All posts by Editor East Coast Stories

Rules of Civility – a witty novel of 1938 New York

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is a charmingly witty novel of two young women in 1938 New York as they take different paths through the stratified social maze of the city.

Katey is the well-educated but not wealthy narrator, and her best friend is Eve, a young woman of indeterminate social standing from the Midwest. The fact that neutral Midwest accents keeps you from knowing a person’s social class is something that truly annoys Katey.

You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for.”

The lives of Eve and Katey are changed by a chance meeting in a jazz club with “Tinker” Grey a young man from the super wealthy “old money” circles, that most people can only dream of .

Rules of Civility - 1938 New York
Rules of Civility – 1938 New York

Throughout Rules of Civility, Katey finds herself occupying the two worlds of New York. By day she is a secretary with low wages that can barely pay for her minuscule apartment. At night and on the weekends she is hobnobbing with people who own mansions, Rolls Royces and summer estates in The Hamptons.

A career woman lunching in New York - 1938
A career woman lunching in New York – 1938

In 1938, life choices were relatively few for a poor young woman, no matter how well educated or intelligent. Eve embarks on the well-traveled path of finding a rich man to help smooth the bumps of life. Katey tries the much more difficult course of actually becoming a successful career professional at a time when such a thing was almost unheard of.

1938 New York - when all information came from newspapers
1938 New York – when all information came from newspapers

Evey page of Rules of Civility is a pleasure to read, with wonderful witticisms throughout. At one point, Katey visits The Plaza Hotel and has this encounter in the elevator.

“Before the doors closed a pair of honeymooners joined us.  Bright, rosy and young, they looked like they were ready to spend every last penny they had on room service. When they skipped down the hallway on twelve, I offered the elevator boy a friendly smirk.

Newlyweds, I said 

Not exactly, ma’am

Not exactly?

Not exactly newly. Not exactly wed.”

Amor Towles is an incredibly talented writer. He spent the first 20 years of his career in Finance in New York, and Rules of Civility was his first novel. He followed this with the brilliant Gentleman of Moscow.

Amor Towles - author of Rules of Civility
Amor Towles – author of Rules of Civility

It is wonderful to see that all successful new writers don’t have to be young. In fact, it is Amor Towels’ life experience that make him such a brilliant commentator on the world. Whatever he publishes next, I will definitely be the first in line to buy it.

Be sure to read our review of A Gentleman in Moscow.

Read our review of The Right Burgee – the book that shocked the yacht club set a half century ago

See all our book reviews


Secrets of a White Shoe Law firm – the man who gets his hands dirty so the lawyers stay clean

I once worked for the most prestigious “White Shoe” law firm in New York, learning parts of the business the lawyers wanted to pretend didn’t exist. To even be considered “White Shoe”, a law firm must be at least 100 years old and only hire from the top 1% of the class of the top law schools. Partners deal directly with world leaders in business and politics on a daily basis. The lawyers work on all the esoteric legal issues of billion dollar business deals. But behind the scenes, was a man names Robert “B”who handled everything non-legal, so that the lawyers never got their white shoes scuffed. Robert came from a long line of New York City cops and physically and emotionally was as tough as iron. Here is just a small list of the issues Robert took care of:

No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm
No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm

Throwing out the under-performing lawyers.  The lawyers who got hired at my White Shoe firm have never failed at anything. They were the top of the class in their high school, and went to the top colleges where they were also top of their classes. They got into the best law schools and made Law Review. Then they got hired for a New York firm at a starting salary that is more than most people will earn in a lifetime. Then they fail and get fired. You see, every year, my firm would hire 60 new lawyers (Associates) and over a 10 year career path only 3 would eventually  be asked to become Partners. The other 57 have to get fired along the way to make room for the next classes being hired. Some of them simply can’t take the news. These are people who are used to getting awards, not pink slips.

Throwing out lawyers who don't bring in enough money for the firm
Throwing out lawyers who don’t bring in enough money for the firm

The fired Associate is privately told the news by the Managing Partner, but once and a while the Associate freaks out, starts screaming and even turns violent. That’s why Robert  always arranged to have three very large “maintenance” men working in the Managing Partner’s office when an associate was being fired. They would pretend to be fixing the thermostat, or adjusting a leg on the couch, or even dusting.

If the firing went well, the maintenance men did nothing. However, the second an Associate raised his voice to the partner, the Associate would be grabbed by 6 very large hands and hustled out of the office. If the Associate did not immediately quiet down, the maintenance men continued to move the Associate all the way through the building, right to the street. The Managing Partner pretended not to notice any of this.

Now you may object that I previously said the firing was “private”. You have to realize that in prestigious New York law firms, the non-legal “support staff” is invisible. It is like being a servant in England in the 1800s. Support staff at my firm only spoke to lawyers when spoken to. All lawyers were addressed by support staff as “Mr.” or “Ms.” while lawyers called all support staff workers by their first names even if the support person was 20 years older than the lawyer.  

My firm once published its own vanity book claiming it detailed “everyone” who had ever worked for the firm, with a short biography of each. Even lawyers who had only worked for the firm for 6 months 80 years ago were listed. No support staff, not even Robert, were mentioned in the book. Some of the support staff had worked for the law firm for 30 years and were very hurt by the publication. The book was just one more way of the lawyers reminding the support staff of the true social order.

Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it
Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it

Robert made sure bad stories never sullied the firm’s reputation. The toughest problem Robert ever faced was when one of the law firm’s data entry people got killed in Brooklyn. The story that hit the New York  news stations  was all about the tragedy of this innocent professional woman who was killed in the crossfire between two rival drug gangs. That’s not what happened. The real story is that she was in one of the drug gangs and the deal went bad. The last thing in the world the law firm wanted was for the news outlets to start publishing that a member of their firm had belonged to a drug gang.

 Robert made lot of phone calls to his friends and relatives in the police, to get the official police report written the right way.  No cash exchanged hands, but after that, many of the job openings in the support staff of the law firm just happened to get filled by the sons and daughters of the Brooklyn police officers who had responded to the drug gang shoot-out. It turned out to be a win-win. The police officers’ kids all were great workers.

The law can be flexible
The law can be flexible

Robert was always handy with a   “cash envelope” on construction projects Business was good and the law firm was expanding its offices. In downtown New York, trying to do construction in an occupied office building is a nightmare. It is almost impossible to get the material and equipment to the top floors. (All good law firms are on the top floors). There are lots of passenger elevators, but only a few freight elevators. You have to compete for the freight elevators with every other company doing work in the building.

An envelope of cash is always welcome
An envelope of cash is always welcome

Most buildings don’t have elevator operators any more, but every major New York Office building has a person in charge of setting all the elevators. If you try to just throw your construction material into one of the passenger elevators, that minor bureaucrat will make sure the landlord adds a huge fine to your next month’s rent. 

However, slip an envelope full of cash to this Elevator Tzar and suddenly 2 or 3 passenger elevators will magically be transformed into freight elevators for your project’s personal use. This may not sound like it is cost effective, but the envelope of cash is much less expensive than keeping 50 construction workers waiting for their material.

The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day
The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day

Protecting lawyers from their own stupid ideas – Once and a while a high ranking lawyer would try to get involved in the non-legal aspects of the business, with near disastrous results. Robert was there to politely put an end to such forays into his territory. One example of this was the time that the Managing Partner of the firm had watched an old documentary on T.V. about how the Iranians had reassembled shredded secret documents after taking over the American embassy in Tehran. The Managing Partner was convinced that someone was going to steal the mountains full of shredded documents the firm produced each day and then paste them back together like the Iranians had.

The Managing Partner told us that he had woken up at 3AM worried about this and had come up with his own brilliant solution. He wanted the law firm to purchase a giant machine that would pulverize the documents into fine white powder. He then proceeded to say the machine would pay for itself since we would no longer have to pay outside shredding firms or a garbage company. This was because the Managing Partner wanted us to take all this shredded powdered material and flush it down the toilets each day. Thousands and thousands of old legal documents a day first ground into a fine powder and then teams of office workers flushing them down toilets continually.

When the Managing partner announced his “powder and flush” idea to the non-legal staff, we all were very careful not to look at each other. We knew that if a single person so much as cracked a smile, we would all have burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

Then Robert did something amazing. With a serious tone and a perfectly straight face, he thanked the Managing Partner for his “well thought-out plan”. Robert then went on to say we would be researching types of machines, permits required and sewer regulations and would report back to the partner on the progress. Of course, we never did any of that. Any time the partner asked about the project, Robert confidently told him that the “research was progressing”. Eventually the Managing Partner got immersed in some very complex legal cases and forgot all about flushing shredded documents down the toilets.

Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times
Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times

Treating Associate Lawyers as Machines – Law firms are basically just factories and the Associates are just very expensive machines. Associates are all the lawyers striving to make Partner. They do the actual legal work and the firm bills out their time to clients. The Associates get paid a flat (very high) salary no matter how many hours they work. Therefore, billable hours less Associates salaries equals profit that goes to the Partners. The more time Associates spend at their desks doing legal work, the more profit for the Partners. If you are an Associate at a White Shoe law firm and you expect to stay employed you better have a minimum of 12 billable hours per day.

The key job of the non-legal staff is to make sure that the Associates never leave their desks. Associates are machines that need to be kept running at all times. Associates don’t go to lunch or dinner. Someone gets sandwiches and brings them to their desks. People pick up their laundry, take their spouses to the airport, buy birthday gifts for their kids and even wait for the cable guy to come to the apartment. In other words, Robert and his team do everything so that the Associates never leave their desks except to use the bathroom, and go home to sleep.

Sometimes Associates crack from this arrangement. At first it seems nice to have other people do everything for you can concentrate on work. Then Associates slowly begin to realize that they don’t actually have what most people would call “a life”.  They never see their spouses, kids or friends. Never go out to lunch, to shop or to just walk around the city. They are getting paid a huge amount of money to be a machine, but sometimes the machines break. Of course, if an Associate machine does break, Robert had some maintenance men who will quickly hustle it out of the building.

Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.
Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.

The Care & Feeding of Old Partners – The special few who do become partners are set for life, and that does mean life. When I was at the firm, one partner was 90 years old and he still came in every day. He lived in Manhattan and a car picked him up at his building each morning. One day, the regular driver was out sick, so Robert personally drove the car. Robert asked the old partner where they should go. The old partner decided it was such a beautiful day that instead of going to the office they should just drive around Central Park. The old Partner and Robert spent the morning touring the City and eventually the partner treated Robert to lunch at an outdoor café. The Partner told fascinating stories about his days as a young man in New York, and left a huge tip for the waitress. Robert told us that it was the best day of work he had ever had working anywhere.

The old partner did a lot more than just tell stories, which is why he was still at the firm at 90. He knew every judge in New York, and every politician that mattered. Whenever the firm really needed a  favor, it was the old Partner who called just the right judge or politician, and knew exactly what to say. He may have become a partner by working 16 hours a day 7 days a week as an Associate, but it was his natural charm that made him a success as a Partner.

This particular White Shoe law firm is still considered the best in the world and Associates still slave away fantasizing that they will be one of the chosen few to make Partner. Robert is still working behind the scenes taking care of all the unspoken problems. There is probably someone like Robert at every major law firm in the world, taking care of business and keeping secrets while the lawyers keep their white shoes clean.

Three Cats and a Rabbit – A poem of life at my house

The small cats are crazy, the big one is lazy,

The Rabbit, he rules the House.

Luna - the tiny troublemaker
Luna – the tiny troublemaker

When the Big Cat was younger,

in a fit of mad hunger,

He once ate a whole giant mouse.

Lubby - 16 years old and 13 pounds, taking a nap
Lubby – 16 years old and 13 pounds, taking a nap

The house we can’t sell,

since the rugs sort of smell,

and the woodwork is really a sight.

Sunshine chewing on the furniture
Sunshine chewing on the furniture

The moldings miss chunks and the rugs have some lumps,

where the Rabbit has taken bite.

The Big cat he purrs, while the small ones shed fur,

and race full speed through the night.

Miko - Luna's sister
Miko – Luna’s sister

I still love them all, though I do trip and fall

when the cats grab my feet on the stairs.

Lubby in a contemplative moment
Lubby in a contemplative moment

I may insane, but at least life’s not plain

In a house ruled by 4 tiny beasts.

Sunshine rules the house
Sunshine rules the house

I will end this weird poem, since the beasts start to moan,

And remind me it’s time for their treats.

Now I must go; the cats think I’m too slow,

and are starting their ear-splitting meows.

We’ll get new pets next time, whose dispositions are fine

Maybe nice goats or some cows.

When Phone Numbers Had Names like “MUrray Hill” or FIreside”

When I was a kid, all phone numbers began with names like MUrray Hill, FIreside or DAvis. This was a holdover from the very earliest days of telephones. The phone company executives (and there was only 1 phone company) thought that people would not be able to memorize large strings of numbers.

Lucy's phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975
Lucy’s phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975

Consequently, the first 2 numbers of every phone number were expressed in words. MUrray Hill meant the first 2 numbers were 6-8. DAvis meant the first 2 numbers were 3-2. That’s why the first two letters of the exchanges were capitalized.

Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000
Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000

But there is a natural human tendency to believe that all names must mean something. Consequently, people had ridiculous discussions about which phone names (exchanges) were “better”. My phone number as a kid was DAvis-4-2427, while the Brett’s who lived right next door had a phone number that began with FIreside. Frankie Brett insisted that their phone number was “better” than ours since FIreside sounded so much cooler than DAvis.

Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan

The funny part is that having phone numbers begin with names really did help people remember them better. In fact, some of those old phone numbers remain a part of American culture. Here are just a few examples:

PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was the title of a famous Glen Miller song. It was the phone number of a pay phone from which Glen Miller used to call his fiancee when he was on the road. Somehow the song would just not be as good if it was called 73-65000.

MUrray Hill 5-9975 was the phone number for Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. To this day, some people remember that number but cannot remember the number of their own cell phone.

BUtterfield -8 was the title of a classic 1960 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor. The significance of the BUtterfield-8 – exchange is that it was limited to the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan

The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.
The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.

MUrray Hill 7-0700 was the phone number for the furniture reupholstering department of Macy’s. When I was kid, Macy’s had a local television commercial that repeated this number at least 15 time. You could not watch Saturday Morning T.V. without hearing the words “MUrray Hill 7-0700” over and over and over. This phone number has been permanently burned into my long term memory, even though I have never gotten a piece of furniture reupholstered.

Having a 212 area code is like having "Old Money"
Having a 212 area code is like having “Old Money”

Now that phone numbers don’t have names, each individual number or exchange no longer seems that important. Of course, there are 2 exceptions to this.

You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212
You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212

212- is the coveted “original” area code for Manhattan. To have a 212 area code signifies that not only are you in Manhattan, but that you have been there for a long time. People with 212 area codes look down on other Manhattan dwellers who only have a 646 or a 332 area code. This is very similar to the way families with Old Money used to look down on the Noveau Riche. If your phone number does not begin with 212 you will never be accepted as a real New Yorker.

Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny
Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny

867-5309 is the phone number that all women named Jenny have learned to hate. The song Jenny was written by Alex Call and Jim Keller and performed by Tommy Tutone. The song is about a woman with a “certain reputation” who is so popular that her phone number is scribbled on bathroom walls. If you ever date a woman named Jenny, never make the mistake of mentioning this song or phone number.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories

A Gentleman in Moscow – a beautiful novel

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the most beautiful novel I have read in many years. It begins in 1922 , after the Communist Revolution, with the trial of Count Alexander Rostov. Normally at such a trial Count Rostov would have been sentenced to death, simply for having been a close friend of the Tsar. In addition, Count Rostov is a lazy “man of leisure” who has never worked a day in his life, and who occupies a luxurious suite at the Moscow Metropol Hotel. Not exactly the type of man the Communists admired.

The Moscow Metropol Hotel
The Moscow Metropol Hotel

However, in 1913 Count Rostov had written a beautiful poem praising the working class and the revolution. This poem saved the Count’s life. Instead of being condemned to death, Alexander Rostov is declared a “former person” who must live the rest of his life in the Metropol Hotel. He will be immediately executed if he ever steps foot outside. To make Rostov’s humiliation complete, he is moved from his grand suite into a tiny room on the top floor of the hotel.

A Gentleman in Moscow - a beautiful novel
A Gentleman in Moscow – a beautiful novel

A Gentleman in Moscow chronicles Count Rostov’s life in the hotel over many decades, as both he and Russia undergo changes. Rostov is not confined to his room, but has the run of the gigantic hotel, which is in the center of Moscow, and where all the power brokers of society meet.

It may sound like A Gentleman in Moscow would be limited in scope as it is confined to a single hotel. However, that is not at all the case. For although Rostov may not go out into the world, the World comes to Rostov.

Somehow the ballet survived the Communist Revolution in Russia
Somehow the ballet survived the Communist Revolution in Russia

Communist party leaders, ballerinas, actresses, mistresses, American spies and reporters all stay at the Metropol. As a former person, Rostov himself is almost invisible and unnoticed, and thus is in a perfect position to observe it all and see the changes in his beloved Russia.

Over the years Rostov himself changes as much as Russia. In a way, his sentence to the Metropol is the best thing that ever happened to him. For the first time in his life he must work, and takes a job as a waiter in the grand dining room. As a former Count he is excellent at this job due to his knowledge of fine wine and elegant dining.

Amor Towles - author of A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles – author of A Gentleman in Moscow

Rostov becomes friends with Nina, the daughter of a Communist Party official who lives at the hotel. Nina is only 9 and bored and she and Rostov explore the hotel together. Through the child’s eyes, Rostov sees things he never knew existed. Nina has discovered all the secret passageways, rooms staircases and hidden doors in the grand hotel. Together Nina and Rostov spy on everything.

A Gentleman in Moscow works so well as novel, because Count Alexander Rostov is such a wonderful character. At first he seems sort of ridiculous, trying to maintain the attributes of a gentleman as the world collapses around him. Count Rostov is concerned with reading great works of literature and keeping his hair perfectly trimmed, while Stalin comes to power and the Secret Police control Moscow.

However, as A Gentleman in Moscow progresses, we see that there is more to Alexander Rostov than meets the eye. He is a good person who is genuinely concerned about the people around him. Rostov is much tougher than he appears and tries to help those in need in whatever small way he can. Maybe that is the real definition of being a gentleman.

Read all our book reviews

Read our review of the Amor Towles novel – Rules of Civility

Read our story The Last Connecticut Gentleman

Read our review of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The Lobster – A strange but compelling independent film

The Lobster takes place in a world where single people who cannot find their soulmates are turned into animals. They do get to pick which animal they will be turned into. The Lobster’s main character, David (Colin Farrell) has decided to become a lobster if he cannot find a mate. His logic is that he has always enjoyed the water and lobsters live a long time. Most people choose to become dogs, although beautiful horses are also popular.

Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster
Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster

As with a lot of strange independent films, The Lobster has a cast of well known incredibly talented actors. Most of the characters don’t even have names. Rachael Weisz is a nearsighted woman who is probably the soulmate of David. In the strange world of The Lobster, you cannot just fall in love with someone. You and your soulmate must have the same affliction. Thus, David is attracted to the myopic woman because he also wears glasses. If he had perfect eyesight, the two could not be together.

Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster
Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster

Lea Seydoux is the violent leader of The Loners, an outlaw group that has refused to be turned into animals. The Loners live in the woods where they are constantly hunted. They refuse to be matched with anyone, and in The Loner society any paring up is met with extreme punishments.

Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster
Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster

One of our favorite characters is a beautiful young woman with constant nosebleeds (wonderfully played by Jessica Barden). Ben Whishaw becomes her “soulmate” by purposely giving himself nosebleeds and pretending they are natural. He has decided that hurting his nose periodically is a better fate than being turned into an animal.

Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster
Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster

The Lobster is about 100 times more strange than we have been able to describe in this brief summary. Most viewers will hate it, but aficionados of quirky independent films will recognize it as an instant cult classic.

Normally we rate movies in terms of Stars. However, in unusual circumstances we rate movies with question marks. This is for movies where even after you have seen them you are still not sure what they were about. We rate The Lobster Five Question Marks. The last independent film to achieve this rating was Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson.

Whether you love The Lobster or hate it, once thing is certain. You will never forget The Lobster.

We give The Lobster Five Question Marks ?????

Read All out Independent Film Reviews

Alara Comes Back to The Orville- But it is only a Tease

Seth MacFarlane has made The Orville fans even angrier by pretending to bring back Alara (Halston Sage). In the most recent episode, The Orville enters an alternate time line where Alara is a guerilla war leader fighting the Kaylons.

Halston Sage
Halston Sage

But just when fans are thrilled by the return of Alara, they find out it is just the shortest of cameo appearances, with Halston Sage on screen for less than 4 minutes. Alara and Captain Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) do not even speak to each other. This has further fueled the rumors that Halston Sage wad dumped from The Orville after Halston Sage and Seth MacFarlane stopped dating.

Halston Sage as Alara on The Orville
Halston Sage as Alara on The Orville

Halston Sage deserves better than this. Her character was great, and we have heard from numerous The Orville fans who stopped watching the show when Alara was written out. For some reason, Seth MacFarlane has chosen to have a huge number of episodes focusing on the sex life of Bortus (Peter Macon) who who is about as erotic as left over dog food.

Peter Macon as the chain smoking Bortus on "The Orville"
Peter Macon as the chain smoking Bortus on “The Orville”

Bortus is a great character when he is used to comic effect. Like the episode where cigarettes are discovered in a time capsule and Bortus becomes addicted to smoking. However, the episodes that focus on the discrimination against females on Bortus’ home planet of Moclan are just a little too preachy and political.

Adrianne Palicki as Kelly from an alternate time line in "The Orville"
Adrianne Palicki as Kelly from an alternate time line in “The Orville”

One big improvement in Season 2 of The Orville is that the show has focused much more on Kelly (Adrianne Palicki). We have always loved Adrianne Palicki’s acting ability even back when she was trying to assassinate John Wick. In Season 2 of The Orville, Adrianne Palicki gets to play two different characters simultaneously, as the time line is split.

Even without Halston Sage, The Orville is still a great show. It would just be so much better if Alara were co come back for more than just a tease.

Be sure to read all our T.V. reviews.

How to Bribe a Saudi Prince- lessons from a Dutch giant

Kees van XX’s job at Akzo Nobel was to bribe princes in Saudi Arabia to make sure that the company’s projects could get completed. It was a job that should not have been necessary. After all, Akzo Nobel was bringing jobs, money and new industrial plants to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government wanted Akzo Nobel to be there.

In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea
In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea

However, nothing gets done in Saudi Arabia without paying off a prince. Failure to do so means that your project will suddenly get shut down for failure to have the “required permits”.

Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide
Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide

The Dutch are very practical about paying bribes, and they make no moral judgements about the practice. Akzo Nobel’s international employee handbook states that there is a strict policy against paying bribes. However, the booklet explains that it is acceptable to make a “facilitating payment.”

Don't call it a bribe. Call it a "facilitating payment."
Don’t call it a bribe. Call it a “facilitating payment.”

Akzo Nobel goes to great lengths to explain the subtle difference between a Bribe and a Facilitating Payment. A Bribe gets someone to do something they should not be doing. A Facilitating Payment gets someone to do something which they are supposed to be doing anyway. A Facilitating Payment gets a government bureaucrat to stamp the correct documents. A Facilitating Payment makes sure the electricity to your job site does not suddenly get turned off.

A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.
A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.

The Dutchman Kees does not look like an expert on Saudi Arabia. He is six feet eight inches tall, has blonde hair and weighs 380 pounds. When visiting a Saudi palace he never is asked to show I.D. The guards find him easy to recognize.

But Kees is a real expert in the art of Facilitating Payments. There is more to this art than just having pockets full of cash. First it is necessary to find the right prince to pay off. Different Saudi princes have control over different regions and different parts of the economy. It takes an expert to know which prince can help your particular project.

Then there is the delicate matter of negotiating how much. Offering too little is a personal insult, while paying too much is a waste of company money. All of this negotiating takes place slowly over endless cups of tea.

Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince
Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince

Kees readily admits that he finds the whole process extremely tedious. He talks about one Saudi prince who he used to visit once a month to hand over an envelope of cash. This simple transaction took a good part of the day. It would be an insult to just walk in and give the prince the money.

Each month, Kees would share a meal with the prince and they would make small talk for several hours. At some point, Kees would place the envelope full of cash onto the table. Neither Kees nor the prince every looked at or mentioned the envelope. At the end of the meal, Kees would cordially say goodbye to the prince, and leave the envelope behind.

The most delicate negotiation Kees ever had was when one of Akzo Nobel’s construction projects got shut down despite his regular payments to the Saudi prince. The Army had blocked off access to the site, claiming the company lacked the required permits. Then a Saudi Army Major explained that he could remedy the situation for a “certain price”.

Kees had to go to the prince and firmly state that while Akzo Nobel was willing to make one Facilitating Payment it was certainly not going to pay 2 separate people for 1 project. The prince was furious at the Army Major for having encroached on the prince’s territory.

The prince assured Kees that the Major would be dealt with. The prince also explained in exact detail what forms Akzo Nobel could fill out to have the Saudi government reimburse Akzo Nobel for the lost time on the project. The next day the Army roadblock was gone and the Akzo Nobel project was up and running again. One month later Akzo Nobel got a check from the Saudi government. Kees never found out what happened to the Saudi Army Major. He assumes it was nothing good. You don’t double-cross a Saudi prince and have it forgotten.

All this happened a long time ago and the Saudi Arabian government states that this kind of open corruption no longer happens. If you believe that, we have a nice bridge in Brooklyn we would like to sell you.

Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China
Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China

What happened to Kees? He moved quickly up the ranks of Akzo Nobel. Men with his delicate skills are hard to find. He is now working in another country that claims to have no corruption, bribes or even facilitating payments. We are sure that Kees will do very well in his executive position in China.

See our story – Why the Dutch Tell Germans – “Bring Back our Bicycles”

The Naked Bath Murder – Jean Harlow and the 1932 Shocker Red Dust

In 1932 Jean Harlow was completely naked on-screen in the film Red Dust.  She was only 21 at the time. Even more shocking was that while Red Dust was still in production, Jean Harlow murdered her husband, wealthy MGM executive Paul Bern, and got away with the crime. Like most Hollywood legends, this is a combination of fact and fantasy.

Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust
Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust

Let’s start with the murder. The fact is that Paul Bern did die of a gunshot wound while Red Dust was being filmed. The official story was that it suicide, but rumors swirled that Jean Harlow had killed him. After all, Jean Harlow had already gotten al she needed from Bern, who was twice her age. He had persuaded MGM to hire Harlow, and star her in Red Dust. Who needed him around after that?

Paul Bern & Jean Harlow
Paul Bern & Jean Harlow

In reality, Bern’s death almost cost Jean Harlow the role. MGM was aware of the murder rumors and wanted to dump Harlow from Red Dust. MGM offered the starring part to Tallulah Bankhead. However, Ms. Bankhead always had real class, and she refused to take a movie role away from a young woman whose husband had just died.

Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern
Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern

As an added twist to the tale, the most likely explanation is that Paul Bern actually was murdered, but not by Jean Harlow. Decades later, ex-cops and MGM security people admitted that Paul Bern was probably murdered by his ex-lover Dorthy Millette, who was mentally unbalanced. Dorthy Millette had been released from a mental institution the day before Paul Bern’s murder. The day after Paul Bern’s death Dorthy Millette herself committed suicide by jumping off a Ferryboat.

Paul Berne's supposed suicide note
Paul Berne’s supposed suicide note

MGM’s people re-arranged the crime scene to make it look like a suicide, thinking that a suicide would somehow damage the company’s reputation less than a murder. They also created a bizarre hand-written suicide note. At the time of the supposed “suicide” very little police investigation was undertaken. Pointedly, the police did not have a handwriting expert examine the letter to see if it was really penned by Paul Bern. Such was the power of the major movie studios over the police in 1932.

There are also multiple stories about the naked bath. Anyone viewing Red Dust today will quickly see that Jean Harlow does not appear naked on screen. There is implied nudity, exhibitionism and voyeurism, but nothing is actually shown.

Mary Astor and Clark Gable in "Red Dust"
Mary Astor and Clark Gable in “Red Dust”

Red Dust is a story about love and sex on an isolated rubber plantation in French Indochina (current day Vietnam). Clark Gable is Dennis Carson, the owner of the plantation, and Jean Harlow is Vantine, a wild type who shows up from Saigon. It is strongly implied that Vantine is a prostitute on the run.

Dennis and Vantine seem perfect for each other since both are rough and sexually easy going, with the attitude that life should be fun. But this is complicated by the arrival of the married couple Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor).

Dennis immediately falls for the beautiful sophisticated Barbara, despite the fact that she is a married woman. Vantine, knows that she can never compete with a woman like Barbara and is extremely jealous.

Clark Cable's arms against Jean Harlow's breasts in "Red Dust"
Clark Cable’s arms against Jean Harlow’s breasts in “Red Dust”

However, Red Dust is not known for its forgettable and formulaic plot, but rather for two scenes with Jean Harlow. The first is the naked bath scene where Vantine (Harlow) bathes naked in a rain barrel while Dennis (Gable) stands over her playing with her hair. Dennis is looking straight down into the barrel seeing Vantine nude. He is not even pretending to look away.

The implied sexuality in this scene is so blatant that many viewers of the film swore later that they really had seen Jean Harlow naked. In fact, Jean Harlow’s body is completely hidden by the barrel and the audience sees nothing. Clark Gable’s acting was so good that the look on his face convinced viewers that he really was was staring at a beautiful naked woman. In film it is often the implied actions that are the most erotic.

There is also the movie lore that Jean Harlow really was naked and that after the scene was shot, she stood up and got out of the barrel, giving giving the film crew a full view of her nude body. This is complete nonsense, but members of the film crew were able to get free drinks in Hollywood for years by claiming they had been on set when Jean Harlow paraded around nude.

However, it was another scene that really shocked 1932 audiences. Valentine is leaning back against Dennis and his arms are wrapped around her. Instead of having his arms discretely around her waist, Clark Gable’s arms are definitely around Jean Harlow’s voluptious breasts. There was nothing implied about this. It broke the unwritten rule of what could be shown touching what in a mainstream film, and one of the factors that lead to film censorship a few years later.

Red Dust is amazingly mild by today’s standards, and at the most would get a PG-13 rating. Critics have always panned the acting abilities of Jean Harlow, but considering the circumstances she did an amazing job. Here was a 21 year old woman who was able to perform, while at the same time having the general public whispering that she was a slut and murderer. It is incredible that she was able to take the pressures of that type of life and even show up to work.

Red Dust ends up being the type of film where the story about the movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Many one day someone will make a movie about the making of Red Dust. Now that would be worth seeing.

We rate Red Dust 4 Stars ****

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Quicksand – Sweden mass shooting mystery

Quicksand on Netflix is a chilling series about a fictional mass shooting at a high school in Sweden.   It is a combination mystery, courtroom drama and psychological study. Hanna Ardéhn is high school senior Maja, who is either a mass murderer or a wrongly accused hero and victim.  We first see Maja at the scene of the shooting, covered in blood, and shivering in a state of shock. But there is a high-powered rifle by her side and Maja is the only survivor. Maja is charged with murder and taken into custody.

Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

Quicksand is told in flashbacks of the events leading up to the shooting, and culminates in the murder trial. It is the best crime drama we have seen since The Night of. It is fascinating to see the legal and police procedures in Sweden, which are similar to but still have major differences to those of The United States.

Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

The key to the mystery is Sebastian (Felix Sandman), the handsome, incredibly wealthy high school senior who changed Maja’s life when he suddenly took an interest in her. She was immediately propelled into a world she never previously dreamed of. Wild parties, vacations on a huge yacht in the Mediterranean and acceptance into what used to be called “the in crowd”. Sebastian simply takes his family’s wealth and superiority for granted. His personal car for driving to high school is a brand new Porsche.  

David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

We know from the beginning of Quicksand that Sebastian is the mass shooter and that Maja killed him. The police have charged Maja with being an accomplice who helped plan and then participated in the killings. Maja herself is in such a state of shock that she cannot remember exactly what happened that day. Awaiting trial she desperately ties to piece together the events of her past that lead to the violent conclusion.

William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand
William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand

Samir (William Spetz) is another high school senior. He is an Iraqi immigrant, and a top student. Samir is good friends with Maja, who is also an excellent student. Samir warns of the dark side to Sebastian. Samir has seen firsthand that Sebastian is a drug-abusing immigrant-hater.

Quicksand is riveting to watch and the acting is superb. Ella Rappich is Amanda, Maja’s best friend and confidant. David Dencik is Peder, Maja’s defense attorney who is trying to obtain the facts to win the case while at the same time keeping Maja from going completely catatonic.

Hanna Adrehn as Maja in "Quicksand"
Hanna Adrehn as Maja in “Quicksand”

Due to the nature of the crime, Maja is kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Quicksand  (Swedish title Storst av allt) is so well filmed that the feeling of prison claustrophobia is palpable to the audience. Maja is not allowed a cell phone or watch and intensely feels the pressure of having no idea what time it is. When told she will be able to meet with her lawyer in 3 hours, she sits on the floor with her back to the wall and counts off the seconds and continually calculates how much longer she must wait

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We rate Quicksand 5 Stars *****

The Day I made Carol Channing Laugh

Years ago, I shared a laugh with Carol Channing in New York. I was walking down 56th Street towards 5th Avenue. As I turned the corner I almost bumped into Carol Channing coming out of Harry Winston, which is one of the premier jewelry stores in the world. Even then, Carol Channing looked ancient. She was holding onto the arm of a large muscular man who was obviously a chauffeur walking her to the car. It was also obvious that she was so frail she would have fallen over if she was not holding onto the chauffeur’s arm.

Despite this, Carol Channing was “dressed to the nines”, wearing full makeup, and a huge amount of jewelry. When we almost ran into each other I found myself face to face with Carol Channing no more than 1 foot away. Somehow, instead of just saying “excuse me” I decided to take a chance. I looked at Carol Channing and said,

“Visiting your best friends Ms Channing?”

Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly
Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly

Other celebrities might have been annoyed at having a fan dare to speak to them directly, but not Carol Channing.  She laughed, and her whole countenance changed. Her face lit up in a smile and she stood up straighter.

Carol Channing reached out and gently touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for remembering sweetie.”

Then, without another word, Caron Channing and the chauffeur moved down the block, and I went on to my appointment on 5th avenue.

Carol Channing, of course, was the original singer of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. This was before Marilyn Monroe performed the song. It was decades before Madonna paid a tribute to the song with the video and song Material Girl. That’s why it was perfect to see this icon visiting a jewelry store. Where else would one expect to find Carol Channing?

Marilyn Monroe performing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".
Marilyn Monroe performing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

Carol Channing never had the beauty of a Marilyn Monroe or the voice of Madonna, but there was something that drew audiences to her. The sheer vibrant enthusiasm of Carol Channing made every performance an event. Audiences loved Carol Channing, especially in New York.

Madonna performing "Material Girl"
Madonna performing “Material Girl”

In addition to movie and Television appearances, Carol Channing performed in literally thousands of stage musicals and comedies. Hello Dolly was perhaps her best known and best loved. Carol Channing continued to perform late into her life. In one of her final Hello Dolly performances, Carol Channing had to do the entire musical while onstage in a wheelchair. Her performance was still terrific and the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Unlike many other celebrities Carol Channing never let her success go to her head and was always willing to make fun of herself. She once performed a duet of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend with Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

Carol Channing performs "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" with Miss Piggy on The Muppets
Carol Channing performs “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” with Miss Piggy on The Muppets

Carol Channing died on January 15, 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday. Thousands of fans throughout the world remember her for her movie and stage work. However, I will always remember Carol Channing for the smile and laugh she shared just with me.

I always found it odd that Carol Channing said , “thanks for remembering”, like somehow the word had forgotten her. There is no chance that fans will ever forget the vibrant unique talent of Carol Channing.

Be sure to read The Real Dick Clark

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Traitors – Spies, Sex & Murder in Post- World War II London

Traitors on Netflix is a perfect spy series where sex, murder and lies are all part of the great game of world espionage. Emma Appleton stars as Feef Symonds a beautiful upper-class young British woman who is recruited by the Americans to spy on her own government. Seduced by the excitement, Feef soon learns that her actions can end the lives of real people, including herself.

Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in "Traitors"
Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in “Traitors”

Michael Stuhlbarg is the American spymaster Rowe, who is a zealot about destroying the beginnings of Communism in the U.K. Rowe is convinced that the new British Socialist government was put into power by the Russians and is being controlled by them.  Rowe is so intense in his beliefs that we are never sure if he is a strategic genius or a dangerous lunatic.

Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in "Traitors"
Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in “Traitors”

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson, Rowe’s American colored driver. (The term African-American did not yet exist). Jackson’s only goal is to earn as much money as he can and Rowe has access to cash. For envelopes full of money, Jackson will silently eliminate problems, or even bodies. As the series progresses, however, we see that Jackson is much more complex than people realize. His greatest asset in the spy world is that everyone underestimates him.

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in "Traitors"
Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in “Traitors”

A communist threat in post war England was not just something Americans imagined. The Soviet Union was determined to spread its workers revolt worldwide.

Traitors was a joint collaboration between Netflix and U.K. Channel 4, and the British slant really shows. In fact, that is the one part of the series that gets to be a little too much. The Americans are crude violent zealots, while the British, even the British Communists, are multifaceted and sensitive.

Traitors glosses over why the Americans ran their own intelligence operations without consulting the British. It is a historic fact that during this time period any secrets the Americans told the U.K. government immediately found their way to the Soviet Union. The American OSS was not being paranoid when it decided to spy on the U.K. government to stop the leaks.

In real life, it was British class arrogance that allowed the U.K. government to become infiltrated by Communists. The British took it for granted that members of the upper classes who had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge would naturally be completely loyal to The Crown.

"Kim" Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class
“Kim” Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class

In fact, the Soviet Union had cleverly recruited to Communism students who were from “the best” families in England, and who would be well placed in government after graduation. The most successful of these was Kim Philby who was actually working for the Soviet Union while he was head of all counterintelligence in the U.K. He was not discovered until 1963, and even then escaped to the Soviet Union before British Authorities could arrest him.

Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in 'Traitors"
Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in ‘Traitors”

Traitors ignores these historic facts, but Traitors is not trying to be a historical documentary. Traitors is an exciting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat trying to guess who is really a traitor, and who is just an innocent victim. Emma Appleton is perfect as the sensuous, fragile yet dangerous Feef. Keeley Hawes is wonderful as Priscilla, a high ranking government bureaucrat who feels that women must downplay and hide their own sexuality in order to rise through the ranks in a government dominated by men.

Like all great spy stories, Traitors has plots within plots and people are never exactly who they seem. This combined with the action, eroticism and mystery make it a “must-see series.”

We rate Traitors Five Stars *****

Read – Will Season 3 of The Crown Dare Mention Northern Ireland?

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My Mother was A World War II Codebreaker

My mother was a naval counterintelligence officer during World War II, something no one would have suspected of this tiny woman with bright dyed-blond hair. (Her whole life she insisted that the hair color was natural). 

America was in World War II when Elsie White graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University. She immediately joined the Navy and after a 3 month training course was commissioned an Ensign. Regular Navy officers derisively called these new Ensigns the “90 day wonders”.

Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II
Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II

Elsie did not start her military career with an exciting assignment. Like most women who joined up, she was relegated to back-office work. Elsie worked in New York City processing Navy payroll. That’s when she noticed something odd about a certain Admiral’s paycheck. It looked to her like the Navy was paying the Admiral the wrong amount. Her supervisors were not interested, but Elsie worked on her own time to research the back reports. Sure enough, Elsie was able to prove that the Navy had been under-paying the Admiral for years. The Navy owed the Admiral thousands of dollars, and Elsie saw to it that he was reimbursed in his next paycheck.

No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II
No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II

The Admiral took the time to find out who had discovered the error and gotten him his money. About a month later Elise received a formal invitation to join the Admiral and his officers for lunch aboard the Admiral’s ship.  It was a thrilling experience for Elise, but she never thought anything would come of it. The next day she was back at work in the payroll office.

But the Admiral had not forgotten about the tiny Ensign. The Admiral realized that someone as intelligent, detail oriented and persistent as Elsie would be perfect in the counterintelligence branch of the Navy.

A blurry old photo of Elsie White's commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943
A blurry old photo of Elsie White’s commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943

Soon Elsie was ensconced deep in the sub-basement of a building on Church Street in New York City. She was the newly appointed officer in charge of a team of Navy code breakers. Just to get to work was no small task. Two Marine guards checked ID’s at the entrance of the building. Two more Marines guarded the elevator to the sub-basement. In the sub-basement itself, 4 fully armed Marines stood ready

During one inspection, Elsie was given a formal reprimand for not wearing a fully loaded .45 caliber side-arm per regulations. She did not want to admit that she could barely lift the weapon, much less hold it out straight to aim at anyone.

Elsie may not have been proficient at combat, but she was good at solving puzzles, which is how she approached codes. While the British were busy cracking the German code and its Enigma machine, the Japanese codes presented a much different problem to the Americans. Instead of having 1 code, the Japanese had numerous codes which they changed continuously. Teams of Americans in the Pacific and in the U.S. were given stacks of Japanese codes to crack.

Elsie’s New York code breaking group was an odd assortment of misfits. Most were quiet introverts and a few were alcoholics who smuggled flask bottles of gin into the underground lair. The Navy tolerated all these oddballs, as long and they broke codes. And break codes they did.

Elsie recalled one mousy woman who worked at a back desk and had never spoken to anyone in the unit. One night the mousy woman came up to Elsie and whispered in an respectful tone, “I am sorry to disturb you Ensign, but I think I just broke this code.” It turned out that the little mouse had, in fact, broken the code.

No one knew of Elsie’s wartime adventures until 20 years after World War II had ended. That’s how long all Navy officers in code breaking units were required to keep silent about their duties. As far as most people knew, she had been processing payrolls her whole time in the Navy.

The other day I walked by the office building on Church Street in New York which had once been the site of the secret Navy code breaking unit. Nothing from its outward appearance would every lead anyone to guess its secret past. Much in the same way, no one would ever have guessed that Elsie White Farrell, the tiny blonde mom in her blue Buick station wagon had once worked in the sub-basement serving her country during war.

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“Billions” uses The Holocaust as a joke. This is a disgrace.

In its Chickentown episode, Billions uses The Holocaust as a trivial punchline to refer to the  killing of chickens. It is disgraceful that the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is so trivialized that it is compared to the death of chickens. Has American culture really gotten to the point where anything, no matter how horrible, is simply fodder for stupid humor?

Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103
Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for “scientific” experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103

It is bad enough that the United States has growing numbers of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who insist that The Holocaust never actually happened. This Billions episode may indicate that there are even more people who know The Holocaust happened, but simply don’t care. Sadly there has been no protest against Billions. The only fan reaction on the internet was that the Billions Chickentown episode was not very good compared to the normal high quality of Billions.

Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.
Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.

In the Billions Chickentown episode, trader “Dollar Bill” (played by the aptly named Kelly AuCoin) needs chicken prices to rise or Axe Capital will lose a fortune. However, there is an oversupply of chickens and the price is going to plummet. Dollar Bill calls Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and announces he has found a “final solution” to the overabundance of chickens. After the phone call Bobby asks, “Did he just say what I think he said? Is he talking about a Chicken Holocaust?”

Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.
Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.

Sure enough, Dollar Bill’s plan is to smuggle a diseased chicken into the stock of healthy chickens, thereby poisoning thousands of birds. Bobby Axelrod ends this idiotic idea. The entire episode was not very good and the comic use of the word Holocaust by the Jewish Bobby Axelrod does not ring true.

Damian Lewis as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, "The Wrong Maria Gonzalez"). - Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg
Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, “The Wrong Maria Gonzalez”). – Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME – Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg

We hope that in the future Billions goes back to its usual superb writing and does not trivialize something as tragic in human history as The Holocaust.

The Inventor – Out for blood in Silicon Valley

The Inventor – out for blood in Silicon Valley – is a fascinating HBO documentary about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the scam artist who was once praised on the cover of Fortune Magazine as the next Steve Jobs. In addition to losing millions of dollars of investor’s money, Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, actually put people’s lives at risk by marketing a blood testing machine that gave false results to patients.

Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.
Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.

Elizabeth Holmes is a type of genius. She was able to identify a real problem in the healthcare system that people desperately wanted fixed, and she offered them a solution. Anyone who has ever had a blood test knows that they are expensive and that the technicians take large quantities of blood from a vein to do even a simple test. Consequently many people risk their own health by avoiding blood tests completely.

Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes
Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes claimed she had invented a machine that could perform 200 blood tests with a single drop of blood, at a fraction of the cost that Quest or LabCorp charged. It was a revolution in the medical field.

The Theranos blood testing machine
The Theranos blood testing machine

However, the real genius of Elizabeth Holmes was her ability to promote herself. She was especially adept at attracting the attention of older, powerful men. Former Secretary of State George Schultz, was one of her most ardent supporters.

Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.
Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.

Elizabeth Holmes has incredibly huge blue eyes, porcelain pale skin, a husky voice with an intense manner of speaking. She always dresses in black, trying to present herself as the female Steve Jobs. All of this enabled Elizabeth Holmes to attract a cult-like following of employees and investors.

Theranos was set up in Silicon Valley and the company got to work building the blood testing machine. It was beautiful. The only problem was that after millions of dollars and thousands of hours of testing, the doctors, engineers and computer scientists could not get the machine to work properly. Tests were wrong, blood got spilled, machine parts broke.

The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion
The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion

Elizabeth Holmes reported none of this to her investors. In fact, she stated that the machines worked perfectly. They were put in place in Walgreens stores and blood tests were begun on real patients.

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a fascinating study of the whole disaster. Elizabeth Holmes is not presented as an evil character, but as a complex, possibly mentally unbalanced semi-genius who actually believes her own lies. It seems she truly thought that if she said something enough, it could actual happen.

Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos
Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos

Ironically it was Tyler Schultz, the grandson of Charles Schultz, who brought down Theranos. By that time the Silicon Valley start-up was valued at more than $6 billion and Tyler Schultz worked in the labs. He saw that Theranos was giving false medical information to patients. False data that could possibly result in a patient death. Tyler Schultz along with fellow lab worker Erika Cheung became whistle blowers. Tyler went to the Wall Street Journal and Erika to the Food and Drug Administration.

They were both immediately sued and put through Hell by Theranos lawyers. Legal fees for Tyler Schultz were over $500,000. His parents had to drain their personal savings and mortgage their house to help him pay the legal fees. Tyler’s grandfather, former Secretary of State Charles Schultz to this day, still believes that Elizabeth Holmes is an honest woman.

Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune
Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley shows the dangers of blindly believing in the hype of every wannabe tech genius. Just wearing black clothes and having a flashy presentation does not make someone a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

In the end Theranos want bankrupt and all the employees lost their jobs. The investors lost all their money and Elizabeth Holmes and other executives are being sued. The only good news is that no one got killed by the Theranos “miracle” machine. As my grandfather used to say, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

We rate The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley 5 Stars *****

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The Peek A Boo Cat

At an early Spring cookout, Susan recently lost a game of Peek A Boo with a large Ragdoll cat.  The Ragdoll showed up at the picnic table and sat at a bench across from Susan, just like he was a person invited to the cookout. Ragdoll looked at Susan lovingly with his deep blue eyes and gave a gentle meow. He moved his head whenever Susan moved hers, mimicking her every motion.

The Peek-a-Boo Cat
The Peek-a-Boo Cat

Susan decided to see if she could teach the cat to play Peek A Boo. Susan looked under the table, and the Ragdoll cat looked under the table. Susan then looked over the table and Ragdoll looked at Susan over the table. The 13 pound black-and-white kitty had instantly mastered the game of Peek A Boo as well as any toddler.

Susan once again looked under the table and the cat looked under the table. Susan looked over the table and Ragdoll kitty looked over the table. Susan then looked under the table and the kitty made his move.

The rule of cats is "Love them. Respect Them. Never, ever trust them."
The rule of cats is “Love them. Respect Them. Never, ever trust them.”

While Susan was looking under the table, the Ragdoll took advantage of the fact that Susan’s eyes were not on the picnic table. The cat jumped up on the table and snatched Susan’s grilled chicken off her plate. Carrying the chicken in its mouth, the Ragdoll cat sprinted off to the woods, at an amazingly fast speed considering the cat’s large size.

Susan had forgotten the prime rule of dealing with cats. “Love them. Respect them. Never ever trust them.”

Too tempting for the Peek-a-Boo cat.
Too tempting for the Peek-a-Boo cat.

Twenty minutes later, the Ragdoll cat emerged from the woods and jumped up onto the bench next to Susan. The cat purred loudly and rubbed his head gently against Susan. Kitty was a gracious winner in the game of Peek- A Boo.

Born in East LA – Cheech Marin’s 1987 Comedy about Immigration

Born in East LAis a 31 year-old comedy about the Mexican Border that feels like it was filmed today.  Cheech Marin is Rudy, and American-born Los Angeles native, who gets thrown out of the United States simply because he looks Mexican. 

Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in “Born in East LA”

Rudy has to pick up someone at a factory near the border and he mistakenly leaves his wallet at home. The factory is raided by immigration agents and Rudy is arrested with all the Mexicans. Since he has no identification and can’t reach his mother or sister by phone, he is put on the bus back to Mexico with the rest of the factory workers.

Daniel Stern in" Born in East LA"
Daniel Stern in” Born in East LA”

 Once in Mexico, Rudy’s troubles are just beginning. Rudy speaks no Spanish, and without his wallet he has no money or identification. Rudy ends up working for Jimmy (Daniel Stern), a sleazy American who owns a bar and pool hall in Tijuana. If Rudy can earn enough money, he will be able to pay a “coyote” to sneak him across the border back to LA.

Born in East LA is played for laughs, but it has a serious side to it as well. Rudy falls in love with Dolores, (Kamala Lopez) who is working 3 jobs 7 days a week, also trying to earn enough money to come to America.

The acting in Born in East LA is terrific. Cheech Marin shows a more serious side than in most of his films. Kamala Lopez is great as the hard –working but vulnerable Dolores. Daniel Stern brings a wonderful complexity to the role of Jimmy, who himself is lonely and trapped in Mexico.

Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in “Born in East LA”

Of course, being a Cheech Marin film, there is also a lot of comedy. One of the jobs Rudy gets in Mexico is teaching people how to “fit in” when the get to LA, and not look like immigrants. He does this by showing them how to speak very loudly, use a lot of slang and walk with an arrogant swagger.

Neith Hunter in "Born in East LA"
Neith Hunter in “Born in East LA”

Neith Hunter has a short but memorable part as Marcie, an incredibly sexy woman walking through East Los Angeles to Rudy’s garage. When Rudy can’t find her he goes to the local park and asks, “Hey – has anyone seen a girl with red hair in a green dress?” Every male in the park immediately points in the direction Marcie was walking.

In 31 years not much has changed in the strange relationship between the American economy and its illegal Mexican workforce. In Born in East LA, 100% of the factory’s production workers are illegal immigrants. After the Immigration raid, the factory has to close for the day. On the deportation bus to Mexico, Rudy asks one of the Mexican’s what happens next. With a bored look, the Mexican replies, “Once we get to Mexico, we figure out a way to come back in time for work on Monday.”

Stanley Kubrick Predicted why the Boeing 737 Max kills people.

The crashes of the Boeing 737 Max jet were predicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. In the film, HAL the computer comes to believe that the humans on board are a danger to the mission, and begins killing them. Unlike HAL, The computer system on the Boeing 737 Max is not purposely killing people, but it does believe that human beings are dangerous to the success of the mission. Consequently, the automatic pilot on the Boeing 737 Max ignores the commands of the pilots and even overrides them.

Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

The Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes both took place when the computer system of the Boeing 737 Max forced the plane to dive into the ground while the pilots were desperately using all their strength to try to get the plane to climb. The computer ignored the climb commands and people died.

Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Boeing initially stated there was no problem with the 737 Max, and later came out and admitted that a “slight software fix” might be requited. This understatement reminds us of what HAL the computer said in 2001: A Space Odyssey after it killed all but 1 person on the spaceship.

“I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do.”

Somehow we can picture the automatic pilot system of the Boeing 737 Max making the same statement.

The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max
The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max

Poor Pilot Training is another issue that Boeing management has blamed for the crash. They are partially right about that. We previously pointed out the lack of pilot training in our post 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid To Fly. However, the biggest problem with the automatic pilot system on the Boeing 737 Max is that it is a hugely complex procedure just to turn the thing off.

The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.

Any factory manager knows that one of the keys to safety is to have a highly visible and easy -to-use Kill Switch located next to any machine that might malfunction. There is no Kill Switch to turn off a malfunctioning autopilot on the Boeing 737 Max. Pilots must execute a complex set of computer commands to turn the system off, even if the autopilot is flying the plane into the ground. If the pilots are not experts in these programming steps, there is no way for them to take back control of the aircraft.

Airplane designers know less than they think they do.
Airplane designers know less than they think they do.

The fact that you should never turn human control 100% over to computers has been a standard warning in science fiction books and films for decades. The Terminator, War Games, I Robot and countless others have focused on the unintended consequences of ceding control to machines. Yet Boeing, Airbus and other jet manufactures are working to steadily make pilots unnecessary. Some airlines have been pushing the FAA for rules to take the first step by eliminating rules requiring a copilot.

Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?
Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?

On the ground things are no better. Google is working on developing a driver-less tractor trailer. Imagine an 80,000 pound tractor trailer loaded with dangerous chemicals roaring down the highway with no driver. What could possibly go wrong?

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 speculation about malfunctioning computers causing human deaths was an interesting futuristic speculation. Now is is all too real.

Read our article. 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid to Fly

Read The Chemical 9/11

Read Dusty Cars – a 9/11 Story

I Think We’re Alone Now – Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning’s Independent Film

I Think We’re Alone Now stars Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning as two lonely people caught in a world where everyone else has suddenly died from a mysterious illness. Trapped together, they must learn to cope with the new reality.

Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning joke around on the set of I Think We're Alone Now.
Peter Dinklage & Elle Fanning joke around on the set of I Think We’re Alone Now.

Peter Dinklage is Del, a library worker from a small town in the Northwest. Alone in the town where everyone else has died, Del lives a Zen-like existence, caring for the town and preserving the memories of the people.

Peter Dinklage in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Peter Dinklage in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

One by one, Del goes to each house in town, removes and buries the bodies, cleans the house and retrieves any personal photographs. Del then brings the photos back to the library and careful catalogues them. Why he does this is never exactly clear. However, it appears that he is trying to form a connection with the townspeople that he never really had when they were alive.

Elle Fanning & Peter Dinklage in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Elle Fanning & Peter Dinklage in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Del’s routing is shattered by the arrival of a feisty young woman named Grace (Elle Fanning). Del should be thrilled to find another human being, yet he does not quite trust Grace. She is very reticent about saying anything about where she came from, or what is going on in the world beyond the little town. All we know is that she has strange scars on her neck which she uses her long hair to hide from Del.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Despite their differences, Del and Grace come to depend on each other and slowly share their feelings. At one point, Grace asks Del if he was lonely in the town by himself. Del responds that he was more lonely when the town was completely full of living people and yet he was completely alone. (Who among us has not had that feeling of despair while being alone in a crowd of happy people?)

Paul Giamatti is Patrick in "I Think We're Alone Now."
Paul Giamatti is Patrick in “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

I Think We’re Alone Now is a great independent film with a surprise ending. There are only 4 actors in I Think We’re Alone Now, yet the acting is so good that the movie is riveting.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Violet and Paul Giamatti is Patrick. To say who they are or how they appear in the film would be giving away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that Charlotte Gainsbourg and Paul Giamatti both give superb performances.

We give I Think We’re Alone Now the highest rating of Five Stars *****
Be sure to read all stories about Peter Dinklage

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Modern Farmer- What Baby Boomers watched before cartoons

Modern Farmer is the T.V. show that taught Baby Boomers from the cities and suburbs all they ever learned about farming. Modern Farmer was on at 6:30 am Saturday mornings and the cartoons did not begin until 7AM. Kids sat through Modern Farmer because they did not want to take a chance of missing even a second of the precious Saturday cartoons.

Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.
Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.

When Baby Boomers were kids there was no way to instantly get a cartoon. No “on demand” channels, no VCRs or DVDs. Not even an internet. If you missed a cartoon you wanted to see, you had missed it forever.

Therefore, Baby Boomers got up extra early every Saturday and watched Modern Farmer while waiting for the cartoons. Modern Farmer was not a cartoon, and was not even a kids’ show. It was a public service documentary designed to instruct farmers about all the most recent technological advances in American Farming. Modern Farming showed how harvesters and combines worked. It demonstrated the importance of rotating crops, and the most efficient methods of irrigation. It had films of real American farms producing the vast supply of food that is one of the country’s greatest strengths.

Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from
Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from

Modern Farming was not designed to be a show to teach kids, but teach kids it did. Children have amazing absorbent minds, and millions of children throughout the United States learned about farming while waiting for cartoons.

Ironically, I remember a lot more about Modern Farming than I do about the Saturday cartoons. To this day, I have a tremendous respect for American farmers and the complexity of their profession, all thanks to Modern Farmer.

The impact of Modern Farmer should have lessons for today’s T.V. producers. Children are much smarter than producer think, and kids have an amazing capacity to learn. Teaching them something worthwhile is up to us.

