Sunday, October 31

Final Pumpkin

One more photo and Halloween a wrap. Kids back to school tomorrow following half-term break. Sonnet's monthly departmental meeting early Monday and I have to send my %^&*$ computer to Sony for repairs. Oh, and the boiler still not fixed so no heat. Rusty just took an enormous shit on the kitchen floor. But, on the bright side, the kids count their loot and the party a success. We are going to watch a family movie, Tom Hank's "Big," and we have an extra hour thanks to day-light savings. Life is good.


I arrive home and everything back to normal - pictured.

And today is Hallowe'en. Eight trick-or-treaters over to our place to raise hell. Sonnet asks me to find some scary music for the party and only one thing will do: the theme song to John Carpenter's "Halloween" in '78 which scared the bejesus out of me. Yes, this the original "slasher" movie. The film set in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, a perfect American suburb with clean white houses and roads lined with autumnal trees. On Halloween, six-year old Michael Myers murders his older sister with a long knife. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a psychiatric hospital, returns home, and stalks teenager Laurie Strode and her friends. Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis suspects Michael's intentions, and follows him to Haddonfield to try to prevent this from happening. Now de rigeur in today's horrors, there are sexy teens having sex and getting their comeuppance. Unlike now, there is very little violence and heroine baby-sitter Laurie hardly helpless: trapped in a closet, Laurie stabs Michael in the eye with a wire hanger to make her escape. In today's slashers, everybody gore. Sonnet: "Are you scaring the kids?"

Eitan and Madeleine sleep-over at Aggie's and I forget Eitan's football game so we frantically dash to the pitch for the last 20 minutes of KPR's match against the Barne's Eagles (recall this the team KPR played 3X in a pre-season tournament scoring one goal and ending up with three ties. Consider that). So we are not surprised to find the game scoreless. It is raining and muddy as the boy ordered straight onto the pitch without warm-up. And worse: the Eagles score and it looks like curtains as they come close to number-two a moment later. But the lads hang on and Eitan sets up two strikes on a cross and down-field break-away. KPR wins, 3-nil.

Eitan: "I'm not having a bath."
Me: "would you rather have a bath or bugs in your hair?"
Eitan: "Is that a serious question?"
Me: "Yes."
Eitan: "Bugs."
Me: "No choice. Bath now."
Eitan: "Can I do that tomorrow?"
Me: "Are you a procrastinator?"
Eitan: "I don't know. What's that?"
Me: "It is when you do something tomorrow that can be done today."
Eitan: "Well, I'm a do-it-tomorrow kind of guy."
Eitan: "Well, actually, I do like saving things if it's a good thing."

Madeleine: "Did Auntie Katie make up the the OpEd page?"
Me: "Yes. She is the founder."
Madeleine: "Is it all around the world or just New York?"
Me: "all around the world I suppose."
Madeleine: "Whoa! That's cool."
(Madeleine examines an OpEd page greeting card of eight women)
Madeleine: "How many people do it? By the looks, lots."

260 Fifth Ave.

Katie and I outside her office building in Lower Manhattan.

Empire State

The Empire State Building, all 102 floors of her, taken from Katie's office floor. This baby stood as the world's tallest building for more than 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center's North Tower in 1972. In 2001, she became New York's tallest building again.

Katie and I have lunch at a nearby diner then stroll to 23rd, Fifth and Broadway so I can take a picture of the Flat Iron building, which anchors the the south (downtown) end of Madison Square. The Flat Iron one of the world's first skyscrapers and, at completion in 1902, was herself the tallest building in New York City. From there, Katie introduces me to the Eaterly Market which offers wonderful indoor food stalls, coffee, fish and cut meats, breads, olives and various candied treats. It is all hussle and bussle as Hermes and Gucci stuff their faces with stinky cheese and sour dough bread. I buy some nugget and chat with the cashier who is proud to be a part of all this; we agree, it is just like the Harrods Food Hall.

Eitan: "Joe's mum (Aisling) told us a funny story."
Me: "Yes?"
Eitan: "Aisling was at a party and her friend has a seven-year old kid. His mum asked him to serve some nibbles and he brought out the dog food. When his mum came in everybody was eating dog food."
Eitan: "They said it tasted kind of queer."

Katie's Bio

Founder and Director of The OpEd Project, Katie Orenstein has contributed to the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald. Her commentaries on women, politics, popular culture, mythology and human rights have been nationally syndicated and appear in anthologies. She has lectured at Harvard and appeared on ABC TV World News, Good Morning America, MSNBC, CNN and NPR All Things Considered. A graduate of Harvard (MA) and Columbia (MA) universities, she is the author of Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality & the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, which explores stories told about women over 500 years across multiple continents, and how they shape our lives today. It has been translated into multiple languages and is under consideration for a television series. Newsweek called it “revelatory,” The Wall Street Journal called it “beguiling,” and feminist author Naomi Wolf called it “laid back, readable brilliance.”

