Monday, October 29, 2012

The Deposition

In a prior life I occasionally had to gave depositions as part of my work. The corporate lawyer told me these were sworn statements, testimony that was "memorialized" for possible use in a future proceeding. I liked his phrase "memorialized" and always held onto it. So, here is my storm Sandy deposition.
  • How does a storm that has 75 mph winds only travel toward us at 13 mph?
  • Why can't I help myself and somehow think that whenever I see New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie block out the clouds that he somehow swallowed Rosie O'Donnell?
  • Iran has hacked the National Weather Service computers and fed the servers an image of a storm headed our way. This is a diversionary move, somewhat like what Brad Pitt and the gang did to the vault area in the Bellagio in Las Vegas. We're in trouble from an attack.
  • Why is Bermuda still on the map?
  • My biggest fear with regard to this storm is that my wife and my friend Dave will be right. I'm going to have to move.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Art Thefts

The recent spate of art thefts and art lawsuits alleging fraudulent copies has replaced news coming from the NHL's negotiating table. After all, it's all international.

And given this, it is completely likely that the current exhibit of Edvard Munch's much-traveled 'The Scream' that is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) might be a fake.

Interpol and the FBI found this copy in the back of a CBS news truck that was on-site along New Jersey's shore as thousands of slot machines were about to be imperiled by an advancing storm with a name of summer that was reaching land.

Stay tuned for more details.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Saint Amongst the Mohawks

If there is such a person who is a regular reader of this blog, then they should be able to guess that Joseph Mitchell's collection of stories, 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' is at the top of my recently truncated night table pile.

I'm reacquainting myself with stories I've read at some point, and others I missed. There's nothing like reading something again for the first time.

Mr. Mitchell wrote many pieces for The New Yorker. In 1949 he wrote a typically lengthy New Yorker piece on the Mohawk Indians and how they came to be associated with being fearless high steel workers.

Growing up I always heard stories about these New York Indians and how they just seemed to walk along a six inch beam hundreds of feet in the air and do it as gracefully as Joe DiMaggio playing center field. I used to see them on the subway after work in the 70s as they were working on the World Trade Center. Easy to spot.

As youngsters, my friends and I used to try and imitate the skill by trying a walk a straight line on a sidewalk and pretend that there was hundreds of feet of empty air on either side of our steps. Invariably we "fell off" and admired the Indians even more.

While making my way through the collection of stories again there was big news on the canonization front. Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including two women with New York ties, with one of those woman being an American Indian, an absolute first. Thus, I vaguely became aware of Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived in the 1600s and was made a saint because of her healing powers.

Mr. Mitchell's New Yorker piece is titled 'The Mohawks in High Steel' and traces the over two hundred year timeline of how they came to such a profession.

The Mohawk iron worker is from a tribe called Caughnawaga, originally branching from the Iroquois tribe in western and northern New York. They were converted to Catholicism by French Jesuits who convinced them to move to a mission outpost in Quebec. Mr. Mitchell traces their progression from Quebec to high steel workers on Canadian bridges to migrating into the United States when there was more bridge and skyscraper work. New York's Brooklyn North Gowanus section became a destination for living.

The Quebec beginnings are described as having a parish hall named Kateri Hall, named in honor of Tekakwitha, an Indian virgin called the Lily of the Mohawk, whose bones are in Caughnawaga's church, St. Francis Xavier. Mr. Mitchell explains the source of the admiration for Kateri.

"...Indian virgin called the Lily of the Mohawks who died at Caughnawaga in 1680. The old bones lie on a watered-silk cushion in a glass-topped chest. Sick and afflicted people make pilgrimages to the church and pray before them. In a booklet put out by the church, it is claimed that sufferers from many diseases, including cancer, have been healed through Kateri's intercession. Kateri is venerated because of the bitter penances she imposed on herself; according to the memoirs of missionaries who knew her, she wore iron chains. lay upon thorns, whipped herself until she bled, plunged into icy water, went about barefoot on the snow, and fasted almost continuously."

Through a little further online research one learns Kateri survived smallpox that killed the rest of her family and left her orphaned and partially blind, She was baptized as a Roman Catholic and spent the last years of her 24 year old life in the mission village of Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) in what was then New France, and is now Canada.

