Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Who Do You Trust?

Well, maybe not a Russian GRU agent—no matter how good looking—with a syringe aimed at your neck. Carrie's going to have second thoughts about Yevgeny when she wakes up from her beauty sleep in the latest cliff-hanger. And she and Yevgeny were getting along so well.

When we last saw the happy couple they were headed off to Kohat to do some shopping, specifically looking for a black box (it's really orange) flight recorder from the downed presidential helicopter. On arrival, the international male and female couple resemble any other couple who are trying to find just the right item for the home.

And Yevgeny, being a male, is weary of shopping. He just wants to sit on the bench outside and let Carrie try out some more "shops" in the bazaar. And of course Carrie does.

And just like any female, she does a lot better when the other half is not with her. She spots Max's rucksack, and one thing leads to another. She and Yevgeny have already been shown a flight recorder from a downed aircraft, but it's not the right vintage, or color. Shopping for the right thing is tiresome.

Kohat is NRA heaven. Every conceivable weapon is available. Having expressed no interest in tanks or armored personal carriers, they are not shown the catalogs.

Carrie makes contact with a merchant who knows what she's after. A deal is struck, and Carrie is set to return at midnight. Meanwhile, Saul has been recalled to Washington and is ambushed into a meeting in the Oval Office with David Wellington, the leftover Chief of Staff, President Hayes, and John Zabel (Rasputin) the war-mongering adviser who has now got the president's ear, and seemingly his mouth, because any thoughts that Benjamin there can think for himself are obliterated when Rasputin goes on and on about the decisive action that is needed to give the "American people" the justice they deserve for their president being assassinated.

Saul is stunned. In the hallway David tells him that that's what they're up against. Saul is not pleased, to say the least. His beard quivers.

Back at he C.I.A station they've ordered up an ex-filtration team to get Carrie out of Kohat and end her shopping spree and bring her back in leg irons.

Yevgeny is through with shopping, despite Carrie's lead. He wants out of Kohat and tells his men to pack. He tells them in Russian, and of course Carrie understands Russian. She is some woman. He posts a guard outside her door.

A mere guard. Is he kidding? Carrie is a Ninja, and makes her way out the widow and down the wall, with some conveniently placed wires. She's headed for the midnight rendezvous to seal the deal.

Prior to this, she's recognized the need for money. Lots of money. A million U.S. dollars at least. Better call Saul and ask about that C.I.A. bank account that's there for just such emergencies, when the item you need for the home is just a little more than you anticipated. Think of it as flexible spending health account for a nation.

Carrie has also recognized she needs a way to neutralize the ex-fil team while she completes her shopping. A reluctant, but compliant Jenna back at the C.I.A. station in Kabul whispers the safe house location to Carrie. Carrie in turn has arranged, through a Yeygeny contact, to have the police raid the place and take the poor confused bastards into custody for 24 hours. They are out numberd 4-1, and were given the order from Mike at the C.I.A. station to stand down. Carrie is always a step ahead—until she isn't.

Carrie's late for the buy, but meets the seller who wants gold or diamonds. Carrie offers secure bank transfer. He's impressed with the preparation. How much? Seller wants $2 million. Carrie explains a few facts of life to the seller and he drops his price to $1.5 million. Carrie says she walks if he can't take $1 million, a million she points out that the seller isn't going to share with too many people. Agreed.

Carrie phones Saul back in D.C. The cell phone reception and connection apparently from Washington to Pakistan is like calling for neighborhood pizza.. She gets the link, and voila, the seller gets a confirmed $1 million in his account. Signed, sealed and delivered.

Carrie authenticates the black box, which of course is really orange. Carrie has her laptop, and the right power cord to connect to the flight recorder. She didn't leave the power cord back at he hotel like most other traveling business people. This is not Carrie's first rodeo.

Carrie pulls her weapon and tells the seller to now "get the fuck out of here." The seller fully understands, and leaves.

Carrie listens to the recorder. It's what we, and Carrie already knew it would be. Mechanical problem, bad weather, no spot to land, disaster. Silence. At this point Yevgeny has of course found Carrie and listened to the recorder. On hearing the crash, he says what is the clear understatement of the series: "Fucking helicopters."

Carrie's libido is lit. She and Yevgeny nearly start to rock and roll right there. Yevgeny goes along,. To a point. He just happens to have planned to have a syringe of a knockout drug that he promptly stabs in Carries' neck. Quick faint into his arms. Carries Carrie off, back to the hotel. It's not a bodice ripper, but remember where they are. Pakistan.

It's not a date rape drug. Or maybe it is, but that's not what Yevgeny has on his mind. We do not know what's on Yevgeny's mind. He is a GRU Colonel. He kisses sleeping beauty and goes off to do something. Which of course is where the episode ends. Another cliff-hanger.

Will Yevgeny destroy the black box, even though it's really orange? Will he use it for some devious means to get the Russians to back the Taliban, now surging in numbers under Haqqani's son Jamal? Does he really look forward to the U.S. walking into Pakistan trying to find Jamal, start a war trying to bring him to justice, even though Jamal is just a pipsqueak who has lied about his prowess in order to further his control over the Taliban? Jamal is an emir now. The men adore him.

We're just going to have to wait for Carrie to wake up and figure out what to do in the last two episodes. She's going to have to take care of her headache first.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Covid-19. Coronavirus

The duration of our shutdown and shelter-in-place living has lead me to write the thoughts I've been having as this episode in the life of the world keeps unfolding.

So many of the comments and observations are digital that I realize they are just thoughts in the wind. They disappear like milk weeds blown off a dandelion. And since I have this blog printed at the end of every year, these thoughts and observations will be "memorialized" in print for whomever decides to open the 2020 volume. A deposition for he record.
It had to happen. My wife noticed someone at the supermarket on Saturday wearing a military gas mask. Perhaps they just watched the movie 1917 at home.

@bklynbckstretch, Teresa Genaro, an English literature teacher at Packard Academy and a horse racing journalist, Tweeted: "T. S. Eliot was wrong." This of course refers to how Eliot imagined the end of the world coming in his poem Hollow Man, "not with a bang but a whimper." My own thoughts are he's wrong. It ends without a haircut.

The media loves numbers. Thus we have a stat on the number of deaths attributed to the virus worldwide, and domestic. Death is an easy number to understand. It's absolute. A person as counted as dead on Tuesday, is still dead on Wednesday.

But "cases" of the virus is a little more nebulous. This one right now is topping 300,000. But what constitutes a "case." As soon as there is a confirmed positive test of the virus, you are a "case." You may be asymptomatic, you may be really sick, you may be in the hospital—even the ICU—you may be any number of things, but to the media you're a "case" And part of a large number. The media loves a large numbers.

But a case is not irreversible. A positive test on Tuesday may not be positive in two weeks. In fact, you could have recovered from being a "case" and volunteer to give plasma because your body now contains the antibodies to fight the virus. Antibodies that can be used on others. This is being called "convalescent plasma."

Cumulative numbers might gives a sense of the breadth of the disease, but they are not anchored in time. Does the media subtract those that are no longer "cases." Of course not. No way to do that. So, once smitten, you are a "case."

More telling might be the number of people in the hospital vs. the number of beds available to treat those people.

The whole numbers things reminds me of the reporting the nightly news gave us on the Vietnam war. Every night it was reported that we killed x number of Vietcong. Certainly dead Vietcong are countable, but how many are there still alive?

It was absolutely stupid reporting and reflected the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara's obsession with numbers. Dead, rifles seized, number infiltrated. One evening the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.commented on the Johnny Carson show, "my God, you'd think we've got turnstiles on the Ho Chi Minh trail."

McNamara was of course recruited from the auto industry, and was used to counting things in terms of production. Numbers are just that. Numbers. You need context. I still hate McNamara, and he's dead.

Studio sports. Sports of course are pretty much non-existent around the world. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are cancelled, as well as a raft of other events. Horse racing—where it is still being run—is only at a few tracks across the country, and then in front of empty stands.

Oaklawn Park in Hot Spring Arkansas, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream in Miami are the only major tracks operating right now.

The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until the first Saturday in September, with the dates for what would be the other classic races, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, not yet announced.

Some tracks are planning to come on board with racing by the end of April, but with no one in the stands. Belmont, set to open April 24th, is still planning their spring meet.

Myself being a NYRA racetrack habitué would have naturally gone to Belmont this year on April 25 with The Assembled. This of course will be postponed as well. But "social distancing is never a problem at Belmont on any day other than Belmont Stakes Day. There is pretty much only 2,000 people strung out all over the place. Fire a cannon and you might take out some pigeons. We should be allowed on the grounds. Free of charge, of course.

