Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words? How about a picture that launched a thousand words? Or maybe a million words. Or a dozen rumors?

If you don't know who the two people are in the above photo, check the obits page, because you've been reported dead.

Apparently the photo appears in the latest edition of  Vanity Fair and naturally leads to a story about The Donald, and his former communications director, Hope Hicks, who is now currently an aide to Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president and his son-in-law. Hope Hicks is a natural beauty, who surely only comes out if her hair is just so.

Is the photo a surveillance photo taken by the gumshoe hired by Melania Trump to get some dirt on her husband, President Trump? Is Hope Hicks gently leading the president toward a room they just rented at a Washington, D.C. motel? Probably not, but there are those who wish it were true, maybe even The Donald himself.

The photo was taken on March 29, 2018, and was taken just after a handshake on what was her last day at the White House as the communications director. Therefore, it is not an example of flouting social distancing rules adopted a year later because of the coronavirus.

The Vanity Fair story is about how Ms. Hicks, despite not holding the title of communications director, is considered to be the architect of the president's rambling presence at the daily coronavirus briefings. Let the president be the president, as if anyone has to give him advice to do that. It is after all the only advice he'd ever take.

Considering how long Ms. Hicks was in the job before the current reincarnation, one has to wonder what the future holds for her after this White House stint is over, however long it lasts.

Model, weather girl, newscaster are all jobs that would seem to be ones she's already vaulted past by now. But how about author?

Anyone who works at the White House, for any administration, is certainly a prime candidate to write a book about their experiences, and perhaps dish a little. Certainly after this term, or the next, Ms. Hicks's photo could be seen gracing the dust jacket (certainly the front) of a book of yet-to-be-determined length, launched by her photo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Spies don't get ticker tape parades up through New York's Canyon of Heroes, but if they were to, Carrie Mathison would be the first.

The series Homeland ended on Sunday. And as there is one ending, there is a possible new beginning. Don't put it past the producers and the money behind Homeland to spin itself off with a continuation series, perhaps called Red Square.

But never mind that. It's hard to make fun of an episode that was so thoroughly well crafted and enjoyable. With a twist. Gotta have a twist.

As if you can forget, the penultimate episode ends with Yevgeny imploring Carrie to "kill Saul." And basically, that's what Carrie and her Russian handlers set out to do in order to get Saul to divulge the name of the double agent working in the Kremlin who's been passing very valuable intel to the U.S. (basically Saul) for decades now. A thoroughly committed woman who grew to hate the Russian state decades ago when they assassinated for no apparent reason a cadre of her Russian students who were learning English.

Yes, Carrie has Russian "handlers" who show her how to bring Saul close to death so that he might divulge the asset's name so that Carrie can continue to coordinate her flow of information. Carrie is shown how to mix two liquids into a nerve agent, that when applied to Saul's skin will paralyze his movements, but not necessarily his voice. The plan is that once the name is divulged, a team of Russian operatives will inject Saul with a lethal dose of something between Saul's toes. "Kill Saul" will have been accomplished, and the asset identified.

Saul approaches Carrie in the guest bedroom of his house where Carrie has been staying and asks what she's up to. It's then, with a lightning gloved right hand, Carrie manages to smear the liquid on Saul's left neck. Down goes Saul. And it's not a pleasant sight.

Saul drops to the bedroom floor, looking like a human version of a  beached whale with a full beard. The two Russian operatives who have been given the signal by Carrie to enter the house carry Saul to his bed, where they remove his shoes and socks and prep him for a fatal dose of something that they plan to administer between his toes. "Do you pick your toes? Do you pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?" Saul's are about to be picked in Bethesda.

Carrie keeps trying to get Saul to give up the asset's name. Saul has her lean in for the time honored retort that all stubborn people ready to die will utter: "Go fuck yourself." Saul has just entered Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Carrie calls off the toe jab and leaves Saul to growl for another day. Carrie goes to Plan B. And it's a doozie.

