Monday, April 29, 2019

April at Belmont

That title sounds like a mistake. April is not usually the month the Belmont Spring meeting opens. It opened early last year as well, but May, and slightly warmer weather usually greets the few who venture out to the 400+ acre facility on days other than the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont schedule is severely truncated this year due to the impending construction of the N.Y. Islander arena in the proximity. Space is need for the construction equipment, and Belmont will be out of commission after the Saratoga meeting. Aqueduct fills the dates.

Thus, after a Friday of heavy rain, thunder and lightning, Saturday at Belmont saw all but two of the two turf races moved to the dirt, and a track labeled fast that was quickly drying out further due to the wind, not due to Saturday's intermittent sun. The day was chilly, and we were committed to outside viewing only shorty before they went off. Before and after was spent on the park benches arranged in front of the TV monitors.

The Assembled achieved quorum status with the presence of Bobby G., Johnny D, and Jose. Johnny M. took off for spring fishing on an upstate reservoir. Johnny M. likes fishing, which I can't understand the appeal of. Bobby G. tells me he's fished all his life and was given a pole when he was three.

I remember a friend of my father's from his work, an older guy, Frank Testor, who have me a fishing pole when I was maybe five or six. It was metal, resembled a coat hanger in flexibility, and had string for the line. I don't know if they even had monofilament line in the '50s. Oh, and a bobbin and some sinkers. I'm not sure I ever used it.

The fifth member of The Assembled is in danger of not being considered part of The Assembled. Joe C. wasn't singing do-wop somewhere, but it was his 50th wedding anniversary weekend, so he was not with us. Joe has become that guy on the other side of the fence on that show 'Home Improvement.' He's not seen.

Arriving at Belmont at about 12:30 for a 1:30 post is a bit early, but not unnecessarily so, given the scratches and changes to take in. A walk out to the seats, 3rd Floor Clubhouse area, revealed no one to the right of me, no one to the left of me, as far as the eye cold see. I was the only one standing in a seated area on the third floor. Cannon to the left of me...cannon to the right of me, would hit only me.

Bobby G. and Johnny D. were sitting on bench discussing the first race. Johnny D.'s numbers were discussed, and a voice to his left, across the small aisle from another bench voiced affirmation that the No. 4 horse has the second number. Johnny D. looked over, nodded, and said yes, and then went back to the Form. Bobby G. kept his head down.

Minutes elapsed, and finally the voice could not hold it in any longer, Jose got up and said he's been sitting next to us for at least 10 minutes and no one noticed him. Well, he did have a cap on, and his jacket was zipped up to the top, but no, he wasn't recognized.

Later, Bobby G. said he did wonder why someone was discussing Johnny D,'s number, but never thought to look up. Thus, a quorum was achieved.

The first race always sets the tone for the afternoon. Will our selections at least do well? Will they win? The card wasn't really that bad for a non-stake card. Usually, there are an array of cheap races, low level claimers, then a few good allowance fields, maybe even some low-level stake horses trying the Listed feature, an L in the Form.

The first race, a $50,000 purse for state-bed $25,000 claimers, was a field of definite non-performers. Six horses going six furlongs on what is now a fast track, drying out from the wind.

Manifest Destiny is the second number, but is going to be steered by a jockey, Tzeonn Chang, who has one winner this year in six outings. He is probably an exercise rider who is being given a chance at a mount because he can make the weight. He is a complete unknown, but has pretty much been the horse's only jockey. Manifest Destiny, while having a great name and sprint breeding, is trained by William Youghan, a trainer who has won one race this year (with Manifest Destiny) with only six starts. Another unknown.

Past performance odds on Manifest are all double digits, the lowest being 15-1. The race two back is a win with Chang, but in even lower-level company, $14,000 NW3L (non-winners of three, lifetime). Manifest Destiny gets a pass on being seriously considered.

And the public agrees. He goes off at 31-1 and lights up the board with a $65.50 mutuel when Chang steers him down the middle of the stretch to a 1¾ length victory. The game only looks easy when you know the results.

Okay, second race. Bombs away. A 21-1 shot, Fotis, lights up the board, $45.20, with a five length victory under a double bug jockey, Joey Martinez, who is even coming in at two pounds over his assigned 111 pounds, The trainer, Naipaul Chatterapaul, while known on the circuit, has no wins so far this year, and only 15 starts. Obviously, others were inspiring more confidence.

What the fuck is going on? Are we going to be here all day and keep seeing this? I've never done the deep dive and looked to see if the horses that pay the long shot prices are from fields that are less than stellar. The second race a was a state-bred maiden claimer, for $40,000, generally considered a bad race,

Today is a 10 race card, so that means 10 sets of connections are going to get their picture taken in the winner's circle, no matter what level of racing their horse won from. And the second race, with ownership listed as Sotirios Sakatis could be especially happy since their long shot victory comes on the Saturday before Greek Easter. Obviously an overlooked angle. Kristos anestti! Sotirios.

Do not panic. There are eight more races, and things will change, And they do. The form becomes more formful, the results more predictable, or at least making some sense. A race card is like a golf course. Each race has a different degree of difficulty, and there are no two races, or golf holes, that are alike.