A NYT metro reporter, Corey Kilgannon Tweets (@CoreyKilgannon) out nuggets from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's daily coronavirus reports. Guv Andrew has become a celebrity, praised for his frankness and inspirational support. Without even trying to be the Democratic nominee for president, he is favored by many to be drafted for the nomination.

The Guv steadfastly denies he'd like to run for the Oval Office. At least not now. He's only 63, and since he's not yet in his 70s it is understandable why he might think he's too young to run. Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie sanders are all in their 70s. And now with Biden probably locking up the nomination, it's clear the nominee, as of this writing, will be in their '70s.

Joe Biden is of course seen as a liability since he can be malapropism Joe, stumbling and seeming to have trouble articulating contemporary culture.  His recollection of thrashing Corn Pop is priceless.

Guv Andrew takes questions from the scattered assembled news people in front of him. Someone, I don't know who, must have asked if there was any truth to the rumor that NYC was considering burying the dead in city parks.

NYC does have a Potter's Field on Hart Island, and uses inmates from Rikers to bury people there. Hart island in not inhabited by anything other than the dead, and sits in the East River under a flight pattern for LaGuardia airport. Certainly the noise from the aircraft doesn't wake the dead.

Guv Andrew responded to the city parks burial question that there were no plans to bury people in city parks.

"I've head a lot of wild rumors, but I've not heard about the city burying people in parks."

Guv said this despite the fact that such burials could add a great amount of phosphorous to the soil and would undoubtedly be good for the grass. Decaying bones are natural source of fertilizer. Go green. No chemicals.

The park burial rumor gained such traction that @MarkLevineNYC, Chairman of NYC Council Health Care Committee issued the following statement:

"I have spoken to many folks in City gov’t today, and received unequivocal assurance that there will be *no* burials in NYC Parks. All have stated clearly that if temporary interment should be needed it will be done on Hart Island. 1/2...

"And that of course if such burials are required they will be done in a dignified, orderly, professional manner. Let’s all keep working hard to slow this virus so that such steps are not in fact needed. 2/2"

End of story on a Central Park burial.

And then of course we have the tiger at the Bronx Zoo who tested positive for the virus. It seems an animal handler at the zoo tested positive. When the tiger was exhibiting symptoms of something they thought to test the tiger and found it to be positive for the virus.

Turns out cats can get the virus from people, but the animal cannot give it to a human. All are doing fine.

Of course the joke became how did the tiger get tested ahead of so many others? Who wouldn't let a tiger jump the line? You tell them no.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Most Disturbing

The most recent episode of Homeland is indeed disturbing. Added to the executions you have an American president portrayed as a chameleon who will change his mind to whatever the last thing he's heard. Thus, a Rusputin, war-hungry adviser is able with 15 minutes to go before a national address, get the president to change his speech entirely and send out an ultimatum to Pakistan that is sure to inflame tempers.

The adviser is John Dancy, an he's got a beard, just like Rasputin. He's a West Wing adviser brought in by the vapid president, Benjamin Hayes, to counter the annoying, level-headed David Wellington, the Chief of Staff left over from the prior administrations.

John Dancy has got the president's ear and basically alludes to not liking Polish people, because he rhetorically asks, "who is this Max Piotrowski in the grand scheme of things." Boo. Hiss.

Max has made it this far into Season 8, but he's about to be executed by the renegade Taliban who are being lead by Jamal, Haqqani's banished, bad seed son.

Meanwhile, things are even worse. Haqqani is being executed by a firing squad, having been sentenced to death by the show-trial Afghan court.

Things are bad. The Taliban is split between those who want to keep pursuing peace as Haqqani was doing, and those hot heads led by Jamal who want to keep making trouble big time. Jamal has roused them up by claiming that he shot down the helicopters—with the RPG that he just happens to have unfolded from a blanket—which he assuredly did not because another member of the Taliban tells him he knows he wasn't even near the site. Matters little. Jamal has filled the leadership vacuum.

It just so happens that Rasputin is trying to get the goods on the Saul and his peace cabal by instructing a female operative to bring back compromising information. This usually involves some video of  honey pot sex, but there is none. She's instead able to obtain a video of Jamal admitting to his ragtag followers that he's behind it all. He's the ascendant leader now that his father is dead.

Minutes before the president is about to make his speech that he's told he cannot cancel because they've preempted all national TV programming, (Yeah, so? It would be good news if the shows weren't preempted.) Darcy thrusts the smuggled video of Jamal's ranting in front of him. It's enough to convince ding-dong Hayes to abandon the David Wellington speech, and go with the tough stance speech Darcy has prepared threatening military action if Jamal is not brought to justice. Talk about a cluster fuck.

Meanwhile, back where Max has been killed by the fleeing Taliban renegades, Carrie is sitting Shiva over Max's body, apologizing to him for taking him for granted. She is awaiting the special-ops team to come now, because as she tells them on the SAT phone, the Taliban teenagers they were so afraid of are gone.

The helicopter arrives with Saul on board. The soldiers take Max's body but then make a move on Carrie to take her prisoner. Carrie's quick to detect this hostility and flees back toward Yevgeny, who has stood by watching the U.S. fuck it up.

Into the Land Rover she goes, cementing the impression she's a Russian agent. In the Land Rover she tells Yevgeny about the black box (it's really orange) and that she knows which Taliban P.C. Richard's has it. Yevgeny swallows this piece of information like he's just been told to shoot himself. This is going to be some report he has to put together to his superiors that he's been driving Miss Daisy around Pakistan and Afghanistan looking for a sale on electronics.

Saul's back in the helicopter mad as hell, because before Carrie saw the zip ties they were going to put her hands in, he had her cooperating with good intel. Not now. She's in the wind with Yevgeny, headed for the black box (it's really orange).

President Hayes has gone out on the war limb, Saul is left with Carrie being a wanted Russian agent who they will now probably shoot on sight. How much worse can things get?

My guess is we're about to find out, But Carrie will likely come up with something, but assuredly won't get a presidential compliment of thanks in a hanger like President Warner bestowed on her. Will Rasputin get it in the neck?

Things are grim. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

You've Got to be Kidding, Right?

No. They really do rearrange the stones at Stonehenge to reflect what is called British Summer Time, BST. And by virtue of that, they put the stones back when it is no longer BST.

It's okay to doubt what you read or see on the Internet, but the moving of these stones really does happen. @SarahLyall Tweeted a picture of a crew from the English Heritage staff working on Saturday to move some stones to reflect Sunday's start of British Summer Time. Apparently we start ours a little ahead of theirs, even if it is not summer anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

The movement of the key rocks allows Stonehenge to accurately tell the world the time for sunrise, which today, BST, is 6:49 A.M. Apparently the crews have been doing this for awhile, so everything was in place when it needed to be.

When my wife and I were first married a scant 45 years ago, we started collecting antique clocks. We've slowed considerably in doing this, but at last count we display eight clocks, all in good working order, some of which bong quarter, half and hours, preceded by some chimes.

If things are working really well, a few clocks will bong in harmony, creating a fair racket in the house. We of course are used to it, and the girls of course grew up with it.

Our younger daughter was recently creating a tele-conference video for her grad students to view, since the college is closed due to the coronavirus. She was over our house doing this because she needed the color printer. When my wife and I returned from the stores she said she forgot about the clocks and their bonging, and now how they're part of her presentation. There are a lot of things and people who are part of these presentations whose appearance was not anticipated. Kids and animals have been bouncing into view. With us, it was bonging.

So of course when we here in the States change our clocks, I've got my work cut out for me. It is easy to advance the time one hour, but you can't just move the hands back when you have to. You have to spin them through the whole cycle to arrive at the correct time. This if course sets off a lot of bonging that has to be waited for before going to the next hour. It's done in stages.

At least I don't have to get a wheelbarrow out and start digging.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Quick. How many zeroes in a trillion? If you said 12 you're right. Ten to the twelfth. I have now lived long enough to read a NYT headline that proclaims:

Congress Races to Pass $2 Trillion Aid Bill as Virus Shakes Society

Most people can write a million out in numbers. Six zeroes. Ten to the sixth. I started looking at the almanac when I was a kid in the 50s and absolutely marveled at the fact that Eisenhower's salary was $100,000 a year. Yes, that's right, $100,000. Ten to the fifth.

My salary at my last two jobs, the last of which ended in 2011, finally exceeded $100,000. I was chuffed that now in the 21st-century I was making more than Eisenhower did as president in the '50s. Mission accomplished.

