Friday, July 31, 2015

We Split the Atom

"Nuclear proliferation." That's what president Carter's 13 year-old daughter Amy said was the most important issue facing the world today. She said it when her father was president. Nearly everyone laughed.

PBS's two hour documentary "The Bomb" was on the other night, and it actually didn't tell me too many things I didn't already know. Like the subtitle to the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," I grew up perhaps not loving the bomb, but I did learn to stop worrying. There were of course those who did love the bomb. And I'm sure there are those amongst us who still do.

One of the media reviewers said it. We are now more concerned with identity theft and outdated cell phones than we are with the threat of nuclear annihilation. Add to that retirement income. Who says there hasn't been progress?

I didn't know General Leslie Groves was part of the Army's Corps of Engineers. My father, who before WW II had his engineering degree, was in the Army's Corps of Engineers and was stationed on Guam, assigned to make maps from airplane reconnaissance photos. One of the few things he brought back from that experience were two strike photos of the bombs going off over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sites and dates clearly marked in the lower right corner.

At a photography art show this past April at the Park Avenue Armory, I was surprised to see a vendor who was selling one of these photos. I didn't ask the price. We already have one of each.

We also have some aerial photos of the devastation after the bombs. They eerily look like the photos that were shown in the documentary. For some reason, after the Japanese surrender, (we have a photo of that) my father was in Japan. There are some photos of that. Why he was in Japan I never knew, and it's way too late to ask.

I never knew John Hersey's book 'Hiroshima' first appeared in The New Yorker as the sole story in the August 31, 1946 edition. The New Yorker's (15 cents) cover is above, and shows a sunny scene in Central Park, a stark contrast to the people in Japan who were clearly not enjoying themselves at ground zero.

Ground zero. Such an atomic age term, but it became the accepted way to describe the World Trade Center location after 911. Duck and cover, another atomic age phrase that had us as kids in grammar school practicing turning away from the wall of windows and crouching ourselves in a cannon ball position under our desks in case of a blast.

It was the duck and cover memories that had me backing away from my desk on the 29th floor of One World Trade Center at 8:46 A.M. as the first hijacked plane plowed into the building. Bright, clear day, now with debris gently falling past my window that faced south. Finally exiting the building and seeing and feeling the yellowish air from the ground someone behind me commented that it "My God, it looks like Hiroshima." Ground zero.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of course gets its due. And it was a crisis. I remember the almost daily grainy photos that appeared in the papers that showed (if you knew what to look for) missiles installed in Cuba. There was daily mainspring tension being wound between Russia and the United States.

I was in what would be called Middle School now and one of my classmates was whining about "not wanting to die." I don't remember who it was, but I can remember when it was said. For some reason I didn't feel there was any need to be hysterical. Nuclear war wasn't going to happen. At least according to me.

History of course tells us it didn't happen. I guess presidential libraries get to release tapes and documents after so many years. I never heard of, or heard the phone conversation President Kennedy had with former President Dwight Eisenhower asking the former president if he thought the Russians would seriously meet an army invading Cuba with nuclear weapons.

The replayed actual conversation (no actors portraying the two) is brief, and Eisenhower informs the young president that no, he doesn't think the Russians would use the weapons in response to an invasion. Kennedy, for his part sounds almost light-hearted, accepts the former presidents opinion without further questioning for follow up questions, and is heard in his voice what can only be described as the sound of resigned chuckling, that the answer brings him closer to the prospect of what he might fear he will have to do.

The tone is almost as if Kennedy is asking the former General if Army is going to beat Navy this year. Kennedy closes the call telling Eisenhower, "well, hang on tight." Hang on. It almost sounds as if Kennedy is telling Ike to keep looking art he news reports and papers for the next few days to see how this turns out. Perhaps Ike did. We all did.

The crisis defuses. Well, "we showed them" is certainly an American attitude. Unsaid at the time, and certainly unadmitted, is that perhaps the Russians also showed us.

Public Shelter signs and CD, Civil Defense symbols, didn't disappear after the Cuban Missile Crisis. I distinctly remember a dive bar in the Times Square area my friends and I we went into soon after being able to drink legally called The Crown, that had a poster-sized spoof of the CD instructions on what to do if the bomb hit. The last line said: "Kiss your ass good-bye."

Do I worry about identity theft? Do I cringe out of fear of being called a Luddite every time I open my small, flip cell phone? Do I worry about retirement income?

Certainly not as much if my ass weren't still attached.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reasons to Love Obituaries

Today's NYT gives us the obituary of Arvid Anderson who has passed away at 94. Mr. Anderson was hardly a household name in NYC, despite being the chairman of its collective bargaining board under three mayors, starting with John Lindsay and ending with Mayor Edward Koch. This puts Mr. Anderson's service dates at 1968 to 1987, a truly incredibly span of time for a position that certainly might have trouble finding friends anywhere.