Joseph Mitchell wrote something about Kateri over 60 years ago in a piece on high steel Mohawk workers. The same week I re-read the story the name Kateri Tekakwitha is all over the news.

In the NYT story on the canonizations, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan is described as being over the moon that aside from Kateri and her New York origins, another woman, a mother superior, who started in Syracuse but later moved to Hawaii in 1883 (even then, getting away from the snow) was also canonized. Thus, two New York bred women became saints.

If this doesn't help put The Mobius Strip theory before the committee in Stockholm, nothing will. The card of races held this past Saturday at Belmont for New York Showcase Day for New York bred horses had names associated with all its races. The first race was the Iroquois, and the last was the Mohawk.

If I made this stuff up, they'd put me away.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon

There exists amongst us the truly obituary smitten. We love to read news obituaries from virtually any source. These are the ones generally bylined by the paper's reporters assigned to write the newsworthy obituaries. The subjects chosen by the editors are  anointed with any number of column inches and pictures are usually well-known people, bold-face names, politicians and entertainers, and others of distinction through scientific, literary or artistic achievement.

There are obituary writers who seem to also revel in giving short story send-offs to the ordinary Joe or Jane who, while not ever having accepted an Emmy or flew to Stockholm or Oslo to accept a prize, did nonetheless distinguish themselves in some way worth taking note of. This kind of obituary reporter seems to have some secret source of finding these people and getting to know more about them than someone else ordinarily might.

Marilyn's Johnson's seminal book on obituaries, 'The Dead Beat', tells us who these reporters are and where they write from. Being New York based, my own favorite, and perhaps the best of his kind, was Robert McG. Thomas Jr. who plied his trade with the NYT until his own early demise at 60 in 2000.

If being assigned to the obituary page was some kind of punishment inflicted on Mr. Thomas as part of his "career turbulence," then the jailed turned the tables on the prosecutor. He easily became a pre-eminent obituary writer and the one I miss the most. It's like not having Mickey Mantle in your All-Star lineup.

There are anthologies of his work that even include the NYT obituary of him, where the writer, Michael T. Kaufman, takes the reader on a journey of Mr. Thomas's life, pointing out that Mr. Thomas could be counted on to be the center of a good time.

His byline name seemed heavily freighted, but would have even been even heavier if the full name could fit: Robert McGill Thomas Jr. In any fashion, it was always a good thing to see in the morning.

Recently, the person I loaned Joseph Mitchell's 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' to returned the book. To the unfamiliar, Mr. Mitchell was a newspaper reporter who also wrote distinctive, highly-regarded, entertaining short stories about people he encountered in New York City. Mr. Michell's attention was generally applied to the 30s and 40s. He himself passed away in 1996.

It is impossible not to believe that McG. and Joe didn't bend an elbow somewhere where spirits were being served. Mr. Thomas's obituary notes that Robert dropped out of Yale by his own admission to, "major in New York rather than anything academic."

They were in the same kind of work, and seemed to have the same eye for the unsung. Thus, reading and re-reading Mr. Mitchell's collection of short stories takes one into a New York City populace that if they were to have passed away on McG's beat, we would have heard about these people twice. Thus, if you need a shot of McG. Thomas, read some Joseph Mitchell and imagine the people in the past tense.

Take 'Santa Claus Smith', written in 1940. If research is ever undertaken to trace the origin of the sometimes ubiquitous smiley face that gets stenciled onto all kinds of messages, then it would have to conclude that the drawing started with Mr. Smith, or at least pre-dated his use of it.

Turns out Mr. Smith was someone who resembled Santa Claus in appearance who would be known in his era as a 'hobo.' But a hobo who left behind good wishes to those who fed him as well as a blank check scrawled out on brown paper, drawn on the Irving National Bank of New York (predecessor to Irving Trust Company) for outlandish sums of money, $52,000, $12,000, $600,000 as graditude and gratuity.

The checks of course didn't have any money behind them, but were sent to the Irving National Bank by their receipients in hopes that perhaps they did. It may sound unbelievable, but I remember even in the 1960s there was such a thing as a "blank check." In fact, you could buy a booklet of blank checks at the right stationery store (today this would be Staples). You filled the check out with payee, date, amount, signature, as well as the bank you supposedly had an account in, along with the account number. Merchants supplied the blank check and did sometimes accept the completed check if they knew you and believed that you really did leave your check book at home. But even then, most business was conducted with cash.