We know that amounts of money are relative to the era. But I was amazed to read in a book review that President Jackson's budget for removing the Indians from their east of the Mississippi land ballooned way past the expected $500,000 (5 to the fifth) to $75 million. Talk about cost overrun. The author of 'Unworthy Republic,' Claudio Saunt can't resist telling us that's "about a trillion dollars today." And that's in the late 1830s. There's no era that doesn't break through the stratosphere.

It's taken a while to get to the point that we now read amounts of money described as being in the trillions. For those who might have struggled with math, it's worth noting that a billion is a thousand millions. Ergo, a trillion is a thousand billions.

There is of course the famous New Yorker cartoon where that kind of math can come as a complete surprise to those amongst us. Even the boss.

The progression of computers and their ability to store data has gotten us to the trillion threshold long before the federal government cracked through. For computers, it's described as a terabyte, a thousand gigabytes, a gigabyte being a billion bytes. (Actually a little more, but we won't get into that.)

When PCs came along in the early 1980s a floppy disc (look it up) could hold 512,000 bytes of data, and a megabyte, a million bytes of memory, (RAM, random access memory) was an astounding breakthrough. We've come a long way baby, and fast.

I was reading a story about classifying and naming viruses in the WSJ. The article tells us "there are more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the known universe." That takes you into the trillions. Get used to it. Trillion is the new billion.

And or course it all goes back to the senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen, who in the 1960s 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."

How high can the numbers go?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


How can so many wheels fall off in one episode of Homeland? We are left with another cliff-hanger with Carrie's jaw quivering so much that even from Pakistan it's registering on a Richter scale in California, maybe even Columbia in New York City. It's a massive shake. Her teeth are going to come out.

Just a quick recap, we know Max has been shot, the black box (it's really orange) is traveling on a yak somewhere, Haqqani has given himself up in order to keep 300 of his followers from being executed in a soccer stadium by General G'ulom, and Carrie, our heroine, has whisked herself away with a Russian intelligence officer, Yevgeny Gromov, in order to save Max. You remember, right?

Along the way we have some great quotes that would make Bartlett's if this wasn't a screenplay. Saul tells the president of Pakistan that the U.S. president, Benjamin Hayes, "will do what all weak presidents do: go to war."

President Hayes is so unlikeable and stupid, that you have to wish he was Corn Pop with a chain and who Joe Biden beat up his fists, when growing up in rough and tumble Delaware.

Then there's the scene where Haqqani has given himself up, is locked away in an Afghan jail cell, and gets a quick visit from Saul. Saul knows Haqqani didn't order the shooting down of the helicopters, and tells Haqqani he's innocent. Haqqani smiles ruefully and says, "how can anyone be innocent in 40 years of war." Wow.

Meanwhile, President Hayes has forbidden Saul and others to offer the intercepted signal transmission proof that Haqqani had nothing to do with the downing of the helicopters. Hayes is not revealing the U.S. sources to that intelligence in open court.

Carrie and Yevgeny take off in the Range Rover and drive to where Yevgeny knows he can get information. Anyone he encounters is one "of my guys," Taliban who are friendly with the Russians because the U.S. bombs and kills civilians and they, the Russians, go in and rebuild their mosques, etc. A little editorial comment from the screenwriters, and probably true.

Yevgeny and Carrie traveling together reminds you of a middle-age couple who can't agree on who has the best french fries, Sonic, or McDonald's.

The trip results in getting to the location that Max is held in. Yevgeny was led to believe that the $2,000 be brought with him would get Max's freedom. Nope. Double cross. Only a quick visit. Well, in that case, Yevgeny only offers half the funds.

Yevgeny and Carrie are there long enough to see that another band of whomever has come to take Max away. Enraged, Carrie tries to stop them, but to no avail. Yevgeny, ever the pragmatist offers the other half of the money if they'll tell him where they've taken Max.

It works, directions are provided, and offer a clear indication on what a measly $2,000 in U.S. currency can buy you in the dusty, rocky, desert looking landscape of Pakistan.  The phrase "rugged beauty" would certainly apply.

Meanwhile, Saul has his hands and beard full of the what a jerk the U.S. president is. Peace with the Taliban will slip away if harm comes to Haqqani in the form of a show trial.

Tasneem Qureshi, rather than light up, offers to help Saul have a meeting with the presiding judge, a woman, who might offer help in delaying the trial. She reluctantly agrees.

Another wheel comes off. General G'ulom must know something, because he's substituted the presiding judge with an absolute hardliner, who speaking Dari with no subtitles, convicts Haqqani on the spot, and invokes the death penalty.

Saul is losing it. His walk is getting quicker, and he's tilting forward more. Meanwhile, Yevgeny and Carrie have traveled to a high spot overlooking where Max is now being held. There are maybe 5-6 guards, all teenagers, with simple rifles, guarding the dwelling.

Carries calls Mike back at the C.I.A. station (with a SAT phone you get reception anywhere) and requests a special ops team. Mike is aghast that now the suspected rogue agent who is perhaps in bed with the Russians, now wants American support. Mike agrees, but no one else seems to want to help Carrie. She's on her own.

Trouble. Another wheel comes off when a band of whomever come to truss Max up for a Taliban video. Chop his head off? Carries has already made her way down to the dwelling, unseen, and is about to engage the enemy. She's Carrie, and she's a good shot, even though she's significantly outnumbered. Is this finally the end of Max?

It's then that Yevgeny has also made his way down behind Carrie and stops her cold, clasping his hand firmly over her mouth. No! Carrie's jaw starts to quiver and register on the Richter scale.

You almost feel like you're watching a reenactment of the news. Thus, another cliff-hanger, page turner has been televised.

This better end well. We need a win.

Egg Creams

Anyone who has grown up in New York, and I mean really grown up in New York circa 1950s, will know of people who told them that so-and-so's is where you can get the best "egg cream in the city."

It's like that scene in The Godfather just before Michael comes out on pops the police captain played by Sterling Hayden, right between the eyes, when Sterling Hayden recommends to his dinner mates to try the veal, "it's the best in the city."

I grew up in Flushing, which is in Queens, and only close to Brooklyn when you look at a map. The two boroughs could not be more different. My Jewish friend who lived next door, Paul Pinsky would tell me that Jahn's ice cream parlor on Main Street next to the Prospect theater had the "best egg creams."

I know what egg creams are, and they have nothing to do with eggs. They are a soda fountain concoction of chocolate syrup, seltzer, and milk. Jews in particular loved egg creams, and in any Jewish neighborhood, in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens, there were certainly ice cream parlors that provided the "best egg creams anywhere."

If anyone ventures to Downtown Brooklyn and takes in Junior's, site of the best cheesecake in the world, and egg cream central for a long-gone generation of egg cream lovers, and looks at, or buys a souvenir glass, they will get fill lines on the glass instructing them how to also make your own "best egg cream." Fox's chocolate syrup is highly recommended, and is also available for purchase at Junior's. Knock yourself out.

Anyone who needs proof of seltzer's popularity, especially in Brooklyn, need only read the obituary in today's NYT for Eli Miller, 86, Sultan of Seltzer Who Kept Brooklyn Bubbling. Seltzer deliveries were once ubiquitous in the borough, with many trucks following their routes delivering the wooden cases of the pressurized bottles to residences.

I never saw what the attraction was. Jewish people were big on seltzer, I think because they basically believed anything that acted as a cathartic promoted good health. (You might remember Moxie) If your bowels moved, you were healthy. Especially if you wiped well. (I kid you not about this one.)

So, why the sudden rhapsody on egg creams if I never really cared for them? Simple. Obituaries.

In yesterday's NYT there was a Death Notice for Nan Schieisner Weiss, a woman born in 1933 that took up six of the eight columns a Death Notice can be displayed in. In fact, hers was only one of two death notices in the whole paper, probably because with the restrictions on gatherings, even at funerals, family members are not placing notices in the paper. Another ripple effect of the coronavirus.

The name of a famous New York saloon, P.J. Clarke's caught my eye, principally because it was at the end of one of the column. I don't usually read the Death Notices unless something catches my eye for some reason, and P.J. Clarke's being cited, did just that.

Nan, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, went to college in North Carolina, worked in her family department store in Harrisburg, and moved to New York City after graduating college to pursue a career in fashion.

In any era, lots of young people migrate to New York for their career, and when women did it, we will assume in the early 1950s, they could find themselves staying at the Barbizon Hotel, a hotel on 59th Street I believe, that was only for women, and especially for the new arrivals who were looking to get a start in New York City, the big bad city, before finding more permanent living arrangements.

