Monday, July 25, 2011

Polygamy in Your Grocer's Freezer

Somewhere in a country western song I think I hear the lyrics, "...melt your cold, cold heart."

Robert Ettinger, the founder of the cryonics movement and the Cryonics Institute, passes away at 92, and is put on ice for the future. Whenever.

Mr. Ettinger founded and ran an institute that froze deceased humans in the hopes that future medical technology would find a way to bring the frozen being back to life.  He practiced what he believed in.  And while there are certainly those who think he was many bad things aside from crazy, he did at least wait until the person had passed away naturally before adding them to this deep freeze farm. A murderous Jack Frost he wasn't.

His mother was his first patient.  Currently, the institute he ran houses 106 frozen people waiting to be be brought back to life.  In addition, the claim is that there are 900 dues-paying members who are planning to add themselves to the locker when the right time comes.

Aside from his mother, Mr. Ettinger froze his first wife, as well as his second wife.  Amazingly, this put Mr. Ettinger in the rare position of outliving two wives.  This is hallowed ground. He told those who asked, that if both wives were revived (and assuming himself as well) he will be presented with a "high class problem."

How presumptuous. There are many men here on earth right now who are trying to live with two women.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Finding homographs for me is like what it is for those people who find edible mushrooms in the woods with the aid of sniffing dogs.

In fact, even knowing what to call words that sound different, mean different things, but are spelled the same, was something hard to find.  I was developing a small list of such words, but didn't know what to call them.  It wasn't until some years ago my daughter corralled a group of speech professors at SUNY's Geneseo college that the word 'homograph' emerged after academic debate for such a word category.

The list goes on, but doesn't get added to fast.  Some homographs are a bit routinely realized, like tear and tear. Others are less obvious: invalid and invalid; resume and resume.  But, as always claimed, reading obituaries can be instructive, and not just with something having to do with the departed's life.

Margalit Fox, a linguist herself, writes in the NYT an obituary about Bruce Sundlun a former governor of Rhode Island who is described as having flair, and is described with flair by Ms. Fox. 

He was a multiply decorated war hero. He had multiple homes. He had multiple marriages and multiple divorces. His exploits...

And there it is. Another homograph.  Quick, dig it up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Triumvirate

If there was such a thing as international financial baseball cards, this one would rank up there with a team picture of the 1927 Yankees.

Greek finances have been saved, and the Gang of Three seems chiefly responsible.  In fact, if they were starring in an Off-Broadway play it might cheekily be titled: 'Two Babes and a Dude.'

A picture of Angela appears no less than three times in today's New York Times.  She's Paul Bunyan, AND the ox named Babe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Third Avenue

I'm a sucker for anything nostalgic about Third Avenue, particularly anything set around the time the elevated tracks were there.  The "El" was torn down in 1956, but I clearly remember it, although never needed to ride on it.  The family flower shop was there on 18th Street, in the same building my grandfather, grandmother and great uncle lived, where my father and his brothers had moved after Second Avenue.

So when I read of a book titled 'This Place on Third Avenue' by John McNulty, a collection of stories written about the comings and goings of the population from a gin mill named Tim and Joe Costello's, I had to look into it further.

John McNulty wrote these stories from the mid 30s to the mid 50s and they appeared in The New Yorker.  John was a reporter for the Daily News, but found an additional outlet for his writing in these sketches.

Talk about being gobsmacked! Yogi Berra once stated, "I really didn't say everything I said."  And he should believed.

By the second page of McNulty's stories I'm reading about a cab driver, 'hackman,' who misses the old days regarding a certain joint that was a favorite.  The cabby comes into Costello's and moans, "Nobody goes there anymore.  It's too crowded."

This is one of the most famous Yogi Berra sayings ever.  I can't tell when the piece was written, but nothing in the book has a copyright after 1956.  If McNulty was having the cabby quote Berra, he'd likely would have attributed his statement to Berra.

Despite a limited education, I'm sure Yogi learned to read.  With no disrespect, it's not likely however he was a reader of The New Yorker

I can't wait to read what else might come to light that's been underneath the rumbling of those tracks all these years.

Eating Fish

I thought someone was kidding me a few months ago when they claimed to have eaten a fish taco.  I had never heard of one.  And then they revealed they were sick as a dog after.  That part didn't surprise me.

