Friday, January 27, 2017

Survived By

A 91 year-old man passed away on Thursday and is survived by his wife of 67 years, a daughter and a granddaughter. "Survived by..." Even at an advanced age, men are still survived by their spouses.

This is not news. The comedian Alan King developed an entire routine of reading snippets of obituaries and getting to the part where the old guy was still survived by his wife. And not some chippy he might have wed in Las Vegas when he was newly widowed. He was never widowed, his wife of umpteen years was at his side when he passed on.

The tendency has been that men marry slightly younger women. So, on their demise, their is a widow who is close to their age. And assuming an advanced aged man and a long marriage, there is now a widow who is also long in the tooth who has had her partner of many, many years taken from them.

The Alan King routine was a comedy classic about the sequence of the demise of the people in the couple. Men first, no matter how old the women get to be, the guy goes first.

The 91 year-old man who passed away on Thursday was Mike Connors, an American actor of Armenian descent who became famous for his role as a detective in the long-running series 'Mannix,' during the late 60s and 70s. It ran for eight seasons.

I have to admit I didn't watch 'Mannix.' Reading the obituary I realized the years of the series coincided with my first years of long-term continuous employment, New York Ranger games, vast quantities of consumed beer and trying to beat my friend at straight pool. (It never happened.)  If I ever was home when the show was on I wasn't aware of it, and certainly couldn't find a way to care less.

The Mike Connors NYT obituary has a bit of a distinction in that the subject is past 90 and Robert McFadden is not on the byline. This tells me that Mr. Connors's obituary didn't rise up from the pre-written pile, but came about on the spot when news of the demise reached someone's desk. Eric Grode is not a usual byliner for obituaries.

But nothing is lost. We learn significant tidbits about Mr. Connors's life, particularly his part in raising awareness about Turkish genocide of Armenians during WW I. And, as a fan of the journalistic form, I also get to try and remember where was I when everyone else seemed to be making 'Mannix' a No. 1 show.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shorty's Caught. Now What?

Part of the United States' case against the Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo, Shorty) is to seek $14 billion in restitution in funds from the network of accounts and hiding places that he has created to hold the profits from his drug deals. Fourteen billion dollars is a huge number.

The mile and a half Second Avenue Subway in NYC that just opened cost $4.4 billion. Just think how much further downtown it might be able to go if another $14 billion were to become available. It might even reach 14th Street. The Second Avenue Subway could then be longer than the tunnel that was dug underneath his prison shower that provided his last means of escape from imprisonment. It is positively poetic.

The problem is, everyone will want a piece of the $14 billion dollars if it is actually recovered. Considering that President Trump campaigned on the promise that we were going to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and that Mexico was going to pay for it, what better way to fulfill a campaign promise than to use El Chapo's $14 billion to build the wall?

If there's any money left over, it should go to adding a stop or two to the Second Avenue Subway. In any direction.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Computerized dating is nothing new. It's been going on since at least the 70s, but now is digital, online, and can include video and photos. eHarmony and are state-of-the art date matching websites. I know of two couples in ongoing long-term relationships that started through eHarmony. So, something works.

Computer programming is far more sophisticated than it was 40 years ago, so now with answers to a well-researched list of questions--that if answered truthfully--a good match is more likely that can lead to a relationship that might grow beyond the first meeting, whether over coffee, dinner, or whatever. Everything is probability driven.

I'm not directly familiar with the "dating" site Ashley Madison, where those interested in stepping out on their spouses were to have registered and perhaps taken things further. (The site was hacked. Always troublesome.) Imagine what they could do with video, photos, and pointed questions as to preferences. My guess is that degree of prelims might be viewed as promoting prostitution, or adultery, but that's one for the legal people in the crowd.

The current book I'm reading is 'The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math are Taking the Luck out of Gambling," by Adam Kucharski, where betting schemes are written about, some that go back quite far, and others that use computer bots to read financial reports and cull data and text from online and printed news sources that help create and steer a stock market or commodities trade. We've probably heard about programmed trades by now. And of course there are programs that try and detect the programs and counter attack with nullifying moves. Nothing different than missiles and missile defense.

Whole chapters are devoted to blackjack and roulette wheels, and financial transactions, that other form of gambling. Gambling was always legal in the United States. It is called the New York Stock Exchange.

Did you know that a winner of the World Series of Poker, Craig Ferguson, had completed a Ph.D. in computer science the year before his victory? Mr. Ferguson comes from a family of math Ph.D.'s, with both parents holding the advanced degree. Hardly the bearded, disheveled, cookie-eating character Teddy KGB who inhabits a warren of decayed rooms in Brooklyn where high stakes poker games are played in the movie "Rounders.'

Which bring us to yesterday's story in the WSJ, "Many Call Centers Know a Surprising Amount About You."

