Friday, February 6

Lucky 7


And so, Friday - and this one special as Madeleine turns a year. Sonnet makes the Birthday Girl breakfast-in-bed and Dana and Nathan call to wish happy cheer. I ask our hero how she feels and she replies: "a bit different, dad. But not really." Fair enough. The party is tomorrow when 12 children and four adults will attend the London premier of super-dog "Bolt" (tagline: "Fully Awesome. Ridonculous. Let It Begin." At least it is not "Space Chimps") followed by pizza and cake and ice cream (mais oui!). Should be fun and I do love any instance where I can act their age. This morning I sit on Madeleine's bed as she chews away on a pecan sticky-bun and we talk "stuff" like what she was like when little - both kids enjoy this immensely. I inform her that she began walking at ten-months or, and this the important bit - eight months before Eitan. She pumps her arm: "yes!" I also recall a morning in Paddington Park when Madeleine, age two maybe, attempts to climb some tricky stairs to enjoy the slide. The slope outside her ability but she refuses any assistance. All I can do is watch nervously and pick her up at the fall. Undaunted, the kid won't give up until she makes the top, which of course she does - and exactly how I know her today. We both chuckle at the story ("did I like the slide really?") and then she bounces up and is gone getting herself ready for school. Ridonculous.

Photo of Madeleine in Richmond Park drinking hot-chocolate, not coffee which I don't anticipate for another two or three years.

Thursday, February 5

Brian

The Bank of England lowers interest rates to 1% which has never happened and the bank has been around since 1694. Buses stopped Monday due to 20 cm of snow - this also a first including the Germans and WWII. Liverpool loses to Everton in the 118th minute of play last night on a teenager's first Premiere League goal. No wonder Gordon Brown notes that the world is in a "depression" for Pete's sake. Last year I blogged about the gay cowboy and Silver tells me that Gordon MaCrae "was my mother's student in children's theatre classes in Syracuse - I was too little for the classes, but I was allowed to roam around the building; this was during the war, when gas was rationed, and we almost always went to Syracuse by train or bus.

"Skip to summer 1957, my second as a councilor at Perry-Mansfield. I had the cabin off the junior camp lodge and Heather
MacRae - daughter of Gordon and wife of Sheila - was one of my campers, about age-ten. She had an illness or condition that should have had medical treatment. I called home to Tully to get advice. Response: no doctor would be allowed, Sheila was Christian Scientist. We managed thru the summer.

"Years later, traveling production of Jesus Christ Superstar comes to Anchorage! With Heather
MacRae in the chorus. I wish I'd had a chance to go backstage and talk to her. Ah well."


Photo of Brian Cohen mistaken for Jesus in "Monty Python's Life Of Brian" (photo screen-shot distributed by Warner Bros./Orion Pictures Corporation). Here are the lyrics they sing which are appropriate for our days (by Eric Edle):

"Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

"If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

"For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.

So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

"Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the right side of life...
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the bright side of life...
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life...
(I mean - what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life...

"


Adam The MD


Here is Adam, who I noted from Alphabet City in Manhattan. He is a doctor in Critical Care Medicine, Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine at Lincoln Hospital in the the Bronx. I would trust him with mine for sure. Adam the father of a super cute kid just under age-one and the younger brother of Alison who I dated briefly in high school. Until I dated Alison's best friend. But this for another blog. Sonnet and I go to Bikram last night and stretch ourselves silly. I seem to have got my mid-section under control, which dear reader and for the first time, had obtained some girth. So health and maintenance on my mind. Looking through our photo albums, which stopped around 2002 thanks to digital, I am amazed how time takes its toll. Our friends and family who looked young when we first arrived London are 12 years older and have aged. Not in a bad way, mind you, but it is there - wrinkles around the eyes, receding hair and worry lines. There are health issues too which I confront even my generation - two instances early cancer and one sudden, tragic heart-attack in '94 which I still think about all the time. Of course life is precious but somehow this doesn't feel so until now - mid-life crisis for me maybe? Having kids also changes one's perspective no doubt - the idea of loss sometimes so frightening it wakes me up. But, hey, every day is a God Damn miracle - rolling out of bed, seeing Sonnet and hearing the Shakespeare's chirping knowing my parents, sister, extended family and friends out there somewhere... being able to do yoga or jog and pay bills and watching movies and being a part of it all - I know I have it lucky.

Madeleine: "Why did the chicken walk across the road?"
Me: "Why?"
Madeleine: "Because he didn't want to run!"
Long pause, Madeleine: "That's not very funny, is it dad?"

Wednesday, February 4

Super Returns


Madeleine before pre-school yoga. It is supposed to be a relaxing thing. The private equity Super Return conference takes place in Berlin and this year I opt out (private equity BTW is private investors buying a non-listed or private company's stock). The conference normally attracts two to three thousand investment professionals ranging from the general partners (GPs) who manage venture or buy-out or other types of funds and limited partners (LPs) who supply the managers their dough. LPs are fund-of-funds (get it?), pensions, insurance companies, banks, endowments, foundations and so on and so forth. It is usually an exciting affair with plenty of net-working and late nights - a number in our industry have become famous like Henry Kravis or Stephen Schwarzman and certainly many have become rich. Very rich. Despite private equity's growth and success these past twenty odd years, the market has turned and we are by no means immune. Bigger firms have produced their results via leverage which today no longer exists and worse, weighs on the portoflio like a heavy anchor. Many cherished, private equity backed businesses will fail. A source of industry liquidity has been secondary buyers who purchase limited partner positions in the after-market (or secondary market) which generally trades around 3% of the primary market and today may be at 10% or 15%; even this group hesitates given the debt loads - nobody believes we are at the bottom. The last few years at the Super I have pondered the audience's homogeneity - almost entirely men with maybe 100 women and no minorities. Further, everybody looks the same with healthy cheeks, slicked hair and Hermes ties. No doubt it is mature and consequently buyers looking at the same deals bidding them up presumably. Until now - no debt, no deal, at least for the bigger transaction. The good news I suppose is that GPs have every interest in saving their troubled companies and are the most willing to stump up cash, if needed. I have seen this first-hand, much to the detriment sometimes of the remaining portfolio but hey, this be human nature.

