Sunday, November 29

New New Thing

We say a fond farewell to Halley and Willem and greet Dale and Hillary who join us for lunch and more champagne.  It is 5PM somewhere.  Dale and I once together for my start-up internet company eZoka and since we have looked at a few deals together including an MBI for a listed consumer electronics company.  Dale and Hillary met years ago in Hong Kong - he working for Dixons as the Commercial Director and she at the Daily Express then the South China Morning Post. I think they lived large in the expat community on expat packages before 1997 brought an end to all that.  Dale then worked for the Murdochs and Sky Services then the New New Thing.  They have two kids successfully through university and beautiful - their daughter, who aims for Oxford and medicine, could easily model which she once did.  She is one year from being declared cancer-free.

Since Dale/Hillary's kids of hiring age, we talk about the jobs market which, for a younger person, dire. These days companies ask applicants to complete IQ and personality tests before granting an interview. This reflects opportunity's scarcity. Worse for the youngsters, British universities charge whereas recently free often gifting debt with diploma. If work flush - OK; unemployment and accruing interest not.  Times have changed and the best economies, at least for now, not here.  I would not wish to be graduating today in the Western World.

The rotten weather remains. Eitan's KPR dominates the Junior B's 9-1 with Eitan scoring two goals.  Madeleine users her microscope to examine pond water.   Eitan meets a potential tutor for next year's entrance exams.  Yours truly does some dishes and reads the Sunday Times.

Eitan: "Dad, are you finished with your blog? How many more sentences?"

Tom Boys

Halley and Willem join us for the week-end and a belated Thanksgiving, which we celebrate yesterday with Dana, Nathan and their family.  Ava, pictured with Madeleine on the pitch, similar to Madeleine not tolerating frilly things while loving Manchester United, being muddy and playing football, which the girls do at Palewell Park with Madeleine's team.  All good.  At home, Sonnet busies herself with cooking and a 20 pounder+every thing that goes with it. She turns on her Martha Stewart, lucky us.  My job once to make vodka martinis but our habits mellow in middle-age.  Now it is rosy champagne and wine. 

We hear about Zoe's new school, which is one of the most prestigious grammars in the country.  Homework is minimum 40 minutes of three disciplines each and, she says, "it usually takes longer."  This is my Junior High, or its England equivalent, but with less homework. I recall how strange it all was. Not yet a teen-ager, first-time book reports (groan), boring, rainy weekends with nothing other than .. school work (double-groan). Feathered hair, parted down the middle; Nikes and derby jackets.  Girls looming in the back-ground though not yet dear but nonetheless.. interesting.  How can I forget my first "relationship" when I called Sarah on the phone, heart-thumping and breathless: "Will you go with me?" She: "Sure." Me: "Great. Bye."  This results in a series of awkward recesses where I feel some profound obligation to stand by her yet all the time tongue-tied.  Sarah being, ahem, advanced soon moved on quickly.  All this now ahead for ours and I do look forward to being a by-stander. 

Madeleine examines pond-water with her microscope, finding a bug: "Can we keep it as a pet?"

Madeleine and Ava play hide-and-seek with Foxy, she: "Dad, quick, put it under your shirt!"

Friday, November 27

The Ghost Of Monty

Yesterday, appropriately on Thanksgiving, Monty comes in from the cold.  Recall Madeleine's hamster escaped two weeks ago after only four days in her possession, poor dear.  Ever since, the Shakespeares have filled a food-bowl nearby where the rodent last seen on the second floor.  Each morning it's empty. Sunflower seeds found in hidden corners. Sonnet maintains composure. During her escape, we hear scratchings in odd places: the kitchen over the stove; under Eitan's bedroom carpet. Madeleine's bedroom. Me, I hear nut-ting.  Until last night when, quietly reading, a scuffle of little feets across the carpet making a beeline for the radiator. Yes, Monty.  After about an hour of patient waiting, Monty's nose pokes out every now and again then - WHAM! I nab her. The whole thing entirely silly accept for this morning when Madeleine close to tears of happiness knowing her hamster returned.  No doubt, this story will be told over and over and over and over .. . .

Me, at bed time: "Knock if off! You kids are acting wild."
Madeleine: "Well, Dad, we were born to be wild."

Madeleine: "So then, um, I made a hamster trap. And I put a trail of hamster food across the (upstairs, carpeted) hallway into a shoe box. And mum was, like, um, not very happy about that. And so she told me to put the trap away."

Palm Stinker

As if we couldn't see this freight in the tunnel.  Yesterday, Dubai World - the investment platform owned by Dubai's government - requested that its creditors accept a six-month debt standstill on its $60 billion of debt.  In addition, another $300 billion of construction projects stopped. Just like that.  It is unclear yet how this will effect Dubai World's wide-ranging, global porfololio of private quity investments, but it will.  Through its subsidiary platform Istithmar World, the group holds stakes in emerging markets banking group Standard Chartered to US publisher of education books EMPG.  The firm's 12 investments includes Barneys New York, which Istithmar bought for $942 million in August 2007. That would be THE peak of the market.  The group also has a 20% stake in Cirque du Soleil and 3% of hedge-fund GLG, one of Europe's largest. Since British banks enjoy several billions of credit exposure to Dubai, the FTSE off 3% yesterday while bank stocks, already pummeled, down 6-10%.  Ouch.

