Monday, December 29, 2014

None of My Favorite Things

'A Few of My Favorite Things' is one of those rare songs that comes from a musical, 'The Sound of Music,' that has nothing to do with Christmas, but nowadays gets used fairy incessantly as a Christmas song. And that's okay. It is a nice tune, with a good title that suggests the singer is going to tell you what they like. 'Warm woolen mittens...' I guess this is where it starts to become a Christmas song. In the North and Northeast it is generally cold at Christmas, and anyone outside under the age of 10 might be wearing 'warm woolen mittens.'

Of course, those in warmer climates might be wearing little, but who cares, the calendar says December, and if it is December, Christmas will be on it.

So, since this is the time of year people make up all sorts of lists, I thought I'd share my list of my least favorite things. This is a list of words, or phrases that when uttered within earshot cause me to flinch a bit. I'm not going to offer a full blown William Safire-like treatise on why they make me flinch or what I construe their meaning to be. They may be amongst your own dislikes, or even your likes.

I'm just going to tell you that when I hear the following I start talking to myself a bit. I keep my dislike of these words and phrases to myself when I hear them, but they still annoy me. Big time.

It is what it is.
Giving back to the community.
Exact same.
Free gift.
Affordable housing.
Do the math.
Have a nice day.
Trust me.
Boots on the ground.
It's not rocket science.
It's not brain surgery.
Reality TV.
Social media.
Having said that.
Sounds like a plan.

This of course is not all the words and phrases I dislike. It is all I've been able to think of, or heard and wrote down within the last month. Some waaaay more than others. I'm sure I'll be adding more as time passes.

Trust me.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Oh Mandy. Mandy Rice-Davies Passes Away at 70

It was 1963, and as schoolboys we were still recovering from the loss of Marilyn Monroe to suicide. So, in 1963, when Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler got the world's attention for doing what comes naturally, we couldn't get enough of them. They were a more famous pair than Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

It doesn't matter who you thought was prettier. These were Miss Rheingold's with a story that we liked to read about. And if you think publicity is out of control now, it was no less out of control then, and without Twitter, without Facebook, and without YouTube. Newspapers were good enough. And in black and white, no less.

Think Monica Lewinsky with overtones of missile secrets being passed as pillow talk. The minister who was involved with Christine Keeler was John Profumo, who was the Secretary of State for War, and the common bunkmate between he and Christine was Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet defense attaché. Almost like a episodes from 'The Americans,' if you've been paying attention.

Mandy only shared an apartment with Christine, and did not make the triad a quartet. The scandal rocked the Harold Macmillan government. The joke amongst us was that the British were lousy carpenters: a few screws and the cabinet falls apart.

Now Mandy has passed away at 70, and we all feel a little bit older. As she got older and entered  into entertainment, writing and restaurant ventures, she liked to say she spent a long "descent into respectability." Christine is still with us, but recent photos show her to be completely unrecognizable to the girl of the 60s.

You have to love the British and their way of telling describing Mandy: "Mandy was by a long chalk the more resilient and streetwise." This is a horse racing metaphor telling us she was the favorite. And by the read of her obituary, she lead quite a life, unapologetic for the past, using it for the future.

Perhaps because of Mandy's sly reply in the witness box about Lord Astor's denial of sleeping with her, "Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” we compared her response to every response that appeared in the paper when someone was caught at what comes naturally. Like when the scandal broke in New York City that women, were sleeping in the firehouses and the bunkmates calmly pointed out that they "were just friends" we couldn't pass a firehouse with an open door without wondering who was upstairs above the poles.

It was a great era.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Slightly Used...Best Offer

Sound familiar? Sure, someone has something to sell. But what? A used coffin? No way.

All of the recent events once again prove life is an on off ramp. Names have been changed, but the story is the same.
Over the weekend my wife got word that a cousin of hers had passed away suddenly at 62. And actually, not yet known of what causes. The cousin, Barbara, lived outside the Washington D.C. area to a husband that was always viewed as a bit of scootch, a family in-law pariah.
Through the inevitable phone calls from other family members, it came back to my wife that Larry, the husband, was looking for a discount of some kind on the burial expenses, even though Barbara is to be cremated. On what basis he thought a discount might apply is not known. Larry is not someone anyone looks forward to talking to.
My wife laughed, and said that was Larry, but said she never heard of anyone getting a used coffin.
So tonight, I read the story about the fight over the ownership of Lee Harvey Oswald's original coffin. This was in Friday's NYT.
One, I never remembered that there was an older Oswald brother, Robert, now 80, that reporters became pallbearers at Lee's funeral, and that Oswald was exhumed in 1981 in order to put to rest the raging conspiracy theory that a Russian impostor was buried in his place. (And this was before Fox News.)
Turns out the funeral home took possession of the coffin, and after 30 years of keeping it in storage, is now trying to sell it at auction. It is not in great shape. Robert Oswald is suing to prevent this.
In a video deposition, Mr. Oswald said he knew of "no case where anyone has ever bought a used coffin."
He obviously hasn't met anyone from my wife's extended family who thought he'd give it a try.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Men Are From...

When I was in high school studying biology the periodical 'Scientific America' ran an entire issue on the study of human cells. Since we were studying this in class, the teacher either got us, or brought in several copies of the journal to help us in our classroom work.

It was the only edition of "Scientific America' I ever read, or looked through. It is quite, well, scientific, and beyond the layman's level. But there we were, high school sophomores immersed in Ph.D. articles.

I thought of this long ago dedication of an issue to one topic when I looked at last week's NYT 'Science Times' section. Over 90% of the eight page section is about the planet Mars. This is because of the reports coming back from the Curiosity Rover that we landed on the planet. The robot is a virtual geologist moving across the planet taking photos and surface samples. Results are sent back to NASA.

Ask different people what are the most burning unanswered questions and I have no doubt that the question of life on other planets will rank in the top three of all respondents. As for myself, I've always ranked it No. 1, followed closely by who is Carly Simon singing about in her song 'You're So Vain.' Carly moved into the No. 2 spot after W. Mark Felt revealed himself to be 'Deep Throat', the anonymous parking garage source about Watergate. Where is Whitney Bulger never made my top three, and now even his whereabouts are known. Prison. (Currently, I have no No. 3.)

The 'Science Times' issue easily justifies the NYT newsstand price of $2.50. I can see classrooms, somewhere, using the issue to enhance their study of planets.

Mars has always fascinated us because it is the closest plant to Earth, so therefore it is thought we could have some kind of planetary neighbors. Martians. All the early Sci-Fi movies dealt with our imagined version of what these "people" might be like.

The 'Science Times' issue is an easy to read section, filled with color photos sent back by Curiosity Rover. The text is not highly technical, unlike that long ago issue of 'Scientific America.' In keeping with the 'People' magazine celebrity form journalism we are now used to, there are pages with left and right columns of photos of famous people and what they may have once, or currently said about Mars

Bold face names like Buzz Aldrin, Ray Bradbury, President Reagan, Elton John are examples of the variety of people featured in these thumbnail quotes. Some are witty, some are serious, some are dismissive of the planet.

To me, one is particular stands out. And it's not really about Mars directly. It's more of a touchstone for anyone's research into how long lawyers have been disliked.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who gave us Tarzan, wrote in 1917 in 'A Princess of Mars,' "In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people: they have no lawyers."

Reason enough for going there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

College Costs

Chester A. Arthur was not a president whose name rings many bells after his time in office. He became president because he was James Garfield's vice president and Garfield was assassinated early in his term. Prior to being on the Garfield ticket Arthur was a chief mucky-muck in New York Republican politics, aided by the patron saint of  New York Republicans, Roscoe Conkling. Arthur was the chief Customs Collector in New York, and with the system of accepted givebacks, was literally making more money than the president.  Perhaps significantly, Roscoe Conkling's statute is at one end of Madison Square Park, and Arthur's is at the other.

Aside from being the answer to a trivia question, Chester A. Arthur was one of the few presidents sworn into office in New York City. This fact escaped my knowledge until I read in Monday's NYT that the building where Arthur lived and took the oath, still standing, may not ever ascend higher on the Landmarks Preservation Committee's list to consider protecting. In fact, it may be dropped from the list all together.

All this is easy to understand when you look at the building where Arthur lived and was awoken on September 20, 1881 at 2:10 A.M. to take the oath of office after confirmation of Garfield's death reached New York.

