Saturday, March 31, 2018


It was somewhat young crop of those who were given tribute obituaries in Thursday's NYT. Two full pages, five obits. And I'm older than 4 of the 5 freshly deceased.

There are those who joke that they know they're alive when they pick up the paper and don't read that they're dead. That's a bit presumptuous. As if their passing will be noticed for a readership to read about.

But here are the four whose time on earth will forever be less than mine.

Spread across two solid pages of text and photos (no ads) were obituaries for Philip Kerr, 62, a Scottish author best known for creating a German detective who lives and works during the Nazi era in Germany. Apparently the novels were so popular that when Mr. Kerr stopped writing about his character Bernie Gunther for 15 years, fans of the character couldn't stop asking him when was there was going to be another installment. Certainly sounds like Canon Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

Relenting to popular demand, Mr. Kerr again started writing about Gunther. I have to say I never heard of his novels, but I am now interested since this seems to be the kind of book I enjoy the most. And a private detective in Nazi Germany who hates the Nazis, is too appealing not to take in at least once. I never thought of there being a private detective during this era.

Nancy McFadden, 59 a political adviser to President Clinton and California's Governor Jerry Brown passed away from ovarian cancer.

Ms. McFadden was an extremely influential and trusted adviser, certainly the influence behind the throne, whose name was anything but a household name.

Saba Mahmood, 57, a Pakistani scholar of feminism and its intersection with the Muslim faith. She had pancreatic cancer.

Given that 5 obituaries popped up and took two pages, I was tempted to skip some. I wanted to show myself some progress in whittling down the pile of newsprint that magically grows in my living room.

I thought Ms. Mahmood was one I could skip, but a glance at a few of the paragraphs drew me in, and I read all of her obit as well. She was apparently a respected scholar who was trying to research Islam and its hold on political states. She had an uphill battle being listened to.

Arnold Hirsch, 69, who documented the origin of black ghettos in Chicago passed away due to complications of Parkinson's disease. He too was an academic whose research and views were considered a standard to be referred to.

The fifth, and the one obit for someone older than myself, was for Mel Rosen, 90, a legendary track coach whose team members won 20 medals at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. I have to say the name didn't ring a bell, but the described events about the composition of the men's 1992 relay teams did.

The one thing about reading obituaries of those who are younger than myself sometimes make me wonder what did I ever accomplish? Certainly looking back there is no notoriety that I will ever be noted for that would justify a NYT tribute obit.

But that's okay, because certainly of  all the people who pass away every day, there are only a select few who we get to read about. And an even further select few who make it to the front page, above the fold, or straddling it, or firmly below it.

I sometimes imagine I've taken a journalism class and the instructor has assigned us the task of writing our own obituary. How would it go? I'm aware that Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Luck Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries at one point taught a journalism class at Columbia that had Margalit Fox, a NYT obituary writer in attendance. She remembers she had talent. She does.

So, how would I start? I'm not going past the lede. "...passed away...on...thinking that dying, like so many things in life, reminded him of something, but he was unable to share it since dying got in the way of telling anyone what it was.

What would be a summary of the events in the life of...?

Since Billy Joel and I are about he same age, I've been alive for all the events in his song 'We Didn't Start the Fire." I remember them all.

I remember being in the classroom in P.S. 22 in Flushing when the teacher asked us to stand up and say a prayer for the recovery of President Eisenhower, who had just suffered one of his heart attacks.  Imagine that: prayer in a New York City public school.

I remember the reaction the country had to Russia's success launching the satellite Sputnik. It was a national wake up call. I remember telling my mother I was going to grow up and be a scientist and outdo them. Well, that didn't happen.

Reading a book review of a recent biography of Ike I was surprised to read he suffered 6 heart attacks, but was of course there to pass the presidency onto JFK in 1961, an inauguration I remember watching on TV, almost  laughing at the top hats being worn.

I remember 'Duck and Cover' of course, drills that had us seeking cover under our desks, facing away from the windows that were surely going to be blasted open when an atomic bomb hit. It was the Duck and Cover drill that had me backing away from the window near my cubicle on the 27th floor in the World Trade Center, Tower One on 9/11 when the first plane hit. No glass exploded for me, but I continued backing up and eventually went down the staircase to safety. I figured whatever it was that made the building shake would be repaired soon and I'd then go back and get my things. I was wrong about that one.

