Friday, June 15, 2018

20th Century LImited

The story in the NYT by Sarah Maislin Nir brought back memories. Apparently, direct train service from New York to Chicago is being suspended for track work. It is the first time in over a century there will be no direct train service between City #1 and City #2.

Take a train to Chicago from New York? Who does that anyway?

Apparently there are still a number of people who do. According to the story, figures compiled by Amtrak put 390,000 riders using some portion of the Lake Shore Limited, from New York, in 2017.
It is also reported 110,000 riders rode some portion on the southern link between Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Certainly nowhere near the number who fly back and forth, but certainly more than zero.

Going to Chicago with my mother started sometime in the 50s, when I was fairly small. We went there so my mother could see her family, having come from Tampico, Illinois and Aurora. Our first trip was by United Airlines, but the plane encountered a severe thunderstorm over Ohio and had to put down on Toledo. We were put up in a hotel, picked up in the morning, and resumed our flight the next day.

I remember Chicago was nearly underwater it had rained so hard. The cab driver was telling us it was one of the worst storms he remembered. It was also enough to convince my mother to never fly again. Subsequent trips were always by train.

I distinctly remember asking my mother why did it seem people in Chicago's Union Station were not moving as fast as those in Penn Station. It was morning, "rush hour," when we would pull in by train, but the contrast in the cities was apparent even to what I'm going to guess was a five-year old.

I think we took the Broadway Limited from Penn Station. It would leave at around 4:00 P.M. and was scheduled to pull into Chicago 17 hours later, around 9:00. I think the 20th Century Limited left from Grand Central Terminal. They had the red carpet.

I always got a kick out of taking the LIRR from our home at the Murray Hill stop on the Port Washington line, getting on the Chicago train and finally coming out of a train the next day. It seemed so seamless.

I also got a kick of some regularly seen homeless guys who were passing through the upper level/Amtrak level years ago when I would get off my LIRR train and go out through the upper level. A lot of people, homeless and otherwise, have memories of The Golden Age of Rail.

The guys were passing through the station because the nearby church, St. Francis of Assisi, was giving out sandwiches in the morning for the homeless. The guys were quite coherent and I used to hear then talk of the Broadway Limited leaving Penn Station around 4:00 P.M. I always slowed down to hear their conversation.

The NYT carries someone's memories of the dinning car. The dinning car was special. You got there by either going forward or back from your seat through hydraulic doors that whooshed as you opened and closed then. It was always fun walking between the cars without ever being exposed to the outside. It was a safe walk.

I have no idea what we ate, but there was a tablecloth and silverware. It was like being ushered into a restaurant, which of course is what it was. One time, coming from New York to Chicago with my mother's brother, my Uncle Vernon, I was shown how to keep the coffee from spilling in the cup: my uncle said to leave the spoon in the cup. I guess the spoon absorbed the vibrations.

I never traveled on the train in something other than coach. We didn't have a sleeping berth, so I never got the experience of life in an upper or a lower.

And there will always be the memory of the time when my mother was in the Club car having a smoke and I rented a pillow from the porter for 25¢ cents, giving him a 50¢ piece, a common coin in in circulation in the 50s.

Well, the porter never did return with my 25¢ change. I guess he assumed a tip, but I was a kid and I had no intention of tipping him.

Year and years later, I was on the upper level of Penn Station and looked down at one of the tracks and saw the same porter leaning out of an Amtrak train that was in the station. I laughed to myself, and wondered what would be the guy's reaction if I told him he owed me 25¢ from at least two decades ago.

Kids don't like to be cheated.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Billions Season Finale

Former adversaries make the best buddies.

The season finale is a complete setup for next season. Chuck's plot to entrap the USAG  Waylon "Jock" Jeffcoat into committing obstruction of justice is completely waylaid when the NYAG, Alvin Epstein, and Bryan Connerty and Oliver Dake team up and inform the drawling Texan about the plot to get him convicted.

Chuck is completely fooled when Epstein suggests they listen to the "evidence" at Chuck's office because Epstein explains his office might be bugged. Alvin Epstein has changed sides: Informing Jock of the plot and betraying Chuck got him nominated to be Jeffcoat's Deputy Attorney General in Washington. You just can't trust these lawyers.

Epstein and Chuck cobbled together a weak case against Jock involving his televangelist brother, Texas millions, cable and land rights through what would be shaky testimony from a disgruntled ex-employee.

Chuck believes he's got the FBI in his pocket as his secret police and he is all set to get "Jock" to beg the witness to back off. That would be obstruction of justice, but Jock is better informed than Chuck knows.

The denouement comes in Chuck's office as Jock thoroughly enjoys himself in firing Chuck. Connerty and now professor Oliver Dake are pleased as well. As is Kate Sacker, who told Connerty of the plot. Bryan Connerty is named interim U.S. Attorney, and Chuck is sent home with his briefcase, being asked by Connerty to leave his credentials at the door and to "get the fuck" out of there. He doesn't say it anywhere near as loud as Chuck said it to him when he bounced Connerty after the Ice Juice debacle. Chuck doesn't pull one over this time.

Meanwhile, Axe and all the financial sharks and piranhas are headed off to the luxury boxes at Citi Field for pow wows and presentations. Is Citi Field a product placement by Fred Wilpon telling the world that you too can hold your conference here on off playing days?

There is no game, but the luxury vehicles keep piling up at the entrance. It starts to look like the 1957 Mafia summit meeting at Apalachin, New York in 1957, when all the families gathered upstate at Joe the Barber Barbara's house to discuss family business.

That particular meeting was famously interrupted when a keen-eyed state police officer saw one fancy Cadillac after another kicking up dust headed for Joe's place.  A bar-be-que? He started checking license plates and found a disproportionate number of cars were registered to Brooklyn owners. The meeting ended abruptly as the boys fled the place as the police started to show up.

No one at Citi Field jumped out of a window and landed on third base. They all loved Taylor's presentation and committed vast sums to Axe's new fund. Or did they?

The prior episode gave us the clue that Taylor was leaving Axe Capital and going out on his own. Turns out Taylor scooped up a ton of the money that was headed for Axe, as well as Mcfee. He tried to get Wendy to come over to what he describes as an atmosphere of something resembling a commune of peace, love and harmony. Is Taylor a financial David Koresh?

Wendy will have nothing to do with it. She's not too happy about being ambushed by Taylor in a parking garage with a job offer. She lets loose with a string of expletives at Taylor. No, Wendy is not budging.

At the same time, Axe is feeling in a thoroughly vengeful mood with Taylor blindsiding him and Mcfee's defection. Grigor all of says he will whack Taylor for him. Axe demurs, and talks it over with his fixer Hall. Hall explains the pros and cons of Grigor's offer. He tells Axe the Russians are very good at elimination that looks like an accident. Clean, no trace. nothing would get back to Axe. But, he would owe Grigor big time.

Hall doesn't mention plutonium, or nerve gas on door knobs, but he reveals something may fall on Taylor from above, or there will be an automobile accident. Something that will just be staged as a in- the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time kind of thing. Bad luck.

Axe gets back to Grigor and opts out of a permanent outplacement approach to problem solving. Grigor doesn't directly call him a pussy, but he does tell him he can't keep his money with someone who won't kill for it.

The final scene ends at Chuck's brownstone, as Chuck and Wendy finish dinner—with Wendy in a sleek black dress looking nothing like someone who just prepared supper in their kitchen. Axe comes to the door. He's obviously heard Chuck got the chop. There they are. Three adversaries now sitting at a dining room table spinning new thoughts of revenge with the obligatory glass of what I'm sure is a very good red wine in the right glass.

Wendy has clearly become one of the boys. She has taken the #MeToo movement literally. She's in. She's about to become more Lady Macbeth than she ever was.

What will the new season bring with Chuck no longer showing up at the office at St. Andrew's Place?
What scenario will Axe create to get Taylor? Taylor will surely NOT be whacked, by anyone. That would turn the show into just another guns and violence show, No, the punishment here is far more subtle. Humiliation is worse than death kind of thing.

Whatever it is, you can be sure Wendy will be the force behind the throne of whomever is king. She will be Cardinal Richelieu whispering in ears. #MeToo.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Triple Crown. Again

In 2015 when American Pharoah did what everyone was hoping for, and won the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes, he became the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years. It was almost like waiting for the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. As Sam Rosen intoned that significant evening after Game 7 in 1994—after last winning in 1940—"the waiting is over," As American Pharoah started to decisively pull away in deep stretch, Larry Colmus produced an almost similar call when he screamed..."the 37 year wait is over..." even before he crossed the finish line.