At least now, with the races underway, you can see who has come to the track because they've come outside to at least watch the race. In a front row, one section away, is a group of perhaps eight guys, young, perhaps in their mid-20s. Definitely Millennials, perhaps who've caught the racing bug by coming to the Belmont Stakes. I think there is one Racing Form amongst them, so these guys are definitely not handicappers, but they are enjoying the results, and perhaps have even had one of the first two winners. And what were there not be to enjoy about that?

The card proceeds, and The Assembled start clicking. Johnny D winds up with three winners, one in the last race, as usual, but three "split" exactas, 1-3 finishes that produce no return. The only exacta hit was an exacta dead heat for second in what turned out to be a three horse field after Manual Franco went over the top of his mount when Vincento stumbled badly and threw Manny over his head. Franco it turned out was only unseated, and returned to ride the rest of his assigned mounts,

Meanwhile,  Vincento has joined the race riderless, and finishes "second." Of course it doesn't count when you cross the line without a jockey, but it does show you that perhaps with driverless cars making their inroads, we'll have riderless horses. At least then no one will be hitting them with a crop and maybe the animal-rights people will be happier.

There are those who will tell you nothing is certain in racing. But I'm here to tell you if Chad Brown has entrants in a turf race, he's going to win. And Saturday proved the rule. Chad had two in on the turf, one of which was scratched when the race moved to dist, leaving Value Proposition in the 8th race, a $80,000 Maiden Special Weight race at a mile and a sixteenth left on the grass.

Thus, Chad has only one starter on the card, a turfer in the 8th race that is a first time starter, bolstered by a ton of works, first-time Lasix, and coming from a top echelon barn in Klaravich stable

Unraced horses are the wild cards in the field.  And when they have the look and the connections of Value Proposition, money is attracted to them. The 8/5 morning line favorite goes off at 75¢ to the dollar, The race unfolds  with Joel Rosario keeping Value toward the back, unhurried through exceedingly soft fractions on a yielding turf course. But there is no doubt of Value Proposition's talent, as he circles the field and draws away easily down the stretch for fun, finishing  first by 4¼ lengths. Rack house.

Considering Klaravich stable is owned by a partnership of hedge funds guys, the name Value Proposition is an apt one. If Bobby Axelrod in Showtime's 'Billions' were to get into racing (and I wish he would!) then he'd have a horse named Value something as well.

Thus, Chad has put another notch in his turf belt, adding to his 52 winners on the year for a 31% win rate. You can count on the sun coming up in the east again.

Belmont facilities present a threadbare appearance. The water fountain next to the third floor men's room had been left taken apart, clearly not in use. The bathroom are outdated with one hands-free faucet that doesn't work. The rest of the sinks do work, with ancient twist handles. There is a large circular bar in the middle of the cafeteria. School was never like that.

With no real crowd of patrons, there are no real concessions to speak of. The thirds floor is complete self-service wagering and voucher purchasing. The second floor has to be replied on to get there early if you want to cash out, otherwise, it's the first floor simulcasting area, (where you actually see some people) for cashing out.

The place has the look of Coney Island in the winter, empty and boarded up. The broadcasters are positioned on an outside wooden perch built between the Clubhouse and Grandstand on the third floor. We saw the FoxSports broadcasters, Gary Stevens and Greg Wolf, reporting for the afternoon show, They took their positions and never came down, even though it was cold and windy and they were seen in their overcoats. Thus, NYRA doesn't even provide the broadcasters a basic studio to yap from.

But the patrons are still the same, however fewer of them there are. Money and winners are always topics of conversation that are overheard. Even the current 'Jeopardy' champion made it into the overheard conversations.

For anyone from another planet, or just emerging from a coma, Jim Holzauer is the current 'Jeopardy' champion who is picking off answers like a tree-top sniper. He's setting a record for "earnings per start"  and is over a $1 million won, third all-time high. And still going.

When it was mentioned to Bobby G. that I couldn't believe they pre-empted Friday's 'Jeopardy' for coverage of the NFL draft, Bobby G. was nonplussed. He remarked he's interested in it, has been watching, and will tonight watch the third installment. He's following the Jets' picks. He was a Jet season ticket holder until they started the seat license bit. Now, only goes to one game a year.

Surprise in Jets interest was registered. "Bob, the Jets haven't won a Super Bowl in 50 years. Can the draft matter?" "Yeah, I know. 1969." Bobby G. has the mark of an eternal optimist. A true horseplayer.

The track is still the track, and the turf courses look like the fairways at The Masters at Augusta, lush and green from all the rain we've been having.

As I always do when I step out onto the seated area of the third floor Clubhouse at Belmont, I look over to the last section where we secured free seats on Belmont Day in 1973 and saw history made. I still see myself standing on the seat and yelling at my friend to check out the board and look at the fractions. Yes, he was "moving like a tremendous machine" Those seats are my Secretariat pole.

At least there have been two Triple Crowns since then, so others have been able to acquire their own memories. (No free seats anymore, however.)

At some point, say around the 6th race, the phalanx of Millenial guys was seen leaving the track. They had enough for the day? They certainly weren't dressed for the weather, only shirts and jeans.

Oh no, no mater how the first two races turned out for us, it's never over until it's over.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Billions in Iambic Pentameter

Intense. Comedic. If the latest episode of Billions (No. 6, Maximum Recreational Depth) were written in iambic pentameter it could be staged as a 21st Century Shakespearean play.