Of course today students, my grandchildren included, do 'Active Shooter Drills.' Growing up and getting older has always been filled with peril. Pete Hamill wrote in an anthology of obituaries "that life is the leading cause of death."

I've lived through a workplace shooting just a little more than a year after 9/11 that left three dead, including the suicide of the shooter. The two victims were co-workers, one of whom was a 36 year-old woman with two school age children who I used to tell was going to live to see some of her girls' classmates pass on from something. How could anyone predict that she'd be the one to pass on in the fashion she did.

I've so far lived through 13 presidencies; one assassinated, one who resigned, one impeached, and two who were father and son. I have no idea how many more administrations I'll be around for. I once read of someone living through 18. But that was quite a while ago. Deaths in office can help the count grow high.

No matter what happens from here on in, I've covered a lot of territory. And already more than some.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The News Cycle

That there is seemingly more news these days than at any other time in history is no doubt a subjective opinion. News to one person is tripe to another.  Even adjusting for the magnitude of the news, I think there would be some agreement that ever since Donald Trump became president there is A LOT of news.

Aside from the domestic news cycle that right now seems to have Census questions, Mark Zukerberg of Facebook, Stormy Daniels, gun control, police shootings of suspects and the state of the president's cabinet in the media crosshairs, there is the international news that reaches our shores every day.

There are still ongoing wars, acts of terrorism, poisonings, and immigration concerns that have probably made some forget there is still a race for the 'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On' contest that has not yet been decided.

When last we checked in on Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Teresa May, Ms May was considered to be somewhat in the lead. Match races are rare in horse racing. This is when two horses are pitted against each other at the same time. They start together, and race a designated distance around the track.

Thus, is was a rare photo the other days that showed the two major entrants, Ms. May and Ms. Merkel seated together in Brussels (where else?) along with France's President Emmanuel Macron. Since Macron is a man, he doesn't count, which is pretty much the state of emotions these days.

Prime Minister May and Chancellor Merkel are both dressed in age appropriate attire that reflects their status as heads of state.

Ms. May is in the center, both legs firmly planted on the floor, knees locked, showing no evidence of flashing cheesecake, wearing what looks like a purple suit with thoroughly sensible footwear.

Ms. Merkel is seen in a bright contrasting outfit with a light pink top, almost making you think of Easter and jelly beans, and her trademark dark trousers, and what looks like rubber soled shoes..

Right now, it's a tie.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Short of always wondering if Mark Zukerberg will ever wear a shirt with a collar, I have no interest in Facebook.

I never "joined," I don't try and look anyone up on Facebook on the chance they have given open access to anyone (which it seems everyone does in some regard). I have gotten emails from something telling me, "you have more friends on Facebook than you think." No I don't.

Of course the news last week and this is how your Facebook data was used by Cambridge Analytics, a U.K. firm, to predict how you might vote, and what products and news should be pitched your way.

Somewhat like the Caine Mutiny and Captain Queeg's search for "who ate the strawberries," everyone is now running around and wondering who's been looking at your profile, etc. Your data. Someone's been sleeping in my data.

Mark Zukerberg has popped up in several news interviews, all while not even slowing down to glance in a window at Men's Wearhouse to even check out a shirt with a collar and cuffs. He admits mistakes have been made. Congress is getting itchy. The Federal Trade Commission is getting interested. The AG's in thirty-seven states are gearing up for some legal action. The wagons are being circled around Mark's undershirt.

What is Facebook anyway? A news organization, or just a broad platform that allows users to stay in touch with one another? The ultimate social media application.

What started as a means to try and get girls while in a Harvard dorm, has now turned into something out of 1984, if only George Orwell had started writing about 1984 a little later in life.

Likes, Favorites, Shares, all ways to stay connected. And by itself, the concept is not bad. At the 1964 World's Far I distinctly remember a demonstration of a phone by AT&T that allowed you to see the caller, and the caller to see you. We got there, and then some.

One telling Tweet I read went "in retrospect, it might have been a mistake to give Facebook all of my personal information in exchange for seeing what my high school friends ate for dinner."