Like many people who do well in NYC, Mr. Anderson came to the city from somewhere else. He was  born in Indiana and honed his work experience as the commissioner of the Wisconsin Employees Relations Board before setting foot in the Big Apple as the chairman of the city's collective bargaining board.

There is A LOT of organized labor in NYC that does work for the city, so just surviving tenure under Lindsay and not being sent back to Indiana in a pine box is a notable achievement. There was one poor fellow, Richard Green, who was lured from Minnesota years ago to become NYC's public school's chancellor. Poor Mr. Green was shipped back not breathing.

What was Mr. Anderson's secret to lengthy municipal service and overall long life? Nothing specific is cited, but Mr. Anderson claimed to play golf with the names of his problems on his golf balls, and by the end of the round was relaxed in knowing that many of his problems could no longer be found.

As a song goes at Yankee Stadium, "...if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere..."

La Guardia Airport

The NYT reporter David Dunlap is a specialist in the city's infrastructure and reports on the plans and changes to it. In today's edition he puts together something of a "what-if" story about perhaps the name that will be given, (or remain) to La Guardia Airport in Queens once the $4 billion makeover is completed in 2021. The airport sits so close to Flushing Bay that there have been times when a plane was asked to do the breast stroke.

Mr. Dunlap's story is a treat, albeit a short one. I learned at least one new thing I never knew before about Idelwild, the other NYC airport known to all today as JFK.

If the show 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?' were still on, and Regis were pumping me to answer the question as to Idelwild's name before Idelwild, there isn't a friend or relative left in the world I could have called who would know it was called New York International Airport-Anderson Field, apparently named after a general and former chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party. Otherwise known as a boss.

(The name Idlewild derives from a developer's name for a resort and later golf club on Jamaica Bay. It provided the unofficial name for the airport being planned in the 1940s, while the City Council and Mayor La Guardia argued on what to call it. There was no debate when the airport was rededicated in honor of slain president John F. Kennedy in December 1963.)

Idle Wild. Makes sense now. A developer's portmanteau for the idle rich carved out of what is also a bird sanctuary.

Mr. Dunlap gets in the trigger word North Beach. La Guardia Airport is where North Beach was. Bet you don't know that one either. I do.

As a kid, my father's mother took the family to North Beach from their 32nd Street, Second Avenue walkup. The 2nd Avenue El ran to North Beach, to Astoria, going over the Queensboro Bridge. I have a black metal subway destination sign that hung in the subway cars that says: Astoria via 2nd Avenue. I guess somebody brought it home. It wasn't me.
Anyone from that Corona neighborhood who might have been taking a Rip Van Winkle, awoke, and reached for their beach towel as they headed out the back door and down some stairs, would have been greeted by a paved roadway, cars and some prop planes. Swimming was out. Remnants of this kind of access can still be seen from the Grand Central Parkway.
When he was mayor, La Guardia was told he'd have to take a flight from New Jersey in order to get airborne. The Little Flower didn't like the idea even then of having anything to do with New Jersey. Get me an airport.
Landfill. Plenty of it. Robert Moses. Yep, him too. As a kid growing up in Flushing and being raised with a daily delivery of the L.I. Star Journal I'd often read about how the control tower was sinking. The place has been a pit long before Uncle Joe Biden stopped by and looked around and called it "third world." Lots of people have that reaction to Queens, especially these days.
So, more construction. A Willets Point light rail connection. By the time it is done maybe Uber will be picking everyone up at the airport.

Change the $10 bill. Change the $20 bill. But Uber will be operating at the still-named La Guardia airport.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Letters to the Editor

The following is the text of an e-mail I've sent to the Public Editor at the New York Times, their Complaint Department, as Daniel Okrent once called it when he had just completed a tour of that duty as their ombudsman in the wake of the Jason Blair scandal.

I highly doubt I'm going to get any response to this, see something similar appear in the correction pages of the paper, or see the same observation in a published letter from someone else. So, I'll reach my own select number of followers with evidence of confusing reporting.

The prior two blog postings have revisited the reporting of the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder. Their URLs were used in Tweets and an e-mail to the film's writer-director Puk Grasten, as well as e-mails to the bylined reporter of the July 27, 2015 story, John Anderson. No rise. No returned undeliverable e-mail. Even NYC's current Commissioner for Media, Cynthia Lopez, was reached out to via Tweets. No rise.