Due to make the trophy presentation that afternoon at Belmont was New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, fully sensing the exposure he'd receive if he were to be seen making a Triple Crown presentation.

The guv's plans were waylaid when two hardened felons escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility upstate in the town of Dannemora that morning. Inasmuch as the escapees were not quickly caught, Andrew Cuomo thought it best to satay close to manhunt news by remaining in Albany. Hobnobbing at a downstate racetrack while two dangerous people were crashing through the woods upstate, and possibly taking hostages, was not what Cuomo felt should be the concern he should be showing to citizens faced with potential peril. Thus, he sat tight.

Eventually, after many days of searching, the felons were reeled in—one killed by a trooper while running, the other returned to the facility.

In 2018, with another Triple Crown in the possible making, Justify escaped from the starting gate in front of the stands, circled the track with the rest of his 9 competitors in lukewarm, or not-at-all pursuit, led at every call—wire-to-wire—as the track lingo goes, and accomplished the three race sweep, a scant three years after American Pharoah. Justify wins in what is only his sixth race, while not even ever racing as a two-year old.

This was the 50th anniversary of my first going out to the races, starting with the Belmont Stakes in 1968. I've seen all the Belmonts since, and I can't even guess at how many other races I've watched or bet on. Triple Crowns come in clusters. There is no predictable cycle they adhere to, like Olympics every four years.

NBC's Randy Moss filled the viewers in on the clusters: Three in the 1930s: 1930, 1935, 1937. Four in the 1940s: 1941, 1943, 1946, 1948. Three in the 70s: 1973, 1977, 1978. And now two in the teens: 2015, 2018.

I was there for all the Triple Crowns in the 70s and distinctly remember not appreciating Seattle Slew's effort as he won with an undefeated record. I still had the memory of Secretariat "moving like a tremendous machine..." as Chick Anderson told the crowd. My feeling was Seattle Slew was not that good. He wasn't Secretariat. But Seattle Slew was good, and had a further championship year racing as four-year old.

And Justify is good. He ran like Joe Drape said at his 'American Pharoah' book signing at the Northshire book store in Saratoga in 2016, championship horses take the lead and control the race. Certainly not all races are won from the front, but enough of the great ones are.

My own take of the race was that I was disappointed it was not more exciting—at least for me. My money was not on Justify, even though he earned a staggering number on my rating system, with everyone else nearly at least 30 points behind him.

(There is always a backward look, and with that kind of spread the logical bet would have been to look at the exacta payouts with Justify on top, and see if a top wheel with everyone else would have been worth it. As it turned out, the $2 exacta with long shot Gronkowski produced an $89 payout. Certainly a great ROI for a base bet of $18.)

As the race unfolded, Justify kept to the rail as any horse starting from the one hole would. Oddly, Bob Baffert's other horse, Restoring Hope, ran for the lead, but drifted wide on the clubhouse turn, almost looking like he wanted to go back to the barn. Settling into the turn Justify emerges with what looks like a three length lead. The start almost unfolded like a staggered start track race, with outer lane competitors seemingly given a head start, only to be equalized as the distance evens out as the race develops. The tactics seemed odd to me, but that's racing.

First fraction of :23 1/5 was more than decent. It looked like a fast race was going to develop. Until it didn't. The subsequent fractions were rather pedestrian, and the final time of 2:28 was mediocre. But it was Justify all the way. The others offered no real competition. But when Justify is by far and away the best of all the other three-year olds, what can you expect?

Aside from the Triple Crown, Gronkowski was the story of the day. Before the race I gave someone my quick point-by-point analysis of each entrant and said that Grankowski had a great trainer in Chad Brown, a great jockey in Jose Ortiz, but had never raced in this country before, has never competed beyond one mile, has only run on the turf or an artificial surface, not a dirt track like today's Belmont, but did have first time Lasix, as many foreign horses do when they come to the country.

What is Lasix? It is an accepted drug that nearly all race horses compete under that helps a horse in their breathing by preventing blood from entering the lungs during the exertion of running, Untreated EIPH, exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, reduces performance. North American racing allows the drug. Foreign racing jurisdictions forbid it.

A good past performance readout will indicate the first time use of Lasix with a white L inside a black oval next to the weight. It is considered an angle by many. On paper, Gronkowski's only angles were the trainer, the jockey and the indication of first time Lasix.

Chad Brown called Jose's ride a million dollar effort, as he guided Gronkowski from last place, through traffic, holding onto the rail and angling out in deep stretch, finishing a rousing second to Justify. As impressive as that looked on replay, it showed Gronkowski not really gaining on Justify, perhaps only a quarter of a length. Certainly not enough.

The chart caller described Justify as "...hustled along springing from the starting gate..." to Gronkowski's "lumbered his way out of the starting gate..." That is quite a difference.

Everyone looks at a race through subjective eyes, usually guided by their rooting interests and money. My own modest bets did not use Justify, but I was disappointed that the race did not have a more competitive look.

Wire-to-wire efforts like Justify's can bring out the cynical description of a "boat race." Everyone is vainly chasing the leader, almost in single file. I called it a boat race. My friend of many years who was with me the first time we went to the track, 50 years ago agreed. "Get the oars out" he proclaimed.

Mike Repole, owner of Vino Russo, and part owner of Noble Indy, has started calling for an investigation. His take is that Bob Baffert's horse Restoring Hope acted as a "blocker" and Noble Indy's jockey, Jose Costellano ignored instructions to go to the lead and instead mailed in his efforts. Repole is so mad at Costellano that he says he will never use him again on any of his horses. Mike Repole's horses are good enough that they won't go riderless, and they won't go with unsuccessful jockeys. Jose is just on the shit list with Mike right now, a status jockeys often find themselves with owners and trainers who are mad at their ride. It sometimes goes away.

Mike Repole complained loudly. Melissa Hoppert of the NYT was gracious enough to answer a query as to how the NYRA stewards were reacting to Mr. Repole. She provided a quote from their statement:
"The stewards did not evidence any issue with the Belmont Stakes and were not contacted with objections by participating jockeys or horsemen. As such, Mr. Lewandowski indicated neither he nor his fellow stewards plan to discuss race strategy with Florent Geroux [rider of Restoring Hope]."

Again, the start. Noble Indy is described as "...out with his initial step, brushed the right side of the stating gate, accelerated upon recovery..."

Years and years ago the rules of racing would have had Bob Baffert's two horses, Justify and Restoring Hope racing as an "entry," a coupled wager that would put the two horses under one mutuel number. Eventually the arrangement was changed to allow commonly trained horses under different ownership to race as separate betting interests. Handle gets goosed with more entrants.

Common ownership with different trainers is another story. WinStar is listed as having piece of Noble Indy along with Repole Stable. Justify is 60% owned by WinStar. Should they have been a common betting interest?

Running a rabbit in a race is something you don't hear much of these days. Fifty years ago Frank Whiteley Jr. had a horse named Hedevar, who was so fast he held the world record for the mile. He would be coupled in the wagering with Whiteley's Damascus to sprint to the front, soften up the headstrong Dr. Fager or Buckpasser, and leave his remains for Damascus to pick up and pass. It did work.

If Bob Baffert's Restoring Hope was a rabbit he was certainly a bad one. A rabbit that is not in the lead is not a rabbit. It is the tortoise.

When I started out the old timer Les would tell us of "pulling horses," a tactic by jockeys to put a stranglehold on the reins and keep a horse from running to his full ability. This was done to create a loss, and therefore goose the odds the next time out.

It was also done to create an order of finish that was to someone's advantage. The talk of the races when I started was that Angel Cordero pulled horses to let the jockey Eddie Belmonte win. If it was true or not is all part of the urban legend that follows racing. Angel Cordero is in the Hall of Fame, and Eddie Belmonte was banned from the tracks as a jockey and an agent for personal use of drugs.

Did Costellano purposely take Noble Indy out of his front-running game because of the common WinStar ownership with Justify, paving the way for Justify to have the place to himself. To run a "boat race?" Mike Repole is not going to get anyone's attention on this other than talk radio hosts and disgruntled callers. A Robert Mueller will not be looking into the Saturday's Belmont.

And the crowd of  90,000? Did they see what others saw? Or what they think they saw? Not likely. A Tweet from someone described the crowd as 90% arriving without racing forms or programs—and I'm sure without binoculars— perhaps somewhat harshly calling them a fashion show for alcoholics. Certainly TV spotlights the ensembles.