The center piece of this catastrophe is the Palm Jumeirah, pictured, Dubai's man-made, palm-shaped island development. Oy vey. Wonder if David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Elton John sold at the peak. Probably since they are smarter than me.  Today the Palm worth nothing.  I would rather live in Cleveland.  Ok, maybe not Cleveland.

Sonnet and I spent a stressful night at the Dubai airport sorting a visa into Pakistan.  In 1997, Dubai owned one tall building and of course the US Embassy on the top or 42nd floor. Otherwise it was sand and water, nothing else. Would it have stayed that we today many better off.

Photo from Dubai real estate website.

Thursday, November 26


For good reason, no Thanksgiving here. The Brits lost the colony after all.  Today just like any other - I bike around Richmond Park, Sonnet takes the kids to school.  I pick them up then Kumon. Eitan gets every answer right, Madeleine gets 24 wrong. How many questions? I ask her and she shrugs - no answer.  Still, her maths making great progress and everybody comments on how she has her additions and subtractions down cold while working through the times-tables.  Unfortunately, Kumon has always been the proverbial thumb-on-forehead, the first thing that greets her day: "Awwww, nooo" she wails from bed. Sonnet and I agree to re-consider Kumon in December.

Eitan: "Once Natasha found a worm in my hair" (Eitan's uncombed hair an ongoing battle with Sonnet)
Eitan: "It was green.  She also found a spider web and a lady bird."

Eitan looses all privileges following bad-behavior reflected by five demerits. This includes Sunday's KPR match, which he did not reckon I would take away.  So today, walking home, we discuss how he can get back the demerits.
Me: "What are some things I would trade for? What do I need?"
Madeleine: "Money!"
Madeleine: "Good behavior. Not complaining when doing chores!"
Eitan: "How should I know?"
Me: "Well, what do we send out every time this year?"
Eitan, Madeleine:
Me: "To all our friends?"
Madeleine: "Christmas Cards!"
Me: "Good. And what do we not have?"
Madeleine: "Christmas cards?"
Eitan: "A Christmas photo."
Me: "Yes, good. That is what you call leverage. Now how shall we use it?"
Eitan: "Um, Dad, if you take away a demerit, I will take a Christmas photo."
Me: "I will take away one demerit if you take the Christmas photo with your hair combed."
Eitan: "That is so unfair!"
Me: "Make it worth your while"
Eitan: "Four demerits"
Me: "You've got a deal. Well done."

Cheshire Cat

Yesterday a good day for British Bankers: firstly, these Cheshire cats allowed to keep, and continue to charge, for over-drafts which is one of those nasty things suffered by the unfortunate or disorganised. A typical over-draft charge £25 but some banks levy a fee for each transaction once the over-draft breached before the depositor knows his error. So, for instance, you over-draft £5 then another £5, you get double fined and so on and so on.  The banks also charge interest and some charge more than £25. Outrageous.  Still, the Supreme Court unanimously decides against consumer, arguing the fees all part of the customer contact and so what? Banks, for their part, indicated they would find other ways to charge if not by over-draft so, I guess, good for me since I square my balance.  I am equally concerned that banks, with such a permission, will find other, similar, clever ways to skin me.

Banks also ducked full disclosure for employees bagging £1 million or more.  Instead, these lucky fellows  remain cloaked though un-named salaries otherwise public from January.  I agree on this one - nobody should be dragged over the coals for making legal money. Shareholders, though, should know senior management compensation and salary concentration, if not by name.  Still, do not underestimate how loathed this group following their failings.

Sonnet is at an art-opening on the King's Road.  I am solo with the Shakespeares which means rice and beans plus a move (the BBC's "Yellowstone" which makes me think of those Disney films from the '50s).  

"One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.  Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter."
-- Lewis Carroll, "Alice In Wonderland"

Wednesday, November 25

Kashgar Market

I take this photograph of a man sharpening his tools at the Kashgar market. This during our trip to Central Asia in '97 and Kashgar one of the many highlights.  I learn that the oasis city first mentioned when the Chinese Han Dynasty traveled the Northern Silk Road to explore what is today the western part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, tucked between the Tian Shan mountains and the Taklamakan desert and the driest place on Earth. Sunday's market sees the surge of humanity and 350,000 people become twice that. Vendors jam narrow, ancient streets carrying bundles of their trade often trailed by a bleating sheep, giant bull or snooty camel (Kashgar means "variegated houses").  All and everything for sale.  We see barbers shaving a row of men bald; a stand selling intestines, another organs. There are Kalashnikovs, cigarettes, used electronics, junk. A kaleidoscope of woven fabrics, rugs and heroine (supposedly) found behind doors marked with a sheep's head.  Dried fruit, motor parts, assorted nuts, tampons, batteries, anything. The buildings ready to crumble which contrasts the surrounding energy of it all. Thank goodness no automobiles though this has probably changed by now - or maybe not. There are plenty of bicycles and motor-bikes and of course donkeys and mules. Dust covers all. How blessed am I to have been here.