So, here's the complaint to

What's up with this story?
Aside from the film using a number in its title that is NOT the number that was the rallying cry, John Anderson makes us believe the movie is just being shot, or just finishing up.
The website ( for the movie tells us it was out in 2013 at Sundance. John Anderson tells us..."the movie being shot.." Is the Times in an alternate universe? Did John get his press release very late? Conflicting schedules for the actors? They're mentioned in efforts that are already completed.           
In 1964 The Times lied to us about the murder and the number of witnesses, etc. Went to town on everyone's morality. And now, you seem to be recycling a 2013 story, the making of the movie, as a current one. The NYC commissioner is current, but wouldn't have been the commissioner in 2013 when approvals would have been sought to shoot the movie. 
The Kitty Genovese is a cursed Egyptian tomb for The Times. Leave the story alone. You only keep looking bad.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kitty and the Times

In Britain and other parts of the U.K., a fortnight is a span of 14 days. Easy to understand the word is derived from Old English for 14. It is not a word we use in the States, but you will hear it, especially if you're into those public television British shows. It's one of the words I didn't have to look up

The diving back in to the Kitty Genovese story has been a bit like opening one of those cold case boxes and dumping out the ancient evidence, looking for fresh insights. In this case, the old evidence are the newspaper stories that chronicled the crime. And there have been plenty of stories, books, psychology courses, all kinds of examinations of human behavior based on the premise that there were 38 silent witnesses to the crime.

The murder itself did not remain a cold case. The perpetrator, Winston Moseley was quickly caught, convicted, and is still in a New York prison, 80 years of age, thanks in part to no New York death penalty and 16 parole denials. Mr. Moseley escaped from Attica in 1968 and raped again before being caught and returned to prison. Parole would seem completely out of the question.

(The film '37' unfortunately landed on the poor headline that appeared in the NYT on March 27, 1964. The number 37 contradicts the urban legend that was established by the story's lede, (38 silent witnesses) as well as the A.M. Rosenthal book, Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case. Mr. Rosenthal's December 1964 book was an expansion of his Sunday May 3, 1964 Times piece, 'Study of the Sickness called Apathy." My guess is since the movie people are deep into freshly created promotional material that uses the 37 number, they're not going to abandon it. It was, after all, really just a number pulled out of the air.)

A 2003 piece in the NYT by Leslie Kaufman dissects the source of the number 38.

It was a gruesome story that made perfect tabloid fodder, but soon it became much more. Mr. Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who would go on to become the executive editor of The New York Times, was then a new and ambitious metropolitan editor for the paper who happened to be having lunch with the police commissioner 10 days after the crime. The commissioner mentioned that 38 people had witnessed the murder, and yet no one had come to Ms. Genovese’s aid or called the police.

If the police commissioner, or the editor Mr. Rosenthal is the source of the number, 38 might not really matter anymore. The number became etched in urban legend as the ultimate in human apathy. Mr. Rosenthal ran with the number he created, or was told. In 1994, on the 30th anniversary of the murder. Mr. Rosenthal published an Opinion piece that looked back at the crime and the number of uncaring witnesses.

Interesting in that Opinion piece Mr. Rosenthal claimed there was a four paragraph piece in the paper reporting the crime. No date is given for that brief mention, but it would not be inconceivable that a short mention would be what the story initially got. And so-called "outer borough" reporting (the crime took place in Queens) was pretty much nada in that era for the Times.

The opening wording in his Sunday piece might lead you to believe that the 38 silent witness part of the story emerged as soon as the crime itself was being reported. This is clearly not so.

If anyone remembers newspapers of the 1960s era they would remember papers that were considerable smaller in page count than the relative door-stoppers that appear today, even given the inroads of online reporting.

But was the crime even initially reported before the lunch with the police commissioner? An alert reader put me onto a New York Public Library service that lets you ask a question online, a chat session can ensue, and perhaps a valuable answer can be attained. (The website for this free, member or non-member service is:

The question put to the librarian who signed on was: was there a story in the New York Times reporting the murder of Kitty Genovese at any point between March 13, 1964, and the March 27, 1964 date of the Martin Gansberg piece?

The answer came back that a search of the ProQuest database (what I would have had to use if I actually made the trip to the library. NYPL online access of NYT articles requires you to be at the library, no home online access, even for members) that no, there was nothing.

March 13 to March 27, 14 days. What a fortnight can bring.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kitty Genovese and Nine One One

You have to of a certain age--probably someone they're pitching prescription drugs to on TV--to remember the Kitty Genovese case. New Yorkers, like most other people, no matter where they may currently reside, bring crime memories with them. And something as horrific as the March 13, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese never leaves you. The recall is automatic.

There is a story in today's NYT by John Anderson about an independent film being made by a Danish film maker about the murder that was over 50 years ago. The story fills in some details of the murder, but the theme of the story is really about the making of the movie, and the rules in NYC governing using actual crime scenes in film.

Over 50 years, but yes, Mr. Anderson is right, the case still brings back memories. The number of inert witnesses still rings in my ears, but rings as 38, not 37, just like the 41 shots that brought down a man showing his wallet to the police. The film may need a new title.