The notice tells us:

"At the Barbizon, she renewed her acquaintance with Burt Weiss, also from Harrisburg, who became her husband for 52 years. Their first date was for an egg cream at P. J. Clarke's..."

Huh? P.J. Clarke's is one of the oldest saloons in New York City, owned by a restaurant corporation that has recreated its Third Avenue, below-the-El look in a few other locations, right down to the sarcophagus porcelain urinals that look like upended row boats.

That you could get an egg cream at P.J. Clarke's, in any era, seems as unlikely as being able to buy a left-handed screw driver. Did Burt spin a line to Nan and tell her a Brandy Alexander was really an egg cream?

This possibility reminds me of the scene in 'Guys and Dolls' where Sky Masterson wins his bet and takes the strait-laced Salvation Army tambourine girl Sarah to Havana and gets her to start downing rum by having her drink it mixed with milk. Sarah gets a buzz on and declares that the concoction would be a great way to get children to drink milk. The buzz of course leads to a song, "If I Were a Bell," which of course fits because Sarah's bell has truly been rung.

Has the gang back in Harrisburg been fed a line about how Nan and Burt got together again, sipping egg creams at P.J. Clarke's? Are they that strait-laced that they could be told that Burt took her out for a few at a saloon? Maybe it's an inside joke.

I have absolutely no idea. Could P.J. Clarke's been asked to make an egg cream for Nan by Burt? They certainly would have the ingredients, if not the repetitive expertise to make "the best egg cream?" Did Burt wink at the bartender and ask him to slip some spirits into the concoction? It certainly seems that Burt was in New York City ahead of Nan and knew of a place to go on a first date, even if it wasn't a museum.

Whatever, it worked. They were married for 52 years. That says it all.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

2020 Census

Completing the 2020 Census form is boring. There is little room to be playfull. Perhaps that's the intent. Keep it simple. Just the facts. But it's still bor-ring.

I have no idea if everyone has gotten the form so far, but you can respond online. Each form has a special code that you enter that identifies your address. The code looks like an OEM, original equipment manufacture code. No problem, though.

If you can't do that you can have a census person come to the door. But with the covid-19 virus, how much of that will occur is wondered.

Names and ages of people living at the address are asked for. Birth dates are also solicited. The drop-down choices for year of birth go as far back as 1894, meaning you can be 116 years old. That's probably as old as anyone is expected to be. Extreme longevity usually craps out at 114-116 years. The skin goes. You follow.

Gender is asked for, with no ability to indicate non-binary. Several relationship options can be chosen to accommodate virtually every kind of living arrangement with whomever (if anyone) lives in the same household.. If the choice fails to describe your arrangement, there is an Other option.

The only "fun" part I came across was the blank box that asked about your ancestral "origins." I immediately thought of people who have spent money on 23&Me genetic testing and found out they are a certain percentage of Visigoth, or Mongolian horde.

I've never done any genetic testing. I've been content to know my ancestry as far back as the grandparents I've met, or known of from my own parents. That seems to be good enough for me. It stretches back to 1880. There is no burning need for me to find that someone in my family is a direct descendant of Charlemagne, or Alexander the Great. It's not like I'm going to find photos of these people.

So, I was happy to provide as much as Greek, German, Polish for my own origins and Irish, English for my wife. Everybody comes from somewhere, even if they don't know where.

Which brought me back to the form itself and its instructions. There is an ability to take advantage of complying with the census in any of 13 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.

Extensive, but certainly not all inclusive of even my origins which included two languages not listed: Greek and German. And what about Italian? I can understand leaving out Gaelic covering the Irish origin of my wife. It's pretty hard to find anyone who relies on that language for communication.

So, the 23&Me people will be able to add percentages to their stated origins. The more numbers the better.

I don't know if there is a longer form that some people get that asks more household questions. Years ago I seem to remember you could comply by stating you have a washing machine, a dryer, or some other type of appliance you could use.

Years and years ago after we moved into the house we're in, the first Census for us at the address was in 2000 and they kept insisting there was someone else living at 33½, an address that would denote an outbuilding on the property. There never was, or is, such an out building on the property.

My explanation to the Census taker was that perhaps the prior owners, a husband and wife indicated that the wife's mother lived with them; that this was somehow translated into a ½ address. I offered the Census taker a chance to go back in the yard and see that the shed was not a dwelling. If they wanted to count rakes they were welcome to it. She declined and took my word for it.

I did afterward attached a brass address number to the shed: 33½ just in case they really do want to come back and count those rakes.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Valhalla Murders

Stay-at-home Americans are gobbling up mini-series like they're eating popcorn. How do Netflix and Amazon keep the larder full?

Foreign entries, dubbed, with sub-titles. Belt and braces. The sub-titles don't match the dubbed words, but that's a small distraction.  Some of this fare is only for the truly desperate, but you can suss out the more interesting stuff by watching the trailers and figuring if there are multiple episodes, or better still, multiple seasons. Eight or more episodes is a good indicator, and if the series is not a completely new one, check the production dates. Season three of something started in 2017 is a good sign that the series met with approval in its native country. Chances are since we're all considered human, you will find it worthy as well.

Having watched a few of these series, not so much as being isolated, but simply retired, I can recommend ZeroZeroZero, a drug trade series that also offers a keen insight to the cocaine trade and how it gets from Point A to Point B via several others points. It becomes a logistical SAT question.

Another one I would highly recommend is Babylon Berlin, now in its third season. This German mini-series from the novels of Volker Kutscher are a delight for insight into Germany just before
WW II and the ascendant Nazis.

The Weimar Republic is recreated in all its Art Deco design. The series is HUGE in Germany, with many millions spent to recreate a Berlin of that era. They've left no small detail unrecreated. The sound track is first rate and available as a double CD, instrumental on one CD, then the vocals that are performed at the Berlin dance hall Moka Eti, a true hot spot of the era. It's Cabaret all over again.

The protagonist is Gereon Rath, a Cologne detective who's been assigned to Berlin. As a crime series it's great to realize how forensic science was being applied to criminal cases in the early part of the 20th-century. They had method in solving cases. And Rath is in the middle of it all, up to his eyeballs of his bad complexion and terribly baggy eyes..

Just recently on Netflix I stumbled on The Valhalla Murders, an eight-part mini series set in contemporary Iceland, again with subtitles and dubbing that doesn't match the words. But the disconnect is not distracting at all.

It's a police mystery involving what looks lie a serial killer loose in Iceland, a country whose police are not armed, but can acquire their service weapons if needed by getting a code to unlock the safe in the back of the vehicle where the weapons are stored.

It's a very modern police squad, inhabited by industrious Nordic women who are of stout mind, body and character. There are men of course, some of which sport the full beards you'd expect for a near-Arctic Circle country.

Divorce and strained family relations are a natural part of policing, not just in this country, but in Iceland as well. The main character, Kata, is a healthy woman who has been a detective for over 10 years. Her pony-tailed dark blonde hair bobs up and down as she energetically pursues her job.

The first scene we see Kata in she is swimming, a sturdy-shouldered, attractive woman whose ability to swim comes in very handy as we will see by the close of the last episode.

Kata is divorced, with a 16-year-old son at home, who is of great concern to her because she thinks he's been involved with the wrong crowd. What Mom doesn't worry?

Kata's Mom is of course always up her butt, so Kata is stressed. And now these horrific murders, badly disfigured victims whose eyes have been sliced through as well.

See enough of these multi-part crime dramas, and you can guess where they're going with this, and this one is no exception. And if you're also quick to pickup an early clue, you can guess that this is going up the command structure of the Icelandic law enforcement hierarchy, because by Episode 6 some of the case is resolved. But only some.

Because of the serial killer look to things, a detective is called in from Oslo Norway to assist Kata, Arnar, a brooding hunk who barely talks and who you're left to wonder is going to bed with who by what episode. Not a complete spoiler. But it does happen.

Kata has been passed over for promotion by another middle-aged Nordic blonde, Helga. Since this is an authentic Icelandic production, we gets actors whose full names are totally Icelandic, mostly ending in "son" or "iur." The credits are full of such names, complete with all those diacritical marks that I never know what affect they have on pronunciation.

Luckily, this series doesn't show Icelanders eating much. There was a series a few years ago which offered some completely disgusting fish takeout selections that would put any of us on a starvation diet for a month. The scenery is rather breathtaking, and there is snow and cold in every outdoor scene. You might want a blanket for your legs watching this one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Oh Boy

If there's one thing Carrie Mathison does, she gets herself in deep, deep do-do. At the end of Sunday's episode she's basically made herself an Enemy of the State and wanted by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. But then again, Max is in trouble, and Carrie is loyal to a fault.