So what ever happened to Modern Farmer? It actually never went away. Various versions of the show are popular throughout the world. German Farmer, Japanese Farmer and Korean Farmer have all been made.

Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.
Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.

There are even many video farming games where kids can get a feel for how hard it is to run a farm.

Very few Baby Boomers ever became real farmers. Food production in the United States is so efficient that the number of farmers has been decreasing for decades. However, Modern Farmer did teach a whole generation of kids that food does not just magically appear on the table. It gave them an appreciation for a complex and fascinating world just a few miles away from the cities and suburbs.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic stories.

The Book of Answers – Information before Google.

Before Google existed, the fastest way to get an answer was to call the New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service. It has been operating 9 hours a day 6 days a week since 1968. The Book of Answers is a fascinating summary of the most interesting answers and questions fielded by the service.

The Book of Answers
The Book of Answers

Unlike Google or Wikipedia, the NY Public Library goes to great lengths to make sure that the answers they give are accurate. The Library’s answers are not influenced by what most people “think” the answer should be. What goes into Google or Wikipedia is not the truth, but rather what Stephen Colbert refers to as truthiness. That is, something that people think is true because it sounds true.

What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?
What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?

The Book of Answers has a section devoted to correcting misconceptions people have on a number if items. These include items such as:

  • Despite what most people believe Poinsettias are not poisonous.  Despite this fact every Christmas season every local T.V. station runs at least one story warning people about poisonous Poinsettias.
  • Panama Hats are not made in Panama. They are and have always been made in Ecuador.
  • Abraham Lincoln was not the first President born in a log cabin. Andrew Jackson was actually the first.
The New York Public Library's main Reading Room.
The New York Public Library’s main Reading Room.

There are also some fascinating but lesser known facts about a huge variety of subjects.

  • New Zealand was the first nation to give women the vote in 1893. Switzerland did not allow women to vote until 1971.
  • The most common color candy in a bag of M&Ms is Brown composing 30% of the candies. Red, Yellow are 20% each and Green, Orange & Tan are 10% each.
  • The covering on the end of a shoelace is an “aglet”.
  • The metal hoop that supports a lampshade is a “harp.”

The Book of Answers was written by Barbara Berliner with Melinda Corey and George Ochoa. The Book of Answers was published in 1990 at which time Barbara Berliner was the head of the New York Public Library’s Telephone Reference Service.  It is nice to know that despite Google and Wikipedia, this service still exists.  

Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.
Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.

There strict rules the Reference librarians must follow before they can answer any questions. There are:

  • Librarians are not allowed to guess about any answers. They must have a verified source for the answer or else truthfully state that the answer is “We don’t know”. In that case the library will try to find the answer and call you back at a later time.
  • Librarians will not give you the answers to any contest that is still open. In other words, you can’t use them to cheat on a quiz show or radio contest.
  • They won’t give you the answer to the impossible questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” or “why does anyone watch The Kardashians?

You can still find this little gem of a book on Amazon, and it is a lot of fun to browse through. After all, in this confusing world don’t we all really need to have “The Book of Answers?”

Be sure to rad What’s New On The Blog.

See all our Book Reviews

The Green Book – a feel-good movie but a complete lie

The Green Book is a “feel good” movie that also happens to be a complete lie about race relations in America. It is supposedly the true story of pianist Don Shirley’s 1962 tour of the Deep South where he played for all-White audiences. Fearing for his safety, Don Shirley recruited tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga to be his chauffeur.  Though completely opposite personalities, they come to understand and respect each other, leading to a life-long friendship.

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in "The Green Book"
Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in “The Green Book”

Mahershala Ali is perfect as Don Shirley, as is Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip. The action is exciting and well filmed, and audiences leave the theater feeling uplifted. However, The Green Book has been widely criticized by African Americans, especially Spike Lee, because Hollywood’s portrayal of the 1962 tour does not match what really happened. Here is a list of the major flaws with The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.

Don Shirley was not playing for White Audiences in the South. It was a tour of historically African American colleges in the South and the audiences were African American. The whole scene of Shirley playing for rich White folks in a private home and then being told he could not use the bathroom never happened. It was a pivotal plot point in The Green Book but was a complete Hollywood fabrication.

Don Shirley
Don Shirley

Don Shirley was not estranged from his family. He had a close relationship with his siblings, nephews and nieces his entire life. Writers Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Peter Farrelly and Brian Currie are all White. They did not contact Shirley’s family while making The Green Book. Nick Vallelonga has openly admitted that he did not even know that any of Don Shirley’s family still existed. Instead, The Green Book portrays Don Shirley as a lonely, isolated man who is “saved” by being invited to dinner with the Vallelonga family. In fact, some members of Don Shirley’s family actually attended many of his concerts in the South.

Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.
Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.

The Green Book pretends that racial profiling by police officers only happens in the South. The Green Book has several scenes where Don and Tony are roughed up by Southern policemen who seem to automatically hate all African Americans or Italians. Then when they are returning home, as soon as they cross the Mason-Dixon Line the police become friendly helpers. A police officer points out that their rear tire is flat, and then stays with them to direct traffic around the car in a raging blizzard. Following the logic of The Green Book, relations between the police and the African American community in the Northern city of Chicago must be excellent.

Nick Vallelonga
Nick Vallelonga

The Green Book gives the impression that racial tensions are somehow relegated to the past. After all, the Deep South no longer has legalized segregation and even the police forces are now integrated. Most people today don’t even realize that there actually was something called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a guide to what hotels and dining establishments African American’s were allowed to use in the South. The fact that this legalized racism no longer exists makes audiences feel good about how much progress has been made.  Spike Lee has stated that The Green Book gives a false sense of progress, and is a feel-good movie on race relations designed for an old audience. Spike Lee may have a point. At the theater where we saw The Green Book, the average age of the audience was about 67.

Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in "The Green Book"
Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in “The Green Book”

The Green Book is a “White Savior” Story. Tony Lip has to teach Don Shirley how to stand up for himself and be tough. Time after time in The Green Book, Tony saves Don from problems brought about by Don’s timid nature, or his own stupidity of going places without bringing Tony along to protect him. This is repeated so often in the film that you begin to wonder how Don Shirley actually survived in the world before he met his White Protector. Hollywood has a long history of making “White Savior” films. These include The Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, and even To Kill a Mockingbird. The mark of a White Savior movie is that its focus is about how heroic the White person is to be helping the unfortunate African American who would be lost without the savior. The main star is the White character, with the African Americans playing only supporting roles.

This may be a little bit of a hard judgment for The Green Book. After all, Don Shirley is portrayed as being immensely more talented, educated and literate than Tony Lip. In fact, the most amusing parts of The Green Book are when Don Shirley helps the almost illiterate Tony write beautiful love letters to Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). Don Shirley’s letters are so elaborate and romantic that Dolores begins reading them to her jealous friends.

Tony "Lip" Vallelonga
Tony “Lip” Vallelonga

Overall, The Green Book is an enjoyable film to watch, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you are seeing an actual portrayal of history. We can’t help thinking that it would have been so much better if the writers had taken the time to fully research the events and get input from Don Shirley’s family. It is true that despite their different backgrounds Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga did become lifelong friends. It would be fascinating to know what really happened when the toured the Deep South 57 years ago.

The Thin Man movies – when drunks were funny

In 1934,  a “B” movie titled The Thin Man premiered. Audiences loved it so much, it spawned 5 Thin Man sequels which were given top  “A” billing. The Thin Man movies are still fun to watch, but the first thing modern viewers notice  is how much public attitudes towards alcohol changed, even during the course of the series.

William Powell & Myrna Loy in "The Thin Man"

William Powell & Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man”

William Powell stars as the heavy drinking private detective Nick Charles. He is helped in all his capers by his beautiful upper class wife Nora (Myrna Loy).  As The Thin Man series progresses, we learn that Nora fell in love with Nick partly because she found his world of crime and adventure so much more exciting than her sterile existence as a wealthy socialite.

The beautiful Myrna Loy

The beautiful Myrna Loy

Having people from different social classes fall in love was a popular theme in the 1930s. Most people today do not realize that Blondie was originally a showgirl (which is why she is so well-endowed). Dagwood came from a wealthy family, and it was considered shocking that he would actually marry such a “loose woman”. The Blondie comic strip first appeared in 1930 and Dagwood was disowned by his family when he married Blondie. He was forced to get a job for the first time in his life. That is why Dagwood is such an inept employee.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

 In The Thin Man movies, Nora is beautiful, intelligent and madly in love with Nick. They were a very modern couple for the 1930s. They treated each other as equals, solved crimes together and were never jealous.

Then there was the drinking. Nick is shown drinking in almost every scene of the original The Thin Man. It is considered an amusing quirk of his personality.

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

The 6 Thin Man movies went from 1934-1947, with Nick drinking less alcohol in each film until he eventually gives up drinking completely. Being a drunk was no longer socially acceptable in American society.

Still, The Thin Man movies are fun to watch and are very cleverly written. The finale of every Thin Man Movie is when Nick and Nora gather all the murder suspects into a single room and reveal exactly who the murderer is. This format has been followed in countless movies and T.V. shows ever since.

So for for some fun, watch The Thin Man movies and see a modern lovely couple solve crimes 84 years ago. And what the heck, have a few drinks while you watch.



The Orville fans demand “Bring Back Alara!” – did Halston Sage have an affair with Seth MacFarlane?

The Orville fans are furious that Alara (played by Halston Sage) left the show early in Season 2. Rumors are that she had an affair with creator Seth MacFarlane, and that when the affair ended Seth MacFarlane threw Halston Sage off The Orville.

Did Seth MacFarlane & Halston Sage have an affair?
Did Seth MacFarlane & Halston Sage have an affair?

Rumors of an affair between Seth MacFarlane and Halston Sage are ridiculous. The rumors started because Haltson Sage’s character (Alara) on The Orville has semi-romantic feelings for Seth MacFarlane’s character (Captain Ed Mercer). Somehow internet gossip took this plot line and turned it into a real affair between Seth McFarlane and Halston Sage.

Halston Sage as Alara on The Orville
Halston Sage as Alara on The Orville

However, internet rumors aside, we are unhappy about Halston Sage leaving The Orville. Alara was the most interesting person on The Orville crew.

Alara grew up on the planet Xelayan, whose gravity is many times that of Earth. Therefore, she is tremendously strong despite being a petite young woman. Shy and unassuming, Alara is uncomfortable with the fact that she has super strength compared to those around her. It causes particular issues in her love life, since the young men she dates just can’t get used to a girlfriend stronger then they are. That is why Alara falls for Captain Mercer, who is completely self-assured and natural when interacting with Alara.

Jessica Szohr replaces Halston Sage in Season 2 of The Orville
Jessica Szohr replaces Halston Sage in Season 2 of The Orville

In Season 2 of The Orville, Haslton Sage is replaced by Jessica Szhor, who plays Talla, another Xelayan. Unfortunately, the Talla character is just not as interesting as Alara. Talla is brash and almost arrogant about her super-strength. It makes for a much less interesting plot line.

We are hoping that all of this is just a prelude for Halston Sage returning to The Orville as Alara in another capacity. With the current Me Too Movement it might have seemed inappropriate for the Captain of The Orville to have a romantic relationship with a young female junior officer under his command.

The Orville fans want Halston Sage back
The Orville fans want Halston Sage back

Perhaps Alara will return to The Orville as an ambassador from her home planet. In this way she would no longer be under the command of Captain Mercer and they would be free to finally act on their feelings for each other.

In any case, we at East Coast Stories are big fans of Halston Sage. We join the growing group of people shouting to the writers of The Orville “Bring Back Alara”!

Read – Alara comes back to The Orville – but it is only a tease

Be sure to read all our T.V. & Movie reviews.

Mary Shelley – the sad story of the woman who wrote Frankenstein

Mary Shelley stars Elle Fanning as the woman who wrote Frankenstein in 1816 when she was only 18 years old. The first addition of Frankenstein in 1818 was published anonymously, since the publisher did not believe the public would take a female author seriously.

Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in "Mary Shelley"
Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in “Mary Shelley”

Women in 1818 were supposed to admire great works of literature, not actually write any. Lord Byron (excellently played by Tom Sturridge) openly admits that he wants the women in his life to be intelligent enough to see how clever he is, but not so smart as to be able to challenge any of his ideas.

Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of "Frankenstein"
Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of “Frankenstein”

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin to a radical literary family, Mary had an unusual upbringing to say the least. Her mother had been an outspoken feminist who died shortly after Mary was born. Mary’s father William (played by Stephen Dillane) educated Mary and her half-sister Claire (Bel Powley) in English literature, Greek and Latin.

Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Storridge in "Mary Shelley"
Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Sturridge in “Mary Shelley”

However, just being an intellectual does not pay the bills or put food on the table. At the age of 16 Mary runs off with the 21 year old Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). It is obvious to anyone but a 16 year old that Percy is what today we would call a poser and a lech. Percy Shelley is already married, and makes almost no money from his poems. He lives entirely on his father’s money, and when his father cuts him off, Mary and Percy are impoverished. To make matters worse, Mary’s younger half sister Claire has also run off with them and become the under aged mistress of Lord Byron.

The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly's name as the author.
The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly’s name as the author.

Mary Shelley is a excellent film, and shows how the monster in Frankenstein was the manifestation of all the miseries in Mary’s existence brought to life. By the age of 18 Mary had known more sorrow than most people ever have to face in a lifetime. Mary Godwin had been treated horribly by a man she trusted, lived in poverty and had her beautiful baby die.

Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of "Mary Shelley"
Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of “Mary Shelley”

The “monster” in Frankenstein was actually Mary Goodwin herself. From the moment the monster is born it is treated badly. It searches for love and kindness and instead is met with violence and misunderstanding.

The film Mary Shelley somehow did not get much attention when it was released, but is well worth watching. It is a psychological drama that is also an excellent “period piece”. Elle Fanning is perfect as Mary Shelley, with a combination of intelligence, vulnerability and iron will. Once you see the film Mary Shelley it will change your view of Frankenstein forever.

We Rate Mary Shelley 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our movie reviews.

Read about Elle Fanning in The Beguiled -Civil War Sex but no slaves.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – a fun French Comedy

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) is a wonderful French television comedy series now showing on Netflix. ASK is a Paris talent agency, struggling to make money while managing the careers, insecurities and giant egos of the actors they represent. Each of the characters is unique and interesting. It is great to see a series that is not about cops, lawyers or doctors. Call My Agent is broadcast in the original French with English subtitles. This is much better than if Netflix had dubbed the series. It allows us to hear the real voices and French is such a beautiful and expressive language. (Of course, the correct translation of Dix Pour Cent is “Ten Percent” not “Call My Agent”. Ten Percent refers to the fee talent agencies take for managing actors’ careers.

Liliane Rovere, Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert & Gregory Montel in "Call My Agent" (Dix Pour Cent).
Liliane Rovere, Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert & Gregory Montel in “Call My Agent” (Dix Pour Cent).

The agents at ASK each have unique personalities and completely different methods for handling their clients.Mathias (played by Thibault de Montalembert) is all business and at first seems completely motivated by money. He is very smooth but completely insincere. But there is a hidden side to Mathias, who has a very complex personal life.

Fanny Sidney & Cecile de France in "Call My Agent" (Dix Pour Cent).
Fanny Sidney & Cecile de France in “Call My Agent” (Dix Pour Cent).

Agent Gabriel (Gregory Montel) is the exact opposite. Gabriel truly cares for the well-being of his clients, which makes life very difficult for Gabriel. His great weakness is that he has a tendency to fall madly in love with every actress he represents.

In the opening episode, Gabriel’s premier client Cecile de France is excited that she will be the lead actress in an American Western directed by Quentin Tarantino. She has been taking English lessons and even horseback riding lessons to prepare for the part. Then Gabriel receives devastating news. Tarantino has decided not to cast Cecile de France because she is too old. It becomes Gabriel’s job to find a way to tell a beautiful, talented, dynamic woman that she is now considered “too old”.

Camille Cottin is Andre in "Call My Agent" (Dix Pour Cent).
Camille Cottin is Andre in “Call My Agent” (Dix Pour Cent).

Andrea (Camille Cottin) is a passionate, excitable force at the agency. She wants ASK to be more than a money-making machine. She wants her clients be part of great films they will all be proud of. Andrea also happens to be best friends with Gabriel. Together they must often team up to thwart the plans of Mathias, who cares nothing for integrity or the clients. Sexually, Andrea prefers the company of women. This creates a problems when the government tax auditor comes to review ASK’s books. It turns out the woman is someone whose advances Andrea had once spurned.

Liliiane (Arlette Azemar) is the oldest agent, and has been around the film business forever. Liliane has seen it all before and consequently does not get as upset at small setbacks as the young partners do. Lovingly referred to as the “Old Lady” of the firm, Liliane takes a more relaxed attitude, and even brings her little dog to work each day. Liliane has also been around long enough to know all the secrets of everyone in the French film industry.

Laure Calamy is Naomie in "Call My Agent" (Dix pour Cent)
Laure Calamy is Naomie in “Call My Agent” (Dix pour Cent)

The agent’s personal assistants in Call My Agent also each have their own story lines. Fanny Sidney is Camille, who is secretly the illegitimate daughter of one of the firm’s partners. Laure Calamy is Noemie who tries to hide the fact that she is desperately in love with Mathias. Nicholas Maury is Herve, who endangers the firm’s reputation by showing confidential movie scripts to a deliveryman he is trying to pick up.

Stefi Celma is Sofia in "Call My Agent" (Dix pour Cent).
Stefi Celma is Sofia in “Call My Agent” (Dix pour Cent).

Steli Celma is Sofia, the firm’s receptionist, who is also an actress, and Gabriel agrees to be her agent. Sofia is of mixed race, and Gabriel soon finds that racial prejudice is rampant in the French film industry. Directors openly tell him that Sofia is “too dark” for most roles but “not black enough” for others.

Nicholas Maury is Herve in "Call My Agent" (Dix Pour Cent)
Nicholas Maury is Herve in “Call My Agent” (Dix Pour Cent)

Call My Agent is a terrific series where you truly care about each character. You may find yourself binge-watching it.

We give Call My Agent 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our T.V. & Movie Reviews.

Everything Wrong With “The Deuce” – Sex, Corruption & Money in NYC 1971-1978

The Deuce is the HBO series that is supposed to be a realistic look at 42nd street in the 1970s. While fun to watch, it has a lot of factual errors that make it more fantasy than reality. Here are just a few of the errors:

The prostitutes in The Deuce are too beautiful, too clean and too well spoken. Movie and T.V. producers have a long history of glamorizing prostitution. The most extreme example of this was Julia Roberts as a Street Walker in Pretty Woman. Her character was gorgeous, well-spoken and had no pimp,  drug addictions or venereal diseases. The Deuce on the other hand, pretends to portray the “dark side” of prostitution but has been cleaned things up so much that it makes the business look exciting instead of disgusting. Like many so called “gritty” shows about prostitutes, The Deuce could not resist showing beautiful naked women as often as possible. Consequently, The Deuce, ends up sanitizing the entire business of the virtual enslavement of young women as sex workers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Deuce".
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Deuce”.