Mr. Mitchell describes being allowed to review the brown paper presented to the Irving National Bank. No legal action was ever taken against Mr. Smith because he never presented the checks as payment for anything, or ever received funds from them. Mr. Mitchell could trace Mr. Smith's travels from the dates on the checks and where the recipients sent them from. It sounds like a early version of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty trying to locate Frank Abagnale Jr. in the movie 'Catch Me If You Can.'

Mr. Smith was passsing out these slips of paper as early as 1934, and on each one he drew what today we would call a 'Smiley Face.' As described by Mr. Mitchell in 1940 these resembled a "crude face with a smile on it. There are two pencil dots for eyes, a dot for a nose, and a line tuned up at both ends for a mouth."

Write your own headline for Mr. Smith's obituary.

If one character is good, then two are better.

Take Mr. A. S. Colborne, 'The Don't Swear Man,'  who is the self-appointed president of the one person Anti-Profanity League. Mr. Mitchell describes meeting Mr. Colborne in a bar and being upbraided a bit for saying "hell."

The story is written in 1941, and Mr. Colborne has been handing out business cards trying to promote the elimination of profanity since 1901. There is no year given for Mr. Colborne's birth, but he's quoted as telling Mr. Mitchel he opened a store in Brooklyn in 1890.

This probably makes it unlikely that the cause of Mr. Colborne sure demise was listening to a 1970s George Carlin record. But with enough longevity, it's completely possible he succumbed to a 1950s Lenny Bruce recording.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

South Dakota

People seem to pay attention to obituaries when a third person of the same type of fame passes away, say an entertainer, sports figure, famous author--a bold face name. But sometimes attention should be paid when two people with a common denominator leave the grounds. Because when two people with South Dakota in their bios pass away in the same week and whose obituary notices appear on the front page of the New York Times, attention must be paid.

South Dakota is a fairly large state with few relatively few people in it. It ranks fifth from the bottom in population, with the 2010 census pegging the breathing at 819,761. It only contributes the minimum of three electoral votes, so it's surely not a 'swing state.' So, when two people of some notoriety pass away, it's worth noting. A third would mean someone on Mount Rushmore developed serious fissures and crumbled to the bottom.

The first person to warrant attention on their demise was of course George McGovern, the 1972 presidential candidate who will forever be remembered for losing the election by a true landslide. He didn't even carry his own state, and was only on the plus side in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. It was bad.

Aside from all that, the man had a long life, that he admitted he was happy in 90% of the time. That's not bad at all.   

George McGovern is much referred to as the "Prairie Liberal." His mother was 20 years younger than his father, and his father was born in 1868, a full eight years before General Custer lost the last big one at Little Big Horn, fighting the Lakota Sioux Indians, who came from South Dakota. It would be safe to assume that Mr. McGovern's father could remember what he was doing when that news reached home.

The second person with South Dakota in their resume is Russell Means, an American Indian, who was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and who passed away there. Mr. Means is most famous for leading an armed protest at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 in protest of Native American treatment over the years.

The protest however did not give him Gandhi, or Martin Luther King status. We was a rugged guy who apparently was not liked by many, even people you might think were on his side. They thought he was too self-serving. He was shot several times, stabbed, imprisoned, and acquitted from some big league court cases. He had many parts in movies, commercials, recorded CDs and wrote a memoir, all while running for several elected offices, most notably trying to run for U.S. president in 1987.

If there is such a title, he was the "Prairie Curtis Sliwa." South Dakota can't afford to lose any more people.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York Showcase Day

There is a day of thoroughbred racing in New York known as New York Showcase Day. It is a day in which all entrants in all the races are considered to have been bred in New York.

Definitions of the circumstances of certifying a NY-Bred have changed over the years. Variables as to where the dam stood, for how long, where the birth actually took place, the residency requirements of the carpetbagging sire, and even where the highly orchestrated conception took place, all play into the NY-Bred definition.