Whenever Carrie gets up from the desk, slings her bag over her head, goes through the C.I.A. station's kitchen, takes the sheet off the motorcycle and roars out of the building, you know she's on a mission.

Things are really bad since the two presidents, Afghan and U.S., have been killed. The ascending U.S. vice president, Benjamin Hayes (how's that for picking a name!), is a complete asshole, with no idea of how to do anything. It's a good thing his administration can't go beyond this season. This season is the last.

A power negotiating vacuum has occurred since the helicopter went down killing all aboard. All scenarios point to the Taliban leader, Haqqani, but there's also the F.B.I. coming into Kabul and starting their investigation at the C.I.A. station.  After all, a U.S. president has been killed.

Carrie has already floated the possibility that the plane went down not because an RPG hit it, but rather because there was an equipment failure. The black box (it's really orange) is pivotal to knowing what happened.

Max, good old nerdy Max, risked life and limb to get into the downed bird and extract the black box (it's really orange). Unfortunately, a Taliban insurgent has captured him and the black box (it's really orange).

But in fact, it may not even be the Taliban who's got Max now handcuffed to a bed. Haqqani ordered a cease fire to honor the peace agreement. There are other forces at work here.

Is it General G'ulom, now the Afghan president, who's playing games to get the war going again? He really doesn't look like he could be trusted to tell you what day it was.

But the kicker for Carrie is now it is known that she lied in her report about her contact with the Russian intelligence officer Yeygeny Gromov, played by Costa Ronin, who is now typecasted as the benevolent Russian you're supposed to trust. And maybe you should.

The C.I.A. tech team has cleaned up the tape they made when Carrie met Yevgeny outside a mosque. Carrie reported that Yevgeny might be getting ready to "turn." Nothing's further from the truth. Yevgeny saved Carrie from hanging herself when she was in the Russian prison. They shared a conversation of what she did, but doesn't remember, since Yevgeny was there. It's alluded that perhaps they slept together, since Carrie does seem to get around, even if she doesn't remember you the next day.

In one of Carrie's motorcycle trips shes' contacted Yevgeny at his home and asked for assistance in finding Max and the black box (it's really orange). Yevgeny needs a window of two minutes when  there is no electronic surveillance active in the sector he's going to make contact with his guy. He can't have his source become known to the Americans.

Carrie agrees. Carrie eludes Jenna, the C.I.A. newbie who's cute and cunning and assigned to follow Carrie, but who is absolutely no match for Carrie's ability to spot a tail. Carrie goes into the Intelligence monitoring room, manned by a single, harried person who is looking at multiple screens. Carrie distracts this individual with a printer problem that Carrie of course caused. Meanwhile, Carrie has pulled the right cable cord and taken the surveillance off for the sector Yevgeny needs to make contact. Two minutes lapse, and she plugs the cord back in and all's well because the schnook left his viewing post to un-jam a printer! Were the dots not connected for 9/11 because someone went to the bathroom at a critical time?

Yevgeny has a lead because of Carrie's derring-do. But Mike, the C.I.A. station chief has informed Saul about the tape. The Berenson beard starts to quiver. Carrie was not supposed to make contact with Yevgeny. Not only did she, she lied about the narrative of the meet. and now has lied to him as he confronts her in her room.

With the F.B.I. crawling around trying to get a timeline on who knew what when about the president's trip, it's going to look like Carrie called Yevgeny as soon as she heard he was coming. Saul orders Carrie back to Germany and the rehab.

Meanwhile, Max wakes up handcuffed to a Taliban? bed with a guard holding an automatic weapon nearby. But the knapsack with the black box (it's really orange) has been taken by one of the Taliban? bearded brainiacs into the market place and sold at their version of a phone store because it's a piece of American electronics. They have no idea what it represents.

There is a scene of the black box (it's really orange) stuffed as cargo being transported with other goods by a stream of pack animals headed for the mountains somewhere. Now try and find it.

Carrie is driven to the airport with Jenna riding shotgun, and gets on a plane just like you or I, luggage, boarding pass, tight-lipped smile at gate agent,

But on the way, Carrie observes Haqqani, the Taliban leader, giving himself up at the American embassy. Haqqani can't get out of Kabul because General G'ulom has closed all the exits and rounded up 300 Taliban insurgents, plopped them in a soccer stadium, and is all set to kill them if Haqqani doesn't give himself up.

Haqqani tells anyone who'll listen that he didn't order the helicopters to be shot down. (If even the one with the presidents was shot down, or just fell down due to mechanical failure.) he is counting on Saul to get him a fair trial. Talk about trusting someone.

Carrie makes her way onto the jetway, but you know, you just know, she's not going back to Germany for more psycho mumbo jumbo. She makes a sharp right through an exit door that doesn't sound an alarm, bounds down a set of stairs and meets Yeygeny driving a Range Rover like a getaway car, who then picks her up. Carrie's in the wind.

Another cliff-hanger ending.

Monday, March 16, 2020

It's All About the Benjamins

The headline in today's NYT business section made me think that somehow the Aqueduct heist gang found a way to relieve a bank of just its $100 bills. Talk about selective theft.

A Manhattan Bank Is Emptied of $100 Bills

A heist is not what is being reported. Apparently, there are 1% per centers that are reacting to the coronavirus by taking large sums of cash out of their bank accounts, principally in $100 bills. So many Benjamins have been handed over to customers that the bank has had to restock. It's a different kind of run on a bank.

I haven't yet read that the Aqueduct crew has been caught, so I have to wonder if they're now going to start hanging around outside Park Avenue banks and start clocking customers leaving the bank and treating them like an overstuffed ATM. Anyone carrying a case of some kind might make a tempting target.

The story goes that one customer took out $50,000 in $100 bills on Friday. A few banks in the Park Avenue/52nd Street area are reporting a run on liquefying assets.

And apparently, this is really nothing new. After 9/11 banks reported dispensing globs of cash to customers. What these people are worried about is of their own imagination.

They remind me of Scrooge McDuck who loved being surrounded by his piles of gold coins. As a kid, I always like old Scrooge there. I also like Donald and his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. What name can we attach to the $100 bill hoarders?

But fear not. Unlike toilet paper, the Federal Reserve reports there is plenty of large denomination paper currency to stem any fear that the entire monetary system is going to collapse.

Since Sears Roebuck no longer carpet bombs the earth with their tissue paper thin catalogs, and there might be a temporary short supply of toilet tissue, please don't tell me there might be those who use U.S. currency in the bathroom.

It might be messy, but I hope for their sake they will recycle the paper.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

It Had to Happen

Studio sports.

Years and years ago as cable television was starting to make inroads and broadcasting home games of all sports, there was doomsday talk of the games being played in front of no one, just a studio audience; no one would choose to come to the game. There would be no such thing as home attendance.

Didn't happen, until coronavirus descended on the big blue ball and sent everyone home to keep their "social distancing" to a minimum. Years, maybe months from now, someone will try and give credit to whomever first coined the term "social distancing."

After the November 1965 blackout in NYC unexpectedly kept everyone in the dark for extra hours, there were claims that 9 months later the birth rate in the city had taken an uptick. They even made a movie about it staring Doris Day.

Will couples working from home be inclined to take a nooner and finally push the nation's birth rate higher to the point that the actuaries will declare Social Security will stay funded? Time will tell. There are always consequences.

When the list of sports impacted by the virus is repeated—and repeated—no one talks of horse racing except a unique niche of people who follow this. On a good day, there are not many people who attend the races—anywhere. My own experience is at New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks, where even on sunny Saturdays there can be a small crowd in attendance. With 52 years of racetrack attendance in my vault, I can tell the difference. It is huge.

You can hear the jockeys' crops slap the horses, and you can hear their chatter as they approach the finish line. You can hear the horses' hoof beats. It is actually more exciting to watch because you can hear more.

If there's a traffic light working at an intersection in a small town at 2 A.M. and no one is around, does that mean you have to stop? Most people do. But there's something spectral about electronic lights working and no one is watching. It's eerie.

So consider that NYRA and other jurisdictions are running their races in front of no one. Well, in most cases there was no one when there could be someone, so what's different? Little. The jockeys certainly are not going to notice much difference. And the horses? Well, who knows unless they tell you.

The tote board is lit, the money is being bet via online and inter-track wagering, and there are winners, losers, and payouts.  On Friday, there was a total mutuel pool of $268,989, which I will take to come from the NYRA betting platform, and an inter-state wagering pool of $4,345,062. Clearly, the public is not necessarily needed to be there.

