Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Period. Period

Much silliness is being made about President Obama's slogan "Forward." with the word "forward" ending in a period. Go. is the shortest sentence in the English language. Forward is just a word.

As expected, all kinds of people are weighing in on this one. Just read today's WSJ.

Ironic that the WSJ reports on this when its own name on the front page ends in a period.

I don't know why this is. I think it's a leftover from early days of printing, but I don't know. Perhaps an alert reader can explain. I once read that the New York Times kept a period after its name for many years, but then dropped it. Why was it there to begin with?

It's vacation time for school, but the grammarians are still out there.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Cause of Death

It happens often enough, but today was slightly special. The NYT was worth way more than the $2.50 newsstand price I paid for it at my local CVS store. At least for me.

Today is the opening day of the 2012 Olympics in London. Plenty of coverage of that will follow. But the lead story in today's SportsFriday section was about something that happened in 1904, and what followed.

1904 was the year my father's oldest brother was born. It was the year the cornerstone was laid for the high school I went to on 15th Street, near First Avenue. The building remains, and is used for Continuing Education classes. It was also the year Christian Koehler, 14, was killed when he accidentally ran into the path of a descending 16 pound iron ball thrown by a future Olympic hammer thrower, who was practicing in an empty lot in upper Manhattan.

It was the early 20th century's version of chasing after a ball and running into traffic: Christian was chasing an errant throw of a ball from his friends when he was hit in the head and instantly killed. Today's Times does a terrific piece, by Samantha Storey, on the accident, as much as it is a backdrop for the future Olympian, Simon P. Gillis, as well as what his life amounted to afterward.

In a prior employment I used to work with a reference book known as ICD-9 and then ICD-10. These were versions of the International Classification of Diseases. Aside from numerical codes for virtually any known ailment, there were cause of death codes toward the back. These started with E for some reason and really got specific. There were codes for death by trolley, horse drawn or motorized. I guess because these codes were used internationally, there were no further specifics if the trolley was going uptown, downtown, or crosstown. The person was no less dead, regardless of the trolley's direction. I don't have access to the latest version of these codes, but no doubt they have been broadened to include skate boards, snowmobiles,  jet skis, etc. Very specific.

Cause of death codes were introduced in the late 1800s, and are revised approximately once every 10 years to stay abreast with what can do you in and to ensure there can be international comparability of health statistics.

The tenth and most recent revision, known as the ICD-10, was first used to classify deaths that occurred on January 1, 1999 and after. The previous version, the ICD-9, was used from 1979 through 1998. The ICD-10 is much more detailed with about 8,000 possible categories for cause of death compared with 4,000 categories in the previous version. The International Statistical Institute, the successor to the International Statistical Congress, at its meeting in Vienna in 1891, charged a committee, chaired by Jacques Bertillon (1851-1922), Chief of Statistical Services of the City of Paris, with the preparation of a classification of causes of death.

Poor Christian was no less dead no matter how the accident was coded.  Unfortunately, as the NYT points out, there is little that can be reconstructed of the accident other than relying on newspaper accounts. Anyone who could give a firsthand account is no longer alive.

We don't know anything about Christian. Where he went to school, and what he might have liked to become. If I'm right that he had a German surname, then as the columnist Jimmy Breslin once pointed out, he was sure to get steered to a vocational school to learn the skill of operating a wood lathe. Jimmy pointed this out in his biography on Damon Runyon, that any German boy who fell into New York City's Board of Education's gravitational pull, was going to learn how to operate a lathe.

A reprint of how the Evening World covered the story shows a drawing of how the accident took place, referring to Christian as a "lad," and depicting a youngster taking one on the coconut as if Mr. Gillis aimed directly at him. The headline and sub-headings are direct in language, but not overly sensational. One wonders how the New York Post might have reported the accident.  Even acknowledging the paper had a different owner then it does today, it's not hard to think they might have sprayed: "Hammer Hits Frail on the Head" across some column inches.

The upshot is, cities have always been somewhat dangerous places to live in. People engaged in myriad activities, vying for overlapping space creates cultures of bad events waiting to happen.

Due to the popularity of living in Manhattan, and the near complete disappearance of empty lots, it is not likely that someone is going to get thunked on the head from a hammer thrower in training for anything, let alone the Olympics.

But just think, ICD-10 comes up with two times the number of codes for cause of death that ICD-9 had: 4,000, to 8,000.    

The world is a dangerous place, and the iPhone has got to figure into it somehow.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Nothing Changes

Dudley Brown, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said there was no need to track sales of ammunition or require ammunition dealers to follow the same strictures as gun dealerships. He said law-abiding sportsmen and target shooters often bought ammunition in bulk to save money, and may keep rounds on their shelves for years. He said they can easily blow through 400 or 500 rounds in one vigorous day day at a shooting range.

"I call 6,000 rounds of ammunition running low," he said.



Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Last Word, So to Speak

Say what you will about the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, and you can certainly say a lot, but think of what a statue seems to say as a hooded Joe Paterno is carted away, seemingly giving the world the bird.