Lately, the requirements of meeting all the variables have been relaxed. It is not known if this is an attempt to gain the vote for New York horses and therefore restore New York State to its former Electoral College clout, but there is no telling what the legislators in New York State will do.

So, once the definition is met, there can be eligibility into any series of races on Showcase Day that highlight and consist of only New York bred horses competing against New York bred horses. They do this over various distances, surfaces, and within gender and age groups. It's almost like taking people who were born and raised in 'da Bronx' and asking them to compete in races underneath portions of the Woodlawn elevated line.

Being somewhat of a regular at New York thoroughbred tracks, I'm sensitive to seeing things I'm not used to seeing. The first clue that Showcase Day is a bit of a special day is that there are usually very full fields of horses entered in each race. Yesterday was no exception. From the vantage point of being right over the entry point onto the track one could see all the outriders gathered to lead the horses to the post parade. Since there is one outrider for every entrant, a full field means a lot of outriders.

Thus, before the first race, after lifting my head from my studies, I noticed a positive gang of outriders assembled to lead the horses onto the track. Fourteen, in a semi-circle, waiting to grab the reins of a horse and canter them up and down the stretch and then lead them to the starting gate. There were more outriders than people sitting in the section I was in. The scene looked like 'all the boys' rounded up outside the saloon, ready to be deputized as a posse before riding off to catch someone.

Overnight rains left the track in a condition declared 'muddy.' Rain and dirt will produce mud. Horses run in this goo, although some like it more than others. But mud also requires the trainers, grooms, minor officials, reporters and photographers to wade into the stuff to get their jobs done. Start the day off with the wrong choice in footwear, and you're in for a long day.

Full fields produced some competitive racing. It also produced very strung out results because not every horse entered was capable of keeping up. Thus, some of the finishes looked like high school cross-country races, with a few at the front, leading a pack of many.

But the competitiveness lead to some exciting finishes. A tight, tight, rail-skimming ride with two horses to his outside by Joel Rosario on Isn'tshewonderfull in the 4th race, helped complete a decent exacta with Jerusalem Stone and helped set the day up as profitable.

There were some other exciting finishes, but perhaps the most exciting was found in the marquee race, the Empire Classic, a mile and an eighth race that is New York's version of the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Two horses stood out from the eight entered. One was Lunar Victory, a highly capable campaigner and the favorite, who races for Juddmonte Farms, a genuine Sheik, Arab-owned outfit not known to stock its stalls with NY-Bred horses, preferring instead the more high-priced Kentucky and European bred animals.

This much was even alluded to by Lunar Victory's Hall-of-Fame trainer, Bill Mott, who said quite frankly, he didn't think anyone at the farm was aware that Lunar was a New York Bred at first. New Yorkers, it seems, can wind up in most unexpected of places.

The other horse of upcoming ability was Saratoga Snacks, a younger horse, who was looking to gain attention. Attention was already being paid because the owner of Saratoga Snacks is August Dawn Farms, itself owned, at least in principle, by the twice-winning Super Bowl coach of the New York Giants, Bill Parcells.

Bill is a long-time racing enthusiast, and has owned horses in the past. Clues to the naming of  'Saratoga Snacks' can't be found in the immediate breeding lines. The name almost seems to be a reference to a very high profile owner, Mike Repole, who made a fortune selling Vitamin Water to Coca-Cola and whose latest business ventures include producing 'Pirate's Booty,' a cheese flavored popcorn snack. Bill and Mike are sure to know each other.

The race itself came down to the two horses, who battled each other mightily down the stretch, leaving the results in doubt until very near the wire. A final urging from Lunar Victory's jockey Junior Alvarado made the last strides look easy, leaving Ramon Dominquez and Saratoga Snacks to finish a close, but clear second.

No Gatorade over Bill Parcell's head in the winners' circle. No dumping of Saratoga snacks either. At least not this time.

A modest profit was achieved, and my friend and I did what we always do after the races. We headed back to my house for a pasta dinner served by my New York, Bronx-bred wife.

A good day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Long Time Ago

The first jolt to the memory, and really the only one needed, was the Op-Ed headline over the piece in Saturday's NYT, 'Who Will Mourn George Whitmore?"

