Monday, January 22, 2018

The Connected World

'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' was on Turner the other night. I've never watched the whole movie, but I remember when the musical was a big success on Broadway.

The musical was made into a 1964 movie, so it is certifiably an old movie at this point, and an old form of entertainment, play, song and dance. A musical. Lots of dance.

Debbie Reynolds stars in the movie, and Ms. Reynolds was certainly in the news recently for having died the day after her daughter Carrie Fished passed away. Hearts can break.

Those of the age that have Social Security checks on direct deposit know Debbie's story quite well. When I've watched the bar room dance scene I marvel at the continuity of the dancing—the sheer length of the scene and the energy exuded.

It always reminds me of what my friend's father, Sidney Piermont, a CBS producer said in the 60s of how a woman got into show business. You had to be a triple threat. You had to sing, dance and act. And certainly Debbie Reynolds and others filled that bill.

The musical/play and subsequent movie is based on a historic figure, Margaret Brown, who did survive the sinking of the Titanic, and who used her wealth and social position for survivor causes, as well as women's causes. She would have had a black dress on the other night if she were still alive.

Margaret was never known in real life as Molly, but show business can take liberties. Watching parts of the movie again the other night I took a further interest in Molly Brown and did the usual Google/Wikipedia thing.

I found out she passed away in 1932 and is buried in Holy Rood cemetery here on Long Island. Holy Rood is a Catholic cemetery and is where one of the victims of the shootings at Empire on September 16, 2002 is buried. Isabel was a co-worker, and I've written extensively about the event, although beyond some small references, none of which has appeared here.

I just got finished corresponding with a Wall Street Journal reporter, Rachel Feintzeig, who wrote a recent informative article about suicides in the workplace and the aftermath.

Ms. Feintzeig was nice enough to answer my inquiry that she would be interested in reading what I summarized in 2005. Within a few days she responded that she read the "harrowing story."

Since Holy Rood is really not far from where I live, I have already visited Isabel's grave site. Her birthday is in May, so on my next visit I am now going to find where Margaret (Molly) Brown is also buried.

We really do live on a Mobius strip.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Side Effects

Being a man, I like to sometimes take my chances and tell people, "all men are alike; but side effects may vary."

I've been doing this for a while, so it is not anything new due to recent movements that are in the news these days. I have no idea if this might be characterized as being in touch with my "feminine side," whatever that is. I like to think it appropriately fits with great comedic timing into the conversation that might be swirling around at the time. Of course, since I'm retired and my wife still works, I find there is very little conversation swirling around me at any one time. I need a talking cat to get a daytime dialogue going.

Short of that, there is of course this blog which allows me to converse with whomever happens to trip along these postings. Even there, I get very few comments, so it's more like I'm talking to myself, but I don't mind. I get along with myself quite well, and seldom disagree with me.

I just caught up to Tuesday's NYT Science section and the sub-section on page 2 labeled 'Observatory: Findings, Events and More.' The editors made some format changes, and have introduced some large photos and capsule-size accompanying stories. Perhaps you caught this section about penguins.

The color photo is great. It shows several penguins  cuddling up to their newborns. The adult penguins tower over the babies, and with their heads drooping downward the adults look like they're trying to find their contact lenses on the surface of the ice.

The headline beneath this photo goes: 'Sure Penguins Are Great Dads, but There are Some Gray Areas.' Sound like something I've been saying? Sort of.

The short article tells us that male emperor penguins are "famous for going without food for months while they mate and then shelter a solitary egg from the winter winds. When it comes to heroic dads, they are hard to be outdone."

Apparently the habits of these warm-hearted dads in the bitter cold of Antarctica became the subject of an extremely popular 2005 documentary, 'March of the Penguins.'

But now there is perhaps contradictory evidence that maybe the males are not so selfless. A 1998 observation by a team led by Gerald L. Kooyman, a marine biologist at the University of California, San Diego reports that the team members were surprised to see penguins swim past their ship as they arrived at Cape Washington, Antarctica. The team reported the penguins were taking breaks from their breeding duties to go fishing. They found tracks marking the ground from the breeding area to the water, suggesting they were going AWOL for a bit.

(There is no explanation why an observation from 1998 is just now hitting the paper, or why the documentary might not have mentioned it. There are strange things done in the frigid sun.)

Who knows? Like most guys, they said they were going fishing.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

How Good Is This?