Forget social networks, a picture is worth a million Tweets.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

They Still Miss Someone

Aside from reading the news obituaries, I usually always glance down at the In Memoriam section in the NYT.  I do this because I've placed ones there myself, and also to see how others are doing the same thing.

I forget when, but there's the annual one for Issac Stern, that announces, quite simply, FIDDLER. Issac Stern was the legendary violin player who many years ago also played a role in keeping Carnegie Hall from get whacked by the wrecking ball. The seating area in the Hall is named the Issac Stern Auditorium.

There's the one for Arthur Zankel, the protege of Sandy Weil, who committed suicide. The "basement" to Carnegie Hall is Zankel Hall, and it was his money and dedication that turned the old movie theater into a performing arts center.

Nearly all the In Memoriams are simple sentiments that proclaim that someone is still missed. Names and relationships are listed.

Occasionally, someone has a distinctive variation on the expressed loss. There was one in today's NYT that caught my eye.

BRENNAN--Eamon 1927-2010
Happy Birthday, Dad. Love,
Maev and the boys. Tempus
fugit, non autem memoria.

Brennan is my wife's maiden name, and the surname of nearly everyone who comes from Tubbercurry, Sligo county, Ireland. My wife's father came from Tubbercurry, and when his death notice was placed in the newspaper it attracted an elderly couple of mourners who stopped by to pay their respects. My wife's mother was not at that wake session, and they certainly didn't look familiar to me, and certainly didn't look familiar to my wife.

After the gentleman remarked how good Patrick Brennan looked (to this day, he was the best looking my wife and I have ever seen) he asked about Patrick's wife. My wife started to explain that she has trouble walking, and is saving herself for the evening session. This was met with a natural question by the elderly gentleman asking about what county she was from. My wife politely explained that her mother came from Liverpool. She was English. This was more than the old fellow bargained for, and he and his wife backed up and beat a slow and unsteady retreat.

We later of course realized that they were somewhat daily mourners who followed the death notices in the paper, and would appear kneeling at the casket when a countryman had expired. But a countrymen that married someone from England, well that nearly knocked them off.

Brennan is a common Irish name, and you don't have to be from Sligo to have the name. So no, Eamon was not known by wife.

And neither of us knew what the Latin sentiment was for Eamon, (Actually, initially, my wife thought parts of it were Gaelic. Oh boy.) beyond the "tempus fugit" part. (I can never hear the phrase without thinking of the silly riddle I learned when I was perhaps five about the guy who threw the clock out the window. Why? Because he wanted to see time fly.)

Well, with the marvels of the Internet, the whole phrase means "time flies, but not the memories."

For a dead language, Latin gets a lot of things right.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Iconic on the Menu

I hate to use the word iconic. It's overused, and probably misapplied most of the time. But really, how can you not say iconic when you look at the photo of Carmine Galente being carried out of a Bushwick Brooklyn restaurant in a body bag, all because someone didn't like him anymore. The outplacement policy amongst gangsters does not include severance pay, golden parachutes, stock options or tips on updating your resume. Once set in motion, it's swift.

This outplacement occurred July 12, 1979, a sufficient number of years ago. Yet, the picture of the body being carried out the front door of Joe and Mary's restaurant under a sign that says, "We Give Special Attention to Outgoing Orders" continues to find usefulness attached to newstories.  

This was the case on April 18, 2011, when the Paper of Record ran the picture, along with a few others to add visual to its story of how then, current federal tetimony was as much about bad deeds as it was about eating. A blog entry ensued, using the image above. http://onofframp.blogspot.com/2011/04/poetry-and-irony.html

And yesterday, the NYT again used the Joe and Mary photo along with several others, as they wrote about how many eateries with suspected mob ties the characters in Linda Fairstein's 14th crime novel 'Night Watch'  frequent in order to get to the bottom of things.

Food plays such a part in this book that the Times put its 'Murder and Mealtime' story in the Dining section.' It really does make sense, if you think about it.

It's the pictures that keep popping up that make me want to know their filing system that lets them retrieve appropriate photos when joining food and murder.

Perhaps they've got really good memories, or, and this is what I believe, they've built their own Google-like database of photos, that when queried with 'freshly murdered while eating,' gives them way more photos than space will allow.

Hey, the City never sleeps.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Language in the Air

We've come across her work before. Sarah Lyall must be the London bureau chief for the New York Times. I suppose I could try and confirm this through a little more research, but I don't think it really matters. Sarah's work comes with a London byline, and she seems to get the juiciest of assignments. She likely assigns them to herself.

The latest piece is about language, appearing in today's NYT. If William Safire were alive he'd be able to weigh in on Sarah's work, as she reports the proceedings from a British trial trying to determine if the defendant is guilty of "committing a racially aggravated public order offense." It is explained for us lay people that this is: "using a racial slur."

The origin of the complaint comes not from the soccer player who this slur was aimed at, but from an off-duty policeman who was watching the soccer match on television, and who determined that the defendant, Mr. John Terry, said what he said because you could figure out what he said by watching what words he mouthed toward the subject. Something bad.