Counting on news not traveling fast to Israel, Carrie confronts Saul's sister on the West Bank (flight connections are absolutely no problem in a miniseries) and tells her her brother has suffered a fatal heart attack. Carrie strongly suspects Saul has entrusted his sister with the instructions that on his demise she is to give the name of the asset to Carrie. And the sister Dorit does go to the safe and produces a thumb drive that will give Carrie the name. Mission accomplished.

With perfect cell phone reception, Yeygeny comes on the scene and is handed the name by Carrie. The name is quickly relayed to the Russian minister at the U.N. who sets out to arrest the head interpreter who is the double agent.

Things are moving very fast at his point. The two Russian operatives have fled the house and left Saul alone in his home to recover from the Ketatmine Carrie smeared on his neck. Saul reaches Scott Ryan at the U.N. and commands him to find the interpreter and get her out of there, she's been blown.

Anna flees with Scott into the bowels of the U.N., but they are basically trapped in a storeroom, knowing the Russian delegation is coming for her. And they do. In a dramatic exchange, Saul tells Scott to give Anna the gun she wants to use to kill herself with. Anna didn't count on this, and there are no cyanide pills at the ready.

The sound of the suicide shot devastates Saul. Meanwhile, back at the kibbutz, Carrie and Yevgeny learn that Anna has killed herself and that they better get out of there before Israeli Intelligence gets to them.

The Russian minister, happy that the double agent has been eliminated, produces the black box flight recorder (for the last time, it is orange) and reveals to all that the helicopter was not shot down, but suffered a mechanical failure that caused it to crash, with all on board being killed.

Jamal Haqqani did not shoot down the plane. There is no need for Pakistan and the U.S. to face off over battlefield nuclear weapons and risk starting WW III. Carrie has basically prevented such a war from getting started. The double agent's suicide was for the greater good. It was the cost of doing business.

Flash forward two years and Carrie is living with Yevgeny is a sumptuous duplex in Moscow with a spectacular view. The night lights twinkle. Carrie is putting the finishing touches on her makeup and stunning off-the-shoulder ensemble, as she and Yevgeny get ready for a night out on the town. Even in Moscow, you can apparently go out and enjoy yourself. No lockdown from Covid-19 ever makes its way into the script.

By all appearances, Carrie has gone over to the other side. Kim Philby never looked this good. Carrie and her hot Russian lover, Yevgeny, are enjoying a jazz concert by Kamasi Washington, someone who is now bound to sell more downloads thanks to providing the closing music to Homeland.

But like a James Bond movie, it's not over. Carrie is shown to have sacrificed herself and become a double agent, infiltrating the Kremlin through Yevgeny and no doubt pillow talk, eager and ready to pass information onto Saul.

And she does, by inserting a message in the spine of her recently released book on why she turned her back on the United States and getting the book with the message to Saul through his bookstore alias. The message: a certain Russian made rocket sold to the Iranians has a back door to disable it. Stay tuned.

Carrie and Saul are Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, and you can't break them up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Looked at Any Good Books Lately?

I'm finding it a bit hard to summarize Sunday's episode of Homeland. To someone who's read a lot of spy books, the episode is almost too real to make fun of.

Carrie's lawyer showed up and gets her out on bail and into Saul's custody. Interesting that the lawyer is played by the actor who was Frankie's brother-in-law in HBO's recent mini-series 42nd Street, who ran the massage parlor/whore-house. Is the message here that being a lawyer is like running a whore-house? Is the message the massage? You decide.

Yevgeny has led Carrie to believe that Saul has a long-term, highly placed asset in the Kremlin. And that the asset has been a double agent for Saul for decades. Saul of course denies this to Carrie, but it is true.

Rather reluctantly, Jenna Bragg helps Carrie trace who might be the Russian double agent that Saul turned back in his 1986 East Berlin days. In Pennsylvania, Carrie meets someone who is themselves not a possibility, but someone who might be able to point to the someone who is a double agent.