The prior day of racing was Sunday, March 8th, when there was on-track attendance, there was more money bet in the mutual pool and in the inter-state wagering pool: $748,080, $7,100,328. Clearly the public presence adds to the handle, but so does a public not otherwise worried about coronavirus.  Sunday to Friday has made a world of difference in how people are reacting.

My Tweets inquiring if the tote board is lit when no one is there were answered that it was. It is even blinking away in the depths of winter when there are even less people than normal there. We haven't had snow this year, but a tote board blinking with snow in front of it would be a sight to me. Unseen hands are changing the odds as post time approaches. A Higher Power at work.

When will the all clear siren blow? What number will tell everyone it's okay to come out and play again? Perhaps the tote board will tell us. No matter how long you live, you haven't seen it all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Homeland Season 8

One thing Showtime's Homeland has perfected this year is the cliff-hanger episode ending. If these episodes were a book, they would be page turners.

We've had Carrie flashback to her torturous Russian detention; we've had had Saul kidnapped, hooded, and dumped in a cell; we've had helicopters carrying the presidents of two countries crash; we've had Max, the nerdy tech guy stand up unarmed and surrender to the Taliban. (If it really is the Taliban. We'll see. They're heavily armed with automatic weapons) with the black box (it's orange) from the presidential helicopter at his feet to await his fate as a captured combatant.

Just as peace with the Taliban was ready to be trumpeted to the world, aviation disaster happens. What the hell were the U.S. President and the Afghan president doing in the same bird? Giving something away, there's a new president in Washington. There are more administration changes in Washington than in Italy.

Perhaps to show should have taken a page from real life and told us there are two Afghan presidents, because in reality two have been sworn in this week. Always good to have backup.

But what I really get out of the episodes is the universality of the word "fuck." In the episode that aired prior to Sunday Carrie thwarts a kidnapping by the Taliban of an asset who doesn't want to be dragged back to the village to serve her brother-in-law just because her husband has been killed.

This is an independent woman who recoils at the prospect of being kept barefoot in the kitchen of someone with a floppy hat and rat's nest facial hair.

She calls Carrie, who of course will do something, and she does. There is nothing tame about Carrie when she whips out her automatic pistol, clutches it with two hands and points the business end at your face.

Carrie figures out the vehicle the kidnappers will use once they escort the woman out of her house, disables it, and then rushes the driver's side, while her driver does the same to the passenger side, and tells the Taliban baddie: "Don't fucking move." You feel your own heart stop.

It's amazing what words people understand. Here's a bunch of rascals who have been speaking Pashto to each other, but clearly understand the word "fuck."

Okay, maybe it's the weapon pointed at their temple, but you have to admit, the word "fuck" does makes itself known around the world.

The new U.S. President is the third actor to portray that officeholder. We've had Elizabeth Keane,  played by Elizabeth Marvel, who resigned, then Ralph Warner played by Beau Bridges, and now Benjamin Hayes played by Sam Trammell. It's enough to confuse any third-grader. It also means if Homeland's producers come calling and give you the part, you're not going to last too long.

President Hayes is a dilettante, a spineless caricature of a politician. Do the writers have someone in mind? They tried to anticipate Hillary becoming president by having a woman president, now they got a confused former VP who seems more interested in moving into the Oval office than taking a command position. Is he Joe Biden?

So, did Haqqani betray Saul and send the Taliban after the presidential helicopter? Did the helicopter just develop mechanical trouble and crash on its own? Did Afghanistan's new president, General G'ulom, arrange the hit so he could succeed President Daoud? Will Tasneem Qureshi light another cigarette of satisfaction? Will the producers finally off Max after all this time? Will there be peace with the Taliban even after all this?

As always, come back to the movies next week and see for yourself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Letter of Recommendation: Gambling

Apparently there's a weekly section in the Sunday magazine section of the NYT that is called "Letter of Recommendation." Since I do not get the Sunday Times I'm not at all familiar with it. But one of the people I follow for thoroughbred horse racing news (@bklynbckstretch), Teresa Genaro, recently posted a Tweet with a link to a Letter of Recommendation piece by John Williams that was about gambling.

Mr. Williams (@johnwilliamsnyt) is quite sensible about "gambling" and basically describes what I would call "recreational" gambling, gaming. John's Twitter profile tells us he's a Daily Book Editor and Staff Writer at the NYT. The guy's got a solid job. He probably even went to college and graduated.

Mr. Williams immediately sets the scene at a place I know well: the paddock area at Belmont Park. John finds himself there with his father who later in the day is going to be married for the second time. John is there with his father's friend, and they are conscious of the time so as not to be late for the services.

Just reading that part makes you realize you don't have to be at Belmont and making wagers to be taking a gamble. Getting married, for the first time, or the eighth time is a gamble. John's father apparently is only up to the second marriage.

But they're horse players, a breed of people I know quite well. Mr. Williams writes:

"You end up in some interesting places at interesting times when you know gamblers, and the gamblers themselves are often good company."

For myself, I am part of a group with three others who I've nicknamed The Assembled when we pick a date and descend on Aqueduct, or Belmont. Saratoga is in there as well, but that's only myself and one other of The Assembled, when we take an annual  pilgrimage to Mecca in the Adirondacks and pray at the finish line.

Mr. Williams is so right when he says that "loss is also a counterintuitively alluring draw. It's a good idea to be on speaking terms with  bad luck. Not to recklessly court it, but to inoculate yourself with it from time to time rather than avoid it altogether." Mr. Williams tells us it is the one place where Dostoyevsky and Damon Runyon make sense together.

In the recent obituary for Jack Welch there is a recounting of the story he tells of when he was playing ice hockey as a kid in New England and he was pouting and carrying on after the loss and threw his stick across the ice after losing a high school hockey game. His mother, who Jack credited with making him who he came to be, stormed into the boys' locker room and ripped him a new asshole, "You punk! If you don't know how to'll never know how to win." No wonder there is a Mother's Day.

I have to say I never realized that my attraction to making the occasional wager on horse racing has help build my character. When at 19 I started going to the track, my father thought it was a sure sign that dropping out of college (twice) and now going to Belmont was a certain sign of my descent toward degradation and eventually sleeping on the Bowery. Didn't happen, Dad.

And when in 1968 Stage Door Johnny won the Belmont Stakes and I broke my own maiden with a cold $2 Daily Double that paid $22, I was hooked. I loved reading the Morning Telegraph, (then 75¢) and still love reading the Racing Form.

I was never a gambler, and yet I've been going to the races now for 52 years. My wardrobe of now unused Brooks Brothers ties cost me more than I've ever lost at the races in a lifetime.

Gong to a ball game is nice. But that score board is not a tote board, and after nine innings, it doesn't pay off. Nine races might.

Mr. Williams has it right when he says "something for nothing is a thrill. Nothing for something is a test." In the movie "Color of Money," Paul Newman said it best: "Money won is twice as nice as money earned."

One of The Assembled (we all once worked for the same company) is a retired surgeon, now in his 80s with complete control of his faculties who could be a role model for gamers.

He's been organizing poker games ever since he was drafted into the Army and served as a junior officer at Fort Dix during the Vietnam era. He's the point man for the Tuesday game night that takes place at someone's home when they can get eight players, which is almost always, There are people who have been trying to get into the game for years. Ivy League admission might be easier.

I myself do not like cards, and have never played a game at a casino, but when Bobby G. tells us of his occasional appearance at a crap table I live vicariously through his tosses. He has had modest winnings, and certainly modest losses. I always tell myself that someday I'm going to watch a crap game. I know how to calculate the odds.

If there was no news of trainers and vets being indicted for doping this piece would end. But the events that became public yesterday cannot be ignored.

That there is chicanery at  the racetrack comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the game. Yesterday, there were 27 people named in a federal Southern District Court of New York indictment  on doping schemes and abuse of animals.

The story is in today's NYT bylined by Benjamin Weiser and Joe Drape. As much as racing can have household names, there are two well-known trainers named in the far-reaching indictment: Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro.

Jason Servis has risen to prominence in the last few years. His brother John Servis (not named at all) works the Pennsylvania circuit and notably trained Smarty Jones, who narrowly missed winning the 2004 Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.

I remember Jason becoming a trainer to pay attention to a few years ago when his win percentage rose above 40%. A trainer's stats are a key ingredient in handicapping, and Jason's were being taken note of.

Assuredly, I've won races with Jason Servis as the trainer, and lost races to Jason Servis trained horses. Which ones were juiced I'll never know. There is no small "j" that appears in the past performances to tell you whose got the juice.

