Sunday, December 31, 2017

I See a City

My Pleasantville daughter Nancy got me a coffee table book, 'I See A City', from the Village bookstore. It is a collection of 1940s black and white photos taken by Todd Webb, with separate essays by Sean Corcoran and Daniel Okrent. I am familiar with Okrent from an obituary talk years and years ago at the New York Public Library and from his book on Prohibition, 'Last Call.' He was also the first public editor at the NYT, a job he told the audience at NYPL that meant he was head of the Complaint Department.

Of course this book is right up my alley. New York City. Photos. Reading Okrent's essay it occurs to me that it is always those not born in NYC who seem to write the most poetically about the town. I know Okrent is from Detroit, and he of course admits in his opening sentences that he arrived from the Midwest when the subway fare was 20¢ in the late 60s.

As he mentions, the city in the photos could still be seen in places even in the late 60s. Of course, being born in the city when the fare was 15¢, I've got Okrent beat by probably two decades. I walked past some of these places when I delivered flowers in the early 60s. I seem to remember Sig Klein's 'FAT MEN'S SHOP' sign. I remember the old gold leaf lettering on windows. And I do remember a 'BIG AND TALL' sign for men's clothes. 

It is obvious from the book that Todd Webb took lots of pictures along 3rd Avenue when the El was still there. Even after it came down there were still stores like the ones in his photos in the 60s.

Okrent is right when he says you can still find this past just by turning the pages of the book. I close my eyes and do that all the time.

The photographer, Todd Webb is famous for his New York photos. And if he didn't take any other than the 8 frames he edited together of an entire block of 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets, then he would still be famous.

The panorama is a masterpiece of presenting an entire city clock as one photo, with closeup detail evident throughout. This was then and now, a commercial strip of the city. The 1940s signage is priceless, and the prices displayed in the windows even more priceless. It is hard to believe a steam table gin joint named Martins could pay the rent and utilities while asking 30¢ for either corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, Virginia ham or fresh ham hot sandwiches.

My own memory of what a lunch cost at a Blarney Stone in the late 60s was that for 95¢ you got a hot sandwich, with pickles and a stein of beer. That's change from a dollar. Another stein was 15¢.

The book is certainly for New Yorkers. And for those who became New Yorkers.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Anglo Files

What better time than now to have just finished Sara Lyall's 'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British.'

We've got Prince Harry, Princess Diana's youngest son in the news on two fronts: his engagement and planned May 19th wedding to a divorced American actress three years older than him. On top of that, she's biracial. The times, they have a changed.

That alone has kept the media busy on both sides of the Atlantic, but then you've got a BBC 4 radio interview the prince did with former president Obama, his first out-of-office interview. Talk about Scoop.

The interview was apparently in September, and has now just been released worldwide. Thus it was before Harry's engagement. The media, never an entity to let speculation lay dormant, has immediately asked if the former president and his wife Michelle are going to be invited to the wedding. Prince Harry has already declared The Donald is not invited. The prince doesn't feel the current U.S. president is good for the environment. They don't share the same views on issues.

So, is Obama invited? The prince, displaying perfect diplomatic aplomb said that the list hasn't even been developed, and that he wouldn't want to ruin anyone's surprise before it is. The guy is a natural.

The NYT is following the unfolding stories closely. A rhetorical headline asks if we are living in the 'Golden Age of Anglophilia.' If you can name three British shows on PBS, as well the names of the heirs to the throne before Prince Harry (there are four, right now), then yes, you are an American Anglophile, and Ms. Lyall's book is for you. Order now.

Ms. Lyall is the perfect person to comment on the British—she's an American, and a native New Yorker on top of that. She spent 17 years in London as a journalist for the New York Times.
I remember reading stories with her byline and I always assumed she was British, that she just for some reason cut off the usual second name you find after the surname, after a hyphen. Something like Lyall-Covington. I imagined that perhaps this was done for email purposes.

But no, Ms. Lyall is married to a British editor, Robert McCrum, and they have raised two daughters in London. She and the daughters have moved back to the States since Ms. Lyall is still writing for the Times based in New York as an at-large reporter and filing diverse stories on VIP access to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclay's Center, Detroit's Little Caesars arena, along with its missing apostrophe, book reviews, and yes, of course, because why not, the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel. Ms. Lyall now has a bi-oceanic marriage, with her husband still working across the sea.

In 14 distinct chapters, Ms. Lyall casts a sharp eye at our bibulous, carousing cousins who are, in her opinion, sexually repressed, perhaps latently homosexual, somewhat snobby, living with insufficient sunlight and poor dental hygiene that all together combine to give them their still upper lip mentality.

The chapter on how the British enjoy the seashore is funny to us, but painfully true for the British. They get so few hours of sunlight, and so many hours of rain, that a beach excursion is nearly guaranteed to wind down with their eating their sandwiches and drinking their beverages in the car while the wind blows anything in its way out of sight, and the rain comes "chucking down." A Britisher with a sun tan is someone who obviously got one overseas, perhaps while in Bermuda.

There is a whole chapter on cricket, after which we still do not how the bloody game is scored, because Ms. Lyall doesn't know how the bloody game is scored and bloody well won't try and find out. We do however get a sense of the atmosphere surrounding matches. The most British of games still leaves us shaking our head.

Are there really coincidences in life, or just events that had some low probability of happening, but have now just happened?

I just finished the chapter on the House of Lords and what does a recent WSJ A-HED piece tell us: they're trying yet again to decrease the  600+ size of the legislative boy and get rid of the members who show up just to collect the now £300 daily stipend, get a parking space in the middle of London, read the paper and snore. The £300 is up from the £200 pound stipend described in her 2008 edition of 'The Anglo Files.' It is probably hard to get rid of people if you keep paying them more.

And aside from that story, there is the clipping I came across when I was doing some home office cleaning that tells of the British effort to pare down some of the sillier laws still on their books. Examples were wearing armor to sessions in the House of Lords; that was considered illegal. Add to that was striking the penalty for those who fire a cannon within 300 yards of a dwelling (is getting rid of that one really wise?) and beating a carpet in the street, unless the item can be classified as a doormat and is whacked before 8 a.m..

The United Kingdom (Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England) has a population of 36 million. Their House of Commons has 650 members. The House of Lords, despite some thinning out, still has 1,200 Lords and Ladies. Consider the United States, with 323 million people and a Congress and Senate that totals 535, and it might be understandable how so many screwy laws get put on their books. They are an over well-legislated and probably over-represented nation.

There is a hilarious chapter on pronunciation and their unfathomable (at least to us) British reluctance to use the word "toilet." They positively shake if they encounter it. Loo, or lavatory, not even "bathroom" seems to leave their lips.

And what is the origin of Loo anyway? You hear it a good bit on all those British shows we get. It is almost musical. The OED considers it "unknown,  M20, a water closet, lavatory." They won't say bathroom or toilet either, likely because the word is meant to convey the room/facility where the fixtures can be found.

Apparently, Kate Middleton's mother used the word "toilet" when she and William were going out, and it set the British tabloids into calling it "Toiletgate." The use of the word toilet was a clear indication that Kate's parents might be nice, but they were clearly "aspirational middle class."

As much as "toilet" might be held as a solecism by the U-class (upper class), there is an annual competition throughout the U.K. for the 'Loo of the Year.'

This is a true competition and was described in a WSJ A-Hed piece in December 2010. There is a British Toilet Association that organizes the competition with entry fees and nominations coming in from pubs, restaurants, shopping malls and government buildings. There are teams of inspectors who arrive unannounced at the nominated locations to score the facilities against a laundry list of features, including the presence of flowers, pictures, seasonal decorations, and anything that further personalizes the 'loo' experience. One entrant offered their own privately mixed mouthwash for patrons to use.

(There is no evidence that the British Toilet Association ever once considered using the song 'Skip, Skip, Skip, to my Loo' as its theme song. Pity. It would be perfect.)

Britain seems to have shied away from their historical importance in developing indoor plumbing and the "water closet."  Sir John Harrington, a writer under Queen Elizabeth I, is credited with inventing the flush toilet in 1596. In the late 1800s, Thomas Crapper built ornate toilets for British royalty and helped develop indoor plumbing.

You would think with a heritage like that the British would trumpet their contribution to human waste disposal and come up with a better word than the musical sounding 'loo.'

The A-Hed piece came a few years after Ms. Lyall's publication date, but it by no means leaves 'The Anglo Files' out of date. There are great asides offered as footnotes, sometimes extensive footnotes, that further amplify and document her observations.