So what? Anyone in attendance paid dearly to get there, get out of there, and paid dearly for the right to stand and cheer, or the right to have a seat. Will there be those who come out next week with a marked up Racing Form in the hope of hitting the Daily Double as I did? Will they be there 50 years from now talking and watching horses? I'm sure not many.

So, did Governor Andrew Cuomo make it to the winner's circle this time to present the trophies? No one escaped other than Justify. No, the guv wasn't there.

In a sense he was there, because Micheal J. Del Giudice was in the father's inner circle when Mario Cuomo was governor. Mr. Del Giudice is chairmen of the board of directors that oversees NYRA racing. Mr. Del Giudice was front and center at the trophy presentation ceremony.

But that Triple Crown trophy? As pictured above, it is the new creation to be presented to the owner of the winner of the Triple Crown. But with the ownership of Justify reading like a court document listing either defendants or plaintiffs, who gets to hold onto it? Who can move it? It is too heavy to lift over your head, and doesn't have a bowl attached that allows beer or champagne to be gulped from, like the Stanley Cup. NBC's Bob Costas offered the principals a chance to "cradle it." Its resemblance to a ship's anchor is strong.

Given that Justify is now reported to be worth at least $85 million in breeding rights—stallion equity—and may not ever race again because of that value, it is clear money will still be following racing, even if no one goes to the track in the days after the Belmont.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Brief Nudity

Well, that was a joke. Brief nudity in the latest episode of Billions consisted neither live male or female nudity but rather Wags ogling a photo. What a cop out.

The latest episode was somewhat thin. Chuck, as a United States attorney, seems to take a very hands-on approach to solving his friend Ira Schirmer's marital problems. It seems Ira's trophy wife is two-timing him with a younger Lothario. The two of them are siphoning Ira's money off with a series of phony fitness/yoga centers.

Ira suspects the infidelity, but is so smitten with Taiga (what a name!) that he didn't even create a prenup at the outset of the marriage, in New York state yet, a community property state. Ira stopped being a lawyer and was a romantic instead. Chuck stops just short of calling his friend a schmuck and enters into the fray as the fixer.

Chuck scares the Lothario off with in a stern meeting in his offices when he threatens a Federal Case against the scheming lover. He doesn't even mention the charges he might bring against lover boy, he just sounds scary. It's good enough.

And then, Chuck seals the deal by meeting with Taiga and explaining the lay of the land, presenting her with a postnup (never heard of those) to sign, promising $50,000 for each year she stays in the marriage.

Chuck borrows dad's apartment for this meeting, with dad expected to disappear from the house. Well, that doesn't happen. Dad bursts in after the deal is signed and offers some unsolicited advice to Taiga about love, marriage, and a test for the clap involving lime juice. Never heard of that one, either, but I'm sure the writers researched it well.

Chuck and Sacker weave their plot against the U.S. Attorney General Waylon 'Jock" Jeffcoat by getting the New York State Attorney General to take an interest in the case they are trying to build against The General. The hope is the AG will take the bait and try and obstruct justice. That will be the case against the smooth-taking Texan.

Meanwhile, Bryan Connerty as FBI General Counsel has unearthed some funny FBI business set in motion by Sacker and Chuck as they were trying to get cooperation from principals against The General and his multi-million dollar cable televangelism empire with his brother. The upcoming final episode promises to be a great setup for what I'm sure will be another season.

And by no means is Bobby and his ex-wife Lara left out of this. The main theme and the name of the episode revolves around Axe and the annual compensation meeting with the folks who work for him. Axe dispenses millions, and venom.

Wendy intervenes on behalf of a hurt Taylor, and cleverly appeals to Lara as a large shareholder in Axe Capital to talk to Bobby and set things right with the staff.

Lara gets to play a role of adviser to Bobby rather than a scolding ex in a late-night meeting at the penthouse. When the smart talk is over it seems as if she might be the brief nudity after all, as Bobby makes a play for divorced sex. Not to be. They are not going to get in Lara's words, "sloppy."

Coming attractions show the direction Taylor is going with his off-the-books algorithm building. Watch out Axe. Brutus is holding a knife.

The last person to get their comp review is of course Wags, who is awarded money, but best of all for Wags, a treasure trove of old Oui magazines that Bobby excavated from his mom's cellar. It seems Mom saved everything. Whose magazines they were initially, Bobby's dad, or Bobby's is not clear, but they exist, and are just the catnip that Wags loves.

Thus, the "brief nudity" is supplied by a photo of a naked babe with a staple in her belly button as Wags opens the centerfold of one of his gifts.

At least it wasn't the read end of some old guy.

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Here's picture of President Trump receiving the envelope from Publishers Clearing House. Yes, Dick Clark and Ed McMahon are dead, but like a lot of things these days, the PCH has moved overseas, this time to North Korea. This way the winner can be paid off in counterfeit Benjamins.

If the contents don't declare the president a winner, then he is proudly holding a coloring book from North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, as delivered by his emissary Kim Yong Choi.

Hopefully Kim has stayed within the lines, and used all the colors imaginatively.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Billions and the Human Jewish Deli

As much as John Malkovich has created the enduring image of a Russian, whether it's KGB Teddy in Rounders or Grigor Andolov in Billions, the actor David Kromholtz who portrays Frotty Anisman is now stealing the show.

Frotty is an unmade bed of a man who is so sloppy when he devours food he keeps a spare necktie in this jacket that he can whip out when he inevitably spills food on his clothing. Without missing a swallow, he ties the replacement tie on and continues making a mess, as well noise.

The trading staff all know Frotty by sight as he enters the offices of Axe Capital. Bobby's found himself with a gaping crater in his new fund as Grigor has yanked $1.5 billion out of it to pursue an oil deal described as a "mortal lock." Grigor has the correct gambler's vocabulary for a bet that is considered a sure thing.

Axe needs replacement money, and this desperation puts him in an unenviable position to have to do business with Frotty who controls vast sums of Middle Eastern money (Jordanian) from bad guy types like dictators and arms dealers.

The female addition to the trading staff, Bonnie, provides a primer on the meaning of Frotty's name to the guys. She explains that "frotty" is a nickname for "frottage," the definition of which is someone who derives sexual gratification by rubbing up against another clothed person. Frotty is clearly someone you don't not want to share a subway pole with. His breath alone has to smell like a barrel of Kosher dill pickles.

There was a case not all that long ago where NYC undercover transit cops arrested a doctor, no less, who was using a periscope device to look up women's skirts. The Attorney General's wife who has accompanied her husband to Chuck's house for dinner, has a John Rocker view of NYC and its subways when she announces they are filled with people who expose themselves. One wonders if she knows about the mariachi bands that march through the cars looking for donations. Clearly not a woman who is going to take the Woodlawn to Yankee Stadium.

Chuck is angling to get the goods on The General and the source of his family's money, born from Texas televangelism and cable deals.

It is unfortunate for the actress Malin Akerman who plays Bobby's now ex-wife Lara, that she's now reduced to moments of scolding Bobby for whatever, money, punctuality, anything. She can't stand the sight of him. Subtracting Lara from the bedroom has removed most chances of "brief (female) nudity." No one likes a woman scorned. They're just no fun.

And just when you think that with the withdrawal of Grigor's money we won't be seeing John Malkovich anymore, we get toward the end when Grigor tells Bobby the money is coming back in, the oil deal went kaput.

Along the way to coming back into the fold Grigor arranges for Bobby to practice/play with Maria Sharapova. Russians obviously all know each other. Jason Gay, the sports reporter for the Wall Street Journal Tweeted that he wondered if Bobby's fairly good onehanded backhand return to Maria was computer generated. No respect.

By now, we all know that the songs, the soundtrack embedded in these shows propels the story line. At a dinner with Grigor and his family Axe connects the dots and figures out who the people are in the enigmatic story Grigor has told Bobby back at the office in the prior episode about soldiers, a woman who is gang raped and a young boy. It's Grigor and his mother. Family is everything. As is loyalty.

In the background, Mott the Hoople sings "I Wish I Was Your Mother" as Bobby drives to a nice looking house that is either in Westchester, Connecticut or on the North Shore of Long Island and rings the bell. Bobby's surprised mom answers. "Robert."

Who knew Axe had a mom?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

To...Is Human

Presidents are people. We're all people. So, ergo, we're all human. That of course delivers us not only to be all born of "original sin," but also with a backpack of flaws.