The Deuce pretends that violent crime in New York was limited to 42nd Street. Season 1 of The Deuce takes place from 1971-1972. Season 2 of The Deuce happens in 1977-1978.  In those time periods, violent crime was rampant throughout New York City. In 1972 there were 2,026 murders in New York City compared to 290 in 2017. In other words, the murder rate in NYC during the time of The Deuce was almost 600% higher than it is now! Anyone watching The Deuce would think that crime on 42nd street was completely due to lazy and corrupt cops. In fact, the NYC police force in the 1970s was simply overwhelmed by crime in every neighborhood in New York.

Times Square 1970s
Times Square 1970s

The real reason the Mafia was interested in X-Rated movies is never mentioned in The Deuce. The Mafia actually did not care if X-rated films were profitable or not. For the Mafia, the most important aspect of companies making X-rated movies is that they were legal businesses that could file tax returns. The Mob needed someplace to hide all the profits from their illegal businesses. Organized crime bosses feared the IRS more than anything else. The Mafia bosses needed “legitimate business interests” that could explain how they afforded their cars, homes, boats and mistresses. The X-rated film industry provided the perfect cover. That is why in 1972 the X-Rated Deep Throat declared on tax returns gross box office sales of $600 million. In that same year The Godfather took in box office receipts of $133 million. No one knows how much the real box office sales were for Deep Throat. The $600 million figure was a way for the Mob to legally declare its income from drugs, gambling, extortion and prostitution.

Did "Deep Throat" really make more money than "The Godfather?"
Did “Deep Throat” really make more money than “The Godfather?”

The Deuce pretends that Mafia involvement in the porn industry is limited to New York City. At the end of Season 2 of the The Deuce, two of the main characters escape the grip of Organized Crime by simply going to California.  Ex-prostitute, turned porn star Lori (Emily Meade), begins a beautiful new life in the Sunshine of Los Angeles. Wearing a lovely white dress, she steps out of the airport into the arms of her rich, handsome, sports car-driving new boyfriend. By leaving New York Lori has escaped cold, dirt, her pimp, and the Mob. It is an idiotic ending. Emily Meade, of course, is also one of the actresses who is far too beautiful to be playing a street prostitute. Her character also has no drug problem or STDs. Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is able to get Mob-free financing from an investor in California.

Emily Meade in "The Deuce"
Emily Meade in “The Deuce”

Eileen also has a happy California ending. Her first X-rated production (Red) was almost completely Mafia financed and as a result she got almost no profit from it. (Mainly because her idiot producer, played by James Franco, sold more than 100% of the movie to 2 different Mafia Capos.)

James Franco in "The Deuce".
James Franco in “The Deuce”.

However, at the end of Season 2 of The Deuce it is implied that Eileen will be able to get future “clean” money from California investors. She will continue to make the films in New York, but the money will come from legitimate California sources.  This scenario is absurd. People in Mafia-controlled businesses do not simply “walk away” and tell the mob bosses that they have found different investors. The 2 New York Capos who financed Red are certainly not going to let Eileen continue to make films in New York without their involvement.  Organized Crime is a world-wide phenomenon. The Deuce implying that the mob is not involved in the California porn industry is ridiculous.  By the way, all the Linda Lovelace scenes in Deep Throat were filmed in Florida.

Despite all its flaws, The Deuce is an interesting and well-acted series. People not old enough to have seen Times Square in the 1970s probably think The Deuce is making things look worse than they really were. In fact, The Deuce is considerably understating the sleaze and dirt of the old Times Square. In the 1970s no one would have believed that in the future Time Square would have been filled with tourists and their small children posing for photos with cartoon characters.

Times Square today
Times Square today

The Deuce  Season 3 is planned for this year. Apparently the time-line of The Deuce will jump to 1980s. This is when the combination of AIDS, cocaine-fueled gang violence and soaring real-estate prices kills or forces out of Times Square all the people who used to call it home. Season 3 of The Deuce will probably be rather depressing. The chance of gay bar owner Paul (Chris Coy) living through the AIDS epidemic seems very slight.

Chris Coy in "The Deuce."
Chris Coy in “The Deuce.”

Of course, the biggest change to the entire porn industry actually  occurred in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet. Once the internet really got going, no one ever had to physically venture out of the house to view porn. The difficult part now is trying to avoid pornographic images.  Prostitution and sex trafficking, of course, still exist but the internet has helped it become more hidden from the general public.

Finally, no one ever called 42nd Street “The Deuce”. It has always simply been known as” 42nd Street” or “Times Square”.

The Deuce does its best to try to recreate a time and place that many New Yorkers would rather just forget. The Deuce fails in  some aspects but is still an intriguing show.

Donald Trump to Marry Nancy Pelosi

Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi announced today that they are secret lovers, and that they will be married as soon as possible.  This means that President Trump needs to divorce Melania Trump, before he can make Nancy Pelosi his fourth wife. Ms. Pelosi will also need to divorce her husband Paul Pelosi.

President Trump tweeted today:


Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi announce their engagement.

Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi announce their engagement.

The Pinchbeck News first broke the story over the weekend forcing Trump & Pelosi to go public. Pinchbeck News Editor, Bog Brummagem revealed that the paper has received an explicit tape of naked Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi in the act of having “adult relations” in the back of the presidential limo. Speculation is that the Secret Service taped the episode as retaliation for not getting paid during the government shutdown.

When asked if he would make the tape available for public viewing, Editor Brummagem responded,

I just can’t do that to the American public. As Editor I had to sit through the whole tape, but I would not want to subject another human being to that. I am not sure I will ever fully recover.”

Melania & Donald Trump after announcing their divorce.

Melania & Donald Trump after announcing their divorce.

Psychologists have stated that having a sexual relationship develop between Trump and Pelosi is not as unusual as it might sound.  People of the opposite sex who work together in times of great stress often find themselves sexually attracted to each other; often unwillingly. This sexual attraction can be especially strong when the two people intensely dislike each other. The stress builds up continually and sex is the natural release. Even the two people involved find it hard to comprehend.

Secret lovers Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi .

Secret lovers Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi .

It has been a closely guarded secret in Washington that one of the main reasons for the long government shutdown was because Trump and Pelosi needed the shutdown as an excuse to keep seeing each other. They had actually worked out a compromise during their first meeting, but wanted a way to continue their romantic assignations.

Peolsi and Trump made the  announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, despite the freeing cold that left reporters shivering. Walking away the 2 lovers could be seen holding hands and blowing kisses to each other.

Asked how their different political philosophies would impact their personal relationship, Ms. Pelosi replies, “There will never be a barrier between us. That wall will just never get built.”

IO – Beauty & Courage on a post-apocalyptic Earth

IO on Netflix is the story of a young woman’s will to survive on Earth long after everyone else has fled to a space station orbiting Jupiter’s moon Io. Though technically a Science Fiction film, Io is more a psychological study of the personal choices  that make us who we are.  Margaret Qualley gives a perfect performance as “Sam” Walden, a research scientist trying to find a way for life to continue on Earth. She is carrying on the work of her father, Doctor Henry Walden (Danny Huston) who vocally tried to persuade people not to leave earth.

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in "Io".

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in “Io”.

The Earth has been ravaged by events that have left most of the atmosphere poisonous. Small pockets of clean air survive on mountaintops, one of which is where Sam has her laboratory.  She is trying to develop a vaccine which will allow animals and people to breathe the noxious air below. Every day she broadcasts on the radio her father’s speeches, just in case there is anyone left out there to listen. The sacrifice of her research is especially hard for Sam, since she has a boyfriend on the Io space station, who constantly sends messages to her.

Danny Huston in "Io".

Danny Huston in “Io”.

Out of the sky appears a balloon carrying Micha (Anthony Mackie), who has heard the broadcasts and has  come to meet Sam’s father. Micha tells her there is one last shuttle leaving for Io and that they could use the balloon to get to the shuttle. Of course, leaving would mean abandoning the research and giving up all hope of saving life on Earth.

Margaret Qualley in "Io".

Margaret Qualley in “Io”.

We loved this independent film, although Io only got a 42% favorable rating from Netflix viewers. Perhaps the low ratings were because Io has no fast action sequences or dramatic long speeches. There are just people trying to make decisions in situations no one should ever have to face. They are conflicted and unsure what to do, which is exactly how people would really behave in an emergency. There are only 3 actors in the entire movie, and yet they are able to hold our attention and have us care about them.

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Sam’s last name Walden, or course, refers to Henry David Thoreau’s book about the 2 years he spent living a simple lonely life in Walden Pond Massachusetts. Directed by Johnathan Helpert,  Io is able to capture the beautiful yet lonely existence of a completely independent life.

Io had similarities to Thoreau's "Walden"

Io had similarities to Thoreau’s “Walden”

“FYRE – The Greatest Party That Never Happened” – The Supermodel Scam

FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows the disastrous results when people blindly follow the advice of Kendall Jenner, Supermodels and other social media “Influencers.” The best thing that can be said of the 2017 Fyre Festival in The Bahamas is that nobody got killed or seriously injured. Rich Millennials paid thousands of dollars to attend an exclusive music festival on a private tropical island, where they would be served gourmet food, frolic with supermodels and sleep in luxury accommodations.

Supermodels promoting the Fyre Festival

Supermodels promoting the Fyre Festival

Fyre was supposed to be a Woodstock for arrogant wealthy posers who thought they were just too good to mingle with the unwashed masses who attend all those “non-exclusive” rock festivals. Over 3,000 bought tickets with the “VIP Package” costing as much as $12,000. They expected a time in poser Heaven.

The "gourmet food" served at FYRE

The “gourmet food” served at FYRE

What they got was a trip to Hell, with no music and no supermodels. The gourmet food was water and soggy cheese sandwiches. The luxury accommodations were rain-soaked mattresses inside ripped tents that looked like they belonged in a refugee camp. No electricity, no toilets, no transportation, no security, no medical facilities.   The Festival was cancelled after 1 day and no one got a refund.  People were forced to find their own way back to the airport and try to somehow get home.

The "Luxury accommodations" at the Fyre Festival

The “Luxury accommodations” at the Fyre Festival

The Netflix documentary, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows in fascinating detail exactly how all this happened.  It all began with internet promoter Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule.  They had zero experience in setting up a concert, but they were experts in internet promotion and raising money. They were able to get venture capitalists to invest millions of dollars just on the idea of Fyre.

Kendal Jenner received $250,000 to promote Fyre, while the Bahamian workers laborers never got paid

Kendal Jenner received $250,000 to promote Fyre, while the Bahamian workers laborers never got paid

The initial money was spent to fly Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Bella Hadid and other models to the Bahamas for a promotional shoot. Instead, it ended up being a wild multi-day party with no direction and very little filming.  Some of the professional models were astonished and even shocked. Paying for professional top models is very expensive. Consequently, these women are accustomed to doing very well organized,fast photo shoots that waste no time. Billy McFarland, on the other hand, was throwing away huge amounts of his investors’ money paying models just to play on the beach.

Ja Rule & Billy McFarland promoting the FYRE Festival

Ja Rule & Billy McFarland promoting the FYRE Festival

The promotional shoot should have been a tip off that Billy McFarland really didn’t know what he was doing, but the investors did not seem to notice. The models posted pictures of the beach party on their professional internet accounts, and talk of the upcoming Fyre Festival went viral. What people did not know was that the models and other internet “influencers” were being paid to continually send out postings to promote the festival.  Kendal Jenner was paid $250,000 just to talk about how great the Fyre Festival was going to be. None of the Influencers disclosed that they were being paid for these posts. In addition, there was an entire agency of paid internet professionals working day and night promoting the festival on-line.

(By the way, East Coast Stories never takes any money from anyone. If we give something a good review, it is because we actually liked it).

The FYRE logo was everywhere on social media before the disastrous festival

The FYRE logo was everywhere on social media before the disastrous festival

Investors thought Billy McFarland was a genius. The Fyre Festival sold out with over 3,000 tickets. The only problem was there was no festival. Everyone was working on doing the promotion and no one was actually setting up a festival. There was not enough money left to give people anything close to what had been promised. But the people hired by Billy McFarland tried.

Billy McFarland went to jail for the FYRE fraud.

Billy McFarland went to jail for the FYRE fraud.

Somehow, Billy McFarland was able to inspire a group of very dedicated hard working people to try to set up the physical project. In addition to the people who bought tickets to Fyre, many of the people who worked for the project got very hurt financially. Hundreds of Bahamian laborers spent weeks building stages and infrastructure and never got paid a penny. One local caterer ended up spending $50,000 of her own money to buy food supplies and  pay her workers. All her money was lost.

In the end, Billy McFarland went to jail for fraud and his investors lost all their money. How Ja Rule escaped going to jail is still a mystery. Most of  the people who worked on the project lost money, lost jobs and reputations. People who bought tickets to the festival went home with nothing and were happy to get away uninjured.

For one group, however the Fyre Festival was a complete success. That is the group of Supermodels and Internet influencers that started the whole hype to begin with. Models and internet influencers have learned long ago that, whatever the project, they are always selling a fantasy not reality.

Unlike those gullible enough to believe their posts, Supermodels and Influencers know the difference between the internet and real life. That’s why in real life they follow the motto, always get paid up-front, and don’t do any work until the check clears.”

Frozen Walt Disney, P&G Satan Worshipers &Pop Rocks Murder

Frozen Walt Disney, Proctor & Gamble Satan Worshipers and the Pop Rocks Murder of Mikey  are the the top 3 corporate rumors that never die. Here are the details.

Walt Disney’s Body is Frozen in stasis in a secret room in Epcot Center. He will be brought back to life once a cure for his lung cancer is found. The Disney family hates this rumor, but the more they deny it the more widespread it becomes. This rumor gets quite elaborate. Walt Disney wants to be brought back to life in the far future, when he will rule most of Florida as the benevolent head of a Utopian society.

Walt Disney wanted to create a perfect society.

Walt Disney wanted to create a perfect society.

This part of the rumor originated from the fact that Walt Disney did want Disney World and Epcot center to become more than just amusements parks. Disney wanted Disney World and Epcot Center to be just small parts of a wonderful planned community, with excellent schools and housing, good jobs and happy people. Walt Disney was a believer in the possibility of a Utopian society, but he did not want to be the dictator of it.

Is Walt Disney frozen under Epcot Center?

Is Walt Disney frozen under Epcot Center?

Proctor & Gamble is run by Satan worshipers. For 140 years, Proctor & Gamble’s corporate logo had been a Man in the Moon, looking at stars. No one paid any attention to this until 1980 when, for reasons unknown, people began to take a close look at the symbol. The P&L logo did, in fact, have a number of aspects that looked amazingly Satanic.

Is P&G's old Logo Satanic?

Is P&G’s old Logo Satanic?

The Man in the Moon appears to have a horn on the top of his head and at the bottom of his face. There are also what appears to be an inverted 666 hidden in the beard.  Certain Christian groups began boycotting P&G products. The rumors grew and grew and became even more specific. Rumors surfaced that the President of P&G had appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show and Phil Donahue and openly stated on national television at he was a Satan worshiper. It made no difference to the rumor mill that any fact checker could quickly disprove this claim. Proctor & Gamble redesigned the Man on the Moon logo to make him look less Satanic, but it did no good.

P&G paid millions of dollars to design a new logo.

P&G paid millions of dollars to design a new logo.

Finally Proctor & Gamble paid millions of dollars to a design a new logo. The result is that the logo now is just a blue circle with “P&G” in the middle. (Millions of dollars? Amazing. Greenwich Village is full of artists, any one of which would have done the job for about $50.) An interesting side note is that in 1995 Amway had to pay P&G $19 million when it was discovered that Amway was spreading the Satanic worship rumors about P&G.

General Foods’ Pop Rocks candy killed Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials. “Mikey Likes It” was a hugely popular 1972 T.V. commercial for Life Cereal starring actor John Gilchrist as “Mikey” a boy who is hard to please. In 1979 rumors began that General Foods’ Pop Rocks had killed lovable little Mikey.

Did Pop Rocks kill Mikey from the Live Cereal commercials?

Did Pop Rocks kill Mikey from the Live Cereal commercials?

Pop Rocks is a sugary candy with carbonate bubbles trapped inside. When you eat it the candy dissolves and the candy “pops” in your mouth. The rumor began that Mikey had swallowed 5 bags of Pop Rocks then drank a Coke. The Pop Rocks exploded in Mikey’s stomach and killed him. Sales of Pop Rocks plummeted and stores took them off the shelves.  The General Foods senior management jumped into action to quell this rumor. They hired John Gilchrist and had a news conference showing he was still alive. It didn’t work.

Will Pop Rocks really explode in your stomach and kill you?

Will Pop Rocks really explode in your stomach and kill you?

The problem was that John Gilchrist was 7 years older than he had been in the Life Cereal commercial, and no one believed it was the same kid. The Mikey Murder rumors doubled. General Foods was now also accused of trying to cover up Mikey’s death by hiring someone pretending to be Mikey.

John Gilchrist (Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials) alive and healthy today.

John Gilchrist (Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials) alive and healthy today.

In the end, this rumor never was stopped and Pop Rocks were discontinued. General Foods had to throw out more than $35 Million of Pop Rocks inventory. However, you can still get Pop Rocks on the internet. Of course, what everybody does when they get Pop Rocks now is to swallow as many as they can and then drink a Coke. No one has died yet.

Trump allows Coast Guard to pay workers by selling seized drugs.

During the government shutdown, members of the Coast Guard will supplement their income by selling the illegal drugs they have confiscated. Members of the Coast Guard are not receiving paychecks since they are officially part of the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Military. However, the Coast Guard has, in its warehouses, millions of dollars of illegal drugs that it has seized from criminal cartels on the high seas.

The Coast Guard will sell seized illegal drugs to raise money.

The Coast Guard will sell seized illegal drugs to raise money.

President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order allowing Coast Guard base commanders to sell these drugs to Americans on a “first come first serve” basis. High quality Cocaine, Marijuana, and Heroin will soon be available. Check the Coast Guard website for times and prices of the sale.  Coast Guard officers will then use the money from the drug sales to pay the regular salaries of the men and women of the Coast Guard so that they can, in turn, feed their families.

The annual turkey pardon will no longer happen. Good meat is not to be wasted.

The annual turkey pardon will no longer happen. Good meat is not to be wasted.

The Trump Administration has announced that it is considering continuing the practice even after the government shutdown has ended. Today President Trump Tweeted that,

 “Through my brilliance I have invented a way for the money-losing Coast Guard to finally become a profitable business! Money that used to go to Mexican Drug Cartels will now be used to feed Americans! No One Else But me would have thought of this!”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the next step is to allow the TSA to sell all the items it confiscates from travelers at airports. Ms. Sanders stated that,

“The money received from the sale of confiscated guns alone would probably be enough to pay for TSA workers’ salaries. After all, they are barely making above minimum wage anyway.”

You can move to the front of the line by tipping a TSA agent $20

You can move to the front of the line by tipping a TSA agent $20

The Trump Administration is also considering allowing TSA workers to accept tips from travelers. In this way, the government could legally pay the TSA employees less than minimum wage.