So what is there to think of the world's eating champion, Takeru Kobayashi, getting set to square off with a rock band's singer in a contest of eating fish tacos in Huntington Beach, California on August 3rd?

The WSJ reports yesterday that there may be a hitch.  Not enough mahi-mahi to go around and provide the filling for the two eaters.  Imagine that, two guys show up, and there aren't enough fish in the ocean.

Maybe Al Gore's right about this global thing.

Modern Day Churchill

Fear not.

Angela is on the front page of today's WSJ.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Urban Myth

Urban myth. Urban legend.  Too good to check.

A few blog entries back it was discussed what happens when an extreme favorite in horse racing runs out of the money.  The place and show pools return lopsided sums to the backers of the horses who finish ahead of the unfortunate favorite.

This was discussed in the posting 'A View from the Bridge.'  The legend of someone committing suicide when Twilight Tear ran out of the money in the 1944 Maryland Handicap at Laurel was repeated. The source of the legend was described.  A promise was made to check newspaper accounts of this event.

Done.  If someone did get shot in the head and fall off the roof at Laurel it was murder, not suicide.  Twilight Tear ran coupled in the wagering--as an entry.  This means that there was another horse, from the same owner--in this case Calumet Farm--running under the same betting number as Twilight Tear.  Rules of racing go in and out on this over the years, but generally, if there are two or more horses in the race running for the same owner, they compete as an 'entry,' meaning the betting result of one is as good as the betting result of the other. 

So, despite the fact that Twilight Tear ran out of the money, it's entrymate, Miss Keeneland, pulled the bacon out of the fire, and finished second.  Thus, the bridge-jumpers that were that day that were betting on the 'sure thing' of Twilight Tear finishing at least in the money, were treated to a stay of bankruptcy by the rules of racing and were paid off for place and show because the entrymate at least gained second.

The past performances show that Twilight Tear ran with an entrymate, but don't tell you who the entrymate was.  A full chart would, but finding that these days would really require some archival research.

My only regret in all this is not that I believed in something that didn't happen, but that it's too late to get to Les here on earth and tell him he's been repeating a great story, but a fable.

I'm just going to have to wait to join him somewhere.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not All Metaphors Apply

For most of us, saying "I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him" is a phrase meant to convey a complete lack of trust in someone, because throwing someone for most of us would not result in much yardage.  Billy Bangert had to express distrust a different way.

Billy Bangert, who recently passed away at 87, was sometimes referred to as the 'World's Strongest Mayor,' for founding a town in east St. Louis in hopes of attracting the Olympics, while at the same time being a champion shot-putter, discus thrower, caber tosser (a Scottish telephone pole), and all-round strongman of novelty events.

(Ron Swoboda was once described as the strongest Mets outfielder, but then some wag added: "odor's not everything.")

Stephen Miller gives us Mr. Bangert's surely colorful life in an obituary in today's WSJ.  It is not without some confusion, although it is straightened out when you do a little research.

Mr. Miller tells us Billy carried the 775 pound Dinnie Stones across the River Dee bridge in Potarch, Scotland.  At first, this was thought to be a vary large large human named Dinnie Stones. Perhaps a relative of Dwight Stones, the U.S. Olympic high jumper.

Not so, since reading on there is a reference to someone doing the same thing with Dinnie Stones in 1860.  This would make Dinnie quite an old person who hasn't yet succumbed to being overweight, let alone being over 150 years old.

No, the Dinnie Stones are a pair of very heavy rocks in Scotland that people lift up, carry, toss a bit, and if successful, carry across the Potarch Bridge.  They seem to do strange things in Scotland, perhaps due to the weather. 

But after all, they did invent golf.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jimmy Roselli

Anyone who is what is known as "of a certain age" and comes from the New York area and listened to AM radio will likely remember the singer Jimmy Roselli, who just passed away, amazingly at 85.  No harm was done to him other than what it seems he did to himself.

Margalit Fox, in her NYT obituary, cleverly recounts the life and times of Jimmy Roselli, a widely popular singer in the 60s whose star was going up like the rockets from Cape Canaveral.  Jimmy could do no wrong, until he did, and seemingly torpedoed his own career.  He fell off the turntable, and was only heard from by those who sought him out on purpose.  He didn't come at you anymore in a media blitz.