The building is at 123 Lexington Avenue, near 28th Street, and is a building I would have walked past any number of times as I went to the landlord's office to pay the family's flower shop rent in the 1960s. Usually late. I never knew I was walking past anything historic. And why would I? The plaque pointing all this out, when it wasn't being stolen, was inside the front door.

That particular stretch of Lexington Avenue is changed in the sense that at street level the storefronts are full of Thai and Indian restaurants. The buildings however, are the same, with no high rises in sight. Still passing through this area I think of how unchanged the height of any buildings is. The Old Print Shop is still there, looking nearly as old as the prints they sell. I attribute the lack of development to air rights that went elsewhere, but what do I know?

It is not surprising that Arthur would have lived in the house. That was a much more fashionable part of town in the 1880s, with its location just north of Gramercy Park.

Sam Roberts, the reporter who is giving us the story with all this nostalgia, does close with an observation that can be taken two ways, the way it was meant, and the way it could be twisted. I always go for twisted.

Mr. Roberts tells us that " a recent study led by Henry L. Roediger III, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis (just think of the contacts Mr. Roberts must have!), found that only 7% of college students remember Mr. Arthur at all."

Sounds like a small percentage. But if 7% of college students remember Arthur then they've been in school waaaaaay too long and need to move on. It's no wonder college costs so much.

Poor parents.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From the Bench

I don't usually read legal wordings from the bench. In fact, I don't read them at all. I did happen to be part of a case that went to Federal court that put me at the sentencing of a doctor for health care fraud. A hefty sentence was handed out, and in the judge's reading of the sentence he said to the defendant, "You have had a Faustian fall from grace."

Someone next to me, not a journalist, said that that sound bite would be in tomorrow's paper. The judge was William H. Pauley III, and it was October 2001. And indeed, the quote was on the front page of the next day's New York Times.

The trial was a bit of a celebrity health care case for New York. The doctor was a Park Avenue gynecologist and obstetrician with a busy practice of performing in-vitro fertilizations for women having trouble conceiving. He was highly sought after, having earned a good deal of success and positive notoriety in his field.

The only trouble was that Dr. L,. for some reason, thought it best to circumvent the insurance coverage, and where the contracts did not allow payment for such a procedure, misrepresent his services as something else, thereby achieving payment.

Dr. L. did this so often, and for so long, that he was collecting in excess of $1 million from a variety of regional health insurers. Exception was taken.

So, indeed his fall from grace was of Faustian proportions, and the judge sentenced him to over seven years. The prosecution appealed the sentence, and got more time added. Thus, Dr. L. spent a good deal of time in federal prison, before the final blow of being deported back to Denmark.

Every so often I'd read of a case and I'd see that Judge Pauley was involved. And so it was in Friday's Wall Street Journal that I read that U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Richard Chichaki below the sentencing guidelines for his conviction on conspiracy and wire-fraud charges. Mr. Chichaki was a Syrian associate of an international arms dealer, Viktor Bout, and got five years in prison.

Judge Pauley, in his sentencing remarks pointed out that no one was even sure that it was Mr. Chichaki who stood before him. "Mr. Chichaki continues to be shrouded in mystery," noting that his passports were "so filled with immigration stamps that they looked like a sheet of Rachmaninoff's music."

The judge is clearly cultured. Well read, and poetic. He invokes the famous work of Johann Goethe, and the thunderous music of a Russian composer.

All this gives me an idea that I will never act on. If Judge Pauley can be so clever in his sentencing orations, then surely there are others who are good at it too. The judge himself, by virtue of being on the bench for so long might have by now compiled a book's worth of quotable phrases. A bound book, and therefore gift giving possibilities arise.

I'd love to hear Picasso worked into a sentence.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

We Almost Had It

As anyone you plays the horses knows, multi-leg wagers can be difficult to hit. A Daily Double is picking the winner of two consecutive races, that years ago were strictly the first two races, but now roll through the entire card.

After that there are Pick-3s, Pick-4s, Pick-5s and the Pick-6, a bonanza bet, that when hit, usually pays off with a lifestyle changing return. The requirement is that the winner of the races covered by these bets must be represented as one bet. Usually, several permutations are devised and bet on by the bettors to strengthen their changes.

There is a consolation for the Pick-6. If five winners are picked, there is a separate payoff, usually small, since usually there are lots of bets that have 5 of the 6 winners picked; any 5 of the 6. On rare occasions, if there are some real significantly priced "bombs," longshots that come in, there might only be people who have only five winners on a ticket; no one picked six, or no one picked five. In these situations, a percentage of the total pool is marked for consolation payouts and the rest is carried over to the next day of betting, fattening that pool right from the start. Successive carry-over days create some hefty pools. And attract more wagers.

Consolation Pick-6 returns can be so small that one Pick-6 that was played by a group of four of us, creating four bets, was hit for the consolation payoff of $11.00; five out of six winners, all heavy favorites; split four ways, $2.75 for the $2.00 each person bet. Great return on Wall Street. Lousy at a racetrack.

So, more often than not, multi-leg races result in an incomplete pass. Like Triple Crown pursuits, all legs are not hit often by many.

We just had an attempt at an obituary Pick-3 that resulted in nailing two of the three legs, but a close second place finish in the final leg but a kibosh on the celebration.

It was speculated that Robert McFadden's byline could complete the rarest of obit triples; three subjects, over 90, who all committed felonies. Quite honestly, I got excited when I saw Mr McFadden's byline in Thursday's paper and the subject had passed away at 85 and was a politician who had made numerous attempts at being New York City's mayor. Like horseshoes, close could count.

But as soon as I realized it was Herman Badillo who had passed away at 85, I knew we missed the photo. I was aware of his political career, and couldn't recall it being smudged by even an indictment and beating the rap. This wasn't Mario Biaggi. Reading the obituary confirmed it; no mention of even overdue parking tickets, which wouldn't have counted anyway.

But, as often happens at the races, you look in one spot and something is happening over there, we did have the absolute rarest string of deaths in hockey. A Pick-5. Not all the same byline, but significantly, in close order, Gilles Tremblay, Vitkor Tikhonov, Pat Quinn, Murray Oliver and Jean Beliveau all passed away.

We'll keep our eyes out for more clusters as time goes by. We may get that 90+ McFadden felon before year's end yet, but it won't be a true Pick-3. It will be more like Tiger Woods's Grand Slam. Close, but no cigar.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pick-3 Watch

We are on a Pick-3 watch, or an obituary trifecta, seeing who might be the third person Robert D. McFadden gets to write about who is 90 or over at the time of their passing and has done time for their convictions on numerous felony charges. Even one felony charge will do. It is a very narrow journalistic window, and we'll be watching the skies closely.

The first of Mr. McFadden's obits was on "Mad" Frank Fraser, a notorious British gangster, thug, and all round brute that even in a nursing home won a British honor, of sorts. Having long since establishing ineligibility for something nice people get, like a Knighthood, or even an OBE, Oder of the British Empire, Mr. Fraser was labeled an ASBO, which stands for anti-social behavior order.

It seems in the nursing home he got into some altercation with another resident. The British newspaper that wrote about this in their obituary does not mention what the "row" was about. But it occurred only last year, when Mr. Fraser was 89 and easily could have been about a wheelchair parking space. We may never know.

Today's McFadden felony obituary is on Anthony Marshall, whose career in crime came to him much, much later in life than Mr. Fraser's and involved an estate swindle of his mother's assets. It is a bit complicated, but at the age of 89, an appeals court upheld his 2009 conviction on the 14 of the 16 count indictment that included first-degree grand larceny charges. It seems Mr. Marshall, in concert with his mother's lawyer, Mr. Francis X. Morrissey Jr., played fast and loose with mum's money and took advantage of her sometimes diminished mental capacities caused by Alzheimer's related dementia.

Mr. Marshall only spent two months in a Dutchess county (NY) prison that had skilled nursing care. He was released under the terms of a compassionate parole. Since mom, the wealthy philanthropist Brooke Astor had passed away at 105 in 2007, it was certain Mr. Marshall no longer had a mom to steal from.

If Mr. Marshall didn't get himself in trouble with family finances, his obituary would not have a lede about his felony conviction, but would instead highlight what seemed to be a polymath man who achieved recognition for creative works and public service. So prominent was the trial and conviction that the headline for his six column obituary contains the words "...Convicted in Estate Swindle..."

This is a little softer than the prior day's online headline, since softened, that a "Convicted Swindler" had passed away at 90.

