Friday, October 31

More Buildings

Here is a no-name building that abuts Waterloo train station - I take this photo yesterday on my way home from Rothko. It is horribly bleak, constructed I'm sure when London began filling its bomb craters (I recall Ludgate Hill at Blackfriars Bridge nearby Botts & Co - there was a city block of rubble from WWII; today it is a modern high-rise). The appropriately named "brutalism" architectural style of the 1950s and 1960s, as pictured, evolved from the work of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. An offshoot of modernism, it was uncompromising in its approach, believing that practicality and user-friendliness should be the first and foremost aims of architectural design. Materials such as steel and concrete are favoured. The city skyline began to rise in the 1960s with the construction of Centre Point (1963-67), which rose to 120 meters smack dab in the middle of London at Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road - an abomination unless you are in it, then wonderful views. Other early high-rise edifice include Hyde Park Barracks (1967-70) and the Barbican residential arts and conference complex; the 124 meter Euston Centre (1963); and the Post Office Tower, reaching 124 meters.

“A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”
Le Corbusier


Eitan shows his teeth - we were supposed to visit the dentist this week but Dad got stuck on a conference-call and then got stuck in traffic going to the clinic. Dad was pretty PO'd especially because the nanny dressed the kids in shorts even though it is like freezing in London. The good news is that I make an effort, and it is an effort, not to take out the day on the kids. Especially when they are in the back seat screaming or biting each other. Yes, I breath deeply and do what every father does in the circumstances: turn up the radio.

Tonight is Hallowe'en (where does the time go?) and again Sonnet will host a pre- tricks or treats? party. From there it is a candy grab. Some costume shuffling has Madeleine from clown to witch (complete with broom) while Eitan to be ... wait for it now... a footballer! That's original - the boy doesn't have to change from this morning's camp (pictured). Yesterday the Shakespeares did up their pumpkins with Natasha while Sonnet turns the gore into pumpkin seeds.

"Let me tell you my thoughts on tax relief. When your economy is kind of ooching along, it's important to let people have more of their own money."
W., Boston, Oct. 4, 2002

Skate Punks

And yes it is Friday again. I snap this image walking from the Tate Modern to Waterloo. The skate-boarders congregate underneath the Southbank Centre home of iconic Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and The Hayward. This is where the London philharmonic plays next to jazz, modern dance and poetry. More than any place else, it is Britains cultural destination since construction in '51. Unfortunately too it reflects the architecture of that period: cement, and lots of it. London needed cheap buildings following the WW and concrete the answer. As for the skate rats, they occupy the dark, ground level space looking perfect for a good mugging. The designer must have had something in mind - maybe parking? - but instead unused and eventually derelect despite the splendors above. The yuf made it their own and following a many-years struggle with the police and blockades London finally said WTF not? and let them have it. I watch blacks, whites and Pakis show their stuff mostly riding cement blocks or jumping from platforms. They are self-contained and ignore the idle observers - of which there are many. In the end, as with everything, it is just another freak show.

So the US Treasury prepares its >$40 billion program to help delinquent homeowners avoid foreclosure. The problem is negative equity - it is anybody's interest to stop making their obligations if their $1 million borrowings supports a $600,000 house. The government agrees and contemplates reducing prop values (and hence P&I payments) for those who cannot make ongoings. How they prevent an all-in is beyond me.

"I can press when there needs to be pressed; I can hold hands when there needs to be -- hold hands."
W., on how he can contribute to the Middle East peach process, Washington, D.C., Jan. 4, 2008

Thursday, October 30


Erik and I check out the latest objets d'art in the Grand Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. On display is TH.2058, by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerester who "imagines a world 50 years into the future, as the inhabitants of London take shelter in the Turbine Hall from a never-ending rain." To do so, one pushes through heavy, plastc, multi-colored curtains guarding the work and is then assailed by the sound of rain; inside, the Hall is filled with 200 empty bunk-bed frames scattered with books, over-sized sculptures, a massive screen playing extracts from science-fiction films, and piercing lights that suggest some unseen surveillance. From the guidebook: "TH.2058 explores the notion of a shelter, inspired by Gonzalez-Foerster's ideas of real and fictional situations when London has been under attack – by flooding, bombing or invasion." The pictured spider is at least 30 meters and its legs twice that - difficult to see, but in its pouch are white egg sacks.

On The Unilever Series which makes these wonderful exotics come true: "Every year since 2000, an artist has been commissioned to make a work of art for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. And every year, the innovative and significant sculptures create a buzz in London's Tate Modern." Way cool.