(There seems to be confusion about the number of silent witnesses. The March 27,1964 story in the NYT by Martin Gansberg headlines the number at 37, but the lede says 38.)        
I was 15 at the time and remember my father and neighbor talking about it. We lived in Flushing, so we weren't near the murder. My father asked our neighbor if he knew the phone number for the precinct if he had to call something in. My neighbor asked my father the same thing. All this predates the 9-1-1 emergency system, and in fact I think helped give birth to it. Neither my father or the neighbor knew our the precinct's number. For us, this would have been the one-oh-nine.   

In Mr. Gansbery March 27, 1964 NYT piece he addresses the telephone issue.

The police stressed how sim­ple it would have been to have gotten in touch with them. “A phone call,” said one of the de­tectives, “would have done it.” The police may be reached by dialing . “O” for operator or SPring 7-3100.    

(Anyone familiar with telephone numbers at the time would recognize the exchange format that preceded the four numbers after the hyphen. SPring 7-3100 would no doubt ring police headquarters in Manhattan, on Centre Street in Little Italy, just south of Spring Street. My grandmother on East 19th Street had a SPring 7 exchange. Which shows you how many people had phones, even in the 1960s. East 19th Street and Centre street are not rally close to each other.)
Mr. Anderson's story makes reference to the perhaps misreporting of the number of witnesses. I remember a 2013 piece that discussed this number when a digital version of A.M. Rosenthal's book on the crime was re-released: Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case.

A.M. Rosenthal was a legendary Pulitzer Award-winning reporter and editor for the Times who passed away in 2006. As the piece on the digital re-release of Mr. Rosenthal's December 1964 book goes into, the number of witnesses is questioned. When the original story broke, the 38 number became cemented in urban memory.

As a teenager I always wondered how did anyone know that there were 38 people who saw something and did nothing? How do you count people who did nothing? Call them up? They're anonymous to start with.
But if Rosenthal was the editor and wasn't a Times legend, he should have been fired, along with the reporter who reported an uncorroborated number as gospel. It seems the Times and Mr. Rosenthal were unapologetic about the number they reported. Mr. Rosenthal was approached in 2004 by a reporter for the Times who asked him about the number and the claims of skeptics, Mr. Rosenthal replied:
“In a story that gets a lot of attention, there’s always somebody who’s saying, ‘Well, that’s not really what it’s supposed to be,’ “ Mr. Rosenthal is quoted as saying. “There may have been 38, there may have been 39, but the whole picture, as I saw it, was very affecting.” 
The number of course doesn't take away from the ferocity of the crime, or the fact that a neighbor opened their door, looked in the hallway while Kitty was being assaulted, and did nothing more than close their door. Absolutely amazing. You really only needed to count that one incredibly callous witness. After the first, there is no other.       
Ms. Genovese was a cousin, or a niece of Vito Genovese, the mafia boss. Later in life I read of the Arnold Schuster assignation, likely a mob ordered hit by Albert Anastasia, on the young lad you had spotted Willie Sutton, the long escaped, and very wanted bank robber in the subway, and who lead the cops on the pursuit of Willie that resulted in his re-capture. That was 1952.         
Well 1952 to 1964 is not really a long time. Twelve years. I always then theorized that some people remembered Schuster's fate for "getting involved", and figured, why call the police? I might get killed.
Mr. Anderson closes his piece with the observation by one of the actresses, Samira Wiley, who reflects what we all know and fear: "It is still happening." Only now we have cell phone video.

Friday, July 24, 2015


Granted, this is no 'Downton Abbey', but it is moving slower than a summer's day crosstown bus at noon on 34th Street, before bus lanes.  Maybe it's really aimed at chics and I'll never get it. Or, maybe it is because it is post-American Revolution Cornwall, England and there are candles and horses everywhere. The props are great, but the lighting can't be unless the sun is shining.

Demelza, now Ross's wife, after picking flowers, yes picking flowers, wonders why he isn't home yet. Well, for one thing lady, I can tell you, he's not stuck in traffic on a horse. There are no horse traffic jams in Cornwall.

Ross made an honest woman of Demelza after a night of love making. There will be no little out-of-wedlock cherubs paddling around that dirt floor. But does he really love her? Or, is she his good-time girl to show spite to stuffy conventions? Personally, I think he really loves her, just not that goopy kind. And we've yet to see it in the plot.

She admits to Verity (these people have strange names), a female cousin of Ross's, that she knows she pleases Ross. "I'm good abed" she tells the blushing Verity. She loves him, but obviously she's not sure if it's really love in return, or just some rolls in the feathers. On this, we'll see more.  But very slowly, I'm sure.

There is one action scene where Demelza gets furious at Judd, the worthless manservant who has just filched one of her pies before anyone else has had a chance to eat it. A baker scorned is a tough cookie, and Judd's no fighter. Demelza's speed catches up to Judd in a hurry, and there is a takedown in the yard. Ross has to separate his wife from Judd before she pounds his skull into the dirt over a pie. She's a feisty lass, that one.