Orenstein has lived and worked around the world and particularly in Haiti, where she traveled as a folklore student and journalist in the 1990s, during a time of political upheaval. As a result of that experience, she has reported extensively on Haiti; organized fact-finding delegations for journalists, scholars and lawmakers; and consulted with the United Nations human rights mission. In 1996 she worked with a team of international human rights lawyers to assist victims of military and paramilitary violence in seeking justice. She investigated tortures, rapes, political assassinations and massacres; interviewed hundreds of victims, witnesses and alleged criminals; and coordinated lawyers’ and victims’ efforts to build cases against their persecutors. She has written about some of these cases and their aftermaths in Haiti and in the United States.

Orenstein has received a Peabody-Gardner Fellowship, Tinker Grant and a Cordier Essay Prize (from Columbia University), and was a finalist for the 2004 Prize for Promise, designed “to identify young women, aged 21-35,of great promise and vision who could... become world leaders in their respective fields.” She is a fellow with The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, and a fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation, which selected The OpEd Project as one of 19 of the most innovative social enterprises worldwide, out of a pool of 1500 applicants.

--The OpEd Project, 2010


Here is Katie's fabulous Operations Director Danielle, pictured. Danielle also runs the Mentor-Editor Program, which includes 17 Pulitzer Prize recipients. In addition to her role at The OpEd Project, she is the treasurer of One Village Planet---a non-profit organization which focuses on sustainable development and agriculture in Haiti and Ghana--and is the founder and President of The One Village Planet-Women's Development Initiative---a non-profit dedicated to ensuring safe working conditions for women in the Tamale region of Ghana, West Africa--who are involved in the shea industry as both harvesters and processors---and empowering them to attain sustainable economic autonomy. Danielle received her MFA in Poetry from Hunter College, in New York City, where she also teaches creative writing and composition to undergraduates (from the Op-Ed website). She is also totally cool as only one can be in New Yawk City.

"I'm in a pickle"
--Katie (a suggestion, she notes, that applies to all women)


These friendly cops let me take their picture in Times Square. It has been a long time since the counter revolution named them "pigs." Today the NYPD the largest metro police force in the US with 37,838 uniforms and another 10,500 auxiliary police, school safety agents and traffic enforcement wardens. This compares to Scotland Yard: At February 2010, London owned 33,258 sworn officers and 2,988 Special Constables, 14,332 civilian police staff, and 4,520 non-sworn Police Community Support Officers.

In 1989, the year I arrived in NY, the city surpassed 2,000 murders before peaking at 2,245 in 1990 (today the figure 500 or at historical lows). Back then, New York a sinister, exciting, place. One considered transportation between parties or clubs or wherever with safety in mind. The subway menacing. My girlfriend refused to leave my flat unaccompanied and who can blame her? While the chance of being mugged, let alone kilt, in a city of 7 million people fractional, the daily, gory, reportage made it feel out of control. Feeble Mayor Dinkins did not help.

London, by contrast, an odd far-away fairyland with its red phone booths and bobbies who walked their beat sans fire arms. How could a similar urban city, coming through a brutal economic transformation, be so much kinder? For starters, London did not have a crack problem (heroine, yes). Londoners not armed with Saturday Night Specials or other hand guns. The social services removed a desperate edge. In 1990, London's homicide rate 184 (1990 population: 6.7 million).

New York's murder decline well documented and a combination of Mayor Giuliani's focus on petty crime, jail-sentencing and data tracking+the easement of hard drugs and the return of the city's economy reversed the 1980s. Giuliani brought back the street cop, otherwise found behind the wheel, who became friendly with the neighborhood. Graffiti disappeared and crime
dropped dramatically - today's murder rate one quarter of 1990. Police respected and no longer considered the adversary (view: Serpico, The Bad Lieutenant). I do not spot a gum wrapper on the Upper West Side.

Yes, New York City glitters. Manhattan one giant Gap or Banana Republic or Starbucks - each on every corner. Gone is the violence, the grit, the fear - replaced by diners that serve $20 goat cheese omelettes. Nobody smokes. The Yankees have a billion-dollar ballpark. Minorities and artist leave Manhattan for cheaper rent; Greenwich Village no longer gay. Too expensive. Studio 54 long-disappeared and The Palladium now a NYU dormitory. While it may be easy to reminisce of New York's creative, hard, '70s, I was there for the end of that. Nobody wants to revisit 1990.

Sources: US Census, UK Office for National Statistics, London Metropolitan Police, office, NYPD

"When you confront a problem you begin to solve it."
--Rudy Giuliani

Saturday, October 30

Eux Autres

Lead singer Heather (photo from Janine Quaile).

So Is Venture Dead?

Christian at his penthouse flat.

I attend the Industry Ventures general meeting which takes up the morning. It is a good moment to catch up with the team, where I am a Venture Partner, and see investors - I have dinner with two colleagues who manage many billions of alternatives for several Dutch pension funds. They have decided to take a pass on venture for the next two years and we debate whether the venture model broken. Easy to be dispirited, too, when the industry has returned a median 4% on invested capital since '00 (the Dow, by comparison, about the same place but with huge volatility). Investors want a premium for their ten-year cash lock-up and VC ain't doing it. On the bright side, the over-supply of capital working its way through the system and we are near the end, one hopes: 1999-00 vintages done though may receive an extension. Once Industry Ventures bought these tired funds and limited partners but now we focus on 'secondary directs' - focusing on the great company rather then a portfolio and writing off the dogs. No need for the extra-step as deal flow has increased maybe tenfold since I first met Hans and Mike.