"But oftentimes I'm asked: Why? Why do you care what happens outside of America?"
W., Washington, D.C., June 26,2008

On Bikes

Erik poses with his favorite gaget - a remarkable, folding bicycle which he takes everywhere. The toy snaps into briefcase-size and easily checked at restaurants or museums - as we do today for both. I used to have a similar red Folder in the go-go webby days to get from our Maida Vale flat to the Warwick underground station. With a nob's twist, the Folder collapsed into half-size to be stored in a hall-way or where eva (full disclosure: I thought that damn thing cool rather than good transpo). Folders were popular in the '50s and '60s when everybody broke and the tyranny of the automobile yet to come. Now there is a movement back to the foot peddlers started by our commie mayor Ken Livingstone and continued by Boris who, as far as I can tell, has never excercised a day in his life. London now has a bike-network and while still dangerous to scoot about it is better than when we arrived. Erik informs me, without hesitation, that biking London is twice a car's speed and I believe it: one study leading to a congestion charged noted that driving in the Capital slower today than 100 years ago.

"When I see an adult on a bicyle, I do not despair for the future of the human race."
H.G. Wells

"Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
W., in parting words to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at his final G-8 Summit, punching the air and grinning widely as the two leaders looked on in shock, Rusutsu, Japan, July 10, 2008

On Buildings

I have always enjoyed this simple building in Vauxhaul, not far from MI5 (which is an abomination of green and cement). I take a photograph awaiting the 344 Bus to the Tate Modern (I tell Sonnet "an advent'r" which it promptly becomes as I get completely lost in SE1 with no taxis any wheres). London has compelling architecture though very different from my other Big City - New York (Providence does not count, oh boy). Unlike the Big Apple, London does not do scale - sky-skrapers top out at ten or twelve floors though the City and Canary Wharf go higher+we are getting Europe's tallest with Rogers' "Shard Of Glass" at Tower Bridge assuming, of course, the financing holds up. London has done an admirable job of maintaining its historical skyline and the steadfast rule is never taller than the Wren Dome. My book-club friend Tim notes that "a city becomes beautiful only after the construction stops+200 years" which I think an interesting observation. Of course today there are as many cranes as I have ever seen - I count over 20 - which means for sure the boom is over and we are heading for bust.


This Bloomberg graph pretty much says it all. The green reflects the Fed's interest-rate reductions to offset a feared recession following the the telecoms/Internet collapse. All that cheap cash went into the housing market.



This morning, pictured. I experience life's spiritual in Richmond Park on my walk - the false dawn presents a frozen tundra as frost covers everything including the tall reeds - it makes me think of a BW negative. Trees are autumnal orange and yellow and while there is the dead and dying yet remain green leaves and grass for an unusual backshade. The contrasts are resplendent in the misty fog and there she comes - the hazy, deathly sun over the horizon, one side unbroken treeline, the other dotted with Corbusier towers sharp and angular. My moment of other-wordly occurs at Roehampton Gate when I pass within 15 feet of a stock-still buck whose antlers must reach six or seven feet a side; he follows me with his eyes while puffs of raw air shoot from his nostrils. On the other side of the toe path: two youngsters butt heads (the only sounds this morning) and farther still their heard of females. From Monday, as every first Monday of November, the park closes from early dusk until dawn for the culling which lasts six weeks.

Wednesday, October 29

Kool Kid

Madeleine before football camp. A cold front has brought winter cold+frost this morning, so I force the kids to bundle up before taking them to the pitch. In these troubled times, it is good to learn that Manchester United has no fear of losing its best players and that is because AIG, despite being bailed out by you and me, will continue its €25 million per year sponsorship. It is nice to know that our tax dollars go straight to WAGs row, Manchester, where new-money and guaudy mansions exist in their little gated community. Eitan anyway thinks this to be excellent investment - he would sooner eat eggplant than see Rinaldo leave Old Trafford.

Madeleine slugs away at reading - this morning it is Katie Morag, a can-do gal who lives on the Island of Struay (author: Mairi Hedderwick). Katie is continually harassed by unwitting family or embarrased in front of friends; she finds herself in predicaments requiring cool resolve and clever calculations - always she perserveres and we are the better for it. Morag reminds me of The Great Brain or Harriet The Spy but less developed - afterall, it is meant for early-stage readers and that is Madeleine whose sentences stumble from her mouth with little aid from me. She uses her sounds to work through more challenging words and I give her 5p for every time she says Ā instead of AH - she must pay me the same in reverse. At the end of today I give her a high-five for work well done.