How much better than this can it get for Dr. Emma Byrne who has a book coming out January 23rd titled, "Swearing Is Good for You" that her essay in today's Wall Street Journal—basically excerpts from her book—is just two days after President Trump's categorization that some countries are "shitholes" and the mainstream media prints a word starting with "shit" in their articles and tells us in many, many words why they are printing the word?

Dr. Byrne's essay has some absolutely delicious nuggets that go:

"...swearing eases pain, it would seem to work through our emotions, heightening confidence, increasing aggression, and making us more resilient."

"swearing acts as an analgesic."

"It is an escalation signal to give someone space before violence ensuses."

Now everyone is saying something that until now was never in mainstream print. And while it might seem everyone is acting angrily to the utterance, they are at the same time feeling better for acting angrily. Dr. Bryne is right.

If anyone has been a follower of this blog over the years you might have noticed that politics is basically never a subject. Too many other people do that. Why add to it? But when the president of the United states complains that immigration to this country seems to come from "shithole countries" an exception will be made.

Never mind the choice of words. Why would you expect immigration to come from non-"shithole" countries? If you are of a right mind, who the hell wouldn't want to leave a "shithole" country if they could? If I'm in a "shithole" I like to get out of it. Like the motel my wife booked us into when we visited our daughter in college a lifetime ago in Rochester. Online, the place seemed fine. But a stroll though the parking lot on our arrival revealed a few cars that looked sketchy, and one in particular with the vanity plates 'SILKYONE.'

Without going into great details, needless to say I was kept awake by a four-hour (midnight - 4 am) card game being played in the adjoining room by what I could easily tell was a group of black woman (SILKYONE herself?) who weren't necessarily loud, but who you could not help overhearing raising and checking because they skimped on the sheetrock when they built the place.

If that motel were a country it was certainly a shithole I wanted to leave. And we did.

Why don't we get immigration from Norway? Because enough of their residents obviously feel the place is not so much of a "shithole" that they are willing to pack up, head for a place where Norwegian is not really spoken in many places and start over. Never mind that we don't eat what they eat, which when it comes to a fish dish of theirs, lutefisk, I don't know why there wouldn't be more people who would be willing to take the chance on a diet of our burgers.

Why don't we seem to get people from Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, Lichtenstein and some other hard to place countries? Probably because they are not "shitholey" enough for the residents to want to start a mass migration from.

The Donald, ever one to miss the point, does not more proudly exclaim that there is little immigration from this country, despite all the entertainers who tell us they are headed for Canada but keep showing up on 'Saturday Night Live' or performing in Las Vegas.

The corollary is that we must not be enough of "shithole" country to spark mass migration to some place else.

Maybe it is the burgers.

Swearing Saves Horse Racing

Usually it is something in a newspaper article that causes me to take to posting a blog. It started with obituaries, but has since expanded greatly to anything in a newspaper. I don't think I've ever been motivated by a Tweet, and certainly not a video Tweet. Until now.

I don't know how to link to the video directly, but if you go to @joedrape, or @toddschrupp on Twitter you will easily find the video, even easier at Todd's site because it is a pinned Tweet, so it appears at the top of all the Tweets. Todd picked it up from @losalracing. (Los Alamos racing)

Todd describes the video as an example of what anyone who goes to the track knows when they are watching a race being televised live on the screen: there is always one person who is louder that all the other patrons, no matter how few are watching the race.

The patrons in the video can all be assumed to have a financial stake in the race to some degree. The black fellow on the right, who is clearly the loudest of those watching the screen, and who is pounding his hand with a rolled up Racing Form as if he is hitting the horse like the jockey is hitting the horse with the whip, is rooting the loudest and hardest, and who, when the race is over and he obviously didn't win, has some unkind things to say before walking away in frustration.

A closer look at the video shows that the patron in the checkered shirt is applying what all horse players will recognize as body english in an attempt to make his horse pull ahead of the others and win the bet for him. Tilt your viewing angle and you can make it appear that you've won. This is exactly the look bowlers have as they try and redirect the ball they just bowled into a better part of the alley so as to strike the desired pins. Body english at the bowling alley or the racetrack exerts no gravitational force on the outcome, but it does make you feel good if the outcome does go your way.

I know of one fellow who was asked by his constant betting buddy why didn't he yell at the horses and jockeys as the race was being run? His reply was simple. "Because they can't hear me."