This is a bit of an object lesson that near end-of-life notoriety is what will dominate your send off. One can only imagine how the comedian Bill Cosby's obituary will be amended based on recent revelations.

So, who is next to complete the Pick-3, or obituary trifecta? Mr. McFadden I'm sure has written many pre-deceased obituaries that lie in what the NYT calls "The Morgue." Marilyn Johnson in her book The Dead Beat, tells us that there are maybe 1,200 names in the Times morgue, waiting to be updated and transplanted to the page once their subjects cease breathing.

Surely there is at least one more in there by Robert McFadden about someone who is now 90 and has entered into the world of crime and been convicted for it. Who will be the next "Tale from the Crypt?"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Air Sickness Bag

As anyone who has been paying attention to these blog postings might by now have realized, I've been reading obituaries for a long time. In a lot of settings, but usually on a commuter train, at my desk, or in my living room.

I have to say, if I had been reading the NYT obituary for Francis Fraser on a plane and there was the slightest of air turbulence, I might have been reaching for the air sickness bag. I have to say, I've never read so much about as revolting a character as "Mad Frank" covered in an obituary that spans two full columns of a major newspaper. It's a beaut, for a brute's life.

The picture of Mr. Fraser is the first clue, without even reading the caption. Mr. Fraser was 91 at his passing in a London hospital. The 1997 photo above shows a jacket and tie dressed man whose face resembles lumpy oatmeal, or one of those newly designed gold courses with plenty of grassy knolls on the way to the pin. He is not smiling, likely because there are aren't many teeth left.

Then there is the picture in the background. The Kray brothers in boxing glove poses? Twin psychopathic gangsters from the London underworld in days gone by?

But the second line of the headline is the clincher: "Cashed In On his Cruelty." The obit is by the newspaper legend, Robert McFadden. This gives you an idea that Mr. Fraser achieved so much fame for his deeds that his advance obit was written by a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who has been retired for many years, but who themselves is still with us. The NYT obit editors been waiting a good number of years to spring Mr. Fraser's obit on us, but it had to wait until the man turned 91.

Mr. Fraser was easily England's composite of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, Willie Sutton and Whitey Bulger.

Mr. Fraser practiced dentistry on dead-beat clients whose movements were not prevented by an application of Novocain, but rather by virtue of being nailed to the floor. You expect he waived the co-pay.

A first season episode of 'The Knick' shows a New York City turn-of-the 19th century bookmaker- loan shark-sex procurer-drug dealer extracting a tooth in his office from a refined gentleman who happens to  be a hospital administrator who is behind in his payments. There is no carpentry in the scene, however.

Mr. Fraser spent nearly an equal number of his years in prisons of various sorts, as he did out of them. The near 50% ratio is really a bit more lopsided toward incarceration when you consider that they didn't pop him into a juvenile center until he was 17. He probably just wasn't bad enough until then, or that's when they finally caught him. For the first time.

There must he something so theatrical about the British that Mr. Fraser was such a celebrity outside of prison that he gave West End performances until the 1980s. As famous for their misdeeds as Willie Sutton, "Sammy the Bull," and the elusive Whitey Bulger were, I don't think there is any record of either of them playing Broadway.

There were plenty of ghostwritten autobiographies of "Mad Frank" in addition to his live performances, DVDs and CDs. Imagine, a British Pulitzer version for spoken word being awarded to Frank for mumbled word, and you get a sense of the adulation he received.

It is easy to be hard on Mr. Fraser and his lifestyle. But there were redeeming qualities, even in someone whose claim to fame was his cruelty. As he himself pointed out, "sure I was violent, but only to people like myself."

The police call this a community service.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ginkgo Stinko

It would happen in the fall. There would be a strong stench from the trees alongside the Murray Hill LIRR station in Flushing, along the 149th Place side, between 41st Avenue and Barton Place. A really rancid odor that, if there was such a thing, would be called "tree poop."
And in many ways it was tree poop. It was ginkgo nuts that fell from the 4-5 ginkgo trees that became squashed underfoot, or by cars. Very smelly tree road-kill.
It was like that as long as I can remember. And that would take me back to the early 50s. I once read an explanation of female and male ginkgo trees, and that the nut-bearing female trees were planted there by mistake, but to me, that was just urban legend.
And then the WSJ's November 25th A-HED piece revealed all. Accidental planting of female ginkgo trees is exactly what happened in parts of the city, and on that particular stretch of block by the railroad station, which at some point in the 60s was no longer a building but rather just a set of staircases going down to the platforms. The station building that was once there was torn down because of vandalism and the distinctive permanent urine smell it held inside. It had become a hangout, and unsocial things were being done there.
The A-HED piece goes on to explain that "one man's soup is another man's stench." A ginkgo nut is a delicacy used in Asian cooking. But squashed on a pavement, it's worse than fermented dog-do.
It turns out that when the city was planting ginkgo trees, it was hard to tell the female trees from the male trees. And that it took 25 years for the female ginkgo trees to bear nuts. Thus, mistakes were made. If female trees were planted near even one male tree, nature delivered ginkgo produce.
My theory is that when the LIRR open cut trenched the Port Washington line in the late 1920s from street level tracks, they surely had to do some fresh landscaping. A ginkgo tree is an attractive tree, if it's not belching. The leaves turn a bright yellow in the fall, and have a nice, delicate fan shape.
So, at least one male was mixed in with the women. This pre-dated unisex toilets. And for years and years, no one could care less, because the trees didn't produce anything but leaves. But, then came maturity, probably sometime near the dawn of my birth, and suddenly, there was a holy stink that filled the air in the fall as the nuts fell and were trampled open, and wafted out their odor.
In the 1980s, Asians increasingly moved into Flushing and found the trees. The ginkgo nuts were a prized commodity to these Asians, and they went to some extremes to harvest a free tree crop. I never saw anybody actually climbing the trees, and they were too mature to shake in order to make them give up their crop, but I did see people picking up the nuts before they were smashed. Often, several people.
And then there was that one Sunday morning when I went for the paper and someone was tossing a two-foot plank of wood up into the branches trying to dislodge nuts. Over and over again, until they got enough or were discouraged with their haul. I had to walk around this ginkgo nut and his falling boomerang.
David Marcelis, in his A-HED piece, tries to describe the smell of mutilated ginkgo nuts. He tells us the pulp of the nut contains butyric acid, the same as found in rancid butter, and everyone's favorite fragrance--vomit. I kid you not, he's got it right.
The byproduct of the increasing Asian population was that the stink no longer lasted very long in the area. The nuts became scooped up before they could be crushed and turned into the opposite of air fresheners.
As for myself, I solved the problem of smelling the trees (and a few other problems), by moving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The New Journalism

Easily the oddest ending I've ever read to a news story. Reprinted, in its entirety, an AP story from the WSJ, November 24, 2014.


A naked man fell through the ceiling of a women's bathroom at Boston's Logan International Airport on Saturday, then ran out of the restroom and assaulted an elderly man, state police said.

Cameron Shenk, 26 years old, of Boston, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, mayhem, assault and battery, on a person over 60, assault and battery on a police officer, lewd and lascivious conduct, and malicious destruction to property.

After crashing through the ceiling, an incident reported by a woman who was in the bathroom, Mr. Shenk assaulted an 84-year-old-man, biting his ear and attempting to choke him with his own cane. It wasn't known if Mr. Shenk had retained an attorney; his phone number couldn't be located.

Did you find his clothes? Might be in there.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Identity Theft

How can you keep someone from stealing your name? Easy. Have a name too big to steal.

When you think about it, it is not really too far fetched. How many truly big things go missing? The United States Navy has not had any of its aircraft carriers stolen. Why? Probably because they are too big to steal. They all are easily over 1,000 feet long: three plus football fields in length. Size counts.

Take the recently deceased Duchess of Alba, an 88 year-old Spanish aristocrat who had more names than a Mayflower moving van has state license plates on it.

Try presenting her full name, Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart de Silva, at the mall with a fake credit card that only carries 20 characters. Can't do it. It's no wonder when she passed away she was reported to be worth $4.4 billion. No one could take it away from her.

She only married three times but the last two were to successively younger men, the first 11 years younger than her, the second, almost 25. Like a pulley, as her age, the weight went up, the other side of the rope went down.  The 'Guinness Book of World of Records' recoded her as a noble with the most titles: 40 plus. If she were to meet the pope, the protocol did not need dictate that she knell. She could ride a horse into Seville Cathedral, presumably with her clothes on.