"$250,000 over a lifetime? I bet they're stealing that every day in Washington."
A salty Alaskan on NPR re Senator Stevens' guilty verdict (presumably she will vote for Stevens next week)

"This thaw -- took a while to thaw, it's going to take a while to unthaw."
George W. Bush, on liquidity in the markets, Alexandria, La., Oct. 20, 2008

"There's no question about it. Wall Street got drunk -- that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments."
George W., speaking at a private fundraiser, Houston, Texas, July 18, 2008

"The economy is growing, productivity is high, trade is up, people are working. It's not as good as we'd like, but -- and to the extent that we find weakness, we'll move."
W., Washington, D.C., July 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 28

Ladies That Lunch

Arthur and I have lunch at The Wolseley then head across the street to the Royal Academy to see the "Miró, Calder, Giacometti, Braque: Aimé Maeght and his artists" exhibition - here is Aimé (centre) with the Chagalls (picture from Maeght archives). Arthur The Engineer is in town for his Penthouse, which he renovated by himself including electrics and everything. Recall his expertise satellite networks. Since moving to Fairfax, VA, 18 months ago with Northrop he reports that life is not quite so interesting - not surprising following ten years in London where he was building the police's secure-mobile communications network, I suppose. So we have a catch-up then see some wonderful art - Calder always strikes me as shallow but I do love the Braques and Miró (who is new to me) and Giacometti. Ah, Giacometti - his "standing woman" and "dog" are remarkable and totally different from, well, anything. Eight identical smaller bronzes on permenant display at the Tate Modern. As for Aimé, his gallery opened in Paris in 1945 and was to become one of the most influential and creative of the twentieth century.

Monday, October 27

National Day

Super Gee's plans for a bank-holiday-Monday "national day" to encourage the celebration of Britishness have been quietly dropped. I kinda like the idea of a a patriotic celebration similar to July 4 or Bastille Day in France; the idea was put forward in 2006 following the 7/7 bombings.

Hamburgers and Equal Pay

There are few things Madeleine enjoys more than a hamburger, which consistently ranks in the top-three with pizza and ... pizza. The kids on fall break and begin football camp this morning. I drop them off at the park where they spend >three hours practising their skills and playing matches. Eitan, not surprisingly, up at the dawn dressed and ready to go. (Unfortunately) we have all morning which, for them, drags on and on and on.

For posterity, here is Sarah Palin's explanation re her and John McCain's opposition to the recent Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which sought to counteract a Supreme Court decision limiting how long workers can wait before suing for pay discrimination.

Palin: I'm absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act - it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.

Couric: The Ledbetter act sort of lengthens the time a woman can sue her company if she's not getting equal pay for equal work. Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman's ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that's today.

Palin: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.

Couric: Why shouldn't the Ledbetter act be in place? You think it would result in lawsuits brought by women years and years ago. Is that your main problem with it?

Palin: It would have turned into a boon for trial lawyers. Again, thankfully with the existing laws we have on the books, they better be enforced. Se we won't stand for anything but that. We won't stand for any discrimination in the workplace - that there isn't any discrimination in America.

Madeleine, age 6, can do better than this. An interesting bench-mark: would I trust a 6 year old to stand in for Governor Palin? That would be a tough one, you betcha.

Sunday, October 26

On Mandelson And The Sunday Papers; Madeleine On Unfair

An in-class photo appropriately posted on the eve of half-term, which keeps the kids away for ten days. This one taken in Mrs. X's class whilst making cookies.

The kids come home from Aggie's this morning excited and exhausted, a bad combination and immediately there are tears when I tell the Shakespeare's we are not going to Snakes and Ladders (full disclosure: I am lazy). It rains so we settle into a Sunday afternoon routine: kids finish home-work, Sonnet reads Harry Potter and I leaf through the papers. I used to hate the UK Sundays especially comped to the New York Times but now I enjoy their shallow-reporting of British concerns. I am not being patronising - but the articles never more than a half-page and no more in-depth to the BBC Radio 4 which keeps its news-reporting to a short minimum.

For instance, today the Fleet Street rags focus on Shadow Chancellor Gordon Osbourne's relationship with Russia's richest oligarch Oleg Deripaska who deals in metals - Osbourne may or may not have solicited £50,000 for his Tory party. This is where the fun begins, you see. The politically inexperienced Osbourne let slip some secrecy about rival Peter Mandelson whilst on Deripaska's £80M boat in the presence of Nat Rotschild. Well, Mandeleson tit-for-tats influencing friend Nat's father Jacob to force Nat to write a letter to The Times discrediting Obourne, which he does. Then the worm turns. Now all eyes on Mandelson who also knows the oligarch and lies about their first meeting in 2006 or 2007. It turns out Mandelson and Deripaska dined in Moscow in October '04 weeks before Mandelson becomes the European Trade Commissioner and - surprise! surprise! - certain EU tariffs on European imports of Russian aluminium eliminated favoring - ding! ding! - Deripaska. If you follow all this, well done. Mandelson has been sacked from government twice for his shadiness and now it may be a third - what is equally surprising is Super Gee's appointment of him and why?