So is venture dead? Every day m and a exits net 5-10X cash multiples on smaller, less visible deals; there are 120 tech IPOs filed with the SEC. Many will not get out but, still, there is money to be made. Managers now raise less capital and concentrate on highly specific areas like nano-technology or cancer or whatever. Their companies advanced when they raise institutional support, and less of it. This year Silicon Valley will rake about $14 billion or the same as last year when fundraising at historical lows. Without pensions, fund managers will remain lean - here lies the opportunity.

Giants World Series

The Giants are in the World Series, vs. the TX Rangers, for the first time since 2002 when they played the the Anaheim Angels. Back then, the Giants split the first two games in Anaheim and took two of three at Pac Bell Park. With the Giants leading the series three games to two following a 16–4 blowout win in Game 5, the series shifted back to Anaheim and the momentum with with it. With the Giants leading 5–0 (5 to nil!) in the bottom of the 7th of Game 6, Manager Dusty Baker removed starter Russ Ortiz and handed him the "game" ball as he left the mound. Moments later, Scott Spiezio hit a three-run home run for the Angels off reliever Felix Rodriguez, who then went on to win the game 6–5. The following night, Anaheim won Game 7, 4–1 to claim the Series. We are still smarting from that one. Dusty now Manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

At this writing the Giants up 2-nil and the second game remarkable for the Ranger's pitching collapse allowing a seven run 7th inning including 12 straight balls. I love W watching the game probably eating a potato chip.

Before Game 1, Christian and I walk to Pac Bell ballpark to check out the vibe. Giants fans dress in orange and black with wigs to support opening pitcher Tim Lincecum, known as "the Freak," or black beards for Brian Wilson ("Fear the beard). Christian spots SF mayor Gavin Newsome in civilian fatigues and gets a shout out; the day before he recognised Giant's manager Bruce Bochy, incognito, as we jog by the crowded Ferry Building. I don't know how Christian does it - these guys just don't stand out for me. The evening before I am at a cocktail party for Industry Ventures then Christian and I meet at the Great American Music Hall to hear new band "Best Coast" which we both like. The lead singer a California convert: she sings about mountains and oceans and love. All that. We are six feet from the band. Afterwards we go to excellent restaurant Flour+Water on Harrison Street. The next night I rally for two more bands including Eux Autres. I meet lead singer Heather Larimer who is from Nebraska and, at 18, "got the first bus outta there." Eux Autres channel 60s French pop and I dig it. Heather tells me she will be in London in February.

Madeleine: "Rusty just winked at me."
Me: "Why do you think he did that?"
Madeleine: "Because I was going 'blah la la blah la la' at him."
Eitan: "You mean 'Blah la la la la la'?"
Madeleine: "No, it was 'blah la la blah la la'"


Grace and Moe, alive and vibrant. Grace is the operations director of the Link To Children (TLC), a non-profit she founded in 1996 with Katrina Ross and a few others; I recall Katrina from the Montessori School Grace started in the basement of an Oakland church and ran with Katrina in the 1970s and early 1980s (Grace and I went to the church earlier this year and memories from 35 years ago true). TLC's mission statement: to support the healthy emotional development of children 0-5 years of age within a culturally relevant context so that young children will be able to learn to their full potential, even in difficult times and under difficult circumstances by providing early intervention mental health services at child care centers in Alameda County. TLC's two-year multi-lingual, multi-cultural training internship provides post-masters mental health interns with a specialization in culturally competent early childhood mental health.

Today, T
LC interns provide up to 3400 hours a year of early intervention services to the families of eleven centers. They collaborate with parents, preschool teachers, administrators, and community agencies in support of the healthy emotional development of young children. TLC has a Clinical Supervision Team who supervise the mental health interns. TLC is one of four agencies funded by Every Child Counts First Five to partner in the development of mental health services for all children five and under in Alameda County. In addition, through the Early Opportunities Learning Act TLC is partnering with Safe Passages of Oakland to provide services to two South Alameda County child development centers. Also, TLC has just opened a new play therapy office at the Alameda County Family Justice Center in Oakland, a one-stop service center for victims of domestic violence and their children.

Grace receives donor support from Kaiser Permanente, The Saperstein Family Fund, the California Endowment, and Target, Inc. along with 25 other foundations, public funding sources and corporate contributions.

Me: "Do the dishes. Take your bath."
Sonnet: "Close the door!"
Eitan: "This is where everyone gets shouty, isn't it?"

Bay Area Morning

I am behind on my weblog following a week in California. Bare with me. My photo of the Bay Area taken from Panaramic Rd in the North Berkeley Hills behind Memorial football stadium. The Golden Gate visible to the immediate left of the tree. I arrive SFO Monday afternoon and up the following morning 4AM. Rather then lay in bed and fight my demons, I pinch my dad's tri-pod and quietly let myself out the front door. This the dead-zone: the only movement a lone, empty bus (the No. 65 which used to be the No. 7 in my day) which cruises up Euclid Avenue. I pass the Cal dorms, Top Dog (a Berkeley fixture since '66), a sciences building and the business school - all locked down. I brought Sonnet to Panaramic during our early courtship and she recalls the night - like now, it was unusually warm and the view unchanged. I make my phone calls and consider the strangeness of looking at this while talking to Helsinki or London. Not possible fifteen years ago.