We can't help telling others something about ourselves. Or, having others do it for us. A story in the WSJ tells us the nominee for Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, who up to now has had no electronic footprint in files other than her employer, the CIA, is 61, has worked for the CIA for her entire career for over 30 years, is from Kentucky, is single, is a Johnny Cash fan and keeps a life-size cutout of the man who knew a "thousand songs" in her office. There's nothing I'm going to do with this information other than share it with you, and wonder what Johnny's offspring think of his likeness in a 7th floor office at Langley.

I still have a book somewhere on the shelf titled 'The Death of Privacy." the book is from the late 60s and has pictures of IBM punch cards as being the vehicle that will whisk way all your secrets. Never mind that Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, has been quoted that there is no such thing as privacy. John Deutch, a former director of the CIA, presciently proclaimed over a decade ago that "the ultimate strategic weapon is an electron."

Looks like he was right.

Another Homeland

Before we get into the latest Homeland episode, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As any regular viewer knows by now, Carrie Mathison has a daughter Franny from her relationship with Nicholas Brody, also a red head, and also a terrorist who was hung. But that's ancient history. Franny and Carrie are living with Carrie's sensible, pediatrician sister because the mean President Elizabeth Keane has fired Carrie and Carrie's credit cards are maxed out and she's got no job.

Well, no job that anyone is paying her for, but she does have work. Trying to do the right thing and save the Republic. But uh-oh, Carrie's libido seems to have her constantly hooked up with bad boys. She was probably like that in high school. Popular, but for the wrong reasons.

Poor cute, traumatized Franny. She's awoken in the middle of the night by FBI agents and Saul knocking the door down and arresting the naked guy under her naked mommy. She's going to grow up thinking sex will get you arrested. This girl is going to need counseling BIG time.

Carrie it seems can't keep her clothes on when she's around the bad boys. Terrorist, Russian agent, she's a human libido machine that can only get her in deep international trouble.

The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming was a movie over 50 years ago, staring Alan Arkin about a crew of Russian sailors who pop up on Nantucket. It was written by Peter Benchley's father, Nathaniel. It is a very funny movie and is really a precursor to Jaws. Peter just used a shark, rather than the Cold War enemy. Showtime gives us another version of The Russians are Coming 

Saul obviously didn't have a dossier on Simone, or he would have met a more sympathetic FISA judge. The episode is geared to making us think the judiciary has no political thoughts. Well, that's fiction.

Saul's not asking the judge for surveillance of Simone, he's asking for a write of mandamus. Who says TV can't be educational? Mandamus refers to obtaining permission to perform a duty, which in this case means Saul wants to interrogate Simone. The judge is not convinced a few pictures of greedy Russian oligarchs laundering money through the NGO she is associated with is enough to warrant granting the writ. He tells Saul what he really is doing is jury tampering, and Saul knows it. Poor Saul. 

What we don't get to see is the load of shit in Max's pants when Saul shows up in his apartment after a breakfast with the commando team at the local Greek diner. It wasn't what you ate Max, it's what you did.

If the country is in trouble, which is what the entire season is about, you Better Call Saul. If Oprah Winfrey can appear at an awards show, say a few words and find herself igniting a media frenzy that she run for president, then Saul as the National Security Advisor can make you wish Trump was hiring him instead of neocon John Bolton.

The coming episode shows preening Senator Paley asking for Madam president's resignation. If that were to happen Beau Bridges would get a lot more work. He's rarely seen in TV and the movies. He's a perfect VP. Totally clueless.

I think we're headed for Carrie being sedated and taken to the hospital, but the Republic will be saved. Just like nerve gas that was prevented from escaping into the German subway system. She and Saul will make up, and hopefully serve the American people once again and keep the Republic alive for CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, NPR, NYT and all the other news outlets that try and run the country.

In God We Trust. And Showtime.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Who Is the...?

There are a few questions asked of people to evaluate their cognitive functions. These are meant to see if the subject is oriented in today's time and place. My daughter Susan, a Speech and Language Pathologist who is one tick away from her Ph.D., is studying the early-onset of Alzheimer's Disease, AD. In this pursuit, she is running a study evaluating a population of those with and without signs of AD.

