Three Rounds of Sudden Death Golf – And Maybe One More?

golf3As they say, deaths of famous people always come in “3’s”. And so it was in the professional golf community when three big figures of the sport succumbed in just the past couple weeks: Billy Casper (Feb. 7/83 years), Kel Nagle (Jan. 29/94 years) and Charlie Sifford (Feb. 3/92 years).

Casper was known as one of, if not the best putter of his age. And as putting is such a large component of the game, mastering it tends to translate into success – and Casper had plenty of it in his prime during the 1960s and 70s. He won 51 times on the PGA tour including two U.S. Opens and a Masters tournament. He also won the Vardon Trophy five times for posting the lowest average scores, and was a Ryder Cup member eight times. His highlight came in the 1966 U.S. Open when he overcame a deficit of seven strokes with nine holes to play to tie the legendary Arnold Palmer, forcing an 18 hole playoff the next day which he nailed after Palmer carded an ignoble 40 on the back nine.

Not a household name, Charlie Sifford ranks among the likes of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson for breaking down race barriers in competitive sports. As the first black man to infiltrate and succeed in the pro ranks of the quintessential white mans’ game – a fortress surrounded by racial barbed wire even more impregnable than baseball or track & field – Sifford withstood taunts and threats on and off the course. He never let such shit distract him though, winning twice on the tour in the late 1960s in Hartford and LA. Like Robinson and countless other black athletes who were consigned to playing in “Negro” leagues, Sifford spent his best years playing in a cordoned-off area of the United Golf Association’s tournaments, winning the National Negro Open five years running starting in 1952.

Just last year, confined to a wheelchair, Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tiger Woods often noted Sifford’s ground-breaking courage that paved the way for his own ascent to the pinnacle of golf.

And speaking of recent golf-related deaths, might we add Tiger’s own game to the list? Once considered invincible, the man who would surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major tournament wins, Tiger has been stuck at 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. In between then and now, Woods has suffered debilitating injuries – the worst being self-inflicted. Skipping a good deal of competition as of late in the hopes of recovering from physical ailments, Woods returned last week to competition only to put up his worst professional score ever (an 82 at Torrey Pines) and then drop out the next day after 11 holes due to back trouble. Just the other day Woods announced he was taking an extended hiatus until he can play without embarrassing himself.

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Ten years ago the question was how far would Woods surpass Nicklaus’s record, then five years ago the question was whether Woods would surpass the record at all. Three years ago the question was whether Tiger would win just one more major. And today the question is whether he’ll ever win another golf tournament.

My succinct prediction: RIP Tiger Woods’s golf game.

Who Said it?

In the course of reading a lengthy article about a famous dead American leader, I came to learn he wrote the following observations about Jews. Can you guess who he was? Hint: It wasn’t Henry Ford who was also a big-time anti-Semite. Answer at the end of the blog.

“the greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen.”
“these people do not understand toilets and refuse to use them except as repositories for tin cans, garbage, and refuse.”
“lost to all decency.”
“lower than animals.”

End Note – Fuck you Microsoft

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In the middle of penning this blog, Microsoft decided it was high time to forcibly shut down my laptop so some urgent bug patches could be applied to their shitty Windows 7 operating system. Although this intrusion has become almost routine, it still comes as a surprise when you forget to postpone the action every couple of hours.

As a long-time abused user of Microsoft products, I assert they spent years and treasure defending their monopolistic hegemony by tying all their products into a single spaghetti-ball of “integrated” code rather than attending to the fundamental security and integrity of their operating system. And because of their misguided actions, most of the world must now suffer the scourge of spam, ransomware, bots, phishing expeditions, and lethargic 1980s-level of system performance on their super-fast 21st century hardware.

So once again I say – Fuck you Microsoft.

The Mystery anti-Semite is —

General George Patton.

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Brian Williams: Hero of the Crimean War

nbcI’m standing behind NBC anchorman Brian Williams in his hour of tribulation. While millions excoriate the fetching TV man for stretching the truth (OK, outright lying) about being present on a U.S. Army helicopter that was struck by enemy fire over Iraq in 2003, I believe only a moron would make such a preposterous and easily-debunked claim that if revealed would devastate his career (and nullify his $10 million contract). Forthwith, to my knowledge, no one has produced a single test score or brain scan that indicates Brian Williams is a moron. Hell, he might not even be an imbecile, for that matter.

Besides, the record implies otherwise. From the research desk at Major Terata Publications, what follows is just a sampling of Williams’s exploits that have altered the course of history for the betterment of America and, and judging by the turmoil dear Brian has endured of late, its ungrateful citizenry.

Outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, March 30, 1981

As would-be presidential assassin John Hinkley fired his pistol at Ronald Reagan that rainy afternoon, Brian Williams was on the scene from Pittsburg, Kansas reporting for KOAM-TV. Although Reagan took a round to the mid-section and Press Secretary James Brady suffered a bullet to the head, it could have been worse. “It wasn’t until later,” said Brian, “that the Secret Service told me a bullet headed straight for Reagan’s heart had struck my Cross pen and deflected harmlessly into a wall. I was so shaken after the first gunshot rang out that I totally forgot about the pen.” Brian continued, “I’d show it to you but the Secret Service confiscated it. I heard it’s at the Reagan Library somewhere.”

At the White House, outside the Oval Office, 1996.

Inside the White House following an interview with Attorney General Janet Reno, Brian happened upon a young intern who was scurrying from the Oval Office. “As a noted investigative journalist, I sensed something odd about the demeanor of this young woman, whom I later learned was an intern named Monica Lewinsky,” recalled Brian. “I remember she was wearing this awful blue dress – with a big, gooey stain right there on her bosom. That woman – Ms. Lewinsky – obviously recognized me right away because I was NBC’s chief White House correspondent at the time, so she confided in me that the stain was presidential semen.” Showing remarkable aplomb, Brian counseled the anxious Lewinsky. “Don’t have your dress cleaned. Keep it in safe place in case we ever need DNA to clone President Clinton.”

At Columbine High School, Columbine, CO, April 20, 1999

Cutting short a skiing vacation in Vail upon hearing the breaking news of a massacre underway at Columbine High School, Brian arrived at the scene in time to save at least three students. Some years later, upon deeper recollection, he raised the number saved to five. “The place was a madhouse. Hysterical kids running with their hands raised. Parents jockeying for position hoping to catch a glimpse of a loved one. Utter pandemonium.” Brian stopped to brush aside a tear. “Knowing that mayhem was still occurring inside what had once been a safe place of learning, I ran inside to assist in the evacuation. I’m not sure whether it was Harris or Klebold, but one of those bastards was shooting down the hallway. I corralled three (editor’s note: now five, per Williams’s press agent) students into a classroom and out the window. I’m quite sure at least one student escaped a sure shot to the head when the bullet deflected off my Blackberry.”

On board United Airlines flight 93, September 11, 2001

In a situation that would portend the awful fear Brian had to endure aboard the helicopter in Iraq, hijackers representing Al Qaeda commandeered a United Airlines plane out of Newark heading for San Francisco. Brian remembers being on that plane. “We tried to figure out how to land safely,” he said, “I seem to recall we landed very quickly and hard. We were stuck, a bird over Pennsylvania and we were north out ahead of the other Americans chasing us in fighter planes.” At this point, Brian’s memory fades. “I just can’t remember how I wound up back in the studio in New York that day. I wish I could. Just the fog of war, I guess.”

At Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011

“It was zero dark 30 and I was embedded with the Seals on a mission to avenge a terrible wrong committed on 9/11. I was in the helicopter that crashed landed on the wall surrounding Bin Laden’s compound. By the way, what the fuck is with these helicopters, man?” Brian takes a moment to regain his composure before continuing, “I was standing right next to Rob O’Neill who led the charge up the stairs to the third floor where Bin Laden was presumed to be hiding. O’Neill bursts into the room and there before us is the tall visage of the most wanted man in the world.” Brian breaks into an almost imperceptible grin of pride. “Rob boy squeezes off a round, which deflects off my iPad and catches Bin Laden right between the eyes.”

For obvious reasons of national security, this detail is left out of Rob O’Neill’s interview on Fox News.

But as anyone can plainly see, Brian Williams’s record of heroism in the line of journalistic duty is above reproach. Expect to see Brian back on NBC within a week, promoted from The Nightly News to hosting The Biggest Loser.

From the “Never Knew That” Department

New York Giants football fans know and mostly revere the name Mara. Tim Mara founded the team in 1925, and when he died in 1959 his son Wellington took over the reins. He ran the club until 2005 when he kicked the bucket as well.

Then just the other day, Wellington Mara’s wife of 60 years – the former Ann Marie Mumm – succumbed from injuries sustained after falling on the ice. She left behind 11 children and 42 grandchildren.

And one of those grandchildren is actress Rooney Mara, pierced-punk co-star of the racy film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

I wonder what Grandpa Wellington thought when he saw Rooney – playing Lisbeth Salander – vengefully shoving a huge dildo up the “tight end” of a sexual tormentor.

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Rooney Mara shows her stuff.

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Herbal Supplements: The Standard is Poor

toejamThe Attorney General’s office of New York State yesterday accused GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart of selling store brand herbal supplements like echinacea, ginseng, and St. John’s Wort which failed to contain any or all of the ingredients listed on the packages. In fact, many of the supplements thought by some to be life-extending contained nothing but filler: rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, and ground up houseplants. Nothing deadly perhaps (unless you’re allergic to any of it), but illegal nevertheless.

I’ve often harbored skepticism about the efficacy of the plethora of exotic and medieval-sounding health supplements for sale in chain stores, gas stations and in the margins of Facebook feeds. Now I’m more certain than ever there’s a vast conspiracy run by unscrupulous alchemists to leech off of the gullible health-nut cohort.

But thanks to the diligence of the AG’s office, slime in the herbal industry has been uncovered and maybe thwarted for the time being. But that’s just one state. What about the U.S. at large? Why isn’t the FDA or some other agency looking for pulverized rat-shit in the stuff Americans consume? After all, the USDA does a pretty good job at rating beef. No one seems to be complaining about their intrusion in the abattoir, least of all the beef industry itself which leverages government grades like “prime” and “choice” to promote their product to consumers.

It’s because of obstructionists in Congress like Orrin “the Snatch” Hatch that no federal oversight of supplements exists. Hatch’s 1994 law specifically forbids the FDA to get involved. The reason: Supplements are safe, sayeth the Snatch (that, plus Hatch has taken hundreds of thousands in contributions from the supplement industry.) And, let’s face it, the effort to keep the FDA out of the action comports with a long-standing belief among many laissez-faire politicians that the government should never regulate anything.

Remember that affable geezer on TV who used to say government isn’t the solution to the problem – government is the problem? Welllll . . . his disciples would much prefer to turn the task of regulation over to private industry which is much better equipped, more efficient and more motivated to do the right thing.

So what can happen when private sector rates itself?

Consider another news story that broke yesterday – the one about Standard and Poor’s agreement to pay a $1.375 billion fine to atone for its mischief leading up to the devastating 2008 financial crisis. Here’s a tale of a private sector firm paid by banks and other financial institutions to rate the quality of the instruments they sell. Along with Moody’s and Fitch, S&P applies ratings to bonds, mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, or any other figment of a quant’s imagination that investors can purchase along with a gauzy promise to be paid back some day. As one S&P analyst was quoted as saying, “It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.”

