Thursday, April 26, 2018

Succession

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.

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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.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Billions, Give or Take a Few Million

Some spoilers.

You're probably familiar with the ratings that are posted at the start of each cable series episode that might a little racy. Language, Violence, Mature Audience are a few you might see. Also, Brief Nudity, Sexual Situations and sometimes Strong Sexual Situations. TV has certainly changed. It's the movies.

So when the latest episode of Billions displayed its ratings on Sunday, Brief Nudity was one of them. Are we going to see Lara get careless with a sheet in bed and expose a little suggestive anatomy? Is Wendy going topless with the paddle on Chuck's behind?

Since we already had the season opener with Wendy giving Chuck some discipline, it might he safe to assume Brief Nudity is coming from a different source. Lara is now separated from Bobby Axe now, so it's going to have to be with a fling she takes home with her. Or at his place.

Yes there was brief nudity. Was it female? Emphatically not.

The first episode also claimed Brief Nudity. It turned out it consisted of an Alpha male dropping his towel after getting out of his pool after swimming naked and answering questions for Bryan Connerty, the A.U.S.A, accompanied by his female F.B.I. Special Agent, Teri McCue, played by Susan Misner, who has also appeared on the Americans as the wife of Stan Beeman, the F.B.I. agent who lives next door to the embedded Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. (With this the final season of that series is Stan going to get the surprise of his life?)

After a round of pointed questions about the Ice Juice scam, the Alpha male drops his towel and walks away in the buff, surely to show Teri McCue who's got the cojones in the group. Bryan avoids looking and just shakes his head. Boys will be boys around attractive females.

The latest Brief Nudity comes to us via Charles Rhoades Sr. who is button-holed at his club after exercise and just before his shower by Bryan, asking Ice Juice questions. People like Charles Rhoades Sr., a Yale graduate and mover and shaker, always can be found at The Club, usually after playing a vigorous game of squash, or a swim. They are only ever seated on plush leather.

Bryan again with the Ice Juice questions. Charles is in no mood for being questioned by an A.U.S.A. in the bathroom, answers curtly, then drops his towel, and invites Bryan if he would like to continue asking him things in the shower. Bryan once again shakes his head and does manage to softly utter, "Why does this keep happening to me."

My own reaction is why does is now mean that we have to see a 70 year-old man, even if presented from a distance, naked? Brief Nudity is not what it used to be. It's probably backlash from the Harvey Weinstein thing.

The comic side to Billions is supplied by Wags, who is all out to get "the last burial plot in Manhattan." He says let the Arabs have 432 Park, he wants this piece of ground. (And maybe if they really get liberal with air rights, Wags's heirs will reap a fortune when they're able to sell those rights to Donald Trump when he gets back to real estate.) Wags does manage to wiggle it away from the ambulance chasing lawyer who beat him to it. Wags is nothing less than devious.

The rest of the episode is the-tit-for tat played by Charles, Chuck and Bobby, showing how three Alpha males get along in the forest. Charles and Chuck are not speaking, and Charles seems like he might throw his son under the bus.

Father and son have it out at the 25th and 50th reunions at Yale. Charles is being presented with a Distinguished Service award and Chuck is the surprise presenter. The hope on Chuck's part is that he'll soften dad up and remove any chance that dad will stay so mad that he throws Chuck under the prosecutorial bus rolling through the Ice Juice case.

Outside the hall where the awards took place, father and son go at it. Chuck basically tells Chuck his generation has no guts. Charles tell Chuck that "right over there" as he points to a building, he brags that he "fucked three girls in a 24 hour period–one in the can."

Chuck mistakes "can" for dorm bathroom. Charles sneers. But the script writers are giving Charles's libido way too much credit. Yale wasn't co-ed until 1969. Charles was an undergrad until 1968. Small point. He's telling his son no thought of any disease kept him away from his appointed rounds.

But Wendy is right. She tells Chuck she's never met the man who can out maneuver him, and Chuck calls in a HUGE favor from the Albany kingmaker Black Jack Foley, played by David Strathairn, to get a state senator to tell his father his upstate property that he is holding onto with the promise that a casino is going to be built there, is actually now slated for being kept forever wild, conserved for "Eastern Elk." They are a species in danger.