“It would also speed up the line for wealthier travelers“, said Jared Kushner in a phone interview. “Why should important people have to wait behind the riffraff in a security line? Slip the TSA worker a $20 bill and move to the front of the line. Tip $50 and skip security completely. “

These moves for the Coast Guard and the TSA are part of an overall strategy which Trump calls “Make America Pay Again.” The ultra-conservative wing of Republican Party wants every individual department of the Federal government to become a money making business. By 2020 the Republicans plan to roll out the following money making schemes:

  • No more free parking for Congresspeople, the Senators or White House Press. Parking Meters will be installed at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
  • There will be a $200 fee for every question a reporter asks at a Press Conference.
  • President Trump will give no more free interviews on television. A $250,000 up-front payment from a network will be required.
  • At the end of State Dinners at the White House, everyone will receive an itemized bill with a 25% gratuity included.
  • The Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House will no longer be pardoned. That’s good meat that shouldn’t be wasted.

National Zoo will be allowed to hunt and eat the other animals.

Wolves at Washington’s National Zoo will be allowed to hunt and eat the other animals.

  • All of the animal enclosures at the National Zoo will be combined and meals for the animals will be eliminated. Visitors will then get to see a true wildlife experience. The predator animals such as the wolves would hunt, kill and eat smaller weaker animals.
  • Old Faithful at Yellowstone will be tapped. The geothermal power would then be sold to businesses in the new Yellowstone Industrial Complex.
  • The Press seating in Air Force One will be eliminated and replaced by paid Passenger Seats open to the highest bidder.
  • The Food and Drug Administration will be eliminated entirely. People who want certification of food or drug safety should be willing to pay private companies to do this for them.
  • All government vehicles including Air Force Jets, Army Tanks and Navy Aircraft Carriers will have corporate advertising on them.

Trojan Condoms will soon be advertising on the Washington Monument

Trojan Condoms will soon be advertising on the Washington Monument

  • Corporate Logos will also be allowed on national monuments. Trojan Condoms has already put in a very high bid for the Washington Monument.

The Smithsonian Museum will be selling all its exhibits and converting the museum into condos

The Smithsonian Museum will be selling all its exhibits and converting the museum into condos.

  • The “World’s Biggest Garage Sale” will be held on the National Mall. This will get rid of all that old junk in the Smithsonian Museum and reap tidy profit.
  • The empty space in what used to be the Smithsonian Institute will be turned into Luxury apartments and condominiums.

The government is looking for input from the general public. If you have any ideas of your own on how to Make America Pay Again, please let us know.

Vice- A Funny Farce or a Disgusting Insult?

Vice is an amusing political farce, or a vicious attack on an American patriot. It all depends on your preexisting opinion of Dick Cheney. Christian Bale does an amazing job at capturing the voice, mannerisms and physical appearance of Dick Cheney. However, Vice is always meant to show a caricature of Dick Cheney rather than the real person.

Christian Bale transforms himself into Dick Cheney in "Vice"

Christian Bale transforms himself into Dick Cheney in “Vice”

The funniest part of Vice is the “alternate ending”. Dick Cheney does not become Vice President, but instead stays in the private sector, gets himself into fantastic physical condition and travels the world entering Iron Man competitions. Unfortunately, Vice often cannot decide if it wants to be a serious biography or a spoof. It does not work when a film swings back and forth between these two genres.

Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld in "Vice"

Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld in “Vice”

Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld as a wisecracking, somewhat crude individual. However, Steve Carell never is able to accurately portray the absolute arrogance of Rumsfeld which ended up making enemies of both Republicans and Democrats. It is also odd that Vice did not use the most infamous of all Rumsfeld quotes. In 2002 Donald Rumsfeld was asked how long the Iraq War would last. With complete confidence, Rumsfeld replied,

“I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months. But it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that”.

Vice follows Dick Cheney’s rise from a drunken college dropout to the man who ended up being the most powerful Vice President in American history. However, we never learn how Cheney was able to accomplish this. There are large gaps in Vice. We see Dick Cheney as a low level nobody in the Nixon White House. The next time Vice shows Cheney, he has already been Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush and head of Halliburton. In a film about Dick Cheney’s rise to power, why did Vice skip the time period in which Cheney actually rose to power?

Christian Bale & Sam Rockwell in "Vice"

Christian Bale & Sam Rockwell in “Vice”

Sam Rockwell plays President George W. Bush as a complete buffoon, who never notices that he has handed over all his power to Vice President Cheney. Many people have this opinion. An opposing view is that Cheney and Bush were in complete alignment on their political views and that Bush used Cheney to his maximum potential. In any case, President George W. Bush is almost a complete non-entity in Vice, and only appears in 3 scenes.

Alison Pill is Mary Cheney in "Vice".

Alison Pill is Mary Cheney in “Vice”.

The most interesting sub-plot in Vice is the battle over gay marriage between Dick Cheney’s daughters. Mary Cheney (played by Alison Pill) is a lesbian married to a woman. Liz Cheney (played by Lily Rabe) took a strong anti-gay marriage stance when running for the House of Representatives. Liz Cheney won her House seat, but lost the love and respect of her sister forever. We wish that this had been more fleshed out and had been made as a serious stand-alone film. Is Liz Cheney really morally against gay marriage, or did she just take this stand because it was what was required to win in Wyoming?

Lily Rabe is Liz Cheney in "Vice"

Lily Rabe is Liz Cheney in “Vice”

Amy Adams is excellent as Lynne Cheney the wife who demands early in the marriage that Dick turn his life around or she will be gone.

Vice is fun, but it would have been more interesting to see an actual balanced biography rather than a spoof. Perhaps it is still too early for this to happen. Dick Cheney remains such a polarizing figure that it may be decades before any type of neutral treatment is possible.

Thousands of intelligent, ambitious and ruthless people have come to Washington seeking power, but very few of them ever achieve it. Vice never really shows us how Dick Cheney was able to rise to the top while most of the power-seekers remain low level bureaucrats. Like so much in his life, the wizardry that brought Dick Cheney to the pinnacle of power remains a closely guarded secret.

You – A Stalker’s Love Story

Fans of Dexter will love the series YouCan a dangerous stalker really find true love in Soho New York? Penn Badgley is Joe Goldberg, a book store manager who experiences love at first sight when a beautiful young woman walks into his store.

Elizabeth Lail & Penn Badgley in "You"

Elizabeth Lail & Penn Badgley in “You”

Beck (Elizabeth Lail) is a struggling young writer who is the perfect woman for Joe. She shares his love of literature and old books, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Joe and Beck have a flirty conversation in the bookstore and she pays by credit card so that Joe will know her full name and address. Obviously she wants to see Joe again.

However, Joe has already moved past the mere dating stage. He has decided that Beck will be the love of his life and he wants to do everything he can to assure that will happen.  This is when we see that that there is a dark side to this unassuming book store geek.

YOU - Season 1, Episode 2 Penn Badgley and Lou Taylor Pucci star in Lifetime’s new series YOU, Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT. Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime Copyright 2018

YOU – Season 1, Episode 2
Penn Badgley and Lou Taylor Pucci star in Lifetime’s new series YOU, Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT.
Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime
Copyright 2018

Joe becomes a full scale physical and electronic stalker, and unfortunately Beck has been very lax at password protecting her information. Joe also decides to “improve” Beck’s life by saving her from her bad boyfriends and girlfriends.  It is unclear just how far Joe will go to implement his plans. Is he just a little weird, or is there actual violent potential?

The writing and acting in You is excellent. The same way that Dexter got us to cheer for a serial killer, You has us rooting for a Stalker.  We like Joe Goldberg, since his motivations and insights are real. Beck does have a narcissistic boyfriend who takes Beck for granted, and her girlfriends are no better.  Beck’s  “friends” are all rich girls who treat Beck like a poor step-sister. They consider her attempts to be a writer an unrealistic waste of time.

Beck is a nickname. Her real name is Guinevere, like King Arthur’s wife. This is very appropriate, since Joe sees himself as an ancient Knight, protecting the beautiful Guinevere from the dangers of the world.  However, the questions is now much is Joe really willing to do to protect Guinevere? Is he willing to kill for his true love?

Lou Taylor Pucci is Benji, who is Beck’s current boyfriend and the man Joe must get out of the way if he wants to win Beck’s heart. Benji is a total jerk. Great looking, rich and conceited, he only uses Beck for quick and meaningless “hook-ups”.  Lou Taylor Pucci is perfect at  playing the kind of guy that all other guys instantly hate.

Shay Mitchell as Peach Salinger in "You"

Shay Mitchell as Peach Salinger in “You”

Shay Mitchell is Beck’s friend Peach Salinger, who wants Beck around as long as Beck is unsuccessful and subservient. Peach is wealthy, incredibility beautiful and also connected to the New York publishing community. (Yes, she is related to J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher In The Rye.) Despite this, Peach does nothing to help Beck. Peach likes Beck as a struggling writer; not a successful one.

Peach is the biggest threat to Joe’s happiness. Being a natural predator herself, Peach sees right through Joe’s nice guy routine. Peach senses there is a  danger to Joe that Beck is to naive to notice. Peach makes it her mission in life to beat Joe at his own game.

You was originally on the Lifetime Channel and now can be seen on Netflix. Take a look, and we think you will immediately be drawn in to the exciting world of You.

The Death of Stalin – a Funny Movie about an Evil Man

The Death of Stalin is a farce about the struggle for power in the Soviet Union after the death one of the most evil men that ever existed. It is hilarious, as long as you don’t concentrate too much on the fact that the events were real.

The Death of Stalin movie is not for everyone

The Death of Stalin movie is not for everyone

The year is 1953 and the people of the Soviet Union live under the constant threat that anyone at any time might suddenly be taken away by the Secret Police. Joseph Stalin has executed by the thousands his perceived enemies -real or imagined.

Olga Kuryenko in The Death if Stalin

Olga Kuryenko in The Death if Stalin

It does not sound like this could make a comedy film, but somehow, The Death of Stalin actually works. It shows in a comedic way the absurd lengths people will go to in order to avoid doing anything that may even slightly displease Stalin.

Andrea Riseborough & Steve Buscemi in "The Death of Stalin"

Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough & Steve Buscemi in “The Death of Stalin”

The Death of Stalin opens up with a beautiful classical music concert which is being broadcast on the radio. Stalin is in his dacha enjoying the broadcast. He calls the concert hall and tells them he liked the recital so much that he will be sending men over to the concert hall to pick up a copy of the recording.

Steve Buscemi & Jeffrey Tambor in The Death of Stalin

Steve Buscemi & Jeffrey Tambor in The Death of Stalin

The problem is that while the concert was being broadcast it was not actually being recorded.  Of course, no one dares tell Stalin that. The only solution is for the musicians to immediately perform the entire concert again from the beginning and record it. Half the audience had already left, and the conductor points out that the acoustics will be bad in a half-empty hall.  The concert hall manager is forced to literally drag workers off the street to fill the hall.

Jason Isaacs in The Death of Stalin

Jason Isaacs in The Death of Stalin

Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev, who has worked out a system to make sure he always pleases  Stalin. In The Death of Stalin, Khrushchev comes home after a night of heavy drinking with Stalin. Before Khrushchev goes to sleep, he writes down exactly which jokes and subjects Stalin did or did not like that night. Khrushchev  would review these notes before his next visit with Stalin as if he was studying for an exam. In real  life, Khrushchev actually did this, which only shows that even the highest level people in the Soviet Union depended completely on keeping Stalin happy.

Khrushchev wanted to make sweeping changes to the Soviet Union, like releasing thousands of prisoners from the gulags, and removing restrictions on writers. However, if Stalin ever found out about these plans, then Khrushchev himself would have been sent to a gulag.

When Stalin suddenly dies, you would think it would be a time for celebration. Instead there is open panic. Beriya (Simon Russell Beale), the head of the Secret Police, plans to replace Stalin and begins arresting and executing  anyone who gets in his way.

Caught in the middle of all this is the beautiful concert pianist Maria (Olga Kurylenko). She wants to make a stand and  writes a letter directly criticizing Stalin. Khrushchev feels protective of Maria, since at one time she had given piano lessons to Khrushchev’s niece. Khrushchev must go to extreme lengths to keep the naive, idealistic Maria from being executed.

Throughout The Death of Stalin, all of the actors use their real accents. You are always aware of who they really are, which is part of the point. They are are doing an absurd spoof of a period in time which is almost too terrible to be shown literally.

The real Field Marshal Zhukov

The real Field Marshal Zhukov

One of our favorite actors in The Death of Stalin is Jason Isaacs who plays Field Marshal Zhukov, head of the Soviet Army. Zhukov is the one man who is not afraid of Stalin. The real Zhukov was one of the toughest men that ever walked the Earth, and the one man Stalin was afraid to have arrested. Stalin considered Zhukov a rival, but Zhukov was so popular with the rank and file for the Soviet Army that Stalin never dared touch him.

Khrushchev and Zhukov have a mutual hatred of Beriya, and plan to eliminate that monster. Beriya may control the State Security Forces, but Zhukov has the entire Soviet Army.

Jeffrey Tambor is Malenkov. Theoretically he is second in command after Stalin. However he is a weak individual easily manipulated by the stronger men around him.

1936 file photo shows Joseph Stalin holding his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin. Svetlana defected in 1967 and settled in the U.S., dealing the Kremlin a very public and bitter humiliation. (AP Photo/File)

1936 file photo shows Joseph Stalin holding his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin. Svetlana defected in 1967 and settled in the U.S., dealing the Kremlin a very public and bitter humiliation. (AP Photo/File)

Andrea Riseborough is Stalin’a daughter Svetlana. It takes her a while to understand how much danger she is in once he father dies. No one looking to take the top leadership wants anyone with the name Stalin around anymore.

By the end of The Death of Stalin you will be laughing, while at the same time thinking, “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this.”

Derry Girls – A Northern Ireland Comedy during The Troubles

Derry Girls on Netflix is a comedy about a group of Irish Catholic school girls in Northern Ireland during the violent period known as “The Troubles”.  It may seem odd to have a situation-comedy set during one of the darkest periods of a country’s history, but the show is brilliant and hilarious.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O'Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls was created and written by Lisa McGee and every episode is great. The occupation of Londonderry by the British Army is always in the background, but it is not the main focus of the girls’ lives. Derry Girls shows how young people tend to live in their own special world of adventures, petty jealousies and enduring friendships, no matter what is going on in the adult world.

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in "Derry Girls

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in “Derry Girls”

In one episode, the girls find a little dog and convince themselves that it is their old dog risen from the dead. They are even able to persuade a young naive priest that this miracle must be investigated. It is only the school principal who notices that this “miracle” investigation happens to be taking place on the same day that the girls would otherwise be taking a difficult history exam that none of the girls had studied for.

Lisa McGee - writer and creator of Derry Girls.

Lisa McGee – writer and creator of Derry Girls.

In an especially moving episode, the girls are at school doing a silly dance for a talent show. Unbeknownst to them, a deadly bomb has just exploded in another part of Londonderry. The juxtaposition of joy and tragedy highlights the complexity of growing up during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The cast of Derry Girls is wonderful. Siobhan McSweeney is Sister Michael, the school principal whose dry sense of humor is one of the highlights of every episode.  She has developed such a fan base of her own that  entire websites have sprung up devoted to quotes from Sister Michael.

Jamie-Lee O'Donnell poses with a fan.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell poses with a fan.

Dylan Llewellyn is James, an English cousin who has been forced to move in with his Irish relatives in Derry. James has to attend the girls Catholic school, since it would be too physically dangerous for an English boy to attend school with the Irish Catholic boys. He eventually becomes accepted by the girls and fits in to their group.

Ian McElhinney is Granda Joe whose main joys in life seem to be tormenting his son in law, and hating the Protestants.

Louisa Harland is Orla, a likable but somewhat crazy schoolgirl who may be the world’s worst dancer.  Saoirse-Monica Jackson is Erin, who realizes that the main problem in Derry is that everyone knows everything about everybody else all the time.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell plays Michelle, one of our favorite characters in Derry Girls.  Michelle is the trouble maker of the group. Her friends never seem to learn that any idea Michelle comes up with is bound to get them all in trouble.

Nicola Coughlan is Claire, the tiniest member of the group, who is perpetually worried and who  holds a secret not revealed until the last episode.

Derry Girls has become very popular in the United States. However, many Americans watch the show with the subtitles tuned on, since they find the Northern Irish accents just too hard to follow. We urge Americans not to use the subtitles, and you will be amazed at how quickly your ear becomes accustomed to the language and slang. Constantly reading the subtitles can make you miss the subtle nuances in tone and dialect that are a part of the presentation.

Derry Girls is a breath of fresh air in a land of look-alike comedies. We loved it.

Is “High Maintenance” actually an anti-drug show?

HBO’s High Maintenance took on a distinctly anti-drug vibe in the last episode of Season 2. The Guy (Ben Sinclair)  is revealed to be a loser with no friends and nothing in his life except drugs. In High Maintenance’s Googie episode The Guy has a broken arm and as result he is forced temporarily outsource the drug business to an Uber Driver (Abdulla Saeed).

Ben Sinclair in The Googie episode of High Maintenance

Ben Sinclair in The Googie episode of High Maintenance

A series of events happen to The Guy that reveal his life is really at a dead end and is  going nowhere.  The Guy goes to a restaurant where he is recognized by a fellow he once knew at college. (Interestingly, The Guy actually went to Vassar class of 2006, which makes The Guy about 33 years old. This is one of the few pieces of personal information we ever learn about The Guy.) As The Guy sits alone at the bar, he sees that his old buddy is now a successful entrepreneur sharing business stories with a table full  of other successful people.

With his days off, the Guy has no friends he can call to spend time with and nothing to occupy himself except take psychedelic mushrooms. When The Guy finally leaves his apartment, he wanders aimlessly  around, looking like the type of crazy person all New Yorkers instinctively know to avoid. When The Guy tries to helps a little girl get her ball back, the girl’s mother immediately takes the girl and runs away.

Katja Blichfeld & Ben Sinclair the writers & creators of High Maintenance

Did Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld put an anti-drug message into a show where the hero is a drug delivery-man? Is the High Maintenance Googie episode warning us that drugs are not really as cool as they seem?

Sinclair at the "underground weed party" for the press.

Abdullah Saeed & Ben Sinclair at the “underground weed party” for the press.

The Guy at first seems t have a terrific life, but it is really all fake. There are a lot of people who are friendly with him, but he has no actual friends. All the friendly people are his drug customers, who don’t even know his name. The Guy lives hand to mouth, and at any minute could end up doing long jail time. Personal possession of marijuana may be semi-legal, but dealing marijuana still carries a jail sentence. The Guy must lie to his father about what he does for a living. His girlfriend cannot even be  bothered to visit him in the hospital when he breaks his arm. His girlfriend ends up leaving him and Season 2  ends with The Guy all alone.

Every episode of High Maintenance is terrific. Season 3 of High Maintenance premiers on January 20, 2019. It will be interesting to see if any of the anti-drug theme continues, or if the Googie episode was a one time event. Either way we want only good things to happen to The Guy in the future.

The “Endless Summer” Movie – Beauty and Innocence in 1966

In 1966, the documentary Endless Summer premiered, and America fell in love with surfing. What strikes us most about Endless Summer is the pure innocence of the film. Two surfers travel around the world looking for the perfect wave, yet there were no security concerns. No hours in  long lines at airports, no sub-machine gun carrying guards in public spaces. Has the world really changed that much since 1966, or were the surfers living in a fantasy world even then?