The ratings agencies theoretically act as independent agents who study markets, probe companies’ capabilities and financial wherewithal, estimate risk, and offer assessments of the quality (and hence the value) of whatever instrument is placed into the market.

In reality, these agencies do little of that. Financial instruments like credit default swaps and synthetic CDO’s are too complex for the rating agencies to assess (not that that would stop them from trying), and besides, the agencies are essentially owned by the companies that hire them. Should S&P or Moody’s plop a mediocre rating on a bond issue from Goldman Sachs, the fallout would no doubt be swift – banishment from sucking on the lucrative, derivative tit.

Such incestuous relations explain how S&P could give Enron debt a top rating in August of 2001 when in fact the company was about to crater into bankruptcy in December of that year. At every step in Enron’s procession toward death, S&P was one or two steps behind reality – always bestowing upon the company a too-generous rating and in the process fucking over the average investor with bullshit sunshine. Affirming a strong BBB+ rating on October 25, 2001, S&P said, “The fundamental strength of Enron’s energy marketing and trading franchise has remained steady. Standard & Poor’s has detected no lapses in the company’s risk management practices and trading discipline.” Two weeks later, Enron restated earnings to the tune of $600 million. S&P’s defense has always been “Enron lied to us.” But if that’s your excuse – if all you do is regurgitate what companies tell you – why exist? What possible value do you bring to investors if your role is to be nothing more than a gussied-up PR firm?

Whenever I hear wags proclaim the stultifying effects of government regulators on commerce, and how such regulation – if done at all – should be done by the private sector, I think first of S&P and the damage such shills can inflict upon said commerce.

RIP: Kel Nagle

Kel Nagle, the winner of the 1960 British Open golf tournament died the other day at age 94. Not well known in America at the time, for he plied his trade mainly in the South Pacific league where he won 61 tournaments, including an Australian Open, six Australian P.G.A. tournaments, seven New Zealand Opens and seven New Zealand P.G.A.s, Nagle rocketed to fame when he nipped Arnold Palmer at St. Andrews.

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My earliest recollection of Nagle came in 1965 when he vied for the U.S. Open against Gary Player. I don’t remember much except that Nagle and Player were going head to head on Monday in an 18 hole playoff after coming up tied on the 72nd hole of regular play. Early on, Nagle sliced a drive into the head of a female spectator. When he arrived to his ball, Nagle encountered the woman bleeding profusely from a gash in her head (she later received eight stitches). Nagle was so flustered that he bladed his next shot into the ankle of another female spectator. He took a double bogey on the hole. Needless to say, Player won the U.S. Open that day after Nagle put up a four over par 74.

RIP Kel Nagle who demonstrated so ungracefully how the game of golf is satanic and evil.

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New York: The Vampire State

crockLast week’s arrest of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon (“Smelly Shelly”) Silver served as yet another reminder that the “Vampire State” harbors the worst state legislature in the United States. Using a metric involving level of corruption [C] times cost to maintain the whole population of cretinous politicians, and their staffs and perks [P] divided by the value of the output of their “work product” [W], the New York State legislature is by far the most useless and least cost-effective body in America. And maybe the Third World for that matter.

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NY’s Public Servants in the Headlines

New Yorkers from the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan, to the mountains of snow in Buffalo, to the empty badlands of the Southern Tier, to the tony beaches of the Hamptons – all can attest to the ill effects of incompetence upon their lives: nation’s highest taxes, largest income inequality, most punitive property taxes, highest incarceration costs per inmate (2X the mean), highest public school spending per pupil , and some pretty shitty infrastructure (27% of bridges are functionally obsolete, 23% of major roads are in poor condition, 399 dams are rated high hazard.)

Silver’s long-running stint as one of Albany’s “Three Men in a Room” – derided rightly as the epitome of undemocratic colloquy and decision-making – demonstrated how much the system in New York had atrophied. The head of the Dems was able for 20 years to wield outsized power to buttress his leadership position and in the process inflate his worth to miscreants (lawyers, mainly) looking to game the system with monetary stipends and referral fees.

But let’s not allow the travails of Smelly Shelly to make us forget the full depth of the New York State government bench when it comes to corruption and cronyism. The compendium of flagrant violators of the public trust is legion. And I’m not even talking about the assholes who now or once embarrassed New York in Washington, D.C. – sub-humans like Anthony Weiner (sexting addict), Eric Massa (digs “snorkeling”), Charlie Rangel (censured, but never gone) and Michael Grimm (hothead felon).

Rather than present a depressing list of the best of the worst, let me make the process more fun by challenging your knowledge of the state of New York State governmental despair that plagues every citizen.

Match the New York State politician/criminal with the crime (all incidents occurred only since 2000).

The Criminals

1) State Assemblyman William Boyland, Jr. (D)
2) State Senator and Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R)
3) State Senator Efrain Gonzalez (D)
4) State Representative Diane Gordon (D)
5) State Senator Carl Kruger (D)
6) State Senator Vincent Leibell (R)
7) State Representative Brian McLaughlin (D)
8) State Senator Hiram Monserrate (D)
9) State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello (R)
10) State Senator Kevin S. Parker (D)
11) State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Phillip (D)
12) State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D)
13) State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo (R)
14) Governor Eliot “The Shitz” Spitzer (D)
15) State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D)

The Crimes

A) Pled guilty to costing the taxpayers $48,000 in overtime by making staff carry out personal chores, such as picking up dry cleaning.
B) Resigned and pled guilty to charges of corruption and bribery.
C) Arrested for soliciting bribes.
D) Expelled in connection with a misdemeanor assault conviction against his girlfriend.
E) Sentenced to 7 years in prison, followed by two years supervised release, after pleading guilty to two conspiracy counts and two wire fraud counts.
F) Charged with corruption.
G) Pled guilty to felony bribery, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice charges related to $43,000 in cash kickbacks taken.
H) Convicted of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe. Sentenced to 27 months in prison.
I) Arrested for criminal mischief and assault after chasing a photographer.
J) Indicted on eight counts of corruption, including mail and wire fraud. Convicted on two counts of wire fraud.
K) Sentenced to ten years in prison for racketeering.
L) Convicted of accepting bribes to manipulate the outcomes of divorce proceedings.
M) Indicted on charges for helping a contractor obtain a $2 million parcel of land from the city if he would build a house in return.
N) Pled guilty to corruption charges surrounding a “pay to play” scheme regarding the New York State Pension Fund, and was sentenced to 1–4 years.
O) aka. Client 9, resigned amid threats of impeachment by state lawmakers.

Answers

1-C; 2-J; 3-E; 4-M; 5-B; 6-G; 7-K; 8-D; 9-A; 10-I; 11-L; 12-F; 13-H; 14-O; 15-N

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Breaking the Brokers

garbageAs a harbinger of the turmoil to come in the music publishing industry, a ragtag service called Napster caught the imaginations of musicians and their fans, the record industry and not a few lawyers. A friend who was both a lawyer and an indie-label record producer tried to explain to me that Napster was a rank copyright infringer because the service facilitated the unlawful copying and distribution of protected content. My argument to the contrary was based on the notion that Napster itself neither copied nor distributed content – instead the company supplied peer-to-peer software that allowed users to share content with each other without communicating through an intermediary. Although Napster was deployed almost exclusively to share music (mostly illegally), it could also allow users to share personal photos, documents and any other digital file. Clearly, the people sharing copyrighted music were violating copyright, but in my mind Napster wasn’t. (I likened the situation to head shops that sold water pipes and bongs for smoking dope – they facilitated an illegal activity, but the products themselves were not illegal.)

To be sure, record companies litigated individuals who had egregiously violated copyrights, but the fallout from attacking its customers cost the record companies even more ill will. Remember, Napster came about at least in part as a response to the piss-poor way the record companies delivered music: as expensive bundled albums containing one or two decent songs accompanied by uninspired filler.

Nevertheless, under tremendous pressure from the music industry Napster was shut down. The Recording Industry Association of America sued for copyright infringement in 1999 under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the courts forced Napster to put processes in place to thwart illegal sharing – a requiement that was impossible to comply with given the design of the software. Napster went away, but not before dramatically altering the music industry forever.

Similarly, a company called Aereo filed for bankruptcy just a few months ago after losing an intellectual property suit in a U.S. District Court in California. Aereo sought to disrupt the cable television industry by allowing subscribers to rent an antenna which picked up freely-available, live TV broadcast signals. Aereo then delivered the captured signals over the internet to individuals’ devices. Again, Aereo did not copy content – it merely picked up signals available to any American with an antenna on his roof. Aereo offered to house the antenna for a fee to its customers. Still, under intense pressure from the cable companies – a group broadly despised by its customer base, by the way, for its crappy business practices – the courts intervened. Its business model shattered, Aereo suspended operations.

Which brings me to the newest collection of upstarts seeking to disrupt other necrotic industries like taxi service and vacation lodging: Uber, Lyft, AirBnb, and countless others. Are these “brokers” vulnerable to fates similar to those of Napster and Aereo?
Uber and Lyft provide mobile software that connects people seeking rides with drivers willing to provide them. Both companies use GPS technology and route optimization algorithms to match riders and drivers. They also offer variable rates based on instantaneous demand and other factors, and complete the transaction automatically so no money changes hands. In cities where the taxi and limousine industry hasn’t changed much in a century, Uber and Lyft seem like transformative agents. AirBnB operates to match people looking for temporary lodging with individuals (not hotels) in possession of accommodations they are willing to rent temporarily. In all cases, the companies continually point out they do not own or operate taxis and hotel properties, nor do they employ drivers and hoteliers – and therefore should not be constricted by the laws and regulations that apply to their old-world competition.

Others see it differently, particularly those who have suffered from the way Uber and AirBnB sometimes deliver dicey service: riders subjected to the dangerous moves of unskilled drivers, neighbors of people who rent out their apartments to inconsiderate strangers who traipse about the common hallways in drunken stupors. AirBnB came in for some serious derision in a recent New York City Council hearing in which irate tenants blasted the company for facilitating deterioration in their communities. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reported that fully three-fourths of all AirBnB transaction in the state are illegal. Uh oh.

Uber is under even greater attack, especially from the taxi industry and its friends in politics. Although banned from operating in several cities and countries (Spain, India, Thailand, Germany), Uber has been anything but contrite or circumspect. Uber executives have been vilified for suggesting a plan to smear prying reporters, and many riders have come to loathe the surge pricing algorithm that can drive the cost of a short trip into the stratosphere when conditions constrain supply. And Uber had to apologize after gouging panicked citizens of Sydney, Australia who were trying to get away from the location of a terrorist hostage situation (but fundamentally, if you don’t like the idea of surge pricing, you shouldn’t complain when you can’t get a taxi in the rain.)

Jawajarlal Nehru University Students Union Activists Protest Against The Rape
Some less-than-favorble press for Uber.

Perhaps the biggest threat imposed by Uber and its ilk is its ability to collect, analyze and even release personal information about its clientele. They know every place a client has been and where they went, and when, and how often. They can easily establish patterns of behavior, and in doing so could determine who has cancer, who is cheating on their spouse, who is an alcoholic. Once people start getting outed by Uber – either purposefully or as the result of a hack on Uber’s servers – will the enthusiasm for the service remain high?

