Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Dandy Jim Dandy

For  the last week now I've been watching Fox Sports 2's (FS2), the live racing from Saratoga show that's on from 4:00 to 6:30. Two and half hours of racing and commentary from the Spa. It is virtual attendance, and will easily keep me occupied each racing day until it is time for me and my friend to make what is probably our 22nd consecutive pilgrimage to Mecca at the finish line in late August. Two retired Senior Citizens bombing abound upstate New York in a decidedly used Altima.

The show is great, but you have to really know something about horse racing and its betting machinery to appreciate it. At the end of the show I feel like I should be stepping out of my door and be headed to Hattie's, Old Brook Tavern, Carson's Inn, Longfellow's, or some other familiar eatery and absorb some food and racing atmosphere with other diners who have just seen what I've seen.

Watching Friday's telecast it was announced that the Pick Six was headed for a carryover into Saturday with a $502,000 pool. This is significant money, and guarantees that the heavy hitters and syndicate boys are going to be burning some midnight oil doping out Saturday's card and figuring out the best permutations to play to keep the invested (bet) money low, and the likelihood of return high.

For me, the surprise was not that there was a significant carryover, it was that they announced it before the final race in the Pick 6 sequence, the 10th and last race. As Harvey Pack used to intone, usually after the last race, "noooo one picked we have a carryover"

To have a carryover before the last race is run is unusual. I means there must have been some bombs in the earlier races that wiped out the players and left the pool with the possibility that even when the last race results were official, no one was going to have picked six. Wow.

The Pick Six pool is allocated to pay off those who have picked 5 out 6; any 5 of the 6. A non-carryover Pick Six pool is taxed at 15%, that is 15% is subtracted from the pool, money off the top, takeout, and is used to distribute money to NYRA , the state and the horsemen, in the form of purse money.

But a carryover pool is taxed at 24%. So, as the amount might progressively move higher, the takeout also regressively moves higher.

This lead me to check the prices in the sequence for Friday. No real bombs, but not filled with favorites either: $32.40; $16.20, $27.80, $22.20, $5.50, $21.00. The sequence of four double digit prices at the start of the sequence helped assure an early carryover. Generally, the syndicate boys will hit the ALL button, play all the horse in the last race of the sequence in order to insure that if they're going to be alive going into the last race, they'll hit the Pick Six, or, if they've missed a race in the first five, that they'll at least be rewarded with the consolation return of 5 our of 6. They might even make money, depending on how much they've pumped into their bet via the permutation of results.

The word "single" means many things. It can mean unmarried, or the claim of being unmarried depending on the encounter, and it can mean the selection of one horse in a race in the Pick Six sequence. Never make the mistake that true horse players are dummies. They can calculate odds and payout in a flash, and know how many permutation they're going to wind up with if they keep "going deep" into selecting multiple horses in a race sequence.

When the opportunity to feel so strongly about a race that only one horse can be considered to be the winner, the mortal lock as the lingo goes, then the Pick Six player will "single" that race in the sequence and take advantage that any number multiplied by 1 remains that number.

If their single doesn't win, all their late-night handicapping and teeth gnashing is for naught. Their Pick Six ticket is reduced to the hope of  of hitting the consolation. Miss another race in the sequence, and you're out. Goodbye "investment."

I am not a Pick Six player. I hate to see a winner that may pay a decent price get gobbled up and become worthless to me if the ticket fails. One year, The Assembled on one of those Saturdays at Belmont that featured six stake races combined their funds to the tune of $2 apiece, in this case $8 and reached agreement on a Pick Six ticket that picked two horse in two races, then picked four singles in four races. As any mathematician will tell you, the permutation count on this is 2x2x1x1x1x1 =4. Since a Pick Six ticket has to be a $2 bet, this ticket cost us $8.00. We were a "syndicate."

The six races were the six graded stakes races. On the very first leg we finished second with our pick. I don't remember if that was a "two deep" bet, but right at the outset, the best we could hope for was to hit the next 5 to get the consolation payout.

As usual, when this kind of activity is agreed upon by The Assembled, I wind up making the bets and holding the ticket. I nearly threw it way after the result of the first leg, but then remembered we could still hit the next 5. We did.

Since we really didn't put a great deal of handicapping into the ticket, (or a lot of money, thank goodness) we picked the obvious favorites, plus two second choice in the "two deep" slot. Well, all favorites won the six stake races.

None of us were so into the bet as the sequence progressed that we consulted the board as to payout possibilities before the last leg was run. As we waited with amused anticipation as to what "riches" we might get, one of The Assembled left and told me I could have his portion of the payout. I said, "no, Bob, I'll buy it for $3." He declined, and told be to keep it.

When the $70-something payout popped up after a bit of a delay (there always is) for hitting six it was of course followed by the amount for 5 out of 6: $11.00 was the consolation payout.