Lately, he's become a trainer of high-end horses, notably Maximum Security, who was disqualified from the 2019 Kentucky Derby and placed 17th, Completely out of any purse distribution.

Maximum Security went on to win several other races at various distances in 2019 and won the Eclipse award for outstanding 3-year-old. Even as a four-year-old his winning ways did not desert him, winning a thriller in Saudi Arabia in the $20 million Saudi cup. He was starting to remind me of the great Forego who won at various distances.

The owners of Maximum Security, Gary and Mary West, have moved the training of the horse to Bob Baffert's barn.

Jorge Navarro is basically a Monmouth New Jersey trainer, who has long been suspected of administrating PEDs, performance enhancing drugs. According to my friend Fourstardave (yes, there really is such a person) Navarro's style resembled that of the late Oscar Barrera who claimed a horse at a certain level, quickly moved them up to a much higher level than they ever competed in, and won. Barrera once won with the same horse six times in one month. Ungodly numbers.

Once the detection of drugs in Barrera's horses came out, his fabulous win percentage shrunk like an ice cube in the sun. When he passed away Andy Beyer, the racing columnist for The Washington Post said the secret of Barrera's success was buried with him.

Along with the doping schemes, the indictment outlines the disposal of dead horses whose health was compromised by the drugging and the training abuse. Wiretaps reveal conversations about disposal, as if you were watching "The Sopranos."

Today's NYT story reports that Jason Servis was worried about a positive test on Maximum Security after he was dosed with SFG-1000, a PED drug. The veterinarian Kristian Rhein assured Servis, "they don't even have a test for it. There's no test for it in America."

There is drug testing in racing. Winners are routinely tested, and others from the race might be selected at random. Poorly performing favorites always draw suspicion. So it is clear that the slogan that DuPont chemicals once used, "Better Living Through Chemistry" is a motto at the racetrack.

No wonder it's called gambling.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Heist

It had to happen sooner or later. Holdup men wearing surgical masks that made them look like they were just evading germs held up Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday night and made off with what is reported to be $200,000 to $270,000 in cash.

If a $200,000+ cash theft at a racetrack isn't chicken feed, I'll get an early start on eating my mutuel tickets for the year. You have only to read the account of the robbery in today's NYT to learn that in  1969 and 1970 thieves made off with a total of $2 million in armored car thefts from the track. Wait too long, and crime hardly pays.

That there is even $200,000 in cash at the track is amazing to me. I've been going to the races since 1968 and remember when there were Pinkerton guards with guns who patrolled the area. Most wagers these days are made through online wagering accounts, and are basically electronic transactions from all over the country, as well as what might be wagered at the track itself.

It is reported the workers were emptying cash from "gaming machines" when they were relieved of the take by two surgically masked gunman who made off with the money. An inside job is naturally suspected.

I am familiar with NYRA tracks and a gaming machine would constitute a voucher dispensing machine that cash can be fed into and a voucher dispensed that allows self-service betting to occur at other betting machines.

When the third floor at Belmont was open, the entire floor had no manned windows. It was all self-service wagering. Last year, even the third floor was closed, the machines were removed, and you had to be on the first or second floors to wager.

Aqueduct and Belmont on good days already look like the patrons have stayed home due to coronavirus fears. I can only imagine what Aqueduct looks like these days.

And because of the adjacent casino at Aqueduct, and late night simulcasting wagering from the West Coast and even Australia, there are still patrons at the track long after the last live race is run, typically no later than 6:00 P.M. at this time of the year.

Quoted in the story are patrons who claim that there is little to no security at the facilities, even when there are the most people there for live racing. I've complained about the beer/cooler crowd that descends, but to no avail. I don't go that often downstate, and the beer swillers tend to put themselves off in a corner. These facilities are huge, and when empty, actually resemble dark alleys It is not safe to be there.

Saturday at Aqueduct probably had what might be described as a "decent" crowd since there were several graded stake races, and one with points toward gaining entry to the Kentucky Derby. Attendance figures are rarely printed because admission is free to Aqueduct and there is a direct link to the adjacent casino. Patrons can go back and forth.

The inside job theory is gaining credibility because it is reported some employees called in sick on Saturday. No matter. The take was paltry and pales to what an armored car theft would have been decades ago. But it did beat the Pick Six, which paid $10,121 on Saturday.

I made the joke that since the NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon late last year informed us that Murph the Surf was still alive in Florida, Murph might have boarded Jet Blue and flown up for the deed.

But Murph of Star of India heist fame is now a reformed burglar who gives motivational speeches. Not even cash at today's racetracks could tempt him these days.

My guess is there will arrests very soon.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


How old do you have to before they let you out of prison because you're too old to be in prison? Apparently you can still be there when you're 100. The first hundred years really ARE he hardest.

Take John Franzese who has just passed away at 103. Mr. Franzese was a career gangster in New York who managed to be sentenced to prison once again when he was 94 to an eight-year sentence. His son Michael gave evidence for the prosecution as John was sentenced for the extortion of two Manhattan strip clubs. That a mobster extorted money from a strip club and lived to be sent to jail for it is a sure indicator of Mr. Franzese's durability. He was released from prison when he was 100 for health reasons.

Whether Mr. Franzese was the longest living member of organized crime is not known. They're just going to have to start keeping better statistics.

That Selwyn Raab's byline appears on the obit it itself another story. (We are never without stories.) Mr. Raab was a NYT crime reporter (now still with us at 85) who goes so far back that his byline appeared on the "Career Girl" murders of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert, the 1963 case that sprung the 'Kojak' series with a lollipop-sucking Greek, Telly Savalas as the principle detective. "Who loves you baby?" Jesus.

I always appreciate the obituarist that includes a parenthetical phonetic pronunciation guide on how to pronounce the deceased's surname. When one of the Koch brother passed away we were  reminded the name is pronounced like "Coke," not like New York's former mayor, Ed Koch.

And so it is with Mr. Franzese, pronounced FRANCE-ease. This was very useful for me because growing up I used to hear Mr. Franzese's name connected with arrests and organized crime. I had a good friend in school who was John Francini (I never really knew the spelling, just guessing) whose father I knew couldn't be John Franzese because my friend's father worked as a manager at a Schrafft's restaurant. Schrafft's was so long ago they had a restaurant that was a Men's Grill; no women allowed. They also made boxed chocolates.

Before Mr. Franzese's release from prison when he was 100, he was the oldest prisoner in the federal prison system. Michael Franzese, who help convict his father, was himself a Columbo capo and was portrayed in the movie "Goodfellas." His father authorized a hit. but Michael is still with us at 68 and is now a motivational speaker.

If you're still breathing after all the things in his life, you do have the right to impart positive thinking.

At the end of the father's obit, Michael tells us:

"My father was a chameleon. At home he was a loving father and husband, but on the street, a hard-core guy who never had regrets, never would admit to any crime, never gave anybody up, never violate his Mafia oaths—a mobster all the way."


And just days after Mr. Franzese's obituary we were treated to the obituary for another felon, Charles Friedgood, 99, who had been imprisoned for killing his wife and who was released in 2007 when he was 89, then the oldest prisoner in the New York State correctional system, having served 31 years of his 25-years-to-life sentence.

Charles Freidgood was a Great Neck, Long Island physician who was caring for his wife who had become seriously disabled after a stroke at 33. Dr. Freidgood administered Demerol to her to ease the pain, only to one day, either with malice or as a mistake, injected her with too much Demerol, only to see her pass away from it.

Intentional or not, once presented with a wife who was no longer breathing, he signed her death certificate and quickly rushed the body out of state for an immediate Jewish burial.  Five weeks later he boarded a plane at JFK with the intention of a rendezvous with a Danish nurse he had been having an affair with  since the '60s and with whom he had fathered two children.

I remember reading that the authorities boarded the plane that was about to go to Denmark and pulled Dr. Freidgood off. He had more than $450,000 of his wife's cash, negotiable bonds and her jewelry with him. Since Dr. Freidgood didn't complete his flight it is not known if he got a refund on his airline ticket. Even then, probably not.

The slammer is was, with parole after parole turned down. He was a precursor to Jean Harris, who was convicted of killing her lover Dr. Herman Tarnower, a Scarsdale diet doctor.

Any moral to the stories? Just as you're never too old to learn something, you're never too old to go to prison, and never too old to stay there.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Olympic Nostalgia

It's been 40 years since the United States Olympic hockey team won the Gold Medal at Lake Placid, significantly beating the vaunted Russian hockey team in order to get into the finals against Finland, and then beating Finland in a game that turned out not to be a gimme for the Gold Medal and everlasting adulation and fame.