Given the people who are acknowledged by Ms. Lyall in helping her put the book together and accomplish the research needed to find so many parliamentary utterances that offer proof of the unique behavior patterns of  the British people, you have to believe there must be Brits who feel these helpers are traitors to their culture for spilling the beans to an American.

But Ms. Lyall continued to live and work for many years in London after the publication of her insight on what it means to being British. The Brits who might have taken umbrage with having an American try and describe them have taken it like Ms. Lyall describes them: They soldier on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Pennsylvania Station

I started going in and out of Penn Station when I was a small boy. Going to Chicago with my mother to see her relatives. Seventeen hours on the Broadway Limited, 4 p.m. due to arrive in Chicago at 9 a.m. the next day. If on time.

Initially, this trip back to my mother's family in Illinois was started with a United Airlines flight from LaGuardia, sometime in the 50s. Four engine Constellation prop, if I've got that right. Or maybe a DC something or other. Most memorable flight I ever had.

It was summer, and there was so much rain that the plane couldn't get past Toledo, Ohio. Flying in those days was done through the weather, not above it. Ten thousand feet, that's it. All the passengers were put up in a hotel, courtesy of United, and we continued on the next morning. Think about that level of passenger care happening today!

Chicago was awash in flooding. One of their worst rains ever. My mother was completely sworn off flying after that. All aboard.

Chicago was the long distance train ride, leaving and arriving at the upper level of Penn Station. Then there were the LIRR trips into the city from Murray Hill, on the Port Washington line. Twenty-two minutes, and you're in the city.

Even as I got older and still used the LIRR to go into hockey games at the "new" Madison Square Garden I don't think it ever occurred to me to wonder why was it called Penn Station? We're in New York. What's up with that?

There has been no greater sin committed in NYC than the demolition of Penn Station in the 1960s. It took two years to knock the "Parthenon" down, but when it was finished, Madison Square Garden was built in the space over the tracks and an office building, 2 Penn Plaza. The Garden was opened in 1968 with a USO show starring Bob Hope. There have been a few renovations to the Garden, with the latest recently being completed to the tune of $780 million dollars. It is now the oldest arena in the NHL, with no need of needing anything more to be done to it

Last week I took in the Train Show at the Bronx Botanical Gardens with my daughter and her fiance. Nearly as soon as you enter you are faced with a replica of Pennsylvania Station, atop what looks like the Acropolis, with trains running underneath, just like they would have, and still of course do, but without the Parthenon on top.

I've never seen a replica of the station, and it is interesting to see it in 3-D, It truly looked like something left by by the Pharaohs, or the ancient Greeks. How odd to do the math and realize that the station was only in existence for 54 years, built in 1910, and demolished in 1964. Unless it is a military cemetery, there are plenty of cemeteries not filled up with 54 year-olds.

I explained to my future son-in-law, who grew up on Long Island and had little exposure to the City, that the incongruity of having a grand rail station named Pennsylvania in New York City was explained by the fact that the Pennsylvania Railroad built the station when they built the rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River.

Until that time, barges had to bring the coal across the river that was mined in Pennsylvania. The railroad had no direct rail link to Manhattan. That final link was made when the tunnels and the station were built. No more waterway transportation.

I showed Greg where the cabs used to enter the station, at the extreme right in the above photo. You can see the break n the sidewalk, where there is really a driveway.  Imagine that being there with the number of people who are in that area today. Of course, if there was no Garden, there might be less people, but New York now never sleeps, and is always busy, at any hour.

When my father and I closed up the flower shop at 18th Street and 3rd Avenue my father was tired, having already been working all day at his first job in the Design Division at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Thus, he treated us to a cab ride to Penn Station to get our train home to Flushing, the Murray Hill stop.

This was generally at around 9:00 p.m. and Manhattan was already almost all in bed. The cab sped up Third Avenue, hung a left at 33rd Street, where Zwerling Brothers haberdashery was, with their name on the top of the awnings.

Going westbound didn't take long either then. We always hit the light at 7th Avenue and 33rd Street, but just across the street was Penn Station, where when the light turned green the cab sped across 7th and took careful aim to drive between the two right columns. I always thought we were going to hit the columns. There wasn't a great deal of space, but like a getaway driver fleeing a bank robbery, it wasn't the first day on the job for the cabby.

As soon as the columns were cleared you went down a fairly steep ramp toward what was nicknamed 'The Pit.' I can still create the sound in my head of the tires humming against the cobblestones and abruptly pulling up at the first drop-off point, the LIRR. The drop-off for the long-distance trains, what today would be Amtrak, was a little further into the The Pit. The cab could then exit at Eighth Avenue, and start all over again.

The cab fare generally metered out at under a dollar. My father was always holding change from the shop register to pay the fare, and add what I gathered was a 15 or 20¢ tip. The going rate then. At least I assume so, since a surly 'thank you' was never uttered.

The LIRR level then was never what I would call "nice." Fast food wasn't evident then, but there was a Nedicks, where cheap franks and an orange drink could be had. There was a men's clothing store, 'Fayman's Fashion,' a knock-off name of the chain 'Famous Fashion.' The two stores I loved the most were the Doubleday book store, and Hoffritz for Cutlery, with their display of Swiss Army knifes and kitchen knives.

The level was functional, as it is today, and actually a good bit nicer today. In that era, they actually closed the doors leading to the tracks when the train was ready to depart. Taking the 9:24 on Track 19? Well, unless you used the back staircases, and my father knew them all, and now of course so do I, there would be a uniformed conductor, who didn't say 'All Aboard' but who did close the door to the the main staircase when the train was due to depart. Imagine that today.

Upstairs were the long-distance trains, and this is where the architecture of the place was visible, the vaulted ceilings, the grand staircases, etc. But despite all the grandeur of the place, it was seedy in the 50s and 60s. Dimly lit and of course smoky, because smoking then was not prohibited, the upper level was drafty and to me, not greatly appealing. But I was just a kid, so what did I know? I did like to see the metal signs change that announced the destinations of the trains leaving below: Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond.

Calls to move the Garden continue, but with an estimate of $3.5 billion to create a version that would replicate the old Penn station, any chance that anyone is going to make the old Penn Station reappear in NYC is as good as infinitesimal. But that will never keep the architectural critics from writing about the need to do so.

The Golden Age of Rail travel is the segment of time that the old Penn station lives in. There was the movement of thousands of people who went through there during the war years. Servicemen who took a train to go to war. and servicemen who took a train to return home. My father would have been one such person headed to Oklahoma, Fort Sill, for basic training in 1942. Mt mother would have taken a train from Chicago to Nashville to the Thayer Hospital for her nursing duties. America didn't run on Dunkin' then; it ran on trains.

Thomas Wolfe wrote of Penn Station:

The station...was murmurous with the immense and distant sound of time. Great, slanted beams of moted light fell ponderously athwart the station’s floor and the calm voice of time hovered along the walls and ceiling of the mighty room, distilled out of the voices and movements of people who swarmed beneath. It had the murmur of a distant sea, the languorous lapse and flow of waters on a beach... Few buildings are vast enough to hold the sound of time, and...there was a superb fitness in the fact that the one that held it better than all the others should be a railroad station. Here, as nowhere else on earth, men were brought together for a moment at the beginning or end of their innumerable journeys, here one saw their greetings and farewell, here in a single instant one got the entire picture of human destiny. Men came and went, they passed and vanished, all were moving through the moments of their lives...but the voice of time remained aloof and unperturbed, a drowsy and eternal murmur below the immense and distant roof.

With poetry like that, it is no wonder Penn Station keeps getting written about and the demolition regretted.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Fate Avoided (For Now)

It was getting fairly ridiculous. The stacks of clippings were getting so high pictures on the wall were no longer visible. Believe it or not, what you're seeing above is a VAST improvement from what was there before.

It's almost like I performed liposuction on what was on top of the bookcase I built years ago, and what was falling into the space between bookcase and the printer. Cleaned up, it looks a bit like Willets Point, next to Shea Stadium, now Citi Field, when the city decided enough was enough and ordered the junk yards that are still there that they had to move things back a bit because they had actually encroached on a city street and made it disappear. (I wonder if Google Maps has been back.)

They moved the junkers back and exposed the street, and I tied up five bundles of clippings, headed for a storage box...when I get the box, or boxes.

One of the pleasures of re-reading some of the clippings I've saved was coming across one from October 1992, a Russell Baker piece that speculated what it was going to be like when Ross Perot was elected president. There was not going to be a cabinet, and all the lobbyists in then $1,000 suits and alligator shoes, those loafers with tassels, were going to be rounded up at Union Station and put out of work.