While there might be those who view the Chuck Rhoades chess moves as the centerpiece of the episode, it's really about pulling the curtain back on the Kappa Beta Phi fraternal order, a secretive Wall Street membership that meets once a year for drinks and dinner at the St. Regis, requires new members, neophytes, to appear in drag, and generally is unknown to all of us.

Apparently Kappa Beta Phi is a real organization and the Wall Street chapter is filled exclusively with one-percenters and above, those whose money Elizabeth Warren is trying to confiscate to pay for free college education for all, and a forgiveness of student debt.

I've never heard of it, but my broker probably has. It requires the freshly admitted members—by invitation only—to show up in drag. Thus, Wags presents himself at the check-in desk outfitted with lipstick, earrings, necklace, wig, heels and a dress, looking thoroughly unfeminine by leaving left the goatee on, and not hiding the chest hairs sprouting through the dress, only to find he's been the subject of a practical joke.

The lawyer Nussfaur who beat Wags to a coveted burial spot, reveals the joke and tells him the photographer who just took Wag's picture is a Page Six photographer, looking every bit like Annie Leibovitz, and Wags is going to be shamed as an "interloper."

Wags's dad was a member of the society; his dad was also a Grand Loaf, a high member of the society, whose main honcho is Grand Swipe. The real life details of this group of people is told by a reporter, Kevin Roose, who crashed a meeting a few years ago.

Chuck is getting itchy for a beating. He's been relegated to another part of the house for sleeping, and therefore is not next to Wendy. He comes into their bedroom for a fresh set of pajamas. Wendy tells him to take two sets. The thermostat registers a drop in temperature and clicks the burner on to send up more heat.

Chuck knows there's no chance Wendy is going to go for the toy chest and help him through his pain addiction. He asks for permission to outsource the humiliation. Wendy grudgingly agrees. But, she has to come to the house, and hopefully a bit disguised as a sports therapist. Wendy will clear the deck and get the kids out for the session. Wendy explains they can't have anything getting back to them if Chuck were followed to the dungeon. Chuck's prayers have been answered.

Moving on with the alternating story lines, Chuck is met at home by his outsourced dominatrix, who is the typically latex-clad woman who whips off her raincoat and gets down to business. In this case, she ignore questions from Chuck on how she'd like to be addressed—Goddess, Mistress—and gets right to pulling a black leather glove over her right hand and sucker punching Chuck right in the face—Howard Cosell calls it, "Down goes Chuck"—before Chuck has even whispered what his safe word might be. It's brutal.

The upshot to the session that we thankfully don't have to witness, is Chuck gets a bit beat up. Wendy catches him applying some expensive wrinkle cream to his bruised face and welted body. "Things got a little out of hand" Chuck explains. Wendy doesn't really feel too sorry for him, and doesn't offer to fill in next time. (Jesus, Chuck, how can having no fun be fun? You've got to see someone about his compulsion. You're going to get killed.)

Lara makes a brief appearance. Aside from being sidelined by being separated from Axe, she hasn't been seen much, due to the actress, Malin Akerman, getting her own show on NBC, 'Prism,' a murder mystery series.

Lara looks good. She's got a smart hair bob, nice jewelry, and gets what she wants from Axe, the ability to take the boys to live in California and a release of some of the money Axe put a lock on. It will be her only appearance this season. I will miss  her fjord-blue Swedish eyes. Rebecca's don't do it for me.

Of course there is the usual Connerty/Rhoades pissing match for control of cases, with Chuck firmly getting what he wants. Chuck almost drives a wedge between Connerty and the U.S.A.G. Waylon 'Jock' Jeffcoat, played so disarmingly well by Clancy Brown that you swear his vocal cords must be covered in Kentucky bourbon and branch water. Jock needs his own show.

All the machinations don't work, and Connerty realizes Chuck has had him, and backs off challenging his boss, who reminds Bryan that every desk in the Justice Department is his desk.

On his way to setting things up, Chuck meets Judge DeGiulio clandestinely in the back of a candy emporium on Rivington Street. Economy Candy has been there since 1937 and is candy store heaven. Absent would be the bookmakers you'd find in Queens of long ago, but candy is certainly what they sell. One thing about this show, they make good use of the New York locations. I never heard of this place, but it is now on my list to drop by.

Chuck, for a N.Y. state attorney general, spends a good deal of time in NYC, rather than Albany. The New York locales are probably what the producers know best, given that Andrew Ross Sorkin is a New York Times financial reporter.

Axe gets a lesson in relationships with females, smart, business females, when he doesn't trust discussing with his new financial gal pal, Rebecca Cantu, the dilemma he's in with Victor Mateo and insider trading concerning a business that Axe unwittingly has a percentage of, all because Taylor was smart enough to put Trojan horse wording in a contract that Bobby didn't thoroughly read. Trouble on the horizon.

Axe's reluctance to share with Rebecca cost him an evening of a meal with her and a nightcap of sleepover sex. She leaves him in his kitchen to consider that females are not just to open bottles of wine with and screw. Bobby knows he's been licked.

Rebecca and Bobby make up when he acknowledges what he's learning. But since this epiphany comes in her office and not his apartment, no one heads for the sheets.