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less"
General Eric Shinseki, former chief of staff of the US Army

Dorothy

Here is my wise Grandmother, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 93.

She did meet her great-grand son but sadly missed Madeleine. Dorothy spent her later years in Sarasota, Florida, following the early death of my Grandfather when I was in sixth grade. Visiting was always a bit exotic - the Gulf! Fried Oysters! Humidity! Her one requirement of her assisted living center was the top-floor, in this case 10, so she could watch the sunsets - and they were lovely, too, over the emerald and flat gulf water.

In college I slept in her guest room, watching TV or trying to write some miserable paper - one Thanksgiving I arrived with a ton of books, failed to finish anything, missed my return-flight and ended up in Boston in Katie's dorm-room using her Mac to produce something, anything, due the next day. Oh brother. On another occasion in college Grandma treated me to Disney World which I politely suffered being rather sensitive of my age - exactly the wrong age to be solo at an amusement park.

Then there was the mall and cineplex if bored of the clam-fry or beach. It is easy to see why the Eastern Board spends its winter or retires in Florida - the climate balmy no matter when and getting off the airplane it's a whole 'nother world. Impossible not to relax, really. Dorothy almost stayed in Upper Arlington, Ohio, where she raised her family including my mom - she had put a deposit down on a condominium but my chain-smoking Aunt Mary-Lucia put her off that idea noting smartly her grand-children would be more inclined to visit her on the beach.

Sad to think the top-floor room no longer hers.

Tuesday, February 3

Winter Wonderland

London slowly returns to normal though the roads icy and a foot of snow on the ground. The news is all about the storm and commuters bitch and moan, especially at the airport (poor souls). One fellow goes as far as to say "it is a disgrace" and waving a hand at the white: "it is like a third-world country." Now, having been to the so-called Third World many times with HTWS I find this to be insulting. Firstly, the third world does not get snow. Secondly - England gets a real dumping once every three or four years and yesterday the worst in 18 years. And thirdly - I have seen people in the "third world" react to a flat tire or similar crisis - they come out in droves, work together. Get it done. No complaing and a sense of cheer. London copes poorly in comparison especially compared to Boston or Moscow and the Third World but hey, I would rather my council pounds go to immediate concerns like the police or schools. Sure, just like terrorism, we could spend the whole pot on the potential uncertanties of a Big Event but then there would be nothing left (Eisenhower understood this - he being the last President to control military spending). These Brits do love their weather though and why not - it changes all the time and serves as a unifying force - kinda like baseball or the Sopranos in America. Any business gal or fella knows the safe-neutral pre-meeting topic is how grey or white or overcast or cold or whatever is London. We all shiver a moment then get down to work, whatever that might be. Heathrow BTW our second favorite subject - every traveller, and I do mean every traveller - has a horror story and deep personal hatred for the airport made worse as we could get a fourth runway. So back to the snow: the deep depression bringing the wet and cold expected to stay through the week and while it might not snow again temps will remain at freezing. Kids don't mind as school cancelled a second day and possibly even tomorrow. Their joy is frozen as I put them to homework and tell them I expect a written story book by this evening or else. It can't be all fun and games, after all.

My photo of the Mortlake Brewery (the Thames River on the opposite side). Oliver Cromwell born just nearby.

Monday, February 2

Dodge




A Guardian investigation reports that UK firms' secret tax avoidance schemes cost the UK billions- perhaps up to 13 a year. They do this by transferring brand ownership to low-tax locations like The Netherlands, Dublin or the Carribbean or loading debts whose interest negates tax or internal transfers to side-step local requirements. Top accountancy firms charge >£500,000 a pop to invent avoidence schemes and, according to the National audit Office, in 2006 more thatn 60% of Britain's 700 biggest companies paid less than £10 million corporation tax, and 30% paid nothing. This despite having access to the fourth wealthiest population in the world and the London and other stock exchanges for deep capital and a regulatory 'lite' enviroment good for business generally. WTF? Hard working Brits and ex-pats pay their 42%, a figure that will only go up with the >£1 trillion banks bail-out. Companies play a similar game of smoke screens and transparency. This whilst enriching their shareholders and management. These pounds ever more valuable in the recession with >2 million unemployed and social services stretched to extreme - and it will get worse. If our most respected companies doing a legal tax dodge one might ask - why shouldn't I?

Snow


Guess who gets it this morning - pictured. We are belted with >20cm, the most in 18 years meaning buses, trains and even the underground cancelled. The Shakespeares in our bedroom, 6AM pitch-dark, eyes wide and together: "Can we go outside dad? Can we!?" The news gets better and better as Sonnet learns museum closed and - happy day! - school cancelled. Sonnet takes Eitan and Madeleine to Richmond Park with a bunch of rowdy neighborhood kids who also cannot believe their good luck. Great way for them to start the week - says Eitan: "this is the best day of my life so far!"