There is a story in today's weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal that basically says cursing can be good for you. The front page teaser to the story on C3 goes: 'Yes, dammit, a little swearing can be surprisingly beneficial.'

In 'Gone with the Wind,' Clark Gable, as Rheet Butler, says what instantly become the best movie line to date, when he tells Vivian Lee's Scarlett that he doesn't "give a damn" at the close of  the film. Thinking of that example, and the smirk on Rhett's face, you'd have to agree that a little 1939 swearing did make Rhett feel a lot better. The audience certainly liked it as well.

'Gone with the Wind 'is not mentioned in the article which is really an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Dr. Emma Byrne, 'Swearing Is Good for You' to be published on January 23rd by W.W. Norton.

Dr. Byrne has some incredibly delightful nuggets in her essay, all the more delightful because her essay is published the day after President Trump is said to have categorized some countries as "shitholes." Dr, Byrne's book should be the one flying off the shelves when it is published.

Consider these excerpts from the essay:

"...swearing eases pain, it would seem to work through our emotions, heightening confidence, increasing aggression, and making us more resilient."

"swearing acts as an analgesic."

"It is an escalation signal to give someone space before violence ensuses."

Dr. Bryne's essay has no examples of people at he racetrack. But watch the video again and see how the loudest person is left alone, especially after his diatribe at the result, which clearly didn't go in his favor.

And my god, what about the statements about swearing making us more resilient and acting as an analgesic?

All this helps explain why so many of us goddamn horseplayers keep coming back to the scene of their last defeat. We may not be showing up at the track in person in numbers like we used to, but Dr. Bryne helps explain why you can't seem to get rid of us and why there is still horse racing, which logically, make no sense whatsoever.

Certainties in Life

At some time, if you haven't already, you will meet the person who will tell you there are two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. I'm here to tell you the list should be three things: I will hear a Carole King sing a song within minutes of tuning in SiriusXM radio's Channel 32, 'The Bridge.'

You don't subscribe to SiriusXM radio? Then you are only guaranteed the first two things. Your third guarantee, if there is one for you, is something else.

SiriusXM radio's Channel 32, 'The Bridge' plays a list of mostly 70s, 80s music that appeals to people like myself who don't like it too loud, too metallic, or too filled with lyrics that are unintelligible. Thus, artists like Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Jim Croce, John Denver and many others like that are played.

Carole King's music is fine, but it is the most frequently heard in the time, whatever time that is, that I'm listening to 'The Bridge.' I've taken to calling the station 'The Carole King Station.'

How a song selection of hers can so coincide with whenever I start to listen to the station is spooky. I have no idea if there are other artists who pop up first for other people. I only know what happens when I start to listen. I've mentioned this to others, and they have agreed with me that the station is 'The Carole King Station.' They do seem to hear her songs often, just perhaps not as soon as they tune in.

I've dabbled in statistics and probability, but cannot assign a probability, or chance that Carole King will be the first song up for anyone tuning in, and that my probability of hearing a Carole Kind song first up is higher. I am an outlier.

I remember reading years ago that Bill Gates had a pin, or transmitter that he designed and wore that when he walked into a certain room he would start to hear the music he programmed to hear. Classical in one room, something else in another room.

I have no idea of how this worked out for Bill. Or even if he stuck with it. I haven't heard of such a device being marketed, so something kept it from being offered to the masses.

Not too long ago I did have some dental work done that resulted in a gold filling being inserted in a back molar. All elements transmit some kind of wavelength. And since gold was the object of desire of Kings, I am now convinced that because of this gold filling I am destined to hear Carole King's music within minutes of tuning in to 'The Bridge.'

My theory accounts for not hearing Nat King Cole music because King is not his surname. It is the only explanation I have. It is my tooth and I'll believe what I want.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Who Can You Trust?

Over half a century ago Johnny Carson had a television game show, 'Who Do You Trust.' Ed McMahon was Johnny's sidekick even then. Aside from it being a precursor to Johnny and Ed teaming up for decades on the 'The Tonight Show' the title should have been taken as a cautionary warning for all to pay attention to as life is navigated through.

I had heard Clifford Irving has passed away at 87, but I hadn't yet caught up to the NYT obituary until just now. I sometimes fall behind in reading the papers. Being behind in reading the papers can have advantages. Things that were worrisome on a given day, or in a given week, lose their importance when left to simmer for a week or so. Just wait, the weather will change. All the worry can go away when you're behind.