I have always been impressed that $11 divided by 4 is $2.75 apiece. Bob, who left early, could have made $3 if he sold me his share before the payout was posted. To a man, we all made money on the bet. Less than subway fare.

The broadcasters who populate the FS2  are all known to racing fans, even Gabby Gaudet, a pretty fresh face who joins a New York team. Andy Serling who has never been without something to say about anything and everything, and probably talks in his sleep, commented to his broadcasting partner, Tom Amoss, that going into Saturday's Pick Six he would single Flinstshire and Destin.

Amoss was surprised. Destin was in a very competitive Jim Dandy race that sported Creator, winner of the Belmonet , with Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, all good three-year olds with top credentials for a $600,000 Grade II mile and an eighth race for only three-year olds.

Amoss challenged Andy on singling Destin. Andy, being Andy, was nearly Surly Andy in his confidence in Destin over the others. You knew these guys were going to put a Pick Six ticket together, either on their own (most likely) or with others. A Pick Six Carryover at a NYRA track will attract money from all over the nation. Every online betting site will inform anyone who has a Pick Six tickler set that the New York carryover has climbed to s life altering value.

No surprise than when the betting closed for the Pick Six pool now had $3,228,758 in it. That of course is after the takeout, the money-off-the-top. Given the sharks that come swimming in the pool from all over the nation via interstate online wagering, the $3 million pool on a decent NYRA Saturday card is no real surprise. Considering all the players covering a huge variety of outcomes, it would also be no surprise that several players would have to share the pool if they hit it, and that a consolation 5 of 6 is not going to be a big payout.

Now we get to the marquee race in the Pick Six sequence, The Jim Dandy. Flintshire has already given the single players the victory they anticipated in the Bowling Green Handicap, winning with the utmost of ease in a four horse field paying $2.20 to win. That's 1-10 odds. The second lowest they can go. Lowest is 1-20, paying $2.10.

The Jim Dandy has six horses, several of whom have been on the Triple Crown trail. This even includes Loban, a maiden in the race, a horse who has never won a race. It is extremely rare for a maiden to even be placed in such a race, a graded Stake s races against others who have won significant money.

No one is talking about Loban's chances. The 27-1 odds are actually considered low. He's not accorded a chance in hell of winning. All the broadcasters are making their cases for their picks, with Andy Surly bad mouthing Mohaymen's chances and Tom Amoss making a case for him.

But that's what horse racing amongst handicappers is: strong opinions for and against. When The Assembled gather we are no different. Cases are made out loud for whomever, but minutes before post each player becomes quiet and makes up their own mind. No one argues with the other.

If anyone has ever spent some time watching and handicapping races from Saratoga they should know that a horse on the lead in a mile and an eighth race, the circumference of the track, stands a strong chance of going all the way: take the lead, set moderate or even slow fractions, and hold off the posse once in the stretch.

My friend and I once picked the speed in a last race, a  mile and an eighth affair, that was going to be ridden by Jean Cruguet--on the dirt. We had collectively asked ourselves, "who's the speed?" Neither of us played "the speed" for some reason, and then spent nearly two minutes watching in pure agony as Cruguet did exactly what we thought he would do. And win the race. Teeth gnashing time.

Two years a similar last race scenario presented itself. A collection of underachievers going a mile and an eighth at Saratoga. These are great races at Saratoga because the starting gate is right in front of the stands, and you get the clang and the hustle of the jockeys as the gates open.

We picked the speed. Something ridden by Dylan Davis, himself a very young jockey with a low win percentage. But how bad can he be? Get out, go for the front, and hang on.

And that's exactly what happened. He broke well, took the lead, and we, instead of watching in agony kept reporting back to each other from our binoculars that he looked good, and Dylan, please, please, don't fall off. He didn't. He won, and so did we. Saratoga born jockey gets his first win at the Spa. Made next day's paper.

Money won is twice as nice as money won, and when a race unfolds as expected and you collect, you have achieved Nirvana.

So when Laoban took the lead and settled into decent fractions it still did not seem he was going to go all the way. Too much talent behind him. Destin was going to be destined to win, right? And in the stretch, when Destin and Governor Malibu were inching up on Laoban, weren't they going to go past a tiring Laoban and one of them was going to win, the other second, and I'd have my exacta. Right?

There are strange things run under the Saratoga sun, and the strangest you might ever see are the results of a mile and a eighth race. Laoban wins, and the crash of the Pick Six tickets that didn't have Laoban in the mix is nearly audible. Andy Surly ripped Destin a new portal for excrement.

A maiden wins the Jim Dandy, trained by Eric Guillot, a Cajun who a few years scored a similar upset in a grades stakes race, the Whitney with Moreno.

By now, Guillot has stopped talking and the party at Southern Equine Stables has died down and some have gotten some sleep. Perhaps. The stalls assigned to Southern Equine are right on Union Avenue, and you pass them as you walk along that side of the street. One day for whatever reason, they were playing lively Cajun music from there before the first race. They seem to be a party bunch.