Still, the broker business model seems to have captured the delight of investors. AirBnB and Uber imitators are cropping up like weeds, and companies like Angie’s List, Match.com, eBay have long thrived on doing nothing more than pairing buyers and sellers efficiently.

The looming question is whether a force strong enough to snuff out or seriously alter Uber and AirBnB will prevail, like they did with Napster and Aereo. I predict an existential showdown is coming.

And now – Breaking the Balls

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady on the subject of his balls. (All quotes guaranteed verbatim.)

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“Our equipment guys do a great job of breaking the balls in. they have a process that they go through. When I pick those balls out, at that point to me they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that. I don’t want anyone rubbing them , putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me those balls are perfect and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field.”

“You go through that process of breaking the balls in and getting comfortable with them. Of course I choose the balls that I want to use for the game and that’s what I expect to go out on the playing field with.”

“I’m not squeezing the balls. That’s not part of my process. I grab it, I feel the lace, I feel the leather.”

“Everybody has a preference. Some guys like them round and some guys like them thin. Some guys like them tacky. Some guys like them brand new. Some guys like old balls. They’re all different. And it’s leather.”

RIP Kim Fowley

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I first discovered the skanky works of Kim Fowley in the mid-1970s through my nascent interest in the seminal chick punk band, The Runaways. A local band I hung around with at that time occasionally opened for The Runaways. I went to a couple shows before the band became (in)famous in places like Fredonia, NY, and bought the eponymous first album – an energetic disk produced by Fowley. Hearing about Fowley and his off-the-wall antics compelled me to seek out and collect his earlier obscure albums – which in a pre-Internet, pre-eBay world was not an easy task.

I managed to acquire several Fowley albums over the years, none of which were particularly endearing. But I loved to pull them out once in a while just to ogle the covers. My favorite was 1968’s “Outrageous” featuring a chained and leathered Fowley lying in cesspool about to be whipped by a naked woman standing calf-deep in murky effluence.

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If you’ve never heard of Kim Fowley, you may still know of such acts as Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gene Vincent, Blue Cheer, The Seeds, Alice Cooper, and (yes) Helen Reddy. Fowley produced works for these and many others, dating from 1959 to 2014. In 2012 he wrote a memoir/poetry collection titled “Lord of Garbage” which sums things up nicely. Here is an excerpt describing what happened after his grandmother decided to send him back to his mother alone on a train at the age of three.

“I rode from Oregon, alone, to Los Angeles, roped into a seat, pissing and shitting the whole way. On the way to the train station I saw a truck full of turkeys on their way to being slaughtered. It was raining and the turkeys knew they were about to get murdered, and they were crying and whimpering in this open truck. And they all looked at me, and I looked at them, and I knew I was doomed for life. I was deformed. I was being sent back alone, a thousand miles away, alone in the middle of a fucking war. And it was at that moment as the age of three, that I formulated the idea for a song I would one day write, a song that Jimi Hendrix recorded in 1967 called Fluffy Turkeys.

Is any of that true? Who really knows.

Kim Fowley passed away January 15 leaving behind a legacy of debauchery and, perhaps, genius. Such assessments are in the eye and ear of the beholder. But it’s for certain he exercised an influence on rock n roll that is probably under-appreciated.

RIP Kim Fowley.

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Not for Prophet Publication

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Mohammed lights a cigarette for Jesus

A dozen people in Paris were summarily executed earlier this month for the capital crime of portraying an image of the Prophet Mohammed – an offense committed by the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo after editors repeatedly published cartoons featuring the holy man on the cover of their niche-market magazine. Charlie Hebdo also regularly ran cartoons lampooning Jesus Christ and the Pope among other easy targets – but those acts apparently don’t qualify as capital crimes as no psychopathic Catholics ever came forward to mete out justice.

When their work was done, the executioners, radical Islamist jihadists and brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, exclaimed, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” – although it’s debatable whether the Prophet would have appreciated the gesture.

Once the initial shock of the savage attacks in Paris subsided, handwringing ensued. The most common observations:

  • The jihadists don’t represent true Islam which is actually a peaceful religion.
  • Europeans need to reach out to and assuage the fears of disaffected Muslims – or else.
  • Watch out for right-wing Nationalists who will use the recent Islamic violence to incite anti-immigration sentiment.
  • “Je suis Charlie” and all that, but the magazine’s editors really should have poured a little less oil on the fire.

And several articles and blogs took on the question of whether or not Islam truly forbade the creation of images of the Prophet, and if so, what punishment was called for. Albawaba News penned an article titled “Muslims have used images of the Prophet Mohammed for centuries, what’s the problem?” On the other hand, CNN reported “Why Islam forbids images of Mohammed.”

But so what? The better question to ask: How is it possible to produce an image of a person – realistic or caricature – when no one knows what that person looked like? Muslims take offense at images of their Prophet, but no record exists of how Mohammed appeared. How are they to know who or what it is they’re looking at? If someone paints a picture of George Clooney piloting a yacht while wearing a turban, and titles it “Mohammed on Lake Como,” has the artist committed a capital offense under Shariah law? Probably.

In effect, the observer must take a cue from the artist; the image is one of Mohammed or Jesus or Moses because the person who drew it says so.

Remember the outrage that accompanied the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s display of Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a painting that incorporated elephant dung and cutouts from porno magazines? Had Ofili titled the painting “Black Woman in a Dress” instead, no one would have given two shits.

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And does anyone actually believe Jesus Christ, a citizen of the Middle East, looked like this?

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The whole indignation over the publishing of Mohammed’s image, and the subsequent violence that such publication incites is foolish. Time to move on to something more important.

Endnote: Fuck you, Adobe

adobe

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Her Jaw Was Perfect

ekbergI once wrote a novel titled “Architect’s Rendition” which told the story of an avaricious architect who designs an elaborate scheme to eliminate his wealthy and manipulative wife so as to spend his life with Wren, an adoring woman half his age. This is how I described Wren:

(She) had smooth alabaster skin and shoulder-length golden hair that she wore in a variety of styles depending on her mood. She stood five foot seven and her well-toned, willowy arms and legs were unmarred by garish tattoos so commonly worn by women her age. Her face resembled that of an ancient goddess – Peitho, maybe, the goddess of persuasion – sculpted from pure white virgin Marathi marble. And her jaw was perfect.

The model for Wren was Anita Ekberg, the blonde Scandanavian beauty who died last week at age 83 and was certainly best known for her seductive role as a Swedish-American movie star in Fellini’s 1960 “La Dolce Vita.” Looking at the still photo of Ekberg as she lolls in the spilling waters of the Trevi Fountain, is it possible to refer to her jaw as anything but “perfect”? Something about a perfect jaw that is foundational to the beauty of a woman.

Ekberg performed in numerous films before and after “La Dolce Vita,” but I challenge most people to name one. It was her performance in the Fellini masterpiece that defined her, thankfully. As Martin Scorsese said of the Fountain scene, “This brief moment conjures up a vast universe that’s gone now — the international ‘jet set’ of the 60s and 70s, the world of international moviemaking, the very special cinematic world of Federico Fellini. He and Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg made magic together. It was her one great moment in movies, but it was legendary.”

RIP Donna Douglas

And speaking of blonde beauties, Donna Douglas – known better as Elly May Clampett on the insufferable “Beverly Hillbillies” television series – died recently at age 81. Douglas was born almost two years exactly after Anita Ekberg, and like her European counterpart started out early in her career as a fashion model. And while Ekberg became Miss Sweden, Donna Douglas was once crowned Miss By-Line, a jokey acknowledgement of the many TV appearances as a “letter girl” she made in the 1950s.

Although each woman was a beauty in her day, Anita and Donna were clearly cut from different cloth. Anita possessed Continental glamour while Donna – no doubt amplified by her role as Elly May Clampett, dressed in a tied-off flannel shirt and short-short “Daisy Dukes” – exuded the sexy innocence of a pretty farm girl.

After the cancellation of the “Beverly Hillbillies” Donna Douglas lived out the life of a “celebrity” personality identified solely by one particular role (just like co-star Miss Jane.) Forever tarred for being Elly May Clampett, Donna Douglas spent decades attending “Beverly Hillbillies” nostalgia conventions and signing memorabilia for a hayseed version of the Trekkies. That’s too bad. She seemed to have an acting range broader than that of Gomer Pyle, but I suppose the attraction of a multi-year contract to play a key role in a popular TV series was too much to pass up.

Anyway, in case you thought Donna Douglas was always Elly May, consider her performance as the unfortunate, terminally “ugly” woman in the famous and creepy “Twilight Zone” episode of 1960 titled “Eye of the Beholder.” Love that one.

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Every Silver Lining has a Cloud

derrickA generation ago, citizens of the United States first heard about a group called “OPEC” and they didn’t like what they saw. Although it had lurched around unnoticed for a decade, by 1973 the oil cartel made up mostly of Middle East countries awash in crude decided to punish America for its support of Israel in their war against Arab neighbors. Who knows what OPEC had in mind at the time, but the embargo they set in place must have awakened the sheiks to recognize the extent of the power they could wield.

Quality of life in America took a hit after gasoline prices spiked in 1973, and again in 1979 following the Iranian hostage outrage. It became Gospel: high gas prices were the root of all economic evil.

Just a few years ago high oil prices continued to be the bête noire of financial analysts. In a Washington Post article published in March 2011 and titled “Higher oil prices threaten global economy” the reporters stated the obvious: “Higher oil prices are slowing global economic growth, and the impact is likely to spread in coming months. Oil is now trading at more than $100 a barrel, suggesting the gap will widen in coming months.” They went on to quote an expert: “Jay Bryson, global economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said he has cut his U.S. growth estimate for the January-March period to 2.9 percent, down from about 3.3 percent last month. Much of that reduction is due to the impact of higher oil and gas prices.”

A fairly lucid analysis in a January 2013 report titled “Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem” lays out how expensive oil intrudes negatively upon the price of consumer goods, housing prices, business expenses, trade deficits, etc.

Okay – So we’ve been inculcated for 40 years that high oil prices are baaaaad. Now we’ve finally entered a period of marked and sustained reduction in oil prices. Bring on the good news!

nytoil

oilprice

Wait, what?

Apparently we live in a world that must find the cloud behind every silver lining.

In an interesting twist, the same outlet that published “Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem” in 2013 just put out an article titled “Ten Reasons Why a Severe Drop in Oil Prices is a Problem.”

Bastards!

Orange You Glad?

This past Tuesday, the state of Florida became the 36th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. It was only six years ago that 62 percent of the population there voted to amend their constitution to ban the practice. And further back in 1977 Florida unwittingly became a national battle-ground over gay rights when a former Miss Oklahoma and Florida Citrus Commission shill named Anita Bryant started a crusade against the homosexual lifestyle, croaking, “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” (Nail biters? Please tell me the ban on nail-biter marriage is still in place.)