Depending on your memory and knowledge of history you might be able to attach something to any president. Certainly the current president's flaws are playing out in front of all of us in real time. Never has Social Media delivered so much news so fast.

To say JFK was a ladies man is to understate his libido. It was said he'd come to an event with wife Jackie and leave with another female. His nickname became "Mattress Jack."

President Clinton of course gave into star-struck Monica Lewinsky's affections and allowed himself to be serviced in an Oval Office alcove, leading to his spending his entire second term fending off the ramifications of that bad judgment that eventually resulted in his being impeached. Impeached of course should be remembered as being charged, but later found not guilty by the Senate, the judge and jury. Clinton was not removed from office.

And of course we've heard about President Johnson, who could be coarse. After his gall bladder surgery he held up his shirt and revealed his scar to reporters. This of course lead to what I've always admired as one of the best editorial cartoons of all time when Herblock drew a picture of Johnson lifting his shirt to reveal a scar in the shape of the map of the two Vietnams.

My guess is Robert Caro has amassed more examples of President Johnson's behavior. And he's still coming out with another book that will cover Johnson's final years. But the beat example of presidential behavior I've come across so far was found in Dwight Garner's NYT book review of Reporter:A Memoir by Seymour Hersh.

It's a lukewarm assessment of the book, but Mr. Garner's review quickly grabs your attention when he provides the following one sentence paragraph.

The best story told here may be about Lyndon B. Johnson defecating on a dirt road in front of The Times reporter Tom Wicker to indicate what he thought of his work.

He did what? Did Robert Caro get to that part? Imagine that act of presidential criticism in this age of Social Media and instant judgment. The Commander-in-Chief, whose actions can mobilize the largest armed forces on earth, can also control his digestive tract to enable him to drop a load in front of a member of the press who he can't abide by. That's power.

For the younger set who might read this, Tom Wicker was an award winning columnist who won high praise and a promotion for his on-the-spot coverage of the assassination of JFK, and who was sharply critical of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Thus, someone who Johnson did not agree with on a regular basis.

Tom Wicker's 2011 obituary by Robert  McFadden does not give us the Johnson en plein air outhouse story. It must have been widely known amongst news people, but that was a different era. You only exposed the seedier side of someone when it involved their power and their corruption of it.

My guess is if you read, or just pick up Mr. Hersh's book in the bookstore, you can read more about the roadside cow pie left by a president aimed at a journalist's attention.

I can imagine President Trump having similar LBJ-type feelings about any number of journalists, particularly Maureen Dowd of the NYT. That no story of bad manners on the side of the road has reached us must count for something.

And given today's ordinances about dogs doing their business on the sidewalk or curb, and the requirement for the walker to pick up after the animal, who would do the presidential pooper-scooping? Is their an open position?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Solo at Belmont

No, this isn't about the latest Star Wars movie showing up at the track. It's about one of the Assembled spending a day at the races on their own—no company.

Monday was Memorial Day. Or at least what is now Memorial Day, observed on Monday before what was the actual date itself, May 30th. Decoration Day is what I remember it being called.

I've been at the track before on Memorial Day and was initially confused by the flag flown at half-staff, only to learn that that is protocol. It starts at half-staff to honor the veterans, and then is raised to the top at noon.

In what is now nearly 50 years of going to the races, having started at Belmont in 1968 on Belmont Day, the changes are apparent. As is what is the same. The Met Mile used to held on Memorial Day. A marquee race for older horses that would be used by some trainers as a prep for the Belmont Stakes, despite the close dates. And there have been horses who have won both. Todd Pletcher did it with Palace Malice in 2004; Woody Stephens did it with Conquistador Cielo in 1982, and Eliot Burch did it with Arts and letters in 1969.

The Met Mile is also when I stepped up my game considerably to bet $50 to win on Forego in 1974, considering him to be the mortal lock. Well, Heliodoro Gustines took the big gelding through torrid opening fractions, he tired, and Arbees Boy won, paying somewhere near, or just over $100 to win.

I was devastated. And because of the long shot finishing second, Forego's place price wasn't all that bad. I never again $50 to win on anything. My place had been with the $2 bettors (or now $4 and $6) and that's where I've remained. Know your limits.

Since I was solo on Monday I roamed around. I went down to the paddock a few times, sat on the second floor, as well as the third floor, and almost wished Sheila Rosenblum 'Good Luck' when I spotted her on the escalator going up as I was going down to the paddock. Sheila is of course the principal behind Lady Sheila Stable. Her horse  Holiday Disguise won the $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes. I ran 1-3 in the exacta, one of my tough beats of the day.

Just as you come out of the Clubhouse doors to go to the paddock there is a path to the Racing Secretary's office. Looking to left at the top of the path was the spot where 40 years ago my wife spread out a blanket while our 8 month-old daughter Nancy crawled around, laughing at everything. A lot of people stopped to enjoy her laughing. There is now a giagundo shrub in the spot, and no room for a baby and a blanket.

A little further down that path is a plaque set on a small rock pedestal. I don't remember this plaque, so I took a look. It is the photo used at the top of this post. It is a dedication to the four chaplains who in WW II gave up their life jackets as their torpedoed troop ship U.S.A.T. Dorchester was sinking in 1943 and the supply ran out. They went down with the ship.

When I collected stamps as a kid I remember the 3¢ commemorative stamp that was issued in 1948. An American Legion Post had a hand in placing the remembrance, fitting Memorial Day. The NYT fairly recently ran a story on the church in Kearney, New Jersey that commemorates the chaplains each year. One of the chaplains, Rev. John P. Washington served at St. Stephen's before volunteering for the war.

So, how did my day at the races go? During the week I got an email from NYRA promoting their Mystery Voucher Day—register online, print the receipt, take it to the track on Monday and receive a betting voucher that could be worth up to $1,000. No cost. I'm in.

So, here I am before the start of the races, walking around with my printout, taking it over to the table that looks strongly like the Board of Elections has a designated polling place at Belmont, present my piece of paper, where upon my name is crossed off a pre-printed list. ID is requested, and then the woman behind the desk reaches into a small box of lottery-style tickets, fanning 5 or 6 of them in front of me, and asks me to "pick one."

After asking her if she had anything up her sleeve, I picked a card. The next step was to scratch off the silver foil, lottery-ticket-style, and see what amount lurks underneath, If a winner, take it over to the other table, and get your voucher matching that amount.

I played my own drum roll in my head, scratched, and revealed a $20 value under the foil. I happily told the people at the other table that I've been going to the races now for 50 years but have never been this far ahead  before the first race. The woman told me to turn it into $100. I said I'd be happy with $30. It was the last time I was ahead for the day. Ten races Skunked. This has happened before. It's never fun.

I had some tough beats, but when in the 9th race I lost by a nose at 5/1 to the favorite, I was fairly sure the day was not mine to have. A third place finish in the 10th did nothing for my finances, so I left, uncharacteristically not hitting even the last race.

Fifty years of racing and I'm still coming back. Handicapping and starting every effort off fresh. In all that time, do I have any regrets? Of course. One.

Perhaps it was in the 80s sometime. I didn't stay for Bob Hope one year when he was performing after the races. I still kick myself. I wouldn't even stay for Bob Hope.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Billions of Rubles

The most sought after actor to play a Russian who speaks English with a heavy Russian accent is easily John Malkovich. I wonder how many offers his agent gets.

The latest episode of Billions introduces the character Grigor Andolov, a Russian oligarch based in the United States who has a prison record. He is considered ruthless in eliminating, or scaring off the competition, and most of all he is extremely wealthy. And like all folks who are wealthy, he wants to be even wealthier.

Meet Bobby Axelrod, impresario of Axe Capital, fresh from having Federal stock manipulation charges against him dismissed, in what was a tug-of-war chess match with the enemy, the U.S. Attorneys for the Southern and Eastern Districts in New York. When you're as big and bad as Bobby, you attract attention. And when you're the star of the show, future episodes are not going to have you reading books in the can.

The oligarch is not a Russian bird. The mere mention of "Russian oligarch" conjures up images of Friends of Putin who operate businesses in Russia and other Eastern European locales with impunity. The OED tells us the word is derived from the Greek, oligo, meaning few, with oligarch meaning the head member of a small group that holds power in a State. Oligarchs are not elected.

We don't have oligarchs. But we do have Mark Zukerberg of Facebook and Tim Cook of Apple, plus the heads of all the major media networks. We just call them CEOs.

Fresh from his penthouse perch and free to trade with OPM—other people's money—our hero Bobby wants to establish a fund that starts off with $20 billion. And he wants to do it in 6 months. Bobby is always ambitious.

