the referee escorted from the pitch surrounded by four security guards and I thought Drogba to take a crack at him. He then taunted the BBC and us, before being wrestled away by his colleagues. I have never seen that before. In truth, I think the ManU v. Barcelona final in Rome next week more compelling - these the best two clubs in Europe and really, the world - nowhere else do you find the global stars and the Big Bucks. Chelsea lost last year's EUFA championship to Manchester United on penalty kicks and more recently again 3-nil in the Premiere League (Eitan reminds me). Eitan sent to bed at half-time and grumbles on his way upstairs: "life is so unfair. You just don''t understand me .. " and so on. I find him later curled around his transistor radio, sound asleep.

Sonnet up early for a morning run and what starts out with brilliant sunshine now grey and overcast - all inside an hour. How we love our weather here. I ask Eitan what is on his mind; says he first: "Nothing." Come on, I prod. So further: "ManU v. Chelsea. And Nike boots." Madeleine stumbles into the dining room with a bowl of cereal and hair a rat's nest looking blinkered. Eitan and I both look at her for a moment. She's sleep-deprived, you see, thanks to the football which has kept the kids up until 10PM these past several nights. Across the table she notes:"I am eating Special K. It is my favorite." When I ask why, she replies: "I don't know?"

Madeleine: "can I get a bird for my first pet? The gold-fish don't count."

Wednesday, May 6

Smart Car


Check out what I saw in Richmond this afternoon - pictured. Yes, the future of observation is with us. The Smart Car mounted with CCTV, which roams the streets looking mainly for parking violations but also other "incidents" of lesser rule-breaking. I know this because I spoke to the two chaps driving the thing, which was parked on a back-street as they filled out paper work (neither took kindly to a photo -so I pinched this one from the web). By coincidence, today a first-trial of the long-debated national ID card, which takes place in Manchester. Eventually, Super Gee would like all of us to have one - for faster identification, you see, since a passport apparently not enough. The total-cost initially tallied to £40 billion, but more likely way more once implementation in swing (who can trust govt costing figures after the Millenium Dome fiasco?). And who pays? Me, directly - about £60 initially - and the rest by the tax-payer in, you know, a win-win situation. The ID first raised four years ago following 7-7, which killed 52 people and injured another 700. In 2005 we had more money for such a scheme, or it felt that way cr-unch. Eventually, the card will access a central database with our travel (scanned at Heathrow or where-ever), health, credit and so on and so forth. What a terrifying thought - private information in one centralised database accessible by me and my Big Brother. Boy, now I am feeling unsafe and inconvenienced+out of pocket. For a country that relishes its freedoms, we seem to choke on the hairball.

A-I-G


AIG now says its paid-out bonuses of $454 million in 2008, or 4X greater than initially reported. This a shrewed calculation I think - get the bonus thing into the public domain then, once the tides recede, raise the amounts. Smart. Still, it is small beer compared to the amount AIG has received in federa aid, which now >$170 billion - an unimaginable number, really - think education. Or infrastrurture. Public works or the arts. Oh, well. Most people by now generally sick of Wall Street and hearing about the ongoing mess. Part of the reason, of course, the complexity and its relentless nature. Who can really understand TARP or quantitative easing (though boy do we know a bunk bonus scheme when we see it). I had dinner with two friends last night who are at the cutting edge of our salvation. Eric works for consulting firm McKinsey & Co. where he was co-head of global strategy before consutling governement; he has written a tomb The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. His book describes how advances in fields ranging from evolutionary theory, to physics, biology, computer science and cognitive sciences are changing the way economists view the workings of the economy. David, who we were with several weeks ago in Bath, ran Morgan Stanley's hedge-fund business and early-on concerned about the bank's massive, uncontrolled nor wholly understood balance-sheet exposure. David now a Special Senior Advisor to David Miliband. The general mood, unfortunately, gloomy and they question why Obama has not used his early political capital to wipe out failed-bank shareholders, instead giving them a free pass with $trillions of our bail-out money. Geithner and we prey that the private-sector will fill the capital-vacuum but until Treasury marks assets realistically (which they won't, given their propped up insolvency) investors remain shy. Our Yellow-Brick-Road paved by Japan, whose fits and starts netted a "lost generation" and rather than diverge from that experience, we follow them to Kansas. Or in today's world - Pakistan, which crumbles under the external financial stresses with their nukes and extremism+a hair's breath from civil chaos.