Like many ill-conceived campaigns, Bryant’s served mostly to rally more people to the cause and provide comedians with oceans of material. Boycotts of oranges became popular, and many gay bars shit-canned screwdrivers in favor of an eponymous drink called the “Anita Bryant” – vodka and apple juice, which must have taken real sacrifice on the part of the imbibers of the cocktail. Soon the Florida Citrus Commission and Anita parted ways. When she divorced in 1980, her fundamentalist buddies headed for the hills. Bankruptcy followed.

I remember reading an article in college in which Anita explained why God hates gay men. It’s because “the male homosexual eats another man’s sperm. Sperm is the most concentrated form of blood. The homosexual is eating life”. Now to my knowledge, there are more than a few women who do likewise yet I never heard Anita rail against the sisterhood of freethinking fellaters.

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Perhaps it was her flimsy logic that brought Anita Bryant down. Or maybe she simply failed to bone-up on the subject.

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Where are the Great Golf Movies?

screen-shot-2014-10-18-at-10-53-16-pm New York Times’s columnist Richard Sandomir yesterday published his list of his top ten favorite sports-oriented movies. Heading the list: Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” – the visceral story of boxer Jake LaMotta, starring Robert DeNiro in the title role. I have no serious issue with any of the choices Sandomir made which include three boxing films, five baseball films, and one each representing basketball and billiards (“The Hustler”).

It’s a bit strange perhaps that no movie about America’s current national pastime, football, made Sandomir’s list (“Any Given Sunday,” “Brian’s Song,” “The Longest Yard”), or horseracing (“Seabiscuit”), or dodgeball (“DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” – just kidding.)

But it is entirely understandable why no movie about golf would make the list; although a great deal of heritage, legend, personality, drama, courage, gripping victory and painful defeat have been associated with the sport that rose up from the pastures of Scotland centuries ago, nearly every Hollywood attempt has been sullied by lame humor and preposterous plots.

Given the extraordinary potential material to work with, Hollywood prefers to use golf as a vehicle to highlight the exploits of retards, sociopaths and consummate losers. Knowing that most Hollywood moguls undoubtedly cut deals on the golf course and at least modestly revere the legacy of the game, why hasn’t a movie come forward built upon the painful near-wins of Greg Norman, or the tragedy of Tiger Woods, or the struggles of Native American Notah Begay, or the charmed life and untimely death of Payne Stewart, or the enormous penis of Old Tom Morris who outright owned The (British) Open in the 1860s?

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Ask yourself: Do any of these movies strike you as top contenders for best sports movie?

“Happy Gilmore”
Professional idiot Adam Sandler plays a mediocre hockey player who parlays his one skill – a wicked slapshot – into a viable career on the professional golf tour. This makes sense since the game of golf is all about long tee shots; the short game, putting, sand shots – none of this comes into play in real life. Furthermore, the movie compels Gilmore to make it big in golf only because his poor old granny needs financial help following a blitzkrieg on her meager wealth from the evil IRS.

Happy enters some penny-ante local golf tournament, and by virtue of winning this walk-on event, becomes eligible to join the PGA pro tour. If this were a movie about baseball, Happy would throw a ball 100 feet into a garbage can and thereby sign with the NY Yankees as their new short stop. Not to spoil things, but do you think Happy Gilmore vanquishes the arrogant pro, wins the big tournament, saves his granny’s house and gets the girl? Fuck me!

“Tin Cup”
Kevin Costner loves to make sports flicks: “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “McFarland, USA,” “Draft Day,” “For the Love of the Game.” It comes as no surprise then that Costner would take the lead in a golf movie about an underdog driving-range manager named Roy McAvoy who magically makes it into the U.S. Open – and goes all the way to play in the final grouping on Sunday. Again, the plot line is absurd – analogous to a stall-mucker parlaying his shit-shoveling skills into becoming a jockey in the Kentucky Derby.

In a classic case of deus-ex-machina, Roy is sought out by a female psychiatrist named Molly Griswold (Renee Russo) for golfing lessons. She also happens to be the main squeeze of an asshole pro golfer who enjoys fucking with Roy’s innate inability to avoid stupid dares.

A born loser, Roy decides to get psychiatric help, swapping roles to become Molly’s patient seeking counseling.

Needless to say, once he qualifies for the Open Roy makes good – even after shooting an 83 on the first day of the tournament, a score that is all but impossible to recover from. (Sidebar: Golf Digest estimates the chances of a person qualifying for the U.S. Open at .8% – and that’s after the field has been culled to about 10,000 scratch players.)

Anyway, on the second day of the tournament, Roy cards a 62, which in real life would be a U.S. Open record going back a mere 100 years. Of course, in the end, Roy’s gotta be Roy – a douchbag driving range manager who’d rather stay true to himself than win a golf major. So when faced with a challenging shot on the 72nd and final hole of the tournament with the victory in the balance, Roy continues to hit shot after futile shot into a creek crossing the fairway, instead of laying up close to the green as is his option– just to show he’s a . . . Purist? Fighter? Authentic Guy? Fucking Asshole?

Although he steals the girl from his nemesis (a foregone conclusion in Hollywood), it is nonsensical that coming so close to victory (and therefore rewarded subsequently with huge money and options to compete for more on the tour), Roy would kick it all to the curb. But that’s what passes for plot in Hollywood.

“Caddyshack”
Many golfers for some reason revere “Caddyshack” for its humorous spot-on portrayal of the caste systems that pervades the hoity-toity country club scene: snobby members versus the blue-collars that keep the system running for their betters. Most fans point out the buffoonery of Rodney Dangerfield and the oddball behavior of greenskeeper Bill Murray as the best performances. Someone I knew had actually memorized a particularly long line from the movie recited by Murray – the kind of thing people do when they’ve decided a movie has reached cult status. (The line involves Murray telling of the time he caddied for the Dalai Lama in Tibet: “So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”)

Anyway, Dangerfield and Murray aside, the movie is really not that funny. Ted Knight does a passable job, but Chevy Chase, as always, is boring. The caddies’ antics are moronic. Lots of the so-called humor derives from poop, puke and an animated gopher. And the romance subplot is trite and predictable.

And as usual, the caddy who would suck Ted’s kneecaps for a scholarship decides in the end to stick to his principles and play a round of golf on his own terms. Uninspired at best.

“Caddyshack II”
A “Caddyshack” clone with a different cast of B-list players. Same basic plot absent any of the characters that gave the original a semblance of humor. Earning an abysmal 4 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, “Caddyshack II” received some blistering reviews:

  • “On and on they come — Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jackie Mason, Dyan Cannon, Randy Quaid — all trying to crack us up, all failing miserably.” Los Angeles Times
  • “Chevy Chase, as a socialite who sells the club to Mason, and Dan Aykroyd, as a psycho ex-Marine hired by Stack to dispatch his enemy, are pitifully awful.” People Magazine
  • ” The original was no great shakes, but this is beyond bad.” Mountain Xpress

“The Legend of Bagger Vance”
Finally, a serious movie about golf. Directed by Robert Redford and starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron, “Bagger Vance” is the Depression-era story of a charismatic caddy and the broken-down golfer to whom he imparts the secret of the perfect golf swing. (Any guess as to who plays the caddy?)

Damon the golfer, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I who has lost his swing, gets to play in a tournament against none other than Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen – two of the best golfers of the time (and perhaps ever). If done deftly, the circumstances leading to the opportunity as well as the competition with the pros itself could have been good.

Unfortunately, Redford feels compelled to turn a contest of golf into a heavy-laden metaphor for life itself, just as he did to baseball in his better movie “The Natural.” You see, Vance (Will Smith) is no ordinary bagger – he’s an other-worldly clairvoyant who is more of a swami than a caddy. In fact, the name “Bagger Vance” is said to have been derived from the Hindu god Krishna who appears as the mentor Bhagavan in a story that was supposedly the basis for the movie.

New Yorker Magazine called the film, “Another lusciously produced, emotionally clammy Redford enterprise — forced, phony mythmaking filled with tinged sunsets and full moons.” If you watch “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” you’ll likely find the end of the match contrived and the conclusion of the movie a treacly mess.

“The Caddy”
Jerry Lewis. Need I say more?

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Alibaba’s Minister of Propaganda

wilkChinese internet company Alibaba is a certified giant whose September IPO raised $25 billion, valuing the firm in the neighborhood of $250 billion. Chairman and founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, has a modest vision for his company: “to build an e-commerce ecosystem that allows consumers and businesses to do all aspects of business online. I want to create one million jobs, change China’s social and economic environment and make it the largest Internet market in the world.”

Jack Ma talks a lot about respect and integrity. As part of the IPO application, Ma wrote of his priorities, “Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third” – which is precisely the opposite of what most American firms consider important. Business reporters have fallen all over themselves to lionize Ma as a transformational leader who wants to make the world a better place.

So it strikes me as profoundly odd that Alibaba would hire Jim Wilkinson to be head of international corporate communications.

Not familiar with Jim Wilkinson? How about Private Jessica Lynch and Corporal Pat Tillman – two unfortunate pawns in Wilkinson’s attempts to white-wash bad news coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan when he was a PR flak in the George W. Bush administration. Holding the title of White House deputy director of communications, a more apt description would have been Minister of Propaganda.

Wilkinson started out working for Republican congressman Dick Armey and acting as spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. It seems Wilkinson’s career path has wended its way through slime ever since. He helped promote the bogus story that Al Gore had said he invented the internet. He worked on the Florida recount after the 2000 election. He was a comms person for the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Condocheeza Rice and Hank Paulson. A protégé of noted mudslingers Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, it’s no wonder Wilkinson turned out the way he did.

The sad tales surrounding Jessica Lynch’s phony firefight and subsequent “rescue” from an Iraqi prison, and Tillman’s heroic engagement with the “enemy” which left him dead of gunshot wounds to the head fired by a fellow Army Ranger are well known (I truly hope). In both cases (and probably other lesser-known instances) Wilkinson was there to stage-manage the press and purposefully spread misinformation and outright fabrications. In the case of Lynch, Wilkinson had a hand in delaying her “rescue” a day so that a film crew could be assembled to record the daring mission. This was shortly after the start of the Iraq War which was supposed to be a “cakewalk” where U.S. soldiers would be “greeted as liberators.” But instead of flowers thrown their way, they encountered fierce resistance. The Bush administration needed to change the subject, divert attention. Enter Jim Wilkinson.

Apparently eager to be duped, the Washington Post took the exclusive scoop directly from Wilkinson lock-stock-n-barrel and ran it on the front page, reporting how Private Lynch had bravely shot at the enemy until her gun ran out of ammo. (In fact, she never fired a shot as her poorly maintained rifle jammed.) TV news followed the lead, happy to have live footage of the “rescue” provided by Wilkinson’s crack video team. (In fact, Lynch was not a POW but rather a patient being cared for in an Iraqi hospital; the Iraqi medical team tried to drive her back to the Americans, but abandoned the effort when U.S. troops fired on their ambulance.)

All in all – Diversion Accomplished!

Of course, Wilkinson knew it was impossible to keep the real story from coming out eventually, but as Minister of Propaganda he also knew that by the time reality was restored forgetful Americans would have moved on to something else.

That Alibaba would hire such a miscreant to be a comms executive speaks volumes about their actual intentions on the world’s commercial stage.

Bigger than Walmart, Alibaba will wield enormous power. Be very afraid.