Madeleine begs me to buy her a pair of reading glasses at the neighborhood pharmacy.
Me: What do you need to do before I get you reading glasses?
Madeleine: Get a subscription? (I think she means presciption)
Me: Guess again
Madeleine: give you ten pounds?
Me: Yes, but something else too.
Madeleine, after some thought: Know how to read?
Me: Bingo!
Madeleine: Aw, dad, that is sooo unfair! Alison has a pair and she so cannot even read!

Sonnet: Madeleine, please come down and set the table for dinner.
Madeleine: Why don't you give me a break?
Sonnet gives a dressing down to Madeleine, who comes to me sniffling: "it is not even fair. I did not even say anything mean - I just wanted to have a break from doing all the chores!" In this instance I cede to her understanding of the expression.)

Madeleine, to no one in particular: "Life can be so unfair."

Saturday, October 25


With Kevin Rily as QB all the way, the Bears handle UCLA at Memorial Stadium (sans hippies in the trees - we will get our athletic extension folks. Earthquakes be damned). Even Katie notes that the Bruins "are pansys" and she should know being at the game and all; before that my parents host a pre-kickoff party for 30 (touchdown Bears! as I write making it 41-13). It is a nice fourth quarter, which I listen to online following dinner at the Gaucho Grill in Richmond overlooking the Thames. The kids are with the Agster tonight allowing us a romantic and yuful evening to ourselves (of course Bears first - Sonnet awake upstairs). Over dinner we discuss kids and parenting, past girl-friends, Microsoft (not sure why) and middle-aged banality. I love looking across the white table at Sonnet who listens to my wine-soaked stories and puts back interesting ones herself. We hold hands walking riverside to the car, remarking on a lovely London. Final score Cal 41, UCLA 20.

Photo from

John Lennon

Madeleine back from the toy store and models her new specs. The kid has got some style. Aggie arrives in 45 to take the Shakespears for a night away. She has recently moved into a new pad and tonight invites Eitan and Madeleine to a slumber-party. They have been looking forward for several days and Madeleine plans which of her 75 buddies will get the nod. Eitan meanwhile contemplates DVDs and the treats. Looking at Aggie, I command "no TV. No sweets." Both kids are stunned (in unison: no TV?). I add 7PM bed-time, no late night giggling and most certainly no fun and they are on the inside of the joke. This morning Sonnet runs a loop of Richmond Park then we head to the Hampton pool so I can swim laps while the kiddos splash about. These days I am using flippers, which have been a revalation - I have changed my stroke to accomodate the added leg power and it feels like I fly through the water. Rather than a fast turnover, my arms "catch-up" and consequently I hold more water; my legs further stablise my body while providing propulsion. The new style remains without the fins and for the first time I do not use a two-leg cross-over kick, which I have been doing for >30 years. This stroke served me well for the mileage but not so efficient. And the proof? I normally take 19 strokes in a 25 meter pool. Today, without the flippers, it is 12. By comparison, freestyle sprint world-record holder Matt Biondi who I swam with in HS would take six or seven pulls. Phelps I don't know but it is probably about the same.

Grand Parents

Imagine how proud these folks are of their grand-son. Any fellow is proud of his kids or grand-kids, no doubt, but to watch your son (or grand son) move into pole position of a presidential race? Wow. Katie and I always knew our parents were proud of our achievements, well, because they told us in more ways then one. Our parents must have burst when we got into the Brown and Harvard schools, which then to me never seemed like something that would not happen. Today I interview the same youngsters who are incredible and yet not admitted at least to Brown (Katie's first college reply BTW was a rejection from Michigan - the only one she got). So to be a white grand-parent to watch your black grand-kid moving towards the grandest title in America represented by a white, older, political generation... having lived through the '60s civil rights movement, NYC black-outs and looting, the segregationist south and Jim Crow. Having seen the KKK and lynchings. Again, wow. For me, I think Obama is the coolest black guy I have experienced including my many amazing ethnic friends in Berkeley who pursue law, jazz, banking. Re Obama, it is about time brother.

Sonnet: Madeleine, can you spell "friend" for me?
Madeleine: F-R-A, no wait, P-H-U, no... Can I spell cousin instead?

Eitan farts loudly and everybody cracks up (accept Sonnet). Says he: "That was a whopper."

Madeleine swallowing loudly: "Eitan, did you hear those big gulps?

Sonnet to everybody: "If you are trying to annoy me you are doing a pretty good job right now."

We talk presidential politics over Sonnet's home-made broccoli soup.
Asks Sonnet:
"what do you know about the candidates?"
Eitan: "John McCain supports war. And he is not in good health" (Madeleine nods her head)
Madeleine: "Well, that old man chose the pretty lady because he is in love."
Eitan: "He is not!"
Madeleine: "Is!"
Eitan: "Not. Any ways, you don't even know her name."
Madeleine: "Do!"
Eitan: "Do not"
Madeleine: "Well, if you know, what is it smarty pants?"
Eitan: "You're just asking me because you don't know."
Madeleine: "Not!"
Eitan: "Way!"
And so it goes.