For us here in the States, she was easily the richest woman we never heard of. Her land and palaces in Spain would seem to out-do Disney. Whether a Spanish language station will do a 'Downton Abbey'-like story of her life now that it is even more out in the open remains to be seen.

For sure, a woman like that didn't have a 'Target' or a Spanish 'Hacienda Depot' credit card. But for those of us who do, it might be better if our names were protected by increased length. As things get more complex, they are harder to duplicate. Think of paper money and counterfeits. Extensive changes have been made to paper money to thwart counterfeiting. The bills are way harder to criminally reproduce now. So then, should our names be harder to reproduce.

On forms these days whether online or on paper, there are usually two address lines to provide a street address that may not be contained on one line. So, there should also be for our names.

There should be a second line where our expanded names go. The free format nature of this field invites so much variability that it would make stealing a name even harder. The cyber-thief has to deal with more characters, and has to get them in the right places.

But, it is always hard to defeat those who are tempted by the financial incentives to duplicate something or be someone else. I'm sure at times there were many people who would have loved to have been considered to be Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart de Silva.

Even if they were only at the mall.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Big A

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen here in Auckland, New Zealand greeting the New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriquez and administering the out-of-training-look-me-in-the-eye drug test required before all players report to training camp for the 2015 baseball season.

Chancellor Merkel was looking for telltale sings of bulk that might have been built up in the off-season; thus, the shirtless Rodriguez.

Out of range of the camera, also waiting to be tested, was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been known to go shirtless while riding bareback.

Results of the testing will be made available at the conclusion of the G20 conference now being held in Brisbane, Australia. But don't expect he Russians to admit or deny anything. They may even tell us there is no Russia.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Most Happy Fella

Live till you're 93 and you can leave a lot of life behind. In the case of Manitas de Plata, a virtuoso of Flamenco guitar who has just passed away at 93, that life can contain many women, one wife, 13 legally recognized children, and a total of perhaps 11 to 15 others, that, with DNA testing, would undoubtedly be linked back to him with legal certainty. He was a busy guy. He could have been chosen to be the Grand Marshall to lead the French Fathers' Day parade.

In yesterday's NYT obituary on Mr. de Plata, Bruce Weber renders affection and respect when he describes Mr, de Plata as having lived "a life of fulfilled appetites."

Known as a free spender, as well as a money making machine from his recordings and concerts, Mr. de Plata perhaps not surprisingly outlived what fortunes he made by wide margins. He befriended numerous famous people, generally in Europe, and especially on the French Riviera.

As the Cher song goes, he was "born in a wagon," a Romany Gypsy caravan in 1921 in Cette, France as Ricardo Baliardo. He adopted the name Manitas de Plata, which translated means "little hands of silver."

Usually, when someone who achieves notoriety in any field passes away, the names of the immediate survivors are given, along with a count of grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren. Given Mr. de Plata's joie de vivre lifestyle, only the name of one of his female partners is given, (and not the sole wife) Claudette Mariaux, and a daughter from that relationship, Francoise.

It is easy to understand why Mr. de Plata might have had financial trouble. The birthday presents and cards alone would strain any income.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Anything But the 1999

I don't think I will ever forget reading an October 18, 1996 NYT Op-Ed news piece by Pete Hamill reminiscing about The Lion's Head Pub that was due to close that Saturday night.

I will be handed a menu in some restaurant and remember the night a man died of a heart attack at the table beside me and someone asked the waitress, "What did he order?"

It's easy to think something like that didn't really happen, but I'm sure it did. I'm also sure variations of it have been repeated all over the world. Like the neighbor's sister who dropped dead of a heart attack on the dance floor at the neighbor's son's wedding.  I think it was before the cake was cut, too.

Keep living and reading and you'll hear of more. Take the recent obituary for Hubert de Montille, 84, a legendary winemaker in Burgundy, France.

He suffered a fatal heart attack at lunch with friends in Alsace, drinking his own wine, a 1999 Pomard Rugiens. His son, Etiennne de Montille, said he died, "glass in hand."

The vintage will no doubt be left off the death certificate.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How Many Do You Want?

Quick. Server brings over the two desserts you ordered. There are the same. They are familiar Italian pastries, very closely associated with Phil Rizzuto, the Yankee Hall-of-Fame shortstop and legendary broadcaster.

Does the server bring you two cannolis, or two cannoli? No computer, word processing, grammar usage, spell checking software in the world is probably going to help you here. You need more research. Hit the books.

The whole realization about the word cannoli was touched off when the news carried a story that a fire recently destroyed a family cannoli factory in Mount Vernon, New York. The factory was responsible for such an ungodly supply of the item that a holiday shortage is expected. The factory produced "10 million cannoli" a year. Laid end to end (if you're so inclined) the article pointed out this number of cannoli would stretch 500 miles, from Mount Vernon to Richmond, Virginia. That is of course if you're going south from Mount Vernon. There are other options, but that's what mobile apps are for.

Ten million is certainly more than one. It is plural, so the word it is associated with should be plural too. And there, in the NYT, the word is cannoli. So, if cannoli is plural, what's one cannoli, aside from half the price of two?

There are two printed, paper, hardbound dictionaries that I generally consult and keep handy. Sometimes, the first go-to one is the 'Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.' Many people are familiar with this one. It is quite comprehensive, and is two thick volumes. Either one of them is a door stopper. Given the size of the two volumes, the fact that it is it the "shorter" version always reminds me what the full-size version is. Well, that's 20 or so volumes, of equal thickness per volume. So, I always wonder what words I may not be getting.

I found out.

Cannoli. Not there. Cannikin...cannon. Not there. I am surprised. This isn't going to make me want to acquire all twenty volumes just so I might capture the word cannoli, but they were right. It is the shorter version. I found a word that's not there.

Plan B. Go to the much easier to pick up, one volume, 'Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.' Cannikin...cannoli...cannon.

Cannoli is described as the plural form: 'pl but sing or pl in constr.' So, 10 million cannoli would be right. Two cannoli would be right. One cannoli? Right as well. There is no singular version of the word. so therefore, there is no need to add an s to the word to make it plural. There are no cannolis. Especially if someone ate them all. Or, the factory went on fire.

This is quite a piece of news. I've lived long enough to be on my 12th president, and I just now learn that cannoli is already plural.

Anyone want to discuss data?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Faux Chevaux

Bill Finley, once a horse racing reporter for the New York Daily News, wrote a piece in the NYT as a stringer that thoroughly described the difference between a donkey and a mule. There are actually mule races at some lower level tracks in California, generally called Fair racing. But I never thought there might be a difference between a donkey and a mule. They aren't the same? No.

Bill's story was about a highly proficient mule mare, Black Ruby, that had so far, at the age of 10, won 57 of 75 starts. In 2002 alone, through July, Black Ruby had won 21 of 22 starts. The story was written in July 2002.

Black Ruby is half a horse. A mule apparently is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. Mules cannot reproduce, and run considerably slower than a thoroughbred. They race up to half a mile, which is four furlongs. That they run at all goes against any pre-conceived notion of what a mule can do.

Isn't a mule what Juan Valdez uses to bring the hand-picked Colombian coffee beans down from the slope to your favorite barista? Possibly. But you might also be thinking of a donkey.

Wikipedia tells us:

There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, mostly in underdevolped countries, where they are used principally as draught or pack animals. Working donkeys are often associated with those living at or below subsistence levels. Small numbers of donkeys are kept for breeding or as pets in developed countries.

A male donkey, or ass, is called a jack; a female a jenny or jennet; a young donkey is a foal.  Jack donkeys are often used to mate with female horses to produce mules.

And when it comes to mules:

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. Of the two F1 hybrids between these two species, a mule is easier to obtain than a hinny which is the product of a female donkey (jenny) and a male horse (stallion).

I'm starting to read words I've heard all my life. So, a mule is not a donkey, and a fake is not a forgery. Huh?

Just as mule and donkey seem to be used inter-changeably in speech, fake and forgery get used in the same context. But apparently when it comes to art, a fake is not a forgery.

Reading about a museum in Virginia that has purposely placed a competent fake amongst an exhibit of originals of James E. Buttersworth's famous nautical paintings, the difference between fake and forgery is explained.