We have a proper family re-union dinner as Katie in Palo Alto where she signs a partnership with Stanford University. They will provide editorial training for women and minorities.

According to the San Fran Chronicle, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the wealthiest regions in the U.S thanks to the economic power engines of San Francisco and San Jose. The Bay Area has approximately 123,621 millionaire households. Among medium-sized cities, Pleasanton has the highest household income in the country, and Livermore the third highest. 48% of the Bay's households have annual incomes >$75,000 vs. 26% for the nation. The percentage of households with incomes above $100,000 was double the nationwide percentage. Roughly one third of households had a six figure income, versus less than 16% at the nationwide level.

In June 2003, a study by Stanford University reviewing US Census Bureau statistics determined the median household income in the Bay is roughly 60% above national average. Overall the largest income bracket in the Bay Area were households making between $100,000 and $150,000 annually, who constituted roughly 18% of households. On a national level the largest income bracket were households with incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 who constituted 13% of all households nationwide. Of the 100 highest income counties by per capita income in the United States, six are in the San Francisco Bay Area (Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda).

According to Forbes Magazine, published in 2005, 12 of the top 50 most expensive Zip Codes are here (Atherton, Ross, Diablo, Belvedere-Tiburon, Nicasio, Portola Valley, Los Altos-Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos-Monte Sereno, the Cow Hollow-Marina District of San Francisco, Alamo, and Burlingame-Hillsborough).Forty-seven Bay Area residents made the Forbes magazine's 400 richest Americans list, published in 2007. Thirteen live within San Francisco proper, placing it seventh among cities in the world. Among the forty-two were several well-known names such as Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and Charles Schwab. The highest-ranking resident is Larry Ellison of Oracle at No. 4. He is worth $19.5 billion. Additionally, a Forbes survey of the super wealthy concluded that the Bay Area had the highest concentration of the super wealthy relative to other locations such as New York City and Dallas. "America's Greediest Cities". (Forbes Magazine) A study by Claritas indicates that in 2004, 5% of all households within the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas held $1 million in investable assets. As of 2007, there were approximately 80 public companies with annual revenues of over $1 billion a year, and 5-10 more private companies. Nearly 2/3 of these are in the Silicon Valley section of the Bay Area.

A May 2009 Fortune Magazine analysis of the US "Fortune 500" companies indicates that the combined San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan region ranks second nationally (along with metro Chicago and Houston) with 29 companies. Additionally, when the combined total revenue of the Fortune 500 list companies is considered, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland region again ranks second nationally after New York with $884 billion. As of 2010, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland region ranks second only to New York City (and ahead of Chicago and Houston) as the number of Fortune 500 companies has increased to 31 companies. (April 2010 Fortune Magazine) (Sources: Inside Bay Area, Stanford University, US 2005 Economic Survey and the San Francisco Chronicle)

Eitan: "Do the Americans know what a 'loo' is?"

Sunday, October 24

Dream Fulfilled

Heal, Boy, Heal

"Rusty" is a pure-bred (we have no plans to stud "Rusty" so no need to own papers which otherwise would make him more expensive). "Rusty's" dad, pictured, has won a series of local Powys competitions this year, selected "Best Pedigree," "Best Gun Dog," "Best Sporting Dog," and "Best Conditioned Dog," 2010. He also won "Best In Show" and since this his first competition the locals pretty pissed off. We are told this by Steve and Kati who are very proud of their pets. The drive to Wales adds to the story - a Welsh Springer Spaniel from .. Wales.

Love At First Sight

We arrive at the breeder's house in the middle of the Welsh countryside.

"Rusty" is pretty damn cute, I admit, and we are immediately smitten by the nine-week old puppy. Sure, we have heard the stories of sleepless nights and dog shit everywhere but for now, it is all love. To see Madeleine's face indescribable - this just may be the happiest day of her life. In fact, I am sure of it. We receive our final dog instructions about vaccinations, worming, pet food, exercise &c. Owning a pup somehow less daunting now that we have the pooch - it cannot really be that difficult, can it? As I mention to Sonnet, unlike with the kids we can just pop the dog into a potato sack and chuck him into the Thames. I get a cold stare. 15 minutes into our six-hour drive to London the dog throws up on Eitan.

The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a breed of dog and a member of the spaniel family. Thought to be comparable to the old Land Spaniel, they are similar to the English Springer Spaniel and historically have been referred to as both the Welsh Spaniel and the Welsh Cocker Spaniel. They were relatively unknown until a succession of victories in dog trials by the breed increased its popularity. Following recognition by The Kennel Club in 1902, the breed gained the modern name of Welsh Springer Spaniel. The breed's coat only comes in a single colour combination of white with red markings. Loyal and affectionate, they can become very attached to family members and are wary of strangers. They are a working dog, bred for hunting, and while not as rare as some varieties of spaniel, they are rarer than the more widely known English Springer Spaniel with which they are sometimes confused.