Adding to Ms. Fox's recount is a passage I came across in the book 'Donnie Brasco', an FBI agent's 1980s account of his infiltration of the mob in the late 70s.  Donnie Brasco was the name he used, and he kept his undercover role up for an incredible six years.  The Al Pacino/Johnny Depp movie wasn't bad, and got good notices for its actors and creators.

Reading the obituary's account of Mr. Roselli's career as well as the passage from the book, you get a sense of what a pariah Jimmy had become. Also, how far his career had fallen and what he was resorting to to keep it going. The account, related from events at the NYC's famous Little Italy San Gennaro festival, is I would think from the late 70s.
The book 'Donnie Brasco' is written in the first person by the FBI agent Joseph Pistone, with Richard Woodley.

One time during the Feast of San Gennaro, Lefty and I and Mike Sabella were sitting in a club across the street from CaSa Bella, which Mike usually closed during the feast because he hated tourists.

Jimmy Roselli, the Italian singer, had his car parked out on the street. He opened the trunk, and it was filled with his records. He started hawking his own records out of his car trunk right there at the feast.

Mike couldn't believe it. He went outside and said to Roselli, "Put the fucking trunk down because you're fucking embarrassing me by trying to sell your fucking records here on the street."

Roselli closed the trunk immediately.
"He'll act different from now on," Lefty says.
According to the obituary, perhaps not.

Bottle Openers

Perhaps amazingly, perhaps not, but within a week of the WSJ running a picture and text about a uniquely designed bottle opener, the NYT expanded on the theme and produced a scavenger's guide to bottle openers last Thursday in its Home Section.

The NYT piece is more informative and gives you a sense of how something as simple as a bottle opener can be turned into an object d'art by designers.

This if course caused me to e-mail the reporter and tell them that the lowly bottle opener has a nickname of being called a "church key".  The e-mail didn't come back as undeliverable, so I have to assume they at least got it.

No response was ever received, but that's the way it can be with reporters. Some of them don't like it when you might know something they don't.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Pinstripes

Stephen Miller, the obituary writer for the WSJ, scored the equivalent of an obituary scoop the other day when he wrote a bylined obit about Barry Bremen, a compulsive imposter who crashed events and gained at least 15 minutes of fame several times over.

The paper of record, The NYT just today printed a bylined obit.  Mr Miller's appeard July 8, closer to when Mr. Bremen died, June 30th.  Making it more of a scoop is that the WSJ only prints at best, one obituary an issue; the Times, several each day, all the time.

Regardless, Mr. Bremen is no longer with us.  It turns out, he gave up being an imposter several years ago when he felt it might be too dangerous to tempt security people to mistreat him on being collared.

He portrayed himself as many different people, and even as the San Diego Padres' Chicken mascot.  What's best about reading about him is seeing the 1979 picture the WSJ and the NYT both used in their pieces: Mr. Bremen wearing Yankee pinstripes and looking like Bobby Murcer (or is it Joe Pepitone?), albeit a
6-foot-4 version.

In the movie and the Broadway musical versions of 'Catch Me if You Can' the Frank Abagnales, father and son, remind us that getting away with portraying someone else can be easy when you make everyone else focus on the "Yankee pinstripes."  Look the part, and you've got the part.  Turns out a reference to pinstripes in a phone conversation with FBI agent Carl Hanratty becomes part of the puzzle piece that aids in Frank Jr. being collared. If you're unfamiliar with this, it's enough to say there's a happy ending.

The power of Yankee pinstripes might also help to explain why a young man with fresh debt of his own, who catches Derek Jeter's 3000th hit, a home run, in effect gives a winning lottery ticket to a millionaire: Derek Jeter.

By both obituary accounts, it seems Barry Bremen had a good time and hurt no one.  And Christian Lopez, who if he doesn't do anything else noteworthy, will forever be known as the young man who gave Derek Jeter the ball.

Sounds like he's poised to have a good time as well.