So, who hit the Pick Six? Personally, I don't know who, just like I don't know who hits the Lottery. What we do know is that is was hit, for $34,458, created by horses in the sequence that paid: $7.20, $2.20, $8.00, $11.40, $56 and $8.80.  That a $56 bomb, Laoban, didn't send the pool into a another carryover gives you some idea of the volume of players who tackled the bet. The 5 of 6 consolation paid $190.50, a thin salve for the wounds of not hitting it.

There is a reason it is called gambling.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Power Dressing

For me, there is no section of a newspaper that is off limits for looking at. Proof of that is I even go through the NYT 'Thursday Styles' section, photos and text that is so devoted to fluff and inanities that it is surprising any of it stays on the page.

Of course that's a man's viewpoint, and not a woman's, who is possibly eager to read how Hillary Clinton and Theresa May are redefining the power dress code for women. Or, what the auctioned items from the Four Seasons restaurant fetched. And what restaurant furniture, silverware, and ashtrays might bring just because the place is closing its site in the Seagram's building and will be relocating downtown. They're not even going out of business and the auction brings in $4.1 million. If we ever move again, they've given me an idea.

But it's really the fashion pictures that attract my attention. What the women and the babes are wearing. There can be significant eye candy to be found on these pages.

Today's 'Unbuttoned' column by Vanessa Friedman explores the changes in fashion for power women. And who could be more appropriate to include in that story than a take on what Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, Angela Merkel (two heads of state, and one possible head of state), and Michelle Obama, the outgoing FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) wear when appearing in public.

If you are a reader of these postings you are also aware I've been sharing photos of German's Chancellor Angela Merkel for years, not so much because of what she's wearing, but because of how often her photo appears in the news. And if you are that rare, discriminating reader of these musings, then you also know I've dubbed Ms. Merkel the Most Photographed Women with Clothes On.

You will also be aware that with the ascension of Theresa May to be Britain's new prime minister, I've openly wondered if she might snatch the title away from Ms. Merkel.

The balloting is on, and the results are hardly in. The above photo shows what keeps the race for the title close. In the above photo, Prime Minister May and Chancellor Merkel are seen together. Ms. Clinton, if she succeeds in winning the U.S. presidency will of course shove May and Merkel solidly aside because she will sprint to the finish line like Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes in record time with a 31 length victory.

After the first, there will be no other.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chernobyl, 30 Years Later

Anyone who reads the NYT should be familiar with their occasional full-page ads promoting Times Journeys, excursions to distant lands in the accompaniment of a New York Times writer, an expert on the area the trip is aimed at. The blurb is like reading a great menu. Who can resist? But maybe you should.

The latest ad is prominently featuring a trip to Chernobyl, under the guidance of their science writer George Johnson. There are two tours, each for eight days and are each limited to 25 guests.

Of course there's a price tag involved for being a guest. In this case "from" $5,495, no airfare included.  Price assumes a double occupancy, so I guess it might go up if you're solo. Meals are not mentioned.

The Chernobyl trip gets the big play in the ad over "The Greek Debt Crisis," where you can mingle "with economists. politicians and Greek citizens and gain insight to this crisis." Jesussss, why go to Greece to hear people complain about money? If you want to do that take the subway to any Greek diner or restaurant and introduce yourself to the owner. They're easy to spot, because they never stray too far from the register.

If there's one thing consistent about a Greek small business owner it is that they are never happy. Even if they are well off, they won't admit it. Money is always a worry. When you find the owner you'll get an earful about the Greek debt crisis, plus a take on our own monetary system, Brexit, and how the Euro has ruined Europe. All this after, or before you're had a decent meal. For if there's anything a Greek restaurant or diner can provide you, it is a decent meal at a decent price. The cookies and the mints at the register are free. And so is opinion on the state of any economy.

There are two other sub-tours under the main event. "A Jane Austen Christmas," which I won't even discuss, and "Accelerating Science: Particle Physics at CERN." This one is in Geneva, where the particle accelerator is located. It is hosted by a science writer, Dennis Overbye, but could probably be better hosted by Mary Roach, who I would probably prefer. She could make physics fun, especially about things you can't see. And Geneva. Where all that money is stored.

But Chernobyl gets the big play, and is what caught my eye in the first place. Eight days, where the science writer George Johnson is said to join "both departures."  Mr. Johnson has science credentials up the gazoo, but is he really going to be part of an eight day tour twice where you "explore the post-apocalyptic Chernobyl zone." Or, is he going to meet you all at the airplanes gate and wave "good luck" to you? After all, he's got a monthly column, Raw Data to file, and probably from a far safer place.

I don't know about you, but perhaps I'd sign up for a series of pictures to look at. Or not sign up at all. Consider another part of the blurb where we're informed..."see the sarcophagus surrounding the reactor, and the New Safe Confinement structure under construction."

Thirty years, and the Confinement structure is still being built? And you want me to pay to look at it?