Orientation question can go along the lines of "Where are we today?" "What town are we in ?" "What is today?" "What year is it?"

Her favorite question is however, "Who is the president?" She gets flat responses that say "Trump is the president." Then she gets those that are opinionated. She shared one recently.

Subject is an 86 year-old male with AD.
"Who is the president of the United States?"
"A horse's ass."
"What is his name? I can't give you credit for that answer."
"I told you, a horse's ass. And I know you agree with me. TRUMP!"
Subject's head bangs on the table.
"Okay, I can give you a point for that."

My daughter has only been running this study since Trump was elected. Thus, there is no data on how subjects answered when say, Obama was president.

When is comes to academics, if there is always room for Jell-O there is always room for another study. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trump Tower

This might be the first blog posting with President Trump as the subject. And why not? Everyone else writes and says things about him. It's time I joined in.

Much has been made of the president's environmental policies. Global warming is no big deal, or doesn't exist. If national park land in Utah holds oil, reduce the size of the park and drill, baby, drill.

This is somewhat the opposite of how Los Angeles handled its water needs decades ago. They expanded the size of the county to include where the water would come from. Just like years ago the mammoth set of three co-op high rises, North Shore Towers off the Long Island Expressway, that had foundations in two counties, Queens (NYC) and Nassau, found itself eventually completely in Queens when the politicians declared all the land was in Queens County, thus allowing the residents to vote for the mayor, and most likely vote Democratic. Gerrymandering is not exclusive to either party.

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day and the guess is that someone, the guy on the left with the green tie and green pocket square, just rendered a recital at the piano of Irish songs. If Lawrence Welk was still alive, this guy would be on the show telling you about Irish eyes. Which Irish songs he sang we don't know, but there is a bar in NYC on 33rd Street, just west of 5th Avenue, opposite the Empire State building, Foley's, that is filled with sports memorabilia everywhere you look that has famously excluded Danny Boy from its jukebox. If you want to hear Danny Boy on St, Patrick's Day, you need to go somewhere else.

Seen in the photo above, just behind first lady Melania, appropriately dressed in a green frock are the flags of the United States and the Republic of Ireland. Notice the three colors of the Irish flag. They are green, white and gold. There are songs about these three colors.

On Friday night, Lee Goldberg, the Channel 2 weatherman told the audience that on Saturdays night, the Empire State building was going to be lit in the colors of Ireland, "green, orange and white. My Irish-American wife likes Lee, so she forgave him for describing gold as orange, symbolic of Northern Ireland and England. She reasoned Lee is Jewish, and to forgive is divine.

In the center of the photo, as always in the center of all things in the White, is certainly President Donald Trump, holding what looks like a green hedge pilfered from in front of one of the NYC buildings bearing his name. You'd almost expect 'Trump' to be carved into the topiary.

A closer looks revels that the glass vase is holding an abundant array of shamrocks, so abundant that the president's face can't be seen. He's having fun.

But who now says the president isn't a Green President?

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Legacy Admission

It is not often I read an article in the NYT and laugh out loud, but yesterday's take on John J. Gotti being sentenced is one for the ages. Usually you can count on anything appearing in the Times as being well-written, but invariable dry. Not so when Alan Feuer turned his sights and mind on witnessing the scene inside a courtroom as John J. was being sentenced.

The Gotti name doesn't carry the instant recognition amongst the New York City population that it once did, certainly because John Gotti Sr. died in prison in 2002, and his son John A. Gotti Jr. and even his grandson, John J. Gotti, sentenced on Monday, did not receive the splashy tabloid headlines that would mark Senior's arrests and trials.

Nevertheless, there is a case to made that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, especially when you consider John J.'s two grandfathers, along with two uncles and two great-uncles were all at one time time sentenced to Federal prison. Like any Ivy League school, legacy admissions are alive and well in New York's Federal courts.

I went to same high school as my father, and when I got there, my father's chemistry teacher was still there. I didn't have him, and he retired before I graduated, but he was on the faculty, drawing breath as well as salary. And like there can be tenured continuity in academic settings, there is also long-term employment in civil service jobs. Consider Mr. Feuer's observation that John A. Gotti Jr. son of John J. Gotti Sr. greeted the court sketch artist with true affection, as she had sketched his trials (no convictions) and those of his father's (convictions).