Also, President Perot was going to run the country from Dallas, away from the White House. This was to insure that there then could no longer be "sources close to the White House..." since there was no one in the White House. Thinking about this in the current context, you do have to wonder if Mr. Baker had a better idea of how in 1992, 25 years ago, Trump could be a better president if he just stayed where he came from, in his case, New York City, rather than cadging meals from the White House kitchen.

Only finding one piece from the 1990s was perplexing. I've been cutting clippings out for a long time, so surely there are others from that time frame. My guess is that particular piece became separated from its contemporaries. Where they are is another story.

There were a few Maureen Dowd pieces from 2008 or so, when she worked harder and her pieces appeared in a weekly print edition, rather than just the solo Sunday snarky tirades she turns in these days. The examples I saved were from an era when she was worth reading. Obits and horse racing dominated the rest of the lot.

Perhaps quite fittingly, I also came across a 2003 story from the NYT by the redoubtable Robert McFadden that told the story of a Bronx man who was rescued from an avalanche of newspapers and magazines that fell on top of him in his Bronx apartment. He apparently was also sleeping in the 10' x 10' room, and was smothered by a cascade of newsprint.

McFadden, being a veteran reporter, and even more of one now, of course blended into the story the tale of the Collyer Brothers, the really eccentric brothers that were found dead in their 12-room Fifth Avenue mansion in 1947, buried under what you might expect from hoarders, magazines, books and newspaper, but who in addition added a collection of 14 grand pianos, chandeliers and an automobile chassis. And booby trapped the place to prevent burglars from entering. No mention was made of a kitchen sink, but I'm sure one was there as well.

My mother-in-law, who was from England, would always describe a  messy room as "Collyer's Mansion." Until I read stories about the brothers I always thought she was going on about some squire's house in the English countryside, something like Downton Abbey, that had fallen into ruin. And because of the long-ago magazine, I always thought Collyer was spelled Collier.

I don't consider my own my own accumulation of things to be anything approaching a psychological condition. I'm nothing like the Collyer brothers, nothing like the Bronx man Patrice Moore, and certainly nothing like the fellow I wrote about a few years ago who was a friend's neighbor in Middletown, NJ. When he died, the family found 51 lawn mowers scattered around the property, in the cellar and the garage, that were being saved for parts, or someday repair.

As noted in the posting I wrote about Bill, he certainly was one lawn mower short of a full deck.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Treasure Island

Say you're a pirate. You're in need of a place to store your treasure chest of rare jewels, gold doubloons, pieces of eight, silver, and whatever else that you recently plundered from that ship you make wash ashore onto the rocks in last night's gale.

You drag the chest into a remote area of Nas-sow (Nassau, as pronounced in the Starz series 'Black Sails'). Shovel in hand you count the northerly paces from that big tree over there and start to dig and bury your treasure. You make a map, and mark the spot with an X. You'll be back. Or so you think.

There's a new government in Britain and Nassau and they're cracking down on all those off-shore accounts. You need to move the treasure. Launder the funds into something else. Maybe American dollars?

But where's the map? Did that cute, clever whore Monique filch it from your clothing when you had that little romp last week? Did the ship's cook steal the map? Did it wash away when you had to jump overboard to avoid capture? You see the dilemma. You can't get to your gains. "Oh where, oh where can my fortune be?" It's a more common problem than you might expect. "Where did the dough, go?"

Turns out owners of the digital currency Bitcoin are having the same problem that rum-addled pirate had hundreds of years ago. They can't find their passwords, and therefore can't get to their digital wallets and cash in their Bitcoins, currency that has soared from its initial value, and even value of not so long ago. Bitcoins are hot.

The WSJ in their A-Hed piece yesterday recounts the tale of sudden Bitcoin millionaires who have forgotten their passwords and therefore cannot log into their accounts and cash out. The story doesn't get into it, but do Bitcoins eventually become abandoned property and become escheat funds and revert to the state?  Robin Williams once wondered who gets Mick Jagger's blood when Mick checks into a Swiss rehab to recover from drugs? Well, who gets the Bitcoins, Putin, Trump, Cuomo, the Winklevoss twins? Someone is going to come looking for that treasure.

Access to Bitcoin currency is protected by a private and public key. This key is a stunning series of numbers and letters that would make a permutation count somewhere in the triple exponent range. Virtually uncrackable. The story gives a 62 character example, with each character space having virtually at least 36 possibilities. Take 62 out to an exponent of 32, and you definitely get to come back on the show next week.

Nouveau millionaires who have misplaced their access to their private key have taken to using services that try and crack the private key—for a fee of course. In some instances this has been successful. One desperate "millionaire" is planning to excavate a garbage dump where his thumb drive might have gone. Four years ago.

The whole concept of Bitcoins is hard to understand. What is easy to understand is if you start off with something worth very little, and now it is worth quite a bit, you'd like to cash out. Who needs to understand economics? "Show me the money."

Chainanalysis, a concern that tracks the movement of Bitcoins, estimates that perhaps 2.8 million to 3.8 million, or 23%! of the total supply is lost. At today's valuation, that is an incredible sum of money that my calculator pegs at $72.2 billion. Anyone want to improve the nation's infrastructure?

But who do you collect the "money" from? A server farm somewhere? That pirate thinks he had it bad.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


It is a great photo.

Peeking out through a forest of flags, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen in Brussels where major progress has been made with E.U. leaders on how Britain will accomplish their Brexit from the European Union.

It is a watershed moment, because until now there have been months of difficult diplomacy, which might now start bearing fruit.

Ms. May, as usual, looks natty in her wool coat, with a hint of knee peeking out from the under the hem line.

As we all know, Ms. May is locked in a battle with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel for the title of 'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.'

This latest photo, appearing in Saturday's NYT, continues to keep Ms. May in the lead as the two leaders power their way down the stretch.

He Split the Arrow

Mixed doubles. Of course there are mixed doubles in tennis; a male and female on each side. And I suspect it might even be true for ping-pong, perhaps badminton and beach volleyball. But curling? No, right? No, wrong!

I was slightly starved for some sports to watch on TV the other evening. Is there a hockey game on? This always means either a New York Ranger game, or one where Doc Emrick is doing the play-by-play. Other games need not apply.

Nada. But in searching the channels where I might find a game I'm willing to watch, I drifted over to NBCSN, where Doc could be announcing a game. Nope. But, there was another competition, on ice. Interested in curling?

If you've not been in a coma for the past two months or so, you must know by now that the Winter Olympics are coming in February 2018. And where are they coming from? Who the hell cares? But it is South Korea. That's wonderful. North Korea might interrupt the snow boarding competition with a missile. I'm not sure I would know who to thank.

Regardless, we also know that to field a national Olympic team you need Olympic trials. And that is what was on NBCSN the other night from Minnesota, mixed doubles in curling. I was spellbound with disbelief.

You mean, for whatever reason they've managed to proliferate curling even further by having a "mixed doubles competition?" Nulla misericordia.

From what I could see of who was in attendance in the crowd who might have somehow paid money to see this, or even wandered in to use the bathroom, there was no one in the stands. Well, nearly no one. A hospital elevator holds more people than I could see on the screen.

No matter, there they were. A guy and a female on each team trying to do something with those stones they aim down the ice alley at a figure of concentric circles with a bull's-eye that could only make be think of what my wife might have gotten at Target today.

So, there are mixed doubles, ergo, there must be same gender doubles. This is like swimming where they manage to have an event for each distance for four different strokes. Event inflation.

Even though our two girls were competitive swimmers through college, and then Jones beach life guards, watching swimming is numbingly dull, even if you have a rooting interest. After awhile, people moving through the water by moving their arms and kicking with their feet all looks the same, no matter how technical the strokes can be. And they can get disqualified for stroke and turn infractions.

Curling resembles shuffleboard on ice. Broadcasting curling uses on screen digital arrows or chalk marks to show us where the stone needs to be glided to in order to dislodge the competitor's stone and leave your stone in scoring position. I think there are even replays. Can't get a ticket to a marquee Winter Olympic event, like hockey? Head for the curling competition. They can't really charge you for sitting in on that, can they?

Need another sport to watch when the selection options get thin? Try darts. On BBC America I saw that they were promoting World Dart Championships on Saturday mornings. Years ago I had set up a dart board in the cellar of the house we had in Flushing. The games provided some friendly, competitive fun that went along with the beer and ale drinking. No cellar in the current house, therefore no dart board ever got set up.