I realize the Russians may have been distracted by the Sochi Olympics, doping allegations, invasions, and now hacking the Democratic National Committee's server, but some things should get a higher priority.

Years and years ago Jerry Della Femina, the advertising mogul and now East End restaurateur, once facetiously suggested that a tag line for advertising Sony products that were starting tho make their way into American markets big time, might be..."from the wonderful folks who brought you Pearl Harbor."

I think I'll pass on visiting Russia and learning how after 30 years they're still at constructing nuclear confinement.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

To Be Followed

Does the world's most photographed woman with clothes on now have competition?

The the ascension of Theresa May to British Prime Minister has perhaps given Angela Merkel competition for the title of World's Most Photographer Woman with Clothes On.

Take the above photo of Chancellor Merkel standing with Prime Minister May on a podium listening to national anthems in Berlin during a visit by Prime Minister May. Obviously both are clothed and photographed together, like competitors before the start of a race. Who will emerge the victor?

Take the next photo, of Prime Minister May meeting France's President Francois Hollande in Paris during Ms. May's first visit to Paris as British prime minister. There is a flash of the back of Prime Minister's May's left leg, revealed by perhaps an intentionally neglected zipper. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Angela's nowhere to be seen.

Thus, we have the start of the competition. I don't know what kind of odds British bookmakers have on the race--if they have any at all--but my guess is Chancellor Merkel might start out as the favorite to pull ahead and stay there, given British reticence and shyness. But if Prime Minister May continues to reveal herself ever so slightly, the odds can change.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Penny Saved

Benjamin Franklin is famous for many things, one of which is being the first Postmaster General. And he's also famous for many things he said, one of which is, "a penny saved is a penny earned."

So what would Ben think about the fact that first class postage in the United States dropped two cents, from 49 cents to 47 cents! Two pennies earned must riches beyond Croesus.

I don't know when the decrease took effect. It was obviously some time between when I last bought a coil of 100 Forever stamps, and now. This wouldn't really be a long time. I still use the mail to pay my bills and send the occasionally paper letter of pique to someone in government or business. When I expressed surprise to the women at the post office, I also told her they should put a big sign in the window and make the decrease more widely known. Take a victory lap. She laughed.

The penny is really a somewhat useless coin. It costs the Treasury more to produce a penny than it is worth in face value. But a hundred pennies is still a dollar. And two hundred pennies is $2.00. Thus, I spent $2.00 less on my transaction. By most definitions, I saved. But also according to Ben, I earned. And since I paid cash, there should be no 1099 following me at year's end telling me I earned $2.00. That would really kill the buzz.

Every time the penny comes up for review to be eliminated, it survives. There is surely someone in our government who probably gives an impassioned speech about the value of small things and how their value grows as they are accumulated. You might remember the math problem that said if you were given a penny on the first day, and every day after for a month your aggregate value were to double, you would have an incredible amount of money after 31 days. ($10.7 million) One cent the first day, two cents the second day, four cents the third day, eight cents the fourth day, and so on for a 31 day month. Pretty soon, even before you reached the end of the month, you are talking about real money. And at the end of the month, you'd be looking for a tax haven.

When it comes to the penny, Benjamin had it right. Pennies saved can become Benjamins. And as Puff Daddy reminds us, "it's all about the Benjamins."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Identity Crisis

Anyone who has ever watched PBS's 'Antiques Road Show' is probably aware of the Keno brothers. Twins, Leslie and Leigh are experts on early-American furniture and can tell you at a glance the origins of any piece and what types of wood were used to produce it.

Authenticity is pointed out by the lack of markings left by modern day power tools. Saw and sanding traces, stain and varnish finishes, glue residue, wooden or metal fasteners, no detail escapes their eyes in the effort to guarantee authenticity and assign a market value. They are each excitably animated, and give you a sense they have been at this game for truly a long time. And at 59 they have been at it a long time, ever since they were 12, when apparently they were doing business on their own, separate from their antique-loving parents.

I've recognized the brothers on two occasions, seeing either one of them twice, or each of them once. Unless the TV puts their name up as as a "bumper" I am never really sure who's who.

One time, passing The Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, I spotted either Leigh or Leslie in an animated conversation with some people just as they were about to pass through the restaurant's front door. As either Leigh or Leslie were holding the door open I wanted to tug on one of the other people's sleeve and warn them not to let Leigh (or Leslie) turn the table over inside with food on it. Wait till it was cleared to assess its origin and value. As quick as I thought this, I also didn't say it.

The other time was sometime around 7:45 one weekday morning as I was leaving the upper level of Penn Station and making my way out to 31st Street. I saw one of the brothers headed toward me, well dressed, carrying nothing, headed for what I theorized would be an 8:00 Acela train (No. 2109) that would get him to Philadelphia in an hour and twelve minutes, if on time. (I took it once.) I figured he must have something to do with Philly if antique American furniture is involved.