Peter J. Gotti, the defendant's father, and John A. Gotti, the defendant's uncle. both presented the court with written statements trying to explain things and asking for the court's mercy at sentencing.

Lots of families have traditions. My family created a line of florists. And "storied American families" certainly have theirs. Mr. Feuer channels Jimmy Breslin when he tells us:

"Storied American families often have traditions. The Kennedys are known for playing football on skis. The Bushes gather ranch brush. The Gottis it would seem write notes to federal judges asking them for mercy for their loved ones."

It should be remembered there was only one fatality involving a Kennedy on skis playing football, and it occurred when the the intended wide receiver skied straight into a tree that wouldn't get out of the way.

No letter to the Almighty was going to spare him.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge physicist, has passed away at 76.

Born on the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo, and passed away on the 139th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein is a cosmic bookend that could only belong to Stephen Hawking.

Does time bend, or is it woven? Will there be an eminent physicist who is already born, or yet to be born, who will turn out to be born on an x anniversary of Einstein's death, who will in turn pass away on an x anniversary of Stephen Hawking's birth?  Time of course and theoretical work will of course tell.

I never read Hawking's A Brief History of Time, but I might now at least pick up a copy, which of course will now be readily available again, and take a stab at its contents. What can I lose? If I fail to comprehend what's inside, leaving the book out when company comes over will at least create an illusion of intelligence. Image can be everything.

It is somewhat hard for me to get a concept of what a black hole is other than it must exist in our home because my wife dropped an earring in the TV room and it has yet to be found. Will it escape the black hole, or will it remain forever hidden? Destroyed matter? Maybe it is emitting radiation, promoting growth of the plants in the window.

But with the persistence worthy of Dr. Hawking's life we are going to get an answer as to where it is, even if we have to empty the room and paint it again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Is it too late to start writing about Showtime's series Homeland? Certainly not.

I won't try and summarize all that has happened throughout all the seasons, but will only write enough to bring you up to speed about the main character, Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, who in the latest season is head of her own intelligence group trying to save the United States from something. Russians, likely.

Carries, as most by now know, is bipolar, and given to bouts of hypomania. The latest bout is being treated by her self-medication with all the right drugs that can be bought out of the trunk of a car (discount for frequent buyers). She is doing this rather than taking the physician prescribed medicine because that leaves her zonked out for days. And a series that just shows Carrie tossing and turning  in her sleep under the covers is no series at all.

In the latest episode, Carrie has rounded up the gang of covert operatives that she used to work with when she was in Kabul with the C.I.A. It became obvious Carrie was going to do this when she showed up at Draft Pick No. 1's mobile home wearing a black leather jacket, pulled a Heineken from the guy's cooler and sat back and took a few good swigs straight from the bottle. A beer guzzling operative is one you want to work with.

Most of the latest episode revolves around Carrie and her guys using enough electronic equipment to influence a Russian election, if only Russian elections had two candidates.

How Carrie bankrolls this op is not known, since she is unemployed and has perhaps $50,000 in credit card debt with no wiggle room left to charge anymore. She is living with her young daughter Franny at the home of her pediatrician sister. The only daytime TV Carries watches is that of the surveillance feed from the president's Chief of Staff's home, a feed engineered by Carrie and one of her operatives, Max. Carries thinks something is up with David Wellington, and not just his greeting for his girlfriend, a possible French woman of unknown origin.

A concurrent narrative running through the latest episode is how president Elizabeth Keane is dealing with the aftermath of a massacre between the heavily armed F.B.I. and the heavily armed right-wing separatists. The stand-off and subsequent mammoth shootout resulted when the right-wing radio host refused to surrender to authorities and instead took refuge at a sympathizer's home in rural Virginia.

Saul Berenson, the bearded, baritone voiced National Security Advisor is informing President Keane that the Russians are manipulating the news through social media. The good news here for Trump fans is that even with a female president the Russians are poking their disinformation campaigns into America's social media platforms. The president has her hands full.

It is easy to see the scriptwriters are reading the newspapers and watching the shows. As my son-in-law has so astutely remarked: "It has to be easier to create fiction when you are using actual events."