When I saw the size of the piece and the large drawing that accompanied it, I wondered if there was going to be more about this chapter in the city's history. A few days later an obituary appeared for Mr. Whitmore, who had passed away eight days before at 68, in a New Jersey nursing home. He wasn't completely forgotten afterall.

I didn't need to read the details, but I did, about the black teenager who, in 1964, confessed to a double homicide he didn't do. The piece is by T.J. English, who met Mr. Whitmore several times in the stages of writing a book about George Whitmore  Jr. and the events that surrounded him and the very badly aligned wheels of justice.

It was August 1963, and two young women had been savagely stabbed to death in the middle of night while asleep in their Manhattan apartment. The killer entered from the fire escape and the open window. Open windows were common in Manhattan in the summer. Air conditioning basically didn't exist for most people, and the only chance of cooling yourself off was a fan, or open windows. Sometimes even moving the mattress to the fire escape was resorted to.

The young women were roommates, "Career-Girls," the euphemism of the era for young single women who lived on their own while working and living in Manhattan, pursuing "careers" rather than marriage. There are lots of sitcoms about this type of lifestyle now, and the description "career-girls" has been shelved.

This was an ugly crime, and one that shook the city. I was a very young teenager at the time, and the crime remained a topic of conversation for quite a while, one because no one was caught immediately, and then because it ushered in a realization that personal safety was at stake: you couldn't sleep with your windows open during the summer. Someone could come in and kill you. There were plenty of newspapers then, and plenty of stories.

Then, in April 1964 an arrest was made. George Whitmore, Jr. has confessed to the crimes. Crimes he didn't do, but he "confessed" regardless.

Mr. English's piece, and the subsequent obituary for George Whitmore Jr., give an accurate account of the chain of events that befell Mr. Whitmore and why his name is closely associated with the Miranda ruling. His defense had all the earmarks of "B&B," black and broke.

As the story was progressing in real time it was shown that Mr. Whitmore hadn't done the murders (he wasn't even in the state at the time) and that his confession was tainted by coercion. I remember thinking then that how could anyone confess to something they didn't do? At that point in my life I felt that if someone confessed to something it was because they did it. Case closed. And if something was beaten out of them it was still a confession because the beating just got out of them what was there to begin with. No difference.

Eventually, a recently released ex-con, Richard Robles, was arrested and convicted of the murders. He remains in prison to this day.

I've joked in the past that when asked what were the 60s like, I tell people they were hot, that there was little air conditioning.

For George Whitmore Jr., there was no justice, either.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hard to See Land

There was a Twitter tweet tease from @obitsman that said something about Prince Roy, Sealand, and the fact that His Highness had passed away. There was a UK link to an obituary.

It was a tease because 'Prince' didn't register with me and what I thought was a connection to containerized cargo. Even more so, because I thought someone connected with containerized cargo had recently passed away, and they weren't a 'Prince'.

Turns out following the tease is worth it because at the end of the link the viewer is treated to a Morning Telegraph obit about someone who could only exist across the pond and who could only be remembered by the Morning Telegraph. We don't grow people like Prince Roy. His obit is an export.

The new form of journalism that combines words with great pictures does auger well for online newspapering. 

Thus we see Prince Roy, with his lovely wife Joan, in the preserved phase of their lives in a lovely room that looks like it's where Midsomer Mystery's detective Tom Barnaby has held an 'murder inquiry.' No one's in pajamas, and there's not cell phone or a computer in sight.

Prince Roy, who is really Roy Bates, is seen in this first picture with a typical English complexion of rosiness on top of chalk, who is either trying to suppress a look of silly surprise or is holding back the residue of an apple he's eaten after finding half a worm (with a nod to Red Smith).

To say Bates was a character is superficial. He was equal parts Ross Perot, Bruce Willis, a Navy Seal, and Howard Stern. That he is survived by a wife and two children is a testament to their own endurance and their enormous good luck. That he lived to 91 is a defiance of all known odds.

Simply summarized, Roy Bates basically established an offshore fort as a sovereign nation that attracted WikiLeaks Julian Assange's interest in putting his servers there out of subpoena range. The Prince literally fought several times for his nearly 6,000 square foot island that resembled a toppled oil rig platform on concrete pillars that is seven miles offshore from Felixstowe.