I don't really understand why Barack Obama making an effort with the Republicans, where he spent several hours on Capital Hill trying to convince them of his stimulus plan. Obama went further, calling on Democrats to strip some elements from his bill that Republicans objected to including tax cuts (same old bullshit from them). The Republicans thanked the president by voting, without one exception, against the stimulus plan. No doubt, and voiced by the fat fuck Rush Limbaugh, the party would like Obama to fail. Republicans, you see, bankrupt of ideas - which is better, Lord knows, then the last eight years. Further, they lack leadership, ideals and in disgrace - imagine Colin Powell and Rush Limbough in the same party. We voters did not simply celebrate Barack; personally I champagned equally the git-gone of Bush and his incompetents. So today here lies the dead elephant - instead of dusting themselves off, the Repubs become nasty. Just maybe however there is important role they will fill the next four years - we need a good opposition to balance the controlling power. It would be nice, certainly, if the opposition brought a sense of civic-mindedness unlike witnessed in the stimulus bill - after all, the Republicans gave us Paulson and de-facto nationalised our banks after their scorching and burning. For them to reject Obama is unpatriotic. And believe you me, we are in a state of war and I do not mean Iraq nor Afg. So why is Obama trying to help them out? As he has noted before "We just have a difference here, and I'm president. So I'm going to prevail on that." This may be the last bone. If Democrats get to 60, which they well may with two independents and MN pending, there really will be no need at all for the president to use any political capital on such a sub-prime party.

Header


Here we are, Sunday afternoon. I swear this kid would spend his life on the pitch. Already the call to green is netting results, though not (yet) from Detroit: Japanese electronics companies Toshiba, GS Uasa and others have announced plans for new battery plants even as their industry cuts capital investment. When Sony announced factory closers last month the one area it promised growth was batteries. Research company Fuji Keizai expects the rechargeables market to double to $14 billion by 2012 and the overall battery market to grow by 37%. The growth comes from from mobile devices like laptops and iPhones and storage of renewable energy like wind or solar and of course cars. Hybrids and electrics at the cusp of mass production and Honda and Nissan are investing billions gearing up production lines and entering joint-ventures. Strange to think that automobiles to feed tech growth but this what Panasonic, Sony and Sanyo expect - Sanyo plumping Y80 billion into energy tech by 2012 while Toshiba begins battery mass-production costing $100s of millions - despite their pulling out of lithium-ions in 2004. It must feel good to take the bull by the horns - this is the future, after all. And the Americans? The Big Three playing catch-up with tax dollars - this their Big Chance to show something good. Where have you gone, Lee Iacocco? (Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you).

Madeleine is so excited about her gold-fish that I start to feel guilty. Is this kid somehow deprived otherwise, I wonder?

Saturday, January 31

Another Goal And A Goldfish


Sports absorb our Saturday morning as usual. Sonnet takes Madeleine to swim-practice then football while I break our routine to swing Eitan by the Kew Park Rangers. The Rangers are a football local club with >500 kids ranging from under-6's to 16's. It is part of the England Football Association (FA) and competitive but games against other teams not until age-nine and up; as the coach tells me "no need for the parents scream'n at the lads to do things they can't do." He then yells at two boys climbing a fence in their cleats: "get the hell offa that thing!" I am convinced and now it is up to Eitan, who is looking into the next-level now that he has nearly outgrown Palewell Park. I don't care where he plays - my only stipulation is that he visit at least three teams before making up his mind. All are enticing, you see. So here we are on a freezing cold morning in North Sheen with the District Line rumbling by and Eitan twitchy and nervous. Coach hollers at him to join the crowd and the boy goes loping onto the pitch a bit embarrassed by his scarf and hat, which I have made him ware. He tosses both on the ground without looking back. It is a new set of dads to break into so I just watch this morning - no need to make an effort if we are not coming back. The coach splits Eitan's squad into reds and blues and it is game on. Within 30 seconds Eitan scores the first goal and his side pump their arms jubilantly into the air. It is a screamer too - he rips down the sideline and connects his outside foot to the ball sending it the opposite spot anticipated by the goal-keeper. Eitan's blues wins 4-2 and Eitan accounts for two strikes. From North Sheen we dart to Palewell Park so he can catch his friends for the rest of the morning. He would play no-stop all-day if he could. We are both excited for tomorrow's Liverpool v. Chelsea. What Super Bowl?

Madeleine, it is agreed, to have a gold-fish. She has been begging a pet for, like, ever and Sonnet, I nor our nanny have any desire to walk a dog. So the fish are agreed and we look into a multi-gallon container. Did you know a gold-fish can live to four or even five years? In college I had a fish tank and my guys rarely made it through a semester.

Friday, January 30

Butcher


Here is a local butcher (though not ours) on the high-street whose strangely creepy figure captures my eye. The chicken rotisserie takes me back to Park 'N Shop on Salano Avenue in Berkeley - its delicious smells bring good memories of shopping with mom and sometimes sugar cereal which broke the household rule. As Berkeley upscaled from its hippy roots, the grocery taken over by wonderful Andronicos in the 1980s; Andronicos offers yuppie fruit and veg on par with anything in France. Maybe better in fact - during season, there must be >25 varieties of tomato. Andronicos also absorbed The Berkeley Co-Op whose '60s ambition to return profits to the customer - kinda like communism maybe? - but that business model failed, oh boy. Nobody complained though I did miss the sugar-baked cookies. Sometime later Starbucks took over Ortmans Ice Cream, Eddy's became Peet's Coffee; Hinks a Ross and now closed... this be progress in the East Bay.