The only species in danger is the one that has inside information. The "Eastern Elk" message is telegraphed to Charles that this change has to do with the Eastern District, the U.S. Attorney that has jurisdiction over the Ice Juice litigation. Chuck is squeezing dad. If he flips on him, then his fortune will disappear and "Eastern Elk' will win.

Charles is hardly dense, so he gets the message, and basically tells Bryan and his boss, the U.S.A., in a conference meeting that go ahead, proceed, with the case, Ira Schirmer is lying about any plot by himself or his son to send the Ice Juice stock downward and snare Bobby Axelrod shorting it.

Billions is a battleground for egos the size of Manhattan itself. There is also Brief Nudity. Just don't count on it being female anymore.

http://www.onofframp.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Homeland is Headed Overseas

Filled with spoilers.

Is this the last season of Homeland? Why is Franny asking Carrie so often if she's coming back? Is the kid clairvoyant? Did she and her twin acting sister see the script and find out there will be no more show because Yevgeny is going to clock Carrie at the dacha as she and the commando team try and pull Simone out of bed at the lakeside love nest with lover boy Yevgeny and whisk her back to the States to save President Keane's presidency? And why would Simone do that? She'd turn on Mother Russia?

I'd find it hard to believe that Claire Danes as executive producer of the show would consider a script that has everyone at her funeral. Unless of course she'd only be faking her death to throw the Russians off. Carrie's a sly one.

Lots of plot possibilities. And Carrie. How is Saul paying her and the merry boys from a former Seal Team Six outfit?  The C.I.A. certainly didn't hire her again with Top Secret clearance after the last round of ECT.

But most importantly, the team is back. Carrie's sister was right when she gave testimony at the custody hearing for care of Franny that when Saul comes calling, Carrie disappears with an overnight bag and lands somewhere remote. Very remote. Like Russia by a dacha by a lake.

It's got to be great that you as the NSA director can field a private team of operatives and fly to Russia in order to exfiltrate a Russian operative from under the noses of the Russians. Hey, they came here and did stuff, so why can't we go there and do stuff to them? All's fair in love and war–and television.

Carrie discusses her plight and upcoming custody hearing with one of her commando team members, Anson. He suggests getting dirt on her sister and husband. He channels Sean Connery in the Untouhcables when he tells her, that without something on her sister and brother-in-law, she's just going into as knife fight without a knife.

Carrie mentions the secret file her pediatrician sister kept under an alias on her bipolar treatment that her sister did for her for years, keeping the condition from the C.I.A. Anson mentions that she could lose her medical license over that.

Can Anson lift the file from her sister's office, which in this case is in the garage at home? Of course. What's the code for the alarm system? Carrier demurs, but when we see Carrie in court she's holding a folder.

Carrie doesn't throw her sister under the bus with the lifted secret patient file that details secret treatment of Carrie all these years for bipolar disorder, a treatment that was waaay beyond the scope of a pediatrician. She instead agrees to an alternate weekend visitation agreement.

Carrie loves her sister, even if she told everyone in open court that Carrie used to wave at airplanes as a kid.  But did she give the file back to her sister? Did Carrie have one of her guys put it back? She certainly didn't tell her sister that she lifted the file but chose not to use it to impugn the character of her sister just so she could have Franny all the time–a desire even Carrie's not sure she really wants.

Will the series continue with Carrie once again having sex with someone who will wind up dead? Will Beau Bridges be seen from again? Will he sit in the Oval Office behind the desk of power? Will Senator Paley finally SHUT UP?

We've got to get in touch with Franny who knows everything.

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Capistrano

When the swallows return to Capistrano...when the red, red robin comes a bob, bob, bobin' along...and when The Assembled resume their handicapping in pursuit of winners and exactas at Aqueduct...these are all signs that winter should be over.

And until just now I always thought Capistrano was a village in Italy, not a mission in California. I also knew of sparrows, but not swallows, apparently a colorful bird that annually migrates from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano and lives in the nooks and crannies of the mission there, starting on March 19, and not leaving for the return flight back until October 23.