Not yet discussed would be the growing story line between Taylor Mason and his Dad, played by Kevin Pollak. It seems they've been a bit estranged for while, but are now coming together to promote dad's revolutionary design for airplane turbines.

Dad isn't quite used to Taylor non-binary gender, but they've rekindled their relationship. So much so, that Dad is now comfortable in having his son raise the capital with outside parties to finance what promises to be a blockbuster invention.

Initially, Dad was hoping for Taylor's firm to finance the project solo, and nearly torpedoes the growing relationship when Taylor insists they need outside capital. Dad's been burned before, but does acquiesce.

Axe's dislike for Taylor runs deep. He gathers information that will help him scuttle the project's success. But the real information on how to blow their ship out of the water comes from Wendy when after reviewing session notes with Taylor back in the day at Axe Capital, that the dynamic between father and son is fragile, and if Axe wants to destroy Taylor he has to do it psychologically as well as financially.

Thus, a plan is needed to make it seem like Taylor is betraying Dad. That is basically where the episode leaves off. The plan will I'm sure unfold.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Billions Episode 5, A Proper Sendoff

There are four main currents running through this episode: Bobby Axelrod's incredible nastiness, Wendy's image rehabilitation, Chuck's ability to empty a church during funeral services, and of course some dodgy maneuverings by Chuck's bad boy father Charles Rhoades Sr.

In no particular order we'll address Axe's meanness. It's okay for people not to like Axe if he doesn't like them. But if he expects you to like him and you don't, then your world is in for an earthquake.

Axe invested seed money in the fund started by the son of Axe's mentor, the lad's father under whom Axe learned what he knows today. And then some. The fellow's father died early in his life and Axe saw himself as a father figure.

But money was the only fatherly thing Axe provided. So when the young man comes to Axe to cash him out of his fund, Axe is taken back by the unsolicited redemption of $120 million.  Turns out the son has grown not to appreciate Axe's cutthroat reputation on the Street, and wants to divest himself of having anything to do with him. Thus, the buyout.

Axe is stunned, and hurt. But a session with Wendy shows him that he never really did become a surrogate father, take the fellow to ball games, fishing, etc. Money for B-school is one thing, a hug is another.

So, a one day fishing trip is arranged, just the son and Axe, doing things a father would do with a son. But fatherly things are not on Axe's mind. He sets out to destroy the kid and his firm by keeping him out of range with his business for a day—their cell phones are locked in the car's trunk back at the parking lot.

Meanwhile, back at Axe Capital, the gang is being led by Wags in financial warfare on the kid's clients. Phone calls are made, deals are offered to the clients to cash out of the firm. Rumors are spread.

While all this is going on, Axe fakes nautical distress by unplugging some wires and trying to call for help, help that will never come because the towing boats are allegedly all jammed up with other business. Axe creates a stall while the merry traders back at he office execute the sabotage.

By the time they get back to the dock and the kid checks in on his phone, he finds out he's been wiped out. His firm has been gutted like Santiago's marlin in 'The Old Man and the Sea.' Axe's accomplices back at the ranch are exulting in their effort. Spyros is excitedly recreating his response on the radio to Axe that there are no tow boats available. It's been a Sting operation.

As always, with alternating story lines, we have Wendy who is trying to put her face back out there in public after Chuck Jr. revealed to the entire state that she and he practice Sado Masochism sex.

Wendy's Google links are linked to kink. People are asking what kind of whips does she use. The temptation might be to sponsor a brand—Wendy's Whip/Wackers—but that seems far too tacky and would only reinforce the image. She's got to work this one out for herself.

Meanwhile Chuck's dad has somehow acquired the rights to a vast acreage of New York City that has nothing built on it. It's impossible to tell where this tract of space exists. We generally see it at night. Have they gotten all the auto parts junk places out of Willets Point, hard by CitiField? No matter. Chuck Sr. is going to build once he gets the NYC Department of Sanitation to issue permits.

And that's where dad is going to get into do-do. The inside man at Sanitation flips on him under pressure from Brian Connerty and the Federal Southern District of New York. The permits are issued, but the Feds are watching. People are wired, and activities are being taped. Stay tuned. Elysian Fields might go the way of Freedomland.

But the pièce de résistance of the entire episode is how Chuck empties a Catholic church of the assembled State Assemblymen and Senators there for funeral services for Black Jack Foley. David Strathairn is definitely out of the script.

It seems that Chuck, on ascending to the perch of New York State Attorney General, has been rendered toothless because of a deal between the U.S. Attorney General, 'Jock' Jeffcoat and the newly elected New York governor. They have basically entered into a conspiracy to keep Chuck from prosecuting headline cases. He's an elected eunuch.

But not for long. Chuck has set his investigators out into the field and dug up plenty of dirt on numerous State Assemblyman and Senators. The kind of dirt you can prosecute on. The speed they have done this is astounding, but hey, this is television.

Wiley Chuck convinces the governor, who just happens to to be in the wings of the church waiting to deliver his eulogy for Black Jack, that it is in his interest to prosecute the miscreants. Weeks of positive publicity will accrue, and the Guv will be the talk of the state, if not the nation. Albany will be cleaned up. That will be astounding.