The Brits take their dart games seriously, and believe it or not, the games make good broadcasting viewing. The competitors are generally middle-age guys with blue collar bodies, with some visible tattoos. Their shits are a cross between bowling and NASCAR logo-laden wear.

The audience is positively raucous; soccer fans indoors, linking arms, chanting, singing, holding up face masks of their favorite players; dressed funny.

And if you think a dart board is too little to see from any vantage point other than the one the player has, large screen TVs bring you the action closeup. And there is action.

The games move swiftly, with each player starting with a score of 501 and then having to work their way down to zero, with the final scoring dart needing to land in a double zone. I don't think a game last even 5 minutes.

There are no replays, and annoying commentary from ESPN analysts as to where the pitcher has to place the cut fastball in order to fool the batter. The players work quickly and with incredible accuracy. If they need a double 8, to close out, they will likely score a double 8 and move on. The games are clustered in sets and legs.

The guys I watched on yesterday's telecast wee of course top notch players. They seldom missed the numbers they needed to work their way down from 501. They knew heir math.

How refreshing. No calculators needed at the register in order to make change. If 50 points were needed to close, these guys knew instinctively where to try and place their three darts so that they could close out with a double while working their way down to zero. They were human calculators.

In high school we had a mechanical drawing teacher who just before the bell had us go around the room and count upward by say eighths, requiring us to reduce the cumulative number into its simplest eighth, one quarter, three-eights, one half, etc. If you stumbled, you got extra work to do.

Since you start with 501, the treble value 20 is aimed for at the outset. And if you place your three darts in that narrow zone you have automatically lowered your score by 180 points. Nice work if you can do it.

One guy put his three darts so close together in the treble 20 that I could only think of my favorite scene in the Errol Flynn movie 'Robin Hood,' where Sir Robin of Locksley, being unable to resist showing show off at archery, splits his opponent's arrow that has nestled nearly dead center in the bull's-eye, thus winning the contest.  "He split the arrow!" Robin of course is taken into custody, but we know that won't last.

Saturday's edition of the first round of the 2017 World Championship of Darts ended at noon. I don't think I was watching it live, but there a good deal more life there than at a curling competition.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I Just Want to Thank...

In yesterday's NYT the book critic Jennifer Senior told the readers she will be leaving her job as a book critic for the Times. Where she's going she didn't say, but she leaves her readers with her thoughts on the Acknowledgment part of books that is now so prevalent.

This is where the author thanks whomever they want to. The list can be long, short, flowery, trite, moving, whatever. Ms. Senior helps us translate what some of these tidbits really mean. She admits that she's written acknowledgments herself.

I was moved to leave a comment last night. When I got there there were all of 7 comments already filed, some that only were expressing sadness at her leaving. I don't know how this makes someone feel, that their bylined work in a newspaper with the reach of the NYT only moves 7 people. now 8 to leave a  comment. The comment count this morning as I write this is now 22. The capacity of a good hotel's elevator.

The comment count can probably be seen as an indicator about how little people care about book acknowledgments. I will admit I do read them, but I can never put faces on all the names that are listed. It's like grabbing a phone book and flipping through the pages. I don't know any of those people either.

My own comment to Ms. Senior's piece was that if you watch an old movie on Turner and catch the credits you will never see that Best Boy, Key Grip, the caterer, or the mayor's office of Ottawa are acknowledged. The credits are not interminable.

I do not know when acknowledgements started to appear in publishing. Perhaps when word processing was introduced. I remember Russell Baker in a column attributed the doorstopper length of novels that were then being written to the fact that now the writing was done on a computer by most writers. This easily led to more pages. And probably acknowledgements. After all, writer's cramp from using a fountain pen had now been replaced with a QWERTY keyboard.

I further posed the rhetorical question if Hemingway listed the support he got from whomever when he finished a book? Did he when publishing 'Old Man and the Sea' thank that captain who was guiding the boat that he was on while drinking scotch and fishing for marlin in Key West? Did Hemingway thank the deck hands, the scotch, the marlin, or the tuna?

I once did respond once to an Author's Query in the NYT Book review asking for anything anyone had to share about Eric Severid, the TV journalist who looked the part of a talking head before the phrase came in to existence.

Eric was older, with thinning but well groomed silver hair who wore a good looking suit when he imparted his wisdom to the audience. He had bearing. You could sense he'd been around the world and seen plenty. And that's because he had, because he was a WW II correspondent and was now opining from experience and not speculation. The, "I think they are going to have to..." drivel that spouts from 25 year-old "Senior Political Correspondents" that have spent more time being groomed than reading or being anywhere noteworthy. Fluff pieces.

The author's query came from Richard A. Schroth, S.J. In 1995 he subsequently published a biography of Mr. Sevareid, 'The American Journey of Eric Sevareid,'  I bought and read the book. When I read the acknowledgements I was surprised to see that my name appears in the acknowledgement section, along with a host of other names, names of people I of course didn't know then, and still don't know.

My shared anecdote about Mr. Sevareid appears nowhere in the book, but the author, I guess in the spirit of fair play, included my name.

I'm likely the only one who on reading my name knows who that is. A real acknowledgement would have been a free autographed copy of the book.

Packing a book up and mailing it to me after standing in line at the post office that tells me you are grateful.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Name the Entertainer

The 2012 movie 'Stand Up Guys' works hard for every part of its two and a half stars. In fact, two and a half might be generous by a half, but no real matter. If anything, the movie is worth watching because it is mercifully short, stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, who play a trio of now elderly heist artists who get together for one last score. Or it is one last score that's settled? It doesn't matter.

Desperate for something to watch last night since my DVR recordings have all been played out, I tried On Demand, the free on demand. It took a bit but I took a flyer on 'Stand Up Guys,' based on the cast.

The movie's redeeming quality is watching the three main actors act. Other than that, it's a fairly predictable plot that ends rather predictably. But on the way to killing time there are some extremely funny parts, and even one touching one late at night in a cemetery when there is a do-it-yourself burial.

There is one scene that you could build a whole trivia jackpot game on. Who is on the TV when Pacino and Walken surprise a gang of young wannabe wise guys yukking it up in their warehouse man cave?

Outnumbered, perhaps 5-2, Pacino and Walken (Arkin is the wheel man in the parked car) are interested in exacting a little revenge and teach a little respect to the youngsters for disrespecting a young woman named Sylvia. They were not particularly nice to Sylvia, and when the trio release her naked from the trunk of the sports car they just stole from the wannabes, it is plain to expect being outnumbered and geriatric will present no problem at all. Firearms and excellent aim help.

If I hadn't recently caught up with my newspapers and took in Wayne Cochran's obituary in Thursday's November 28th NYT I wouldn't have had a clue as to who was fleetingly seen on TV in that man cave before attention must be paid.

Wayne Cochran, who I feel a little ashamed to admit I never heard of, was considered the blue-eyed white soul singer who early in his career wrote and recorded  the teen classic 'Last Kiss'..."Where oh where can my baby be..." I never knew Pearl Jam covered the song, and I never knew Wayne's 'Goin' Back to Miami' was covered by 'The Blues Brothers' in the John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd movie of the same name.

For those who knew of Wayne Cochran, or took in the obit, then you know he performed with a enormous pompadour that eventually went silver. Seen above, Wayne's hair makes Trump's hair seem like yellow sage brush compared to the ski slope he sported on his head.

When I went to download a few of Wayne's numbers today from iTunes there was one of the songs he popularized, 'Get Down With It.' The song is only available on the album, and the album happens to be the soundtrack from 'Stand Up Guys.' We live on a Mobius strip.

Obituaries. Don't leave home without reading them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mad Magazine

The news conference yesterday in front of the Port Authority after the fairly unsuccessful terrorist bombing is not the occasion you look forward to to hear the subway lines referred to by their old designations, but there was the NYC Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill describing to all that the explosion took place in the passageway between the IRT and the IND lines that connects the Times Square station with the Port Authority bus terminal.

The more commonly recognized numerical and alphabetical designations were mentioned, but not until IRT and IND passed his lips. The commissioner's roots were showing. And a little bit of his age, 59.

As much as you might think all NYC police commissioners are NYC natives and came up through the patrol ranks, this is not always the case. Not all that long ago the police commissioner was Lee P. Brown, from Houston, Texas. Commissioner Brown made so many trips back to his origins that he was nicknamed by those who didn't like him, 'Out-of-Town-Brown.' He wasn't popular.