To put 6,000 square feet in perspective, I think of the plot of land my house sits on in the birthplace of the suburbs--Long Island. The plot is 60 x 100, which makes the square footage 6,000 square feet. To think of my living space on a horizontal spread seven miles offshore sitting on decaying concrete pillars would not give me comfort. If there were a newspaper delivered, a walk outside to pick it up would require a life vest. I'd have to live there with my eyes closed.

This was not a fictionalized country like Freedonia in the Marx Brothers' movie 'Duck Soup' or a creation of Latka's country Divy-Divy in the TV show 'Taxi'. The place exists to this day.

And true to a good obituary, aside from the colorful read of a true personality, is a sprinkling of Latin phrases, with definitions, and an explanation as to how the three-mile nautical limit became three miles and not two, or four, or six.

There are some abbreviations which elude the American reader. Awarded an MC...military cross. Declared a UDI...unilateral declaration of independence. With, no problem.

The only thing missing from Prince Roy and his micro-nation status was creating a family big enough to have a better chance of representing the offshore nation-fort in the Olympics. After all, the Prince created a constitution, currency, stamps and a flag.

Sutton's Place

There are people who have long since passed away who we still know about because of their quotes, or quotes from their works. Shakespeare certainly is one of the most famous, and any number of people from the Bible. Yogi Berra's utterances will live long after him, as will those of many, many others, of all stripes.

Add to that pile Willie Sutton, an old-fashioned bank robber who physically removed money from banks rather than the new way of just getting the money sent to the Cayman Islands electronically as a result of insider information overheard while holding a flute of flat champagne, who famously said, or is said to have replied, when asked why did he rob banks, "because that's where the money is." And therefore, after Willie, where the money was.

Willie denied ever saying it, but he's lucky it stuck, Otherwise, no one in the 21st-century would be writing a book about him, and no major newspapers would be reviewing the book. Whether he said it or not, his phrase is perhaps more famous than he is. It has appeared as part of any number of Power Point presentations on fraud and uttered by any number of people to explain all kinds of behavior.

Bonnie and Clyde were famous bank robbers and stickup artists, but the movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was more famous than the true-life pair. The visual of dapper, hunky Beatty, coupled with desirable Faye dressed in cutting-edge 1930s fashions that became 1960s fashion, with a cigar popping out of her mouth long before Cigar magazine came into existence, sets the mold for Bonnie and Clyde. Even Clyde's statement of, "we rob banks" doesn't add any immortality to the pair, but rather seems like an answer to the question for what his occupation is. No, Willie's got it when it comes to that quaint occupation of robbing banks.

So, into this we get J. R. Moehringer's book titled, 'Sutton." Apparently, for some reason it is written as a "novel telling the true story" of Willie Sutton and his life after release from prison in 1969. Perhaps a 'historical novel' is what gives way to some inaccuracies in the review by the Wall Street Journal's Bryan Burrough.

Willie Sutton escaped from prisons, as well as robbed banks. And how he got out of New York's Sing Sing twice is hopefully given some true detail. That's some laundry basket if that's how he did it.

Aside from the exploits committed by Mr. Sutton there were tangential happenings that were significant. Mr. Burrough's, perhaps taking it from Mr. Moehringer's prose, says it was a 'mailman' who spotted a most wanted, walking-around Willie in a New York City subway and did enough things that lead to his re-apprehension and another incarceration.

The Arnold Schuster 'mailman' wasn't a mailman, but a young twenty-something adult who was a salesman in his father's Brooklyn clothing store, who initially wasn't going to get the reward for "leading to the arrest and capture" of a wanted felon. They didn't want to pay up.

Arnold, and perhaps his father, doth protehdist too much, and caused such a stink that they got the media attention (read newspapers) in 1952, and ultimately got the reward. But it came with a heavy price. Arnold Schuster was killed in daylight hours (read "broad" daylight) coming back to his Brooklyn apartment by a professional hit man who shot him once in the eye and once in the groin: the mob's message for people who squeal, even if they aren't part of the mob themselves.

Mr. Burrough's, perhaps again because of Mr. Moehringer, describes an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as ordering the hit on Mr. Schuster for being a "rat." This is really laughable.