Walking to school, me: "what is the thing you value most?"
Madeleine: "Doggie. And Foxy."
Eitan: "Well, Teddie.  And then you and mum."
Me: "How about your skills? One day, they may be quite valuable."
Madeleine: "I don't have any skills."
Me: "Sure you do. How about your times tables? I imagine somebody would value that."
Eitan: "I'm doing remainders. I'll bet that is worth ten pounds."
Madeleine: "No it is not!"
Eitan: "Yes it is!"

Secret Bridge Loans

We learn yesterday from the Bank of England that Britain's two largest banks - Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS - given a £62 billion 'bridge' loan last year on top of the £500 billion tax-payer bail-out (a "bridge loan" usually two weeks to three years pending the arrangment of a larger or longer term financing; if the financing fails, the bridge collapses. Exhibit A: First Boston (now Credit Suisse) and Ohio Mattress) This emergency funding suggests our banks in far greater peril then understood generally and, according to the BoE Governor Mervyn King, within hours of collapse. Who can forget the 2007 run on Northern Rock? What makes the secret bridge-loans more astonishing: Chancellor Alistair Darling tried to convince Lloyds to buy HBOS - in short, the Chencellor knew he was selling Lloyds a lemon. Why do this? To save his own skin.

The same shoddy deal occurred when sub-prime Merrill Lynch hoisted on Bank of America's shareholders who had no idea the depth of Merrill's problems. So bad the transaction that in April, 2009, BoA CEO Ken Lewis testified to Congress that he was pressured to keep silent about "deepening financial difficulties." Ken got fired.

The Bank in England's bridge loans fortunately repaid while the Government scrambles to justify the Bank's decision to keep the bridge-loans secret for a year. The aborted Lloyds deal collateral damage. Parliament gave the Bank a green-light to operate covertly supporting the banking system., trying to keep them alive and avoid panic. We know today how close to ruin we came. Government did the right thing.

Image from Top Secret Plant Nutrients

Tuesday, November 24

On Gambling

Photo in front of our house - Kids bribed with something, I am sure, to stand there but I might suggest whatever on offer not enough (incidentally, Sonnet hid the kids Halloween candy and I am munching on a Twix bar).  Before photo, I combed Eitan's hair+shirt tucked in+tie - all undone by him - and boy is he pissed.

Over dinner, we discuss gambling.

Me: "Has your life ever come down to the roll of a dice?"
Madeleine: "Yes, dad, there was that time about two-pounds, fifty... I cannot even talk about it."
Me: "You mean when we bet on what was in my pocket?" (last year I bet Madeleine her allowance on money in my pocket, which was zilch; she of course thought it might be more than her allowance).
Madeleine: "I cannot believe you even took my money."

Eitan: "In Kew Gardens, there was a set of stairs, and we would throw our money, and whomever was closer to the stairs won the money."
Me: "I recall .. "
Eitan: "We really started off with two-pence, and I won. And then it was a 20P. And I won. And then it was a 50P. And I won. And then it was back to 20P. And you won. And then it was one-pound. And I won. And we finished off with me winning two pounds."
Me: "Would you ever gamble again?"
Eitan: "If it was against you...? Yes."

Madeleine: "Alex gambles, like, money and pencils."
Me: "Why does he do that?"
Madeleine: "Because his dad bets on horses."

The War President

Note: I change the photo of Bush since it bothers me to have his image again on my blog. There are plenty of photos from Google images offering horrific bloodshed.. instead, I choose this one to replace our former President.  Iraq, I sadly must remind myself, more than a geography or name or war.

Britain is doing the right thing regarding the mess that is now Iraq: an investigation, open to public hearings, which begins today. There was initially considerable backlash from White Hall about transparency while guys like Tony Blair balked.  Due to the public's anger - and free from repercussion -  Tony will.  The panel, appointed by Gordon Brown, will not lay blame nor establish criminal or civil liability. The panel will offer stern reprimands, smack a few wrists soundly with a yard-stick and make a recommendation or two. Nobody to be held accountable. No one discredited for perhaps the greatest strategic blunder of the last fifty years. Notes panel Chair John Chicot: "Our determination is to do not merely a thorough job, but one that is frank and will bear public scrutiny."  Milk toast.  The  report done by the end of 2010 and not in time for the next general election which must be held by June 2010.  Super Gee did a good job on that one, though I suppose we should be grateful to have any serious review of Iraq.  The stakes high too: 179 British soldiers dead, a broken country and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians displaced or perished.  A failed state, terrorism and a resurgent Iran who actually builds a nuclear bomb.  Nobody would have thought Viet Nam, again, either. But we should have learned.

"Let Freedom reign!''
--George W. Bush (scribbled on a note to Condalisa Rice) 

"The War President" montage of American deaths in Iraq from "Faces of the Fallen" Washington Post online exhibition.

Monday, November 23

Sidelines And A Denial

Yesterday morning, KPR v Hampton Youth, which the lads handle 4-2 with Eitan scoring twice.  His coach tells me "Eitan raises the level of play. His team-mates want to play up to him."  