As anyone who can remember the subway token, and perhaps even 15¢! tokens will tell you, the NYC subway system was built by three private companies, the Interborough Rapid Transit Co—the IRT; The Independent Company—the IND; and the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Company—BMT. No standardization was ever thought of. All three lines used different gauge track. Thus, the cars from one line cannot run on either other line. This creates maintenance and storage problems, since everything is separate. Not the way you would build a railroad today.

Even though the commissioner is a decade younger than myself, I'm going to guess he read 'Mad Magazine' as a lad making his way through grade school, and maybe even high school. Reading is always good for you, even if it's a comic book. 'Mad' is still around, although I haven't seen it for decades. There are no physician offices that I've ever been in that seem to subscribe to it. That is a shame.

Satirical and cartoonish, the magazine always featured Alfred P. Newman on its cover, the "What, Me Worry" character. Inside were great cartoon features, like Spy vs. Spy, a strip I always believed gave us Boris and Natasha on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

If you were really paying attention to all the things in 'Mad' magazine you of course would know there was always a cartoon figure nestled in the M of the MAD title that for some reason was pointing to where the IND was. It's hard to make out, but the 1961 cover above shows someone sticking out from the M giving direction s to the subway.

Trust me, he's telling you how to get to the IND line.


Several years ago Barack Obama, before he was president, had a book out titled 'The Audacity of Hope.' For the purposes of this post, what the book was about is not the theme. It's the word in the title, 'Audacity.' It's a stern word, somewhat like the similar sounding word 'mendacity' that Tennessee Williams used in his play 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' that Big Daddy rolls around in his throat.

One of my annual journeys is to go to Saratoga for a week's worth of attendance to take in thoroughbred racing at Saratoga Raceway. And as anyone who does this knows, the track is closed on Tuesday, the so-called 'Dark Day.' It's not the horses that need a rest from the six week meet, it's the people ho run the place. It's a welcome break anyway.

The off-day always results in a trip to Manchester Center in Vermont to do a little preliminary Christmas shopping and to always browse through the Northshire book store.  On the last journey to the Mecca at the Finish Line I spotted a book in Northshire titled, 'All the Law in the World Won't Stop Them.' The cover carries a vintage photo of Saratoga policeman, carrying a night stick, wearing a helmet style cap, sporting a mustache, and casting a stern look at the proceedings on what looks like Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Be good, or else.

The book is by Greg Veitch, and turns out to be self-published through the Shires Press. Greg Veitch turns out to be a fifth-generation Saratogian who is the Chief of Police. Anyone who follows racing should recognize the name Veitch. There's a Mike Veitch who is a writer for the Daily Racing Form, and there's a John Veitch,who was a trainer for Calumet farm. Same Veitch family? Turns out yes.

An email query to Greg was answered and Mr. Veitch informed me:

As for my lineage.  Yes, my father is Mike Veitch the turf writer.  I am not sure if he writes for the Daily Racing Form specifically. I am sure he has, but he has written for many publications and I am frankly not aware of all of them. 

John Veitch the former Calumet Farms trainer is my grandfather's cousin.  John's father, Hall of Fame trainer Sylvester Veitch and my great-grandfather Sid Veitch were brothers.  Sid was a jockey, sometimes, when he wasn't throwing races or punching other jockeys and getting suspended, or riding around in cars involved in mob murders!  Their father was Silas Veitch who is up for consideration for the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.  I think I got that right...

It was the part in the introduction about Sid Veitch that hooked me into buying the book. Greg describes an incident where Sid is riding around in a car one night with a boatload of gangsters when one of them shoots one of the other guys and they dump him out at a hospital. The police question Sid, who tells the investigating officer, "I don't know who shot the poor fellow because I was in the front seat and the shooting took place in the back seat."

If that isn't a pure Jimmy Breslin response then nothing is.

Mr. Veitch provides a chronological narrative of the Saratoga Springs though 1921. There is a good deal of audacity in that village. Gambling at the track and casino-style gambling was always part of the town. And with it came the people who ran these gambling venues, gangsters from New York City, and other parts of the nation. Arnold Rothstein, the fixer of the 1919 World Series eventually finds his way to the town, and opens a resort-style venue, The Brook.. It turns out the house Mr. Rothstein was married in is still there, and Mr. Veitch gives us the address. The next dark day I might pay a visit.

The village goes through decades of constant expansion and contraction of openly allowing gambling, and also cracking down on it and raiding the joints. The pinnacle of audacity is when the gamblers gain access to their confiscated gambling tables that are being held at the jail, and make off with them. You gotta have the tables to go back into business.

An inside job? No kidding, and police officials, gamblers, and even the Saratoga County DA, Charles Andrus, are subjected to trials. Verdicts vary.

Saratoga is somewhat like a farm system for the mob. Mentioned is that Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano  each worked roulette wheels and dealt cards in their climb to the top of the organizations. Everybody has got to be someplace.

Interesting to note is that the big venues did not allow non-Saratogians to gamble, and no women from anywhere allowed to place bets. Roulette tables were sometimes rigged with magnets underneath. The natural take was never enough.

Something I didn't know, was that one year when the village do-gooders really applied some clout, there was no racing at he track, and therefor no gambling at the track. The track has been opened since 1864, with very few interruptions.

The names and events are colorful, and certainly point to Saratoga being Las Vegas before Las Vegas. The wheeler-dealers that have floated through the boundaries created a rich history and probably a good precedent for those who followed. State Senator and Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno from Saratoga County certainly could be pointed to following in the tradition of being tried for corruption, found guilty, and then later exonerated with an overturned conviction when the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of 'honest services' by a public official is worked into the fraud charges.

I've never been to Saratoga Springs in the fall, but I'm sure the old trees are as colorful as the past.

Monday, December 11, 2017

He's a Prince of a Guy

There is a saying that goes, "you're one in a million." Which, someone who is good at math has turned into "yeah, that means if you're in China, there are 2,000 people just like you."

(There are a thousand millions in a billion, and at least two billion people in China, so come on, do the math and get the answer of 2,000. Extra credit is if you do the math for India.)

As some people might know by now, a Leonardo da Vinci painting 'Salvator Mundi' (Savior of the World) has recently sold at auction for $450.3 million, fees included. Since there can be a 25% premium for items bought at auction, that is some sales commission Christie's has earned for itself.

The sale occurred three weeks ago, with the buyer then being undisclosed, since they won the bidding war via telephone bids. In Thursday's paper, the identity of the buyer was made public by the New York Times. A Saudi prince.

Americans are somewhat steeped in knowledge of the royal family of England, but the royal family of Saud? Not so much.

We know of Prince Philip, Philip Charles, Prince William, and of course now Prince Harry, who just announced his engagement to a biracial Catholic divorced American actress who is three years older than the 33-year-old prince. The prince's mother, Princess Diana is no longer with us, but one can reasonably speculate her reaction to such a match up would be approval for two people really in love.

Prince Harry's grandmum, the 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth, might not really be taking that news so well, but things change, and Harry is two generations removed from when she was getting reading to marry Philip.

In fact, Harry is fifth in line to ascend to the throne, with his father waiting patiently in the wings for mum to pass the royal scepter to him. Since Queen Elizabeth is now the longest reigning monarch in England, and her mum lived to be 101, passing away in 2002, when Prince Charles ascends to the throne it might be to a royal padded wheelchair. Motorized, of course.

In fact, Prince Harry is so far down the line of succession that there is little worry that the throne will be his. It would take a very bad amusement park accident to occur that had all the members of the royal family on it to vault Prince Harry toward any expectancy of being King.  At Ascot, he's a long shot. If the royal family were the mafia, Prince Harry might not even make capo.

But back to the buyer of the da Vinci. He's been identified as, hold on: Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin al-Saud.

As anyone who might be even a causal reader of these posts might know, I have a keen familiarity with the world of thoroughbred racing. Arabian royalty has been interested in the game for decades, with all thoroughbreds tracing their bloodlines back to three stallions: Darly, Godolphin and Byerly Turk. The Arabs have bought sires and broodmares for stunning amounts in the hopes of some day winning the Kentucky Derby. (For some reason, inside the entrance to the men's room at Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC on the 6th floor, there is a framed print of Byerly Turk. There is also an expression to "piss like a race horse," so maybe there really is a connection.)

Mohammad bin Salman al-Maktoum's name is often seen as owning and bidding on richly-bred thoroughbreds. Ironically, as much as the Arabs try to break through winning an American Classic, the Kentucky Derby and the other two jewels of the Triple Crown, were won in 2015 by an Egyptian, Jewish, high-stakes gambling owner who made a fortune selling beer in the Middle East, Ahmed Zayat. His horse, named American Pharoah, sired by Pioneer of the Nile, was the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. In racing, strange things are the norm.