It all revolves around passing information through editions of a somewhat rare book. Using books in trade craft, especially old trade craft, is common, and this one involves placing a message inside the spine of the book.

Saul makes a trip to New York where he in effect has made contact with his agent, who is a trusted translator for the Russians at U.N. sessions. She in turn goes to a rare bookstore, buys the book that Saul will recognize as coming from her, and inserts her message about Yevgeny and the black box. (It's really orange.) She sends the book to Saul's hotel room where Saul has been waiting. (Saul tips the courier.)

Carrie has of course figured out how Saul has been receiving golden intel from the Russians all these decades. And she does it the old fashioned way, without post-it notes splattered on a whiteboard full of arrows, but by arranging books from Saul's library on the floor (Carrie's been staying at Saul's place, and right now he's in New York.) next to index cards depicting the years of major Russian/U.S. happenings.

The message in the book Saul gets is basically it is Yeygeny's operation, and he will set the price for the return of the flight recorder. Meanwhile, Carrie has been contacted through a proxy real estate agent that she will be able to communicate with Yevgeny if she comes with her to an empty mansion that's been on the market for two years because the owners are asking waaaay too much for it. (Asking price is not disclosed.)

Once inside the empty mansion, Carrie is led to a table and chair where there is a laptop that has a feed from Yevgeny, who ostensibly is in Moscow.

Coronavirus is not mentioned at all in any of the episodes, but it's like Carries is taking a Zoom class from Yevgeny. Carrie confirms there's a double agent, but doesn't have a name.

This isn't good enough for Yevgeny. Carrie tells him Saul will never give up his asset. It is pointed out by Yevgeny that if Saul is near his demise, he will inform someone who the asset is. He will leave "legacy" information, and that someone he will leave it to is Carrie.

Yeygeny's chilling answer to getting Saul to give up his asset is to tell Carrie to "kill Saul."

What? Knock off a co-star of the show, a co-producer no less, in what may not be the final episode? Does Mandy Patinkin's agent know the Russians have put a contract out on Saul, and Carrie has been appointed by them to carry it out?

Due to the coronavirus, Broadway is not open, so Mandy's agent is not likely to get him any parts in any upcoming shows. New York is kaput these days. You can't even buy a dirty water frank or an over-salted pretzel from someone on a corner right now. Fuhgetaboutit!

Under any circumstances, will Saul give up his asset for world peace? Carrie has a lot to think about.

Carrie Lawyers Up

Before anything like the title suggests, Carrie awakes from her beauty sleep,caused by Yevgeny's hypodermic injection into her neck We don't actually see Carrie wake up, since the episode starts by her walking quickly down an alley—apparently with no headache—(Yevgeny injected her with the good stuff) wearing her hijab and looking to make contact with her truck driver friend, Aram, a helpful fellow who Carrie has known since he was a boy kicking a soccer ball on a gravel patch.

Aram's truck is big, and seemingly free to roam about. His cab is decorated a bit like an Arab bedroom with lots of tassels hanging down from embroidery inside the windshield and door windows. Aram will fit right in when he gets his NYC hack license and gets to wait for fares at JKF airport, with a bottle of scent squarely placed on the dashboard and a beaded backrest for the driver to sit and lean on.

Where to Carrie? How long will it take to get to Bagram Air Force Base? (See, Aram is already dropping fares off at the airport and looking for fares to take back to Midtown.) Five to six hours, depending on how it goes at the border, which of course translates to how bad it is at the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

After a few slanted questions by the FBI at the Kabul C.I.A. station, Carrie decides it's time to lawyer up.

Jamal has backed his father's pacifist adviser into a corner by threatening his wife and children with extinction if he doesn't become the suicide bomber who drives an explosive laden car into the bus carrying the just-released special ops soldiers at he Afghan-Pakistan border.

To say how this goes might be giving away too much, but it is amazing how many bullets can be aimed at the heap the poor guy has to drive and still see the heap motoring toward the busload of special ops guys yelling and trying to get out.