Axe needs an "Icebrekaer," the tile of episode that refers to the first investor with the confidence to deal with a charges-dismissed-felon. Bobby needs a whale. And he wants one quickly.

If you ever notice, Bobby spends a good deal of his time in the dark. He's a bit of a financial vampire. The episode's opening scene has Bobby and his #1 fixer, Hall (fixers never have more than one name) prowling a garage area where all the coffee carts and hot dog stands are stored during the night when they are not in use serving the masses on Manhattan's sidewalks.

Clearly Bobby and Hall (with Wags in the car) are in Astoria or Maspeth, in Queens, where carts go to sleep. They meet with someone who has had dealings with Grigor, and for whom they ended badly. A former oligarch himself (swimming pool in Russia), he lost his right arm and is now tending to a coffee cart, hoping to make it to hot dog vendor. Apparently, an Uber driver with one arm is not a good idea.

Why they are doing their due diligence with a one-armed coffee cart vendor in the shank of the night is just another example of how Bobby thinks outside the box. He doesn't hire some white shoe firm to create a report on Grigor Andolov and charge him beaucoup bucks for it. Bobby goes to the best sources in person and rewards them with enough cash to move up to hot dog cart.

There is a back-and-forth courtship between Grigor and Bobby. Once it is filled with enough "fuck yous" the two men develop enough respect for each other that a business deal is struck to have Grigor invest.

The casting for the little guy playing the Secretary of the Treasury, (who seems to spend a good deal of his time in NYC) doesn't seem right. But Bobby's connected, and he secures Grigor's business by showing off his connection in a restaurant's storage room. The Secretary of the Treasury is dirty too, not a confidence builder for the nation if it was widely known.

Grigor's words to Bobby are simple. "Don't lose my money." Bobby doesn't blink. It was rumored that Bernie Madoff struck a deal with the Feds so fast because he wanted the protection of jail from the Russian oligarch's whose money he lost. Perhaps.

All through the episode I kept wondering who is this guy playing Grigor? (The credits come at the end.) Jesus, he seems familiar. Is this Teddy KGB from The Rounders after all these years, shedding his dirty sweater and boxes of Oreos?

That movie was in 1998 and Malkovich was sensational as the thickly accented poker honcho who runs a very high stakes game in a grimy building, filled with stoned out hookers and bad TV reception. Matt Damon prevails against Teddy KGB, gets his friend Worm out of debt, and makes enough of a grubstake for himself that allows him to go to Vegas for a poker tournament.

KGB is so apoplectic on losing to Matt Damon's checking and bluffing that he allows him safe passage past the Oreos thrown against the wall and the goon who would only too happily beat him up. Teddy retreats to a TV in the back to watch a soccer match that's coming in with poor reception.

Tangential stories are how Dollar Bill got his name. It seems he had a dollar bill with a golden serial number with enough like numbers that he apparently took Carl Icahn down in Liar's Poker.

Taylor is against Axe Capital accepting Grigor's money to invest and starts his own rogue group of traders, quants, in the cellar somewhere in his attempt take the market down for himself.

Chuck and Kate are sandbagged to prosecute someone they think should not be prosecuted. and when the defendant is killed by Federal guards on the way to his court appearance, Chuck and Kate are prepared to get the goods on "The General," the U.S. Attorney General, who also seems to spend too much time in New York.

The General is portrayed as a somewhat pot bellied, bourbon swilling Texan, who of course hunts on his ranch in Texas, and who gets his own way. Until maybe now.

Coming attractions show Grigor in the next episode. Will Bobby get the best of Grigor and have him slink back to Russia with caviar between his legs and too much vodka on his lips? Will he make money for Grigor and stay out of court at the same time?

It's not going to go well for someone, that's for sure.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's Uncanny

It's already been noted how the Internet connects everyone. And Twitter is just another vehicle on the Internet. So, when its roads interconnect and exhibit Onofframp characteristics, it is really no surprise. But it still is amazing.

Take my Tweet to Melissa Hoppert, a NYT reporter who is also an editor. Ms. Hoppert had the boxed exacta picked in both the Derby and the Preakness. Following her would give you a positive ROI. I had the Derby exacta of Justify and Good Magic, but fell short in the Preakness when Good Magic couldn't hold second place and got passed by Bravazo and Tenfold  just before the wire, setting up a tight four-horse finish.

Justify was getting caught, and if the Preakness were the Derby distance he would have been easily passed before the wire. But, that's hypothetical. Justify won, and now sets his sights, like many others before him, with an attempt to win the Triple Crown by taking the Belmont Stakes at the formidable distance of a mile and a half—once around Big Sandy—on June 9th, the day after my second daughter's wedding.

My oldest daughter Nancy got married on the day Birdstone swept past Smarty Jones in "the shadow of the wire" and upset his bid for the Triple Crown in 2004. I remember starting the day by relaxing with the Daily Racing Form and kicking myself for not betting Nick Zito's horse in the first race, who won. Nicky of course won with Birdstone, for Mary Lou Whitney, who in a true sporting fashion expressed a little regret that her horse stopped Smarty Jones. She said something about the connections to the effect, "they're such nice people."

So, my family has a predisposition of scheduling nuptials around The Belmont Stakes. At least this time I'll be able to watch the race because the wedding is the day before the Belmont. Thus, I'm set up to watch the 150th Belmont rather than having to rely on a radio broadcast as I did for the 2004 race. The 150th Belmont is my 50th anniversary of going out to the races.

My last attendance at a Belmont was 1999, when Lemon Drop Kid pulled off a huge upset. The gang and I stopped trying to attend Belmonts when the seat prices got too ridiculous and the exiting from the track proved ridiculously difficult. In 1989 it took us over an hour to get out of the parking lot, and we stayed for all the races. It was a disaster. I wrote letters and accused them of holding us hostage—kidnapping us— by not allowing an efficient egress. My last Belmont in attendance.

Ms. Hoppert's piece in yesterday's piece was all about the road ahead for Justify. Three weeks to prepare for the next race of his extremely short racing career. He already became the first horse to win the Derby without competing as a two year-old since a horse named Apollo back the 19th century.

Ms. Hoppert's piece at the outset told us Justify is being pampered. "...his feet were picked and his legs were wrapped while he enjoyed a cool breeze from the fan outside his stall."

Huh? I don't know everything about the care of thoroughbreds, but I'm not familiar with the term "picked." Did she mean "packed?" That wouldn't sound good. The tone of the story is that everything is fine with Justify, and there is no hoof bruise like he suffered after the Derby.

If the word were "packed" then images of the rumor surrounding Secretariat in 1973 come to life. Just before that race there were detractors that claimed Big Red's legs were standing in buckets of ice—he wasn't sound. Secretariat's sire was Bold Ruler, basically a sprinter whose distance breeding qualities were questionable. As we know, Secretariat answered all those questions.

A lookup in the OED for the word pick yielded a definition that fit the context. It sounds like his hoofs were trimmed, not unlike a trip to the nail salon. Whether little designs were applied to his hooves is unknown.

[Proving that there is no end to what you can find on YouTube, Melissa was kind enough to forward me a link to, what else, an instructional video on cleaning your horse's hooves.  And, I might add, it's hardly the only video on the subject.]

And here is the uncanny part. My Tweet to @melissahoppert mentioned that as always something reminds me of something else, and the use of word "pick" made me think of dialogue in the 1971 movie The French Connection where Popeye Doyle, the lead narcotics detective played by Gene Hackman, confronts drug pushers for information and roughs them up a bit and goes into a sing-song that goes,"do you pick your toes? Do you pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?"

Picking the toes refers to injecting drugs into the foot between the toes, but the meaning of  the Poughkeepsie reference has always alluded me. And everyone else, until you latch onto an analysis of the movie at It was a non sequitur used by the real-life NYC narcotics detective Eddie Egan to confuse suspects.

All roads are connected. The Tweet generated a response from @POkPopCulture with a YouTube link to a 2:11 minute scene from the movie that carries the "pick your toes" dialogue.

So, my reference to Poughkeepsie generates someone with the @PokPopCulture handle to link me to the French Connection scene. Tell me we don't live on a Mobius strip.

Will Justify justify all the hype he'll get and win the Belmont and thus become the 13th horse to win it all? On May 21, 2002 Mike Lopresti of USA Today wisely wrote:

There were but 11 Triple Crown winners in the last century, only three in the last 54 years. And with Seattle Slew's passing the other day, all of them are dead. This we know because living Triple Crown champions are kept track of like ex-presidents and Titanic survivors.