Saturday, March 10, 2018


The question posed by @JenAshleyWright on Twitter is simple enough: "What's the weirdest thing you remember misunderstanding as a kid?"

@JenAshleyWright got the ball rolling:
  • I thought adultery meant "pretending to be an adult."
Other answers have been posted. Sometimes multiple ones from the same person. @sarahlyall responds:
  • I thought that candidates won large numbers of boats on Election Day.
  • When I heard cars backfiring somewhere in the NYC streets outside my window, I thought the Russians were firing cannons at us.
@mariadkins92 responds;
  • I thought watergate was an actual gate. like a dam that holds back water.
If I read this right, there have been 5,900 replies to the March 7th question, waaaaay more than I'll read, and waaaaay more than I'll write here. But of course you're welcome to dig in for yourself.

As for myself, my response surrounded a sacrifice. I think I was perhaps seven and all my friends were busy telling everyone what they were giving up for Lent. School was usually offered as the first choice, but I don't think anyone was really allowed to give up school for 40 days. I don't remember kids disappearing from 2nd Grade for a Lenten sabbatical.

Other than that, I quite honest;y can't remember what my friends gave up for Lent that year. I do remember that like other kids I did chew gum. Wrigley's Doublemint. Not spearmint.

A pack cost a nickel and I distinctly remember where on the block I was when I announced I was giving up gum for Lent. I think me and whomever has just come back from the candy store when I told them I was giving gum up for Lent. No one seemed impressed with the extent of that sacrifice. I do remember that I equated it with saving a nickel. How I earned that nickel I have no idea. Maybe I had a candy allowance.

I'd like to say that the saved nickel put me on a path to being a rival to Warren Buffet, but that's not true. I probably just bought an extra box of Canada mints. Wintergreens were my favorite.

What I didn't realize at the time was that my friends were Catholic, and they were supposed to give up something for Lent. I didn't understand that the sacrifice had a termination date. At Easter, Lent was over, and you could go back to having/doing whatever it was you gave up for Lent.

Thus, aside from not being Catholic and not understanding that being Greek Orthodox didn't require you to give something up for Lent, I didn't realize that giving something up for Lent only meant that you did it for the duration of Lent, not forever.

I never chewed gum past the age of seven.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Alan Gershwin. Maybe

"...your daddy's rich, and your mamma's good lookin'..."

And that would be the case if George Gershwin was really your father, and the "interpretive dancer" Molly Charleston was really your mother.

I always thought Clifford Irving pulled off one of the greatest frauds by claiming the billionaire recluse Howard Hughes gave him the rights to write his biography. But now I read that there was a dead-ringer of George Gershwin who for decades claimed he was the illegitimate son of George Gershwin, the American composer.

By now some of us have heard the claim that if you're one-in-a-million, then there are 2,000 people just like you in China. The same if you're in India. Alan Gershwin's claim of direct lineage to George apparently was met with a good deal of skepticism when someone claimed,"there are a lot of Jewish guys in Brooklyn today who look like that."

Apparently, Alan Gershwin made a bit of a livelihood for decades passing himself off, quite convincingly, as George's son when he made paid appearances and talked of his famous "father." He doesn't seem to have ever gotten claim to any of the estate, and the best DNA test of matching a saliva swab from Alan to a tuft of hair from George's deceased sister, Frances Gershwin Godowsky, proved there was no relation.

The full-page obituary in today's NYT by David Margolick is an obituary as well as a piece of investigative reporting. It requires careful, repeated reading to suss out the conclusion that Alan's claim of being the illegitimate son was itself illegitimate, but one he never paid any penalty for in the eyes of the law.

As the lyrics to Summertime from Porgy and Bess end..."there's a' nothin' can harm you, with daddy and mamma standing by" certainly remained true for Alan, whoever his parents were.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Wealthy Cat Dies At 19

There was a WSJ A-Hed piece on December 21, 2017 that I somehow forgot to comment on. The front page somehow got underneath a pile of unread newspapers and has only been recently excavated. The headline was:

Lost a Pet? First, Write An Obit
Once discouraged by newspapers, odes bloom online

Given that there are now more outlets for people to express opinions and sorrows, it is no wonder that some of those platforms are getting their share of pet obituary traffic, generally self-penned tributes to the passing of a favorite pet, which is not always a dog or a cat. There can be monkeys.