The museum has done this to engage the museum goer into really looking at the works. Apparently, a fake, is a reproduction of a work that has already been produced. It is a copy. A forgery is a piece being portrayed to have created by the artist that has not been seen before. It is being portrayed as a new original piece, when really its creator is not the more famous artist. 

Being a fan of the TV series 'White Collar', I can't think of there ever being a time when Neal Caffrey, the con man, art forger supreme, explains to Peter Burke, his FBI handler, that fakes and forgeries are different. Neal, you've been holding out on us. Again.

I've made the joke that on 'The Antiques Road Show' you don't want to hear the four letter f-word uttered about your great aunt's vase: fake.

So, mules and donkeys are different, and fakes and forgeries differ. But what's a jackass?

Someone who spends beaucoup bucks on a fake or a forgery and tells you it's real.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley

I'm sure there are those out there who, needing a Downton Abbey fix, have actually travelled across the pond to see the new season, or gotten someone in the U.K. to send them some bootleg CDs. The new season won't hit us here in the States until January, just like last year.

Well, they really didn't need to do that. I thought the two-part 'Death Comes to Pemberley' should have been an adequate fix to tide the desperate over until the real deal gets here.

The time setting is 100 years earlier than Downton, but you really can't tell by the house. Or the grounds. In this case, Pemberley manor. There are no phones of course, no motor cars and no electricity,  no toasters or typewriters. But there are many over-dressed people whose clothes make them so stiff they seem to have trouble sitting down. The evil international threat is Napoleon, whose name gets dropped once. But no maps roll out, and there doesn't seem to be a globe in sight.

No, this is a murder mystery, based on the novel by P.D. James, who uses the characters from Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' and takes them out a little further in time and surrounds them with a murder in the woods, on the grounds, and therefore, potentially quite scandalous to the family.

I will admit, I never got through even the Illustrated Classics comic book version of 'Pride and Prejudice', or Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights.' No matter. You don't need to the steeped in knowing anything about this era, or the characters to enjoy 'Death Comes to Pemberley.'

Anna Maxwell Martin as Lizzie is once again the ever clever foil who solves everything and gets in the most polite of zingers, especially when she's talking to a woman with a big hat. The bigger the hat, the bigger the biddy, I always say. She repeats the type of role she played in 'Bletchley Circle' and South Riding'. She's great.

Matthew Rhys plays Mr. Darcy, her husband, and for reasons I don't really know, keeps getting called 'Darcy', rather than by his first name, Fitzwilliam. In the hit series 'The Americans', Mr. Rhys of course is Philip Jennings, the 1980s married KGB father planted in the Virginia suburbs, who, with his wife, Elizabeth, fight the Cold War, Russian-style by acting like Americans while raising kids, shopping and doing laundry and listening to coded messages in the cellar. They are a tough pair to come across.

In 'The Americans', Philip, Mr. Rhys is the Red. In 'Death Comes to Pemberley', as Mr. Darcy, he is surrounded a bit by British officers in red uniforms. My guess is Mr. Rhys feels right at home with this.

As Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rhys can go back to his natural British accent, but of course has to endure the clothes of the early 1800s. As of course does his wife Lizzie. So of course when the required love scene is filmed, no one has shed anything, (unbutton, yes) lest too much time be spent getting undressed and out of the mood. It still works, however. Remember, no four hour warning back then.

But of course the real star of the show is the house and the grounds. The grand house of Pemberley is the actual Chatsworth House. So, the Downton crowd gets its fix on the splendor of these homes. The film crew must have been in a prolonged state of ecstasy when filming. There are some truly nicely framed shots.

In fact, if there are those who paid any attention to the recently run Breeders' Cup run at Santa Anita over the weekend, they might have caught the piece on Highclare Thoroughbred Racing. Highclare, the actual mansion used to shoot 'Downton Abbey' is in real-life, among other things, the site of a thoroughbred training facility. Highclare Thoroughbreds had the Irish-bred Telescope entered in the $3 million Breeders' Cup turf race at a mile and a half. A premier event. And a premier horse.

The horse's sire is the champion Galileo, so the name Telescope more  than fits. Thus, NBC felt the need to give us a bit of tour of Highclare, and insert some 'Downton' scenes. If watched, it might have even further eased the withdrawal pain for those smitten with Downton-itis.

Unfortunately, for me and other backers of Telescope, he didn't see everything coming, and was beaten by another good horse Main Sequence, as he finished fourth, beaten by two and a quarter lengths, in what was a typical turf bang-bang finish. Enough of that.

The death at Pemberley is a murder in the woods, occurring when two chaps burst out of a carriage, one in a red uniform, and the other in the finest flummery the wardrobe people could find. Two go into the woods, and one is coshed to death. But who did the coshing?

Thus, we get CSI 1800s-style, and inquest and court room proceedings full of conflict of interests and blatant leading-type questioning that is allowed to keep going by a judge who wants to get out of the ridiculous clothes he's wearing and grab a whiskey. And that wig!

No spoiler alert needed. It can be difficult at first to distinguish who's who because of the clothes and hairstyles. Then there are the re-la-tion-ships. Whose sister is that? But there aren't that many characters, so even I, with the help of close captioning and some DVR replay, was able to fully know who's who.

There is of course an unwed mother and the question of who the father is, but this of course adds to the story, and more than you might think at first. There is the required tour through the kitchen by Lizzie, the lady of the house to inspect the food preparations that are underway for the upcoming gala.

There are curtsying kitchen maids, and the cook's tour. Lizzie lefts the lid on 'white soup' and says it smells delicious. And then there are the 'almond faggots.' The delicacies abound. A Wendy's wrapper is nowhere in sight.

If you give any logical thought to the events as the denouement is reveled, you wonder what kind training the British were giving their soldiers and especially their officers. They lack hand-to-hand martial arts skills, and seem to get easily lost in the underbrush. No wonder we won.

Never mind. The two-part mini-series will soothe the Downton bunch. And if they still need more, dig up the replay of the Breeders' Cup, 9th Race at Santa Anita on Saturday. I bet you can pick the winner now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nowhere, USA

We've probably all at least once in our lives encountered someone who told you they came from a small town. "You probably never heard of it," they'll tell us. Or, you yourself came from a small town. No matter. Towns are small, towns are big, etc.

Many famous people came from small towns. And large ones. Ronald Reagan came from Tampico, Illinois. My mother came from Tampico, Illinois. The 2010 census pegs Tampico's population at 790. I have distant cousins in Tampico. Tampico is still on the map.

Small towns tend to stay small. Willie Nelson will always tell you that the population of his birthplace, Abbott, Texas maintains a constant population count (under 500) due to unmarried fathers leaving town as soon as the newborn's birth can be attributed to them.

Can anyone be from nowhere? No. To paraphrase the immortal Myron Cohen, everyone is from someplace. It's just that someplace doesn't always stay somewhere.

Take the just departed John-Roger, a new age spiritual leader who has just passed away in Santa Monica, California at the age of 80. Say anything you will about John-Roger, but you can say he was from Rains, Utah, a town that no longer exists.

No town is certainly a small town. Take the famous scene in the movie 'M*A*S*H' where Donald Sutherland "reviews" the troops and asks a soldier where is he from. A reply is made, and Sutherland, as he wacky surgeon Hawkeye Pierce, gleefully tells the soldier he never heard of it. Well at least it probably still exists.

But what about Rains, Utah? This means there is no one in Rains who can tell you they remember Mr. John-Roger, or Roger Delano Hinkins, the name he was born under. There is no funeral parlor in Rains to possibly pay your respects to Mr. John-Roger.

Google Earth will not come down on some rooftop of Rains, Utah. This of course doesn't automatically mean that the spot that Mr. John-Roger came from is not still there. The land it just probably incorporated into the town limits of someplace else. Rains apparently lost its ability to stay a spot on the map, or continue to be assigned its own zip code. Rains is listed as a Ghost Town.

If only all those guys who left Abbott, Texas abandoning their women and their newborns, had made it to Rains. It would probably still be around.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Departed

@obitsman is sharply at it. Via a Twitter feed we read that someone named Ralph Ehrenpreis has passed away, despite his vow at 10 years of age--after experiencing the death of his father--that death was something he was going to try and avoid. @obitsman points out he failed.

Well, he did avoid death for 72 years. We've written before that in a book of obituaries Pete Hamill wrote that "life is the leading cause of death." This always reminds me of what I've said: "life is surviving being born."

Enough sayings. @obitsman has a keen eye and obviously scours the obituaries. And not just the newsworthy obits, but the paid obits, which by now must be proving to be a solid chunk of income for the New York Times.