Us dads and some mums stand on the sideline drinking Starbucks cappuccinos and chit-chatting current events.  We know we're wimps.  Sunday's air-time the French-Ireland double-touch fiasco and we all agree that a replay of the match untenable.  Still, instant-replay, in my opinion, also no good as it changes the dynamic of the game yet it also does not serve when millions of TV viewers know the ref missed a critical call.  Ireland, suffering economic malaise, could use a shot in the arm and football brings ££s of advertising, merchandising, tourism and other commercial crapola.  It also provides a monumental distraction from these hard times and may raise a nation's spirits to unimaginable highs (England, '66) or lows (England, ever since).  Whoever thinks 'just a game' has never a clue in the world.

Here are a couple of self-righteous, conservative God-fearing douche bags - Coburn and Ensign, who represent me and all Americans, bastards. Today's headlines:  "Senator Tom Coburn on Sunday denied that he had a role in helping Senator John Ensign negotiate a payoff of a former aide and close friend, whose wife had an affair with the Nevada Republican Senator."  Do you have any faith in Coburn's denial? Who are these people?

Sunday, November 22

Go Bears!

Cal defeats #14 Stanford at Palo Alto - and it is a thrilla, 34-28. Moe and Grace host a party of 30 at 1530 and everybody goes away feeling good. The Axe, which stays in Berkeley, rewards (somewhat) our season's high-expectations for a BCS Championship or at least Rose Bowl (50 years and counting, after all+Jahvid Best). Sorry, dude. I took this image at the Royal Academy visiting the 'Summer Collection' thinking, hoping, that I would post it for Pasadena with a clever blurb about good things going to those who wait and all that. Well, as Moe and I say at some point every year regarding the Rose Bowl:  "just wait 'til next year!" We renew our pledge tonight.  Some rituals should go away BTW.  And at least this year in the glow of a winsome Big Game.

The statue reminds me of 'Oskie', the Cal mascot and favored name of many Berkeley alumni pets.  It is a great name - better than 'Oscar' which we considered for Eitan.  The term is used in football to let the lineman know to block the closest person on the other team when the ball is intercepted or a fumble recovered.  Call called "Oskie!" in the final moments of yesterday's victory when Stanford QB Lock was picked off in the end-zone by Bears linebacker Mike Mohamed, securing the W.  This game swe-et since it ended the Cardinals chances for a R... O.... S ..E   B-O-W-L.  If we can not have it this year, neither can those private-schooled peninsula preppies. 

"This was one of our greatest wins."
--UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau (who clearly was not around in '82)

A Behaving Hamster

Madeleine loves Foxy and I do admit, the rodent cute.  

The dog-discussion remains ongoing but now problematic considering holidays and day time when nobody home.  So .. although the Golden Hamster first described scientifically in 1839 (er, mesocricetus auratus) it was not until 1930 that researchers able to breed and domesticate the creatures. The pet syrians, pictured, descended from hamsters first found and captured in Syria by zoologist Israel Aharoni, a zoologist in Ottoman and British Palestine widely known as the "first Hebrewzoologist."   He probably had a bunch of girls begging for a Habitrail.  

Madeleine still shy with her pet who becomes more used to our advances.  Imagine the poor dear, sleeping peacefully, awakened by a gigantic face poking, prodding and enticing it from the warm cage. That would be me.  

At first Foxy a nipper, which explains Madeleine's concern, but now she jumps from hand to hand or tries to scrabble to the floor .. to bolt .. and end up like Monty, dead somewheres in the wood-work. We are each driven to our own destruction, iInevitable, really.

I bring Madeleine to my office so she can do her homework sans distraction. She: "Dad, will you stop working so I can work?"

Our friends Ramsey and Jennifer over for brunch.  Eitan, whispering to me: "Tell the story when I sleep-walked and peed down the stairs."

Saturday, November 21


Natasha has been with us for three years and now she is married. We attend the ceremony in London, and her family arrives from Macedonia.  She loves the kids, who love her and Madeleine, with my camera, takes pictures inside the church.  I take a few, too, including this one after out front.  We head for late lunch and champagne.

Natasha has a masters degree, published, and speaks four languages no one has ever heard of - at least, I've not.  The kids respect her, and that is the main thing.  Usually. 

"An ideal wife is one who remains faithful to you but tries to be just as charming as if she weren't."
--Sacha Guitry

We finish the second season of Mad Men, which is the best show on television. I thought the 'Sopranos' the bee's knees but Mad Men may actually be better.  I want to be Don Draper.  Who doesn't? He being the abject lesson on how to be a Business Man.  Cool and collected or, like the British say: "stay calm and carry on."  My favorite scene of Season Two when the otherwise maligned executive Duck puts together a deal with his Stirling Cooper and Young & Rubican. Fishing for a non-existent job with Y&R, he returns to vodka: "Do you really think I come here with nothing to offer?"  and so Duck engineers the m&a between the two firms.  All this while Don at Hotel California deciding between his life and a 21 year old. Of course Duck self-destructs when he cannot corner Don and alcohol does him in. Rather than the President of the whole enchilada, his new owners note: "he never could hold his liqueur."  Heavy stuff. And everybody with their white pocket kerchief,  two-millimeters showing. Perfect.