So in a way, The Assembled really are cliff swallows that take up a table on the 3rd floor aerie of Aqueduct, past the finish line and any obligation to pay for the seating, and any lousy $43 buffet meal that is catered by the adjoining casino. It is either nothing to eat, or something simple from a lunch brought in, or something from the snack bar located just outside the doors of Equestris.

When Equestris was built from the 3rd and 4th floors of the Clubhouse in the 1970s there was true attendance at the races. There was a premium price that was needed to be paid for seating. Now, the TVs at the tables are old and not flat panels, and the place is a bit frayed at the edges. Admission to the track is free, and Equestris is as well. Times certainly change.

What doesn't change is the joy of winning, and Johnny D. and Johnny M. hit the first race with a hammer. It's great when the self-created numerical rating system gives you a horse who is starting off on the board at 5-1 and steadily goes up, finally going off at 11-1.

What is also nice is not realizing the odds have ascended leaving the $4 win ticket to cash out at $47.60. Spring is bustin' out all over.

Buss the Bell broke alertly from the gate, stalked the leader, then took over in the stretch to win the 6½ furlong race on the main track by 1½ lengths. The 11-1 odds were a steep drop from the last out
115-1 and the prior 129-1 the horse went off at, finishing a decent second the last time out.

On to the second race. Another affair that is cashed in on. As was the third race. The exacta was hit in the second race, and the third race. So far, everything's been perfect. No uncashed tickets, other than the non-winning portion of the exacta boxes. At this point, Bobby G. has climbed on board and also hit the second and third races. No real bombs, so Jose has yet to cash. But it's early.

To start the on-track betting off for the season with three in a row is a very special felling. Gone are the frustrations of the difficult Saratoga summer. Winning creates amnesia for the losing efforts.

Bobby G. completes his triple with a payoff in the fourth race. When a jockey wins three races they of course complete a triple. When they win four races on the card it is called an Ecuador for some reason. I never knew why. (Alert readers?) Triples for a jockey are somewhat common. Ecuadors are not.

And an Ecuador eluded Johnny D, Johnny M. and Bobby G. Try as they might, neither of them could pull the fourth win across the finish line. Meanwhile Jose was licking his wounds from forgetting to bet the second race at Parx, a track in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the old Philadelphia Park, now a racino.

Unlike the others, Jose comes prepared to play races available via simulcasting. On a slip of paper Jose had outlined to play Nice Surprise in the 2nd at Parx. This was highlighted in one of Jose's colors of the day, pink. True to form, Jose came with three different colored highlight pens. His selections rival the lit colors of the Empire State Building on special occasions.

Simulcasting keeps you on your toes. The 2nd at Parx went off at 1:24, with the first at Aqueduct going off at 1:20. The proximity to Aqueduct's first threw Jose off. And what was the horses's name that won the 2nd at Parx? Nice Surprise, at $54.50 for a deuce. Not a nice surprise when you forget to bet it.

In fact, until you're accustomed to the scheduling of simulcasting races, you can sometimes wonder what the hell are a small knot of people yelling at? All of a sudden there will be a noisy outburst coming from several yards away as one of the simulcast races at another track is nearing its conclusion. After the finish, the noise drifts away. As do the bettors from underneath the TV screens.

Six races, and no bombs. Three of the Assembled have hit half the races. With three races left, the elusive Ecuador is still being sought.

The 7th race unloads numbers on the tote board that haven't been used yet. A 14-1 shot finishes first, with a 29-1 shot finishing second. A $30 win mutuel, combined with a $21 place price produces the payouts that are dreamed of: a $420 exacta for a deuce; a $1,951 triple for a deuce. Hefty payouts.
Nobody's close.

In fact, at this point, Jose picks up his multi-colored highlighters, scraps of paper and announces his departure. He's with his father-in-law and they have somewhere else they need to be.

The 8th race rewards the few with much. Another bomb. A $38.60 win mutuel. The 8th race was the co-feature, a 6 furlong turf affair. In fact, there have already been four races on the turf, with one more scheduled for the 9th. Six in all.