For those who don't know, @obitsman is Steve Miller, lately of the New York Sun, the Wall Street Journal and now Bloomberg News. His beat is writing obituaries, so it is no surprise he reviews the craft.

The paid notices are just that. Notices written by the survivors (edited by the paper) and arrayed over what now sometimes almost covers an entire  page. There can be photos of the deceased as well. They read a bit like a news obituary, but sometimes carry too many stray details. The paper can't mind. The longer the notice, the more words and lines, the more dollars. Eventually, it always comes down to money.

If anyone has a bit of a historical perspective on the obituary page they will realize it is getting more space in the paper. This is due to the realization that people like to read about other people who have passed away and judge their achievements. The news obituaries are written by a rotating staff on the paper.

Occasionally, I give the paid notices a glance. They aren't cheap, and I marvel at what the bill must be like for some of the column inches I see.  I distinctly remember one I think I commented on where we learned that the departed's last meal was seasoned with cinnamon.

@obitsman has spotted one from yesterday's paper that warranted a Tweet. Mr. Ehrenheis was surely playful when he would write  draft of his own obituary and hope no one would have to use it for many years.

True to the Internet age, the notice contains a link to view the service on October 22. The link takes you to home page of Hillside Memorial Park Mortuary, with a Los Angeles address. A user id and password is provided in the paid death notice. Attempts to use it failed, but I think there's a problem with how the password appeared in the paper. It looks like it came out in hexadecimal. No problem, Hillside Memorial has an option to fill out a Web page form and ask for the user id and password. We'll see what happens.

My hope is someone is not going to accuse me of invading their privacy. They've only taken out a notice in a highly circulated national newspaper, and attempted to provide user id and password to unlock the apparent Webcast of the services. I hope we get to unlock the door, and I hope fast forward works.

Mr. Ralph Ehrenpreis did survive being born for 72 years, and by the paid notice it would seem he did well with the time he had before the inevitable happened. He was a big jazz fan.

As the last few lines of the notice tell us, Ralph wanted to have the last laugh, "so in lieu of flowers or donations please send gifts. Cash also accepted."

No flowers or donations, send gifts or cash. Cash. Perhaps Ralph, an immigration attorney wanted to complicate some lives further by having them try to figure out if they need to pay taxes on these items.

Ralph, I never knew you, but you will be missed.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Survival Test

I know.
Don't forget the can opener.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Pillar of Our Community

We're probably pretty familiar with what an archaeologist does. They dig for ruins. In fact, someone has just written about archaeologists, but this is not about them, or the book. It is about the urban archaeologist who documents what is in plain (or nearly plain) sight. The fellow who goes around NYC and photographs cornerstones.

Granted, this fellow's finds are not anywhere nearly as old as what someone in Crete might be exposing. By their own account, the oldest cornerstone they've photographed in NYC is from 1872, or so. 1872 is just a few seconds ago to what the sun drenched, parched digger might be working on in that pile of rock on the other side of the world over there. But, it is no less interesting.

Mr. William D. McCracken, a real estate lawyer from Oklahoma, has documented nearly 1,100 cornerstones, and is 90% sure he's gotten to 90% of them in Manhattan. The WSJ  highlighted Mr. McCracken's  pursuit in an 'A-Hed' piece in yesterday's paper. Leave it to a guy from Oklahoma, who arrived in New York City in 1997 to document what someone's dog has likely been relieving themselves on. Often for decades. (There is also a very entertaining video prepared by the WSJ.

He started his photographing as a bit of a lark, but it has now branched off into an nearly scholarly pursuit of every cornerstone, simply by systematically walking off every block in Manhattan and photographing cornerstones. So, just like someone brushes debris away from a piece, Mr. McCracken eliminates the untraveled block and puts it in the traveled pile.

A test of his 90%/90% claim was put to him when I wrote to him and asked him about the sinking cornerstone of the old Stuyvesant High School, at 345 East 15th Street from 1904. Sure enough, he produced a picture, and said it was one of the few cornerstones that's actually sinking.

I took one look at the photo and shook my head. It looks like a paste job went over it. It's been airbrushed like the Kardashians at the checkout line. Mr. McCracken credits his photo from 2008, which makes it hard to understand how they could have left such a lousy job on a building declared a landmark in 1997. The original look is above, as taken from the 1966 yearbook.

The man has spent some serious time with his pursuit. When I mentioned that I use the cornerstone of a building that was under construction across the street from where I first delivered flowers on Third Avenue back in the early 60s as a point of reference for time, Mr. McCracken was back with what he asked might be the cornerstone I was referring to.

Yes, it probably was, except that I don't remember it as a stainless steel marker that looks like something on the side of a refrigerator, but rather something that was engraved in white stone on what would be the opposite wall of the entranceway. The year was probably right, but that's of the cornerstone. What I remember was the hole in the ground where they were digging the foundation. And that was probably a little before 1963, so everything did fit.

Cornerstones apparently are not frequently part of a new building as they might once have been. Leave it to a Columbia University vice president, Philip Pitruzzello, who explained why so many of their new buildings do not have cornerstones: "We're not militantly opposed to cornerstones. Our design plan calls for a high degree of transparency and glass...coming down to the street. A cornerstone isn' that vocabulary." Honest, that's the quote.

This is not to imply in any sense that Mr. McCracken is taking pictures of fakes. He is just sometimes arriving on the scene after the airbrush has passed over the marker.

Every so often there might be a tale of opening the cornerstone of a building that was coming down. I remember reading they'd find newspapers from the era, or some Irish whiskey that someone was willing to part with. This is where the tales of bodies would come in. That so-and-so is a pillar of the community, having been poured into a limestone vault.

That I know of, no bodies were ever found in an opened cornerstone. Judge Crater is still missing, as is Jimmy Hoffa. But you can bet, if they or anyone else were found decomposed next to a opened or unopened bottle of Jameson's, then construction on the new building would be delayed for at least a decade.

A developer's nightmare. They might need a lawyer from Oklahoma.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hunt for Reds in October

It's been in the news a bit. The Swedish Navy has detected underwater signals coming from some source in the waters near Stockholm. Nothing is certain, but of course explanations abound. The most dramatic of these is that a Soviet submarine is stuck somewhere off the coast of Sweden and sending distress signals.

This would be a bit of diplomatic embarrassment, since that would mean a Soviet sub has churned into Swedish waters. There have already been airspace violations from some Russian military bombers over Sweden.

Why Russia would want to be flexing their muscles with regard to Sweden is uncertain. It was Norway that turned down the chance to do an upcoming Winter Olympics. It is possible the Russians are trying to strong-arm a Scandinavian country to get into as much hock as Russia did for the just held Sochi Olympics. Norway removed themselves from consideration due to cost. There aren't many countries left that show any interest. President Putin doesn't want to miss an opportunity to get to know more stoked snowboarders. Or female skiers.

The Russians of course deny there is a lost Soviet submarine.

Come on now, Yuri, we've all seen the movie.

Monday, October 20, 2014


If you hear FNX pronounced you might think it is spelled out FNX, initials for something. If it is pronounced at the racetrack it might appear completely different in print, and very different in meaning. Thus, I give you horses' names with sometimes subliminal, and not so subliminal messages.

Take the names of some of the horses that ran at Belmont this past Saturday, on what is called New York Showcase Day; a card of racing devoted to New York Breds, with eight stakes races.

I believe I once mentioned in a prior posting the cleverness that can go into giving a horse their name. It is often some amalgamation of their breeding, takes on the sire's and dam's names. Sometimes the name is not at all obvious to the breeding, but more connected to the owner's name or tastes. And then sometimes, the name does even look like a name, but rather a arrangement of letters that can span 18 spaces, with blanks, that looks like it is a clue in a Jumble word puzzle that is asking for rearranging.

On Saturday, we had some easily understood names, and some not so easily understood. There was 'Hard to Stay Notgo,' a name that apparently can only make sense to its owners, Chester and Mary Broman, familiar names in racing ownership themselves.

'Myfourchix.' Easy enough to understand where that one might be coming from. 'Temper Mint Patty,' you naughty little girl, you. 'Notacatbutallama,' owned by Mike Repole, another familiar racetrack name.

But 'Notacatbutallama?' Since spaces count toward the 18 character maximum, the words are often smashed together, like TimeWarner. Add the implied spaces, and you get the message: Not a cat but a llama. No, it is a horse, but it is your horse Mike, so you can name it what you like, within some guidelines.