A Boozy

I take Eitan out of football ten minutes early and he is crabby all afternoon.  We go to Natasha's wedding - she is the kids' care-taker and they love her. Further aggravating the boy a tie: he has to wear one and doth he protest.  I threaten Manchester United v. Everton, which is on now and we listen as I blog (ManU 1-nil in the beginning of the second half).  Any ways, before this evening is the Church ceremony and the kids scrubbed and coiffed - Madeleine in dress then hair-dried by mum while Eitan his suit and  a 'Vineyard Vines' cravat,  bought by me at Bloomingdale's.  Marcia assures me this what all the bankers in Bronxville wearing these days.  Me, I look forward to a boozy since the union of Natasha and Giuseppe join Italy to Macedonia. Surely there is entertainment?   Both parents traditional and assuredly formal, arriving a few days ago and leaving soon.  And boozy afternoon, indeed. From early champagne to red then white wine. I take great joy looking upon my family through glazed eyes - Eitan dark and moody, Madeleine anxious (reading a poem) and Sonnet's loving eyes always.  Yes, Madeleine determined to present Carol Ann Duffy's "The Rings" and she does: following the father-of-the-bride's toast, Madeleine marches to Natasha and, with deep breath, reads.  Her wonderful job gets our full attention including the Italians who stop speaking for no one.  An ovation too.  Madeleine returns to her seat knowing she has done something good.  Sonnet and I pleased -- thrilled -- that our girl captures a scene for herself.

Eitan: "I want to do some cooking."
Eitan: "Right here and right now. What do you want?"
Me: "I'm not hungry."
Eitan: "Well, I am going to make an orange soda.  And an omelette.  With a bit of magic, we might be in for something."


Here I am, dressed to the nines and - just like the kids - scrubbed to an inch of my life.  This is the expression Sonnet often uses.  We are at Natasha's wedding and Eitan grumpy since A) I yank him from football ten minutes before over and B) he has to wear a tie. Really, this the worst thing in the world.

The country otherwise focused on the Lake District, which is flooded by record rains. Cumbria receives 314 mm (12.3 inches) in 24 hours, compared to 280mm which fell in Martinstown in, Dorset in 1955 the worst rainfall on record before today.  According to Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, this "a once in a thousand years event" which has destroyed flood defences built only four years ago during another flooding; scores of homes in  Cockermouth and Workington swamped. Super Gee promises £1 million, which would buy, like, a house in London.  WTF?  Why not offer these poor people donuts or something instead? The Chief Constable pleads for tourist to stay away since the area otherwise popular with vacationers - Sonnet and I rambled in '99 and lovely  The police concerned gawkers drawn to the River Derwent which has taken Pc Bill Parker, father of four.

Meanwhile, following the horrible "two-hand-touch Thierry" keeping Ireland from South Africa, European football officials announce the arrest of ring-leaders in a far-reaching match fixing cartel involving 200 games in at least nine continental countries. The German police, who lead the investigation, suggest the sport riddled with corruption worse than fans or officials otherwise suspect and "this may be the tip of the ice berg."   England's Premier League the exception - clean. And why not? These lads paid huge dough but, if I have learned anything, enough is never enough. The scandal a black mark and I am glad the Germans all over it - if anybody can worry the wise guys, it is the German stasi.

Friday, November 20

Lift Off

We're off to Brixton to see current favorite band White Lies. Joining us are David from the neighborhood whose son Joe Eitan's best pal, Paul and his friend Steph who is from France and attractive in a way one can be at 30.  Beforehand, we have dinner at a family-style Portuguese which Sonnet and I discovered some long while ago and has become our pre-concert routine.  The best thing about the place: multiple old television screens always showing some far-away football game between two lesser countries.  The way it should be.  In Beijing I recall a meal by myself without a word of English.  The food unbelievably hot and a soccer match between two obscure provinces blinkered on a raised TV with bad reception. So I wonder: is it possible to have any understanding, let alone insight, into a billion people and their different history? Their's utterly meaningless.  I think often still as some many investors plough their dough into Asia assuming the magnificent growth an apple for the plucking.  I think not or, at least, the harvest to somebody who understands China far better than I.  And yet there I was, watching a game, and the obvious strikes me: we be one.


Another grey day in London. I borrow Madeleine's shades.

The French really got away with murder Wednesday, equalising against Ireland in the final moments of a World Cup play-off match.  Thierry Henry openly admits his two hand-balls (should replay not be enough) which keeps the ball in action allowing the Frogs to score and advance to South Africa next summer.  My Irish friend David is bothered immensely, poor fellow, but those are sometimes the breaks.  Ireland's Prime Minister demands a rematch which FIFA rejects (FIFA is Federation Internationale de Football Association - French!).  The Iris already believe global football a stitch-up which prefers the bigger football loving countries like France and perhaps they are right.  I would prefer France v Brazil or Germany or England.  And especially France- it is just too much fun to root against them.  Freedom fries and all that.  I tell David the French guaranteed to win the World Cup trophy given this week's omen. We bet ten quid on it.

I have often wondered where the expression "the beautiful game" originated, and learn the phrase coined by Brazilian superstar Didi - the Brazilian expression Joga Bonita (to "play beautifully) parallels this phrase.  In 1977 Pele, named his autobiography "My Life and the Beautiful Game" whose dedication reads: "I dedicate this book to all those who make the game beautiful."  