Aqueduct recently went back to a configuration they had 40 years ago: two turf courses. The inner winterized surface was restored to its days of being a turf course. Due to the months that Aqueduct operates, there aren't a great deal of dates on the calendar for turf racing. It is nice to see two turf courses again.

The numerical rating system devised by Johnny D. had several horses in the eight horse 8th all very close to one another. Allowing for vagaries it was hard to separate the choices, with the top five coming in at: 123,124, 125, 128 and 129.

The winner, Black Stetson, had never run on the turf, although earning a 125. The other four all had turf experience. It is not unusual to have a horse race on a given surface for the first time; it just adds a further unknown to the equation. The clue to this can be recognizing turf breeding. In the absence of that, the Tomlinson Rating numbers given in the past performances can be relied on to rate the turf pedigree. Black Stetson had a decent 334, but given the others, he remained an outsider from the rest. Until he won.

The Assembled, now reduced to three commented that Jose left too early. A long shot came in that he might have had. Johnny D. commented he was reading a book titled 'Thinking in Bets' by Annie Duke, a professional poker player and one of the few top women to play in the World Series of Poker. Her tournament winnings are reported to be $4 million.

Ms. Duke holds advanced degrees in cognitive psychology and has lately been more about writing and speaking than appearing in poker tournaments. One of her dictums is that you recognize that you can have good outcomes from poor decisions, and vice versa. You need to separate the outcome from the decision to go a certain way; to make the play you did.

A bad decision can produce a good result through luck; a good decision can have a bad outcome. A bad decision can produce disaster, and a good decision can be rewarding. There are four ways things can go. The goal is to not beat yourself up over the good decisions you made that just didn't come out your way because of any number of factors, luck being one of them, could have not gone your way. But you need to go back over your moves and see where you might have improved your decisions.

Looking back over the closely rated race there wasn't anything that was felt to be overlooked. At the end of a day of racing I've always mentally thought about the plays I made. I usually come up with at least one bone head play that just shouldn't have been made.

At the mention of Annie Duke's name Bobby G's ears perked up. "I've seen her play poker on TV. She's one of the top women players."

To know Bobby G. is to also know he loves games of chance. He has explained how to play craps many times, and reported some decent winnings and modest losses whenever he and his wife vacation where there is a casino with croupiers. He loves craps.

He has been a member of perhaps one of the oldest, established permanent floating hi-low poker games played in the New York City area amongst lifelong friends. Playing poker for recreation and money since he was 13 has given Bobby G. an education in addition to the one he earned in medical school. Craps and horse racing put him on the short list of triple threats.

Winning three races usually means wining money for the day, and Saturday was no exception. The Ecuador wasn't hit, but we're just getting warmed up.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Interior Decorating

If I've observed one thing from watching Showtime's Homeland and Billions, it is my house lacks a white board.

Just like several years ago when I commented that everyone with a computer probably has a printer, and for that printer everyone has a ream of printer paper laying around, I've now realized I'm missing out by not having a white board somewhere in the house with photos of subjects connected by multi-colored lines drawn from a Sharpie.

I should be drawing lines from people's faces from talking head utterances from the evening news. Anyone's evening news. Take your pick. We are awash in conspiracies and dirty dealing. In fact, a white board of decent size, complete with multi-colored markers could be marketed with pre-packaged photos to get you started. All all the members of the cabinet, and the president.

As any regular viewer of Homeland will remember in prior episodes Carrie kept a tremendous white board in her apartment as she was trying to track terrorists. It was a wall. There were colors galore. Lines, arrows, photos. Carrie sat on the floor with a pin wheel arrangement of papers surrounding her. She was analyzing, and analyzing, and eventual came through with the answer. She wound up in the hospital, but that was just a byproduct of her tenaciousness.

In Billions we are seeing the Ice Juice conspiracy play out. This is the one where Chuck, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sometimes referred to as the Sovereign District because of all their high profile Wall Street cases, works with his wealthy father to torpedo a friend's IPO for a drink called Ice Juice and trap Bobby Axelrod into playing fast and loose with the trading and tank the stock. Thus, Chuck now has charges he can dump on Bobby.