'Carameaway.' Okay, translation appears to be: carry me away. Someone's in love. Or dead. Or, they've got Jay and the Americans stuck in their head forever.

'Eye Luv Lulu.' I love Lulu. Nice. Far better than getting a tattoo of her name on your neck in case the day comes when love disappears and Jane walks in.

'Beautyinthepulpit.' Easy. Beauty in the pulpit: sired by Pulpit, to the mare Stolen Beauty.

And then we have 'Effinex.' An ingredient in a drug? A cleaning solvent? Sound it out, don't look at the spelling, and perhaps you'll glean the message: 'effing ex,' as in a scrubbed cursing reference to a former spouse.

And that's what it means. Apparently the owner and breeder, Dr. Russell S. Cohen of Tri-Bone Stable, is constantly sending out a four-legged message about his former wife. Dr. Cohen is a veterinarian, and the stable belongs to his mother, Bernice Cohen.

The name might have slipped past the Jockey Club naming committee because no one realized the message that was being sent to the former Mrs. Cohen. The Jockey Club tries to keep names free of unwanted innuendo or outright vulgarities.

And Effinex is a good horse. He pulled off an upset on Saturday by winning the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap at a mile and an eighth. The horse came home with a neck advantage over the second place horse So Lonesome, with Angel Arroyo in the saddle for the stable and a leading trainer Jimmie Jerkens at 17-1. The three-year-old colt's record went to 3-1-2 for 10 starts, with at least $180,000 added to his prior earnings of $148,350. Not playing the horse caused some language similar to his name.

The race track has always been theater, with the chance to actively participate in the play. Nearing my 50th years of going to Belmont one can relate to many changes. No one goes there anymore, and not because as Yogi might have implied, because it's too crowded and too popular. Live attendance at a track is a spotty thing. Under 6,000 souls roamed the place on Saturday. People just don't go to the track, with simulcasting sites available, and home betting via computer.

So, when you have a group of women who start something called Lady Sheila Stable you take notice of people with an unexpected fresh interest in the game, and who are willing to put up major dinero to enjoy it.

Started in 2014 with a $100,000 buy in per membership unit, Lady Sheila Stable as conceived by the woman above, Sheila Rosenblum, is for women to get involved in the game. And several have joined her.

Announcing the creation of the stable Ms. Rosenblum issued a release, "racing is a truly thrilling sport that has provided me with a great deal of personal enjoyment. I strongly believe that increasing interest in the sport among women is crucial to the long-term vitality of the industry. This new syndicate will provide women with the opportunity to gain exposure and experience in an often male-dominated game. I look forward to welcoming other like-minded women to join me as we create this exciting racing opportunity."

"Racing needs more owners who are as determined and resilient as Sheila," trainer Linda Rice added in a statement. "We have developed an amazing partnership together that will serve as the foundation for the new syndicate. I anticipate the long-term success of this new endeavor and the horses that will race for these silks."

The stable's horses are trained by perhaps the top female trainer in the nation, Linda Rice. In their barn is also a top-rated sprinting four-year-old filly named La Verdad, whose names derives from the sire and grandsire, Yes It's True and It Is True. La Verdad is not too far away from winning a career earnings mark of $1,000,000 and now boasts a 10-2-0 record for 15 starts, having won Saturday's  $150,000 Iroquois Stakes. I wasn't cursing when La Verdad won.

Now the women who compose the partnership of Lady Sheila have been revealed to be, so far, five divorced women from the Five Towns Area of Nassau County. That the stable's owners are ex's contrasts with Effinex's somewhat crass name.

Now, whether Dr. Cohen's ex is part of Lady Sheila Stable is not known. It could only improve the story. Nevertheless, Ms. Rosenblum started the stable with significant money and has in a short time achieved significant success.

The ongoing goal of the stable is to add horses through private purchases, auctions, and breeding. The desirable sire Lawyer Ron's offspring are not ruled out.

Ms. Rosenblum is seen above in the box area of Saratoga this year encouraging La Verdad in The Honorable Miss Stakes in July. She didn't win that day, But when La Verdad did win this Saturday at Belmont five very excited and very well-dressed women descended to the winner's circle to have their picture taken with the horse, lead in by Ms. Rosenblum. They formed a near chorus line with Linda Rice and a few men off to the side. All that was missing were leg kicks.

All that Prada, Gucci and Feron in the winner's circle looked a lot better than the jeans and T-shirts that often get their picture taken.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Detention, Not Detente

Angela Merkel is not only the Chancellor of Germany, she is also the headmistress for the world. So, when she got the chance to confront the Russian President Vladimir Putin at a two-day summit meeting of Asian and European leaders, she quickly struck out.

These days, President Putin is the international version of Peck's Bad boy, or Dennis the Menace. He's stirred the waters with Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, and the annexation of the Crimean region.

He's also spent so much money on the last winter Olympics that no other country seems to want to host the next one. Will Ted Turner come off the ranch and give us more snowboarding? Stay tuned.

Ms. Merkel is seen here at the summit meeting scolding Vladimir about not putting his toys away. In this case, his toys happen to be heat-seeking missiles that bring down Malaysian airliners. Some kids just get a Hess truck.

Aides present at the meeting reported that there were terse exchanges between the two leaders. Exact words were not quoted, but we already know the teacher always wins, but also, that little Russian boys don't like getting yelled at.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Quick, what is an ortolan? If you said it is a French bird that is a highly sought after delicacy that when cooked, requires its diner to cover their head and eat it as if they were being photographed by a rabid pack of New York photographers that somehow gained access to a character's apartment in the Bronx that was being played by Al Pacino, then, by God, you will have no need to read the rest of this.

I like to take in the Wednesday NYT Dining section. Not as much to read, because there is no chance in hell I'm ever going to be motivated to try a Vietnamese recipe, or can reasonably expect that my wife will. No, it's printed in color, and the captions to the pictures are sometimes all I need to read to see if there is something to really read about.

So, when attracted to a picture on today's page five of a group of five diners in Landes, France bent over their plates with linen napkins over their heads, eating what the caption told us were "little ortolans," I naturally had to find out more.

The story was continued from page one. When I was on page one, I had no interest in the picture of two French chefs, looking very French and very chef, standing in a kitchen over a mound of something with small bird cages off to the side. Yeah, so?

But fast forward to perp-walk diners sitting at a table in a room that could easily be an apartment in the Bronx, with a squalid television in the corner, ratty looking curtains, a sideboard of tchotchkes, a solid green tablecloth with a bottle of wine in the center, and you read every word. Looking closely, you realize there is another place setting for a sixth diner. After reading the story you realize they could easily be the lookout shouldering an automatic weapon taking up a position by the door.

Read on McDuff, and you'll know that the eating the ortolan is illegal in France, but hardly frowned on. It ain't cheap, either. A bird that is claimed can be eaten in one mouthful is $189, or 150 euros. One bird. It is not an endangered species.

The French and their food. The story informs us that former French President Francois Mitterand's last meal, before his death in 1996, consisted of two ortolans, three dozen oysters, foie gras and capon. No autopsy was required.

Only the French would record into lore what a former president ate before they shuffled off. That would be like us describing a last meal president Bill Clinton might consume as he popped the replacement arteries around his heart with "...two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun."

The words don't stop there, either. One of the chefs is trying to get a national one day clemency established for eating the bird. Mr. Guerard, tells us "to eat the flesh, the fat, and its little bones hot, all together, is like being taken to another dimension." Feathered gastronomic LSD.

There is even a revelation that there was a late-night clandestine meeting of French chefs in a New York City restaurant where ortolans were consumed. It is not known if the chefs represented the five New York Mafia families, but it does confirm the image that clandestine things are done in New York restaurants late at night.

One wonders, if there are tailgaters before soccer matches in France that might really be eating ortolans rather than chicken wings.

Alert the authorities.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Women look good in shoes. The right shoe can certainly add appeal, lots of appeal actually, to the right outfit. So, when there was a story that the police found 200 pairs of shoes in the apartment of Ms. Tamara Williams, it just, on the surface, seemed to be no surprise. I once heard a story that one of Willie Mays's wives had 200 pairs of shoes. Carrie Bradshaw from 'Sex and the City,' moaned to herself that she had more money sunk in shoes than in her IRA account.