Mary is in town and we dine with her, Dana and Nathan at Racines - a favorite French bistro in South Kensington that actually is... French! The waiters from Paris or wherever with attitude and all that and most of the diners French-speaking. I get to stumble through a few words impressing really only myself but hey, I enjoy it. I learn Devon a top notch skiier and now competing at high-levels; I am sure he and Eitan will absorb themselves in sports when we are with them in May.

Self Portrait IV



And it is Friday. This week end special as it returns the Super Bowl, our multi-billion-dollar game. I admit to having lost some interest without the once-feared Oakland Raiders or those 80s glamour pusses the San Francisco 49ers. The Bay Area's last best effort was '02 when the Raiders got blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in XXXVII 48-21; Tampa Bay coach Gruden fired the prior year by Raiders' owner Al Davis. Think they were motivated? Since '02 neither club has made it to the playoffs which consistent, really, with our other local sports: the A's and Giants remember their far-past glory while the Warriors have not been contenders since the the 1970s and Rick Barry's golden years. And don't even mention the Cal Bears. But back to the SB, which really owes itself to Joe Namath in III. Broadway Joe was the son of Hungarian immigrants and Pennsylvania steelworkers; he would have been in Viet Nam if not his throwing arm. In college he won a National Title with Alabama and Bear Bryant. He was famous for booze and broads and often enjoyed both together game-night but it was not until '69 that he achieved icon status becoming the rare sports-athlete to influence American culture. Of course he famously predicted a win for his under-dog Jets would defeat Johny Unitis and the Baltimore Colts. This the season before the merger of the National Football League and the AFL, creating the NFL, and the game's outcome increased the market-value of the combined franchise. Even more so, it paved the way for black sheep Oakland and hard-knock NY and Green Bay which captured America's attention. The country saw its values in their local clubs, which often enjoyed mythic stature - consider the Pittsburgh Steelers in the '70s, the 49ers in the 80s or the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos of the early-mid and late 1990s, respectively - perfect representations of those cities in each era. I was flush with Ken Stabler, Dave Casper and Ray Guy. Those were the times. Oh, and the cost for a 30 second TV ad during the SB this year $3,000,000.

Wednesday, January 28

Roma

While on to childhood photos, here is Sonnet with her brother Marcus in Rome. I don't have the circumstances behind the photo - maybe Silver or Stan can fill me in - but I do know the fountain from a number of visits: Trevi the largest baroque in the city+26 meters high and 20 meters wide; tourists toss coins and prey for the better. And here is what I cheats from the Internets: "the fountain at the juncture of three roads marks the terminal point of the "modern" Acqua Vergine, the revivified Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some eight-miles from the city. However, the eventual indirect route of the aqueduct made its length some 14-miles. This Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa, which served Rome for more than four hundred years. The coup de grace for the urban life of late classical Rome came when the Goth besiegers of 537 broke the aqueducts. Medieval Romans were reduced to drawing water from polluted wells and the Tiber River, which was also used as a sewer. The Roman custom of building a handsome fountain at the endpoint of an aqueduct that brought water to Rome was revived in the 15th century, with the Renaissance. In 1453, Pope Nicholas V finished mending the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and built a simple basin, pictured.

Rome, as I am often to say, is my second favorite city in Europe after Paris. At some point pre-kids and post-European passports we considered living in Rome - a half-baked plan, no doubt, because nobody actually works there (and I would most definately have to work, dear reader). I say this with some prejudice as the fellow I started Trailhead Capital from Rome- and while he did make a vast fortune in the hege fund business I don't think he has worked a day in life. Also pulling us towards this exquisite city is opera, Bru and Sonnet, who is fluent in Italian from her year in Florence while at Smith. And of course the lifestyle. Pardieu the Italians now how to live la dolce vita.

When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That's amore
When the world seems to shine
Like you've had too much wine
That's amore

When the stars make you drool
Joost-a like pasta fazool
That's amore
When you dance down the street
With a cloud at your feet, you're in love
When you walk in a dream
But you know you're not dreamin', signore
'Scusami, but you see
Back in old Napoli, that's amore.
- Dean Martin

Tuesday, January 27

San Ramon


Katie lends me this photograph from 1860 San Ramon which I scan and blog. The picture probably taken by Moe or Grace in 1970 or '71? This is the house I grew up in, at least until age-ten. Todd is to the left then me, Katie, Eric and Stephen and Todd's sister Hillary. Wow. Todd was the fabulous next-door neighbor+four years older so there was considerable hero-worship on my part believe-you-me. He taught me many of the things I today hold dear and pass along to Madeleine and Eitan like: how to make a perfect paper airplane or draw the Starship Enterprise doing battle with the Klingons. Eventually our enthusiasms turned to model rockets and we built hobby kits complete with launch pad and blast off. We made ships from basement wood sailed at nearby Tildon Park and wound slot cars in the downstairs playroom. Without hesitation, though, the most thrilling, most absorbing thing we did was go-carts. Collecting old strollers or steeling trollies from Safeway we got wheels. We found rods for the central axis and old-timber for the frame; strings were used to steer and the ever-present emergency brake to-hand though sneakers worked better. Added touches: saran wrap windows and rubber-band guns. Every kid on the block had one. San Ramon enjoyed two reasonably steep hills sloping towards Stone Face park and El Cerito Canyon; since we were below the busy Arlington Avenue the traffic fairly lite not that we kids gave a hoot about the cars (is it inevitable that we remember childhood freedoms not to be granted our kids?) On one particularly memorable day - I was in the fourth grade at Washington Elementary - it snowed which, I believe, not repeated since. Out early for the day, Todd, Johny, Donovan, Shannon, Eric and I dared each other to pop our carts down the snow-covered streets. Man those were great times without a parent in sight.