The piece tells us that newspapers once printed these tributes, but that long fell out of favor when an animal's obituary was seen alongside Aunt Margaret's obit. Aunt Margaret's family understandably expressed dissatisfaction at the proximity of an animal's life described so closely to their loved one.

The touching stories of people and their pets is evident throughout the piece. Most interesting however is the nugget that once upon a time when newspapers did publish pet obituaries, they did so at some length when the pet was owned by a famous person.

There is mention of the 1931 obituary of the death of Admiral Byrd's dog, Igloo, "Polar Hero...Mascot of  Expeditions to Both Ends of the Earth." The piece is an obituary, complete with a photo of the admiral with the fox terrier who succumbed to a stomach ailment and died at the Admiral's home on Brimmer Street in Boston, forcing the Admiral to cancel Midwest speaking engagements to hurry home. The dog had been attended to by three veterinarians.

The April 22, 1931 NYT piece is not however on the obituary page per sé, but rather a news item on page 27 of a 52 page edition. It is a tribute obit written as a news item.

The piece runs several column inches, with the large accompanying photo to the left. But just off to the right as you get toward the bottom of the story there is another news obit

Wealthy Cat Dies at 19
Fortune Had Been Left to her Pet By a Los Angeles Woman.

There is no photo, and the story doesn't run anywhere near as long as the for for Igloo, but the cat, Mitzi, is described as a blue Persian, who was cared for with "unlimited portions of liver" paid by the $15,000 trust fund established by her Owner Dr. Maude Cain that also included the mansion to house her.

And lest there be any belief that Mitzi met with foul play, a veterinarian, Dr. A. C. White certified that the cat was "legally dead," which I suppose might be the term of the era to denote having passed on because of natural causes, or that the death was in no way suspicious. Thanks goodness. Because the next step is probate court for the cat's estate, which under the terms of Dr. Cain's will, goes to Otelia Kuschke of Los Angeles.

Which goes to show you that in any era you can't take it with you, but you sure as hell can direct where it goes.

A Deuce

The WSJ has a recent A-Hed piece about the $2 bill being used for what I'd call "novelty tipping." There are those who load up on a supply of $2 bills and use them liberally when tipping bartenders and restaurant servers.

Not that they hand out multiple $2 bills and leave an aggregate amount of say $8, $6, or even $4. No, they leave a $2 tip in the form of a $2 bill. Some hotshots these folks.

One big tipper, Norman Broshear, describes his use for the bill. When he orders beers and it comes time to tip, he slides a $2 bill onto the bar.  "If you order two beers, you're probably going to drop $2 in a tip anyway. But if you drop a $2 bill in, the person feels like they got a $5 or $10 tip. But it still only cost me $2." Mr. Broshear's way of creating income equality. Works for him.

Another fellow, Daniel Collette, a patron of the Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta offering that allows him to get unlimited pasta meals in an eight week period for a $100 buy in, leaves a $2 bill, or two, as the tip for each meal. His thinking is since there is no bill for the meal's amount, he has no way of taking a percentage of an unknown (an educated guess I guess is out), so he resorts to the $2 bill method of tipping. He has even seen other Never Ending Pasta diners do the same.

It's a great A-Hed piece on other uses people have for the bill.
U-2 pilots use if for good luck. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has perhaps the most creative use for the bill, ordering uncut sheets from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. He has sometimes attracted the wrong kind of attention from skeptical recipients of the cutoff bills, but for the most part gets away with the novelty of slicing off the currency from a master sheet.

Despite the issuance of the bill from 1862 to 1966, and then resuming production in 1976 for the bicentennial, I never handled many $2 bills in general circulation when I was growing up working at the family flower shop. In the 60s, the bill was described to me as  the "racetrack" bill. Patrons at the track might get the bill in their payouts, and then in turn bet it back into the system at the $2 windows. The basic racetrack bet was always $2 for the longest time. Most payouts are still quoted in terms of amounts based on a $2 bet. The $2 window however exists only in a museum, it if exists at all. You can still catch it in old movies, if you look closely.