Wales Or Bust

Madeleine moments before meeting "Rusty" - the fulfillment of a two year campaign and dream come true.

Saying our good-byes to Dave and Tabitha and their clan, we head for Wales crossing the Brecon Beacon on a lovely autumnal day. It is hard not to be impressed by the splendid scenery. The mountains are red-brown which, Sonnet notes, are ferns now dead from the seasonal cold. 50-degrees latitude yet tropical plants cover most of the visible countryside. Bi-zaar. We are on our way to Rhayader, Powys.

Mid-morning outside Bath in the parking lot of the closed Pet Shop superstore, Sonnet saves the day with her Android phone with directions to where we are going. The sat-nav not programmed for Wales. The kids on the edge of their seat.

We drive past the Big Pit which draws shudders from the Shakespeares. Recall the pit a disused coal mine which today provides access to tourist via an elevator-drop some hundreds of feet below the earth's surface. The tunnels narrow and claustrophobic and, since Eitan and Madeleine the youngest by like 20 years, we found ourselves at the tail end of the group struggling to keep up. At one point Madeleine's torch falls off and while fixing the problem we are momentarily separated from the guide. The kids screamed like nobody's business and we were well glad to get the hell out of there.

The Anglo-Saxon word for 'foreign' or 'foreigner' was
Waelisc and a 'foreign(er's) land' was called Wēalas. The modern English forms of these words with respect to the modern country are Welsh (the people) and Wales (the land). Historically in Britain the words were not restricted to modern Wales or to the Welsh but were used indiscriminately to refer to anything that the Anglo-Saxons associated with Celtic Britons, including other foreign lands (like Cornwall), places once associated with Celtic Britons (Walworth in County Durham and Walton in West Yorkshire), the surnames of people (Walsh and Wallace) and various other things that were once new and foreign to the Anglo-Saxons (ergo,"the walnut"). None of these historic usages is necessarily connected to Wales or the Welsh. The Anglo-Saxon words derived from the same Germanic root (singular Walh, plural Walha) that has provided modern names for Continental lands (e.g., Wallonia and Wallachia) and peoples (e.g., the Vlachs via a borrowing into Old Church Slavonic), none of which have any connection to Wales or the Welsh. Source: Wiki.

Madeleine: "Do you know where we are going?"
Me: "Yes, I just don't know how to get there."


Tabitha, Johny and AC work on the cake mix - I think this one Sonnet's gingerbread cake. Sonnet also prepares a pork roast with apples and onions, parsnips, carrots and mashed potatoes. Fab-u-lous. Afterwards we put the kiddies to bed and sit around the fire talking about middle aged stuff: house design, real estate values, fx rates and the movies. A bit of "Mad Men" and "Brothers and Sisters" which Sonnet and I will check out after "The Wire" as we are about to begin Season 4. Really these things are all consuming and I have not read a book in some while. Dave and Tabitha have remodelled their home - every room flows and light floods through windows that look across cherry and apple groves, poplar and other trees which are changing colour in a most brilliant fashion. Beyond are open fields and the rolling hills of England. Below us, Bath. Tomorrow, dog.

Saturday, October 23

Paddington Station

From Heathrow I catch the Paddington Express to meet Dave then off to Bath for the week end where Sonnet, Tabitha and Sam are seeing the ballet while the men prepare dinner (risotto, venison) and watch the kids (TV, chocolate cake). Sam and John are a neat couple - for the last 18 years John has been the key photographer for the Brits which is Britain's oscars. He has an wonderful inventory of popular images and I hope to choose one or two for our living room or somewhere. The kids race to my open arms as we have not seen each other since Monday. Sonnet does the same. Madeleine especially enthusiastic while Eitan has a bit of his cool on. He is pre-occupied by Wayne Rooney who announced he was leaving Manchester United but I am delighted to bring him the immediate news that Rooney has signed a five-year contract with ManU. I feel like Father Christmas.

Downtown Switzerland

I have an evening in Zurich and go for a jog along the lake. Since autumnal and the light changing with the afternoon and clouds, I bring along my camera and take a few shots – pictured. My first visit to Zurich in 1984 for a swimming meet. It looks no different today, really, despite a few new buildings and roadworks around the train station. Clean and charming. White. I dodge the trams to get across the street. From here it is Gutenberg, Sweden - a new city! -and Helsinki.

Zurich likes to call itself "Downtown Switzerland" (according to the Tourist Board) and is the largest city in Switzerland. While the municipality has about 380,500 inhabitants, the metropolitan area is nearly 2 million inhabitants. The canton was permanently settled for around 7,000 years ago and Zurich's history of goes back to its founding by the Romans, who, in 15 BC, called it Turicum. During the Middle Ages Zurich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, was the place of origin and centre of the Protestant Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Ulrich Zwingli (

Zurich today is one of the world's largest financial centres while the low tax rate (27% flat) attracts overseas companies to set up their headquarters here - like Delaware maybe. Or HongKong. According to several surveys from 2006 to 2008, Zurich was named the city with the best quality of life in the world as well as the wealthiest city in Europe (source: Mercer Consulting). British hedge funds, banks and private equity funds are moving, or threatening to move, here.