Despite their notoriety and TV fame, it was quite surprising to see a Page 1, NYT Arts Section story on what is considered to be strange behavior on their part at New Orleans auction house in April. It seems the brothers, one online, the other on the phone, bid against each other multiple times on several items, having the effect of driving what would have been modest expected prices upward by tens of thousands of dollars, and then not paying for their successful bids.

This is like having two Disney characters stiff a restaurant after ordering expensive meals for a room full of people. American icons do not stiff.

Neither brother apparently agreed to an interview for the NYT, but apparently explained their actions to the auction house in an email from Leslie. It was all a silly mix-up between two brothers who, in their excitement, became confused. And if that doesn't settle the matter for you, there is the quote from the email: "This was a situation where my brother thought I was bidding on the lot, and I thought HE was bidding on it. We made a mistake, and I would hope that given the amount of property we purchased, you would forgive us for this mistake."

Huh? They can't tell each other apart? Did one steal the other's identity? Does Leigh believe he is Leslie, and does Leslie believe he is Leigh?  What would Freud say about this?

Their explanation is more confusing than "return codes" in programming, where with enough negatives you come back to where you started.

During one of our breakfasts at a diner in Glens Falls during the Saratoga racing season I overheard the grandma waitress express frustration at not being able to tell her twin granddaughters apart. She mentioned this out loud, as her granddaughters and daughter were there in front of her, that she thought a tattoo on one, or both of them would help her out. I cringed.

In the case of the Keno brothers, as you might expect, lawyers are involved and a settlement of some kind will likely emerge.

I now wonder if tattoos will be suggested.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Holding On

This picture appeared front and center on page one today of the Wall Street Journal. Theresa May, Britain's new prime minister was received by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, the royal residence in London.

Prime Minister May is seen giving the Queen the respectful courtesy curtsy, a "deep curtsy" as described by some. The Queen is holding out her right hand and smiling cordially as she greets the new prime minister, Britain's second female prime minister.

The room looks like some sitting room, or living room at Buckingham Palace. Neither the Queen or Ms. May are wearing outerwear, or coats of any kind. But the Queen is seen as holding her purse on her left forearm. The handbag is a simple looking black leather purse. Did Ms. May catch the Queen just before she was on her way out for shopping? Was she unexpected? What's with the purse on the Queen's arm walking around her own living room? Is carrying a purse indoors somehow tradition in itself?

You have to go back a long way, but sometimes I manage. The Queen reminds me of Joan Rivers when she was starting out as a comic and catching the eye of Johnny Carson, who at the time liked her a great deal. Joan was on his show often as her career was taking off. There Joan would be, coming out from behind the curtain, acknowledging the audience and carrying her purse with her to the armchair guest seat for her chat with Johnny. Her purse was quite similar to the one seen in the picture. It was the oddest thing. A woman appearing on TV with Johnny Carson, constantly carrying her purse.

I don't think the purse was ever discussed. Joan never opened it to put things in, or take things out. If she got up to leave, or slid over to the coach to allow other another guest to chat, she of course took her purse with her. It was not going to be left behind to have someone say something if they saw something, even then.

Was the Queen headed for a British talk show? Perhaps Graham Norton, or whomever might he big over there? Was she holding onto her purse to prevent Prince Philip from filching through it to bet a few bob on the races at Newmarket? Was she keeping tickets to the final round of the British Open in there, hoping to surprise someone in the Royal Family with front row tickets to the stands at the 18th green on Sunday? Was she keeping medicine close by?

Joan and Johnny are of course no longer with us. Theresa May is just now stepping into worldwide limelight as a new prime minister. The Queen of course has been the Queen for over 60 years and is now over 90. She's holding on in more ways than one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


It has probably happened to everyone. Something comes along that makes you wonder, "what are the odds of that? It sure is some coincidence."

Upon reading Joseph Mazur's book "Fluke" you should come away with the belief that even the remotest events that strike you as incredible coincidences are the result of a chain of probabilities that can have numbers assigned to them, that when looked at as a singular event, actually throw off odds that make the event seem downright nearly certain to happen.

Take Mr. Mazur's analysis of lottery winners. He casts a very wide net and shows us that there is near certainty (0.97) of someone, worldwide,  winning a lottery jackpot twice in a two year period. Thus, with 0.97 being near the certainty of 1.00, there is near certainty that there will be someone, who will win one of those played lotteries two times in a two year period.

This is difficult to get your arms around, inasmuch it is a different proposition than having identified say yourself, or any other one person, as playing the lotto, and predicting the odds of winning one of the lotteries two times in a two year period. Those odds are astronomically tiny of that happening, as you might intuitively expect.

Seeing that there is a difference in the propositions is what is key, and once you get to accept that they are different, Mr. Mazur's mathematical walk through becomes nearly easy to understand, despite your instincts to resist the conclusion of near certainty for the event.