Who Me Overpaid?

Here's a graph, published in December 2008, which kinda says a lot. Like I should have stayed in banking longer. Source: Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006

My return flight uneventful and I arrive home just in time to catch the Shakespeares on their way to school with Sonnet. They squeal and we all hug it up - is there anything that can put one in a better mood? I have the added pleasure of joining Eitan's classroom which snaps me out of my travel fog and surrounds me with 25 squeekers. Year-three demands attention and Eitan is happy to have mine, though bashful too ("Dad, just don't act silly" he says beforehand). Today the children constructing a story with an Egyptian theme following their trip to the British Museum last week Thursday. They patiently draw out a "skeleton plan" then fill in the beginning, middle and end. I add support but otherwise it is all self-motivated - snakes, quick-sand, pyramids, trap-doors, mummies and so on and so forth. We only have time to set the story structure so I may have to return Thursday to see how things end. I am on pins and needles.

Is anybody as sick of the Accenture-Tiger Woods campaign as I? They are plastered all over Heathrow and given today's clime we are told: "In these difficult times it is tough to be a Tiger." Puke.

Madeleine: "Did you bring me a present?" and "What did you bring Eitan?"

Monday, January 26

Hummer


I watch Barack Obama give a brief announcement declaring America's suffering, naming the lay-offs by company+his green agenda. Detroit and the lobbyist are bitching, no doubt, about how new standards will ultimately be paid for by the government and you and me but to them I say: fuck you. If we don't get our country off this carbon addiction somehow the long-term consequences dire ranging from the Arabs to global melting. I have no problem buying a Japanese hybrid BTW and frankly the nips should take over Detroit and run our companies properly - it sure couldn't be any worse. Obama's green agenda include the states who will (finally) have greater authority to establish car milage and polluting standards. California has been at the fore-front of this movement aiming to raise MPG >20 but was sued by GM, Chrysler and Ford. No surprise. To high-finance: a WSJ covering story suggests that global bank UBS may have helped a further 17,000 Americans avoid paying taxes. Fuckers. Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, may be on the chopping block for failing to disclose the disasterous Merrill Lynch acquisition - ML, of course, made loses >$15 billion the quarter immediately following the deal so presumably Lewis new what was in store. He did sack Merrill's Chief Exec John Thain for spending >$1 million of office-design work and lobbying his new
BoA friends for a $30 million bonus AND front-ending $4 billion of bonuses to ML staff before the take-over complete while ML taking tax-payer support. Fuck faces, all. I look at Obama who really is the only ray of public hope - he is surrounded by scoundrels and rats who have harmed our country on par with any terrorist. The next four years are make-or-break.

Do recall as recently as last year those buying a mid-size to larger (loaded weights of 6000 lbs to 14,000 lbs) Truck or SUV for "business" were paid by our government. In 2008 Congress finally eliminated the accelerated expensing of the first $25,000 in the purchase-year of such a new behemoth (diesel or gas) and only those >14,000 lb now apply. Larger "soccer mom" SUVs are only allowed to expense $2,960. Hardship, man. Not to worry if you are a serious business person though - you can still take advantage of the full deduction if you choose wisely. Pick-ups with separate cargo areas of at least five-feet, "farm vehicles" and cargo-trucks and vans still offer the full accelerated amount. Bingo. Still, the suburban SUV loop-hole finally closed. Baby steps, dear reader. Baby steps.

Macho Hummer photo from Hummer.com. Fuckers.

Seagram's


There ain't much to do but look up when on this side of Park Avenue - in this case 345 at 52nd Street. The Seagram's building, designed by Philip Johnson, was completed in 1958. It is 515 feet tall with 38 stories and stands as one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism. It was designed as the headquarters for the Canadian distillers Joseph E. Seagram's & Sons, thanks to the foresight of Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, Seagram's CEO (Junior, we may recall, bet the ship on the Medias: with $9 billion from the sale of the family business, Bronfman, Jr., bought music Polygram, and film entertainment MCA and Universal Pictures. Jr's new entertainment conglomerate had a brief life before needing a strategic partner, who actually knew what he was doing, which led Seagram into a controversial all-stock acquisition by French conglomerate Vivendi in 2000. Can you feel the market peaking, Dear Reader?). 345 Park also hosts The Four Seasons for the ultimate Power Lunch. Surrounded by Rothko's it is a lovely affair. As the sun sets Katie and I move onward Northward stopping momentarily at the Sony centre to entertain a new Viao then a ride home. Happily it is Saturday night and no plans - just recovery from Friday which lingers on in my fatigue. We flop in front of the flat screen and watch mindless television; Katie falls asleep on the couch and I give her a kick before going to bed myself and amazingly it is before Midnight.