Now of course with American Pharoah's achievement in 2015 there are 12 Triple Crown winners. Will Justify make it 13?

My own sense is he won't. His immediate breeding doesn't scream distance. But, then again, Secretariat didn't scream distance either.

Nevertheless, the freak of nature that it takes to complete the Triple is not produced often. After Secretariat in 1973, there were the back-to-back years of Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Seattle Slew was undefeated going into the Belmont, and of course emerged still undefeated after the Belmont. I was there for all those Triple Crowns, and it is exciting. Secretariat's of course will forever stand out because of the incredible time he completed the race in—a record that still stands

Joe Drape, the senior racing reporter fro the NYT returned a Tweet that picks Audible for the victory. An Audible victory would give the owners—and there are A LOT of them—the distinction of being an ownership group winning the Triple Crown, but with two horses. Asterisk time?

To the uninitiated, the ownership group for Justify and Audible is WinStar, China Racing Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners. The China Racing Club is a likewise conglomerate of fractional ownership people. WinStar is a leading breeding operation, headed by Elliot Walden who gave up training for training of a different sort. Kind of like going from manager to general manager in baseball.

With all those "connections" the winner's circle at the Derby and the Preakness resembled the look of two Greyhound buses that developed engine trouble that had to get all their passengers off and onto the side of the road to await help.

My own sense is that someone with significant distance breeding will prevail in the Belmont. Of the horses that have so far run, this points to Brazano, whose sire is Awesome Again, an undefeated four year-old who won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1998. A leading sire.

Brazano is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the octogenarian Hall of Fame trainer who has won 14 Triple Crown races. Lukas knows his way around many race tracks. Brazano finished a very fast closing second in the Preakness, just  the kind horse who can win the Belmont, especially if the front-runners tire at the end, like Smarty Jones, and many others who try, but don't succeed.

The Triple Crown is almost like what Arctic exploration was at the start of the 20th century. Attempts, with some eventual success. Mount Everest.

The other distance bred possibility is Tenfold, another closer in the Preakness who finished third in a the tight bunch of four at the wire. Good Magic dueled Justify, but faded with the effort, and his trainer Chad Brown was not happy with the trip. Don't look for Good Magic in the Belmont.

Tenfold boasts Curlin as his sire, a Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup winner. A formidable horse who is trained by Steve Asmussen, another Hall of Fame trainer.

Will I be right? Will Joe Drape be right? Will Melissa pick the exacta again? Or, will we have a completely "new shooter" like Tonalist who upset California Chrome's attempt at a Triple Crown?

One thing is for sure. The day after Susan's wedding and on the 50th anniversary of my hitting a cold $2 Daily Double (the only exotic bet at he time) that hooked me onto handicapping and making me wonder "how long has this been going on," and my now becoming someone who is a grey-haired codger wearing a giveaway cap (bill forward) who "dopes" out the form and can sing most of the lyrics to Fugue for Tinhorns from the musical Guys and Dolls, I will have hit the exacta with two married daughters and so far two grandchildren.

How long can this go on?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Back to Obits

It has occurred to me that my last two posting were both about the Showtime series Billions. I think it's rare I have two postings in a row on basically the same subject. Well, that's changing today.

We'll start the day with the NYT obit on the writer Tom Wolfe, who has passed away at 88. Or maybe stopped breathing is a better description of his corporeal state, because with the sendoff he's gotten he will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Front page, right at the fold, two bylines, because I suspect William Grimes wrote the advance obit, retired, and was followed by Deirdre Carmody who relieved in the late innings to finish the game. TWO pages inside, and Wolfe's not Russian! For the Times, this is big sendoff for an American.

Huge picture of Wolfe as a younger man inside leaning against a traffic post in NYC, 1968, Lindsey-era photo when his writing was as big as the bus in the background. He looks like an adult version of a Vienna Boys choir member who's grown out of the sailor suit. What will the Times do for one of their own, Gay Talese, when he shuffles out of his splendid wardrobe?

I never read the guy. Although I will admit I've always read about him. I will now look into a collection of his essays. My attention span can handle essays.

I remember the book reviews that came out when he published The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities. I had a boss who said Bonfire was a story about how the jury system in the Bronx was charged with the redistribution of wealth. Certainly ahead of Mayor Bill de Blasio's thinking.

And Radical Chic. I certainly read about the reaction to that! I love the term, just like I love the term Limousine Liberal. Says so much. Who better to skewer them than someone who travels in their circles. Sharks circle their prey as well.

Any writer who can use the word "gadrooned" silver trays is someone you know you will pay attention to. Didn't know the guy had a Ph.D. Also didn't know he was a pitcher in college at Washington and Lee University who was good enough to at least get a major league tryout. Although that didn't go well enough to discourage Tom from writing.

In one of the many tributes that keep popping up in the paper after Wolfe passed away was the one that at some point Tom was on the Washington and Lee campus, well after he had written The Right Stuff, and was teased by a coach who was still there that he remembered Tom and knew, even then as a college pitcher that he had The Wrong Stuff.

I love reading anything that makes a reference to the long-ago defunct NYC paper The Herald Tribune, sports, comics and news. Still my favorite paper, and they haven't been around for 50 years. New York magazine of course came out of the Sunday magazine supplement New York that accompanied the paper in those days. And New York magazine is still with us.

The NYT obit carries a great photo of the staff of New York magazine in the early days.

Tom Wolfe is second from the left, with left to right George Hirsch, Gloria Steinem, founder Clay Felker, Peter Maas, Jimmy Breslin and graphic designer Milton Glaser. It is a photo definitely from the 70s, and even then Breslin is without his tie. It looks like he said something quite funny because the always attractive Gloria Steinem is cracking up. One one wonders if Jimmy were to say the same thing today Gloria would still laugh.

The offices of New York magazine were then on 32rd street, North side, between Third and Second Avenues. I know this not because I ever worked there, hardly. We played roller hockey in the schoolyard next to their walkup. It was always Sunday, so I never saw anyone coming or going from the building. Just the famous logo on a sign in front.

I read of his feud with Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike, writers who were good once, with Mailer eventually becoming a drunken windbag who staggered around at anti-war protests. And I'm sure he liked that he outlived two of his Three Stooges.

Wolfe was the quintessential New Yorker—he was born in Richmond, Virginia and came here to stay. The best New Yorkers can be those who weren't born here. Their eyes are open and not dulled by a formative public school education that doesn't take them out of the neighborhood.

It was nice to read that his daughter, Alexandra Wolfe, writes for the WSJ. I read that paper and I'm sure I've read her articles without even wondering if they were related. The most recent was a Weekend Confidential piece on capitalism and Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot. Yes, that Langone, as in NYU Langone Medical Center. Aside from the medical center, have you ever been in a suburban Home Depot? I was in one on Monday, and still cannot get over what's inside one of those stores.

Busy day. Two obits worth mentioning. Never heard of Mary Sansone, described as a community organizer of New York who passed away at 101. I have to attribute that to not ever having much to do with Brooklyn. Queens and Manhattan were my "beat" if you will.

Mary apparently was a community organizer from the time she was 8 years old and accompanied her father who was making labor speeches in Manhattan's Union Square park. The park was famous for its "Speaker's Corner" fashioned after London's Hyde Park Speaker's Corner.

I remember those guys. They stood on a crate, had an American flag in the background (following the ordinance for an outdoor assembly, they had to show the flag) and lectured whoever stood in front of them, usually pounding their fist. They were decidedly "lefties," and I don't mean pitchers. I remember someone heckling one of the speakers as being so left he could turn around. I still look into that part of the park and see those guys.

Mary's photos in the obit show to me what seems like a strong facial resemblance to Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor all NYC mayors would like to aspire to be, but never really can. There was only one Mozart, and one Beethoven. And only one La Guardia.  Mary and Fiorello were cut from the same cloth in their desire to help people. All people.

Mary Sansone ran an organization called CIAO, Congress of Italian-American Organizations. a statewide social service federation. She was the opposite of mafia leader Joseph Colombo's Italian-American Civil Rights League that tried to create Italian solidarity in the city by appealing to all the pizza places in the city to close on Italian Appreciation Day. They did. Once. No slice for you.

Joseph Colombo was too out in the open for his Italian mafia partners, so Crazy Joey Gallo contracted a black inmate he spent time with in Sing Sing to fire shots at Colombo as he was speaking at a rally in Columbus Circle. The shots hit Colombo, but didn't kill him. They did take him out of circulation by leaving Joseph in a vegetative state that he remained in for decades. The Italian-American Civil Rights League went away as well. Message delivered.