Tuesday, October 19


I jog this morning, 7AM, and disoriented by the activity on the Champs-Élysées - did my alarm go off at the wrong time? The avenue well lit, naturally, but there are people concluding their evening while street workers scrub down the road. Traffic honks away. It feels like midnight not the beginning of the day. My run takes me down the Champs to Place de la Concorde which is like playing "frogger" to cross. The Parisiennes have no qualms about striking a jogger at this hour. From there it is Toulerise then the Louvre; I cross a bridge to the Left Bank regarding Île de la Cité from point-on and finally Notre Dame with a single statue of Mary drawing my attention. By the time I return to my hotel the sun glancing the golden rooftops from the Grand Palais to the Arc de Triomphe, pictured. This is the Western World.


Eitan: "Do you want to go away this week?"

Me: "No, I would rather stay with you."
Eitan: "Why do you go then?"
Me: "Money does not grow on trees. We have to earn it."
Eitan: "Can we copy it?"
Me: "Copy what?"
Eitan: "Money. Can't we just copy it?"
Me: "There are no short cuts unfortunately.... Keep trying though."

Madeleine: "I cannot believe we are getting a dog in less than six days."

La Grève And Astorg

What I don't get about the strikes, as I sit here in Paris across the street from the presidential palace, is why young people are involved (at now, ten of 12 oil refineries have have shut down or are in the process of closing while half the flights from CDG cancelled. Could be me tomorrow). Afterall, the protests about moving the retirement age from 60 (the lowest in Europe) to 62 and reforming the pension scheme which is much needed for its survival. For the yuf, this is a lifetime away - what twenty-year-old thinks beyond next week? Students should be fighting to ensure they get a piece of the pie, ie, pro-reform, instead of a possible insolvency. But I suppose this does not work when the state viewed as the secure long-term career track. By contrast, my free market taxi driver is énervé by the lack of fuel which means he may not work tomorrow. So I hope for Sarkozy's success. Of course the disruptions occur as I am with foreign investors who may committ tens of millions of euros to France. But at least yesterday it was a lovely fall afternoon with the foliage turning orange and the light bouncing from the Seine so, really, where else compares?

Despite it all, France has a powerful economy, which is the fifth largest in the world in nominal terms at $2.1 trillion, behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany and the eighth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the second largest economy in Europe behind Germany and fourth largest behind Germany, United Kingdom and Russia by PPP (World Bank figures). Unemployment at 10% keeps people nervous and the taxes are high no doubt (with UK catching up) but the health care and transportation networks are, arguably, the best in the world for what they provide.

France has produced global leaders in energy resources, retail, manufacturing and other industry. Managements here are clever in a French way - clever like the fox. As for investment, approximately .70% of GDP committed to private equity which is on par with Scandanavia and behind the UK and US, which have over 1%. This suggests room for growth - I have observed through Astorg that French owners have become comfortable with buy-outs as the exit route. It is no longer seen as unusual (compared to m&a or an IPO) as it was in the '90s. In theory the discipline of independent private ownership modernises business and, against popular opinion in some places (see: Germany) preserves jobs. Intuitively, better run companies are less likely to fail, though leverage may put enormous pressure on the operators. In any case, Astorg has done better than most when it comes to transformations - the firm has earned a top spot on the league tables.

Photo from CNN.

Sunday, October 17


The Alton Estate, pictured, is a large council in Roehampton not too far from Sheen. It's made up of Alton East and the slightly later Alton West, each with several separate neighbourhoods. There are 13,000 residents making it one of the UK's largest. The architecture is mainly split between brutalist architecture and its Scandinavian-inspired counterpart. The area comprising a crossroads which links Roehampton Lane, Roehampton Village and the estate is undergoing planning to be redeveloped by Wandsworth Council.

Alton West was considered by many British architects to be the crowning glory of post World War Two social housing at tits completion in 1958. What made Alton West so special was its response to its setting: Built on a large expanse of parkland on the edge of Richmond Park, Alton West was a direct translation of Le Corbusiers’ idea of the Ville Radieuse or park city; sets of "point" and "slab" blocks being surrounded by the beauty of Richmond Park below. On this natural landscape at Alton West stood a number of different housing configurations; 12-storey "point" blocks with 4 flats per floor, terraces of low-rise maisonettes and cottages and perhaps most famously, five 11-storey "slab" blocks, heavily influenced by the recently completed Unité d'Habitation by Le Corbusier. Source: Wandsworth Council and Wiki

Madeleine, watching X-Factor: "Juggling fire, dad. Isn't that a bit dangerous?"