Tim


I met Tim, pictured, in '99 on the roof-deck of our first London flat in Maida Vale. Tim grew up with Sonnet's cousin Bru visiting us at that time from Italy. Tim's father a law-partner of Sonnet's Aunt Missy's husband and Bru's father; subsequently all of us visited Bru in Rome when he was working at the Vatican. Got that? What is important our friendship. Tim left London five years or so ago and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Kitty; here we walk Lower Manhattan and catch up on stuff including professional as he is CFO of a security technology company employing >700. Before that he was Finance Director for NTL Networks, a multi-billion dollar division of NTL Cable now owned by Virgin. We share a common love of Bru who is possibly crazy and certainly lived an interesting life. In London that day, Bru arrived in a yellow crepe sports coat, patterned shirt and pink pants with a rhinestone heart sewed in the hip; his hair swept back and eyes somewhat menacing. Of course his Italian girl-friend Manuela stunning. As for his story: after following the Grateful Dead for years Bru decided he should go to college and was accepted by his only application - Cornell, age-25. From his room-mate, he found a job in the Vatican bursar's office where Tim, Kate, Sonnet and I lunched with at least one Cardinal who fortunately failed to notice Bru's black tie with a graphic image of a couple in flagrante delicto. Oh dear (I learned yesterday that his two studio apartments off the Piazza Farnese supported by, ahem, "adult productions"). The thing about Bru is that his heart of gold. He also knows Rome like the back of his hand including the best retail where we collected some shopping that I wore with great pleasure during my reversion to high-school around those Internet years. Another high-light watching Roma football and eating pork sandwiches at a shack-house some Sunday afternoon next to the Residenza Papale or the Pope's summer palace. Today Bru remains in Rome with his daughter though he and Manuela no longer together.

Sunday, January 25

Casbah Club


The past several months I have listened to The Clash's Live-At-Shea-Stadium concert in '82 when they opened for The Who. Two weeks later the band broke up. The opening salvo amazing: Welcome to the Casbah Club are Joe Strummer’s first gravelly words into the microphone then straight into the Armageddon "London Calling" influenced by the '79 meltdown of Three Mile Island and problems of rising unemployment, racial conflict and drug use in Britain. It is also Summer's call to arms and demand for (the city's) relevancy. Here Katie and I pose by Tomkins Park. Strummer died in 2002, age 50.

Tomkins Park even on a freezing cold day is filled with youngsters wearing different variants of jeans and colours. I'm not entirely sure but from this sample it appears bell bottoms are back and grunge remains stylish. Puffy down jackets also Big but it is -5 so this may effect the style, though I doubt it. Ray Ban wayfarers seem to trump over-sized aviators.

"London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

[Chorus 1:]
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river"
The Clash

Somewhere Who Knows?


A corner I like, pictured, though I have no idea about the building. A reason walking Manhattan fun is the change by neighborhood and sometimes city-block. The closer to Midtown, the more modern. A buffer occurs north of Union Square and the 1980s sky-scrapers where the 20+ story buildings are brick-by-brick; I always wonder who lives in such things today or maybe it is business space?

Reviewing my notes I appreciate that much of my commentary sniping on the U.K. economy or the British this-or-that. Such snootiness allowed any ex-pat however I hope my love for London clear. When we first arrived and my spirit in California, Sonnet asked what I liked about the place and my only reply the weight of the pound (it is rather substantial one must admit). Today happily my affection goes deeper: the free and world-class museums, pop-venues and Brit pop, Van Gough's "Sunflower," non-stop football, PM questions, Fleet Street's 18 daily rags from The Economist to The Sun and Page Three which outsells the former >10X, our worldly friends, Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander and Greenwich, Sonnet's job, the Meridian line, Kate Winslet, Richmond Park, Roman history, Ze Queen and above all - a sense of humour just beneath the overly polite and simply mortified middle-classes. And of course my English kids who remind me this country has taken care of us through it all and so far. Now let's hope the banks don't collapse.

Alphabet City to Midtown


Katie and I start our day on Riverton in the lower East Side where we meet up with Christian, Adam, Tim and Kitty (pictured with Anabel) and an assembly of cool New Yorkers. We eventually break into smaller teams and Tim, Katie and I walk the East Village visiting clothes, a gallery and my favorite - a candy shop with the yuful stuff: Now-'n-Laters, pop rocks, Sugar Daddys and the most shocking: gum sticks packaged as cigarettes right down to the camel or red-box. I am tempted to buy several as a joke for my pals with kids but for once think twice. Our ramble passes Tomkins Park, Union Square, Irving Place and Gramercy Park. It is a sunny, freezing day and as ever the hustle and bustle non-stop wherever we are. I buy a pair of three-stripe kicks which puts me in a good way then we sit around a coffee shop and chew on the economy. Tim is CFO of a security business which has raised >$120 million and he was responsible for the last financing which introduced some of the largest investors anywhere. From here Katie and I stroll northward to Midtown where we are surrounded by height including my favorite horror on Park Avenue. How can I not be impressed? Up and up and up and up. By now the sun sets, it is dark, I am cold; we head back to Katie's Upper West Side. Another great day in the Big Apple.