Two titans who hate each other are squaring off. Meanwhile, Chuck's friend Ira goes from being a multi-millionaire in a day to a virtual pauper. This has an effect on Ira's main squeeze who he was going to marry. Eventually.

She demurs over $280 of white truffles ($14 a gram; 20 grams) that have just been grated onto her meal after Ira lays out the new financial landscape.  She wants to wait. Spoiler alert, Ira flips sides and gets in bed with Bobby Axelrod and becomes a multi-millionaire again. He now presents his fianceĆ© with a sizable diamond rock that Bobby has paid for: "it's on my tab." She accepts now that Ira's back in the chips. Watch out Ira. That's an expensive, high maintenance female you're getting in bed with. After marriage, a breakup is going to cost you plenty. Get a prenup.

When Ira flips sides and drops his pursuit of Bobby for damages that have now been mitigated by Axe, Bryan Connerty, a senior AUSA becomes very suspicious of Chuck and his father Charles. He smells prosecutorial misconduct. And Chuck wants to run for governor.

Bryan goes back to his apartment and talks to his girlfriend, who is studying to be a lawyer. What else. We don't have enough of them. Bryan picks up a picture of Chuck and Charles in a family photo and attaches it to his white board, center mass, surrounded by other photos and lines and arrows. Bryan has also decorated with a white board. It is what we all should have.

Will Bryan succumb to someone buying him off? Will he be one of the few left with integrity on the show.  After all, he went to the Catholic university Fordham, located in the Bronx, where goodness goes to grow. Future episodes will tell.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

UI

Wow! What an episode of Homeland on Sunday night. Just watched it last night courtesy of my DVR.

Toward the end, Carrie is losing it. She starts imagining all the people she's known and worked with who get killed. She imagines running over her own daughter, the sensitive, confused Franny, who was just about to be kidnapped by mom out of school before her sister can get a restraining order against Carrie. Carries is a mess. She's got to get admitted now, no?

As all of this transpires, the hospital where Dante Allen has been taken, is crawling with Federal security and Yevgeny still gets into Dante Allen's room and suffocates him with a pillow? Okay, Yevgeny is dressed in scrubs pushing a cart of towels wearing someone else's ID badge, but really, this is the best the Feds can do to to protect you? Of course the story wouldn't advance without these flourishes.

Yevgeny Gromov, the Russian spy as played by Costa Ronin, is a very believable Russian because he is from Russia. The casting is always so spot on.

Yevgeny gets into Dante's room to keep him from flipping back to being an American and not a Russian agent. Dante thinks the Russians got to him with that poison pen and ink and not that it was really Carrie and Saul. Yevgeny tells Dante as sincerely as a liar can, that he doesn't poison his own people.

The tainted ink of course induced a near fatal heart attack, thus the hospitalization. And Yevgeny's right. He doesn't poison his people. He shoots them in the gut so they bleed and he has to carry his fellow spy Clayton into the ER severely bleeding, so he can create a distraction of hurried activity that a gut wound will create in the ER, and swipe an ID card from a staff member. Yevgeny is nothing short of a highly skilled operative.

Along the way to the hospital we get a real sense of what a pissed off Russian sounds like talking to his boss. Apparently Carrie has gotten Dante to blab about "go to the ground" codes that Yevgeny will use on Twitter (yes, Twitter, not Facebook) to get his spy network that he his operating on U.S. soil to abort the mission. A reply code is needed.

It is this reply code that Carrie becomes so satisfied about as members of Yevgeny's network tap in and are traced. A hedge fund guy from Greenwich, Connecticut gets identified and his wife opens the door to F.B.I. agents. This is great. Nobody likes these hedge fund guys that create vast fortunes at the expense of others. Go get him.

Saul is as always an absolute mensch. His withering fish-eye looks at the utterances of those around him should have his eye replace the one that's on the back of the dollar bill that stares out from that pyramid. Saul is Carnac: All knowing, all seeing, all telling.

Note

YouTube was consulted so the exact wording behind the Johnny Carson's Carnac character could be used. Johnny, as those who are already on, or nearing Medicare coverage will remember, opened an envelope handed to him by his sidekick Ed McMahon with an answer, that Carnac would divine the question to.