The shooter didn't get to remain in any state other than deceased, as the mob had guys put two in the back of his head after he fired at Colombo. Did he really think he was going to collect on his fee?

The older the New Yorker, the more memories I have.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Most Enjoyable Billions

I have to say, Sunday's episode of Billions was perhaps one of the most enjoyable episodes I've ever watched of any series. And I've seen A LOT of television.

Sure the Traveling Wilburys soundtrack was great, but the stories were the best. And there were plenty of angles to pay attention to. In fact, there were more angles than were on my 1964 New York State Geometry Regents exam. So many, they are best described in rhyme:

                                   Axe is back,
                                   And Taylor is pissed.
                                   Lara is mad,
                                   And Black Jack shits.

                                   Old man Rhoades
                                   Has the evening made,
                                   Until his plans
                                   Are waaay laid.

                                   Bryan Connerty
                                   Is looking tired.
                                   And then of course
                                   Is summarily fired.

                                   Dollar Bill and Spyros
                                   Minds have gotten,
                                   With the SEC knowledge
                                   They're a plottin'.

                                   Rhoades the junior
                                   Who is known as Chuck,
                                    Is a Machiavellian
                                   Who is really a fuck.

                                   And Wendy, while not
                                   Having put anyone to death,
                                   Is the 21st Century's
                                   Lady Macbeth.

                                   So the producers and writers
                                   Have set the stage a quiver,
                                   And next week will
                                   Once again deliver.

                                   What, a further tale of lies and deceit,
                                   Machinations and human stupidity?
                                   It's anyone's guess,
                                   If there will be nudity.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Who Can You Trust?

Okay, these TV shows are supposed to be fiction, but how much of their story is based on things that have actually happened? We don't really know, but the screenwriters do.

Take the latest episode of Billions. How can you ever be sure of what you read about a U.S. Attorney after watching that episode? The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the so-called Sovereign District, Chuck Rhoades, torpedoes a case against Bobby Axelrod and Axe Capital being brought by the Eastern District of New York, that has the chance of bringing Chuck down for his involvement in baiting Bobby with a stock he knew Bobby was going to engineer a short position on.

Additionally, there is the involvement of Chuck's wife Wendy who jumped on the short position via insider information and made a tidy sum. Then there's Chuck's dad Charles Rhoades, the scion of the Rhoades family, who might go down for perjury because of his hidden involvement is helping to provide the money for the short position, having taken it from Chuck's trust fund, with of course Chuck's knowledge.

This whole series of transactions are so intertwined that it has Chuck, Wendy and Axe sitting down together trying to figure out who takes the fall. Chuck's got a better idea.

And what an idea. He replants the slide that created the toxic brew that made everyone sick that sent Ice Juice's stick tumbling, making the short players immensely rich back into the possession of the doctor who helped Axe create the foul version of Ice Juice that induced so much vomiting. And of course all that vomiting was captured on cell phone video because all those sick people were in on the scam.

Ultimately by the end of the episode, Dr. Gilbert takes the fall for withholding cancer treatment from an employee of Axe Capital at the insistence of Bobby Axelrod, leading to the employee's more convenient death.

Chuck plays. Bobby plays. And Eastern District's case sinks when the evidence that Bryan Connerty (loaned to Eastern District) was going to present as the basis for getting a trial started suddenly disappears. Axe has had his Supremo fixer get the cell phone records changed that showed Wendy received the call from McFee, the Axe trader, rather than Wendy making the call to the trader. The distinction takes the spotlight off Wendy.

And just to insure that the spotlight stays off  Wendy, the trader, McFee, Dudley McFee, sort of re-remembers the sequence of events as being he calls Wendy, not the other way around. McFee turns into Dudley Do-Right and does right by Wendy and Axe Capital.

Wendy has made a visit to Mcfee's apartment to soften him up with a little visual affection. She's dressed to kill, and McFee has a crush on Wendy. A shared beer and her head on his shoulder leaves McDee completely smitten.

What's the windup? Eastern's case falls apart and the indictment against Bobby and Axe Capital is thrown out. Bobby Axelrod is not the Teflon Don, but water does slide off his duck's back. Wendy and Chuck escape scrutiny, and Dad is off the perjury rap.

An SEC fine against Mcfee for $181,00 is covered by Bobby. A flash drive with $1 million in crypto-currency is presented to McFee as a token of appreciation. And perhaps BEST of all is when McFee leaves the office, Wendy slides out of her office and plants an appreciative kiss on McFee's lips while the Ronette's are heard singing the thumping, "Baby, I love You."

Wendy explains it's platonic, but it is good enough for McFee, because he backs into the elevator like a star-struck school boy who is not going to wash his face for at least a week.

And Bobby and Axe? How are they going to enjoy their victory over the Eastern District and those conniving Federal prosecutors? With sex, of course.

The opening parental warnings promised some nudity, and the final scene adds to the little female nudity we already got when the tech from the cell phone company gets a surprise visit from the Bobby Axelrod Supremo fixer while he's in bed with a female, other than his wife.

The last scene produces much more nudity as Axe and Wags, but ultimately Axe, makes his way through  a bevy of party girl escort beauties that have been waiting at Axe's penthouse. It is cable television's version of The Charge of the Light Brigade. Girls to the left of Bobby. Girls to the right of Bobby. Girls behind Bobby, and best of all, three compliant-looking party babes naked in the hot tub to the front of Bobby awaiting his immersion.

I'll give the screenwriters this: at this point, crime does seem to pay.

Monday, May 7, 2018

It is All Relative

When it comes to comparing sums of money from different eras, it is all relative. In order to provide some perspective, a writer will often tell you what an amount is yesterday's dollars is worth in today's dollars.

A billion is yesterday's million. Mergers are multi-billion dollar affairs. Wealth is measured in billions. Mere millionaires need not apply.

Millions, and now billions, are amounts so large to most of us that they they abstract. They are so beyond anything we deal with in out lives on a daily basis that they are just words following dollar signs and numbers.

Those of a decidedly certain age will remember the U.S. Senator from Illinois, the velvet-voiced Everett Dirksen, who in the 60s once commented on how ubiquitous the quoted amounts of a million dollars had become. "A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." It really can add up.

There are several benchmarks of money that I hold onto. Two of them that don't involve real estate are what the New York Met Lenny Dykstra was making in his rookie year—the minimum of $100,000. Lenny of course eventually made more, then went on to be convicted of financial fraud and spent several innings (measured in months) in Federal prison.

The other one is also a baseball benchmark. I can still distinctly remember where I was sitting in P.S. 22 (I can't remember the grade I was in) when I considered what to me was the then staggering sum that each player on the New York Yankees was awarded for winning the just completed World Series. The share was $11,000 I believe. I couldn't help thinking that the amount was more than the cap stated on the F.D.I.C. insurance signs I would see in the bank I went to with my mother. I think the Dodger players as the losers were awarded $8,000, a sum anyone I knew would have been happy to have.

Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity was never about money, but there surely is a relativity to money.

Consider the opening paragraph of the New York Times reporter Sarah Lyall's piece on Margrethe Vestager, Europe's antitrust enforcer, when she tells us that Ms. Vestager is pursuing an examination of a proposed merger between Apply and Shazam, a music-identification app.. The deal is considered puny compared to other deals Ms. Vestager has taken an interest in.  Its value is not stated directly, but is described as being far less than $1 billion, a statement meant to convey how insignificant in money it is compared to other deals.

I have to say, I do know what it's like to be valued at less than $1 billion.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Homeland Season 7

Yikes! What can you say about the latest episode of Homeland that aired this past Sunday? And it's the Season 7 finale no less.

The  Elizabeth Keane presidency resembled the Ron Lyle-George Foreman heavyweight fight from decades ago. She's down; she's up; she's down and out again. Even if her leaving office was voluntary, it did follow her being reinstated after being forced out under the 25th Amendment, which of course followed her winning the election in the first place. The New York Times is probably still writing about it.

All of which goes to show that Beau Bridges's agent won out over Elizabeth Marvel's agent and Beau gets to stick around as president, it will be assumed at least until sometime into the next season.

As much as there is presidential see-saw, Carrie Mathison takes center stage. We knew from the last episode she's going to get caught. Detained at best. And sure enough, she lands in a Soviet basement prison, I'm sure looking like the infamous Lubyanka.