Mario Cuomo – Above the Fold Obit Tribute

In my July 30, 2013 blog titled “Above-the-Fold Candidates” I put forward dozens of people (entertainers, sports figures, politicians, artists) whom I predicted would receive the ultimate tribute in death: an obituary on the front page of the New York Times appearing at the top of the page – above the fold, as they say.

One of those predictions was Mario Cuomo, three-term Governor of New York, and liberal standard-bearer. At his peak, his name was bandied about as a contender for president – and when that became impossible to imagine after he lost a fourth-term re-election bid to dimwit George Pataki, his supporters agitated for Mario to become a Supreme Court Justice.

That didn’t happen either. Mario went on to elder-statesman status, writing books, giving speeches, and doing TV commercials with fellow ex-Dem Gov Ann Richards for Doritos. And then Mario Cuomo died yesterday at age 82.

Yes – his obit appeared above the fold today in which the Times called him an “Eloquent Liberal Beacon.”

cuomoobit

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Politician : Asshole :: E : Mc2

Grimm’s Fairy Tale

All year long New York Republican representative Michael Grimm has defended himself vigorously against corruption charges. So vigorously in fact that the statesman from Staten Island threatened on live TV to throw a reporter off a balcony when that reporter had the temerity to ask a question about ongoing investigations into Grimm’s dealings.

Grimm’s stridency increased markedly after April 28 when he was charged with a 20-count indictment by federal authorities for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury. He pressed on with his reelection campaign and kept his seat in November – only to plead guilty after all in December to tax evasion. More than likely, Grimm was guilty of a plethora of bad acts including paying workers under the table, faking revenues to underpay taxes, and hiring illegal immigrants to work in his chain restaurant named Healthalicious.

After initially fantasizing that he might be able to hang around the Capitol until sentencing, tough-guy Grimm decided in the end to resign his seat. Now thanks to Grimm’s avarice, Staten Islanders get to experience yet another election cycle just months after they thought the nightmare was over.

New Year’s White Sale – Steve Scalise Shops for Sheets

When Congress reconvenes next month, the Republican Whip – the third highest ranking position behind Speaker of the House (John Boner of Ohio) and Majority Leader (Kevin McCarthy of California) – will be Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise was chosen for this plum assignment in part because the GOP wanted a representative from the deep South in the top three.

scalisekkk

Knowing the kinds of miscreants who lope about in this part of the country, it should have come as no surprise to the leadership that Scalise might have a few unsavory skeletons in his closet. And sure enough, just days before the GOP is to stride triumphantly into Washington to save the nation, it has some to light that Steve Scalise made a rousing speech in 2002 to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) – a white supremacist group affiliated with noted Klansman and fellow Louisianan David Duke.

Like all good politicians, Scalise quickly cast himself as the victim once the news of his ill-advised speech surfaced. “For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous.” Poor Steve – insulted by ludicrous suggestions. Given that David Duke has been a racist publicity hound since he ran for local office in 1975, no way could Scalise be unfamiliar with him and EURO. Both Scalise and Duke served in Louisiana’s House of Representatives, although not at the same time.

And no sooner had Scalise’s PR team insisted this meeting with EURO was a one-off event, none other than David Duke himself came out to make it clear he has met with ramblin’ Steve on several occasions.

Luckily Scalise has Steve King of Iowa on his side. King harkened to the Bible to clarify things, saying, “Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners,” thereby adding “Son of God” to Scalise’s duties as Majority Whip.

Silver Lining (His Pockets)

Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with New York State government which is undoubtedly the least cost-effective in the nation. Some other state may suffer a more incompetent and corrupt group (unlikely), but no state comes close to spending the sums New Yorkers are forced to for such unabashedly crappy service. And the patriarch of perfidy, mendacity and outright sleaze in the NY legislature is Shelly Silver.

New York State is essentially an oligocracy run by just three people: the governor, the state senate leader and the assembly leader – derisively dubbed the “three men in a room.” By using a combination of numerous threats and perks available to them, the latter two browbeat the other 211 members of the legislature to vote the way “leadership” edicts. Silver is a master of this technique, and it’s why he’s been the head of dysfunction for 20 years. Theoretically any assemblyman can seek out the leadership position, but for anyone who even hints of it punishment from Silver comes swiftly: loss of committee memberships, reduction in “bonus” pay, slashed staff. (Sidebar: The NY Assembly consists of 37 standing committees, 27 subcommittees, 13 legislative commissions and 17 task forces; a total of 94 places for the 150 assemblymen to go hide and collect extra salary.)

Sheldon-Silver
Smelly Shelly Silver outside his personal mint.

Perhaps it is this invulnerability that has protected Silver over the decades from serious investigation whenever seemingly nefarious behavior has been detected. Perhaps it has even emboldened him. Here are just a few of the scandals that have ensnared friends and colleagues but have left Smelly Shelly untouched:

  • Silver’s buddy William Rapfogel (who is also married to Silver’s chief of staff, Judy Rapfogel), was arrested and charged with stealing $1 million from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Rapfogel denied it but then quieted down after investigators found $400K in cash stashed in his house.
  • Fellow assemblyman and serial groper Vito Lopez was accused by many women of inappropriate touching and other grotesque behavior. To make the problem go away, Silver approved a secret $103,080 payout of hush money to two sexual-harassment victims. But the scheme was leaked, further tarnishing the Smelly one, if such a thing was possible.
  • Three of Silver’s children voted for their father. What’s the big deal? They don’t live in his district. They used one of Shelly’s addresses in Manhattan as the place of residence even though they live elsewhere (one doesn’t even live in New York.)

Now, finally, Silver may be in trouble that he can’t weasel his way out of. New York State legislators are officially part-time employees pulling down six figures (plus decent per diem) for obeying the orders of their fearless leaders. This part-time status allows the august solons to engage in second jobs that no doubt pay even more – and yet they are not required to reveal the exact amounts of compensation, or even cite what they do to earn the money. This obfuscation lends to the reasonable impression that outside income is being paid to influence politicians’ decisions.

Silver has for years listed additional income in excess of half-a-mil a year as a law partner at the powerful firm of Weitz & Luxembourg. There is little or no record in the public domain of what Shelly has done for such lavish pay. Still, given the lameness of laws governing those who govern in New York, such opaqueness is not illegal. But the other day, Federal Prosecutor Preet Bharara served notice that evidence points to additional salary that Shelly has not disclosed – and that is a serious problem. It seems another law firm, Goldberg & Iryami P.C., has been paying Shelly for a decade. Given that Silver has no experience in the type of work Goldberg & Iryami do, it makes one wonder why the firm would retain him – other than to buy influence.

Isn’t it long past time that someone else got a chance to ruin New York? Shelly has proven he has the superior aptitude for it. Let’s hope Bharara entices Shelly to retire to a comfortable cell so someone else can give “Assembly Leadership” a try.

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A Boy and His Toy

rubiocubeMarco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida who has held the august office for almost four whole years, is perhaps the leading American authority on Cuba. Hell, he may even be the greatest living expert on the planet. For one thing, Rubio has a “worldview” – just ask the reporters at the New York Times who noted in a recent article, “Mr. Rubio has long been a hawk when it comes to dealing with countries like China, Iran and Venezuela — a worldview shaped by his experiences as the child of Cuban immigrants.”

That’s right. Marco Rubio who was soiling his diapers when men were debating Cuban foreign policy on the tenth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs fiasco has somehow become the leading expert in the field – simply by virtue of having Cuban-born parents. His parents, by the way, emigrated to the U.S. in 1956. That would be before Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista government and instituted a Marxist regime whose evil tendencies formed the animus of so many Cubans now living in America (actually, just Florida). Presumably, sensing that his “worldview” might be insufficiently breathtaking with such ancestral heritage, Rubio reported in 2011 that his parents actually bolted Cuba in 1959 after Castro took over – falsely portraying them as heroic anti-Communist refugees instead of ordinary people just looking to reap economic advantages offered in America.

Several news outlets quickly outed Rubio for his embellishment, including the Washington Post who reported as follows: Rubio said his accounts have been based on family lore. “I’m going off the oral history of my family,” he said. “All of these documents and passports are not things that I carried around with me.”

In other words, we’re expected to believe that one of the greatest living historians either didn’t know when Castro took over Cuba, or was unable (absent documents) to remember the year his parents left the motherland. This is preposterous, of course – no doubt a liberal media plot to undermine Professor Rubio’s credentials and stifle his aspirations to be the next president.

Obama announced the other day that the U.S., after enforcing more than 50 futile years’ worth of devastating embargoes against its neighbor 90 miles to the south, would begin a shift toward normalizing relations. That would include freer movement of money, less-restricted travel, and increased trade. Almost everyone paying attention said, “About effing time.” But not Marco Rubio. He came out blasting.

“This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime,” Rubio said. In his lifetime! I suppose Rubio was too young to remember a president named Reagan (after all, Marco wasn’t old enough to drive then) who once negotiated a sweet deal with our enemy Iran to illegally fund a bunch of cutthroat “Contras” in Nicaragua.

Still, I think we all can agree that a politician with the “worldview” and decades of experience of a Marco Rubio must be included in the pantheon of influential historians with Herodotus, Boccaccio and Samuel Eliot Morrison. (Now if he would only get a decent haircut.)

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Chris Botti in New York

I had a chance to catch Chris Botti and his superb band at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village last Thursday. Trumpet-player Botti has been coming to the Blue Note during the Christmas holiday season for the past 10 years and he brings with him an outstanding line-up of singers and musicians each year. This time the band included Billy Kilson on drums, Richie Goods on bass, the highly talented Geoffrey Keezer on piano, Ben Butler on guitar and Serena McKinney on violin. Some pieces featured solo vocal performances by Sy Smith who matched Botti note-for-note on a bee-bop number, and George Komsky who sounds remarkably like Andrea Bocelli.

Botti himself takes inspiration from many sources, especially the subtle moodiness of Miles Davis. More than a couple pieces performed last Thursday came from “Kind of Blue.” I suspect Botti is not universally recognized, but his recent performance of the National Anthem at the Giants-Colts game last month undoubtedly raised his Q-factor with the masses.

The intimate setting of the Blue Note works well – no table is more than 30 feet from the stage – allowing Botti to chat with the audience between songs. There are just a handful of remaining opportunities to catch Chris Botti before his Blue Note residency ends in early January – get there.

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Flying the Fiendish Skies

panam

In a recent story almost too juicy to be true, the pampered daughter of the chairman of Korean Air Lines – herself a vice-president of the company and the executive in charge of in-flight hospitality – threw a hissy fit onboard a jet en route from New York to Incheon over a mis-handled bag of macadamia nuts. Sunk comfortably into a cushy seat in first class, Cho Hyun-ah (aka. Heather Cho) was presented with an unopened bag of the macadamias instead of receiving them arranged on a plate per airline guidelines. It seems Queen Heather forced the chief flight attendant to kneel before her and apologize, and then ordered the pilot to return to the jetway (!) so that the offending attendant could be kicked off the flight. (Who gives a shit about delaying for an hour or so the 300+ paying customers, most of whom have to endure the 14 hour flight stuffed into a child’s booster seat; justice must be meted out swiftly in the house of Cho.)