But Goddamn it, that scenery! After taking in another episode I fell like I should be checking flights to Heathrow and making real plans for the summer.

Demelza is a work in progress, and Verity is there to teach her dancing, place settings, and how to hold a fan in front of her face and look demurely out from behind it. Of course they go shopping together, so you can guess the transformation that comes about in clothes.

But it's tough watching even an hour's worth of this show in one sitting. I was only able to absorb the last watched episode halfway through before turning it off and heading for Miss Phryne Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

Different era, and Phryne has fizz.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Two Guitars

Live to be 91, not be seen on television, in the movies, or heard singing a lusty folk song, and people forget you're still alive. Such is the case with Theodore Bikel, who just passed  away at 91. Yes, he was alive just the other day ago.

I have little connection to Theodore Bikel. He was in a 'Twilight Zone' episode, and of course all those other parts that were mentioned in yesterday's obituary. But for me, he was always remembered for two things: being on the 'Tonight Show' with Johnny in the 60s, on the guest couch with his guitar in his lap telling Johnny that "you can be alone with a guitar, but never lonely." Nice. I always like the poetry in that, and of course, it doesn't always have to a guitar that's keeping you company. It can be anything.

Mr. Bikel then of course, accompanying himself on guitar, performed a folk song, probably in a language other than English. In that era, anyone who is my age, we all watched Johnny Carson.

The other memory of Mr. Bikel I have is that in the 60s there used to a joint on 14th Street in New York City, on the south side, between 3rd and 2nd Avenues, closer to 2nd, that was called Two Guitars. It was a night club of seductive Middle Eastern appearance.

It had narrow footage on 14th Street, and was downstairs. There were some green neon lights that surrounded a glossy black and white photo of who was performing. Generally, it always looked like some exotic woman straight out Rick's in Casablanca. Even from the street, the place looked wonderfully sinful.

Too young at the time, and no one ever sent anyone any flowers there, so I never got to see the place. If I walk by the area on the 14th even today, I think of Two Guitars and Theodore Bikel, because one time the glossy photo announced he was playing there. I ached to be able to go in, but I was of course too young, even with a drinking age of 18 at the time.

So, I never got to see Theodore Bikel perform there, or anyone else for that matter. I always imagined I'd meet some luscious-looking woman performing there who would keep me company for the evening. That never happened either.

But I still have the memory of Bikel's words on Johnny Carson.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Words

I think in one of these prior postings I discussed the new words I learn from watching British TV shows with the close captioning on. Along with hearing a word or phrase that is unknown, the close captioning give me the  spelling. And the DVR helps plenty here. Because the dialog and scene can be rolled back to the point the word was said and the spelling verified. I think I described keeping notepaper and a pen ready to scribble the words I want to look up later.

It's not always British TV. There can be American shows that send me to the dictionary. 'Louce' on a recent episode of 'True Detective' sent me to the pad and the dictionary.

I thought the use of such a word by the gangster Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn, was a great piece of near-comic irony. In the movie 'Analyze This,' the mafia boss Primo Sidone, played by Chazz Palmiteri, nearly goes into a purple rage over hearing and not knowing what the word 'closure' means. His cuff links nearly fly off, and his collar button nearly stabs his neck.

Primo is not entirely stupid. Just like myself, he vows to go to a dictionary and look up this word "closure." The grammar school nuns in Brooklyn got through to him just a bit.  Frank, in 'True Detective' already knows what 'louche' means. He's using it in a sentence. West Coast/East Coast educations.

But it doesn't have to be a TV episode that creates the weekly vocabulary list. I can get it from reading. Maureen Dowd, as once mentioned, can send me to the big OED book. But it's seldom a novel, or other type of book I might be reading that presents me with a 'Stump the Band' word. At least not until Jason Matthews's book 'Palace of Treason' came along.

Mr. Matthew's book is a post-Cold War spy thriller that is a sequel to his first novel, 'Red Sparrow'. I heard of 'Palace' first, so I dove in. And I'm glad I did. Before even finishing the book I reached back and got his 'Red Sparrow' lined up for my next read. They don't necessarily have to be read in sequence. Each stands on its own.

Quick summary? Very quick. The CIA's Nate Nash, a heroic Dudley Do-Right case officer works with the code-named Russian double agent DIVA, who is Dominika Egorova, a lethal piece of female anatomy who, trust me, you want on your side. Together, they give the Russians and Iranians fits, particularly the successor to Frank Sinatra's nickname, Ol' Blue Eyes, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yes, that Vlad, a major character.