Saturday, January 24

Down Town


Madeleine, our artist, taken at the time of the holiday-photo (note the faux bandage). Katie and I meet Christian and Sarah in Alphabet City for a Big Night on the town beginning at Freeman Alley and a restaurant of similar name. Since Christian chooses the spot it is undeniably cool with the gorgeous people drinking at a cramped gin bar surrounded by taxidermy. Aiding the off-kilter is the building's age (it warps like Ms Pigley Wigley) and hidden location. From martinis and pinot noir we walk to Noblu with barely an indication of itself other than a gathering crowd at midnight and a bouncer who whisks us inside. Entering I pass through heavy velvet drapes which is the norm - I consider Delia's, a favorite during my banking years, on A or B Street (Sarah's friend bought the lounge ten years ago and kept the design but removed the name- so it is now nameless). Noblu is cool for its edge, inside graffiti and house-band who come on around 1AM as the place gets thumping. Berkeley High pal Adam joins us for the late shift - Adam is an MD in critical care medicine, infectious disease and internal medicine in the Bronx so yes, he is a bad ass. I now pay for my evening as I write, in under shorts dear reader, headache front and center and consider the punishment well worth the crime. Maybe.

I call Sonnet BTW from a taxi home, catching her as she prepares the kids for football. Not smart.

"In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines

So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine
"

John Lennon

Friday, January 23

Work and Diner


Katie bangs away at some work

This morning we power-walk through Central Park where the remnants of snow make for slippery treding. I complete a full loop passing the Larken skate rink on the far North side of the park which is pretty cool - it reminds me of the 1950s which is on my mind thanks to Yates' "Revolutionary Road." Was there ever a simple time? 

From the park we head for the Metro Diner for some greasy eggs which takes me back to the Three Brothers Diner on 85th and Columbus, which was 24 hours and my "local" way back when and now sadly gone. This was the last stop, with Katie, before I split NYC for the fist time in '93 anticipating an autumn return to business school. Then I met Sonnet and good-bye to all that. 

Diners play a special part of city life (in London, it is the humble 'caf') from rye toast to steak and eggs. Who can forget Tony Manero's date with Stephanie where Tony stuffed his mouth with White Castle hamburgers (plane, not even ketchup+bits showing as he spoke) and drank black coffee? But back to '93: I packed all my crap into Manhattan Storage, met Katie for breakfast and a walk in Central Park then caught a train to Boston to spend ten eventful days with Eric supposedly painting his house but instead carrying on an affair with his house tenant. Yes, those were simpler times indeed.

Falling Down

Well, as if we did not know, it is now official: the UK recedes. New figures show that Britain is in recession for the first time since 1991 after its economy shrank during the final two quarters of last year. The Office for National Statistics said that British GDP declined 1.5% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the previous three-month period, when it also contracted (the technical definition of a recession BTW is two quarters of negative economic growth). Q4 was the worst performance in more than 28 years. On the positive side, retailers registered (ar-ar) a 1.6% rise during the holiday season. Must be the foreigners taking advantage of the Pound's crash against the dollar to 1.39 - 1.39! -only last year it was over 2. Departing Terminal 5 the only people shopping the mall are from oil owning countries. Seriously. And not paying VAT, God D--- them. Not surprisingly this has demoralised the country and even brings comparisons to those nit-wits in Iceland who for a brief moment in time thought they were better then sliced bread and borrowed to own the loaf. Their currency, now worth nothing, may never recover meaning there are a whole lot of people... going no where. They can't afford the plane ticket. Ireland is also tits up (I have come to like this expression) as their banks nationalised last week and we, dear reader, are the next island before Europe. Britain, unlike Germany or France, discarded its manufacturing base for finance and finds itself greatly exposed. While the pound has made British goods cheap again we simply don't make them like we used to. No more cars. No more machines or furniture. As a consolation, I now own my bank - 70% of Royal Bank of Scotland, for instance. I feel so good about this I'm going over to the high street to make a deposit.

The Slip Horse Falling Off A Cliff by Sidney Nolan, pictured.

Thursday, January 22

Katie's Roof Deck

Katie and I go running on Riverside Drive. Since I am aiming to be injury free and recovering from a calf, my trainer gives me specific tasks - this morning it is 10X three-minutes easy running+1 minute walk. We shuffle along the snow-cleared path and it is tits cold (as the Brits would say). This a favorite area of Manhattan especially in autumn when the trees turn yellow and shadowed by late 19th and early twentieth century brownstones this is what New York must have been like over 100 years ago minus the West Side Highway.

Afterwards we stroll by the Blue Moon cafe and I pig out on their pastries and scones and cappucino's which are made properly, excuse me Starbucks. I chat up a French speaking fellow and learn he is from Jamaica then eight years in Paris followed by London and now New York where he owns several restaurants.

I normally would not approach somebody in such a way but then why not? From the morning I catch the tube to Times Square and then shuttle to Grand Central where I have a momentary weepy seeing the enormous American flag and thinking about Barack Obama. Must be the jet lag.

Then lunch with Kim at Yasuda on 43rd street which I think the best sushi in town. The bill would support this. I was at Nobu last week and hands down this place better and I love the receptionist for his afro-style hair - he is Japanese - and I tell him so, which catches him out before we laugh about it. He knows he is all that. I then practice my few words learned from childhood nanny Taka.

Kim runs investments for a foundation and we have a fun conversation about Obama and other things and I enjoy her tune and our shared political and world view. Last I saw her was in London where Sonnet and I joiner her and colleague Niles at the Ivy for an uproarious affair; amongst other things we discuss Elliot Spitzer (Kim on cheating: "three words: 'you're outta here'"). Now Katie and I sit and she types away a correspondence to the Ford Foundation. Sun sets.

Meanwhile back at the ranch: Eitan has a field trip to the British Museum visiting the Egyptians including the Rosetta stone while Madeleine finds a bird's skull which she takes to school. Usual stuff.