"I never make predictions.  And I never will."
--Paul Gascoine, legendary England player

Thursday, November 19

Paternoster and St Paul's School

I am out late last night with Nick and Walid from Columbia Business School. We go to the Chop House in Paternoster Square next to St Paul's (which looms overhead, lit in foggy white).  The square once the center of London's publishing trade and devastated by German bombers during The Blitz.  Somehow the Wren cathedral survived but she did.  Today, the area modernised (glass, steel and faux-marble stone - how unimaginative) and home of the London Stock Exchange which moved here in 2004 from the wonderfully named Threadneedle Street.  Since the old adage "to make money, you have to be near money" holds true, we find LSE's neighbor Goldman Sachs - hovering, no doubt (yesterday BTW Goldman's CEO made to apologies for his firm's grubby behavior by none-other than Warren Buffet who, along with me and you, bailed their asses out. Goldman has not been particularly adroit regarding PR, before yesterday noting that "we are doing God's work" by contributing less that 0.5% of their record-setting 2009 bonus pool to charity).  Walid whip-sawed by last year's melt-down but now Ok having moved his trading to Nomura. What comes across from Walid how uncertain his life was in September 2008. And perhaps for us all, too, though we were blind to the cliff's edge.

Sonnet and I visit St Paul's School which celebrates its quincentenary this year.  Prince Charles to stop by next week and pay his respects.  Tucked into a gentle curve of the River Thames at Barnes and due South of Hammersmith, the school grounds enormous for London: 45 acres including tennis courts, football and rugby pitches, cricket grounds, fencing, basketball and 25-meter swimming pool used by Eitan and Madeleine.  The academics most impressive: 2009 GCSEs produced 79% A* and 97.5% A*/A or the second best in the school's history and the best GCSE results in the UK.  St Paul's, simply, the best academic secondary school in Britain.  Similar to Hampton, there is unimaginable opportunity here - our student-guide shows us proudly his wood-shop project which is a beautifully crafted knife wrack with child safety cover - he is encouraged to patent the thing.  From arts to the sciences, reading libraries to language rooms, world-travel, sports, music, computer programming, individual tudors and motivated teachers - this place is the bomb for geeky kids. On campus, according to the Head Master who provides the general overview, the most capable maths boy in Europe. He is 13 and probably goes toe-to-toe with Eric. Eitan would do well here, I think, but no doubt it would be a shock from his state-school; he would be at least one-year behind.  Plus he has to get in - St Paul's draws almost exclusively from the prep schools. Oh, and 46 went to Cambridge or Oxford last year - out of 159. And one kid went to Brown which, in fairness, has a higher acceptance bar.

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
--Albert Einstein

"Your ability to learn faster than your competition is the only sustainable competitive advantage."
-- Arie de Gues

Tuesday, November 17

Self Portrait XIII

I buy a 'miner's lamp' to allow Sonnet to sleep while I read.

London's climate a lot better than most people think - temperate, with modest daily highs during summer and winter lows that are seldom below freezing.  Most taxi drivers can tell you how The Capital once under two or three feet of snow but no longer thanks to global warming. Rainfall 20 inches a year or identical to San Francisco. Unlike the Bay Area, here fairly regular and mostly drizzle, occurring throughout the year. Morose skies may last months.  Personally, I don't mind the weather - in fact, the "gale force winds" that rip through the Southest somehow cozy, and the clouds whiz along  by. The loss of light another story.  By the winter solstice, the sun-up 8AM and sets 3:50PM, hanging low on the horizon all day.  It's nothing like Anchorage, where Sonnet grew up, but compared to the Sunshine State, it don't.  This is 51-degrees latitude, after  San Fran, by comparison, 37 and LA 34 and no wonder these Brits dream of California.  Especially now. Since weather an important topic of conversation deserving a stock reply, mine is "we choose to live here."  My little inside joke - because we all want to.

Eitan and Madeleine visit a church for some school trip, coming home with the book "The Pilgrim's Progess."
Madeleine describes the story: "there was a Pilgrim, but he changed his name to Christian." 
Me: "what is a Pilgrim?"
Madeleine: "How should I know?"
The book jacket notes helpfully: "John Bunyan wrote this book originally so that we can learn that our most urgent problem is our sin and that the only solution is Jesus." 
Madeleine continues: "And the Pilgrim had some Jewish food.  Or maybe it was Christian?"
Me: "Was he eating a bagel?"
Me: "Is the book about Jesus?"
Madeleine: "Who's he?"
Eitan: "Well, he's in the book."
Me: "Did you read the book?"
Eitan: "No, but I read the blurb.  About Jesus."
Me: "Jesus was a Jew."
Madeleine: "He liked bagels?"

Monday, November 16


Kapoor displayed at the Royal Academy from last month and this - pictured - what greets visitors in the courtyard. Pretty cool. Unfortunately tickets have been sold out for the week end, otherwise I would take the kids who, I am most certain, would love his stuff.  I must be more organised.  I am up for an early morning bike-ride around Richmond Park and then to town for a business lunch then a meeting and now home for family dinner.  Monday the best day of the week.

Sonnet, during today's school run: "Madeleine, Natasha (our recently married nanny) is not pregnant."
Madeleine: "Yes, but they've done that thing where they put the two things together."

Sunday, November 15

Sex Ed

 Madeleine: "You know, Dad, you aren't even a quarter as smart as Einstein."