Picking up on 'YouTube' some book promotional book appearance by Mr. Matthews, a retired veteran  of CIA service after 33 years, and even his wife, a similarly a retired CIA employee, you wonder if it's safe for Mr. Matthew's to be roaming about the country promoting his books. An appearance on a CBS morning show informs us that the first book, 'Red Sparrow' has been optioned for a movie, and might even now be in production.

Reading what is a suspenseful spy thriller, a primer on avoiding surveillance, as well as what is portrayed as a very creative way to disrupt the Iranian nuclear enrichment programs, you really do feel for Mr. Matthew's safety.

Perhaps not to worry, he assures us in a Strand Book store interview, everything he writes is cleared by the CIA, and after 33 years in service, he knows the difference between classified and non-classified material. And really, a spy thriller with recipes? Can you take this guy seriously? You better.

In an NPR interview Mr. Matthews explains that he has always loved reading descriptions of food, of which there are many as the characters go through their daily routines of eating and drinking. It's the locales they're in that make the food they eat, and the descriptions by Mr. Matthews interesting. Characters who ate off the Dollar Menu at McDonald's would be blah.

So, at the end of each chapter, in both books, there is a recipe for a food that has been consumed in the chapter. Mr. Matthews explains there are no measurements, or cooking times, or methods of preparations given. Only ingredients. So, if you're inclined, you can go further with this information that is described by Mr. Matthews, as "how your grandmother cooked." On the fly. I'm not the cook in the family, but anything named Olivier salad, Shashlik-kebabs, Babka Rumowa, or Shirini Keshmeshi raisin cakes, for example, would need to be better translated for me into English before I'd order one. It's a spy book and a cook book. For one price.

The words and acronyms in 'Palace' are enough to give you the impression Mr. Matthew's is extremely well-read. (He does tell an interviewer he does read "assiduously.") He must be fluent in several languages, because there are many words in italics, that are thankfully defined for us mortals.

I particularly loved the Russian words that are supplied for some of the acronyms. Some of these acronyms are well known to anyone who has read any book in the spy genre, and some are not. I'm reminded of the 1972 Team Canada hockey series that gave us a terrific set of eight games as well as a basket full of Russian names we struggled to pronounce: Lutchenko, Tsygankov, Maltsev, Tretiak,  Kharlamov, and more.

If at the end of 'Palace of Treason' you're not just a little bit more proficient in foreign languages, you didn't read the book. Take these on for size.

NKVD Narodny Komissariat Vrntennih Del
KGB Komitet Gosudarstevenny Bezopasnosti
SVR Slozhba Vnesheny Razvedki
GRU Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye

SBE Spezialle Bundestatigkeiten-Einheit

And then there's us.

FEEB Member of the FBI
SDR Surveillance Detection Route
SRAC  Short Range Agent Communication

There are other words that just send me to the dictionary. These are not italicized, or explained.

Six (Not the number)
Becket (Not a typo; found in a SWCS)
Gorgon (These three words are used to describe one person, in one chapter. She's an animal.)
Ribollita (At the end of this chapter, the recipe for ribollita is given. )

Mr. Matthews is asked if the Cold War is over, why then this book? Mr. Matthews replies, "It's humming along nicely." He reminds us of the 11 Russian illegals who were bounced from the US in 2010. These were Russians in deep cover acting as suburban American citizens who were trying to turn people to steal secrets. The FX show 'The Americans' portrays this type of activity.

And something as current as the Iranian nuclear program? It's here. And if after the latest agreement is approved or not, if there's a seismic rumble in Iran and phosphorous rods in the floor of a centrifuge explode and burn the place down, then I really think Mr. Matthews and his whole family might have to disappear for the own safety.

The third book may not have his name attached to it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fashion from Australia

It is not new, but it is new to me. 'Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries' on one of the public-TV stations. I've seen a few segments, but now seem to be getting them fed to me in series order. Last night I caught S1E1, the new shorthand telling anyone who cares, that it is Season One, Episode One. In the beginning.

The DVR is like a tossed fishing net. Set it out to program a series, like 'Masterpiece Mysteries', and it comes back with all kinds of possibilities that you weren't aware of. If you don't like what you caught, you throw it back with the Delete selection.

Miss Fisher, 'The Honoruable Phryne Fisher', as she in introduced, is a lady detective. The Honourable is a British designation indicating rank, given to children of Earls and Viscounts. A companion, a female doctor who dresses like a man, tells us Phryne doesn't come from money, but has a title. Socially she's up there a bit, but she's below the upstairs crowd at 'Downton Abbey', apparently.

If she doesn't come from money it only must mean she doesn't come from obscene wealth. Phryne  certainly travels and checks into some well appointed circles. And who paid for all those clothes? Where the producers of these shows get the backdrops and props to re-create the period is a marvel. The series is set in 1929 Melbourne Australia, so it has British flair, but is an Australian TV production. 