The 1987 selection I made came up with this answer: Cleopatra, Napoleon, Julius Caesar. Carnac's answer/question was: "Who does Shirley Mclaine give as references."

Senator Paley has been "read-in" on the plot. He is eventually feeling very foolish and very much had. Saul has a handy PowerPoint presentation (who doesn't have a PowewrPoint presentation) to share with the Senator.

Saul explains. Saul shows an organization chart. Where would a PowerPoint presentation be without a chart of some kind? Saul explains that Simone Martin is a Russian agent working for the G.R.U. an agency connected to the Sixth Directorate of Russian military intelligence. This rings so believable if you've been reading anything by Jason Matthews, veteran C.I.A. spook turned novelist. Directorate S.

Next to names on the chart are letters. Next to president Elizabeth Keane's name is a T. Next to Simone Martin's name is FO. Next to Dante Allen's name identifying him as F.B.I. are the letters RA. Next to Senator Paley's name are two letters, UI

A clearly shaken Senator Paley stands and stares at the chart. "What are the initials UI next to my name?"

Saul pauses. Saul always pauses before he speaks his always well chosen words. He explains. The initials are designations used by the G.R.U. T is for Target; FO is for Foreign Operative; RA is for Recruited Asset.

Saul turns to look at David Wellington, President Keane's Chief of Staff, who was also completely taken in by Simone into the plan by the Russians to topple Elizabeth Keane and give Beau Bridges as the vice president some acting work. Through the coming attractions we see that Beau makes it into the next episode.

Does the G.R.U. have such a chart on the current players at the top of the U.S. Government? What initials are next to Donald Trump's? There must be initials next to Donald Trump.

Senator has begged the question about UI  "What does it stand for?"

Saul, with out judgment in his voice tells the Paley: Useful Idiot.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Doris Day

You have to be of a certain age to remember Doris Day movies when they were first released and played in the movies.

Ms. Day was the triple threat: she sang, danced and acted. She was a singer with the Les Brown orchestra when big bands were big, and naturally segued into movies, musicals and a solo singing career.

She was attractive and wholesome looking. Blonde hair, slightly freckled, Pepsodent smile. She was the girl next door and was often cast in female roles that were clean and virtuous. Always virtuous. She is still with us at 96, but if she were younger today and not a triple threat she could easily be a Fox on-air personality.

She made several movies with Rock Hudson as her male romantic lead: Pillow Talk; Lover Come Back. She starred with Jimmy Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me, which was just on Turner. She is featured on Turner when they theme a day for Doris Day.

Her image was pure and so well-scrubbed that her sometimes slightly tipsy co-star Oscar Levant, usually playing the piano, chain-smoking, and sardonic, quipped in pure Dorothy Parker fashion that he knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.

While absorbing this piece of Doris Day biography we've got the NYT online edition which is becoming downright playful. Consider the interactive Q&A they've concocted to slake any curiosity you might have regarding the soon-to-happen royal wedding between Prince Harry, the late Princess Diana's son, and Meghan Markle, a cute-as-a-button, slightly older, biraccial, divorced American actress, most notably lately in the series Suits.

Sarah Lyall and Elizabeth Paton, NYT reporters have created a list of 61 questions, surrounded by a design team's efforts that put butterflies, birds, and little furry animals that scurry across the screen. It's a scene straight out of  Bambi. There's a squirrel anchored in the lower right corner gnawing on an acorn that stays with you as you scroll through the questions and then open whichever one you want for the answer. Ms. Lyall has dubbed his job title, "matrimonial, concierge squirrel."

What's on your mind? "Will there be cake." "Will there be bridesmaids?" "Who will design Ms. Markle's dress?" The site promises to keep updating the list as questions and answers come in and can be answered.

The 61st item is not really a question but is a delight, and an outright invitation to participate. "Oi, I have a question that wasn't answered here."

I remember the hubbub that surrounded Prince Charles's wedding to Princess Diana, and how at the time the royal bride was expected to be a virgin. The reports were she was. The requirement has since been phased out.