Friday, July 8, 2011


Stories about eating are forever in the news.  And July 4th can be counted on to give us news of the Coney Island hot dog eating contest at Nathan's. This is when the invited eat an ungodly number of hot dogs, each with a bun, and someone is declared a winner after 10 minutes of supervised and televised gluttony.

For the past several years the event has been won by Joey Chestnut, who for some reason is not a champion NASCAR driver, but rather a champion chomper.

But for the true followers of the sport, this year's story was dominated by the ex-champion, Takereu Kobayashi, who won the title six straight times between 2001 and 2006.  Due to a dispute with the promoters, and after crashing the event last year and getting arrested, Mr. Kobayashi staged his own contest, simultaneous to the one held in Brooklyn.  He ate more hot dogs than Mr. Chestnut, apparently under exact circumstances, but of course is not recognized as the winner.  His was a non-sanctioned event.

The news stories were as much about him as they were about the main event at Surf and Stillwell Avenues. And in one of these stories the life of a champion eater is further revealed.  They apparently don't just eat hot dogs, but compete with other forms of food, or at least what can be ingested, digested, and doesn't kill them. Yet.

The mental capacity of a cow is probably something someone has seldom thought about.  You assume they might be dumb, but hey, they're so useful, in so many ways that the question of turning to them for teaching has likely never come up.

I don't have a basis for more comparative anatomy, but perhaps none is needed.  In one news story Mr. Kobayashi is described as holding "the record for eating cow brains-57 in 15 minutes."

Mr. Kobayashi is a champion eater, but 57 brains in 15 minutes makes you wonder how big can a cow's brain be to begin with?  No wonder they don't go very far.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Open and Shut Case

It was nearly a Mad Magazine moment.

Ever since newspapers started accepting advertising for their front pages it had to happen: the collision of a story and the ad. Or, at least the near collision.

Take today's WSJ front page picture with caption that shows what might be a naked man in a piece of unzippered rolly luggage. It's not part of a magician's act, although it does have to do with a wife trying to make her prisoner husband disappear from a Mexican prison after their conjugal visit.  If the escape attempt were successful there would probably be no picture, even though it involves a Mexican jail.

Since it certainly looks like a piece of luggage with wheels, we have to believe that attention was not drawn to the bag because she was having trouble lifting it past the guards.  Something else alerted them to check the contents. 

Perhaps it was a routine check to see what was inside.  After all, Home Depot looks inside garbage barrels going through the checkout for secreted unpaid items.  Perhaps her lingerie was inadvertently left behind and someone put some numbers together and came up "let's check that bag."  In Spanish.

Since the husband was already doing 20 years for weapons possession it is assumed some extra charges might now be added.  Certainly she'll be charged with husband possession of some kind.  A wife's nightmare.

You need no greater proof that the WSJ has changed than to take this picture in on its front page.  And there is no accompanying story. That's called something in newspaper parlance, but I don't know what it is.

But what's the Mad Magazine moment you might ask.  Well, it's nearly a MMM. Below the captioned picture is a 3" news story.  But immediately below that, and therefore just three inches below the escape attempt picture, is an ad in the lower right corner of the front page.  It's a financial-type ad, for iShares/BlackRock.  The ad shows a sea shore vista with the headline "And just like that, you're in Australia."

It's certainly a destination the couple would have settled for.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A View from the Bridge

Pittsburg Phil would have loved it.

Phil of course was George Smith, who was written about a few postings back.  He is the legendary horseplayer from whom all horseplayers, whenever temporarily smart, are descended from.

I haven't yet gotten my used edition of Phil's 'Maxims,' but I strongly suspect that one of the maxims is to never bet on a horse trying something for the first time. I know from my friend, who spent significant time being mentored by one of Phil's adherents, that betting on a horse at any odds, let alone short odds, in an event that represents something the horse might be trying for the first time, is never a good bet.

This usually relates to weight, distance, surface, and sometimes the actual track they're running at in the day's race.  When these qualities present themselves at the same time, it is smart to look elsewhere in the field and see what other betting opportunities there might be.

Hindsight is not 20/20.  It is 20/10.  Even given that, yesterday's 9th race at Belmont, the Bed of Roses Handicap, could have been spotted as a bed of thorns, that could turn into a wonderful array of dollars and a lifetime of storytelling for some temporarily smart people.  Geniuses, actually.  And it did.

