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.