The gist of the story is that there is a company called Afiniti International Holdings that has proprietary software installed in numerous call centers that uses what is publicly known about the caller from online sources like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter posts, and maybe as many 97 other databases to help route the call to someone in the center who is judged to be the best match to take that person's call. A call center date, so to speak. (Who gets Donald Trump's call was not mentioned.)

To me, the funniest part of the story is the description of an Afiniti board member who was a former executive at Verizon, Larry Babbio, who tells us, "it's a little scary to know how much information can be accumulated about you." Larry, you did work for a phone company, right?

Of course the privacy lobby is becoming aghast, but if what is being culled is publicly available it is no different than going through your trash. You put it out on the curb, the Cloud, so you have forfeited ownership. Years ago I knew of two customs agents who brought a neighbor's trash into a garage to go through it. No warrant needed.

The story talks of matching callers to people who might be best to sell something. Supposedly, the person answering the call doesn't know the caller's details that got the call routed to them, and they don't know what it is about themselves that makes them a good match to handle the call. The algorithm works at both ends to create the match. Mr. Babbio tells us "the trade-off [privacy] is a better consumer experience." Maybe we'll take him at his word.

Since call centers sell, as well answer complaints, my hope is that my health insurer will scan this post and and route my next call to someone who knows what they are talking about, rather than have me write to their CEO and receive a call and a two page letter explaining what went on, including
retraining the person who answered my call.

I look forward to being matched up with someone with a brain. What a concept.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Binge TV

All marathons are not 26.2 miles. There are the TV marathons, that tend to be as long as all the prior episodes in a particular series. In the case of a 'Twilight Zone' marathon, this will be all the episodes ever shown.

In the case of say a 'Homeland' marathon, it will be all the episodes prior to the upcoming season. And since Season 6 is about to start, we have Showtime goosing interest in the show with a full-out marathon of showing all the episodes in the first five seasons, This is 60 I think.

I missed the beginning of  'Homeland' when it started in 2011. When my son-in-law told me it was pretty good, I started to watch the show, starting maybe in Episode 3 or 4. He filled me in on the premise, and I think I stayed with it through the completion of the first season. I was there when Carrie Mathison has her bipolar episode and fades out with electro-shock therapy, mumbling the name Isssa.

I may have started Season 2, but for some reason I grew tired of Sergeant Nicholas Brody's face. He always looked like he was eating lemons. He had this puss I didn't like, plus he was a bad guy. I stopped watching the show. I may have picked it up in Season 5 when I was told that Brody had met a terminal fate. I remember I didn't know how this guy Peter Quinn got there, or station chief Allison, or how Carrie had had a baby, and how Dar Adal and Saul Berenson seemed to have taken over running the CIA for Israel. I lost interest again.

But then the 'Homeland' marathon starting adding shows to my DVR scheduled shows. List one of those series to be recorded and the DVR doesn't forget. You start getting the repeats, and unless you act fast, your DVR will fill up.

Given the marathon, I decided to keep the shows that were showing up hourly. I expanded the retention on the series and set it to record all. I had been watching Damien Lewis who played Brody, play the hedge fund billionaire, Bobby Axelrod in 'Billions' and started to relax my attitude toward his puss.

I will report I'm up to date on 'Billions,' and don't need a marathon to get me up to speed for the upcoming new season. As for the 'Homeland' marathon shows, I've now got them all and have been picking them off, usually about three a day. There are still over 40 shows to go, so I've got a nice winter planned. Used to be if you holed up in a cabin and waited out the snow in the wilderness you loaded in enough food and firewood to get you through the winter without having to leave your snowbound cabin. We stock different supplies now, but with the same objective of getting through the winter.

It has occurred to me that when I finish watching all the 'Homeland' episodes, perhaps by the middle of this month, I will have traveled over five TV years. It is thoroughly possible I'll notice how some of the actors have changed. Certainly those playing the children. You see this on 'The Americans,' (also up to date) how Paige, Henry, and Matthew have grown.

Visible aging or not, the actors playing these parts have grown 5-6 years older since the first episode. I haven't. I've added perhaps three weeks to my age since I've started watching Episode 1 in the marathon.

Einstein's theory of relativity seems to apply to binge watching. As you travel though the five years' worth of episodes in a few weeks, you are moving faster than the five years it took to produce the shows. Given the very little I've been able to refresh my memory about Einstein's theory, the faster you go away from the earth the slower time goes: seconds take longer, a phenomena known as time dilation.

A Google link offers this as an example:

The implications of Einstein's most famous theory are profound. If the speed of light is always the same, it means that an astronaut going very fast relative to the Earth will measure the seconds ticking by slower than an Earthbound observer will — time essentially slows down for the astronaut, a phenomenon called time dilation

I take this to mean that the astronaut is not adding elapsed time to his life as fast as those on earth. Thus, I'm not aging as fast as the characters in the series.