In Saudi names, I suspect the longer the name the higher the rank. And with three bins in his name, Prince Bader might be expected to spend $450.3 million on a painting that some even doubt the authenticity of. There are those who feel it was not completely painted by Leonardo.

Prince Bader was such an unknown name at the start of the auction, Christie's had to strain to establish his bona fides. Sure he was able to pony up the $100 million just to be in the bidding, but did he have the resources to complete the deal?

A questionnaire of Prince Bader was answered by his people that he was a Prince, one of 5,000, and that his money was derived from real estate.

Yikes, there are 5,000 princes in the Saudi royalty? Five thousand beats the Kennedy family member count by a wide margin. It reminds me of the cartoon in 'The New Yorker' decades ago by Chon Day, who drew a middle aged couple leaving a suburban home where the husband turns to the wife and expresses some annoyance: "Did you have to tell them there were 52 vice-presidents at the bank?"

Apparently, Prince Bader is in tight with the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and is in the process of building a vast recreational paradise. The da Vinci is going to be hung in the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I'm sure tourism is expected. Hang a da Vinci, and they'll come. Maybe even Tom Hanks.

There is something being made of an Arab owning an image of Jesus, since that's who the 'Salvator Mundi' depicts. In the Muslim religion, Jesus is a prophet, and images of a prophet are forbidden.

But Jesus was Jewish, and Admed Zayat is Jewish, and his horse won the Triple Crown.  'Salvator Mundi' might just be the thing they need.

Somewhat buried in the NYT story it is mentioned that Prince Bader, because of his high connections, has secured a "license from the kingdom to build a fiber-optic network in a strategic partnership with Verizon."

Not mentioned, but just as important, is the work Verizon is going to do creating a phone directory that follows an alphabetical scheme for listing the names of all the princes and princesses that stretch longer than a freight train rolling through Reno.

There's no point in connecting all those people without their being able to look each other up.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rush to the Exit

Perhaps the photo was inevitable. Seen above is Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, showing Britain's  Prime Minister Theresa May the way to the exit at  recent meeting in Brussels.

After an initial agreement on Friday, Brexit is being shown the exit. It's starting to get official.

Again, Prime Minister May does look well turned-out in her orange/red business suit. With this appearance in Brussels, Ms. May has once again pulled ahead of Germany's Chancellor Merkel for the title of  'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.'

Of the two women , Ms. May's position as leader of a European nation seems to be the most in jeopardy. Brexit talks, till now, haven't been going well, and there are those back on the Grand Isle who are growing impatient with her leadership. 

If she pulls Bexit off, there is a good chance she'll get to stay on as prime minister and continue to be in the race with Chancellor Merkel for the title of... well, you know by now.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Who Was Vaughn Meader?

Catching up with the oldest of the the unread newspapers and I cam across an NYT Op-Ed piece with he title "Who Was Vaughn Meader?'

The piece appeared on November 22, the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Thus, on the day people who might be thinking of Kennedy and the events of that era, a clever writer poses the question about Vaughn Meader. Was he in the limo as well? Absolutely not.

The writer, Jennifer Finney Boylan, who apparently has contributed to the page before, and who is an English professor at Barnard College, did an interview with Mr. Meader in 1999 over breakfast and drinks in Meader's town in Hallowell, Maine. Apparently Ms. Boylan lives in Maine, so her finding Meader was made a bit easier. But who was he?

I know who is was, but I didn't remember his passing, apparently in 2004, a long way down from the fame he achieved when he released a comedy album titled 'The First Family,' a 1962 spoof of  Kennedy and the people around him, in a pitch-perfect imitation of JFK's voice and oral mannerisms.

His death was noted in a bylined obituary by Margalit Fox in the New York Times. Correctly, the obituary does tell us that of the 17 skits that Mr. Meader performs on the album, many are crushingly corny. But they do serve to use words that show off that New England accent.

Mr. Meader was from Maine, so a strong New England accent was already his. There was a game show personality at the same time, Orson Bean, who was born Maine, and had that accent. And that name, Bean. He was fun to listen to as well.

I remember when the album came out and it was a huge hit. Apparently it sold more than a million copies in its first two weeks. You could never forget JFK's accent when you heard him speak. I watched the debates with Nixon and was a bit in wonderment at the sound coming out of Kennedy's mouth. Who talks like that?

All the pundits had all their theories how JFK got elected. Nixon's heavy shadow, sweating on TV, etc. But I think they all missed giving credit to his voice, and that accent.

I recently caught a Graham Norton show and John Lithgow was on it with his acting buddies from the latest move release 'Daddy's Home 2.' Graham mentioned to John the Emmy he got for portraying Winston Churchill in the mini-series 'The Crown' and asked John about achieving Churchill's speech.

Lithgow gave a great imitation of Churchill's voice and separate examples of the components of the voice: the lisp way back in the mouth, the nasal speech, the honks that he emitted every 4-5 seconds. He called Churchill perhaps the most familiar face and sound of the 20th century in England, and someone who, he as the only American in a British cast, was honored to portray.

I never bought the album 'The First Family.' Of course in that time just before the assassination, Kennedy was popular, and the record was as well. It was the voice. The orator's voice that held your attention.

And in the aftermath of the assassination as high school students we joked at who was also out of luck now that JFK was no longer with us: Vaughn Meader. We correctly figured whatever career he had, it was over, at least as far as portraying Kennedy.

Google tells me Ms. Boylan was born in 1958, so she was too young to experience first hand the spell Kennedy had over the country. And probably too young to remember the void that the assassination created. Lenny Bruce is mentioned as telling his audiences how screwed Meader was now that Kennedy was dead. If Don McLean's 'American Pie' is an elegy to Buddy Holly and 'the day the music died," then November 22,1963 is the day the voice died. Meader would refer to as the day he "died."

The album was yanked. Hearing Kennedy imitated in jest was no longer funny. Perhaps a decade or so ago I was in Vermont and in that Kennedy Brothers' emporium in Vergennes, famous for selling just about anything used. I once spied a very dusty SS officer's hat high up on a shelf.

I flipped through the boxes of LPs and came across 'The First Family.' Everything was a $1, so I bought it.

And even though I still have an LP player hooked up, I've never been able to bring myself to play it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

All Gone Now

They're all passed away now. And I'm on Medicare.

But in 1963 Mandy-Rice Davies and Christine Keeler were just what a male teenager needed to crash through puberty with.  Mandy passed away a few years ago, and now Christine joins the departed.

You do have to be of a certain age to know who these then young ladies were. They were the "Party Girls" who were part of a sex scandal that rocked Britain in the early 60s. We've all heard about sex, and sex then, as sex now, sells. Big time.

A cabinet minister, John Profumo resigned. The Prime Minster, Harold Macmillan resigned. This of course led to the jokes rippling through the high school that went:

"Why are the British lousy cabinet makers?"
"I don't know."
"A few screws and the cabinet falls apart."

We also cracked each other up with gems about the inept play of a New York Mets outfielder, Ron Swoboda.

"I hear Ron is having problems in the outfield."
"Huh, Really?'
"Yeah, he's pulling a lot of boners lately."

It never took much to get us going. And some things don't change.

Christine Keller has now passed away. Today's NYT obituary relates the whole affair of the affair, in which Christine, a "Party Girl," helped bring down the British government by servicing a British Cabinet Minister of War and a Russian embassy attache, Cmdr. Eugene Ivanov. Not simultaneously, but close enough that it was feared secrets were spilled. The "pillow talk" possibilities were enough to scare the beejeebers out of two cold war adversaries.

Christine met John Profumo at a 1961 party hosted by a power broker who supplied eye candy at his gatherings. Apparently Christine, 19-years old at the time, was swimming nude in the pool and caught the 40-year old Profumo's eye. She later described him as a smooth operator who was no stranger to extra-marital affairs. Profumo's wife stood by him after he resigned in 1963.

Christine became huge news on both sides of the Atlantic. Mandy, seen above with Christine in the back of a limo, was Christine's roommate. It is easy to see why a male teenager might be smitten, and why a 40 year-old lecherous cabinet minister might be attracted to her.

My daughter's husband has a nephew in high school who tells us the nephew is smitten with Ivanka Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. They may not be call girls, but they are attractive enough to have appeal.