Friday, October 24

Red Hat and Bill Gibbs; More Sarah Palin Funnies

Here we are at Friday again. The Rays and Phillies tied 1-1 in the World Series (which sorta krept up on me), I can still withdrawel money from a bank and polls show Obama out- pacing his rival McC. So on the balance, life is good. Last night, Sonnet and I have a date attending Bill Gibbs at fashionisita Zandra Rhodes's gallery on Bermondsey Road in South London, an edgy part of town south of the Thames. Sonnet knows Rhodes who I meet briefly - Rhodes is known for many things including her colour which is pink. Her hair, for instance, is pink. She also has cool diamond spectacles, terrible teeth and was friends with Gibbs who died from cancer in '88. Gibbs was also a contempory of Ozzie Clark and came up around the same time as Ozzie during London's swinging 60s (Adam points out that "swinging" means something rather different today. Thank you Adam). Also like Clark, he was a highly respected International style and fashion icon and clothing designer who was much in demand - many celebrities and stars wore his clothing including Twiggy (who openeded last night), Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Bianca Jagger and Tessa Dahl. Gibbs was ahead of his time which then was mini-skirts and space-aged stuff. From there, Sonnet and I go to a noisy supper and I am intrigued by a couple smoking before us on the other side of the glass- they are young and sexed up and I am happy to ease drop on their intimacy which reminds me, I tell Sonnet, of Doisneau.

Yesterday's daily idiocy:

Brian Williams: "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist under this definition?"

Sarah Palin (seated next to McC): "There's no question that Bill Ayers by his own admittance was one who thought to destroy our U.S. Capital and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There is no question there. Now others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that it would be unacceptable to, I don't know if you're gonna use the word "terrorist" there."

As pointed out to me, in 1970 Bill Ayers and The Weather Undergrond gave warning of their attacks unlike anti-choice terrorists: Dr Barnett Slepian and Robert Sanderson (killed in 1998); Dr Jack Fainman and another unnamed physician (wounded in 1997); Dr Hugh Shorted (wounded, 1995); Dr John Bayard Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols (killed, 1994); Dr David Gunn (killed, 1993); Dr George Tiller (wounded, 1993). Nor did they give warnnigs in most of the >200 clinic bombings and arsons since 1993, most recently in Albuquerque, NM, in December '07.

Thursday, October 23

March '03

Time flies. I attend Madeleine's class today and Mrs. Y has the kids preparing for tomorrow's visit to a Synagogue - there are only a few Jewish kids in the class. I do not think our neighborhood particularly religious despite the number of churches including one across the street from the school. The kids have to write a few lines on how to behave during tomorrow's field trip. They go to work, boy do they. Between various moments of complete silence and concentration there is... chaos. I help with grammar and sentence structure - things like: "I will not run into the street" or "I will not throw anything at a car." All of sudden I am worried. Madeleine of course is thrilled to have me around and looks up at me with the most loving eyes that melt my heart every time. It is good to be dad. After the busy chores, Mrs. Y does class-room inter-actives while I do reading one-on-ones. There are some Big Things Year 2 must learn and reading is top of the list. It is hard, hard, work and I watch the struggle of sounding symbols, putting pieces together and making words - all the while trying to stay focused. Somebody once told me the hardest thing one learns to do is walk but now I am not so sure.

In the gym I leaf through a stack of magazines. Ok, they are women's magazines and I pull this little chestnut from the January '08 Marie Claire on how a gal must sort out her finances: "... consider investing in a buy-to-let property (be careful here, however, as the property market is likely to be choppy this coming year), thereby setting yourself up with a regular income, and growth for years to come." Now that is just one bad piece of advise as prop values off 20% this year. Here is another: "if you have some cash to invest, look at buying a hotel room." Did anybody finish primary at this magazine?

Back to the John Humphries - Sex Ed segment on Radio 4 this morning. By far the most awkward moment of an already cringeful ten minutes was Norman Wells of the Family Education Center uses his 14 year old daughter as an example of why we need responsible training in the class-room (presumably she is "active," you see, as Wells did mention she has a boyfriend). Can you imagine that poor kid? A teen-age Madeleine would cut off my nuts and still not feel vindicated should I ever do such a thing on national radio.

Madeleine, out of the blue: "Is it Thursday!? Oh, no!"

The Roman Wall

Here is Hadrian's Wall at Housteads. In '98 I walked the Wall with Stan and Sonnet while Silver smacked the damn thing before returning to the car. She was well satisfied, I do recall.