The disadvantage however is when I glance at the TV listings and tell myself I want to watch, or DVR a certain show. A show that has now aired perhaps as much as two weeks ago. I try to really skip the TV section when I'm significantly behind.

You really have to be of a certain age to know who Clifford Irving was. When your fame is achieved when you're in your early forties, and you pass on when you're nearly 90, there is more than a generation of people who don't know who you were.

I always like the idea of what Cliff did: fooled the publisher McGraw-Hill into believing that he had achieved exclusive access to the ultra-reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and was now able to produce a definitive, authorized biography. It was big news, and it earned Cliff big bucks in advances.

It was all a hoax, but it played on everyone's insatiable curiosity of Howard Hughes's life. I loved the story as it unfolded, and got some joy out of the fact that one of the minor players that were in the Irving retinue was a saucy nightclub singer Baroness Nina van Pallandt.

Nina is still with us at 85. She was Clifford Irving's mistress at the time of the hoax and received her share of publicity. Cliff it turns out was married six times before he shuffled off, so it is probably safe to assume he never slept alone at anytime. Except of course, I'll also assume, when he spent time in prison for the fraud.

The Richard Gere movie 'The Hoax' is worth watching for historical reasons and to watch a hoax unfold with near perfection. And to also see the casting lineup that included Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Eli Wallach and Julie Delpy as Nina.

Aside from being a New Yorker of a certain age, you have to be a somewhat keen-eyed, cynical one who delights in word play that remembers the McGraw-Hill building on Sixth Avenue that had the branch of a bank on its ground floor: The Irving Trust Company.

Who do you trust?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Robert Mann, 97, Founding First Violinist of the Juilliard Quartet

Margalit Fox's obit byline hasn't been seen much of lately. Apparently she's been assigned to updating and adding to the pre-written obit pile. These are the obits that are nearly done. They just await the subject to pass on before the rip cord can be pulled and they can float onto the page. Sometimes years can pass by before a pre-written obit can be pressed into publication. Thus, an update is always in order when they finally do.

A Margalit Fox obit can be a bit like trying to find Al Hirschfeld's daughter's name Nina somewhere in one of his drawings. The hair is usually a good place to look, but Nina can be anywhere.

So when I saw Ms. Fox had an obit in today's NYT I was prepared not to look for 'Nina' in her text, but rather some kind of spin, or very unique combination of words that would make it a Margalit Fox obit.

It wasn't front and center, but it was there. As a kid, Robert Mann had a violin teacher his parents engaged for $1.50 a lesson. Robert's lesson with the teacher started when he was 9, but by the time he was 11 the teacher, who it turns out was an alcoholic, was shot and killed, an event that Ms. Fox described as "an actuarially unorthodox end for a classical musician." The Fox jot.

I agree. Line up a list of occupations in one column, with cause of death in another column, and my guess is the probability of a classical musician's cause of death being lined up with a homicide by gunshot will not be great. It will probably even be "off-the chart" at the low end.

Years and years ago I heard of a very posh restaurant in the city, Monsignor, that was staffed with at least one strolling violin player. We used to meet a fellow at the racetrack, our older mentor Les, who would usually spot someone's chauffeur, Nobby, at the track. Who Nobby drove for, I have no idea. I never met Nobby directly, but Les always told us that after the track Nobby would be outside Monsignor while his boss and his party were inside eating.

One Saturday evening I happened to pass by Monsignor at the height of what would be the dinner hour. There was a small fleet of double-parked limos idling at the curb, waiting for the owners to finish up their meal. I have no real knowledge that Monsignor might have been a mob joint, but at least one of the patrons favored the race track, because Nobby was always spotted at Aqueduct or Belmont by Les.

Thinking of it now, in the context of Margalit's obituary on Robert Mann today and the story about his violin teacher, it is completely possible that the strolling violin player's life at Monsignor could have been in jeopardy, especially if he owed too much money for too long to the wrong people, or, if he got upset at having to play the same thing over and over, and registered that compliant to the wrong people.

Of course there was a famous movie about a pair of musicians whose lives were in danger, those played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in 'Some Like it Hot,' especially after they witnessed a mob rub out in a Chicago garage. But come to think of it, they escaped harm. They were only jazz musicians.