Chuck of course has the executive order right there to be signed—and the pen. The signature is the stroke of Doomsday for many in the pews. Chuck has taken a position at the church's rostrum, skipping ahead of the governor who thought he was next to give the eulogy. Chuck refers to Black Jack as Caesar. And what happened at Caesar's funeral? Why a man came to the rostrum and called out criminals and conspirators..."and I come today to do the same." Uh-oh.

That's basically the high sign, for bursting through the church's doors are a squadron of vinyl-clad F.B.I. agents and state troopers who approach several of the congregants and haul them out of their seats. They're under arrest. (We'll assume they've been indicted somewhere, sometime off camera. Without due process, they are sure to get off.) Transportation awaits outside.

It's not bad enough the Catholic Church suffers huge PR problems from sexual abuse of minors by priests, it has to now suffer through the attention of it having that many congregants hauled off to jail during a funeral service. The scene is as preposterous as it is funny. Will Pope Francis get involved? Talk about the Midnight Massacre. This one is Ecclesiastical.

Of course, there are those who might wonder if Black Jack Foley were Black Jack Feinstein and the sendoff were at Temple Emanu-El, would the services have been so interrupted? Probably, because the point would be to get Chuck to quote dialogue from history, be it from Winston Churchill or from the time of Caesar and the Holy Roman Empire.

Chuck hopes the sendoff for Black Jack has been a good one, and walks triumphantly down the aisle and out the church's doors. Dad is smiling.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Tale of the Tape

The Irish proverb goes something to the effect that "may you be in heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you're dead." So think of James W. McCord Jr, the leader of the gang of "plumbers" behind the Watergate break-in who passed away in June 2017, but whose demise is just know being known in the media.

Considering this is now April 2019, that's nearly two years of your death not being widely reported. That would allow for a lot of mail to keep coming in your name before it is acknowledged that you've passed away. You have to wonder if the lights stayed on.

The Watergate break-in was a long time ago, but there are still plenty of us around who remember it. It eventually so dominated the news that a cover-up was traced back to President Richard Nixon that was going to lead to articles of impeachment being drawn against him. Rather than suffer through that process, and maybe actually removed from office, President Nixon removed himself from office and resigned on August 9,1974. The world didn't end. Just his presidency.

McCord's raiders consisted of himself and four expatriate Cubans who broke in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in Washington D.C.'s Watergate complex on June 17, 1972, fittingly hard by "Foggy Bottom," a Washington neighborhood whose name derives from the morning mist that comes over its southern boundary, the Potomac River.

The objective of the break-in was to reset listening devices that had already been planted in the office of the Democratic Party. But this time, a keen-eyed security guard, Frank Wills, noticed there was tape placed over the door latch that was visible when the door was closed. The tape did prevent the lock from engaging in its catch, so the door could be closed but not locked. But the tape, by being placed horizontally over the mechanism, rather than vertically, left it exposed for someone to see. And Frank Wills did see it, called the police because there were burglars on the premises, resulting in the arrest of the gang of blunderers.

The unit McCord lead was called the "plumbers" because they were charged with "plugging leaks" from the White House, information reaching people who weren't supposed to be reached. The president was running for a second term in the upcoming November 1972 election, and anything that could be learned about what the Democratic Party was up to would be seen as gaining a strategic advantage. Information is always a prized commodity.

Watergate as a subject and its aftermath, could be a semester's curriculum. And even 47 years after the break-in, it is still providing stories.

James W. McCord Jr. was eventually sentenced to a four-month Federal prison term, a greatly reduced sentence owing to his cooperation with prosecutors. He was man with many backgrounds, but few specific details. He served in the Army Air Force in WW II, was an F.B.I. employee and then a C.I.A. operative, retiring from the C.I.A in 1970 and then starting his own security firm, McCord Associates. He was hired by the Committee to Re-elect the President in 1972.

Mr. McCord wrote a memoir, "A Piece of Tape—the Watergate Story: Fact and Fiction" (1974). The tape of course referred to what lead to the discovery of the second break-in.

Perhaps it was his secretive life that kept news of his passing from being more widely known, intentionally or not. But the circumstances, as explained by the redoubtable Robert D. McFadden in the NYT obit, tell us Mr. McCord passed away June 15, 2017, but the news never reached any reporting agency for some reason. A book was written in 2018 that referred to his passing, but even then the news didn't leak out any further. A website reported his passing on March 31, 2019. The NYT confirmed the death through the Department of Veterans Affairs and its Nationwide Gravesite Locator application.

The obvious irony to all this is that the break-in's objective was to plug information leaks in 1972. That failed, but news of Mr. McCord's passing did not itself leak out on a widespread basis for nearly two years. Mr. McCord probably did get to heaven, and was there for nearly two years before the devil of afterlife publicity found out about him.

At the end, whether he meant to or not, he kept a better secret than he did on the evening of June 17, 1972.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Charles Van Doren

Okay, he cheated. As anyone who lived through that era, saw the 1994 Robert Redford movie "Quiz Show," has read any blog postings or obituaries—especially today's obituary of Mr. Charles Van Doren— knows, Chuck was given the answers to questions he'd be asked. Often.

Charles Van Doren was first seen as the Kryptonite to get rid of the reigning champion Herb Stempel, the Jewish postal worker from Queens who was not really telegenic, kept winning, and had a face better suited for radio. The producers had had enough of Herb. The ratings were "plateauing."