I have to think there must be other people like myself who used the template on Item 61, supplying name and email address and text of  a question to ask some doozies. I for one asked two. Both of which have gone unanswered.

The second question I asked is if Ms. Lyall was going back to England to cover the wedding, inasmuch as she was a reporter there for some many years. I realize now the answer is probably no, since Elizabeth Paton is fashion and luxury reporter for Europe. My guess is we'll be getting dispatches from her.

My first question also predictably has gone unanswered.

"Does Megan Markle have to become a virgin to marry Prince Harry?"

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Jury Duty

There's story already on the NYT web page that will I'm sure appear tomorrow in their print edition.
Reza Zarrab, the Turkish national who is now cooperating with Federal prosecutors in an international money laundering case that gets close to the current Turkish  president has been implicated in bribing a guard with tens of thousands in dollars for a cell phone, vitamins, alcohol, over-the-counter pain medication and DayQuil.

Mr. Zarrab is being held in the Metropolitan Correction Center, a maximum security lockup that currently houses El Chapo, the notorious drug dealer who is awaiting trial.

If anyone has been following the case surrounding Mr. Zarrab they should remember that he was initially directly charged with such a fistful of crimes that Mr. Zarrab retained an absolute all-star array of New York lawyers to defend him. The great thing about reading a story online is following the links the editors provide to take you to relevant stories that provide background to what you're already reading.

The current Zarrab story takes you through a link to a piece on this array of lawyers, one of whom is a former Federal prosecutor who I worked with when I was a witness for the prosecution in a health care fraud case in my long-ago prior life at Empire BlueCross and BlueShield.

Another of the lawyers is the former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani. It is an all-star team that may or not still be assembled as Mr. Zarreb has now pleaded to guilty to some charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. The bribes that may be linked to him all occurred prior to his guilty pleas.

Getting contraband in jail is nothing new. If anyone watched HBO's series The Night Of a whole underground world of providing is revealed, as well as the efforts to detect it. What might be new are the amounts of money that Mr. Zarreb has supposedly flung around.

Being held as an inmate cannot be fun, and I'm sure Mr. Zarreb is no different from any other one who wants to try to ease their confinement. Apparently he can allegedly arrange some head-turning amounts to tempt.

Think of a sequestered jury. They are not being confined for any crime they did, but are held in some state of incommunicado until the trial is over and a verdict is reached.

Again, a long time ago, at Empire we had an Outgoing Mail supervisor who wound up on the Mitchell-Stans case in Federal Court. This was when the former Attorney General John Mitchel and Maurice Stans, a former Commerce Secretary were accused of an array of crimes related to President Nixon's fundraising during his second presidential campaign. It was the first time former cabinet officials were on trial since the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration. The trial went for 48 days. It was 1974.

Our Outgoing Mail supervisor, Leonard Eppler was gone away from home and work for so long his family was highlighted on the evening news for a story on how they were getting along without husband and father for so long.

The jury for the second Bill Cosby sexual abuse trial has just been selected. Their sequestering begins on Sunday, with the trail starting on Monday. They are to be held in a "nice hotel" as the judge as promised and are expected to refrain from exposure to all types of media.

That has got to be a real drag with so many people now addicted to cell phones, and media updates from all types of sources.

One wonders if there will be a mistrial declared because someone was able to bride a court officer and take in an episode of the rebooted Roseanne show. After all, rating must be maintained.

Time will tell.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Homeland as News

Is Showtime's series Homeland the source of news, or do they copy it? Is there really a Carrie Mathison, who like the CIA analyst who gave Navy Seal Team 6 the directions to Osama bin Laden's lair, a person who is always on the pulse of international intrigue, outing terrorists, or now Russian agents, saving civilians and administrations alike? We'd be lost without her. She's a super hero without the cape. She just needs the right meds.

Again, I have to say I enjoyed the latest episode. It shows that the NSA/CIA possess poison ink that can induce a fatal/near fatal heart attack on a subject. This means, that like the suspected Russian who slathered a doornob with a nerve agent that infected a former Russian spy, Colonel Sergei Skirpal and his adult daughter Yulie in Salisbury, (like the once upon a time Salisbury steak at Schrafft's) England and sent them both to a hospital in serious condition, the USA is capable of similar tactics.