"Outer-borough" is one of the descriptions that I find most ridiculous. To describe New York City's four boroughs that aren't Manhattan, but are connected to Manhattan by more bridges and tunnels than any place on earth as "outer" is to portray them as islands off the coast of Scotland. My own suspicion is that the New York Times started this description and that's something they're famous for.

Regardless, there was and is no such thing as an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as if it was a green cab that went where the yellow cabs won't go. It's reliably considered that Albert Anastasia, the boss of New York's bosses, ordered the hit because Arnold, even though he was just a civilian Joe, was not adhering to the "code of silence." Albert himself was spectacularly whacked in a midtown hotel (Manhattan) barbershop in 1957. Whether he was visiting from an "outer-borough" and getting cleaned up before seeing a Broadway show was never disclosed.

And perhaps a reach, but one for psychologists to ponder, is how the very public, sensational shooting of Arnold Schuster affected New Yorkers and whatever chances they would take to "get involved."

One of the still most famous instances of not "getting involved" was when it was estimated (how, I could never figure out, even as a teenager at the time) 38 people witnessed poor Kitty Genovese getting dragged around doorways in Kew Gardens and stabbed so many times she was killed by a mugger.

It was night, and screams were heard and people came to their windows. But no one called the police. There was no 9-1-1 system then, and precinct numbers weren't so well known that they were on sticky pads next to the phone. In fact, precincts were seldom called directly. Emergencies involved dialing "O" for the "operator" who was asked to connect the caller to the police or the fire department. But who knows, perhaps getting the police on the phone when needed only happened if you were Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart in the movies and you were wearing a hat indoors and smoking.

After reading newspaper accounts of the Arnold Schuster shooting I always speculated that there had to be enough adults around in 1964 who remembered 1952 very clearly, and what happened to people who informed. Ironically, Ms. Genovese was a distant relation of the Genovese crime family.

So, Willie Sutton has given us a highly usable and entertaining quote that he claims he never said, and perhaps with an enormous stretch, the 9-1-1 system that was created after the Kitty Genovese murder.

How do we thank Willie for his contributions? Maybe declare a holiday and close the banks for the day?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Big Bird

Perhaps it's not polite to make fun of a cultural outfit, but when four Nigerian farmers show up in a Dutch court room alleging pollution of their farmland by a Chevron oil spill, and two are dressed in business suits and ties, while another has on what looks like an African business suit, and the fourth one is dressed as...well you have to admit, Big Bird, then political correctness and decorum aside, what is this about? Is he for Obama, for Romney, or never heard of PBS?

Is he a chicken farmer, and came as Frank Perdue early for Halloween? You don't really know because the story is about the proceedings and the pollution claim, and makes no reference to the sartorial diversity represented at the table.

Maybe that's just a well. All pictures don't need words.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Angela Verboten

This is a recent picture in Greece of the riot police having to quell one of the many demonstrators who are angry with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and her European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund austerity measures that are felt to hurt the Greeks. There is bad blood here, inasmuch there are people who remember Germany occupied Greece in WWII and there are those who now see a virtual financial occupation in the making.

Thus, there is no picture of sweet, doughy-faced Angela who bears a likeness to America's Captain Kangaroo. She often looks like the lady who is buying all the kids on the block ice cream from the Good Humor man's truck.

But not in Greece. There is no good humor, and they'd like to blow the truck up if she gets near it.

Angela it seems is not Sara Lee. Because nobody doesn't like Sara Lee.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The British Are Staying

For lovers of British period costume drama the news couldn't be better. There will be a prequel to 'Downton Abbey', starring younger versions of Lord and Lady Granthan. This will account for the time before they became the keepers of the monor and will supposedly include some American backdrop. Lady Granthan, as any true follower of 'Downton' knows, is American born, and Shirley MacLaine is her mother.

Of course we Yanks haven't seen Ol' Shirl as the mother yet, but it's in the can.

The creator of  'Downtown Abbey', Julian Fellowes, has announced he is doing a prequel story in book form, that will be adapted to TV.  The show is extremely popular in Britain and here. Nothing works better than success.

And the introduction of Ol' Shirl into the current story line of course augers well for Ol' Shirl to entertain us in the prequel. Lord Granthan will be younger, therefore he will fit better into his Boer War uniform with six-pint abs and be what what all British officers are in uniform--dashing.

