Monthly Archives: July 2005

Underground Humour

This cameraphone image of an information whiteboard at Notting Hill Gate tube station in London is doing the rounds on the Internet right now. Someone at London Underground has a very dark sense of humour. Posted by Picasa

Ahoy there!

I took a two-day Basic Sailing course with Manhattan Sailing School this last weekend with Tina, George and Raluca, and it was really a lot of fun!

We got to sail up the Hudson River and around New York Bay for two glorious sunny days in a J/24 sailboat called “Stag Hound,” and by the end of the course we’d really learnt a lot. Our tutor was a salty sea dog by the name of Owen; he was very good, I liked his teaching style. He taught us both the mechanics of maneuvering the boat (e.g. rigging, tacking, jibing etc.), plus the various safety procedures and navigational protocols that you need to sail a boat through busy shipping lanes.

The course was fairly intensive, running from 9am to about 7pm on both Saturday and Sunday — we were pretty tired at the end of both days. We were also each sent a thick American Sailing Association manual before the course, and now have the option to take a short multiple choice test and apply for basic certification.

L-R: Tina, George, Raluca and I sailing a J/24 sailboat on the Hudson River Posted by Picasa

The Corrections

I recently finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and enjoyed it very much. It was very dark and depressing in places, but often very funny and always entertaining.

It tells the story of a normally disfunctional family: A cold and distant patriarch dealing with Parkinson’s, a controlling and disappointed wife and mother obsessed with family reunions at Christmas, and their three variously damaged adult children.

Sun Maid

On a lighter note: There’s a persistent rumour going around that jihadists are encouraged to blow themselves up and become martyrs with the promise that they will receive 17 virgins in heaven.

However, a scholar at my workplace told me that the translation of the term “virgin” from the original text of the Koran is highly questionable, and it could just as easily be translated as “raisin.”

Imagine the disappointed faces of the suicide bombers turning up in heaven, only to be rewarded with a small packet of Sun Maid raisins!

Even Harder to Believe

So the “chilling precedent” I mentioned in my last posting turned out to be much, much worse than I first thought; not only did the Police act as judge, jury and executioner in a country that supposedly abolished capital punishment over 30 years ago, but they managed to kill a completely innocent Brazilian electrician who had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. And as if the original reports of 5 bullets to the head weren’t bad enough, it now turns out that they “unloaded” 8 bullets into him, just to make sure he was really, really dead.

I’m completely disgusted and appalled by this wanton Police slaying. I accept that there might occasionally be a need to use deadly force when there is a genuine risk of innocent people being killed, and I also accept that it’s often going to be a tough call to make under stressful conditions. But you need to be really, really sure that there’s a genuine risk before you shoot someone in the head 8 times (or 7 times, plus one in the shoulder).

I can’t imagine what the poor guy’s family must be going through now. If the state’s response to terrorism is to start shooting innocent people at the slightest provocation, then the terrorists (the ones that haven’t blown themselves up, at least) can start feeling very pleased with themselves.

Shoot to Kill Policy?

The news from London today is hard to believe — armed police basically executed a suspected bomber on a tube train at Stockwell Station.

Apparently, they chased him down the escalators and onto a train, where several plain-clothes officers bundled him to the ground and then shot him five times in the head in front of terrified passengers.

Presumably they will argue that they had to kill him before he had a chance to blow himself up, along with the nearby passengers… But nonetheless, this sets a chilling precedent in a country where the police are generally supposed to be unarmed.


My father is the Managing Director of a UK firm called VW Company Limited, which was recently reborn as a manufacturer of medical equipment with the design and launch of a new stretcher trolley (a.k.a. “gurney” in the U.S.) called MedAssist.

Apparently, the MedAssist is the only stretcher trolley that meets all of the relevant British (BSI) and European (CEN) standards for such devices.

Anyway, their new website is now up, so I thought I’d help out their search engine rankings by putting a few links to it on my blog.

R.I.P The Barbizon

Returning from a visit to my talented dentist Cheryl Tomasulo this afternoon, I was briefly drawn into a liquidation sale at the site of the former Melrose Hotel on East 63rd Street and Lexington.

The former Melrose Hotel is a fabulous 1926 brick pile that was originally a women-only hotel called the Barbizon.

I love this building; I stayed at the Barbizon several years ago on RLG business (and at Jim Michalko’s recommendation), and I still remember how grateful I was, arriving at 4am after a nightmare 10-hour journey from D.C., to find a complimentary bottle of mineral water, a large chocolate chip cookie and a mini HiFi system in my small but very-well-designed-and-prepped room. I loved the Gothic, even Gotham architecture, the views down Lexington Avenue, and the fact that you could actually open the windows wide enough to throw yourself out, should you be so inclined.

Later, after 9/11, and after the Barbizon was renamed the Melrose Hotel, I got a job with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on 62nd & Lex, so I got to spend plenty more time gazing at this beautiful building. The Library Bar was easily the closest watering hole to the Mellon Foundation, and was a regular post-work destination for members of the ARTstor Social Club.

So today it was with a mixture of sadness, morbid curiosity and a sense of privilege that I examined the liquidation sale of assorted furniture, magnifying mirrors, telephones, hairdryers and mini HiFi systems in what used to be the Library Bar, before riding the elevator up to the 20th floor to roam around the gutted penthouse apartments and terraces.

No doubt the building will now be converted into super-deluxe condos for the rich and famous, but whatever happens to it, I’ll always have good memories and a soft spot for the Barbizon.

Natural Born Killers

To try to make some sense of the senseless bombings in London this week, my friend Scyld & I spent some time researching the death tolls from various disasters, wars and atrocities last night while polishing off our third bottle of wine.

The fabulous Wikipedia turned out to have a wealth of information, with articles about any event we could think of (including this week’s bomb attacks in London). There’s also a very handy List of Wars and Disasters by Death Toll.

It seems that humans have an amazing aptitude for exterminating one another. The “Big Daddy” is still the World War II, where it’s estimated that approximately 57 million people were snuffed out by other members of their species (roughly equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom or Italy).

In terms of terrorist attacks, 9/11 tops the table by a huge margin, with 2,992 people — an order of magnitude greater than the #2 terrorist attack, the Beslan School Siege in Russia in 2004, in which 344 people died.

The highest death toll of any terrorist attack in the UK, and #5 in the global list, is the Lockerbie Bombing in 1988, when Pan Am flight 103 was brought down over Scotland killing all 270 people aboard — most of whom were young Americans returning from an overseas study program (I dated an American woman in London some years ago who claimed she was supposed to have been on that flight, but instead chose to remain in the UK).

This little research project certainly puts this week’s London bombings into perspective, albeit a very depressing one — they currently rank at #22 in a shameful list of terrorist atrocities, although could possibly move up the list to #21 or #20 if there are a few more casualties in the coming days.