Things do not look good for peace.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

I'm not sure how I missed the October 5, 2003 story of the tiger that was found and subdued in a Harlem apartment. My only thought is that perhaps we were in Vermont leaf-peeping. And whenever we went away, I would never get the New York newspapers. I always immersed myself in the local papers.

The NYT reporter, Corey Kilgannon (@CoreyKilgannon) has revisited the story, somewhat like he revisited the story of Murph-the-Surf and the Star of India/Museum of Natural History heist that Murph pulled off in October 1964.

The Harlem tiger and Tiger Man predates by nearly two decades the current fascination of Tiger King, a reality, min-series crime show that has proved hugely popular. In Mr. Kilgannon's April 18, 2020 piece he re-interviews Mr. Antoine Yates. Mr. Kilgannon tells us he was just starting out as a reporter on the NYT  Metro Desk, and looking back, he claims the city seemed a bit wilder them.

I'm sure to him it did. But Mr. Kilgannon's not old enough to remember first-hand the stories of Joey Gallo walking his pet lion on President Street in South Brooklyn in the late '60s, a time of frequent mob rub outs as the crime families jockeyed for power in New York City. At times it seemed like the Wild West was being re-enacted on the city streets.

Mr. Yates raised the Harlem Tiger, Ming, from an 8-week-old cub, into the 425-pound Siberian-Bengal mix that would consume 20 pounds of chicken thighs each day. The tiger spent years in Mr. Yates's apartment, even as there were complaints of a strong smell of urine, noise, and even a sighting. (You would have thought the quantity of poop alone would have clogged the toilet.)

I'm sure it's correct to believe that would not happen today, with so many cell phones out there able to take still photos, video and record sounds. The tiger would be on the Internet and evening news in no time.

The end of Ming's Harlem tenancy came when Ming bit Mr. Yates as he was trying to keep Ming from attacking a kitten he had brought into the apartment. The medical treatment that Mr. Yates sought led to suspicions that the bite was not from a pit bull, as Mr. Yates claimed, but from a much larger animal. The one-thing-leading-to-another led the police to find the tiger in the apartment, and in a commando-style raid, subdue and remove the tiger. Ming spent the remainder of his days at an animal sanctuary in Ohio. His cremated remains are buried in an animal cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

I am somewhat ashamed to have to admit I do not remember the story AT ALL. My wife says she remembers it. I have taken a New Yawker demotion and painfully given up one of my stripes.

I'm sure I could regain the stripe, and even achieve a promotion, if I could conclusively find Judge Crater. The reward alone is more than a the stimulus check I've yet to receive.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Big Foot?

Who is in the above photo? Big Foot? A runner-up from the show Survivor? Anthony Quinn playing a dancing Zorba the Greek? A FedEx driver whose GPS wasn't working very well? A kayaker stuck on an island in New York's Jamaica Bay?

If you answered the lost kayaker, you're right. You've been reading the news.

Turns out a kayaker got stuck on Ruffle Bar Island in Jamaica Bay for 12 hours before help arrived, responding to the fire he set, as well as the word HELP he spelled out with sticks.

Once again, @coreykilgannon has Tweeted out a story carried by some New York newspapers of the lone kayaker who got pushed by high winds that prevented him from getting back to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. His kayak started sinking, so he bailed and swam to the nearest shoreline there was, in this case a patch of land called Ruffle Bay Island, one of the many patches in Jamaica Bay that technically constitute a bird sanctuary.

Jamaica Bay is full of these island, all uninhabited, but visited by birders. The area gets Homeland Security and police attention because of its proximity to JFK airport, and the threat of terrorists gaining a vantage point to create mayhem with aircraft.

Mr. Leybovich was not first-time kayaker. He had made several trips to the island and to other spots in Jamaica Bay over the years. The reason for his excursion was not disclosed, but he was not trying to scout for burial sites in case Hart Island filled up.