For behaving like the spoiled kid she is, Cho lost the high-level job she no doubt acquired through rank nepotism that is common in Korean industry. Adding insult to injury, her father, Chairman Cho Yang-ho noted, “I failed to raise her properly.” As they say in Seoul – 아야

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Queen Heather Cho bows before abdicating the throne at Korean Air Lines

Oceans of real and virtual ink were spilled in the aftermath ridiculing the entire affair – some of it bemoaning the episode as another example of a continuing decline of civility aboard the world’s leading airlines.

Which reminded me of perhaps the most notorious (and noxious) non-lethal in-flight disruption of all time – the strange and wondrous case of one Gerald Finneran, an executive traveling back to the U.S. on a United Airlines flight from Argentina in October of 1995. Rather than explain the circumstances, I refer you to the contemporary AP report:

NEW YORK (AP) — An investment banker is accused of assaulting a flight attendant and defecating on a food-service cart during a drunken rampage on a United Airlines flight.

Gerard B. Finneran, 58, managing director of the Trust Company of the West, pleaded innocent Monday to federal charges of assaulting and intimidating an attendant and interfering with a flight crew. He was freed on $100,000 bail.

Federal authorities said the Greenwich, Conn., executive started pouring drinks on himself during a Buenos Aires-to-New York flight that began Friday.

When flight attendants tried to cut him off, he told one attendant he would “bust (his) …,” according to court papers. He allegedly shoved an attendant into a seat.

Later, Finneran was spotted with his pants down, defecating on the food cart, authorities said. He used linen napkins as toilet paper.

John Finnegan, Finneran’s lawyer, said his client “vigorously denies the allegations.”

One passenger on the plane was President Mario Alberto Soares of Portugal, who was on his way to the United Nation’s 50th anniversary celebration.

My favorite part – the dude “vigorously denies the allegations.” Talk about delusion. But at least Finneran didn’t bitch about getting his nuts in a bag.

Sidebar: Gerald Finneran died at age 67 almost exactly 10 years ago – December 29, 2004 – of Alzheimer’s disease. Or was it terminal embarrassment? Curiously, his obituary left out the “dump on the food cart” portion of his legacy. Strange.

RIP Phil Stern

Photographer Phil Stern died the other day. Stern earned his chops as a darkroom technician in London during WW II, moving on to photographing battlefield action in North Africa. The experience prepared him well for the assignments that would mark his career – capturing famous Hollywood stars and powerful politicians under trying circumstances. His subjects included JFK, Sinatra, Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and he did album covers shots for the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday.

Can you guess who this swishy fellow is – shot by Stern? Answer at bottom.

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They Pay Commissions for This?

On Monday, December 15, IBM stock closed the trading day at $153.06 per share. The next day – less than 16 hours later – crack-shot financial analyst and author Anne-Marie Baiynd went out on a limb and warned that IBM shares might go down as low as $152. With that keen market insight, it’s a wonder Baiynd isn’t running Goldman-Sachs.

According to an insightful story phoned in to Yahoo, “Baiynd is going to watch the $157.70 mark to see if the sellers come in and attack that region,” quoting her as saying, “As the buyers come in, if they cannot push this up over $157, and it begins to lose support, we are going to come back down and test that low again.” Without explaining any rationale, Baiynd considers the magic number of $157 (plus 70 cents) to be the pivot point where IBM will either soar or basically close where it was the day before. Surely, millions of day traders who followed her sage advice are out today sizing up new Maserati’s for Christmas.

Clearly the story went over well with the readership, judging by the majority of comments. A sampling below:

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It’s no wonder regular people feel the financial system is hopelessly skewed against them. Wealthy traders benefit from analysis derived from inside knowledge and therefore invest in sure things. Pudwackers who sit in their underwear in front of a laptop refreshing their eTrade account every two seconds have to suffer fools like Anne-Marie Baiynd.

Answer:

John Wayne

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Foxcatcher in the Rye

SONY-FXOS-03_102414_SteveCenter_FINAL.inddOne day in late January 1996 my mother called to tell me in a voice projecting both anxiety and relief that she had just seen a TV news report on the murder of a Coach Dave Schultz somewhere in southeast Pennsylvania. As my brother, Dave Schultz, was a coach on the road at a swim meet in Pennsylvania at the time, you can understand my mother’s emotional roller-coaster ride. It turns out the deceased was not my brother but a 1984 Olympic Wrestling Gold Medalist who had been subsequently hired by the extremely wealthy and creepy John E. DuPont to help coach the U.S. wrestling team (dubbed “Team Foxcatcher” after the name of DuPont’s estate) that would compete in the 1988 Olympics and other world class events. The star of the team for a few years until he wearied of DuPont’s overbearing demeanor was Dave’s younger brother Mark who had also won 1984 Olympic gold in a different weight class.

Because of the name-confusion angle, I took a passing interest in the crime: John Éleuthère DuPont, an heir to the E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company (aka. DuPont) fortune that had been built up from a small firm supplying gun powder during the American Revolution to a global conglomerate running the largest chemical company in the world, had casually shot Schultz point blank thrice killing him. Perhaps drug-addled at the time, DuPont seemed to have been motivated to do evil by the perception that Schultz hadn’t been properly appreciative of the millionaire’s largesse. John DuPont went to jail and died there in 2010.

I saw the new movie “Foxcatcher” the other day and was duly impressed by the acting, directing and cinematography; and although the story as told has some jagged edges, I fully expect Oscar nominations in multiple categories. Directed by Bennett Miller, the film immediately establishes the beauty and grace of free-style wrestling as a kind of kinetic dance, a paso doble maybe. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo who play Mark and Dave Schultz obviously underwent intensive training to pull off the wrestling scenes. And the brotherly interaction between them comes off as genuine.

Tension between the brothers begins when DuPont reaches out first to Mark to join his team, then quickly leans on Mark to convince Dave to join as well – a request he cannot fulfill. Used to buying whatever he wants, DuPont is flummoxed when he learns Dave isn’t interested. Mark wants badly to measure up to DuPont’s high bar, and feels he let his benefactor down when Dave the family man declines to join his brother.

As played by TV and film comedian Steve Carell, John DuPont is a tortured middle-aged man, uncomfortable in his own skin, who despite his enormous wealth desires desperately to prove to his aged mother that he can accomplish great things on his own. Carell’s hesitant elocution and awkward physical mannerisms are mesmerizing to watch. And if you think Carell goes over the top, watch this video of DuPont shot in 1988 at the Foxcatcher Farm to see the subject in action.

When I first saw ads for the movie, I had no idea that the actor playing DuPont was Carell, given the prosthetic nose he wears, and the serious nature of the film itself – but his performance is powerful and convincing. Commenting on the casting of TV’s bumbling Michael Scott of “The Office” as the villain, Miller said, “I think all comedians are dark.”

Given the movie is based on the tragic Schultz story, the looming murder comes at an obvious time in the film and consumes very little screen time, which is fine. The more important element is the treatment of the complex relationships: between the brothers, between DuPont and his mother, and between Mark and DuPont.

As I mentioned, there are some jagged edges in the plot. Mark Schultz leaves the Foxcatcher compound shortly after the 1988 Olympics; Dave is murdered in 1996. The movie makes it seem as though mere months elapse between the two events. Where did Mark go? What did he do? The movie closes with Mark entering a cage to fight bare-knuckle against a burly Russian. How did he come to be a side-show attraction? Is this scene even relevant?

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Multi-Millionaire John DuPont practices for his day in infamy.

There has been debate as to who is the main character of “Foxcatcher.” It would seem to be Mark Schultz, as he is the one who goes through the usual movie arc; but the director compels the audience to pay more attention to DuPont. The movie studio, in pushing for a Best Actor nomination for Carell, implicitly sees DuPont as the main character, but the story really seems to be more about Mark Schultz. Which is why it seems odd that he drives off the compound and out of the movie. Anyway, I read that the original cut of the movie exceeded four hours – so undoubtedly in the effort to shrink it to a length tolerable to antsy viewers context was lost.

Nevertheless, “Foxcatcher” is highly recommended.

Microsoft: Hopelessly Inept

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Three times this week my laptop automatically and without warning shutdown and restarted, thanks to a forced reboot initiated by Microsoft Windows 7. By the time the system came back each time, a good half hour had frittered away. Microsoft invokes this disruptive procedure because their operating system continues to be a miasma of severe bugs and flaws in need of constant repair. Even after two decades in market the product remains a piece of garbage. Presumably complacent in the belief that the Windows hegemony could never be broken, Microsoft is shitting now that “personal computing” is moving fast to mobile devices that primarily run Android and iOS systems.

And in another wave of embarrassing news for the toads in Seattle, Ford Motor just announced it is kicking Microsoft off its in-car technology platform and replacing it with a system from Blackberry called QNX. Apparently drivers found the old system – called MyFord Touch – difficult and annoying to navigate because of the clunky, menu-driven Microsoft software. Again, the preferred user experience today hews more closely to the design of a smart phone than a PC.

In a tasty piece of snark, AutoTrader.com called the MyFord Touch system “the modern-day equivalent of the Edsel.” I guess Ford decided a forced reboot was the only viable action.

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Americans Confuse the CIA with the Boy Scouts

abuIt’s easy to understand the general public outrage directed at the CIA now that the summary Senate report has come out debunking claims the agency made about their “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but is really there anyone out there who considers the findings new news? Regardless of whether or not you think the CIA was justified in using techniques that amounted to or were damn close to torture, does it surprise you that the agency would implement them, try to hide evidence of the behavior, and seek to excoriate anyone who called them out on it? Why all the sudden hand wringing?

During the period of the mid-2000s after 9/11 when the first clues of torture began to surface, the administration at the time bent over backwards to assure people that the U.S. didn’t resort to such illegal tactics. It really was Sophism at its finest: the U.S. doesn’t perform torture because whatever it is we do that looks like torture isn’t on our recognized list of torturous activities. Just like purple isn’t a color because it’s not on our list of recognized colors.


Bush speaks the troof.

Anyone alive at the time who was paying attention knew the U.S. had been engaging in torture. After all, why would so many detainees languishing for years in Guantanamo prison without charges still be there if solid cases could be made to prosecute them? Obviously, prosecutors know their cases are losers because guilt is based on evidence extracted from torture – evidence that would be deemed inadmissible in court. And to those who claim water-boarding, mock execution, “rectal feeding” and going without sleep for 59 consecutive hours doesn’t cross the line – man up and give one of them a try. Sean Hannity famously offered himself up to be water-boarded for charity on April 2, 2009; the world still awaits this coward’s moment under the bucket.

Furthermore, it was not a stretch of imagination at the time to suspect that many if not most of the detainees had little or nothing of value to share about secret terrorist plots or the whereabouts of key insurgent leaders. Many of these miscreants were rounded up in the fog of war, indiscriminately netted like a stray dolphin in a tuna hunt; some had no business being in custody as they didn’t know a goddamned thing of value. Nonetheless, these insurgents were forced to disgorge volumes of worthless “intelligence.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the CIA chased after a pistachio vendor in Qatar because a water-boarded Gitmo detainee ratted him out for shooting Kennedy from the grassy knoll in 1963.

Sad, really. Billions spent for such shit.