Hallowe'en Prequal

We have several families over for Sunday lunch including Dariaush who is from Iran. We talk about Iran's nuclear program and I learn that Iran's problem water. Specifically non-salienated "sweet" water which is used to extract oil. Consequently Iran depleting its water tables rapidly. Further, Iran's oil refined outside of the country by foreign companies. Consequently, Dariaush informs me, Iran must import oil from the global spot markets and it is not always cheap. See 2007. This is the reason for Iran's nuclear plans - despite being one of the world's largest owner of oil and gas they have to import energy and nuclear power cheaper+less water intensive. Their bomb making ambitions make no sense: Why spend billions building a nuclear weapon when one can be purchased for a couple hundred million on the black market? See Pakistan or North Korea. As for secrecy, Iran has likely acquired its technology from unsavory or surprising sources which it does not wish to share. Maybe Russia? Maybe America? As for Ahmadinejad it is any one's guess as to how he remains in power - nobody likes him including Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh who is the powerful leader of the opposition party. Khameneh's nephew Seyed Ali Mousavi was killed by Ahmadinejad's security forces during the Iranian election protests and now his son accused of corruption. Ahmadinejad poking the hornet's nest. Dariaush thinks Big Business keeps Ahmadinejad in power since global companies benefit from oil sales contracts with Iran. Ahmadinejad a foil, propaganda, on scale with Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s which united a country against a common cause, Iraq, while individuals lost their freedom after the Shah's removal (consider: USA WMD). This time though it might not work for Ahmadinejad but who knows?

Madeleine has a swimming gala yesterday morning and wins her relay and freestyle race. She gets a medal which she hangs up on her football trophy "that I won doing football, dad." We are thrilled for her.

Eitan Detective

We go to Emily's birthday party last night. Before dinner she hosts a "salon," asking five or six guests to present their expertise. Sonnet talks about 80s fashion, which is her planned next exhibition for 2012. I rarely get to see her in action and she is terrific - poised, comfortable and in control of her subject matter. I think of the ladies in Bronxville for some reason. The other speakers are equally remarkable: one guy describes his energy independent 9X9 meter eco-units which will one day soon be shipped around the world; another fellow who designed Trafalgar Square with Sir Richard Rogers. A famous writer reads a birthday poem while a neural scientist talks about the concept of 'home.' Concluding is Seraphine, a violinist for the London Philharmonic, who performs a melancholic tune of a man leaving home in Scotland. I talk to Seraphine afterwards - she grew up in St John's Wood before Oxford, when she met Emily. Seraphine's parents encouraged her talent from an early age and it has taken her around the world: she returned last week from Tokyo where, she notes, the Japanese attentive and appreciative of her craft. I ask if she is nervous before a performance? but she views it as any job, no sweat. It is what she does.

Sonnet meets the European Editor for Wired Magazine who refuses to sign up for Facebook. He is a gadget guy, he tells her. There is a new media element to the scene which is not surprising since Emily's husband James once at Yahoo and then part of the founding management of Skype and now responsible for Condé Nast's digital strategy. Condé publishes 85 magazines (including Wired). James sits on the main board with S.I. Newhouse Jr and is the youngest guy by ten years. Our mutual friend Nick Denton, founder of blog empire Gawker Media, profiled in this week's New Yorker magazine.

Sonnet wears her red dress and black pumps and we make scrambled eggs at midnight.

"A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse est"). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th century and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently, in urban settings, among like-minded people."

Saturday, October 16

Some Cracks And The Dog's Name

Madeleine helps me fill in a few cracks from the second floor roof-deck. The area behind her I plan to turn into a green roof. Or maybe not.

Madeleine: "Are you glad you had two kids?"
Me: "Of course. You and Eitan are the joy of our life."
Madeleine: "Did you want a third kid?"
Me: "We thought about it I suppose. Are you happy to have me as your dad?"
Madeleine: "Well, I guess if I didn't have you some other dad might not let me have a dog."

Eitan reads a harvest-day verse to the entire school. We find out a day or two later when he looks up from his plate to fill us in on a few scanty details. How honoured, dear reader, are we to know at all.

Dog names contemplated by the family: Chester, Morris, Skud, Rusty, Dash, Ziggy, Don't-Shit-On-The-Carpet (mine), Waldo, Copper, Sipper, Makee (sp?), Mac Attack, Get-Out-Of-Bed-And-Take-The-Dog-Out (Sonnet), Marmaduke and Oscar. There are quite a few more but these are the ones that made it to a vote.

Tunnel & Tommy

Showing the world Europe can still do something with its hands and following 14 years of drilling, Switzerland builds the world’s longest rail tunnel - pictured. The Swiss tunnel's 34 miles cuts straight through the Alps. It is about 2.5 miles longer than the previous record tunnel in Japan. Unfortunately for those around and nearby, today's completion only the first stage of the project which includes more .. tunnels. And is not expected to be completed for maybe, like, 7 years. Designed primarily for large freight traffic, the tunnel will reduce travel time across the mountains and speed up commerce and trade. The trip from Zurich to Milan, for instance, now one hour faster. The project employed 2,500 diggers moving enough dirt and rock to build five of the Egyptian Pyramids.

Madeleine: "Dad do you think it is possible to dress Tommy up?
Me: "Sure. What would you dress Tommy up in?"
Madeleine: "I don't know. Do you think Tommy a Vampire Hamster?"
Madeleine: "For Halloween. Maybe I will dress him up as a Vampire Hamster."
Me: "Well that would be original."
Madeleine: "Would it? Why would it be original?"
Me: "Nobody has done it before."
Madeleine: "Really? We can make a web site about it. Do you want to hold it?"
Me: "I'm busy."
Madeleine: "Dad: serious question. Who do you like more, Tommy or the computer?"
Madeleine: "I knew it! You like the computer more don't you dad?"