Historical content will be well served. We'll have the crest of British imperialism prior to WWI on display, along with an earlier, American Lady Granthan who is involved in Prohibition amendments and of course the Suffragist movement. Being whose daughter she is, it's not possible that the apple will fall far from the tree.

And Ol' Shirl? The possibilities are unlimited. Aside from being in the series current timeline, Ol' Shirl can be transported back to an earlier time in America when she smoked cigars and perhaps hung out with Bolsheviks. Her New Age spirituality and belief in reincarnation are perfect for the time machine.

The setting is there. Marlon Brando is the more grown up Don Corleon, and Robert DeNiro is the younger, prequel version. With the wave of her hand Ol' Shirl can be Coquette Shirl.

And if she keeps waving her hand she'll become Vivian Leigh and convince us she's Scarlett O'Hara.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Good To Know

The Canadian maple syrup heist continues to attract attention and the best pun-in-cheek journalism there is.

The latest news, as reported in the WSJ, has our northern neighbor successful in recovering 500,000 pounds of the stuff from a warehouse in New Brunswick, a Canadian maritime province, and not where Rutgers University is located in New Jersey. (Just in case your iPhone map app is not working right.)

Not too long ago, John Pollack wrote a scholarly and cute book on puns: 'The Pun Also Rises.'  It's an authoritative and entertaining book on the origin of puns, the use of puns, and what has to be an exhaustive working of whatever there is to know about puns. Amazingly, to me, Mr. Pollack doesn't offer even one example of the WSJ at work when it comes to puns.

Here is a paper in love with puns. Their traditional 'A-Head' piece usually can't wait to get started with one, or several puns, announcing them in the column's headline. Take the maple syrup story coming out of their Toronto office. Headline: Maple Syrup Plot Thickens in Canada. And this isn't an 'A-Head' piece, but a buried, although continuing, story inside the paper.

In a story that spans three columns, each of which is 2 1/4" deep (therefore a short story), the bylined piece by David George-Cosh (definitely an English Canadian--hyphenated surname) the reporter treats us to:

"the plot a heist of a big dollop of Quebec's..."
"...seized more than $1.4 million worth of the sticky stuff in neighboring New Brunswick..."

The 500,000 pounds that's been recovered was making its way back to Quebec in 16 cargo trucks, leaving New Brunswick with a police escort. It is not felt that all of the stolen syrup will be recovered.

The executive-director of the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Anne-Marie Granger Godbout (definitely a French-Canadian), is optimistic the recovery that has been made will help the authorities find the "'network' that pulled off the heist." Anne-Marie further adds, "It's not just a gang of teenagers [who] have a beer and want to rob a warehouse."

And that's the good news. Canadian teenagers are not more audacious and criminally-minded than their southern counterparts. They drink Molson Light, smoke Players cigarettes, play video games and log onto Facebook and surely spend quality time trying to figure out where and when to do you-know-what to you-know-who.

O Canada.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


It is not often I'm ever aware that my thinking lines up to someone as esteemed as Barry Commoner, a biologist, academic environmentalist, and founder of modern ecology, who just passed away at 95.

Dr. Commoner was considered and known as the first person to sound the alarms about what toxic substances were doing to the earth, and therefore us.

In two separate obituaries the writers list Dr. Commoner's four informal rules of ecology. Each writer quotes the rules the same way, so I'm guessing even if they were informal rules, they were written in stone. No interpretations. No variance.

Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Nature knows best.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I therefore find myself in great company when I match the ethos of this blog against his four pillars.

Everything gets connected somehow.
We live on a Mobius strip.

At 95 and born in 1917, Dr. Commoner was only two years younger than my father, who in no way lived as long. Born in New York City's borough of Brooklyn, Barry heard the same repeated and word-of-mouth generational laments that I became familiar with while growing up.

There were several old-timers who hung out at the family flower shop in the 1960s who I heard wistfully lament the passing of the good old days, when you could go into a saloon and pay a nickel for the beer and help yourself to the free stack of sandwiches on plates on the bar. You paid for the beer, but the lunch was free.

When things change, they never go back to what they were.