I enter Eitan's room to have the conversation.  Eitan reading his ManU magazines and the last thing in the world he wants is a discussion about girls, and whatever comes with that package.  I remember being about Eitan's age, lying on my bed on a lazy Sunday reading comics (Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider Man - issues #1-25 mint) and my father having the same conversation.  In the UK, sex education is a compulsory part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools to cut teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, which I applaud though many uncomfortable with the general early start.  Britain has some of the worst statistics in Europe. A new personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum, expected by 2010, will include compulsory sex and relationships education as well as better advice warning children against drugs and alcohol. Children will learn about body parts and the fact that animals reproduce from the age of five, puberty and intercourse from the age of seven and contraception and abortion from the age of 11.

Madeleine and I spend the entire afternoon at Eitan's 8-11 borough swimming championships, watching him compete two laps.  At least they were 33 meters and he tries the butterfly.  Madeleine is to die from boredom and, frankly, so am I.

Jump !

Madeleine has Jackson over and I tell them whatever they wish.  Two movies? Go for it.  Ben and Jerry's? Finish it all.  Stay up late? As you wish just don't bother me.  I make hamburgers and french fries, which are not especially good - Grace later tells me the secret is to soak them for some time in cold water to remove the starch.  This is one of those great things to know, which nobody other than your mom is going to tell you.  So we have a fun evening and they have deserved it.  The movies BTW are "Star Wars Clones" and "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" which I recall from '89 the year I graduated college. Oy vay. The special effects are pretty weak especially the giant ant the shrunk kids befriend. Said ant battles red tarantula and we all morn its death.  Rick Moranis pretty damn funny though he will always remain the nurd chased down by the devil dogs in "Ghost Busters."

"Honey" was a summer-release and postered across Manhattan. I know this because I drove into Greenwich Village on 5 July to start my post-University life.  My first apartment, 373 Sixth Avenue, ghastly. Found by Brown pal Mark, we shared two floors with seven Financial Analysts representing Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and of course, the mighty First Boston.  Only two remain. My room in the middle, overlooking a dark 8' by '8 light-shaft which somebody astro-turffed for their children complete with play gym.  This is NY.  The best thing about the place that we didn't care about its trashing - which we did on numerous occasions hosting boozy parties.  All furniture pushed to one end, keg and bar in the upstairs kitchen, dancing anywhere until dawn.  The first floor tenants four uniquely attractive students at Parsons School of Design and its fair to say their girl-friends pretty much made those evenings.  Our main problem keeping out the cornerside riff-raff who wished to share our treasure (girls, spirits). Ah, twenty-one and in the Big Apple for the first.

The first guy I met BTW a chubby Korean in a wife-beater t-shirt named Yangki who also, it turned out, working at First Boston.  Yangki partied like nobody's business and slept all day Sunday.  And there was Jimmy, an ice-hockey player from Brown whose only rink-time 2AM Monday mornings. He never missed.

Saturday, November 14


Sonnet is in Bath this week end with Halley and I get to shape the silly puddy sans interference.  I drive them hard: oh-six-thirty reveille followed by breakfast and maths home work.  Madeleine and I sanitise Foxy's Habitrail while Eitan guards the hamster with his life.  We then put the rodent in its ball and clean-up the dishes.  Madeleine picked up for swim-practice at seven-forty sharp. I take Eitan to football where we debate practice since "torrential rain." Why question? This is England. The boys go ahead.  I visit the hard-ware then the dump, pick-up Eitan from football and Madeleine from a post-swim play-date and home where they begin .. chores!  Today brutal, too, since autumn deposits a blanket of leaves on the front and back.  The Shakespeares drag their feet.  It rains. Oh well.  Madeleine asks timidly: "may I have something to eat?" which is a fair question since I have forgotten lunch. I make toasted egg, cheese and ketchup sandwiches. Again Madeleine: "Dad I did not know you could cook like this!".  After lunch, more chores now home work, which the kids do in fear since I threaten demerits for lallygagging.  It is one o'clock.  After an hour's silence (minds at work), I give them free-time until 3PM when Eitan has a birthday party and Madeleine and I to pick up Jackson for an overnight.

Me: "Ok, kids, make yourself some breakfast."
Madeleine: "Can I have marsh mellows?"
Madeleine: "Chocolate lollies then?"
Madeleine: "Well, you did say for us to have what we want!"

Thursday, November 12


I watch a bit of the movie 'Hoodwinked' which the kids absorb on 'movie night.'  It's awful - nouveau animation, loud music, awful plot, silly charters.  I point this out and Madeleine, eyes glued to the set: "It is a kids movie, Dad. You don't understand it."  And I suppose, indeed, she is right.

Sonnet and I visit the Hampton School in Surrey this afternoon. Eitan will sit his exams in Year-6 while we are a year or so ahead of the curve, reviewing state and public schools for his secondary education (the equivalent of Jr and High School in the US). Madeleine will begin next year.  Hampton was founded in 1552 and remains steadfastly all-boys, though there is a neigbhoring sister school where, I am sure, the hormones make a bee-line.  The Head Master leads a presentation equal to anything I saw at the Columbia Business School (though without cheese nor $200K signing bonuses).  The school's data speaks for itself: around 77% of the boys scored  "A" on their GCSEs while the national average (including girls, boosting the rate)  20% (GCSEs BTW are part of the National Qualifications Framework. A GCSE at grades D–G is a Level 1 qualification, while a GCSE at grades A–C is a Level 2 qualification. An A is an exceptional outcome).  This makes Hampton School one of the top ten secondaries in Britain.