It is not known if the trial is televised. You have to go back some to find an American equivalent. But there is one when you remember the confirmation hearings on Clarence Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court when Utah's Senator Orin Hatch kept repeating the title of a porno film, "Long Dong Silver." Americans are seldom outdone by anyone.

Ms. Lyall dances around the verbiage and neatly tells us the defendant, John Terry, used a rude adjective and a rude noun, sandwiching the word "black." Here, the British do pull away from we Americans, by requiring a basic knowledge of diagramming sentences, a discipline that disappeared soon after Latin left the school house building half a century ago.

There wasn't just the one exchange in the complaint. There was a whole transcript of pitched insults that the two soccer players kept aimimg at each other.

The defense introduced that all of Mr. Terry's utterances were "handbags," normal verbal exchanges that soccer players say to their opponents during the course of the match. These are gently defined as calling the other player "fat," or describing what kind of sex their mothers enjoy in other cities.
Local sex with strangers is apparently not fair game.

Ms. Lyall's piece is about the Thursday proceedings, with the ruling expected to be revealed today, Friday. The defendant, Mr. Terry, faces a maximum fine of $3,000. Considering that he makes $185,000 a week when he plays soccer, the fine, if invoked, will be more symbolic than punitive.

And who knows, Mr. Terry might meet the fine with a fresh batch of "paint peeling profanities" that will refreshen the proceedings before the bar right up to the Olympic opening ceremonies. Something like the ending to "Witness for the Prosecution."

And therefore, like the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, NBC is expected to cover the soccer profanity proceedings with their usual "plausibly live" coverage, wrapped around whatever physical or mental ailments the parties and their families are recovering from.

It's going to be a summer filled with fun. I wouldn't miss it for all the f______ tea in Britain.


Monday, July 9, 2012


It had to happen. Germany's Angela Merkel is in training to appear on the European version of 'Dancing With the Stars.'

She is seen here chugging a dance step with France's newly elected President Francois Hollande. It was just a rehearsal, and not yet even a dress rehearsal. When the the Euro gains some more strength the Chancellor vows to add a galaxy of sequins to her outfit. "It won't be Elvis, but it will be memorable," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper this morning. (Mr. Cooper was visibly excited by the sequin plans.)


Friday, July 6, 2012

The Spread on the Euro

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel discusses what she believes the point spread will be when Germany's soccer team takes on its next European opponent prior to the start of the 2012 London Olympic games.

The prime minister would only comment that he wouldn't bet a Euro on the match, even if it was the Chancellor's money.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith, an actor whose folksy Southern manner charmed audiences for more than 50 years on Broadway, in movies, on albums and especially on television--most notably as the small town sheriff on the long running situation comedy that bore his name--died on Tuesday at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by the Dare County sheriff, Doug Doughtie.

The county sheriff announced that the TV sheriff has passed away. Nothing more fitting.


Monday, July 2, 2012


Anyone who might have been following baseball in the 1950s and 60s was lucky to have some of their life coincide with Casey Stengel. Stengel, the legendary Yankee manager, got the first word in and all the other words that followed. He made colorful comparisons and metaphors, that when they were unwound and translated from 'Stengelese', made perfect sense. They were insightful.  

There are books on Casey Stengel that you can go to that will automatically give you examples of his syntax. But more fun is had when someone else quotes Casey for something he said and they drop it into the story they're writing. Take an anthology of John Lardner columns, 'The John Lardner Reader.' Many sports are covered by Mr. Lardner's columns. So it's no surpise that Casey slips into one of them as John reports on a story about 'The All-American Rookie,' a true tale of a pre-season wannbe who reports to various spring training camps trying to bluff his way onto a roster.

The wannabe's name is Lou Mandel, and he made annual apprearances at Florida training camps trying out for teams as a pitcher. He really couldn't pitch worth a damn, as Lardner describes Lou's fastball as capable of "breaking an egg two of five times, if he happened to hit the egg."  Certainly not what any team needed.

Mr. Mandel was never discouraged by his prformance, and told the managers of teams that they better sign him to a contract worth somewhere in the five figure range, or else they'd find him playing for the opposition and casing huge regret over not being signed by the team he's now approached. A signing never occurred.

The instance that Mr. Lardner enlightens on was with Casey Stengel, who in this case does a bit of translating of Mr. Mandel's line when he asks to be quickly signed, or else he'll go home and take the $25,000 proposition that's waiting for him there.

Casey saw right through this, and figured out that "what he means is that he can go home and turn himself over to the cops and collect $25,000 reward. Especially if he brings himself in dead."

This is more profound than you might think. If a criminal has a price on their head, and they turn themselves in for the reward, are the people who are offering the reward obligated to pay the fugitive? They did, afterall, lead the authorities to themselves for the arrest.

It is not known how any of this works, or if someone thought that scenario through all the way. For what it's worth, Mr. Mandel kept drifting in and out of spring training appearances and eventually drifted away altogether.

As for the hanging thought introduced by Casey, what if the notorious Whitey Bulger had turned himself in for the reward after his image lite up Times Sqaure? Could he add it to $800,000 in cash that the authorities found in his condo walls? And what if Whitey somehow turned himself in dead?

Double indemnity?