London noticeably quiet last night as I drive to dinner in Mayfair.. what could it be? Oh, right - football and a huge game: Manchester United vs. Arsenal at Highbury. Eitan has five lads over to scream and cheer and there is plenty to be grateful for as the Red Devils defeat arch rival 3-1 in the FA Cup semi-final. Ronaldo nails a 41 yard free kick at 10 minutes - holy mackerel! - then another for lights-out. The famed Arsenal coach Arsen Wenger calls it "the worst night of my career." For six little kids in Richmond, it is exactly the opposite.

From Ronaldo, pictured, is it too obvious to point out who sponsors Manchester United, the most valuable franchise in the world? You and me, baby. You and me.

Tuesday, May 5

Silvio's Girls

Here is another Berlusconi candidate for the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. Angela Sozio, pictured, is an aspiring "politician" who hopes to be one of Italy's 72 MEPs. She is well known to the Italian public through the reality television show "Big Brother" (Grande Fratello) where she demonstrated her full potential remaining until the very end. And while I was not able to find any further qualifications on the Internets, in 2007 she was photographed by paparazzi holding hands with Berlusconi and "carousing" with him along with four other young women at his luxury Sardinian villa. This demonstrates her political networks and people-pleasing capabilities necessary for vote-gathering. I have no doubt she will hold the post.

Going through old papers, I find a green Valentine's Day card from Eitan to us which I like. Underneath a pop-out red heart:
"I may be a riddle.
I may be a rhyme.
I am of the colour of red wine.

Today is the day of Valentine."


Madeleine: "How long are we going on holiday?"
Me: "I don't know - about 14 days."
Madeleine: "That's good, Dad. A goldfish can survive for 14 days without being fed."

Eitan and his football, indoors at breakfast: tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap
Me: "Can you stop?"
Eitan: Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap
Me: "Enough! Next time it goes in the garbage."
Eitan: .. tap... tap .. tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap
Me: "That's it! No Manchester United vs. Arsenal tonight."
Eitan: "Dad, you are so unfair! You just don't know what a kid likes!"

"I want young faces, new faces, to give People of Freedom a fresh image in Europe."
Silvio Berlusconi

Monday, May 4

The Pru, Some Debt and Number One


Here is my departing shot of Boston, taken on the way to the Logan airport (Don't worry Dad- Eric driving). The Prudential building front and center. I like Boston's skyline - it does not beat the crap out of you like New York or Hong Kong. Modest in scale yet enough oomph to be anticipated. Maybe like San Francisco. Or Frankfurt.

Gordon Brown is really on the down-sling (next general election: June '10 or before). The UK economy over the barrel registering GDP contraction of 1.9% in Q1 while the IMF forecasts -4.1% for '09. Thanks to then Chancellor Super Gee's boom-time "thrift," we will see public sector deficits of >12% GDP for the next several years - figures associated in peacetime with developing countries or emerging markets en route to an IMF programme (read: bail-out). Remember Gordon's "golden rule" of no borrowing to cover ongoings? Large deficits will persist into the second half of the next decade. Not counting the cost of the banking sector rescue, which will likely approach £1 trillion, public debt will hit 80% of GDP two years from now - with the moribund economy, public debt of 100% or more becomes a likely possibility - even if we do not add the capitalised value of Britain's unfunded public sector pension commitments (which are binding obligations, at least in theory). This, my friends, is bankruptcy. And so what? you may ask - well, given Britain's need to issue £200 billion worth of gilts to keep running, we are beholden to the financial market's confidences. '78 re-visited, we may be forced to consider the IMF but: A) we don't really qualify for a loan and B) with £175-200 billion of annual borrowing, the IMF's stockpile of $240 billion doesn't stand up. This why Chancellor Darling raised the upper-tax to 50% last week and is limiting further discretionary stimulus to a paltry 0.5% of GDP (Super Gee don't like this). Further tax hikes inevitable and govt programs to be cut back for sure; say good-bye to restoring British infrastructure to levels achieved in the 19th century - an often stated goal of New Labour. Education and health care will suffer too. Incredibly, this mess not from war but rather a massive systemic peacetime failure with a large domestic component. There will be no political surprise come 2010.