Hadrian's Wall was built following a visit by Hadrian 122 at a time when he was having military difficulties in Romain Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire. However the construction of such an impressive wall was probably also a symbol of Roman power, both in occupied Britain and in Rome. Construction probably started in 122 and completed within six years. The route chosen parallels Stanegate road from Carlisle to Corbridge which was already defended by a system of forts, and was constructed to prevent entrance by small bands of raiders or unwanted immigration from the north, not as a fighting line for a major invasion.

The initial plan called for a ditch and wall with eighty small gated milecastle fortlets, one placed every Roman mile, holding a few dozen troops each, and pairs of evenly spaced intermediate turrets used for observation and signalling. Local limestone was used in the construction while the milecastles from timber and earth; turrets were always made from stone. Construction was divided into lengths of about 8 Km. One group of each legion would excavate the foundations and build the milecastles and turrets and then other cohorts would follow with the wall construction.

Early in its construction, just after reaching the North Tyne, the width of the wall was narrowed to 2.5 metres or even less. Within a few years it was decided to add a total of 14 to 17 full-sized forts along the length of the wall, including Houseteads, holding between 500 and 1,000 auxiliary troops. Some of the larger forts along the wall were built on top of the footings of milecastles or turrets, showing the change of plan.

After the forts had been added the Vallum was built on the southern side. It consisted of a large, flat-bottomed ditch six metres wide at the top and three metres deep bounded by a berm on each side 10 metres wide. Beyond the berms were earth banks six metres wide and two metres high. Causeways crossed the ditch at regular intervals. Initially the berm appears to have been the main route for transportation along the wall.

Abbreviated notes from Wikipedia.

PS: the Wall is 80 Roman miles or 117 kilometres long.


Britain has the highest teen pregnancy in Europe - 4% of under-18s, or >50,000. Subsequently it is announced today that sexual education will be compulsory in England's state primary and secondary schools. Returning from my morning swim, I listen to Radio 4's John Humphrys interview Kevin Ward, headmaster of the Holmleigh Primary School in Hackney. The exchange, heard by >4 million, was classically awkward in a British sort of way: Humphrys trying to get Ward to say, exactly, what is said in the classroom and Ward simply unable to say "penis" or "vagina" for the children's "naughty bits." Ward actually comes across quite reasonably noting that the teachers may respond to the children's questions about their "differences, including 'down there' " if part of a natural course of discussion. From there, Humphreys probes birth control (pronouncing, in Queen's English, "cun-duhms") and I learn that children do not get protections-training until Year 6 or about age 11, though Ward notes that the girls "may well be into their changes before then."

Teen pregnancy and STDs are obviously a problem here+fueled by drinks where Britain ranks at the very top of Europe's worst offenders. Surprise surprise. At least our government is trying to tackle the problem head-on and setting guidance for schools and teachers across the country. It is a tough battle given the sexed up media and our relaxed views on wine and spirits - outrageous, for instance, that beer is the largest, and most visible, supporter of football via advertising. These kids are no dummies.

"Ladies, just a little more virginity if you don't mind."
Sir Herbert Beerhohm Tree, actor and writer, 1852-1917

Wednesday, October 22

The Casting, 2007

Sonnet and I went to the Robert Capa opening last week at the Barbican. Capa not the only artist on display - pictured, by Omer Fast.

Erik and I go to the British Museum this afternoon to see Hadrian, whose display ends this week. Hadrian served as Emperor from 117 to 139, succeeding Trajan who weakened Rome's influence through reckless expansion; Hadrian by contrast fortified a defense though Rome's decline already underway. Despite his own great stature as a military administrator, Hadrian's reign was marked by a general lack of major military conflicts, apart from the Second Roman-Jewish War. He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopatamia, considering them to be indefensible.

The Hadrian peace policy was strengthened by the erection of permanent fortifications along the empire's borders, the most famous of these being Hadrian's Wall in GB and the Danube and Rhine borders were strengthened with a series of mostly wooden fortifications, forts, outposts and watch posts, the latter improving communications and local area security. To maintain morale and keep the troops from getting restive, Hadrian established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies. Although his coins showed military images almost as often as peaceful ones, Hadrian's policy was peace through strength, even threat. In other words - talk quietly but carry a big stick. What do they teach these kids at Yale anyway, George Bush?

Since these were Roman times Hadrian, who was married to Sabina, had a homosexual lover Antonios. When Antonios drowned in the Nile Hadrian was heart-broken and celebrated his lover's death with statues and festival.