Photo of the Swiss Tunnel from the AP.

Friday, October 15

Teacher Reviews+Butthead

And so yes - Friday again.

We have the parent-teacher conferences yesterday and both Eitan and Madeleine do fine. Mrs. Q, Madeleine's teacher, says that Madeleine is great at her times tables, has good ideas for story-writing, has improved her ability to develop story-lines and loves art. She shows us a hand crafted Tudor chair made with styrofoam, fabric and sparkles. Fabulous. We are delighted with Madeleine's progress.

Eitan's teacher, Mr P, is new to the school, from Ireland, and looks exactly like Butthead from 'Beavis & Butthead.' Seriously. Tall and unusually thin. Long narrow head slightly larger at the top, cropped black hair+large lower lip. Do a Google. Eitan tells us that the boys try to get him to say "third" because Mr P's accent says "turd." Yet P instills our confidence as he rattles through a check list of Eitan's accomplishments - he takes a particular interest Eitan's literary abilities which is P's favorite subject. Eitan may not be the class leader, we learn, but he is confident and independent - I think too early to call him a geek but that is there too.

As for Butthead in "Beavis & Butthead," Butthead wears dental braces has squinty eyes and a drooping nose with prominent nostrils. His top gums exposed due to a small upper lip and he speaks nasally with a deep voice and a slight lisp. He begins almost every statement with "Uhhhhhh..." and ends with his short trademark laugh "Uh huh huh huh". Calmer, though cockier, and marginally more intelligent than Beavis, Butt-head is oblivious to subtlety of any sort and is usually 100% confident in everything he says and does no matter how ridiculous or frivolous it is—unless it has to do with females, in which case he either wavers or comes on too strongly. His trademark phrase when approaching women is "hey baby". As the more dominant personality of the duo it seems he derives pleasure from regularly abusing Beavis. It is a total cap on the suburban teenager.

Tuesday, October 12

NYC Subway

Katie brings back wonderful memories of commuting to work in the Big Apple with her photo she sends me. My first year in New York I caught the "F" train from Greenwich Village up 6th Avenue to the 50th and Park Avenue station and the Mighty First Boston (Park Avenue Plaza - 55 East 52nd Street). Sometimes I got a seat but usually standing room only. Funny how I recall my very first day of work with Erik who "moood" like a cattle as we shuffled along the platform towards the exit - nobody paid him no mind. That would have been August 1989 after our 10-week "training" program meant to turn us into Financial Analysts or Investment Bankers or whatever we were meant to be. Underpaid whipping boys, mostly. But I guess it got us somewhere.

Here is the raw data from Wiki: The NY Subway is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation (423 if stations connected by transfers are counted as a single station); 229 miles of routes, translating into 656 miles of revenue track; and a total of 842 miles including non-revenue trackage. Much bigger than the Underground. In 2009, the subway delivered over 1.579 billion rides, averaging over five million on weekdays, 2.9 million on Saturdays, and 2.2 million on Sundays. The New York City Subway trails only Tokyo's, Moscow's and Seoul's subways in annual ridership and carries more passengers than all other rail mass transit systems in the US combined. It is one of the four systems, with PATH, parts of the Chicago 'L', and PATCO to offer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“When it's three o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London.”
--Bette Midler

Monday, October 11

Tiffen School

Eitan and I check out the Tiffen School in Kingston - chemistry lab pictured (do note the flames originating from the boy's hands). Tiffen the best grammar school in our area and, indeed, one of the country's very best schools: the Head Teacher tells us Tiffen "inside Britain's Top-5 state schools" based on test scores while sending a fifth of its kids to "Oxbridge." Tiffen is also free, making it very dear: 1,400 applications chase 140 spots. We enjoy our grounds tour led by a confident 8th grader named "Kush" whose parents immigrated from some obscure part of India. Kush's dream is to read maths at Oxford or Cambridge and Eitan mortified when I ask Kush if he knows 8 x 7. Just testing. I notice that there are plenty of Indian students while all the kids delightfully awkward and goofy with bad skin, untucked shirts and unpolished shoes (I tell Eitan that if he goes to Tiffen he doesn't have to comb his hair). This nothing like St Paul's or the Hampton School where those boys blue blood and polished. Eitan and I discuss the differences between public and state schools and I note that while the publics might have better facilities and teacher-student ratios, they may fail to offer a fair cross section of society and could miss the most interesting people. This my experience at Berkeley High School anyway - my friends from then generally more interesting than the Ivy League. To hand, the "Head Boy" who addresses the auditorium remarkable - poised, confident, white and a strong jawline. We are all relieved I am sure.

While Eitan duly impressed by Tiffen he notes that it lacks one critical ingredient: football. This is a rowing and rugby place.

Really, Dad, Everything Is OK

Madeleine insists everything under control as she leaves for an after-school play date with Molly even though I do not know Molly's address or the pick-up coordination. Once sorted, we have a good chuckle together over this photo as we walk off the school playground.