I’ve read no reports identifying what I believe is the underlying cause of all this: revenge. Immediately after 9/11 – after the shock had partially subsided – there was widespread agitation for some sort of retaliation. I bet if a poll had been taken on 9/12, half the nation would have approved a nuclear attack on Afghanistan. Unlike Pearl Harbor though, in which a sovereign nation was the clear perpetrator, the stateless Al Qaeda attacks defied simple counter-attack. The fact that the world’s most vaunted military took a whole fucking month to respond led Americans to feel short-changed. We wanted revenge.

So, I figure the CIA and the military (think Abu Ghraib) –absent the ability to deliver a swift, fatal blow to Al Qaeda – took on an unstated obligation to at least offer a salve of sorts. Imagine having the architect of 9/11 whimpering like a child in a cold, brightly-lit cell. Easy to see how that situation could spin off the rails. And so it began. Totally predictable in my view – which is why I think the “I’m shocked, shocked!” response to the Senate report is bogus.

Now consider how, in the 2000s, art imitated life in the form of the TV show “24” in which season after season the hero, Jack Bauer moved the plot forward by treating an evil-doer to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And luckily for Jack, his perpetrators met a very high-bar.

1. There was an imminent threat of mass-destruction
2. The perpetrator in custody knew intimate details of said threat
3. And the perp had special knowledge that could stop the threat
4. Jack somehow knew for certain that the perp in custody possessed the special knowledge
5. And somehow the perp knew that Jack knew that he possessed the special knowledge
6. Finally, the perp understood that Jack had been granted unimpeded permission to shove his nuts down his throat, after first roasting them on an open fire.

As anyone with half a brain understands, these scenarios simply do not exist in real life. Yet the public still expects its intelligence community to save the day just like Jack Bauer (preferably inside 24 hours.)

Considering some of Jack’s best torture performances, it’s easy to see why this is so:

Jack confronts former CTU agent Nina Myers who conveniently knows exactly how to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating.

Jack interrogates his own brother while his father watches. Gruesome.

In the “Day 5” season, Jack interrogates a husband and wife as they sit terrified on the sofa. The husband, Henderson, is dirty, but he won’t talk – even faced with Jack’s threats. Jack suddenly shoots the wife above the kneecap. She screams in pain, and when Henderson refuses to cooperate Jack informs him that the next shot will put his wife in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

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Jack Bauer also staged the mock execution of a terrorist’s family, cut open the stomach of a bad guy to retrieve a smart card with secret data, and in the “Day 1” season threatened to shove a long, twisted towel down the throat of a man suspected of financing Serbian terrorism. Hell, in the “Day 2” season, the President of the United States himself authorizes the Secret Service to torture answers out of his own head of the NSA. Watching the black president interrogate the suffering old white guy was surreal at best.

Any wonder why torture and its tacit acceptance flourished in the greatest democracy in history?

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Erie Drag Queen Makes Good

Tom173 copyThe New York Times did a puff piece on Friday about a Christmas-themed revue planned for the Laurie Beechman Theater featuring four drag queens, including the gorgeous Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (although for some reason the Times just calls her Alaska 5000.)

The article contained a brief Q&A with each girl, and as I scanned the lascivious answers to softball questions, I noted that Alaska hails from my old home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. Commenting on the loneliness of traveling the road doing drag shows, Alaska said, “My way of dealing with that is listening to really sad music. Sometimes when I’m doing my makeup, I’ll put on the old “Miss Bette Davis” album. I find that by indulging and embracing that sadness, that’s how you make art and gold out of it.” Who could disagree with that?

Discovering another star who came up out of Erie’s gritty (or maybe salty) streets, I harkened back to the half-dozen or so other famous people who once called Erie their home. Erie sits on the shore of the Great Lake of the same name and figures prominently in the band of “lake effect” snow that plagues residents from October through December with dumps of heavy precip that routinely accumulates in feet (the dirty remnants of which can often be found in the corners of grocery store parking lots in late May.)

I suspect for this reason alone, the quantity of famous people produced by this “rust belt” town is stunted. Add to that the city’s reputation for recognizing trends that have already swept the rest of the nation ten years earlier, and it’s a wonder anyone of renown bloomed there.

Anyway, as a test of your knowledge of Erie celebrity, see if you can choose Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 from the collection of famous Erie-ites shown below. Details to follow.

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Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 is photo B. Read more about Alaska at her fabulous website.

The other celebs are as follows:

A – Ida Tarbell. Journalist best known for her 1904 book “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” which placed No. 5 in a 1999 list of the top 100 works of 20th-century American journalism.

C – Pat Monahan. Lead singer of the band Train. Train earned two Grammy Awards.

D – Fred Biletnikoff. Wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s and 70s. Biletnikoff is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.

E- Ann B. Davis. Actress best known for playing the part of Alice the housekeeper on the irritating TV show “The Brady Bunch.” Less well-known is her work as “Schultzy” in the 1950s on “The Bob Cummings Show” which earned her two Primetime Emmy Awards.

F – Brian Douglas Wells. Pizza delivery man and co-conspirator to rob several Erie banks in the summer of 2003. Wells ended up having his head blown off by a makeshift explosive collar. Watch the exciting action here.

G – Tom Ridge. Governor of Pennsylvania and the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. After Ridge moved on, the authorities at the Erie International Airport renamed the place “Tom Ridge Field.” Nothing like naming an airport after the guy in charge of killing Al Qaeda to instill a sense of peace and calm.

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Culture Justly Scrutinized: Rice, Wilson, OPEC

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Toasted Rice on the Side

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice won a pyrrhic victory this week when a judge ruled that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell improperly punished him twice for the same crime of violence against his fiancée (now wife) Janay. The judge got it right – the only reason Goodell punished Rice harshly with indefinite suspension was to mollify the outcry of the masses against the initial two-game suspension they perceived a mere slap on the wrist. It was almost certainly not because Goodell discovered some previously hidden film clip from inside an elevator of Rice clocking Janay, as the Commish lamely claimed.

As the assault happened inside a casino where cameras are installed every four feet everywhere, there is no chance the really incriminating footage could have evaded the NFL brass. (Besides – what more evidence do you need after you see a woman walk unaided into an elevator only to be dragged out unconscious 30 seconds later? Do you really need to witness the action inside the elevator before you can render a theory?)

In any event, it makes no difference for Rice. He’s toast. After a lackluster 2013 season and an abandoned 2014, his desirability is limited. But even if a team could get him at the league minimum, they’d pass. I have to believe that the NFL owners leaned on Goodell in the first place to suspend Rice indefinitely – as the highly lucrative but suddenly vulnerable sport business had been taking a beating at the time in the press over inaction on concussions, player misbehavior against women, and other damaging news that was hurting the brand. They have no appetite now to re-raise the ugly specter of coddling an abuser all over again.

Laying down an indefinite suspension was the NFL’s way of announcing to the women of the world: “we get it.” No way will the other owners allow any team to bring new slime upon the NFL franchise by reinstating Rice. And I don’t care about the precedents set by felons-turned-cherubs like Michael Vick and Donté Stallworth. Rice’s situation is different – he smacked a woman exactly at a time when the NFL needed desperately regain the approval of women. Rice upset the narrative – he ain’t never coming back.

Like His Namesake Volleyball, Wilson Floats Away into the Sunset

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A St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown to death after an altercation – because the District Attorney didn’t want to prosecute Wilson. A few things are common knowledge:

• As elected officials, DA’s want to tout 99+% conviction rates, and will never take a case to court unless they can get a conviction or a plea deal.

• DA’s can indict anyone they want, as the process is phenomenally one-sided in their favor. They decide what to show jurors and what not to. The defendant and his lawyers are not part of the process (unless the DA wants them there, which in this case, they did).

• A DA can indict a ham sandwich – and although I know of no such indictment occurring, I wouldn’t be surprised if one from Friendly’s Restaurant is doing 5 to 10 for assault with a deadly mayonnaise spread.

If the DA wanted to bring Wilson into court, he could have done so. But instead he essentially treated the grand jury like a criminal jury – presenting both sides to the jurors and leaving it up to them to sort it out. Kind of weak, but ultimately savvy on the DAs part.

Consider this: Had the grand jury indicted Wilson, the judge would have scheduled a trial for sometime late into next year, giving the media 200+ days to whip partisans on both sides into an even greater frenzy than we’re seeing today. Wilson would be placed on administrative leave with full pay and would receive taxpayer defense – pissing off a large slice of America. When jury selection started, the networks would gin up the ominous clouds of looming race riots. Then the trial would begin, and my guess is that it would have taken on O.J. dimensions – and end in an acquittal. After all, Brown is a dead black guy; Wilson is a live white cop. Does anyone actually think the defense couldn’t build reasonable doubt?

And seconds after the acquittal? Pandemonium all over again.

Yes, the DA knew damn well what he was doing. It’s called “the ends justify the means.”

OPEC-ers Taste Free Market Forces

It’s taken forty years, but justice has finally arrived. It was the spring of 1973 and I had just passed my driver test (2nd try). The family car: a 1967 convertible Pontiac LeMans. I was ready for action, then came something called the Yom Kippur War, and by that winter the price of gasoline doubled to more than 50 cents a gallon. Rationing took hold, speed limits plummetted, and soon cruising ceased to be an affordable past-time. The oil embargo instituted by a hitherto-unknown cartel called OPEC lasted for months, and by the time the oil started flowing again from the Middle East in 1974 the price had been elevated permanently. The rest of the 1970s became a decade of malaise – even fashion and popular music took a hit thanks to the greedy actions of the Saudi sheiks and their cohort.

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Today, the tables have turned. Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. has flooded the market with cheap oil and natural gas, thus driving world prices down to levels that are unsustainable for the likes of Venezuela, Russia, Iran and a much of the once-reviled OPEC nations. Fuck ‘em. Fracking will undoubtedly cause local problems (mostly for people who advocated for it) in the form of fouled water supplies and 24×7 truck traffic, but the prospect that tyrannical regimes that use the influx of dollars to fund terrorism and instability will suffer is a fine trade-off.

I still look forward to a petro-free world, but in the meantime it’s so nice to watch the arrogant tyrants squirm, knowing they have no plan B.

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You Must Remember This

samThe big news in the fine art world a couple weeks ago centered on the drubbing Sotheby’s took at the hands of midtown auction house rival Christie’s when the latter sold $853 million in contemporary art on November 12, after Sotheby’s pulled down a mere $344 million the night before. As you might expect, top dollar went to works by must-have artists such as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter and Francis Bacon. At this point it has almost become wearisome to read about the eight- and nine-figure sums disgorged by hedge fund managers and secretive Arab sheiks for the works of a handful of anointed 20th century saints.

Which is why I found the recent auction of the piano featured in “Casablanca” more interesting than the sale of yet another one of Warhol’s Brillo boxes. Everyone who’s seen “Casablanca” knows that the center of the universe is the piano that Sam plays every night in Rick’s Café Americain. It’s where Rick encounters his former lover Ilsa once again years after being dumped on a rainy train platform. It’s where he hides the infamous letters of transit. It’s the instrument that tinkles the painful notes as a drunken Rick observes “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

And it’s the cinematic trophy that some anonymous buyer picked up the other day for $3.4 million at Bonham’s on New York’s Madison Avenue. Not to be confused with a second piano that appeared momentarily in a flashback scene and which sold for $602,500 in 2012, this one is the real deal. This particular night of bidding was called “TCM Presents … There’s No Place Like Hollywood” and featured nearly 400 artifacts from movies popular with millions.