So, they got Herb to take a dive, answer a softball question incorrectly about an Academy Award winning movie, and let Mr. Van Doren dethrone him after three nail-biting tie games. The ratings were goosed, and stayed high.

Charles Van Doren, was far better looking, had a literary blue blood pedigree, and was seen as the man who would be king. His reign ran for 14 weeks, from November 26,  1956 to March 11, 1957, winning $128,000, a sum pointed out today in Robert D. McFadden's obituary that would be a $1 million in 2019. Nice work if you can get it.

Yes, Van Doren cheated, regretted it, and suffered for it the rest of what became a long life. Not to defend the cheating, but consider what Van Doren had to memorize: the answer to questions that could be longer than a freight train rolling through Reno. Consider an example given in the obituary.

"The Black Sea is connected to the Aegean Sea via two straits and a smaller sea. Name
(1) the two straits...
(2) the smaller sea...
(3) the four countries that border the Black Sea."

Alex Trebek would need four 'Jeopardy' cards to get that setup out. No one asks questions like that anymore.

We will probably never really know if Mr. Van Doren knew the answer without being told the answer, but he had to at least be ready to know the answer to a question that he knew was coming. A complex question. Would you be able to memorize beforehand the answer to that three-part question?

The two straits...Bosporus and the Dardanelles...
The smaller sea... Marmara...
The four countries that border the Black Sea...Russia, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Would you be able to name all of Henry VIII's wives and what became of them after they were dear Henry's wife?

That is something like being asked to name Elizabeth Taylor's husbands. (Hint, Richard Burton is like Grover Cleveland; he had two non-consecutive terms.)

Could you remember the answer to the question of what are the four Balearic Islands?

And it wasn't just one planted question in the round. There were several. That's a lot of obscure stuff to remember.

And so it went, until Herb Stempel blew the lid off the charade and it became common knowledge that the show was rigged.

As for my young self, I was disappointed the show was revealed to be a hoax. I also used to get mixed up and thought Charles Van Doren looked like Van Cliburn, the concert pianist.

But let's not judge Mr. Van Doren too harshly. Time has softened his deception. Let's give him credit for memorizing the answers. After all, going into the booth, would you pretend to struggle, sweat, blink, wipe your brow, and still be able to haltingly name Santa's eight reindeer, or name the Seven Dwarfs, even knowing the question was coming? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Is This the End?

Is this the end of Grigor Andolov? Say it isn't so. Go ahead, say it in your best heavily Russian accented  English: "I hope fuckking not."

Grigor, as anyone who watches Showtime's 'Billions' knows is the Russian oligarch played so well by John Malkovich that if he were to show up at the White House the Democrats would have him arrested.

Grigor and his whole family is being run out of the country, albeit with a red carpet leading from the limo on the tarmac to the private jet on the runway. But that's the ending. Let's start st the beginning.

The episode opens with Bobby Axelrod receiving some very key news about an impending natural gas explosion that is going to rip through Louisiana and upset all the natural gas holdings he has.

Why an impending disaster like this warrants the strategy to dump all the holdings Axe Capital has in that sector is a mystery to a market novice like myself. If the supply of natural gas is going to suddenly be in short supply, won't the functioning facilities that are intact be producing gas that can command a higher price? No matter. Bobby's got the info. Now he wants out of the sector before everyone else knows about it.

Just as the market bell announces the opening and the Axe traders are set to unload, the unthinkable happens. All of Axe Capital's computers go down. The mobile phones have received malware as well because they were last connected to the network. They are electronically blown out of the water and resemble a football player who is being carted off the field. They have no way to play.

Axe and Wags ride to the rescue because Bobby has kept a satchel full of burner phones for just such an occurrence. Also, Axe, Wags and Dollar Bill are the only traders old enough to know how to make verbal orders. All the rest of the current staff were born sometime before 'Beverly Hills 90210' went into reruns.

At the end of the frantic sequence, Axe Capital has managed to unload 90% of their toxic holdings as they declare a victory. True financial disaster was greatly mitigated. The ship will still float.

Grigor is felt to be behind the power outage. He told Axe not to fuckkkk with Taylor Mason and his new firm. Total proof of Grigor's involvement is obtained when Hall the spymaster comes into Bobby's office and shows off the Russian designed device that was somehow plugged into an outlet that started to whole chain of outages. Fucking Grigor.

Meanwhile, on the Charles Rhoades front and his campaign for New York Attorney General, Chuck is getting blackmailed by a dying Black Jack Foley who threatens to expose the sexual satisfaction he receives through S&M with his wife if he doesn't quit the race. Black Jack has liver cancer all over his body and is not expected to see Christmas. Unless there is a miracle of remission, David Strathairn, who deliciously plays the power broker, will also be leaning the cast as well.

Chuck, at his expected capitulation speech at Fraunces Tavern pockets the prepared text and launches into a Churchill quote, and eloquently tells the assembled that he and his consenting wife Wendy practice Sadomasochism. A gasp falls over the assembled. Chuck doesn't stop there. He tells the crowd of all the implements used. He all but reads the bar codes off the packaging. He completely turns disaster into victory through oratory. He becomes his own version of Winston Churchill.