Carrie's prison guard, Alexander, at first seems like he's sympathetic with her. He brings her a good book to read. She seems to allude to offering sex for her medication. He dutifully delivers one pill, which turns out to be a placebo. Can't Carrie tell the difference? Doesn't she know the markings?

We don't really know if she made his knees buckle the night before, but we do know it's all over for her when Yevgeny tells her Alexander is being promoted away from the prison, and that there will be no more pills, even sugar pills.

Carrie's not willing to compromise herself and tell the Russian people on tape that everything has been a C.I.A. plot. She's holding fast, and tells Yevgeny, "fuck you," two words everyone seems to understand no matter what their native tongue is.

As predicted, The Bridge of Spies gets worked into the story when Carrie is exchanged for three Russians the Americans have been holding, presumably for a long time. One is the infamous Goren. Whatever he did, it must have been bad, because he wasn't even on any of the initial lists. He becomes the spy to be named later, when he is inserted into the trade package.

Carrie, as you would expect after being held for seven months without her bi-polar medication, is a mess. A real mess. Her eyes are wild, and she doesn't seem capable of talking. She's alive, but mentally...where is she? This doesn't look good.

The big question that is going to need to be answered between the seasons is if Carrie gets covered under any health insurance plan. Did Saul sneak her onto the government plan for federal employees?  Are pre-exsisiting conditions waived? Will Obamacare get worked into the script?

Or, is Carrie a 1099 employee and needs her own health plan? She might be in trouble here, considering she was maxed out on credit cards, and didn't seem to have a reliable source of income.

Carrie's sister is of course a doctor, albeit a pediatrician, but she has cared for Carrie in the past on the sly. And considering that Carrie didn't throw her under the bus at the custody hearing for Franny, Maggie will probably come through when needed.

Aside from medical care, Carrie is going to need a lawyer. Like, is she going to get back pay for this past confinement? But, since the story is centered in Washington, D.C., she should have absolutely nooo trouble finding one. All she needs to do is turn on a cable station and one will appear in between, what? for medication, of course.

As season finales go, it was quite a finale. More shoes to drop than are outside a mosque, or a Buddhist temple.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


It was a long, long time ago when the New York downstate Blue Cross Blue Shield plan I worked for merged with an upstate plan that centered around Albany and the surrounding counties. In those days, a given state could have several Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, independent of each other, but all belonging to an Association.

At one particular meeting that was held in our downstate offices, someone asked the Vice President of Marketing if he foresaw any further mergers that might take place in the state, further consolidating the plans.

The vice president, Robert McGrath, demurred for a few Jack Benny-like seconds and replied, "Not without some deaths and retirements." That's how he saw further consolidation in the state: someone had to get out of the way, either through death or leaving.

I always liked the reply and was reminded of it when I read a piece in this Monday's NYT on he special elections that were being held throughout New York State on Tuesday.

The reporter, Lisa W. Foderaro does a yeoman's job of summarizing all the vacancies, in the Senate and in the Assembly, that are expected to be filled by the special election. And there are lots of them.

First, the senate vacancies are discussed and handicapped. Then, the Assembly races are outlined with a salty observation of New York politics, and probably all politics in general.

Two fresh vacancies in the Assembly, resulting from the two certainties of life in Albany—death and indictment—will be decided in the November election.

All sorts of things make the line move.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Homeland in Mother Russia

Wow! THAT was an episode on Sunday!

My son-in-law's theory that the better episodes don't have Franny in them is starting to gain traction once again. But will Carrie return from Russia? The next episode previews give you an indication that there might he a hiccup. Oh my. Is Carrie going to he held by the Soviets and thrown into the basement of Lubyanka prison to await a prisoner spy swap? Will Tom Hanks be involved standing on a bridge lit by powerful search lights?

And Saul! Kick ass Saul. That after Sunday's episode we're not at war with Russia is due to something. What? They've all got money stashed in our banks? And they did all they did without mentioning Putin! Only referred to as "The Kremlin." Amazing.

Short on play details? Here you go.

We know Saul, Carrie and a commando team have landed in Russia to exfiltrate Simon Martin. They're not going to ask nicely. They're going to take her by force from the dacha lover-boy Yevgeny has got her stashed at.

Dar Adal, the imprisoned F. Murray Abraham who led a military attempt to overthrow President Keane, gets a visit from Senator Paley. Jerk Paley tries to get Dar's sympathies by telling him that a new administration will get him sprung. In the scruffy prison yard, surrounded by fences and bad barb wire, a bitter, cold Dar in a watch cap gives Paley some obtuse advice: find someone who knows how the Russians operate. There aren't many to choose from.

Plan A goes badly. The Russians have been tipped by that traitor Senator Paley and his Chief of Staff Janet Bayne. They want to see President Keane go so they can what...? Shack up better in the Maryland woods? Disgusting!

Paley's Chief of Stuff, Janet Bayne, gets the hacker Clint in the cellar living with Mom (of course) to cough up details. Jerk! Can't take the heat about a threatening phone call to the Attorney General? He probably won't even answer the phone. Asshole. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and this guy is a weak link.

Commando team fails with Plan A. Saul gets even tougher with the Russians at the delegation's meeting in a sumptuous ballroom. When General Yakoshin of the GRU visits Saul in the power breakfast restaurant to tell him his bank accounts have been emptied he immediately suspects Saul has something to do with it. He tells Saul, in very good English, "Fuck you Saul."

"Fuck me? Okay, but this is what you get when the gloves come off while you're cursing me..." We want Saul as our N.S.A. director for real. And our Secretary of State. And the head of our C.I.A. Think President Trump is tough telling Kim Jong-Un that his nuclear button is bigger than his nuclear button? Saul's the real deal. Saul's got more cojones that a chamber full of Senators.

Saul puts Carrie's Plan B into motion. Seems you can get the Soviet general's attention by seizing the money he's stolen and parked in the United States. What's the general going to do in his retirement? Buy a condo at 432 Park Avenue, live with the Saudis and shop on Fifth Avenue when he's not entertaining the ladies at the Russian Tea Room, or Petrossian, ordering vodka and exotic caviar? Go to Disney World?

No matter now. Funds are on hold. Do as Saul says. Tell him where Simone Martin is. Well, that's one pissed off head of the SVR, General Yakushin. He hates the GRU, the counterpart intelligence agency, all of which have replaced the KGB. More is always better, right?

This general is so mad he assembles an attack team with heavily armed Balaclava-wearing commandos armed to the teeth in a parade of black vehicles to pull out or kill Simone, who is being held in an ultra-secure penthouse in the GRU building by Yevgeny. And all this is visible on hacked computer feeds to Carrie in Russia, and her buddy Max back at he safe house stateside. Talk about watching Russian television! It would seem if anyone wants to, they can get you taking a shit.

Max introduces fake news to the Russian people. He feeds all the computers he can get access to the scene of commandos taking over the GRU building. It seems they too have Chicken Little the-sky-is-falling news outlets as well. Thank God for fake news. In a word, chaos.

And Carrie? She's out on a ledge, literally, making her way to Simon's aerie. What happens next? Drama. Wigs, (Carrie thinks of everything, and brings it with her.) decoy vehicles, and an abrupt ending that has you begging for the next episode.

While Saul and the gang are in Russia that asshole vice president played by Beau Bridges has removed President Keane from office under articles contained in the 25th Amendment, the one that said Alexander Haig is not the president just because President Reagan underwent surgery with general anesthesia. Sorry Al. A civilian Seven Days in May has occurred.

A stunned President Elizabeth Keane after hearing the Supreme Court ruled against her 5-4, leaves the Oval Office without her purse and without changing her shoes. No sexist trappings in the script there. She goes out like a man.

My daughter tells me in real life, Claire Danes, who plays Carrie Mathison, is pregnant. What this will do to the script is unknown. Probably won't play into it because the finale is coming up, and then the hiatus till Season 8. I don't think we're going to get another Franny.

Meanwhile, expect Carrie to be "detained" in Russia. Saul and the boys will make it back to the states with Simone, and Keane gets to keep her job.

What happens to Senator Sam Paley, Janet Bayne, and that doofus vice president Ralph Warner is anyone's guess. Separate cells in Federal prison? Dar Adal gets Sam as a roommate? Ralph?

Will Carrie be like Jason Matthew's character Dominika Egorova, who when suspected of being a double agent, is tethered to an air conditioner in Lubyanka's basement in an attempt to make her talk?

Carrie's tougher than all of them. As long as she gets her meds, she's unstoppable. Stay tuned. I know I will.