Nerve agent on a door knob. It's a wonder a British Fed Ex carrier wasn't infected, or their postal carrier. How about a Jehovah Witness? Talk about getting who you aim at.

In Homeland, Carrie and Saul (always call Saul) cooked up a sting scenario to get Dante Allen, the FBI agent they suspect who is acting as an agent of Russia to hold a pen from a bogus lawyer they sent in that leeches poison onto Dante's skin. Up to that point, Dante's been holding firm and not talking. Is the pen mightier than the sword? Ask Dante.

Now that he's writhing on the interrogation room floor and basically dying, Carrie rushes in and gets to hear enough from the "dying" Dante to allow Saul to get a warrant to interrogate Simone Martin, a Russian agent who is going to lie in front of a Congressional committee with testimony that implicates the president's Chief of Staff, and therefore the first female president Elizabeth Keane, in the murder of a general who led a coup attempt against President Keane.

It's a well-thought out plot to unravel the freshly elected administration. Talk about Russian influence! Egods! They're basically trying to get President Keane to resign and promote Beau Bridges as vice president into the presidency, guaranteeing Beau more acting work. There's only so much we as Americans can stand for.

But the wheels start to come off when Russia gets a little nervous with the firmness President Keane shows when she, through diplomatic channels, makes the Russians aware in no uncertain terms that trouble lies ahead if they continue with the plot. Your imagination is left to supply the penalty the Russians will pay for their deceit. No more jeans, DVDs? No more Russians in the NHL?

Russia scrambles. They've got to get Simone Martin out of the "secure" sequestered site she is being held at before she completes the plot and hurts what Russians will be wearing and viewing in their homes. Everyone knows we've got he best jeans, (probably the best underwear as well) and the best entertainment on earth.

Enter Costa Ronin, as Yevgeny Gromov, the master Russian operative who easily gets Simone Martin's lawyer to cough up Simone's guarded whereabouts when he slyly informs the lawyer that her mother, who is being cared for in a nursing home on the Medicaid dole when mamma's sizable assets have been cleverly hidden from the government in pass-through financial entities. The lawyer swallows hard, and certainly answers the phone when Yevgeny calls. Location coughed up. Those goddamn sneaky lawyers. Only loyal to the almighty dollar.

And if you also watch The Americans you can also catch Costa Ronin playing a Russian, but one who is more reflective and less a hard-liner, who is trying to see that reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev gets to stay in power.

Mr. Ronin has now been cast in two shows as "The Russian," one nice, one hardly nice. The hope is that in public Mr. Ronin doesn't get accosted for his hard-line portrayals. Might he hard to eat out.

Simone Martin's location is hardly secure, guarded by two U.S. Marshals, who fall prey to commando Russians, one in the front, one in the back of the house in the woods of Virginia. If they were better at their jobs, or if the government thought Simone should be kept somewhere really secure rather than in a bucolic cabin near squirrels, Episode 8 would of course be in jeopardy.

How Carrie gets Saul to allow her to interrogate Dante Allen is a stretch. She's a civilian allowed into Saul's NSA safe house with access to all the information there is. Okay, Carrie's been supplying Saul with some "intel," but she's still not a government employee. Minor point. She's Carrie. Get over it.

And what about Franny, Carrie's kid played by twin actors? Franny's a mess. Crying, confused. mom's always somewhere other than home. Talk about a rough childhood. Carrie's sister threatens a court battle over Franny, but Carrie is duty bound, "she swore an oath." Carrie plows ahead. suppressing any motherly instincts she might have to live a little more quiet life with her daughter.

Will Carrie's and Saul's plan to trick Dante into meeting with a bogus lawyer who poisons him with a leaky fountain pen backfire if Dante goes flatline? Will Carrie run out of bootleg meds that are leaving her one swallow away from another full-blown manic attack? Will Franny recover and get to settle down and play soccer, eat ice cream, and have playdates with her classmates?

Don't bet it on as long as ever-ready Carrie can gain Internat access somewhere.

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