NY Minute


I arrive on the Upper West Side yesterday afternoon following a plane trip without incident. I really don't like the departures but those are the breaks in the ex-pat community. As Dale used to say: "the cost of doing business." Katie and I kick around some ideas for her Op-Ed and work through her plenty long to-do list. We then have dinner at 2230h which is something I have not done in ages so late but here normal, God Bless the Big Apple. There really is no other place that compares and crossing the Tri-Borough bridge into Manhattan thrilling: planes, trains and automobiles racing at break-neck speed. Given the lights and everything, everybody seems awake and alive despite the cold and recession. My taxi driver honks and curses while his radio sports intrudes on my thoughts; I watch the concrete zip by and wonder: who makes sure it's safe? Everything afterall old - it could crumble in an instance, this unnatural thing. It also details the work that went into building New York - you can see it in every crack, every brick. Not surprisingly I am up at dawn, drag, and snap this sunrise facing East towards the park. I have a purposely lite schedule to hang out with Katie but will see a friend for lunch then mostly kick around Midtown and maybe Moma. I am sure a manicure and Central Park jog will get snuck in somehow. Life is good.

Sonnet and I have not been to Yorkshire since we hiked the Pennines (also known as a "ramble") way back when but here is a good definition from an uncredited friend:
"I'm from Yorkshire, and the definition of a Yorkshireman is a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out,"

Wednesday, January 21

Brave New World


And just like that we have a new President. And a brother in the White House. I admit I was nervous watching yesterday's procession as the Obamas so exposed. But I suppose their custom made, missile retarding Chrysler ain't no Le Baron (such protections BTW first used for LBJ in '65 following Dallas). The BBC provides full-on coverage from pre-dawn to the White House and then the gala balls - ten of them attended by the President but thankfully for him all in the same complex. Sounds like Bronxville during the Christmas season - one year I recall Marcia's 27 invitations and one evening joining ten; Marcia had exactly seven minutes per cocktail while Larry waited in the idling car. I found the glamour thrilling. So back to The Mall: Obama's speech criticised for not being transcendent but I found it a call to arms: America must pull together vs the "raging storms" of two wars and an economic crisis. This the sober vibe I catch which seems about right. Of equal comfort I awake to an executive order halting Guantanamo military trials for 120 days and a freeze on new or proposed Bush regulations until each reviewed by the Agency or Department Head appointed by the President. Which, of course, would be Obama. How nice to remind myself. I read Aldous Huxley's tomb four or five years ago and the title a spin on the early 20th century utopias presented by H.G. Wells' "Men Like Gods" and others. Huxley feared the loss of individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future with its imposing technologies and sciences. Visiting America for the first time in 1920, Huxley was outraged by the culture of yuf, commercial cheeriness, sexual promiscuity, and the inward-looking nature of many Americans BUT equally afraid of a government created "negative utopia" creeping onto a civilisation unawares. We may have dodged a bullet yet but there is work to be done. Considerable.

Eitan: "Dad, do you know that Barack Obama is 47?"
Me: "Yes."
Eitan: "That is so old! He is older than you, Dad!"

Madeleine finds a picture of Sonnet and Marcus before the Trevi Fountain in Rome: "Were you stealing coins?"

Photo from ABC News

Tuesday, January 20

Self Portrait III


Sonnet and I meet for a date at ... yoga. And then drinks and dinner. Yes, this is what middle-aged parents do I suppose. We have been going to Bikram Yoga since '93 when it opened only its second studio in San Francisco's North Beach. Sonnet and I had been dating a short time and she was experimenting with yoga, meditation and spiritualism. Me, I was hooked on Sonnet and would do about anything to be with her so I did: sitting in a miserable 105-degree room contorting my body in all sorts of unnatural ways. Sweating buckets. Or worse than Bikram - being crossed-legged and silent for 90 minutes doing... nothing. That is about the worst kind of hell. Today Bikram is all over London and if I had been half-way switched on in '97 I would have considered franchising the operation - afterall, ex-pats rack their brain for some US concept like premium coffee or bagels to bring to these unsuspecting Brits. Our yoga in Richmond is run by Johny who is super-intense, bald, slight and skinny though maybe this not the right description. His muscles look baby supple and his skin dove white. If not for his dark, sinister eyes I would think him a physical lite-weight but his stare says it all: "I will fuck you up." Johny looks like he sleeps in half-eagle or camel, which on a good day almost kills me. He will compete in a regional competition this week-end with finals in SoCal - I mean, what are they going to do? See how long they can hold a torture? I have no doubt he will make it to California. Me, studio time punishing enough.

I take the kiddos to school this morning and Eitan lets me know that all the kids in his class think I am silly and "a bit mean" which raises an eye-brow. He asks me not to high-five his chums or give them the Obama "rock." I am not too concerned with this BTW. I appreciate that I am serious yet have Grace's silliness which is the best aspect of my parenting I think. In Eitan's class I talk to his teacher Ms. Y who tells me she went around the class-room each kid describing a goal. Eitan apparently tells Ms. Y that "my dad wants me to be on a better football team with older kids" and further: "I am a bit scared." This catches me out and no doubt I am pushing him towards the next level of his game BUT my only rule that he check out two or three teams before he leaves Palewell where he has been these last five years. Kids pick up their parents aspirations and Sonnet and I agree that our son worries.

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential. "
Barack Obama