Of great interest to our house: football popular and Hampton won the Indpendent School's Cup in 1999 and 2007 and reached the final in 2005 and 2009.

Any wayssss .. Sonnet and I impressed by the lads who are tall, purposely disheveled, handsome, friendly .. I can see Eitan here but who knows? For his part, Eitan aware of the Hampton School since many of his school pals want to go here (or at least, their parents want them to go here).  Stay tuned.

Sonnet and I discuss the differences of Hampton  vs. her Anchorage high school Steller or my Berkeley High School.  There is no doubt a top British public school (ie, private) opportunities enormous especially here in or around London.  Beyond tradition and all that, these boys travel. They visit or do exchanges around the world in places like Uruguay and Malowi - 27 countries in all last year.  The cricket club was in South Africa and will tour India this year.  Wow. I got a good education at BHS and was lucky or motivated to spend a year in Geneva but this unusual - my parents made it so.  Here, anything can be done. And why not? As a teacher says today: "We should set the example. We live in the fourth wealthiest country in the world and ours one of the ten best secondary schools."  And there you have it.

Eitan: "You have an extraordinary ability to remember every bad thing that has happened to you."
Madeleine: "Eitan - that is the nicest thing you have ever said to me!"

Wednesday, November 11

Lunch And A Mistake

I take Madeleine from school for lunch, where we stare at each other over pizza, her favorite dish. Hers: pepperoni, of course.  It is hard work getting inside the head of a seven-year-old and I find myself leading many fits and starts. How is school? Fine. Do you like your teacher? She's Ok. What's your favorite subject? Art. Why? I don't know. And so on and so forth.  Being with her fills my heart with joy.

Gordon Brown has taken a hard one this week from grieving mother Jacqui Janes whose son Jamie, a professional soldier, died in Afghanistan. Brown sent Janes his condolences and mis-spelled Janes' name - or at least it appears that way in the letter posted by The Sun who gleefully reports the outrage. Brown (who also lost a child - his ten-year-old daughter Jennifer to a brain haemorrhage) mortified, calls Janes to apologies and lambasted by her for inadequate helicopter support that, she shrills, caused her son's death. The Sun releases the conversation (Janes denies being wired, but she is a liar).  In the US, Cindy Sheehan effectively used her son's death to galvanise anti-war protests.  I have every sympathy for Jacqui Janes (and Cindy Sheehan) but I have no tolerance for her public attack on Brown for attempting to provide comfort .. Brown's letter may be filled with errors, but it is lengthy, hand-written and seems genuine.  Janes and The Sun turning this into a media event is tacky.  Or worse.  Jamie's death should be honoured with dignity and respect.  

"He didn't sound apologetic in the phone call. He didn't actually apologise. He said sorry a lot, sorry that I didn't understand his writing, sorry about all that. Today he looked sincere. He looked humbled. He is now going to get a record of my son's death, of the day's events. I hope that he has the sleepless nights I have had for the past five weeks because my son sustained horrific injuries."
--Jacqui Janes

Me: "How was your morning?"
Madeleine: "Good."
Me: "Use more than one word."
Madeleine: "Really good."

Me (before dinner): "How was your day?"
Eitan: "Good."
Me: "Use more than one word please."
Eitan: "Rea.."
Me: "And don't you dare say 'really good.'"

Tuesday, November 10

Fancy Dress And Bullet Payments

Eitan moments before his tie for Dana's christening.  He is not a happy camper.  Dana did inform us dress-up unnecessary for the Sunday ceremony but Sonnet and I feel a little formal good for the boy.  It does not happen often - in fact, the last time at Diane's wedding in June.  Same for Madeleine and a dress, which is unfortunate because I like her in one.  I am sure every parent goes through the same over fancy dress (check); homework and chores (check); take a bath (check); go to bed (check, check, check).  We try to choose our battles, Dear God. We do try.

There are some indicators that London coming out of the financial mess, including commercial property values which have snapped back from their deepest slump on record and now worry pundits we are entering another bubble. Oy.  I am not convinced, however, that we are through the tunnel.  The Financial Services Authority, which regulates the UK's financial industry, saw 247 new applications for authorisation in the third quarter, the lowest in three years, while 643 firms cancelled their registration (source: IMAS Corporate Advisors). The country's financial engine, The City, continues to shrink even while bonuses return to 2007 (Goldman, bastards).  The real worry, however, 2012: this when 'bullet payments' come due on company debt issued in a leveraged buy-out in 2007. This, of course, being the top of a toppy market.  Company valuations were then out of wack with historicals and now these investments underwater (like negative equity on a house).  Nobody really cares about value flucuations as long as the debt serviced .. which it typically must be in five years after the issue date. If the economy has not returned to terra firma, we may see defaults which could .. only hurt a struggling economy further.    

"If your love life is rife, it could save your life."
--A losing entry for a new, national condoms campaign