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

Endless Summer stars surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August, and is filmed and narrated by Bruce Brown. It was a low budget documentary, but it still holds up as a beautiful film. Bruce Brown was able to get some incredible surfing footage, especially considering that he was working with a hand-held camera. Much of the time, Bruce Brown is on a surfboard himself while he is filming Mike and Robert.

Michale Hyson in 1966 - Everybody wanted to be that cool.

Michale Hyson in 1966 – Everybody wanted to be that cool.

The 3 young men literally travel the world looking for the perfect wave. They visit Africa, Tahiti, California and Hawaii. They do, in fact, find the perfect wave in South Africa. They find a deserted beach, that had medium sized waves that come in at a perfect angle for long rides. Mike and Robert are able to surf on a single wave for over 45 minutes. And every wave at this South African beach is exactly like the one before.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Teenagers throughout the world wanted to be cool, and in 1966 nothing was cooler than an American surfer. The Beach Boys had released the album Surfin’ Safari in 1962 and it was a smash hit. Their publicity agents hid the fact that only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Robert Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Michael Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Endless Summer in 1966  was pure escapism.  Dreaming about spending your life searching for the perfect wave was a way for people to forget about what was really going on in the world.  President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, American troops were in Vietnam, the Soviet Union was at the height of its power and racial tensions were growing.

Bruce Brown - a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

Bruce Brown – a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

In fact, in South Africa Nelson Mandela was in prison at the same time the surfers were riding the Perfect Wave not many miles away. Mandel would remain in prison for another 25 years after the surfers left South Africa.

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

So take a look at Endless Summer and see it for the beautiful film it is. However don’t get overtaken by nostalgia and believe that was the way the World was in 1966. Rather, Endless Summer is a glimpse into how everyone wanted the world to be. Beautiful people riding perfect waves on clean empty beaches. A never-ending paradise in a world that is always sunny and full of love and adventure.

Mister Baseball – Tom Selleck’s best movie

The 1992 film Mister Baseball stars Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot, a major league baseball player who is sent off to play in Japan. There Jack acts like the stereotypical Ugly American. Jack is loud, condescending and thinks that Japan has nothing for him. Slowly he comes to the realization that the Japanese do have something to teach him about baseball, and more importantly, about life.

Tom Selleck in "Mister Baseball"

Tom Selleck in “Mister Baseball”

Mister Baseball is a fascinating look at sports and everyday life in Japan. The Japanese love the American game of baseball, but they play it very much with a Japanese style. Teamwork and harmony are valued more than individual “showboat” behavior, something which does not fit with Jack’s style.

Tom Selleck & Ken Takakura in Mister Baseball

Tom Selleck & Ken Takakura in Mister Baseball

Of course, there is a reason that Jack was demoted from the American Major Leagues and sent to play in Japan. A onetime home-run leader, his batting average had dropped and no American team wanted him. However, the Japanese manager Uchiyama (Ken Takakura) feels he can break Jack’s bad habits and make him a better baseball player than ever. If only Jack will listen.

Aya Takanachi & Tom Selleck in Mister Baseball

Aya Takanachi & Tom Selleck in Mister Baseball

Even if you are not really into “sports movies” we think you will like Mister Baseball. It is actually more about interpersonal behavior than about baseball. All of the characters and actors are terrific.  Aya Takanachi is Hiroko, the beautiful advertising executive who is assigned to help Jack film Japanese T.V. commercials. Hiroko refuses to be treated like the bimbos Jack liked in America. Hiroko is soft spoken and polite, but Jack soon discovers that she is also as tough as a bar of steel.

Toshi Shioya is Yoji, who has been assigned as Jack’s translator, is a master diplomat. Yoji helps make Jack popular in Japan, by purposely mis-translating most of what Jack says. Yoji translates Jack’s rude comments about Japan so that they come out as poetic compliments.

Toshi Shioya is the diplomatic translator in Mister Baseball

Toshi Shioya is the diplomatic translator in Mister Baseball

Dennis Haysbert is Max “Hammer” Dubois, a fellow American ballplayer who has been on the Japanese team for a number of years. The Hammer is as big and powerful as Jack, and takes the time to explain how things really are for foreign athletes working in Japan.

Dennis Haysbert in Mister Baseball

Dennis Haysbert in Mister Baseball

Mister Baseball is a fun movie to watch. There are conflicts but no violence. In some ways, Mister Baseball is like the Rocky of Baseball.

How The Kennedy Curse Started in Ireland

The curse on the Kennedy family originated in New Ross Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. The time was 1849 and whole families in Ireland were starving. People were doing whatever they could to escape to America.

Is there really a Kennedy Curse?

Is there really a Kennedy Curse?

The biggest problem was that most Irish did not even have enough money to pay for a ticket to America. The Irish came up with an ingenious solution. The people of a particular town or village would put in all their money and give it to one family to go to America. There would be enough money for that family to buy tickets and find lodging in the United States.

New Ross Ireland

New Ross Ireland

In return for this initial gift, that first family had to make a binding pledge. The pledge was that when the family was settled in America, it would send back to Ireland 1/2 of its earnings each month forever.

Robert, Jackie & Ted at President Kennedy's funeral

Robert, Jackie & Ted at President Kennedy’s funeral

The wages the first family sent back to Ireland would then be used to buy tickets to America for a second family. Then there would be two families sending money back to Ireland each month. Then three, then four, and so on.

Irish in Boston 1849

Irish in Boston 1849

This scheme actually worked throughout many parts of Ireland. Sometimes whole villages, and even small towns were able to eventually get 100% of their population to America. Over the course of 10 years almost 2 million Irish came to America. Of course, the success of any one town all depends on the success and the honesty of that first family. If that first family did not send any money back there would be no funds left to send a second family.

In 1849, the people of New Ross selected Patrick Kennedy and his wife Bridget Murphy Kennedy to be the lucky ones to make the trip to the United States. Patrick Kennedy was a skilled cooper (barrel maker), a craft that was in demand in America.

The Kennedy family sailed to Boston, where Patrick did find work and the Kennedy family thrived. Of course, everyone knows that  the descendants of Patrick and Bridget went on to become the most famous political family  in American history.  What is lesser known is that Patrick and Bridget Kennedy broke their pledge to the people of New Ross Ireland. The Kennedys never sent one penny back to Ireland. Days, weeks and finally years went by and the people of New Ross never got the money they were promised.

The people of New Ross did not forgive or forget. A group of  people of New Ross held a secret ceremony, with rituals that dated back hundreds of years before Christianity had come to Ireland. They put a curse on Patrick and Bridget Kennedy and all their decedents for all time.

Will the Kennedy Curse even end?

Will the Kennedy Curse ever end?

Is this legend real? The Kennedys themselves certainly believe in a family curse.  In a televised speech about Chappaquiddick, Senator Ted Kennedy questioned, “whether some terrible curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys”.

Even when members of the Kennedy family mention the curse, they never speak about why there is a curse. Somehow that has been lost to history or purposely buried in family stories passed down through the generations.

In modern times we no longer believe in zombies or witches or ancient family curses. But then again, none of us can truly imaging the pure hatred of the cold and starving people of New Ross Ireland 170 years ago.

Old people “Mall Walkers” – America’s Greatest Athletes

America’s greatest athletes are those old people that walk in the malls at 7am every morning. You can see them in every mall in the United States, walking fast in their brightly colored track suits and spotlessly clean jogging shoes. Some of them even build up enough of a sweat that they have to remove the warm-up jacket, revealing the sleeveless muscle shirt underneath.

Old "mall walkers" stretch before their daily work out.

Old “mall walkers” stretch before their daily work out.

Of course, we are conditioned to admire 20 year old Olympic athletes and professional sports stars, but there is a lot to be said for those old mall walkers. They have to overcome obstacles  and traps that no professional sports figure has to face. They must walk by the delicious aroma from the  Cinnabon booth at the food court and resist the temptation to stop the workout and instead eat a 2,000 calorie breakfast.

A true mall walking athlete never uses the escalator.

A true mall walking athlete never uses the escalator.

They climb up and down the mall stairs while the empty escalators are just begging the old folks to use them.

Stopping at the Cinnabon booth is just one of the many temptations faced by mall walkers

Stopping at the Cinnabon booth is just one of the many temptations faced by mall walkers

As the young workers arrive at the mall, the old mall walkers must weave in an out of these groups of slow-moving “young people”, and put up with the smirks and not so hidden laughter directed at the old mall walkers.

A 2,000 calorie breakfast can quickly destroy the benefits of the mall walk.

A 2,000 calorie breakfast can quickly destroy the benefits of the mall walk.

Yes, the old mall walkers get neither fame nor fortune, but I respect  them. They have had to swallow their pride and admit that their ancient bodies can no longer tolerate jogging in the outdoor winter cold or broiling summer heat. So they have moved indoors to the constant temperature of the malls, and slowed their once-rapid running pace to a more reasonable walk.

lasting friendships are formed between mall walkers

lasting friendships are formed between mall walkers

Despite this compromise with Old Man Time their daily mall workout is their way of snubbing their nosed at Old Age and telling the rest of the World, “we’re still here, and don’t you forget it. Now get out of the way!”

Mall walking can help turn back time.

Mall walking can help turn back time.

Mall walkers are living proof of the old saying that, “you can’t turn back the clock, but nothing says you can’t wind it up again.”

Mall walkers enjoying the journey.

Mall walkers enjoying the journey.

These old folks are not trying to win a race, or get a medal or impress anyone.  That is why you see them laughing and joking with friends while they circle the same mall at the same time every day. They have reached a stage in life where they realize that enjoying the journey and cherishing the moment is more important than the actual destination. We could all learn something from these great athletes.

East Coast Stories Eliminates Advertising!

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East Coast Stories publishes all comments except for hate speech, spam comments or obscenities.

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East Coast Stories keeps spam off its website

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I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore – A Quirky Comedy

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is the perfect movie if you feel that rude, nasty people have taken over the world and that being a good person is no longer valued in our society. Melanie Lynskey stars as Ruth, a sensitive nurse trying to survive in an insensitive world. Just when it seems that everyday life cannot get any worse, Ruth comes home to find that her house has been broken into and all her things stolen.  The police are no help and seem to simply blame Ruth for not having better locks on her house.

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

But Ruth has a secret weapon. Her stolen computer has as tracking device built into it, and Ruth discovers that her computer is in another house just a few miles away. Ruth triumphantly brings this news to Detective Bendix (Gary Anthony Williams). She is shocked to discover that the detective cannot just drive over and arrest the thief. There is no search warrant and a convoluted system to try to get one. A bigger issue is that Detective Bendix is going through an emotional crisis of his own and is much more concerned about his upcoming divorce than anything as insignificant as a stolen laptop.

I Don't Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore - a dark comedy with a violent streak.

I Don’t Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore – a dark comedy with a violent streak.

Ruth decides to take action on her own and enlists the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), an introverted geek. Together they surprise the people with the stolen laptop and demand it back. They barge in, act tough and successfully intimidate the people into giving the  computer back.

Gary Anthony Williams in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Gary Anthony Williams in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

This is when I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore starts to take a very dark comedic turn. It turns out the people with the stolen computer did not know it was stolen, and bought it at a flee market. Ruth and Tony decide to track down the real thieves and bring them to justice.

Christine Woods as a bored housewife in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Christine Woods as a bored housewife in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

The problem is that the real thieves are a group of dangerous, violent professional criminals. Ruth and Tony, on the other hand, are simply two average suburbanites pretending to be tough. Tony carries around nunchucks and a throwing star. However, the only thing he knows about real fighting is what he has seen in movies and video games.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is hilarious and the acting of all the characters is superb. The plot has a number of unexpected convoluted twists, mixing farce, comedy and action. You want Ruth and Tony to succeed at their idiotic plans.

In one scene, they decide to pretend to be police, but they need badges. Their solution is to purchase boxes of a kids’ cereal that has inside it a free “junior detective badge.” Christine Woods plays a wealthy housewife who lets herself be interviewed by these two “detectives”. She knows immediately that they are not real cops, but she is so bored that she is happy to let these two strangers into her house and pass the afternoon with them.

We will warn you, however, that the film turns more and more violent as it progresses, although still in a comic way. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is definitely not a kids’ movie.

I Don’t Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore is fun because it never gets “preachy” or tries to take itself too seriously. It is just a comedy about two lonely, sensitive  geeks trying for once to stand up to the so-called real world.

Escape At Dannemora – A Riveting Prison-Break Series

Showtime’s Escape At  Dannemora is an exciting mini-series based on the true story of an escape from an upstate New York prison. It takes pace at the Clinton Correctional facility, which  is a bleak, cold version of Hell, located in the Village of Dannemora, New York. Convicted murders are sent to this frozen wasteland to serve life sentences far out of sight from the civilized people of the world.

Benicio Del Toro & David Morse in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro & David Morse in Escape At Dannemora

In 2015, two murders escaped from this prison with the help of a middle-aged  female prison employee. We are not spoiling the series, since this fact is known from the first scene of Escape At Dannemora. The plot then takes us back in time and details exactly what happened.

Ben Stiller behind the scenes on Escape at Dannemora (Episode 4). -Photo: Christopher Saunders/Showtime

Ben Stiller behind the scenes on Escape at Dannemora (Episode 4). -Photo: Christopher Saunders/Showtime

The cast is one of the best ensembles of actors that ever worked together. Escape At Dannemora is directed by Ben Stiller, in a complete switch from his usual comedic work. His direction is amazing, with the ability to show the loneliness and desperation at the  prison with the sweep of a singe camera shot. Somehow, Ben Stiller was able to get permission to film at the actual prison where the escape took place.

Patricia Arquette in Escape At Dannemora

Patricia Arquette in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro is Richard Matt,  one of the murderers who is the the mastermind of the escape plan. Richard is tough enough to have the respect of the other prisoners, but clever enough to win favors from the guards and civilian workers at the prison. Richard is a talented artist, and paints beautiful pictures and portraits as gifts for the guards.

Benicio Del Toro & Paul Dano in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro & Paul Dano in Escape At Dannemora

David Morse is prison Guard Glen Palmer, who knows that his real job is simply to make sure that nothing violent ever happens at the prison. He is willing to make deals with “boss cons” and even use his tremendous physical  strength to smack some prisoners around when needed.

Paul Dano is David Sweat, a cop killer and the second member of the escape plan. He is young and not too bright, but he has developed a sexual relationship with civilian worker Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). David is using this relationship only to get extra food. It is Richard who realizes that they may be able to manipulate Tilly into helping them escape.

Escape At Dannemora is a story of the loneliness and desperation of the people who polite society does not want to think about. The Guards and Civilian workers are as much prisoners as are the actual inmates.  The Guards and Civilian workers spend their lives in confined areas outnumbered by dangerous violent men. A combination of boredom  and fear permeate all aspects of their lives.

The inmates have to look out at the vast woods of upstate New York knowing that this will be the only view they will see for the rest of their lives. This situation leads to a slow, inevitable build up of pressure that eventually must explode.

Translating English into English in Brazil for Fun and Profit

I once spent a 15 hour day getting paid to translate English into English in Sao Paulo Brazil. Or to be more accurate, I was translating Manchester English into American English for the benefit of a Brazilian audience.

It was fun but exhausting. I am an American consultant and was in Sao Paulo to help an English company buy a Brazilian factory. I don’t speak Portuguese and neither did the English team. Theoretically, that should not have been a problem, since all of the Brazilians at the meeting were fluent in English. The problem was that the people from the English company were all from Manchester, with accents that made Austin Powers sound like he was a reporter for the BBC.

Austin Powers speaks "Manchester" not "American

Austin Powers speaks “Manchester” not “American”

I arrived first, and was drinking coffee with the Brazilian bankers when the group from Manchester arrived. Nat, the leader of the Manchester team, stood at the front of the conference table and began his introductory speech. He was five minutes into his prepared remarks when one of the Brazilian bankers turned to me and asked, “What language is that man speaking?”

Sao Paulo Brazil - a modern business city

Sao Paulo Brazil – a modern business city

It soon became obvious that none of the Brazilians could understand anything Nat was saying. It was also obvious that Nat was furious about this. He had been brought up in working class semi-poverty in Manchester, and had risen through the ranks to become a self-made successful business owner. However, he was very self-conscious about his upbringing and lack of education. He thought the Brazilians could understand him, but were just making fun of the way he spoke.

Manchester England

Manchester England

I was able to calm Nat down and convince him not to let the whole deal fall apart due to a language problem. So for next 15 hours, Nat and his team would speak in Manchester English and I would repeat the words in American English for the benefit of the Brazilians. Luckily, I did not have to translate in the other direction. The Brazilians spoke English with the straight BBC type accents they had learned in school, and the people from Manchester could understand them perfectly.

Working class Manchester

Working class Manchester

As the meeting dragged on, the Manchester folks decided it would be fun to test how well I really could understand Northern English accents. They started speaking faster and faster and using more and more slang, trying to see if I would get “my Y-fronts in a twist.”  I had spent a lot of time working in Manchester and at first could not be fooled. Finally, they were able to stump me when one of their team,a young woman from Burnley,  spoke so fast and  turned on her her slang full tilt until  I had to admit I could not understand a word of that she had said.

George Bernard Shaw's opinion of the English and American languages

George Bernard Shaw’s opinion of the English and American languages

The conference turned out to be a success and Nat bought the Brazilian factory. It has its own local Brazilian management, so the language issue going forward is not going to be a problem. The papers were signed, everyone was happy. As they say in Manchester, and Bob’s your Uncle.”

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Lunch – My Day as Milton Friedman’s Bodyguard

I  once spent a day as a bodyguard for Professor Milton Friedman, the Economist best known for saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. I was a young Economics major at Duke University. I was assigned with some other Economics majors to escort Milton Friedman when he came to Duke to give a speech.  In theory, we were there to show Milton Friedman around campus, but the reality was that we were acting as his bodyguards.

The 'dangerous radical", Economist Milton Friedman

The “dangerous radical”, Economist Milton Friedman

The Duke crowd was very hostile towards Milton Friedman. Students who were not Economics majors  thought of Friedman as a horrible person who hated poor people and wanted to keep the poor from getting the “free” services they deserved. When Milton Friedman  gave his speech, more than one student attempted to jump onto the stage to disrupt the proceedings, and had to be carried out by Security.

Milton Friedman's best selling book of essays.

Milton Friedman’s best selling book of essays.

Milton Friedman handled all this commotion with charm, politeness and a bemused attitude towards his detractors. He patiently explained that he was not against anyone. He was for “precision of language” and “personal freedom”. He had come to national attention by telling government officials to stop calling subsidized lunch programs “free.” Hence the phrase, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Dr. Friedman repeatedly pointed out that the lunch was not free, but was actually being paid for by people other than the people who were eating the lunch. The government was actually taking money from some people in the form of higher taxes, and giving it to other people in the form of food.

Milton Friedman was against all tariffs

Milton Friedman was against all tariffs

Friedman went on to explain was that he was not necessarily against these subsidized lunches. Citizens may decide that it actually benefits society as a whole to make sure that poor children have enough to eat. This could help these children do better in their classes which will lead them to be more productive members of society later in life. Such a decision may be the right thing to do. Just don’t pretend that it has no cost.

However, don’t dare call Milton Friedman a Conservative. He thought that marijuana should be legal nation-wide. Friedman considered  America’s “War On Drugs” a huge waste of money that was actually a “War On Freedom”. He also thought there should be zero tariffs world-wide

Milton Friedman thought America's "War On Drugs" was idiotic.