Christine's escapades endured for years, thanks to a memoir and two movies. By way of contrast, one of our own versions of nearly the same events, the resignation of New York's governor Eliot Spitzer in 2008 after his use of escort services, and particularly Ashley Dupre, brought the governor down and onto the cover of a magazine depicting that his brain was lodged between his thighs. It was embarrassing, but not long lived. President Clinton had some trouble as well, but not of the variety in which money changed hands. His 1998 troubles however endure to this day.

When Mandy Rice-Davies passed away in 2014 I did some Googling before my post and came across a fairly recent photo of Christine. It looked like a British tabloid photo, and showed the years hadn't been kind to Christine. It was hard to tell if there were the remains of a fine woman about her. Glamour was nowhere in sight.

Sex sells. The beat goes on.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The What?

I'm beginning to think that as something becomes less and less ¢ 
important, the more and more someone is going to write about it.

Take the apostrophe. Yes, please take it. Even while it seems to be going the way of the $2 bill, there are those who are trying to tell us our civilization is going to crumble if we don't stop the trend of not using apostrophes, not only correctly, but using them at all.

What about the cent symbol ¢ ? Amazingly I found out how to make it appear in this text, since it is no longer on any keyboard. Press the ALT key down and then type 0162. The symbol will appear. Yeah, that should bring it back, right?

The fact is, the cent symbol is really not needed, and no one seems to have waxed and waned as it disappeared from use. Items once upon a time could cost under a dollar. Thus, they were priced at an amount with a cent symbol following.

Since there doesn't seem to be anything you can buy that will be priced under a dollar, the need for the standalone symbol has disappeared. The apostrophe is harder to kill, but iPhones are working well as the apostrophe's executioner.

As usual, the people who complain about the dearth of the symbol that means something has been omitted are those who can remember English tests coming back to them with red marks pointing out the points that were taken off because you, as a lowly grammar school inmate, didn't use it properly in a sentence. They are also the ones who through the repetition of their teachers learned when to use apostrophes. No one likes to give up their exalted status.

I've written about the apostrophe before. My general theme runs to asking the question, "how do you pronounce an apostrophe?" No one else seems to pose that question. They are too busy telling us life without it is a return to being a Visigoth.

And there was another essay about the disappearing apostrophe in yesterday's Wall Street Journal's A-Hed piece titled, 'The Apostrophe Catastrophe: Its You're Smartphones Fault.'

As any reader of this section of the WSJ knows, it is always written with as many puns as possible. The headline of course--at least to those who know these things--cleverly points out the omission of the mark in a contraction, a possessive noun, as well as the misuse of the mark. It's a one line trifecta.

The story tells us of a woman, Carole Seawert, who shows up on Twitter in a robe decorated with apostrophes pointing out examples of the latest lapses. She is British, as you might expect, because the Brits seems to take changes to their mother tongue very seriously. Ms. Seawert tells us we're on a 'slippery slope.' There's that moral decline again. Her costume makes her look like a character out of  Harry Potter.

In 2001 I wrote to Russell Baker, who I have had a very intermittent correspondence with since 1967, asking him about what I detected were missing hyphens in the text of the newspaper he once worked for, the New York Times. Words that I remember like anti-aircraft were now smashed together to be antiaircraft. What gives?

Mr. Baker doesn't always answer my few letters, but on this occasion he did, and I keep it in a frame that I am looking at now. Over the years I've realized I've written to many writers, who sometimes reply. Even today I write to some, who do reply. The not-so-nice-thing is that their replies are emails, which don't have the style of the type of response like Mr. Baker's, who in 2001 punched out a reply on a typewriter on his personalized notepaper. It's a great response.

As to the missing hyphen, Mr. Baker told me:

 "After awhile it no longer seems worthwhile to keep fighting. I surrendered to hyphen idiocy years before leaving the Times [1998].

I confess that I still rage against the jamming together of words to form corporate entities as in PBS's NewsHour, for instance. There are more born every day. It's a product of internetaddresstalk.gabble,  I guess. I think you can be excused for shooting on sight without asking questions."

I've seen older texts where today was hyphenated as to-day. Goodbye was good-bye. So, language does evolve as we know, and when the cowboy can no longer sleep under the stars with his horse, and not hear interstate traffic whiz by, we have once again moved from the past to the present.

I'm not sure, but I think the Smith-Corona typewriter that I still have in the garage rafters did have a cent symbol, ¢. I don't remember what else might have been on the typewriter's key. The A-Hed piece shows a rather straight mark that appeared as the upper case choice on the 8 key. The apostrophe on today's qwerty keyboards is also a straight downward mark. The so-called "dumb" kind vs. the correct right curved symbol, the "smart" mark.

The problem with using the apostrophe when typing text on a cell phone is that you have to bring up another keyboard on your screen and search for the mark. This is time consuming, and generally a bother. I don't text much, but I am tempted to forgo the apostrophe and just let the text go without it.  I don't however, because I was one of those kids who got points off for screwing it up and learned the rules instead so my grade didn't suffer. Nerd? Well, maybe.

As Nenagh Kemp, who led a 2017 study of texting at the University of Tasmania tells us in the
A-Hed piece, with text and social media, "the message  is the main thing, rather than the correctness of the spelling." Gee.

That tells us plenty. In writing about apostrophes, the journalist Mike Cherney reached out to someone from Tasmania. Can you find that on a map? (It's off the coast of Australia.) The academics all over are onto the disappearing apostrophe.

Apparently, Apple is somewhat coming to the rescue. Their iOS11 version will have "smart punctuation," even if their spokeswoman wrote an email omitting an apostrophe when using its instead of the contraction it's. Tsk. tsk.

Apostrophes aside, what about those other marks, those diacritical ones that are supposed to guide our pronunciation of certain words. I spent five years getting through three year;s worth of French in what would now he middle school and high school. I learned when there was to be an "accent grave" (downward) and an "accent aigu" (upward). I also learned that great one, the soupcon, that went under the c in garcon. Do French smartphones accommodate these marks? And what about that other one, the great umlaut? Can you find those on a keyboard?

If anything, these symbols should not go away, they should be available to increase the permutations when you create passwords. The so-called strong passwords use numbers and special symbols, and the more you can choose from, the greater the chance that your password cannot be cracked by someone in middle school
. Of course, why really be diligent about this when they steal the passwords anyway? Oh well.

Aside from using it in passwords, get rid of the apostrophe. Its about time.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Brexit? No. Brit-In. How else can you capsulize the homeless ex-lawyer who dressed in a purple G-string and fishnet stockings who entered a woman's bedroom thinking the people sleeping in the bed--herself and her kids--were a panda, and that he had no sexual intentions at all?

This is the kind of news we need here in the States, because I'm sure across the pond the story has displaced everything. The New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall might think people are stalking her, but she does have some refreshing Tweets that lead to informative and funny things.

Okay, the homeless Irish lawyer we are told was once a pretty high-flying guy, but who is now whacked on crack and crystal meth. So he wasn't really in his right mind--whatever that is--when he broke into the woman's apartment and was accused of wanting to put his ying-yang into something.

But it was all a mistake, as in court he told all there were no sexual intentions, he thought the woman was a giant panda. A panda defense has now entered into legal precedent. It is almost understandable. And it turns out it was to the people who found him innocent of the charges. The guy walked.

A Google search with just a few key words like Southwark and lawyer and G-string brings you no less than nine stories, right on top of your search. A sample of headlines went:

Ex-lawyer Sneaked Into Woman's Bedroom in Purple G-string While High on Meth and Thought She was a Panda

I thought woman in bed was a giant panda,' says homeless ex-lawyer dressed in fishnets and G-string who crept into bedroom

Lawyer in Fishnets and G-String Escapes Sex Conviction

The Southwark Crown Court is in London. Ms. Lyall is a New Yorker, as anyone by now knows, who spent 17 years in London covering Great Britain for the New York Times. Great Britain follows her even though she has now been back in the States for a few years. She recently wrote about Prince William and his engagement to Meghan Markle.

Obviously she knows the people in England who would be Tweeting about Desmond Moran and his outfit. It is only natural she'd want to share this with us.

Recently Ms. Lyall shared a piece she wrote for a literary magazine describing her experience with prosopagnosia, face blindness. Prosopagnosia was the subject of a recent blog posting wherein I posed the question that in 1982 when the boxer Tony Ayala crawled through a bedroom window in Houston and scared the occupants to no end, perhaps he had prosopagnosia and couldn't recognize where he was or who the occupants might be.

Turned out Tony did not have face blindness, but he did beat the trespassing rap when the charges were not pressed by the bedroom occupant. Now we have Desmond Moran whose bedroom violation offense went to court with a jury. Result was the same: he walked. He didn't try a prosopagnosia defense, but did plead for understanding when he explained he was seeing a panda in the bed, not a frightened woman.