The favorite ran out of the money.  And not just a lukewarm favorite, or a regular favorite-type favorite, but a heavy favorite, a so called "odds-on" favorite, a horse that was going off at significantly less than even- money, which meant on winning it was going to return less than a dollar profit for each dollar bet on it to win.  This is a so-called "short price" horse, "chalk," and is often avoided by horseplayers as much as they might avoid work.

In the case of Hilda's Passion, the short price was 35 cents to the dollar, meaning an expected return of $1.35 for each dollar bet to win. As "short" as that is, if Bernie Madoff could have honestly returned money to all investors at that rate he would certainly not now be in prison and would be the subject of far more complimentary comments than he's lately been hearing.  But that's finance, vs. horseplaying.  And even after all these years, people continue to confuse the two.

That's the "win" payoff.  Place and show routinely pay less, and when you start off with a short win expectancy, the place and show prices are just about guaranteed to pay even less, often only $2.20 or even $2.10 (the legal minimum). There are those who still see finance in this, and that truly, mathematically translates to a 5-10% return on "investment."

Looking at a four-legged animal with a head, heart and lungs carrying a human and trying to run fast as they can on spindle legs as an "investment" is viewed by many as a stupid thought, perhaps as risky as thinking Greece will repay the money.  But risk drives the world, so we have situations like yesterday's 9th race.

Hilda's Passion does deserve to be a short price.  In 2011 the filly has never been out of the money, meaning it's never been worse than third. And in Hilda's case, it's never finished worse than second, winning five times and finishing second three times.  The horse is trained by Todd Pletcher, and is being ridden by John Velazquez, a trainer/jockey combination that regularly puts people in the winner's circle, where being asked to smile is never needed.  Many, many positives that point to what some refer to as "the mortal lock."

But, the practical people will always remind you they run the race on the racetrack, not on paper.  Hilda's Passion has never shown a win at today's weight, 124 pounds, picking up a pound from her last outing, when she ran half a furlong shorter than today's seven furlong distance.  She has won at today's distance, but at lesser weights.  She has won at today's track and surface, but not at today's track with today's distance.  So, there are a few things she's being asked to do in the race that she hasn't done before.  And the odds are short--very short.  A recipe that would send Phil and others into another restaurant.

Extremely short-priced horse seldom run out of the money.  I don't really know what the numbers are, but their tendency to at least finish in the top three tends to bring out those who are referred to as "bridge-jumpers."  These are people who wager, "plunge" huge amounts of money into the show pool betting, "investing" that they will be returned at least the legal minimum that will guarantee a 5% return on their quick "investment."  The "mortal lock."

In yesterday's 9th race there was a total of over $300,000 in the show pool, much of which was bet on Hilda's Passion, with the expectancy of an easy, minimum 5% profit.  Cash.  No 1099s.

The term "bridge-jumper" is attached to these people because it is theorized that if their bet doesn't return the hoped for result, they will become so depressed that they will suicidally jump off a bridge.  What really happens to these people who lose is not reliably known, but the stories persist.

My friend and I used to meet a fellow at the races who mentored us.  He had a name, but we nicknamed him Mr. Pace, for his devotion to his self-created pace figures.  Anytime there was a short-priced horse, and it was generally a filly, who was set to go off at some un-Godly short price, Mr. Pace, Les, would just say "Twilight Tear." 

We had become acquainted with the story of Twilight Tear, a filly Les told us that went off at 1-10 (10 cents to the dollar) and finished off the board.

Twilight Tear was a sensational filly that ran in the 1940s and would have certainly been a horse Les saw race.  The horse had an outstanding record: 18-2-2 for 24 starts, thus leaving only two starts that didn't result in an in-the-money finish.  Twilght's last start was its nightfall. The horse did not finish its last race, being eased before going over the finish line.

The other out-of-the-money finish has to be the race Les referred to.  It was two back from the last race.  Whether Les was there or not is another story, and if what he said happened did happen after the official sign was posted, is another story.  But on that fateful afternoon, Twilight Tear encountered a muddy track at Laurel, in Maryland, on a surface condition it had never encountered before, let alone won on, and went off at 15 cents to the dollar in a six horse field.  The distance was a mile and a quarter, something handled in her past with a win, but the 130 pounds was new a boundary.  As was the "off-track" surface. Twilight finished fourth, with the past performance trouble line reading "quit badly." As for the gunshot, further archival research will be undertaken.