The difference in Ms. Williams's possession of the shoes was that she did it using other people's  credit card identities to acquire them. And that she did it from one store: the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC.

So, given the easy to relate story of credit card/identity theft, Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. presided over a news conference from the lobby of the Hogan Place office where he stood behind a table of very high fashion woman's footwear and handbags, rather than stacks of drugs, AK-47s, and semi-automatic, high caliber handguns. The only similarity to this display and the metaphorical one is that while stiletto knives might have been used in the drug trade, stiletto heels were used in this one.

Ms. Williams and her cohorts are not the first time someone from Saks was hauled into the judicial system. A few years ago there was a case of jewelry department employee who apparently was making off with the goods on a grand scale, over time. She got convicted, but a sales associate at Saks told me the woman wound up taking a big fall for others. Supervisors, and executives had asked her to do things that basically she shouldn't have, but certainly didn't own up to once she was caught.

The story in yesterday's paper describes many of the designer name shoes and handbags that were involved. I almost felt sorry for the designer names I didn't read. Not a single mention of Manolo Blahniks. Wouldn't it have great to get some free advertising and product placement, even if it stood before the Manhattan District Attorney and was being held in an evidence locker? There is no bad publicity.

In all, Ms. Williams is alleged to have accomplished this with help from four Saks employees. The total scheme is alleged to have involved $400,000 in the acquisition of designer handbags and shoes. A 66-count indictment was returned that charges grand larceny, identity theft and scheme to defraud.

It might seem impossible to steal $400,000 in shoe and handbags from one store. But, have you been to Saks lately? The story notes, that quite truly, the Saks ladies shoe department does have it's own zip code. This is true. 10022-SHOE.

To show you how classy Saks remains, consider that the corporation is now owned by the Canadian Hudson Bay company, and you can't find a pair of snowshoes anywhere at Saks.

Saks accomplished this zip+4 designation several years ago when they devoted I think their entire fourth floor to ladies footwear. There is even a dedicated elevator to whisk you from the main floor just to the shoe floor. It is plainly marked that it goes only to the shoe floor, but you can get in by mistake, as I did once, thinking I might actually get in an open elevator and get to where I might be able to buy a shirt.

I realized too late that I was being deposited in ladies heaven, and had to make my way back to the main floor and switch elevators. That elevator is like the Grand Central-Times Square subway shuttle. Two stops only.

I don't know how Saks got the SHOE zip+four designation. It is clever. I didn't think you could write to a shoe, but then again, I guess you can write to the shoe department, and someone will get it.

Usually, you get those phone numbers that spell something, like 1-800-FLOWERS; 1-800-VERIZON; 1-800-MATTRES (Leave off the trailing S for savings.)

The most famous of these numbers to me was 1-800-MD-TUSCH. This was a famous health care fraud care years ago that was perpetuated by a physician that advertised heavily in the city's rapid transit system. At one point, and this is many years ago, this individual's monthly advertising bill to the MTA was said to be $40.000.

The physician's promise was that all forms of insurance were accepted, and that he specialized in discomforts of the rectum, typically hemorrhoids, lesions, whatever. Noble, but not when fraudulent billings ensued, and they did.

The physician was basically shut down in New York and there were no longer any more subway or bus ads.

I always quipped that he initially applied for a 1-800-ASS-HOLE mnemonic number, but was turned down.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A.I.G. Casting Call

Sometimes I'm not paying attention to which section of the newspaper I've picked up. I buy the WSJ and the NYT every day but Sunday (no WSJ published on Sunday, anyway) and open the paper, separate the sections and plop them on the couch or table. I don't shuffle them, but I pick up any one section on whim. Sometimes I'm not always aware what section I've started to read.

Not paying attention was the case the other day when I picked up a NYT section and started to read: A.I.G. Trial Witnesses Will Be Central Cast From 2008 Crisis. It was a Tuesday paper.

Jesus, they're going to make a movie about this? Who does Tom Hanks get to play? I bet George Clooney gets a piece of this.

Well, of course that wasn't what the story was about. I was reading the NYT Business section, specifically the Deal B%k segment.

That's 'Deal Book,' but written as I typed it above. The Times is allowing it's editors and writers to embrace the social media age and use all kinds of symbols to communicate. This is no doubt a policy meant to retain staff. If any of our stuff is found 2,000 years from now someone is going to think we went back to Egyptian hieroglyphics. No matter.

A teaser except said: 'New scrutiny for a bailout at the peak of the financial disaster."

Shown were two pictures. One was of Scott Alvarez, the Federal Reserve General Counsel, and the other was of Maurice R. Greenberg, the former A.I.G. executive. Mr. Greenberg's name is often affectionately sometimes written as Maurice (Hank) Greenberg.

This is an obvious clue to Mr. Greenberg's age, because he's just about the only one prowling the corridors of power these days who probably saw Hank Greenberg bat for the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees, or saw Hank in Detroit, or saw him in Chicago against the White Sox. Mr. Greenberg, the ballplayer has long passed on (1986). Mr. Greenberg, the former A.I.G. executive is still alive at 89, a living testament that you can live a very long life before asking if you can take it with you. The only business mogul on earth that I'm aware that is another octogenarian is Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who is six years junior to 'Hank'.

Behind Mr. Greenberg, slightly out of focus, is Daivd Boies, the attorney for Mr. Greenberg. Since the trial is in a Washington D.C. Federal Court of Claims you've got to marvel at how much money must be at stake if 'Hank' is bringing Boies and the team in to Washington to stay at Washington D.C. hotels and dine on either deli sandwiches and gourmet hamburgers, or explore Georgetown, or Tidal Basin restaurants, not to mention a possible foray to a strip club or two tucked away in a secret Washington quadrant. Or, do all of that, because they're going to be here a while. Hank's obviously got money.

David Bois of course can't come cheap. He represented the United States its anti-trust suit again Microsoft. He tried to win the 2000 presidential election for Al Gore before the United States Supreme Court.

Since the paper I was reading was from Tuesday September 30, it was reporting on the opening proceedings of the trial from Monday.

The trial is basically about Mr. Greenberg's argument that the bailout A.I.G. received in 2008 from the government in fact shortchanged the A.I.G. shareholders. They didn't get their value. He is seeking a $40 billion dollar settlement. (At this point, it's always billions.)

The Justice Department lawyer, Kenneth M. Dintzer, outlined that the company got a $182 billion lifeline, which allowed the company to reap a $22 billion profit. "It's like they've said thanks for the lifeboats, but they're just not comfortable enough."

This is great. This trial has got to be on television, no? No.

Granted, sex and money are two great preoccupations, but this trial about 2008 money is water under the bridge to some people. As good as Mr. Dinzter's language is, it can't compare to the interest the nation had in the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas judiciary committee hearings about Mr. Thomas's nomination to be a Supreme Court Justice, when a United States Senator from Utah, Mr. Orrin Hatch, seemed to keep repeating "Long Dong Silver."

Now that was worth watching. Here we have what the business guys and writers are trying to convince us is another trial of-the-century. After all, as the WSJ photo shows us, standing left to right, with the first two in the lotus-leaf posture with their hands, are former secretary of the treasury Henry Paulson, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Ben S. Bernanke, and  former New York Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner (later secretary of the treasury). The financial Dream Team of witnesses. You know at some point someone is going to have to try and explain Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs).

This is not the three Wise Men who are going to tell us why they brought the gifts they did to that family stuck in a Bethlehem stable. Okay, Ben there has a beard, but the other two? Not charismatic looking enough to give up Ellen.

But, everyone has to make a living, and everyone sometimes needs to talk and to write, even this posting. Today, the NYT in one of its columns, Andrew Ross Sorkin comments that the trial is trying to spin "a ludicrous tale in open court in Washington that the bailout of the insurer [A.I.G.] was unfair to its investors."

Mr. Sorkin adds comments from a NYT Op-Ed writer, Noam Scheiber, who he admits he has often read with admiration, "as asinine as the Starr suit [parent company of A.I.G.] may be in legal terms, it may end up serving a constructive purpose." Why is this? "Ever since the details of the A.I.G. rescue entered in to the popular consciousness, everyone from the members of Congress to financial commentators to Occupy Wall Street protesters and Tea Party activists have fulminated against the 'backdoor bailout' of Goldman et al. By litigating the issue the Starr trial may finally heal this festering wound."

Thank goodness it's a non-jury case and it's not on TV.

"Constructive purposes" and CDOs can never beat Long Dong Silver.