From uncensored Spartacus (1960)
Licinius: Do you eat oysters?
Antonios: When I have them, master.
Licinius: Do you eat snails?
Antonios: No, master.
Licinius: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antonios:No, master.
Licinius: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
Antonios: Yes, master.
Licinius: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
Antonios: It could be argued so, master.
Licinius: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

Tuesday, October 21

New Sheriff

Let us hope. Even Dale concedes that the "New Messiah" has earned the right to be President following McC's poorly run campaign. He tells me he is saving his money for the next election. I love the "robo call" which is political spam. Robo calls are popular because they cost a fraction of the second class poste and not surprisingly the party with less money is using them relentlessly - in some swing states, it is not unusual to get 15 robo calls a day. McC was slimed big-time by robo calls in 2000 and denounced such a tactic; Sunday when reminded of this he replied: "these are legitimate and truthful" messages connecting, for instance, Obama and Ayers. It seems pretty gosh darn obvious that these contacts might drive the typical voter, well, bat-shit crazy and you betcha it has: the recoil includes McC's Maine Co-Chair Susan Collins who has demanded McC stop using them (she is in a tough Senate race herself). Of course there is a simple way to prevent robo calls - simply unplug the telephone, which is what my in-laws have done in Colorado. Bravo.


When I don't have photos of whatever, I poste - what eva. This one at 11:26AM in a rowdy green Izod. Brother. So this morning I join Eitan's class at the request of his teacher Mrs X. The Big Event is chocolate chip cookies and the kids prepare cookie dough using their maths and their metrics: weighing, calculating and mixing ingredients. Oh boy, it is a mess. I am assigned Eitan's table and must control myself from bossing him around or standing him in a corner. We both feel this an unfair situation BTW. Our first batch comes out a tad, ahem, over-done and Mrs. X encourages a second reminding me "it is a smart table" which I think more a reflection on me. The background noise is tremendous unless Mrs. X claps her hands twice then complete silence. She's a drill-Sargent, no doubt, but has fun with the children. Since I have been sitting class for the last three years I know most of the kids who wave or catch my eye; I reward them by knowing their names, asking the trouble-makers if they are in trouble and offering hi-fives or the Obama "rock" all around. It is good time and sure beats working - though I am certain Mrs. X considers this work, oh boy.

Monday, October 20

Planet F*****

This is the Nanxiang District, Shangai. Photo taken by IBM who notes they are "helping local, state and federal governments prepare for these changes with everything from new policy thinking to solutions that can transform healthcare. Get ready for the next twelve years." Great.


Here is a piece of urban grit from residential Shepards Bush - I took this photo after Sia. The strange building houses Endomol, famous for giving us Big Brother. The neighborhood otherwise borders West Kensington and Holland Park and Notting Hill and has been the next natural hot-spot as London's city-centre pushes ever outward. On the other side to the north is White City, a huge concrete housing estate constructed for the 1908 Olympics to house the athletes; today it is truly frightening and a no-go zone - many of London's notorious street gangs here then and now. Remarkably given the financial meltdown, SB to open The Westfield, which is to be Europe's largest high-end shopping mall. Oh boy. The retail investment meant to turn around the borderline neighborhood and attract the rich and idle - London has few shopping centres and the wealthy enjoy New Bond Street in Mayfair. To accommodate the more adventurous Gucci and Hermes loving Knightsbridge tourists, the SB underground station received a £400 million up-grade which opened last month (can you imagine this crowd on the underground?). Despite the flash metal and fancy glass public transpo, the Westfield Group which owns The Westfield is going to take this one on the chin.

Dawn Patrol

Madeleine scarfs a chocolate-chip chocolate muffin which I suffer for (they go nuts on the sugar). This morning at the dawn I am joined by Eitan during my Power Walk in Richmond Park. He hangs a few steps behind me, running every now and again to catch up. It is non-stop chatter from the git-go: football, Wayne Rooney, maths, top-5 Torres goals, Mrs X (his teacher), Mrs Y (last year's teacher) and other things on a youngster's mind. Usually when I do this I read my blackberry or listen to the news - or sometimes I jog. It is nice to have company and no small beer: we are out for 40 minutes and enough time to build up a sweat (for me any ways - Eitan seems unaffected). Madeleine catches us on the way in and wants the full after-action report from her brother: "was it hard Eitan? Was it? Are you out of breath? Was it scary in the park?" and so forth.

Sunday, October 19


The Battersea Power Station from the railroad. Where you are, there it is - similar to the Empire State Building in New York perhaps.

My photo from Battersea facing North; this area BTW is an island settlement established in the river delta of the Falconbrook; a river that rises in Tooting Bec Common and flows underground through south London to the Thames. Battersea was reclaimed by draining marshland and building culverts for streams. Notable events include The Clash singing "London Calling" on the Thames next to the Battersea Zoo in '80 and it pored rain; the settlement appears in the Doomsday Book as Patricesy; Benedict Arnold is buried here. With the railway from the 1840s, specialties like pig breeding and lavender growing became important industries on Pig Hill and Lavender Hills (what else?)