For perhaps 50 years I've carried a $2 in my wallet for good luck. It is held together with enough dried-out Scotch tape to have wrapped a good size Christmas present. Where I got it I no longer remember. The bill is an example of the older $2 bill that was a United States Note, not a Federal Reserve Note, and had Monticello on the back, rather than the current portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Using a unique piece of currency for tipping is nothing new, at least not to me. In August 1964 when I accompanied my father's friend and his son on a tour of Europe, the friend, an attorney in Washington, D.C., armed himself with a supply of the newly minted 50¢ half dollars that commemorated John F. Kennedy.

JFK of course had been assassinated in November 1963, and there was still a tremendous outpouring of sympathy for the slain president, nationally, and in Europe. He was revered by many.

Taking advantage of the symbolism of the coin, and its freshly minted newness, my father's friend would press it into say the cab driver's hand, tell a short story, and get away with a 50¢ tip. He bought his supply of half dollars at face value of course, so he was coming out way ahead.

Canada of course has eliminated any paper currency below $5. They replaced their $1 bill with a $1 coin called a 'Loonie' because of the single loon (bird) on the reverse. Canada had a $2 bill, but I'm not sure it was widely circulated. But they do have a $2 coin, the 'Toonie,' so called because of the two Loony birds on the reverse.

But wait. If you act now you can get the newly minted Toonie that glows in the dark, depicting the Northern Lights. It is Canada's newest coin creation and is touching off a hoarding fad.

And since one Canadian dollar is worth 78¢ U.S. right now, you can get a Toonie for $1.56 straight up and leave it as a $2 tip.

Short of counterfeiting, this is a great way to make money.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Last Word in Curling. Maybe.

Just as it has been impossible not to see at least a few seconds of curling throughout NBC's telecasts, it has also been impossible not to see that someone has written about curling in the newspapers. Different papers. Different reporters. Often.

Take the latest example—and perhaps the last example until the four-year hibernation is over—that appeared the other day as the A-Hed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say, the NYT gave the sport outsized coverage considering how few people are involved in curling outside of perhaps Minnesota. And now the WSJ contributes—quite uncharacteristically with no puns in sight— the following straightforward headline and sub head:

Curling's Confusing—To Scientists
 On ice, the sport's stone doesn't behave as expected

Consider the second paragraph, telling us of John Shuster, the U.S. captain:

"He gave the curling stone a clockwise turn that made it curve slightly right as it slid toward its target, the curl the sport is named for."

The third paragraph tells us: "This is puzzling sport to play—and so far impossible for scientists to explain."

Great. We land on the moon, send a probe to Mars, launch satellites and do all sorts of things in space, but can't explain why a curling stone does what it does? (We also don't seem to be able the build a reliable coin counting machine for the public to use in bank lobbies. They keep getting pulled from use for inaccuracies. But that, as they say, is a story for another time.)

Apparently, if you put an overturned glass on a smooth surface and spin in clockwise, it will curve left, opposite of what a curling stone will do. Likewise, a counterclockwise spin will send the glass right. Spin a curling stone fast? It will go straight. Spin a glass hard, it curves. The A-Hed piece comes complete with diagrams in color to illustrate the properties of these spins on the objects.

The spin and direction of a curling stone has been baffling scientists for nearly a century! Consider the following who have weighed in on it:

1924. University of Saskatchewan physicist Ertle Harrington...

1930. Researchers William Macauley and G.E. Smith write in the journal Nature...

Currently...University of Northern British Colombia physicist Mark Shaglski and Edward Lozowski, University of Alberta team up...

Also currently...Harald Nyberg, doing graduate work at Uppsala University in Sweden...

Surely because the game is played on a sheet of ice helps explain why scientists from cold-weather climates are interested in the physics of curling. There is no work cited from any scientists who might be doing their thing near the equator.

Will curling now go into broadcasting hibernation? Will a cable station spring up that covers curling matches live from curling clubs in Minnesota? Will curling spin get an accepted scientific explanation that rivals Einstein's theories?

The U.S. team captained by John Shuster that won the gold medal doesn't seem to search for scientific explanations. Mr. Shuster, a bit of a hefty fellow pictured above, tells us, "I just throw the rocks, man."