Phryne Fisher, as played by a kewpie doll Essie Davis, appears in more scenes with more costume changes than Leslie Stahl in one of her '60 Minutes' segments. Phryne is "smashing." Phryne is high fashion, and never gets her lipstick smudged, even when she kisses someone. She is Nora Charles without the husband, the martinis, and the dog. She's got her own crew.

If Bruce Jennner really wants to be a women, then she should observe and dress like Phryne. There'd be no mistaking Bruce for a female if she looked and moved like Phryne.

Phryne is thoroughly modern in thought, packs a pistol as well as one of Marie Stopes devices that allows her to be selectively amorous without creating an unwanted pregnancy. She is a 'Downton Abbey' Lady Mary without the big house. She knows real cocaine when she daintily licks some off her finger and can dance the legs off anyone. She drinks socially, but has not been seen smoking. If you could, you'd like her to meet your mother.

So, the U.K. crowd has given us a summer of male and female eye candy. Ross Poldark is the hairy chested brooding hunk, who scythes the meadow with his shirt off. And Phryne Betty-Boobs her way into solving the least complicated of crimes ahead of the two man Melbourne police force, lead by Inspector Jack Robinson.

Labor Day is a bit off, and it looks like we'll have a summer of recorded TV to get us through the heat waves and menu of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.

Thank God there will always be an England. And Australia.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ticker Tape Parade

I had a uncle who at about the time Fiorello La Guardia was Mayor of New York City thought it would be a good idea for the city to give Amelia Earhart a ticker parade in the hopes she'd show up and no longer be missing. The idea was rejected by Hizzoner. My uncle was unfazed by the rejected suggestion and continued drinking.

I was thinking of this when the city announced plans for the ticker tape parade for the U.S. Women's soccer team that had just won its third World Cup tournament. It was a great gesture, and by all accounts everything went well this past Friday at the parade. The soccer team was not missing, and showed up in force.

If anyone has paid attention to the sidewalk along both sides of Broadway in Lower Manhattan, they would have surely seen the commemorative markers in the cement for the various people a parade has been given for. I was somewhat surprised at how many people connected with swimming the English Channel have been honored.  Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the Channel in 1926 is of course there. She was a native New Yorker, an Olympic Champion and world record holder in five swimming events. A natural to have a parade for.

My own experience with ticker tape parades consists of watching the Apollo astronauts go by our offices at 2 Park Avenue in 1969 after the lunar landing. The parade route took a route that was headed for the UN that day.

Then there was the Canyon of Heroes parade for the World Champion Yankees in 1999. We could see a slice of that parade as it made its way up Broadway from our 29th floor World Trade Center offices. After the parade passed, and before the cleanup, I went down and gathered some balls of shredded paper as a souvenir. I jokingly handed some out to colleagues and kept one for myself in hopes it would be a lasting souvenir.

The souvenir part didn't last long, since everything in that office was lost to the destruction of 9/11. I did get two of my id cards back from the reclaiming efforts that went on at Great Kills, Staten Island, but that is another story.

Someday soon I plan to go back down to Lower Manhattan and walk the Canyon of Heroes parade route and take note of the categories of people who have been so honored with embedded sidewalk plaques. I know I won't see one for Miss Earhart, but my uncle did have a good idea: advertise.

It certainly worked when they plastered crime figure Whitey Bulger's mug on a Times Square Jumbotron in the hopes that someone would call in a tip and one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives would be found. Which of course he was in a matter of days.

It was even an idea that paid for itself. Secreted in the walls of Whitey's condo the authorities were said to find somewhere near $800,000 in cash.

It really does pay to advertise.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Sighting

It was by no means a good sign.

Earlier this week, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was seen striding through the Chancellery in Berlin carrying what looked like a shopping bag. In fact, you had to look close to realize it was Ms. Merkel, such was her appearance, resembling more of Charles Laughton after a month of ingesting Nutra-Slim than a healthy and robust Ms. Merkel. The lengthy, late-night negotiating sessions were eating away at her, it seemed.

And what is in the shopping bag? Redeemable empties in case the failure of Greece to negotiate debt relief pulls the Euro down so far that the only real currency is that of empty Beck's beer bottles? A backup plan is always prudent, but will this be enough? Can Germans empty that many bottles of Beck's that they can float a new currency, or merely float down the Rhine themselves?

Or maybe it's Drachmas, in case Greece re-negotiates the debt, but pulls out of the Euro and reinstalls their beloved Drachma. Again, that's why they call it a hedge fund: play both sides down the middle with enough math and hope you win no matter which way the wind blows.

Thankfully, all this was earlier in the week. Things started to look better as the Greeks seemed to be coming around to accepting that they may actually have to pay something back, or be folded into Italy, a prospect neither country was looking forward to.

Subsequent photos of Ms. Merkel (not provided here yet) later in the week did start to show her improvement in health and what she was carrying.