Madeleine crawls into bed with us last night unable to sleep. We read and she ponders: "Mom, if Gracie and Moe had another child would it be totally out of order?" (as in grand parents then parents then grand children....) and "Does Stan still have the seed?" We order her "out!" laughing all the while.

Colin Powell

Former Army general Colin Powell throws his weight behind Obama: "I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama." The Bears throw themselves under a train losing last night to Arizona State. On balance, I would take an Obama presidency over a Bears' Rose Bowl. But just.

We return from our field trip to the BM and Eitan begs for football. He is pretty motivated after I tell him this morning about Malcolm Gladwell's (motivational guru and author of the best-selling "The Tipping Point") latest book indicating that to be The Greatest requires 10,000 hours of work - this principal trumps other variables like skill and luck and according to Gladwell crosses metiers sport, music and science. Not that I am setting expectations or anything. Any hows, I take the boy to the common and we bump into two sets of neighborhood dads and their sons - an impromptu fathers vs sons results. I trash-talk relentlessly making Eitan cross and the other kids smile - they like being talked to by an adult regardless of what he is saying no doubt.

Madeleine sings at the dinner table: "Do it do it do it do. Do it do it do it do it. Do it do it do it do it." When I tell her to stop, she hums it.

Eating ice cream Eitan screams: "Brain freeze! Brain freeze!" and they crack up.

Madeleine to Eitan eating an ice cream sandwich: "Do it Eitan. stuff it in your mouth and try to scream."

Eitan leaves the table: "I feel like my bum is fat."


We take it to the British Museum against the Shakespeares wishes (Eitan and Madeleine BTW would rather sit inside bored to death than go to a museum).

We make it to see the conclusion of Hadrian, on exhibition and whose wall I touched with Sonnet and her parents in '98. It was April and appropriately it snowed. Unfortunately today is sold out so I will post-pone my full review until Wednesday when I have an entrance.

As we approach the museum I ask Eitan about the Rosetta Stone, which we saw together last visit, and he snipes "yeah, the most boring stone in the whole world." Sometimes it is just plain hard being a kid ("Is there a park? Is there a park? Is there a park?" they plead). Neither deserves the museum so I take Eitan aside and await Sonnet and Madeleine who visit the mummies. Earlier he polished off a chocolate chip chocolate muffin and went bezerko - now he's crashed out and I cuddle him and say it is the sugar and not him. He is miserable but eventually snaps out of it and is back to his old tricks and me mine: "knock it off I said!"

Mission Creep

The Home Office heads towards compulsory registration of all Britain's 72 million mobile phones, more than 40 million of which are pre-paid and untraceable. Registration requires a passport or ID. Phones then can be located to within a few yards using cell site analysis, which tracks mobile users as they move from one signalling area to the next. The system then links with the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system of traffic cameras, which provides live coverage of motorways and main roads. It, in turn, is linked to the DVLA which holds the records of all reigstered vehicles in the country. By monitoring a single telephone call it would be possible to identify exactly where it user was and the registration number of the car, which could be found in seconds by ANPR cameras tracked along its journey. In other words, real-time pefect surveillance. This occurs in parellel to plans for a communications database intercepting data on the web and extracting information to be routed into computers by by MI5 and GCHQ, the government's eavesdropping centre in Chelteham - last year GCHQ was given £1 billion but estimated to go to £12 billion even though noboldy knows what, really, they are up to. Eventually it will be tied to medical records and credit card usage no doubt and the UK biometric ID which may be required as early as next year. Of course all this information can go against the owner: in the wrong hands it becomes a threat. And the Home Office has an abysmal track-record of keeping the most simple records, which do have a propensity to go missing. Would you trust the government on this one? Would you?

- > CCT cameras in Britain: 4.2 million (source: Camera Watch UK and Transport for London)

-- > The average Briton has 3,254 piece of personal information stored about him per week (Office of the Information Commissioner)

--- > Requests from police and other public bodies for personal communications data such as phone and email records in 2007: 519,260 (source: CSP)

(Eyeball photo from Business Week)

Saturday, October 18


Madeleine tries on her Hallowe'en costume - Silver will recognise it to be the one she made for Sonnet >30years ago. After a busy morning of the usual swimming and football, we now hang about waiting for ManU vs. who cares? which kicks off at 1730 sharp (the Bears play 7PM Pacific and I won't stay up until 4AM even if it is a Pac 10 game). Eitan begs me to turn on the TV early but I tell him to read a book instead - history repeating itself I am sure. Instead he amuses himself with the football and they listen to a Harry Potter CD because Sonnet reading Harry P to them every night for an hour not enough. Meanwhile Sonnet makes a cake and the beaters whirl from the kitchen.