The 36-year-old science teacher, Mikhail Leybovich, was not hurt. He was checked out by an ambulance crew when the helicopter dropped him at Floyd Bennett Field, and then went home. But not before he reached his car and found he had gotten a parking ticket.

What infraction earned him the parking ticket is not disclosed. But "in the bay without a paddle" might be the reason.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Hart Island

I've always known about New York City's Hart Island, the potter's field for the five boroughs. Corey Kilgannon (@CoreyKilgannon) writes a highly informative piece in the NYT about how it is being pressed into service even more because of the deaths due to the coronavirus.

The island sits off the coast of the Bronx and City Island, and for over 150 years it has served as a potter's field for the unknown, or unclaimed dead of the city, or for those whose families have no means to provide for a private burial.

It is possible I have either an aunt or an uncle who might be buried there. There's no one left in the family to ask, but my father remembered a small child that came after him and his youngest brother, who passed away in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

My father, Ted, was born in 1915, and his younger brother, Jimmy, was born in 1916. There were two older brothers in the family, born in 1907 and 1909, Angelo (Andrew) and George.

Thus, the child born after Jimmy, would have been quite young when he or she passed away due to the 1918 pandemic. My father would tell me the story, but remembered no name, therefore no gender, and nothing more than when they passed away and why.

At the family flower shop, old timers would always remember the coffins piled up high outside the cold water flats that were prevalent in the city then. My father's family was not of any means, and in 1918 probably lived in such a cold water flat on Second Avenue and 33rd Street.

By then, my grandfather and his brother were florists, and the shop was probably on Irving Place and 18th Street, soon to be a cover for the speakeasy that Pete's Tavern became when prohibition went into effect in 1920.

Mr. Kilgannon's piece on Hart Island is an eye-opener to those who know nothing about the island and its use. Over the years I've read stories about it and how a good part of the 101 acre island was an arboretum and greenhouse, tended to by the Rikers Island inmates. The trees planted in the city can come from the Hart Island arboretum.

As the need for space for potter's field burials has increased over the years, the land devoted to the arboretum and gardening aspect has shrunk. Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project is quoted as saying at a normal rate, the island can provide space for burials for several more decades. What would happen after that is not disclosed.

There are two other islands in the East River that are not being used for anything, North and South Brother Island. However, it is more likely they will be declared some kind of nature preserve that would prevent their use as a potter's field.

Without knowing what a potter's field is, you might think some '60s rock festival was held there. I first heard the term when I was with my mother on a trip in the 1950s back to Tampico, Illinois where she grew up.

An aunt mentioned something about someone in a potter's field. I remember visiting a cemetery with her and my mother, and there were only footstones, no headstones. I don't know whose grave or graves we visited, and I don't know if it was a potters' field.

Apparently the term potter's field comes from the Bible, where a paupers or common grave site was used that had once been a site of clay used by potters in making ceramics.

I'm sure for some it is hard to believe that within New York City's heavily developed borders, there is space devoted to the burial of the unclaimed, unknown, or the poor.

Hart Island sits under a flight path to LaGuardia airport, where the noise from the jets, however intense, is still not enough to wake the dead to complain.

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.

So intense and prevalent is the news for the coronavirus that barely noticed by any branches of the media, particularly the print media, was the disappearance of a granddaughter of RFK and her son who went missing when they climbed into a canoe in Maryland to retrieve an errant ball and instead of returning safely were both victims of accidental drowning when their canoe capsized, probably 30 minutes after they set out to retrieve the ball.

The victims were the mother, Maeve Kenedy Townsend McLean, 40, a granddaughter of RFK and his wife Ethel, and her son, Gideon, 9. The canoe they set out in was likely pushed by the wind into the wider Chesapeake Bay where the water was much rougher than that in the cove they set out from.

Several days after April 2 the bodies have been recovered, Maeve's first, then Gideon's. How many more funerals can the 91-year-old Ethel Kennedy attend?

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.