Forty years is a significant amount of time and it is impossible having sailed by it myself not to get as nostalgic as the newspapers and reporters who covered the event. My oldest daughter's in-laws are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in May, and it is not hard to for me to re-imagine what 1970 was like. The Mets had won the World Series the year before; the Jets had just as improbably won the Super Bowl, Ali-Frazier I hadn't happened yet, and most significantly for me as a season ticket holder, the Rangers were a great hockey team and knocking at Lord Stanley's door to drink from the Cup. Never mind it took another 24 years for that to happen. 1970 produced some great games.

I watched the game against Finland in my cellar in Flushing as I was putting together a wooden doll house kit my wife had bought. My wife thought this thing was easy to assemble. It wasn't. It was raw balsa wood that needed to be painted after being put together.

Soon after the first daughter there was another in 1982, and although I assembled that doll house, wallpapered the rooms and ordered and assembled miniature furniture, it was never played with too much. Typical thing for the kids that become for you. Like a train set.

The game against Finland was touch and go at some points. There were some bad penalties that Team U.S.A. took that nearly cost them big time. But of course they prevailed, and the rest is history.

How quickly anyone associated with that team became famous. There was one player, Ken Morrow who went straight from the Olympics to the Islanders, and won their first Stanley Cup with them.  Several other players transitioned into the NHL: Mark Pavelich, who became the first American player to ever score five goals in a game.

Herb Brooks's coaching became a hot topic. The "Brookizies," as Captain Mike Eruzione called them that Brooks put them through with late night, punishing after game skates that had them doing speed bursts until they dropped.

Herb Brooks soon after Lake Placid became coach of the New York Rangers. I knew right away that couldn't work. He took a hand-picked selection of college guys and turned them into a hard working, disciplined team. There was no way that was going to translate to older, professional, contracted hockey players from different countries.

And it didn't. Herb was soon gone. Tragically, he died in an automobile accident skidding on a winter road in Minnesota.

Gerald Eskenazi of the NYT reminiscences how his story from covering the semi-final game got into the paper.

Mr. Eskenazi was a sportswriter for 41 years with the NYT and was basically the beat reporter for the New York Rangers. Being a lifelong Ranger fan and season ticket holder from the last '60s to 'late '70s, I read Mr. Eskenazi every chance there was.

In the early '70s when the Soviet hockey team was emerging as a dominant force he described their work ethic, and how they played on the "off-wing," right-handed shots played on the left side, and left-handed shots played on the right side. This created a better angle for forehanded shots against the goaltender. The shooter's angle was improved. The great Maurice Richard, "The Rocket" for the Montreal Canadians was a left-handed shot playing on the right side, and that was in the '40s and '50s, long before any Russian coaching influences came in to the game.

Eskenazi discussed how the Russians were tremendously fit, while the average Canadian player trained on beer. Nowhere was his analysis more on display than when the Russians STUNNED the hockey world in the first Team Canada game in 1972.

After the NHL players took a two goal lead in game one in Montreal, the world thought this was going to be easy, only to see the Russians come back with so much third period energy and swirling style that the exhausted Canadians could only watch as the Russians shot at what looked like an unattended net, winning the game 7-3. The Canadians looked like exhausted schoolboys.

The Montreal newspapers the next day, French and English, were draped in black crepe. Their vaunted North American game had been exposed.

I think it was a little before the Team Canada series that I saw the Soviet team play the USA collegians in the Garden. I don't remember a slaughter, but the Russians won easily, literally men against boys. Perhaps appropriately, the name of the captain of the U.S. team was Charlie Brown.

I had seat a near the Soviet bench and will forever remember seeing the security guys suddenly look back and up and ward off the charging Hasidics who wanted to protest the Soviet treatment of Jews. Security was ready for them. It wasn't like the Hasidics were hard to spot. They didn't exactly blend in with the crowd.

So, with Eskenazi so associated with covering hockey, it is hard to believe in reading his 40-year
look-back that he had to convince the senior editor to send him to Lake Placid for the 1980 Winter Olympic games. but they finally did, and added a winter coat to his traveling ensemble.

1980 by a few years predates desktop computers, and Eskenazi tells the story of his typing his story for the game, wadding up the pages and throwing them to Dave Anderson on the lower level, so Dave could race them to the basement where the Teleram (obviously a new name for telegram) machine was (too big for the press box) and where another reporter typed the copy into the Teleram so the story could make deadline and appear in the paper the next day. It did.

The relay system is reminiscent of the one described in Dave Anderson's obituary. Dave was a hockey reporter and covered the Rangers at home and away in the '50s and '60s for the Journal-American, unlike today when there is seldom a beat reporter's byline associated with a game result, if there is even a story about a game in today's NYT sports page.

At the end of Dave's obit is a recounting in 2014 by Dave of his sports writing days and the technology of the era that made a story appear in the paper. The obituarist Richard Goldstein tells us:

"The thrill of newspaper work never left Mr. Anderson, as he made clear in 2014 when he recalled a night in 1956 when he had covered a New York Rangers game in Montreal for the

Mr. Anderson was on a train  heading back to New York City when, as the train slowed at the border at Rouse's Point New York he had the task of tossing game stories by the New York sportswriters to a Western Union telegrapher standing by the tracks.

'It's the middle of the night, it's snowing and I'm standing between cars in the dark and toss the package of stories to him and hope somehow he teletypes the copy and it all gets in the newspaper," Mr. Anderson recalled.

In the morning he picked up a copy of The Journal-American at Grand Central Terminal.

'There was the story,' he said. 'It was exciting. Even now, when I'm writing, I wake up on a Sunday and still get excited if I'm in the paper.'"

And what is in the paper now? The sports section has changed to become filled with pictures, not text. In yesterday's paper there is an astounding two full pages devoted to childhood memories of snow in Wisconsin and the current snow accumulation in Minnesota. God help us.

We miss Gerald Eskenzai. We miss Dave Anderson.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Shabalala for Short

Shabalala is a most lyrical name. But when it is part of an even longer lyrical, tongue-twisting  name belonging to a leader of the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, you can understand why the 78-year-old who just passed away, Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala, might be better known as just Joseph Shabalala.

His full name uses an astounding 22 letters of the English alphabet. Can you spot the four letters not used? Hint: They correspond to four NYC subway lines. Wheel of Fortune would have to go to commercial break if Vanna were to turn over all those letters. His name looks like snippets of text from the Kryptos sculpture in front of the CIA building in Langley. Maybe he's the clue to decoding the text that is still encrypted.

When the story broke about the kids and their guide trapped in the cave in Thailand we learned that the name of the leader of Thailand is: King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayyavarangkun, an name that uses a puny 15 letters of the alphabet and seems almost pronounceable by even newscaster Ted Knight on the Mary Tyler Moore show.

As always, we learn things from obituaries. What does Ladysmith Black Mambazo mean? Well, Ladysmith is a city in the Uthukela District of South Africa, and Black Mambazo means "black ax" in Zulu. You have to wonder how big are the birth certificates in South Africa, or how big the window envelopes are to accommodate a full name like Joseph's. It is no wonder it was shortened just a bit.

Ladysmith itself has a story behind it.

On 11 October 1850 the [city's] name was changed to Ladysmith after Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith, also known as "Lady Smith," the Spanish wife of Sir Harry Smith, the Governor of the Cape Colony. Sir Harry Smith was the British general governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner in South Africa from 1847 to 1852

Johnny Cash's song "One Piece at a Time" told the tale of a GM worker sneaking out enough parts over the years (1949-1970) to build his own auto. However, there were so many parts from so many styles and years of GM autos over the years that Johnny tells us it took the whole staff at the DMV to type out a title that weighed 60 pounds. (Perhaps an exaggeration.)

Ladysmith's association with Paul Simon is duly noted. And there might be those who remember the kerfuffle that veteran civil rights leaders like Harry Belafonte caused by accusing Simon of  exploiting Zulu, black music, for white people.

A anti-Simon campaign was launched. I distinctly remember a black student wearing a Harvard sweatshirt who was on TV criticizing the "theft" of African music.

It was embarrassing for these people, because all Simon was doing was exporting great music to a wider audience. Ladysmith was already quite well known outside the United States at the time. The obituary duly notes Joseph embracing Paul Simon when he approached Ladysmith to collaborate with him on the Grammy Award winning album 'Graceland': "He came to me like a child asking his father, 'Can you teach me something?' He was so polite. That was my first time to to hug a white man."

Lucky for us, the death of Mr. Shabalala does not mean the end of Ladysmith. Three of his sons are part of the group.