Milton Friedman thought America’s “War On Drugs” was idiotic.

This type of Libertarian  Economic analysis is heard often today, but at the time, many considered his pronouncements radical and even dangerous. In person, Milton Friedman was about the least radical looking person you would ever see. When I met him, he was a small, soft spoken middle-aged man, who needed to stand on a box to see over the podium when he gave  his “radical” speech.

Milton Friedman was against corporations giving any money to charity

Milton Friedman was against corporations giving any money to charity

Milton Friedman had a lot of ideas that most people still have trouble accepting. For example, he believed that corporations should not give any money to charity. He felt that companies have no right to give away money that actually belongs to the stockholders. If a company has extra cash and cannot come up with a good investment, then the company should return that money to the stockholders as a dividend. When the stockholders receive the money then they can decide how to spend their own money. They may want to give it to charity or they may not want to. In any case, the shareholders should have the personal freedom to decide what to do with their money.

At the end of a long day, we all escorted Milton Friedman back to the tiny Economics building at Duke. (Minuscule compared to the enormous facilities Duke provided for Chemistry, Law and Medicine.  In those days, most Duke students looked down on the pursuits  of Business or Economics ).

In the 1970s a lot of Duke University students were hostile towards Business & Economics.

In the 1970s a lot of Duke University students were hostile towards Business & Economics.

The Economics building had a coffee room where Milton Friedman graciously spent time chatting with the Economics students while he waited for the car which would take him to the airport.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free coffee.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free coffee.

By the big coffee pot in the Economics building, there was a jar where people were supposed to put in 25 cents whenever they had cup of coffee. (Obviously there has been a lot of inflation since then).  Over the pot one of the Economics Professors had put up a large typed sign. It reminded people to put in 25 cents, and complained that the majority of people were taking coffee and depositing nothing. The sign stated, “As Milton Friedman says there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Underneath the typed sign, someone had scrawled in magic marker, “But there is free coffee!” Milton Friedman laughed at the graffiti as he took his cup of coffee. I don’t remember if he put 25 cents in the jar, but I don’t think he did.

When Cars Were Beautiful and Had Giant Fins

When I was a boy, cars were beautiful pieces of rolling sculpture, with giant fins, gleaming chrome and massive engines. Even the wheels were works of art. Huge whitewall tires framed bright metallic hubcaps, that were intricate wire spokes, tiny wings or other imaginative designs.

Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally

Cars were not just machines enabling people to get around. They were expressions of who people were. Americans loved their cars and even wrote songs about them. Songs like Little GTO, Mustang Sally, Hot Rod Lincoln, Hey Little Cobra and Little Deuce Coupe. Even songs that did not have car names in the titles, revolved around cars. The Beach Boys, Fun Fun Fun is a song most people remember for the lyrics (Till her Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away).

1956 Ford Thunderbird

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Of course, these cars were death traps. Despite the incredibly powerful engines, there were no air bags, no padded dashboards, and for a long time not even any seat belts. When seat belts did become standard equipment, they were simple lap belts and most people did not buckle them.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

Cars today are much safer, but along the way have lost all sense or personality and individuality. No one is ever going to write a song about a Ford Focus or a Toyota Prius. And for the most part, colors have disappeared. Today 57% of all cars in America are either White, Black or Grey.

Classic Pink Cadillac

Classic Pink Cadillac

People need to get back their sense of adventure and style. Don’t be afraid to show some color and individuality and get that muscle car you know you actually want.  If you are of a “certain age”, maybe you think people will be saying you are having a mid-life crisis.  Don’t worry about what those boring folks say. You won’t be able to hear them anyway over the roar of your engine.

Is Catheter Ablation Surgery right for you? My personal story may help you decide

I had Catheter Ablation Surgery about 9 months ago on Valentine’s Day. (That’s right, a heart operation on Valentine’s Day). It worked for me and stopped my chronic AFib episodes.  I am very nervous about saying that, since I don’t want to jinx anything by actually proclaiming victory. Statistics show that only about 50% of people have their AFib cured with one Catheter Ablation Surgery, and there is an 80% cure rate for those who undergo 2 surgeries. Here are some facts and pointers from the patient’s point of view that may help you decide whether or not to have Catheter Ablation Surgery. I am NOT a doctor, so what I am giving you is a personal view from my side of the operating table. If you are having AFib issues make sure to get medical advice from a real doctor.

Detail of Catheter Ablation surgery.

Detail of Catheter Ablation surgery.

Having chronic AFIB does not mean you did anything wrong. Like many people with AFib I was annoyed that my heart had decided to betray me. After all, I had given my heart everything it could desire. I have never smoked, I don’t drink alcohol, I am thin and I exercise regularly. I even gave up caffeine and everything with high sodium. Still, my heart would periodically go into prolonged AFib. If you have ever had one of these episodes, you know how frightening they are. It feels like you are dying from a heart attack.

The catheter is inserted in the groin and sent through the veins into the heart

The catheter is inserted in the groin and sent through the veins into the heart

The older you get the more frequent AFib becomes. I never had a problem until I was about 50. Then I had my first AFib episode. It only lasted about a minute but it scared the Hell out of me. As I continued to age, the episodes became more frequent and longer.

There are many excellent medications that can control AFib but the success rate varies tremendously between people. For some people the medications work just fine and they never even have to consider Cather Ablation Surgery. For me, the medications worked for a few years and then became less and less effective as I got older. Eventually they did not work at all.

Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, Morristown New Jersey

Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute, Morristown New Jersey

AFib often happens when you are just relaxing or even sleeping. The times your heart goes into AFIb seems counter-intuitive. Most people assume that heart problems will occur when the heart is under stress. For people with chronic AFIB it is often just the opposite. I would run 6 miles and feel great. Then I might be relaxing watching T.V. and my heart would suddenly start going crazy, by speeding up and beating irregularly. It is sort of like a car with a bad transmission. The worst AFib episodes would happen when my body was trying to “change gears” from regular mode to relaxed or sleeping mode.  I finally decided to have Catheter Ablation Surgery when it became impossible for me to sleep. I got to the point where just lying flat would send my heart into AFib. I would have to walk around the house or watch T.V. until my heart went back to normal rhythm. Then I would try to go to sleep sitting upright in a chair. Over the months, I got to know exactly what television shows were on at 3AM.

Chronic AFib is caused by bad electric signals coming from the wrong part of the heart. For reasons unknown, some people have hearts that have a tendency to develop spots that send out these errant signals. If you have this condition, as you get older your heart develops more and more of these areas.  Exercise, diet or even meditation is not going to stop this from happening.

Because it is a physical condition, you can’t “think” AFib away. If you have chronic AFib, then you have probably also encountered numerous well-meaning friends giving you all sorts of advice on how to relax. They think this will cure you. Friends never seem to understand that it is precisely when chronic AFib suffers are the most relaxed that the  heart is most likely to go into one of its crazy episodes.

Doctor Timothy Mahoney

Doctor Timothy Mahoney

In Catheter Ablation Surgery the Electrophysiologist locates and burns the spots causing the bad electrical signals. Once these burns scar over,  the errant  signals stop. The first time I heard that it petrified me. “Scarring my heart to make it better?” It sounded to me like when brain surgeons of the last century  thought a lobotomy was the solution to help the mentally disturbed. This is why I would not even consider Catheter Ablation Surgery for many years. However, as I read more and more about the operation and the success rates I began to have more trust.

You still have to eat healthy after Catheter Ablation surgery

You still have to eat healthy after Catheter Ablation surgery

With chronic AFib, you need  to face your own lack of knowledge. I am NOT a doctor and I had an excellent Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist telling me that Catheter Ablation Surgery was the best possibility for fixing my condition. I looked at their years of education, training, surgical experience and skills and had to admit that they knew many, many things that I did not. I finally realized that I could do no more on my own. I decided it was time to trust these experts to put me to sleep and go into my heart.

Choosing the right surgeon and hospital for Cather Ablation Surgery is very important. You want a doctor and an institute that specializes in the field.  I was lucky enough to get Doctor Timothy Mahoney (Cardiology, Electrophysiology) at the Morristown New Jersey Medical Center Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute. He performs 2 Catheter Ablation Surgeries per day. The Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute itself is amazing. It is brand new and the lobby looks like a luxury hotel. It has the best equipment, technicians and surgeons.  Wherever you live, make sure that you choose a surgeon and a hospital that does a lot of Catheter Ablation Surgeries.

You will have to go through many tests and procedures in the weeks BEFORE your Catheter Ablation surgery. This is to make sure that you are healthy enough for surgery and that there are no other issues with your heart which will cause problems. When I went for tests, there was one patient who unfortunately was told that his heart muscles were so weak that he could not possibly  be the candidate for any type of heart surgery.

Surgeons call Catheter Ablation surgery “non-invasive”, but that’s not how it feels from the patient’s point of view. If this is “non-invasive”, then all I can say is that I feel sorry for people who have actual invasive surgery.  The surgeon  makes 2 incisions in the groin, and feeds catheters all the way from your groin into your heart. Of course, you are asleep for all of this, so it is not as scary as it sounds.

Catheter Ablation Surgery takes between 3 to 5 hours. It is a long surgery but you have no sense of time when it happens. The anesthesia is injected into a vein and you are asleep withing 15 seconds. The next thing I remembered was someone saying “take a deep breath” when it was time to wake up.

A final pre-op test leaves some “burping” side effects. The heart is hidden behind the stomach, so one of the last tests is to insert a tube down your esophagus into the stomach. Then an ultrasound device is inserted into the stomach to get a final real time picture of the heart. (You are also put asleep for this procedure.)  This test is to make sure there are not any unforeseen problems that would complicate surgery. This procedure can have a lot of side effects that last many months. Some people experience a sore throat (I did not). Most people find that their stomach may be sore for a few weeks. To help the stomach heal you will be given stomach medicine for a few weeks. Many people find that they burp a lot more than they used to, even months after this procedure. Even 9 months after the procedure I still get these burps once and a while. Patients feel embarrassed to mention this to a doctor, since they think it is somehow their own fault. These burps are a perfectly normal side effect and very common.

Bring someone with you to the hospital! Don’t try to do it on your own. You need someone you can count on to stay with you the whole day. Bring a spouse, partner, friend or grown child. In my case, my wife Susan was with me all day. You need your special someone to help you navigate through the system and to listed to what the doctors and nurses say. You will be too groggy, distracted or upset to completely understand all the instructions being given to you.

You are in for a Long, Long day. Before the actual surgery, there is paperwork, pre-op tests,  and preparation. You will be wheeled from place to place, have tubes and needles stuck into you and spend most of your time in a cold hospital gown. All this happens before the actual Catheter Ablation Surgery. In my case, I got to the hospital at 7am and my surgery began at 4PM. I was done about 7PM.

You are only in the hospital for 1 night. In my case, the hospital was so full that there were no rooms, so I spent the night in the recovery ward. I was not actually sleepy. After all, I had been sleeping for many hours as part of the surgery. It is interesting the things you hear in a hospital recovery ward overnight.  The nurses try to speak quietly, but I was so bored I eavesdropped on every conversation. They spent a lot of time gossiping about another nurse, who they claimed always walks around trying to look busy, but who does not actually help anyone.

You will need help getting home. Don’t kid yourself, they may call it non-invasive, but someone was just inside your heart. You are going to be exhausted. Too weak to drive yourself home, or even Uber by yourself.

You should rest at home for 1 week before going back to work.  You will be very tired. This is perfectly normal and does not mean that anything is wrong with you.

You may be very sore from just lying on the operating room table. My right shoulder was very sore and weak and I had trouble lifting it for a day or two. This is a normal side effect and you may experience body aches and pains from having been immobile for so long.

Do not lift more than 10 pounds for a month after Catheter Ablation Surgery

Do not lift more than 10 pounds for a month after Catheter Ablation Surgery

Do not lift anything heavier then 10 pounds for a month. This is so that you do not rip open the wounds where the surgeon made incisions in your groin. This instruction is very hard to follow. It is amazing how many things weigh more than 10 pounds.  Don’t rip open your wounds by doing something stupid like lifting a heavy bag of groceries, a Thanksgiving turkey or a full garbage can. It does not matter if you are an Olympic weightlifter and can normally lift hundreds of pounds with ease. You have to give these wounds time to heal.

Do not run for at least 1 month after Catheter Ablation Surgery.

Do not run for at least 1 month after Catheter Ablation Surgery.

Do not Run for a full month. This is also to keep the groin wounds from ripping open. Running and even standing for long periods of time put a lit of strain on this area.

Ask your doctor about the type of adhesive used in the bandages. Some people are allergic to the type of adhesive used in the bandages that cover the groin incisions. I happened to be one of them. This allergic reaction can leave you with very painful blisters. Find out ahead of time if there are any alternative adhesives available.

You will have AFib for a few months after your surgery. Sometimes this will be even worse than the AFib you experienced before. This is also perfectly normal but is very hard to accept. The AFib episodes do not go away until the parts of the heart burned by the surgeon have scarred over. Even though you know ahead of time that this is going to happen it is psychologically very stressful.  You will be asking yourself “what was the point of all that pain and effort if the AFib is still there?” With successful surgery, these episodes will gradually disappear, and in many cases go away forever. Part of the process is that your heart has to re-train itself not to go into AFib.

Catheter Ablation Surgery does not fix any other cardio problems. For example, if you had high blood pressure or high cholesterol before the surgery, the surgery does nothing to change that. Just because your heart now no longer goes into AFib does not mean you can go wild and load up on cream fill doughnuts every morning. You still have to take care of yourself, eat heart-healthy and exercise.

A happy heart

A happy heart

So, that’s my patient’s-view story of Catheter Ablation Surgery. I hope it gives you some useful information.  Remember always that if you have heart problems there are lots of people who care and who can help you. Be well and be happy.

Russian Subway Dogs – Beautiful & Clever

In Russia, it is common to see dogs riding the subways on their own. Russians love these canines and never throw them off. Riding the subways is the reward Russian dogs earned for their great sacrifices during World War II. During the War, Russian dogs were used to destroy German tanks. The dogs had magnetic bombs strapped to their bodies and were trained to run at full speed at a German tank. When the dog got close to the tank, the magnetic bomb automatically detonated, killing the dog and destroying the tank.  Dogs were also used for tracking, search and rescue. In desperate situations dogs were killed and the dog meat used to feed starving Russians.

Russian Commuters are used to some of the fellow commuters being dogs.

Russian Commuters are used to some of the fellow commuters being dogs.

Modern people in American and Western Europe are horrified when they hear of this World War II cruelly towards Russian dogs. However, it is impossible for these modern  people to even imagine what World War II was like for the Russians. Approximately 15% of the entire Russian population died in the War, when the death toll was counted not in thousands but in millions.

Russian dog sleeps in the subway.

Russian dog sleeps in the subway.

Russians had always loved dogs, and they vowed that after the war they would repay all Russian dogs with absolute freedom. Hence the rise of the Russian subway dogs.  These clever canines have learned to navigate the complex systems. They use them to avoid the cold and even to commute from the suburbs to the cities.

Soviet Soldier in World War II preparing a bomb dog

Soviet Soldier in World War II preparing a bomb dog

When the dog commuters get  to the city  the use clever tricks to get food. Dogs have learned to work in teams when they see a person get food from a street vendor. One dog will sneak up behind the person and bark loudly just as the person gets the food. The startled person usually jumps and drops the food. Then a second dog waiting in front of the person grabs the food from the street and runs off with it. The barking dog then follows the dog in front and the two meet up to share the food. If only humans could work with such precision teamwork.

Soviet combat soldier in World War II with his dog.

Soviet combat soldier in World War II with his dog.

So if you are ever in a Moscow subway, don’t be surprised if a dog climbs up onto the seat next to you like it owns the place. Remember that Russian dogs shed blood to earn their seats on the subway. The Russian people have not forgotten.

Russians used dogs to attack German tanks in World War II

Russians used dogs to attack German tanks in World War II

Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) – The Dutch Racist Christmas Tradition

This time of year, white Dutch men in blackface parade around the streets of The Netherlands in a Christmas tradition that the Dutch insist is not racist. The men are portraying Zwarte Piet, who is the loyal servant of Sinterklaas, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. These parades have existed for more than 150 years and the Dutch are very proud of them.

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Sinterklaas & men dressed as Zwarte Piet

Tradition has it that Zwarte Piet was a valued and well-paid servant (not a slave) of Sinterklaas. In fact, Zwarte Piet is often portrayed as being far more intelligent than the absent minded Sinterklaas. Zwarte Piet was a Moor, which is why the Dutch wear blackface. Zwarte Piet is not considered an object of ridicule but a hero. In legend, he once gave gold coins to poor young women so that they would not have to sell themselves as prostitutes to survive. Zwarte Piet is also the enforcer for Sinterklaas. He gives good children candy and presents, but hits the bad ones with a broom. This is why in some parades, Zwarte Piet is seen carrying a broom.

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

Young Dutch women protesting Zwarte Piet

The problem is that the Dutch simply don’t understand how racist it looks to the rest of the world to have white men dancing around the streets in blackface. The Dutch are a very logical society and their rationale is that Black Pete cannot possibly be racist since the Dutch did not intend for him to be a racist symbol. The Dutch will further explain that Zwarte Piet is in fact a hero, and the men in blackface are actually praising this ancient Moor.

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

Some Dutch have begun reducing the amount of blackface on Zwarte Piet

However, as the economy has become more global, many people of African ancestry have moved to The Netherlands due to its welcoming business climate. People of African ancestry are shocked and offended by Zwarte Piet, and are frustrated that the white Dutch people just don’t understand the problem. The fact that Zwarte Piet appears dressed as a clown makes him seem even more of an object of ridicule. In  fact, Zwarte Piet is actually dressed in the traditional outfit of a servant to a wealthy noble.

Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer in 1927" Jolson never considered himself racist.

Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. Jolson never considered himself racist.

Protests have erupted in The Netherlands this year over Zwarte Piet. However, over 90% of the Dutch do not consider Zwarte Piet a racist symbol and do not see what all the fuss is about. In some parades, Zwarte Piet performers have tried to reduce the tension by wearing less blackface makeup. They somehow feel that a Brown Pete might be less offensive than a Black Pete. However, this was like throwing gasoline on  a fire.

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

White Americans in modern day using blackface to post a mock lynching on-line

The Zwarte Piet controversy in The Netherlands is a perfect example of two groups talking past each other instead of with each other. For an outsider, the solution to the problem seems very simple. Have Zwarte Piet played by someone of African ancestry. If no one is available for the parade, then have a white actor play Piet, without blackface. The protesters are not objecting to the legend of Zwarte Piet. What they are objecting to is modern-day White Men wearing blackface.

The use of blackface in America has such horrible historic connotations that blackface anywhere in the world is considered an open declaration of racist intent. The Dutch argue that this is not fair for them to have to change their tradition due to American racism.

As protesters have said “Racisme is Niet Gezelligheid” Roughly translated this means “Racism is not harmony”. Gezelligheid (harmony or coziness) is the highest goal of the people of the Netherlands. It is what every Dutch family, company and the society as a whole strive for. If the Dutch want to acheive true Gezelligheid then it is time to put the blackface makeup away forever.