Now, if someone will get Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a necktie, sartorially splendor will be restored, and neither he or Ms. Merkel will look they're worried about money.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ways to Say Good-Bye

The Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon lyrics in
'I Thought I Left You' couldn't be blunter.

You're like the measles, you're like the whooping cough
I've already had you, so why in heaven's name can't you just get lost?

The song is on the fairly new release of a Willie Nelson CD. And there's more, in case that set of words isn't enough to make someone understand they are no longer wanted in any shape, or form.

I thought I left you
What part of "it's all over" don't you understand?

The song's meaning is quite specific: Get lost.

When I first heard the song and its reference to measles and whooping cough I was hooked on the lyrics. Yeah, I had that, and I want no part of it again.

So when I read the recent obituary for Burt Shavitz, a founder of Burt's Bees who has passed away at 80, I was reminded of Willie's song.

Burt and I had one thing in common: we both grew up in Flushing, New York. After that, Burt's life didn't resemble mine in the least.

His life was more than colorful: it was lucrative. And greatly lucrative for the hitchhiker he once picked up. Together they started Burt's Bees in 1984, a line of natural skin care products that was eventually sold to Clorox for $925 million dollars in 2007.

In 1984, the 49-year-old Mr. Shavitz picked up 33-year-old Roxanne Quimby who, as Sam Roberts describes in his NYT obituary for Mr. Shavitz, was a "would-be graphic artist who was working as a waitress and was hitchhiking from her cabin to the local post office."

She coupled his interest in bees and beekeeping into an organic lip balm that initially brought in $3,000 a year. But the story climbs from there, and reaches a point where Ms. Quimby, with her two-thirds interest, buys out Mr. Shavitz's one-third interest for $130,000 after Mr. Shavitz has an affair with a company employee. This really is a Burt's and the bees story.

Ms. Quimby later gives Mr. Shavitz $4 million dollars after the company is sold. (It is not clear if Ms. Quimby sold the company to Clorox directly, or she sold the company to someone who later sold it to Clorox, but the numbers get large no matter what.)

Apparently Mr. Shavitz is quite happy with his $4 million and lives the life you might expect of a man who is pictured on the product with a full head of woolly hair, a full bushy beard, all underneath a striped engineer's cap, living shoe-horned in a converted turkey coop on 40 acres in Parkham, Maine.

This past Monday, Ms. Quimby expressed that she and Burt shared "a long and unique journey through many years and probably many lifetimes together and apart. I don't assume that his passing marks the end of that journey."

Did Mr. Shavitz have any regrets about Ms. Quimby? Well, in a 2013 documentary titled "Burt's Buzz," Mr. Shavitz does say, "I'd like never to see her again."

No wonder Willie's CD is titled 'Band of Brothers.'

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ole. Oy Vay

The only thing that could make this story better were if it really were Ground Hog Day when two prisoners escaped through a manhole cover just outside of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

As the world knows by now, after being on the run for over three weeks, one of the escaped prisoners, Richard W, Matt was shot and killed by a Federal border agent on Friday. The other prisoner, David Sweat, was brought down by two shots to the torso on Sunday. He is now recovering from his wounds, upgraded to fair condition from serious, and is talking to officials about the details of the escape.

Perhaps the most significant part of the escape to emerge from Sweat's debriefing was that he completed a complete dry run of the escape route the night before he and Richard Matt both popped up out of the manhole cover. Sweat, alone, rehearsed going through leaving the cell, shimming down pipes and crawling through spaces. Obviously, part of good planning was to see if everything was possible.

It was inspired planning and execution. The manhole cover seemed to be in the middle of the street, but just to make sure alternate-side-of-the-street-parking was not going to plop a Ford Explorer on top of the manhole lid, Sweat had to make sure. Or, that a Mister Softee truck or a Trailways bus hadn't broken down and kept the lid down with the weight of an unexpected tire.

We all now know that the expected ride or vehicle that would have taken them to Mexico did not materialize at the key moment of checking out the night air outside the prison walls. But to wander through woods and get no further than 30 miles away from the place does seem like there was no good Plan B in place.

It does tell you that Mexico as a destination is not that desirous. Unable to get there with pre-planned provided wheels, the two men didn't seem to try and procure another way to achieve automotive transport to Mexico.

And what if they were to get to Mexico? As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tells us, Mexico exports all their undesirables to us. It is likely that upon hearing about Mexico's export policy from the fledgling candidate, the two men decided to take their chances and stay north, and perhaps get into Canada without tickets to the World Cup, the Olympics or a hockey game.

I mean, who could look forward to being asked to leave Mexico and then face the prospect of coming face-to-face with President Trump? When it comes to looks, he's the male version of Sarah Jessica Parker.

No, mosquito bites and rain are better things to face than that puss attached to a finger-pointing candidate who is unwilling to buy Greece for himself.