Mr. Mazur presents the math, I present the story of the fellow at work years ago who had an aunt in Brooklyn who won the New York State Lotto jackpot twice. I don't really know if it was in a two year period, but it well might have been because just the connection of someone at work who was closely related to someone who won was fresh on everyone's minds when news of the second jackpot hit reached the cafeteria.

We know the nephew wasn't suddenly showered with riches because he continued working. In fact, he had his own lottery going, but it involved taking kickbacks on contracts and he was fired. Perhaps his aunt then felt sorry for him. We never heard.

Some of Mr. Mazur's coincidence myth-busters are hard to understand, and seem to start with large assumptions, but that hardly deters him from giving us the odds that Anthony Hopkins finding an author-annotated manuscript of a play whose film version he was currently acting in, on a park bench in London, is nearly equal to getting a straight flush in poker, 71,427 to 1.

One of the famous scenarios presented is the birthday problem. This one I had heard about, but never knew how to calculate the math behind it. I've told this one to people at work, programmers and others who you might expect to have heard it, but who hadn't.

The proposition is that if you assemble thirty different people, the odds are near certainty that two of them will share a common birth date, i.e. same month and date, not necessarily the same year. (That's another proposition.)

There's the corroborated story of Downton Abbey-style meal being hosted by someone who wanted to astound his guests with what was perceived to be a parlor trick. There were 29 of them dining, and when he polled diners for their birthdays he was deeply disappointed to learn there was no match. No one shared the same birth date. He had figured that 29 was nearly as good as thirty, and that there would be oohs and ahhs.

On a whim, he asked the kitchen maid who was coming back into the dinning room what her birthday was. He was astounded to realize that there were now two birthdays in the room that matched amongst the now 30 people assembled. The math of "coincidence" had prevailed.

So when my youngest daughter somewhat wide-eyed tells me the story of the coincidence of recently being in a cemetery helping her boyfriend plant flowers on his recently departed father's grave, watering the flowers and being asked by a black woman if she could come over to her family's plot and help her add some water to its plot, and finding that the headstone reads Brennan, my wife's maiden name and of course what was grandma's last name, you have to understand why I didn't share in her cosmic wonderment.

I'm sure Mr. Mazur would come up with a believable explanation that the odds of that occurring are probably somewhat south of a royal flush, maybe even equal to getting four-of-a-kind.

So much for divine intervention. There's a number behind it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Witness

'The Witness' is a documentary movie that touches on the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, New York. So much has been written about this event that is has taken on a life of its own. How could 38 people witness the horrific stabbing of Kitty Genovese and do nothing? That thought has haunted Kitty's younger brother Bill, even leading him to enlist in the Marines in 1967 because he wanted to be part of something positive.

In the Marines, and in Vietnam, Bill steps on a land mine and loses both his legs above the knees. Confined to a wheelchair doesn't really describe Bill's life at all, because he's not really confined. He gets around in his specially equipped van. He boosts himself up stairs, his hands protected by gloves that give him traction. He marries and raises a family.

But most of all, Bill is haunted by the legend of the story that so many people were said to have done nothing, and that his sister dies a horrific death because no one helped. Bill sets out for explanations in 2004 and finds out the legend is not true. There are people who helped; there were not 37, 38 eye witnesses who stood by and did nothing. The story has more depth than the deepest part of the ocean, and Bill folds it all in with the splendid help of others into a documentary film that does more than "set the record straight." It tells us about ourselves. And we're not all bad.

Bill does find the origin of the count of 38 witnesses who were said to have seen and done nothing. The number sprang from a lunch time conversation that a NYT editor, A,M. Rosenthal had with the police commissioner two weeks after the murder. The commissioner mentions 38 people saw and did nothing. The NYT ran with the number and didn't really look into it. The number becomes urban legend and becomes an academic talking point for decades.

The first report of the murder is a small one column mention, somewhat buried in the paper. After the lunch with the commissioner, the story two weeks later gets front page treatment, with crime scene photos and diagrams. The indictment on humanity has been delivered.

Bill does find in the police reports that there were 38 people, 38 people who at varying points heard something, but saw nothing by the time they got to the window, because by then Kitty had lifted herself from the pavement after the assailant initially ran away, and staggered around the corner of a building that put her out of sight from the largest apartment house that looked down on the initial attack. Thirty-eight people made statements and were interviewed by the police, but their role in human apathy is not as pronounced as the NYT made them out to be. There were people who did come to her aid, (unreported) but by then it was too late. And the police had been called, and may have ignored the first report.

Toward the end of the 90 minute film Bill has arranged for an actress, Shannon Beeby, to reenact the sounds, the screams, the blood curdling screams, Kitty made as she was being attacked, and to retrace the staggering steps she made through the door she opened where she finally collapsed at the foot of a staircase.

This part is especially haunting, and makes you wonder why Bill would put himself through it. At the time of Kitty's murder she was the only family member living in Kew Gardens. Bill, and the rest of the family had moved to New Canaan, Connecticut. So Bill puts himself back in time where he wasn't when the murder happened. For him, it is the William Faulkner quote, "the past is not dead. It's not even past."