The Mobius strip is at it again. No sooner do I riff on Ms. Lyall's prosopagnosia piece than she posts a story about a guy who dresses like a woman, shows up in a bedroom, but escapes incarceration. It's getting spooky out there.

I've been reading Ms. Lyall book, 'A Field Guide to the British, The Anglo Files,' where Ms. Lyall outlines their peculiar (to us) characteristics and further affirms we are separated by waaaay more than an ocean. Even a Venus/Mars dichotomy doesn't get close to describing the difference between us.

I just finished the first chapter titled 'Naughty Boys and Rumpy Pumpy.' Basically, Ms. Lyall asserts the English male is not very comfortable in their male body. They do not really find the company of woman to be to their liking.

She recounts a date she had that was then at the nightcap stage back in his apartment. She describes the man she met at a party as so awkward at what he thought was foreplay that she headed for the door, but not before he apparently did a Harvey Weinstein and took his thing out for her to see.

That sealed the deal and a taxi was sought as soon as she hit the street. Somehow Ms. Lyall found out that the next day the man took another American out that he met at the party, a male. The guess was he tried a woman, but it was a no-go.

Her first chapter is full of descriptions of British male sexual awkwardness. She theorizes that perhaps it starts with their private, all male boarding school education. Of course, all the Brits don't go to boarding school, but the men do seem happier when they're amongst themselves.

Obviously Ms. Lyall developed a keen sense of the Brits, because the acquittal of a guy wearing a stripper's outfit explaining he thought he was going to lie down with a panda was completely in keeping with what a jury of his peers deemed understandable behavior.

No wonder it's been 'God Save the Queen' for all these decades.

Monday, December 4, 2017


The word is a mouthful. If someone were to string those letters together in a game of Scrabble they'd have to win. Sounding the word out doesn't give you many clues as to its meaning. No recognizable prefixes, or suffixes that help you decipher the meaning. Those who took Latin or Greek might have the advantage.

Some of us will admit to being in the company of those who are shit-faced, if not ourselves who are shit-faced. Snow-blindness is a condition we've all probably suffered from a bit by having unshielded eyes exposed to the white glare of sunlight, usually in winter after coming in from staring at bright snow. But face blindness? What the hell.

The NYT reporter Sarah Lyall moonlights in a long form piece she has just completed for an online publication, 'Five Dials,' 43rd Edition. Never heard of /Five Dial?' Not alone.

Wikipedia tells us it apparently is a digital literary magazine published from London by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, edited by Craig Taylor. Since Ms. Lyall spent nearly two decades in London doing stories for the NYT, and whose husband is a literary editor in Great Britain, Robert McCrum, it should be no surprise that certainly Ms. Lyall has heard of 'Five Dials' and has a submission.

The condition of prosopagnosia is apparently a condition Ms. Lyall has. She has tremendous trouble remembering people's faces and their accompanying names. She doesn't mention it, but she'd make a lousy witness, if when asked on the stand by Perry Mason who she saw on the evening of October 23rd. She would no doubt fumble, stare ahead blankly, and tell everyone in open court that the defendant doesn't look at all familiar. Next witness, your honor.

Ms. Lyall describes in her essay what experiences she was having before she was diagnosed with prosopagnosia. Until the diagnosis, she just thought that perhaps she was a ditz when she would climb into a stranger's car in the parking lot, invite people she didn't know--but thought she knew--
to a book launching, walk past her house multiple times before realizing it, trying to open someone else's door with her key, even as they stared out the window at her, turning the wrong way when exiting the elevator at work, going to the wrong dinner party surrounded by people she didn't recognize. (Personally I think that's the best one, and potentially the most exciting.)

A 2010 story in 'The New Yorker' about the famous neurologist Oliver Sachs and his experiences with his own bouts of  prosopagnosia convinced Ms. Lyall she was not just Forgetful Jones. She had a condition that was known in the medical world.

Apparently testing by a research scientist at Dartmouth, Brad Duchine, a professor of psychological and brain sciences, officially confirmed Ms. Lyall's condition. Also in the essay is the encounter with the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, governor since 2011, who suffers from prosopagnosia. Not being able to recognize faces for a politician certainly presents some moments for him as well. Luckily, he's managed to keep people around who help him through his deficiency.

As I was reading Ms. Lyall piece I couldn't help thinking of the boxer Tony Ayala, a No. 1 middleweight contender in the 80s who led a checkered, eventful life that eventually resulted in his death at 52, from an overdose in May 2015.

Tony, in between fighting, was incarcerated several times for sexual assaults. He didn't function well outside the ring, and paid the price. "I was Mike Tyson before there was Mike Tyson," he declared in a 2010 TV interview

The first escapade of his came to light in 1982 when he was arrested for breaking into the home of someone who lived in his Houston neighborhood. Perhaps breaking in is not the right term, because as I remember the story he climbed through an open window and scared the crap out of the occupants. His defense was he had mistaken their house for his in that Houston subdivision when he was coming home very late one night, likely under the influence of something. Tony claimed he was new to the area, and all the homes looked alike. Especially at night. Did Tony really suffer from prosopagnosia?

As I was reading Ms. Lyall's accounts of her experience with the ailment I began to wonder, except that Tony's window entry was only a precursor to other unwanted entries he made later in life, resulting in some serious sexual assaults, one of which got him shot by one of the two women he was threatening. No, Tony was a bad guy. There was no prosopagnosia defense.

I was recently at a wedding where one of the guests who was due to sit at the table of the groom's parents was intercepted by the groom's mother as he was heading to Table 15 rather than Table 18.

"Tony, where are you going?"
"My table, No. 15."
"No, Tony, you're at our table, No. 18."
"My place card says 15."
"Let me see that."
"No, the place card you've got is for Tony Conte, with an "e," You're Conti with an "i."

Lucky for Tony the bride's family was not a family of wiseguys. Tony would have sat down, knew no one, and probably would have been greeted as warmly as someone who drifted out of the men's room at Rao's and plopped himself down at the wrong table. "Who you?" That would be where prosopagnosia might get you in trouble. Not healthy.

At my last job there was a young female programmer who apparently consistently thought I was someone else, my boss, a vice president who wasn't at our NYC location often. Now I was in meetings and gatherings with Amy often, but it seems she always thought I was Rob. There was a fair age difference (myself older) and no physical similarities. My claim of course was that I was better looking, but that's subjective.

Finally, one day Amy walked by my office, saw me in it, checked out my nameplate, and registered a solid look of confusion. I had to ask.

"You mean you've thought all this time I was Rob?'

Amy probably didn't have prosopagnosia. Or did she?

One of Ms. Lyall's colleagues at the NYT . Dan Barry, tweeted that after reading Sarah's piece he now understood why she never said hello to him, despite not sitting very far from each other. Sarah responded that she always knew who he was if was he was at his desk and she could see his nameplate.

On what I thought might be the odd chance that my daughter, a Speech Language Hearing Science professor at Hofstra University might have heard of face blindness, I stumbled with the pronunciation of prospopagnosia and asked her if she ever heard of it.

Dad, we were just discussing that in class last week. I've written about it. She shared her paper that included mention of it.

"It is a right hemisphere condition due to stimuli damage to the central nervous system--no peripheral damage to eyes or optic nerve.

"Prosopagnosia: deficit specific to ability to recognize faces--eyes are working but brain is having trouble because visual association cortex in occipital lobe is damaged for processing and interpreting visual information from eyes to face. Only faces; can recognize other objects. Can possibly recognize others by voice, smell, etc."

She even further told me that the Greek girl in her graduate class knew the Greek words that were behind the origin of prosopagnosia: Greek word for face, with word for non-knowledge. Simple, right?

My daughter Susan further explained that the study of the right hemisphere of the brain was not taken up in earnest until the midpoint of the 20th-century. She loves anything to do with the brain, and is currently coming down the stretch for her Ph.D. by studying clues for identifying early-stage Alzheimer's Disease, AD.

Her current study has included subjects of Medicare age (my wife and I included) who are not yet showing any signs of AD, and of course those who are. My wife and I and other subjects have been tested in her lab with an EEG hairnet while responding to visual cues from a computer and pressing Yes or No buttons.

My reward for being a medical subject was a $50 gift card to Home Depot. My most recent lumber purchases were thus finished by helping science.

Ms. Lyall doesn't seem in any imminent danger due to her facial recognition deficiency, and might even benefit from it. I have never met Ms. Lyall. But she probably doesn't know that.