However, this all leaves Mrs. Churchill, Wendy, extremely angry. (We hear the word 'motherfucker' and something about how many dicks can she be hit with? Whew!) What Shakespearean character she turns into will remain to be seen. If Glenda Jackson can play the male role of Lear, who knows who Wendy will become. She might just stay a female and be Lady Macbeth. Either way, Chuck is in trouble with a woman scorned.

The timeline is fuzzy here. Chuck seems to be announcing he's staying in the race while votes are still being cast in the primary. And of course, 30 days after what becomes his primary victory, he's been elected the Attorney General.

In New York, a primary is usually in September, and the general election is of course in November. Longer than a 30 day timeline. But this might have been a special election since the sitting Attorney General has resigned to take a job in Washington. No matter. Chuck is the Attorney General-elect.

None of this should surprise anyone who has been following New York politics. Anthony Weiner, the emailing former Congressman who would send underage girls an image of his wiener, almost got elected Mayor of New York City, even after revelations of his emailing proclivities. They finally did corral him and send him to prison, and he is just getting out, but has to register as a Class A sex offender.

It will be wonderful if future episodes see the Attorney General take on Governor Cuomo and give him friction over congestion pricing and the ban of single-use plastic bags—and even the proposed legalization of marijuana—but this is doubtful. No doubt Chuck's perch will be to compete with the United States Attorney for the Southern District, Bryan Connerty, for financial fraud cases.

Viewers should remember that in the prior episode Axe and Chuck have raised their glasses of what should be 18-year-old Scotch and pledged to support and help each other. Bedfellows are always strange bedfellows.

Can Chuck repay a favor for Bobby, who at the show's opening has engineered a way to keep voters away from the polls by offering so many of them expense paid junkets to Atlantic City that a street in Brooklyn is packed with a line of touring buses that has turned the candy store/bodega boarding point into the Port Authority.

In addition to that, Bobby has also arranged that a vast fleet of school buses will be unable to roll because their engines have all been sabotaged, thereby causing parents to have to get their kids to school themselves. This hopefully keeps them away from the polling places because they've suddenly been forced to provide a day of round-trip transportation. Never mind it is more than likely that the polling place is the school where their kids go. This is television.

So, given the newly formed alliance of Axe and Chuck, can Chuck do something to Grigor for Axe? Of course he can. This is television.

As the Attorney-General-elect of New York it seems Chuck can freeze all of Grigor's assets that are with Taylor Mason, and also give Grigor 12 hours to leave the country with his family. He gives Grigor the bad news in a face-to-face meeting with a lot of sofas to sit on.

These appear to be extraordinary powers for a state Attorney General. It is hard to remove a cab driver this fast who is in the country illegally who has been caught fleecing people at Kennedy airport for a living, but hey, this is television. Given the magnitude of these powers, it is unlikely Chuck is ever going to get involved with the banning of single-use plastic bags, congestion pricing and the legalization of marijuana. He's above it.

Grigor makes an attempt to sweet talk Chuck into a vacation of sorts that he will accompany him on in the time between now and the swearing in. Grigor implies there are pleasure places all over the world that Grigor can introduce Chuck to. Chuck swallows hard at this prospect. It is tempting, but no, he won't be 'Lestat and Louis' with Grigor. (You're on your own looking that one up.)

Thus, we get Grigor and his family walking the red carpet from the limo on the tarmac to the jet waiting to take them back to motherland, Russia.

Suddenly, there is a car approaching the red carpet. Is this a scene from 'Casablanca?' Is another pair of strange bedfellows suddenly going to join hands and walk into the fog? Well no.

Bobby Axelrod emerges from the newly arrived vehicle and confronts Grigor with an 'I am powerful' speech. Bobby does throw out an olive branch and tells Grigor that as soon as his plane lands in Russia the assets, the billions with Taylor Mason, will be unfrozen.

Grigor acknowledges that at least that is something. He's going to get back his own 'fuckking money.' They basically depart, telling each other that they will probably not bother to bother the other one so long as Bobby stays out of Russia, and Grigor stays out of the U.S. So we will have to wait and see if Grigor crawls back into any further scripts. After all, the Mueller report said there was no Russian collusion.

Is this the end of Grigor?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Billions Recap

I have to believe the third episode in season four was purposely written the way it was just so Wags could be heard to say an updated line from the end of the movie 'Chinatown' to Bobby Axelrod and Dollar Bill Stearn as they leave a chicken farm in Arkansas after chickening out on spoiling a good deal of the nation's chicken food supply with a chicken infected with the avian bird virus, H5NI-B, by removing it from the bowling bag Bill is holding and plopping it in a healthy chicken population, The virus can wipe out a flock within 48 hours.

The show opens with a blaring soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen singing, "Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night..." With that, we get a scene of an overweight guy on a motorized scooter inspecting a vast chicken farm in Arkansas. The guy is responsible for publishing a weekly chicken population report that affects poultry prices. He is supposed to travel around and inspect other facilities.

Well, Dollar Bill learns the guy barely leaves home. This piece of information is derived from a report from the Mobilized Meals gal who tells Bill she delivers a week's supply of meals in one shot. Thus, our hero inspector gets phone reports from outlying facilities, self-reporting, leading to bogus numbers designed to keep the prices high by underreporting the chicken population. Works for them.