Meanwhile, Italy pursues a strategy-of-diversion: below, Silvio Berlusconi's Barbara Matera proposed for the European Parliament elections.

Garrison Ave.


Eric (and I) toss a few bikes, a mattress, several old PC peripherals, a rat cage (large) and some old furniture - pictured - onto the street for Monday morning removal. We could do more, but Eric notes this may offend the rubbish collectors. Otherwise, inside, his office filled with cabling, academic books, multiple computers, a rubber band pile, some bones, post cards and other things that his intellect fancies. This quite the opposite from me, where I have scanned all my office docs then thrown them out- nothing but a picture or two of the kids to distract my concentration. Eric spends his time writing code for an ingenious calculus training tool and crafting problem sets for his maths class. It all fits together. This morning we go for a four-hour walk towards Lexington and hit the Blue Ribbon BBQ in Newton on the return - it is the best I have had since Sonnet and I stopped outside Kansas City whilst driving across the United States. I tell the large chef, who looks at me blandly then cracks a smile (thinking, I'm sure, "white boy knows bbq"). I love walking and during my recovery from the Internet go-go I often joined Sonnet to work picking up a strong coffee on the way. Our then path began from Maida Vale, crossed Bayswater and climaxed in Hyde Park where we tipped our hat to Albert at his memorial. Sonnet continued to the V&A and I usually ended up at the British Library reading something or other - probably the "Master and Commander" series. Any way, walking frees the tongue and there is nobody I would rather goof with then Eric.

My flight from Logan Int'l to Heathrow without incident. I manage to sleep and now at home, writing on a 'Bank Holiday Monday.' And - surprise! - it is not raining. [Correction: it is raining]

Eitan: "Hey, Dad, guess what? Nicholas Anelkha played for five teams before Chelsea."

Sunday, May 3

Ben

Ben shows me his stellated icosahedron on the back porch - pictured. A icosahedron is any polyhedron having 20 faces while stellated refers to "stars"; Ben has prepared his by hand using origami paper. He intends to make 50 of these formations and a floating-mobile. Ben is an exceptional kid who is educated at the Sudbury Valley School, which I saw on '60 Minutes' ten years ago for its unique approach to education. Ben and his mates arrive on site any time between 8AM and noon where they must spend at least five hours doing .. whatever they wish. There is otherwise no structure nor grades and to attend, one must spend a week determining "a fit." I observe children from four or five to 19 cooking, doing art and playing Dungeons and Dragons or reading on a lumpy pillow bed beneath enormous windows .. they can play video games or watch movies, surf the Internet .. whatever strikes their fancy. The grounds are immaculate, located in the Massachusetts countryside. It is, no doubt, an alternative approach to learning and for Ben it makes a lot of sense as it allows him to explore his genius without worrying about a syllabus, national testing and the ever present thumb-on-forehead which is our national school system whose quality, sadly, has deteriorated along with many things US these past eight years (or more). I wonder if Sudbury kids go to college - and it appears most do not. Following five years, they receive a 360-degree evaluation from colleagues and adults who determine a readiness to enter society (without grades or other forms of standard review, I am not sure what a college application would look like). Sudbury could not be more different from my Berkeley education and London for Eitan and Madeleine - while I and my kids seem to thrive in a structured and organised environment, I fully appreciate that others thrive in just the opposite.


I give Ben a dollar for this picture.