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Sam’s piano today.

Unlike auctions involving seminal works of art, a shindig like “TCM Presents … There’s No Place Like Hollywood” can serve to excavate pleasant memories and rekindle interest in bygone eras by putting once-mundane but now totemic objects on the block for all to drool over.

Here are just a few of the lots that sold last Monday. Can you guess how much each went for? Place each lot into one of the following price ranges, and test your knowledge of the value of cinematic memorabilia: A) less than $1000, B) $1001 to $10,000, C) $10,001 to $100,000, and D) more than $100,000. Bonus question: which of these items went for more than $3 million? Answers at bottom.

1) A Dorothy “test” dress and pinafore from The Wizard of Oz
2) Moe Howard screenplay Cactus Makes Perfect
3) The African Queen poster
4) Script supervisor Meta Rebner’s copy of the screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird
5) The main entrance doors to Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca
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6) Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz
7) A Munchkin fiddler’s jacket from The Wizard of Oz
8) A final shooting script to Gone With the Wind, presented by David O. Selznick to the widow of screenwriter Sidney Howard
9) A Clark Gable riding jacket from Gone With the Wind
10) A Faye Dunaway dress from The Towering Inferno
11) Producer Albert Zugsmith’s copy of the screenplay for Touch of Evil
12) A Spanish galleon miniature from the estate of Douglas Fairbanks
13) A fertility idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark
14) An early screenplay of Mean Streets signed by Martin Scorsese
15) Radio Raheem’s boombox from Do the Right Thing
16) A pair of Charlton Heston pants from Planet of the Apes on a custom form
17) Aragorn’s sword Andúril, made for Viggo Mortensen, from Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King
18) Dr. No (Japanese Poster)
19) A “robot squid” alien from Men in Black II
20) A final screenplay of Private Benjamin

Cubism Uber Alles

Watercolour by Hitler is displayed at auction house in Nuremberg

In a related story, a 1916 watercolor by Adolf Hitler titled “Altes Rathaus” went for $161,000 at auction last week. The 8 /12 by 11 inch rendition of an old town hall in the colors of sands and slates, was accompanied by a bill of sale which certainly elevated the price. Too bad Hitler was painting standard streetscapes at a time when the artists in Europe were experimenting with Cubism and Dadaism. Had he applied his talents in a more daring direction, who knows what the world would look like today. Worst case scenario, Hitler the artist struggles (a different Mein Kampf) and in a fit of frustration slices off his ear – which beats slicing up half of Europe.

Answers:

1) D – $245,000 2) B – $1,250 3) B – $3,750 4) C- $43,750 5) D – $115,000 6) D – $3.07 million 7) B – $10,000 8) C- $62,500 9) C- $50,000 10) B – $10,000 11) C – $10,625 12) C – $18,750 113) C – $16,250 14) B- $8,750 15) B – $9375 16) C – $12,500 17) D – $437,000 18) A – $875 19) C – $13,125 20) A – $687

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Enforce the Law? How About Paying For it First.

boner pissAs expected the media are expending a great deal of ink, both real and virtual, on the appropriateness of Obama’s executive order to halt the deportation of millions of immigrants who reside in the U.S. illegally. Obama’s argument is that the do-nothing Congress has sat on a bill for 500+ days and, as their nickname suggests, did nothing. He says he had to act because no one else would, and although he acknowledges that only Congress can truly address the whole issue, his order has thoroughly pissed off the Republican opposition.

There is some merit to the Republican’s argument which goes like this: Read the effing Constitution – Congress passes bills and they get signed into law (sometimes), and the President enforces them (always). They see the dynamic as equivalent to the cop on the beat – he’s not there to question the wisdom of the laws, just to enforce them. Of course, life in a country of 300 million people can inject a bit of nuance into the equation, but still – the general thesis stands.

One needs only to tune into one of the talking-head cable brands to hear what he or she wants to hear: Obama overstepped and should be sued/impeached/tarred & feathered; Obama is acting properly in the face of partisan obstruction; borders need to be secured before anything else can happen; people who mow our lawns and clean our hotel rooms should be treated with kindness; Obama is being pragmatics; Obama is a monarch.

I have no interest in debating issues that currently receive 24×7 coverage by such journalistic luminaries as Brian Kilmeade and Ed Schultz.

But I do want to offer a thought that hasn’t been addressed to any depth that I’ve observed.

Let’s agree for the moment that a figure of authority (the President) is required by the Constitution to uphold the laws passed by Congress – and if he or she were to purposely refuse, it would constitute a breach of office. I would argue congruently that if another agent of authority (Congress) passed a law but refused to appropriate the funds to execute it completely, they too would be in breach of their obligations.

Imagine you work for a landscaping company. You are dispatched to a client’s estate to mow the lawn, trim the hedges and weed-whack around the tennis court fence. Your boss sends you there with half the gas you need to do the job. Should you do nothing when you arrive, or would it be better to pick a job that can be done properly with the amount of gas you have available (eg. mow the lawn but forego the weed-whacking)? In other words, should you use your cognitive abilities and optimize the job with the inadequate resources you’ve been assigned, or operate like a brainless nitwit and do nothing?

Laws here on the books basically call for the deportation of anyone caught in the country illegally – after appropriate due process of course, which involves legal hearings and other procedures. Now, the 2015 budget for Enforcement and Removal Operation within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is $2.6 billion, or about $250 per illegal immigrant. Clearly this isn’t anywhere near enough to enforce the law. The actual cost to completely deport a person is closer to $12,500.

So I say to the Republicans: appropriate enough money to implement the law ($137.5 billion), or shut the fuck up about enforcing it.

Buffalo Thanks Professor Cuomo

Residents of Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs should be thankful they are governed by such a wise man in the form of Andrew Cuomo. As the beleaguered Buffalonians shoveled their roofs (!) and flirted with cardiac arrest, Professor Cuomo was there to explain it all to them. As reported in today’s New York Times , he shared this wisdom to the ignorant masses before him.

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“There will be warming over the next couple of days. The warming will bring melting, the melting will bring water, the water will bring floods.” Although he didn’t reveal what the floods will bring (perhaps Buffalonians aren’t yet advanced enough to comprehend), Professor Cuomo provided insight that few had ever imagined.

Ralph Strunck of nearby Orchard Park, leaning on a snow-shovel beside a ten-foot high drift remarked, “Shit, I thought melting would bring radioactive lava, but now I’m relieved it’s just water.” Betty Tamponic of hard-hit Hamburg asked, “Melting? Isn’t that something that happens in June? I don’t understand.”

Professor Cuomo’s next stop is said to be Mount Sinai Hospital where he will identify that which is connected to the knee bone.

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When’s it Gonna Happen?

Man checking his pocket watch

Rev. Al Charlatan: Time to apologize

The New York Times did a front page piece on the unpaid tax woes of Rev. Al Sharpton which he kind of rejected in an article the next day. But given Al’s prevarications of the past it’s hard not to believe that the holy man has long shirked his civic duties when it comes to paying his fair share. Although the article focused primarily on the unpaid tax burden – more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses according to records reviewed by the paper – the writer briefly mentioned the judgment against him for his role in besmirching the reputation of Steven Pagones. I suspect most people have no idea who Pagones is, but if they’re older than 40 they probably know the name Tawana Brawley.

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Prevaricators on Parade c. 1988

Pagones was an innocent bystander in the path of Sharpton and his ambulance-chasing cohort of lawyers Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox. The threesome ginned up outrage over Brawley’s claim that she had been sexually assaulted by several white men, including Pagones who was at the time an assistant DA for Duchess County, NY. Although the claims were horrifying, Brawley’s story quickly unraveled and it was soon dismissed as a sordid alibi for having left her house without permission to visit a friend. Nevertheless, Sharpton continued to support the fabrication well past its expiration date, making Pagones’ life a misery. Pagones won his defamation suit, but the good Reverend never paid the $65 grand judgment against him (ultimately some Sharpton associates quietly paid it off.)

And in the nearly thirty years since the case came to light, Sharpton has never admitted that he knew the Brawley story was a scam. In the 1989 book “Unholy Alliances: Working the Tawana Brawley Story” by Matt Taibbi and Anna Sims Phillips, the authors report on evidence that Sharpton nervously conceded privately that Tawana was lying, but felt that the frenzy was too hot to let go.

So, when’s it gonna happen? When is Rev. Al gonna publicly apologize to Pagones?

(By the way – when did Rev. Al start resembling the Elephant Man?)

sharpelephant

Muslims: Exhibit some outrage

Whenever you think things can’t get more debased in the Middle East, leave it to some crazy Arabs to lower the bar another notch. This time the story is about two radical Palestinians who stormed a Synagogue in Jerusalem and killed four worshipers with knives, meat cleavers and a gun. They also killed a police officer in the struggle that ensued afterwards. Clearly the work of vicious, deluded psychopaths.

Then after learning of the attack residents of the Gaza Strip broke out in celebration. Truly bizarre and not particularly helpful to the Muslim brand.

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-JERUSALEM

I read that a man named Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the first Muslim to be named a United Nations high commissioner for human rights pushed the UN Security Council to back efforts to overturn what he termed ISIS’s “ideology of violence.” Al Hussein also said something important: “It is also disturbing how few to nonexistent have been the public demonstrations of anger in the Arab and Muslims worlds over the crimes being perpetrated.” I couldn’t agree more.

Muslims hate it when people stereotype them as terrorists, but when Islamic terror occurs you rarely hear broad condemnations from the moderates in the community.

When’s it gonna happen? When will the millions of sane Muslims take the lead, throttle this scourge of radical religious craziness, and enable the “infidel” Westerners to withdraw from their space as they constantly demand.

Japan: Admit the “research” is bullshit

Being residents of a rocky collection of islands with little arable land, it’s no surprise the Japanese people love to consume products of the sea. And that includes whale meat. The problem is, virtually every country in the world views the hunting and killing of the magnificent and endangered creatures a violation of humanitarian fundamentals. As such, the International Whaling Commission has banned the practice of hunting and killing whales – but like with most laws there are loopholes. The Commission makes exceptions for peoples such as Inuits who have a long heritage of hunting whales, and for government institutions conducting scientific research.

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The color of Japanese research

Japan has exploited the research loophole for years, and although the government there recently announced they would reduce their target kills, they still plan to waste about 4,000 whales over the next dozen years. That’s better than the original plan to take nearly a thousand a year, but 4,000 is still a lot of whales that need to die for the sake of “scientific research.” When you think about it, why do any whales have to die in the pursuit of science? What scholarly findings have the Japanese uncovered over the many decades in which tens of thousands of whales and other sea mammals have been slaughtered?

Not often mentioned is that after data have been collected from the kills, the leftover whale meat makes it into restaurants all across Japan. Which is after all the whole point of the high-seas expeditions.

Clearly, Japan should stop hunting whales. But I also wish they would just come out and admit what everyone knows – the “scientific research” argument is pure bullshit. When’s it gonna happen?

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