It is a perfect piece of information that Axe uses to take a massive long position on poultry, knowing the prices will be artificially inflated because of purposeful undercounting. Whether this is inside information is not known. To me, it is a brilliant strategy making use of a seemingly inconsequential piece of information and turning it into an investment strategy. Guaranteed to win. Just what drives Bobby Axelrod.

Things look good, until they don't. Suddenly, there is no weekly chicken report. It is delayed. No report, no juiced prices. Axe's position looks like it he might soon be holding a bag of, yes, chicken shit. Dollar Bill flies to Arkansas in no time at all to check things out.

Chicken man on the scooter doesn't answer the door of what looks like a bare bones house. Dollar Bill walks all around and peers through a window. Chicken man is dead, laying on the floor with the TV on, likely done in by a heart attack caused by lack of exercise. We don't need the medical examiner's report. The chicken report is cooked.

Dollar Bill hangs around to see who will replace the chicken man, with orders from Axe to get them to report the same way the predecessor has been. Problem. Seven guys in suits get out of two vehicles. If you ever needed to cast a group of auditing pencil pushers, this would be how you would make them look. Straight as arrows from a Big-Four firm.

Dollar Bill figures he can't bribe them all. He's got to do something more radical. He relays his plan to Axe, who correctly assumes Bill is about to do something that might easily land all of them in orange suits with no hope of ever going to any more Super Bowls with VIP seating. Chicken Holocaust.

Dollar Bill walks into what looks like a completely unguarded quarantine facility, where a huge population of chickens who have been exposed to the HBAI H5 virus have been separated from the healthy stock. Bill's plan is simple. Infect all the healthy chickens he can, get them to die, and therefore achieve the same low population count, just by another means. Axe will still win. Axe likes to win, of course.

And to a soundtrack that is as lively as it is a testament to the producers and writers who find these songs to accompany the action, we are treated to country western singer Daniel Romano drawling away the lyrics to 'The Real Story of Chicken Bill.' You can hardly believe it. I have now downloaded the song for my iPod, because frankly, I would have never heard of the song if it weren't for Billions. Come to think of it, perhaps the song drove the creation of the episode, and not the 'Chinatown' quote.

However, Wags and Axe, fearing Federal charges against them because of interfering with the nation's food supply, fly to Arkansas on the private jet and intercept Bill, who is carrying a bowling bag of at least one infected chicken. (How many chickens can you get in a bowling bag is a story for another time,)

Axe, in the spirit of avoiding real trouble, explains that sometimes you just need to take the loss. Dollar Bill is still reluctant with this concept, but backs down as the trio walks away after throwing the infected chicken back (in the bowling bag) into the quarantine facility. Still vastly unguarded.

Bill still wants to go back and toss the bird into the healthy flock. He's restrained by Axe and Wags. Wags, at this point, offers his solace to Dollar Bill: "Forget it Bill. It's Chickentown."

After this, you don't really need the rest of the episode.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Bit on Champing

Not mentioned in the summary of Season 4, Episode 2 of Billions, 'Arousal Template,' is Chuck's cave-in on using the phrase 'chomping at the bit' rather then the correct, but far less popular, "champing at the bit."

Chuck has obviously gone to schools we never heard of, wearing a blazer, white dress shirt and tie, when he says in the presence of his attorney friend and former law school classmate, Ira Schrimer, that "he's champing at the bit" to get into the race for the vacant New York Attorney General's seat. Ira corrects him that it's "chomping at the bit."

Quick to show off, Chuck quotes from the source of the phrase, lines in a poem that goes, "twelve beauteous steeds of golden color with golden manes champ at the bit..."

Not only is it a poem from 1810, it a religious poem, 'Joseph' from a Reverend Charles Lucas work. Chuck doesn't actually tell us all that, but he doesn't need to to convince us that not only did Chuck go to prep schools we never heard of, he listened.

Ira advises Chuck that the people of New York State want someone who sounds like they come from New York State, not William Safire. "Chomping at the bit" is they way to go.

There really is a difference of opinion if it is chomping vs. champing. The ruling comes down on the side of champing due to that action on a horse's gums by the bit, attached to the bridle, which of course is attached to the reins which allows the rider to tell the horse the direction to go.

Per the answer obtained from Google...

It's champing at the bit, not chomping at the bit. This phrase (or idiom) comes from the sport of kings: horse racing. A bit is part of the apparatus that goes in the horse's mouth and connects to the bridle and reins so the horse can be controlled and directed by the jockey on its back. ...

But since 'chomping at the bit' is what most people feel is the correct way to say it, Chuck, ever the crowd pleaser, gives give the crowd what it expects to hear, when he tells the assembled at a campaign rally at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy that he's simply "chomping at the bit...."

I have to say I've never given either champing vs. chomping much thought. I've always had trouble with "honing in on" vs. 'homing in on," firmly believing that "honing" was correct, despite not being able to quote from an 1810 poem, or any other source, likely because I went to public schools.

Turns out I might have been one of the very few who was insisting it was "honing." I've never read anyone refer to it as "honing in" and the dictionary supports "homing" by definition. Supposedly, some style books now allow for "honing." But I'll try to stick to "homing."

I must say, Chuck's bit (pun intended) on word choice has educated me as to the correct phrase to use vs. the more popular phrase. But since I'm not considering running for any political office, I'll be forever champing at the bit to say, "champing at the bit."