No wonder I still have nearly all my hair.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sing, Dance and Act

The death of Debbie Reynolds the day after her daughter Carrie passed away proved to be enough news to provide the media with plenty to so. Daughter/mother back-to-back deaths. Show biz. Cue the video. Death by broken heart, etc. Two days in a row the NYT carried front page obituaries, Carrie, then Debbie, pictured with daughter Carrie.

Live to be 84 like Debbie Reynolds, and still commanding attention in the entertainment world is quite an achievement. Even without the day-after-link to her daughter, Debbie Reynolds deserves the attention she got.

I remember the father of the brothers I became friends with in the mid-60s, commenting on the Radio City Rockettes, who actually went out on strike. This was the mid-60s, and the father, Sidney Piermont, was a CBS-TV producer, working on the Garry Moore and Carol Burnett shows.

His background was show business, having been a booking agent for Loew's vaudeville talent. From this he vaulted into doing USO shows in North Africa during WWII, actually getting a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound from a bomb that exploded nearby. His second wife was Mike Todd's secretary, Marjorie (Susan) whose red hair--ginger--was an instant attraction.

He may not have been 'Mr. Broadway' but a letter once addressed to him, only giving Times Square as the address, once reached him. He was a judge at the 1945 Miss America Pageant that awarded Bess Myerson the crown. Bess's New York roots and his own weren't enough however for him to vote for her. His vote went elsewhere.

Sidney was a Toots Shor regular, and his sons remember being introduced to all kinds of people at Toots's, sports, entertainment and mobsters alike. Frank Costello stopped by the table to say hello.

The point that's going on here is that Mr. Piermont was from a show business era that coincided with that of Debbie Reynolds, and others. So when the Rockettes went out on strike he shook his head that dancers could even be unionized. He said to get into show business you once had to be able to "sing, dance and act." Do all three, or take a hike. Like any era, things were changing.

Considering Debbie Reynolds's career, you can certainly say she had all three. As did Janet Leigh, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and many others who you might now be watching on Turner Movie Classic-like cable stations.

The Reynolds obit tells us she had never even danced professionally before her role in 'Singing in the Rain,' matching moves with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor at the age of 19, shown above. Perhaps not professionally danced, but she certainly knew how to dance. And consider the saloon dance scene in the movie 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.'  Who do you think could do that these days?

Yes, part of an era where you had to, "sing, dance and act."

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Most Unwanted Man

Imagine getting fatally shot while in someone's home and no one tries to find where you are when you obviously stop showing up where you might have next gone?

Okay, it was wartime, but the story of Marion Pritchard plugging a Dutch Nazi as the guy was about to round up the Jewish kids who had just come out of hiding and send them off to concentration camps, is a tale of situational bravery, as well as someone being so thoroughly disliked that no one even solved the case of where the missing Dutch Nazi might have gone,

Ms. Pritchard has now passed away at 96, described as a "wartime rescuer of Jews." The writer of Ms. Pritchard's obituary is Richard Sandomir, a new byline to the obits page, but a very seasoned reporter, who would usually be telling us about sports and the media. My guess is the layoffs and the buyouts at the Times have caused Mr. Sandomir to move to another desk. No matter, it's a great obit, and one of the few you'll read of someone who is 96 and not memorialized by Robert McFadden.

Ms. Pritchard was a Dutch gentile who aided in hiding Jewish families from the Nazi searches for Jews to ship to the camps. She was 22 at the time and she was already helping families evade capture. She was a Girl Guide, which I will take to being close to a Boy Scout, who was certainly earning her merit badges.

Apparently, in one instance in 1942, a Dutch Nazi, a civilian collaborator who was a former Dutch police officer, came back fairly quickly after finding nothing when he visited a home outside of Amsterdam earlier with three Nazi soldiers. There was a hoped for element of surprise when the families would have abandoned their hiding place, feeling safe, having evaded the previous search.

Well, the element of surprise was totally his, because Ms. Pritchard reached for a revolver and killed the guy. A local undertaker and no lover of Nazis, helped bury the guy in a coffin with another corpse. You have to consider the pallbearers and grave diggers were in on the deception because two bodies in one casket had to weigh a bit extra.

Turns out, she got away with it. Apparently, the former policeman was not well liked, perhaps being a 1940s version of a human from a "basket of deplorables."  No one seemed to miss the bum, and nothing came of his sudden disappearance from the face of the earth. Ms. Pritchard went on to a lifetime of social work and later became a psychoanalyst. The stuff of movies. Talk about a two-fer

Oddly enough, when the NYT obituary editor William McDonald filed his year-end wrap up of the year in obituaries, he mentions Ms. Pritchard, and as he looks to place her actions in the perspective of creating a legacy, he only mentions that she shot a Nazi "stooge," leaving out the part about fatally shooting a Nazi sympathizer. Coming from Mr. McDonald, this seems careless.

We know what Mark Twain said: The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter; 'tis the difference between the lighting bug and the lightning. And Ms. Pritchard certainly held the lightning in her hand.