When odds-on horses finish out-of-the money funny things happen to the payoffs.  Because of the pool system and the parimutuel structure, winning bets are paid off with money from the losers in their respective pool, after take-out taxes, of course. This can produce some very lopsided payoffs when there is heavy concentration on an expected result that doesn't occur.

Years and years ago I was at Belmont with a friend at the 1979 Beldame Stakes, a race for older fillies that had two great ones in it that day, Waya and It's in the Air.  It's in the Air was heavily favored at 2-5 (40 cents to the dollar) in the seven horse field.

From a handicap point of view I liked Waya to win.  It's In the Air had never won at today's one and a quarter distance or won over a sloppy track.  My $4 bet on the 3-1 Waya was what today's wiseguys would call "value."

I explained my reasoning to my friend who declared he had put $2 "across the board" on Waya, meaning a $2 bet in the win, place and show pools.  I questioned his wisdom because if the 2-5 shot finishes other than first, gets in there at second or even third, his non-win bets on Waya will return next to nothing.  My $4 straight Waya win bet was a better bet.
Ask a short-priced horse to do something they haven't done before and the result can surprise you.  Waya did win, and paid the expected $8 and change for the win bet.  But It's In the Air, at 2-5, with heavy show money wagered by the suicidal, finished out-of-the -money creating some terrific place and show payoffs for Waya.  I got back $16 for my $4 bet, and Tom got back something like $80 for his combination $2 across the board bet.  Tom was a finance guy, by the way.  I'm not sure, but I think I made him buy me a drink.

And as for yesterday's 9th at Belmont with Hilda's Passion finishing off-the-board?  The winner, Tamarind Hall, a legitimate longshot at nearly 16-1, paid $33.80 to win, $13.80 to place, and a lopsided $53.00 to show because of the heavy, heavy show money that was NOT going to be returned, at any percent, to whomever backed Hilda's Passion.

And the show prices on the second and third place horses? Kid Kate paid $53.50 and Spa City Princess paid $64.50.

I wasn't at the races yesterday and was not part of this action. But others were, and I'm sure some were temporarily smart.  Geniuses even.

They've got something to remember for the rest of their lives.

Pittsbug Phil is smiling.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Church Key

The pun is irresistible.  A house key cut to function as a bottle opener. 

For those who don't get the pun, and that will definitely include the person who wrote the copy in the WSJ,  a bottle opener/can opener was once upon a time referred to as a "church key."

I distinctly remember this era because whenever there were cans of beer in the vicinity of our neighbor and my father, the neighbor would ask, "whose got the church key?"  Beer cans of course in that era of my childhood were heavy gauge steel made from spent WWII howitzer shells.  You couldn't be a 98 pound weakling and crush one of those babies.  Only riveters need apply.

Cans did not have easy opening tops, and bottle caps did not twist off.  If you were at the beach and didn't bring the church key you really were a loser.  That was worse than carrying a radio with dead batteries.

So, when I saw the featured item in the Gears and Gadgets weekend section of the WSJ I thought, gee, after all these years, there really is a church key, despite its apparent inability to open a can.  No one really needs that nowadays, anyway.

Of course only someone about my age would think the pictured item is a church key.  The person who wrote the descriptive copy claims "a man's got to drink, and it beats using a lighter or your teeth."  The combined look of a key functioning as a bottle opener on your key chain will keep you from "looking like you're on spring break with your bros every time you open the front door."  I know I couldn't have said it better.

Never mind.  I'm sold.  And at $11, it's got a look that will elicit the "church key" reaction when I give it to two of my friends, whose ages, combined with mine, subtracted from the current year, would put someone back around the time of the administration of John Adams.

And I'm hardly a Luddite.  I logged on to order three.  The Web site ( doesn't work and nothing goes in my shopping cart.  Point, click, change browsers, no luck so far.

Of course I could do something as provincial as call them up and place an order. Nah. What the hell. These days I only drink bottled water with twist off caps anyway.