The film reaches its end soon after the reenactment, and closes with some beautiful music and lyrics, Rosanne Cash singing "God Is in the Roses."

You become conscious of the lyrics isolated from the melody: "God is in the roses. the petals and the thorns...I love you like a brother..."

The Stars and Stripes Festival

It is often hard to understand the New York Racing Association (NYRA). Why is a patriotically themed two days of racing designated to be held on July 9th and 10th, rather than the July 4th weekend?

Historically, The Suburban Handicap, one of the longest running races in America, has always been held om July 4th. Yesterday was the 130th running. One of my best memories of racing is the 1968 Suburban that featured Damascus and Dr Fager, with Dr. Fager vanquishing Damascus, who finished third. In that era, the racing calendar called for the meeting to be held at Aqueduct, a mile and an eighth track more suited to accommodating the classic mile and a quarter distance, 10 furlongs.

With the race held at Belmont, they have to rejigger the starting gate to position the horses to run tangentially into the top of the clubhouse turn, then complete a near circuit of Belmont's mile and a half oval. Effectively, they flatten the starting turn, and give the horses a straight run for a bit before hitting a turn. Belmont is so big, a mile and a quarter race can't start in front of the crowd and have the horses thunder past the stands for the first time, Saratoga's mile and quarter Travers is better spectacle because that track, like Aqueduct, is a mile and a eighth.

Aside from the starting gate qualms, the races NYRA assembled were top rate, with Grade 1 and Grade III races. Six graded stakes on an 11 race card that started an hour earlier, at 12:30.

I read from a reporter's Tweet that the crowd was announced at 7,753, vs. last year's July 4th attendance at 6,545. Might have been the patriotically themed beach towel giveaway that pulled some more people into the track. That, and it wasn't really a beach day, with solid overcast and cooler temps, but no rain.

There was also a two day handicapping contest held on Saturday and Sunday. A $300 buy in, with half going to a live bankroll, and the other half to the pot. No news on this. It's not an activity I've ever participated in.

And with what constitutes a crowd these days when it's not the Belmont Stakes, the "crowd" was felt. People applauded winners and cheered when they were coming down the stretch in what were some very close races. Normally, a cannon fired in the stands would take out no one. Usually, more people are on line at Shake Shacks around the city than attend live racing.

The festival was billed around the card, the giveaway, free admission for military ids, food trucks and family fun activities. This translates to blow up bouncy things that are spread out in the back. Not where I can be found.

The flag flew at half staff in honor of the five police officers killed in Dallas, a city that once again becomes a focal point of national tragedy. When will the flag fly again at full staff, and how long will it stay there? But after those thoughts, there was racing to concentrate on.

Overall, with a few exactas and a winner, playing all 11 races, I managed to almost break even. My $60 starting voucher didn't shrink much at all when I cashed out. A good day that just missed being a better day. Horse racing.

With nearly 50 years of attending NYRA races, I like to think I take in everything. The place is starting to show signs of deferred maintenance, with peeling paint evident and a huge gravel pile in the preferred parking area. It is no wonder the Breeders' Cup has stayed away from staging its year end series the past several years. It's been a while  since they've been back.

I still buy the program. The so called "pocket program." It is now $3.00, once having been 25 cents when I started going to the track. I only buy it as a souvenir these days. The entry numbers are part of the past performance sheets. There is little true need for it, but I mark the pages with the order of finish, and have saved programs since the late 60s. Unfortunately there are gaps, and I've yet to find where I put the program from Secretariat's grand day.

I even read this program for what it's worth. I see who the mucky-mucks are that are listed as running the place, and also Who's Who on the board of trustees. Did you know celebrity chef and horse owner Bobby Flay is on the board? As is the chairman of Barnes and Noble, Leonard Riggio, also a sometime horse owner. There are not as many blue bloods these days at the top in racing. They've died. No one named Phipps or Mellon can be found anymore.

I love to see who the non-stake races are named after. These names are a one day acknowledgement to a group of a certain size that has arranged an outing at the track. This usually includes a meal for the gathering in the dinning room, and a presentation in the winner's circle to the connections of their eponymously named race.

Most of the time it is easy to see that a fraternal or church group has come out there, or someone's anniversary is being acknowledged, or even a birthday, or a race named in memory of someone dear. I've got a Harry Lazurus T-shirt from Harry's first memorial named race from a friend of mine who is distantly connected to the family. And Harry's people have been back, because I think I came across the Fifth Annual memorial race last year. No T-shirt, however.

Most of yesterday's races were acknowledging something easily understood: 'Terrence Dempsey 30th Birrhday;' 'Henry and Sophie Race Day.' Not so obvious was the first race, 'Seven Sinners Race.' I have no idea what commandments they might have broken to give themselves that name. Was it a motorcycle gang with AARP cards in their pockets now? I forgot to look at the winner's circle.