Saturday, May 2

Bad News Bears

Eric and Gorham coach the Somerville soccer team which Eric calls "the Somerville Thunder." The Thunder have come far from their first season when the squad lost every game played. Indeed, today's result 5-1 against but the outcome longer the norm: last season broke even "representing ourselves proud" says Eric. The youngsters have been together at least three years and enjoy themselves and each other and for many, this their shot at organised sports and they go for it. I quietly observe the ball-skills and note the Somervilles have yet to master the wide-field and mostly bunch together in clusters shuffling back-and-forth, back-and-forth, between opportunities. They make up for strategy with brute force outweighing the opposition by several stone. There are a number of violent take-downs. The sidelines like anywhere - parents pitched in foldable chairs or standing anxiously, yelling encouragement: "spread out! Open space! Not in the middle! Not in the middle! Not in the middle!" The ref a nice kid who, it turns out, applying to college and wait-listed at Brown (accepted to Harvard and UPenn). On today, Eric says: "the team played with a lot of heart but not a lot of brain" (player and son Jonah rolls his eyes). Eric adds: "they [the Thunder] cracked the code of the other team's offense and put a stop to their heretofore effortless scoring." Amen; I am happy to be a witness.

Back in London, Sonnet takes the kids to meet Britain's new poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy at the British Library. She is the first women to hold the post. Madeleine entranced by Duffy's reading while Eitan openly miserable because he is misses the Manchester United game. He tells me on the phone: "bor-ing."

Eric on my business: "Racking people to get them to invest in your little schemes."

Friday, May 1

Sever Hall

Eric in 214, shortly following his class. Otherwise, there are 45 students in the roster who are all eager to learn maths, God bless them. Eric's style "avuncular yet chilling" (his description) and he emphasizes concepts with wonderful illustrations like people free-falling from balloons (terminal velocity) and salt content in a golden-pond (rates of change). I've not had calculus since Freshmen year, when I was taught by Prof. Thomas Banchoff who was also my academic advisor. Banchoff on the cover of Time Magazine two weeks before I met him and my already weak mathematical foundation made worse by a certain anxiety around Banchoff bordering panic. He was a kindly, elderly man with coke-bottled glasses and white beard who smoked a pipe; unfortunately my public school training gave me little in common, at least about his favorite subject which was the fourth-dimension whose expression he famously visualised "in a fractional moment of inspiration" he once told me. So back to Eric: his class lively with lots of hands popping up and questions throughout, handled by him efficiently. He works from a textbook that he co-authored and his orientation with the students - them against the publishers. I love his quirky style, which would have been useful for me post-graduation pre-banking. Oi!

Maths

I'm with Eric, arriving in Boston yesterday afternoon and arrive in time to see him in the classroom. He teaches a group of continuing ed students differential equations and here, he performs a simple integration using terminal velocity to provide context for introducing separation of variables. Eric is a natural. His students clearly love him - and it is a joy to see him move around the chalk board. I do note that Eric, not a slave to fashion, brings his own unique style to Harvard - he notes "homeless chic" which might not be too far off; at least it is consistent with the grunge look I see around me otherwise on campus. I am reminded how extraordinary the Harvard community - I overhear conversations in French, Arabic (I think) and Japanese while picking up on young peoples conversation (jet lag makes my senses hyper-sensitive). A group of students discuss abortion; hippies Obama. Forums cover Israel and the Middle East and market-regulation post recession where I recognise the speakers, if by name only. Extension classes offer everything to anyone who has the time and inclination. Spring campus at its best preparing for graduation and alum who, presumably, are potential doners - Harvard has the largest endowment of any school at >$40 billion, though who knows what it is today. (Eric now paces to get at his computer)


Eric: "the most basic type of integral equation is a
Fredholm equation of the first type:

 f(x) = \int_a^b K(x,t)\,\varphi(t)\,dt.

The notation follows Arfken. Here φ is an unknown function, f is a known function, and K is another known function of two variables, often called the kernal function. Note that the limits of integration are constant; this is what characterizes a Fredholm equation."