But best of all to me was a race for someone's birthday. Not uncommon you might think, a birthday race. Well consider this, the 2nd race: 'Happy 1st Birthday Rocco D'Elia.'

I have never seen a race named for someone who is not toilet trained. First birthday! Who is Rocco, and who are the D'Elia's?

Is Rocco the heir apparent to a pizza parlor chain? Trucks? Building materials? Olive oil? Wine? Great things are expected of Rocco?

No matter. It will be interesting to see if the same crowd comes back next year for Rocco's second birthday. I wish him happy ones.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Fourth of July

The annual Fourth of July cookout we hold here at home was this year held instead on July 3rd, the Sunday before the 4th. This was done to accommodate those in our circle who still work. Tuesday is a day for those to get back at it.

Thus, my living room was deprived of the ESPN telecast of Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest being viewed by an array of the invited. I for one was disappointed in the lack of household viewers when I watched the contest on Monday.

They were deprived of my reminiscences of this July 4th being the 50th anniversary of when I started at Steve's Lunch, a food stand inside the subway area, before the turnstiles, at the BMT Coney Island station at Surf and Stillwell Avenues, diagonally opposite the famous Nathan's across the street.

Nathan's was famous 50 years ago, but there was no eating extravaganza like there is today. I worked that summer at Steve's Lunch for probably 8 weeks, in between my high school graduation and starting college. I think I got $1.50 an hour, my hours accurately recorded by Mrs. Steve. I don't remember her name, or their last name, but they were Greeks.

I was an exemplary employee. Never late, never complaining, and didn't eat my way through the goods, although I did like whatever brand of hot dogs Steve was pushing there. I also liked the  chunky cut French fries we provided that were made from fresh potatoes and peeled by some machine that I was fascinated with. Did the Army have potatoe-peeling machines to replace the drudgery the soldiers were assigned to when they were put on K.P duty?

K.P. stands for Kitchen Police, and it was not a looked-forward-to assignment in the Army. I remember my father telling me that a day of K.P., from the very early morning to the evening meal was pure drudgery. Demoralizing. All those potatoes to peel, and all those pots to clean. Huge pots. He told me guys would gladly pay other soldiers to take over their K.P. assignments for the day.

The proprietor of Steve's Lunch was Steve, a short, silver-haired Greek who was constantly worried about money. In short, a typical Greek food vendor. We did business as people went past us to and from the beach at Coney Island. We offered cold, wet bottles of soda that were dug out from the red, block ice-filled Coca-Cola cooler, hot dogs, French fries and knishes. To this day, I hate knishes.

The food stand had two sides, and I "manned" one of the sides. Occasionally Steve drifted over to see how I was doing. If there were no customers at the moment he would glare over at the ever-busy Nathan's and tell me to start shouting that we had hot dogs, "come and get your hot dogs."

Even at that callow age I could give someone a withering stare. I said nothing, but thought plenty. Are you nuts, little guy? My shouting into empty air, at no one, is going to draw people to your hot dogs? Steal customers from Nathan's? I remained silent, and eventually Steve went back to the other side with his wife and probably lamented he hadn't been born Jewish.

So every time the ESPN cameras put the entrance to the subway into view I reminisced. I haven't been back there in all these years, but it looked like the letters BMT were still visible on the subway's brick facade, standing for Brooklyn Manhattan Transit, one of the three predecessor subway companies that eventually became NYC Transit and the MTA.

The ESPN telecast and the contest is pure American hucksterism. The longtime M.C. George Shea, in his blue blazer and striped boater is pure professor Harold Hill from the musical 'The Music Man.' My guess is he's been written about colorfully in the past, but I was disappointed in today's NYT story on the contest.

The writer concentrated on the women's division, held separately before the main event, the men. It is a pity the words and hype spewed out from George were not given more play in the story. Every contestant that was introduced got a bit of a personalized introduction. One of the male contestants is a physics professor with a Ph.D. One black guy gyrated and busted loose as Mr. Shea introduced him with an incredible soliloquy of rap that had me wondering how is this guy Shea remembering all this? Another got an equal tongue-twisting introduction that had Mr. Shea pausing first to gather his thoughts and breath before launching into a Gilbert and Sullivan-like discourse.

But the best was last, after Joey Chestnut crushed the young man who beat him last year, Matt Stonie. As the digital clock recorded the time left and the consumed count, it was obvious to anyone who had any handle on math that Mr. Chestnut was going to coast to a Secretariat-length victory over his opponents.

Chick Anderson famously said of the horse in his call of that Triple Crown-earning Belmont race, "he's moving like a tremendous machine." George Shea in his greatest end-of-world-preacher-thunder voice after Joey's victory, intoned that Mr. Chestnut, "has God's user name and his password."

As for myself, I still like hot dogs. But I like Karl Ehmer hot dogs.