Random notes, some administrative, for April 23, 2014.

April 23rd, 2014

Apologies for the extended radio silence. The past few days have been busy.

As many of the Whipped Cream Irregulars know, Sunday was my birthday, as well as Easter. This will not happen again until 2025.

Anyway, Mike the Musicologist came up late Friday night, rented a Silvercar, and we drove down to San Antonio on Saturday to do some gun shopping, tour Ranger Creek (which will be the subject of another post), and have dinner with Andrew and Lawrence at Bohanan’s (which may be the subject of another post).

I spent Easter Sunday with family, eating an excellent ham from the Noble Pig and a very good cake baked by my sister. (I don’t remember which cookbook she got the recipe from, but I thought it was very good; perhaps she’ll post here and update.)

Then on Monday, MtM and I took the Silvercar to Dallas, where we did some more gun shopping (including a stop at Cabela’s, but not that one), had a very good lunch at Chop House Burgers, and did some shopping for tacky souvenirs of pre-revolutionary America at the 6th Floor Museum shop.

So Saturday through Monday were jam packed. (For the record, I did not buy any guns. Though I was really tempted by the Sig Sauer 1911 22 at GrabAGun. I was also tempted at one of the San Antonio gun stores that had a couple of Nylon 66s, but I just can’t bring myself to pay $350 for one, even if it did have a scope.)

(Edited to add: Also, $1,300 for a K-22, even if it was an early post-war gun with the box, seems really really high.)

Anyway, I’m back and trying to get caught up on blogging. Profuse thanks to MtM for organizing the weekend.


April 18th, 2014

NYT. Tribute from Michiko Kakutani.


A/V Club.

WP. WP original 1970 review of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Edited to add: “Love in the Time of Cholera: why it’s a bad title“.

Funny thing: I’ve never read any of Márquez’s work. I have One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera on my bucket list of books to read before I die, but I just haven’t gotten around to them yet. And for some reason, I’m also intrigued by News of a Kidnapping.

I actually went by one of the Half-Price Books locations last night looking for Márquez’s works. They had nothing. Nada. Zero. Surprising: I would have figured they’d have some copies of Love or Solitude at least.

Books in brief: The Power Broker.

April 17th, 2014

This won’t be a review. Reviewing The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York would be superfluous; Robert Caro won the freakin’ Pulitzer Prize for it, for crying out loud.

These are a few random thoughts:

1. The Power Broker deserves all the acclaim it has gotten. Caro’s a great writer, and the story of the rise (and eventual fall) of Robert Moses is a compelling one. I kind of expected it to be slow moving and a little dull; how do you make urban planning interesting? But Caro found a way to do that. I got caught up in the sweep of the book, and found myself wanting to read more about Al Smith and La Guardia and other background characters.
There are a few places where I have reservations about Caro’s conclusions. The largest reservation I have is Caro’s emphasis on mass transit, and Moses’ failures in that regard. I’m not as much of a believer in mass transit as Caro seems to be, but I’m willing to concede Caro might be right. Given the population density (both at the time and projected for the future) mass transit may have been the only workable alternative for NYC’s traffic problems.

2. I haven’t read Caro’s LBJ books. I’m waiting for the series to be completed before I start on them. (I have read excerpts from them in other places.) But I wonder if Caro is drawn to people who were, in some way, corrupted by power. I have the impression that this is a theme in the LBJ books. And as for The Power Broker

3. You know that quote attributed to Dave Barry? “Someone who is nice to you, but rude to the waitress, is not a nice person?” Robert Moses was a walking example of that. He was an elitist who believed that he and people like him – rich, Ivy League educated – were the only ones who were fit to govern, and everyone else should just get out of the way. He was a racist – he didn’t want the “lower classes” (read: blacks and the poor) using his parks, pools and playgrounds. He treated anyone he considered an inferior like dirt. As for the powerful, his main interest in them was how he could use them to enhance his own power. He destroyed vital and interesting neighborhoods for the sake of new roads, even though those neighborhoods could have been saved by small changes in routes (but those changes would have inconvenienced politicians who were important to Moses). And the new roads and bridges he built were full as soon as they were completed, which Moses saw as a reason to build more. Lather, rinse, repeat. We’re too close to Easter for me to say what I’m really thinking, but you can probably guess.

4. This shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did: there was (is?) a recent Robert Moses revisionist movement. The central thesis seems to be: yes, he was every bit as big a you-know-what as Caro portrayed him. But. He. Got. Things. Done. And “If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?

Obit watch: April 17, 2014.

April 17th, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez is dead. Roundup tomorrow.

Cue the sad tiny violins…

April 17th, 2014

Second day story on the Robert “Ratso” Rizzo sentencing. Not much new, but linked here for the historical record.

He developed a reputation as a micromanager who pinched pennies even as he burnished the city’s image, adding a miniature golf course and pristine playing fields.

Okay, the miniature golf course is the first good thing I’ve heard about him.

Taylor said most of Rizzo’s money and assets appeared to have been squandered on real estate investments and about 30 racehorses that would have cost more to care for than what they were worth.

I knew about Ratso’s horse racing, but “more to care for than what they were worth”? Hadn’t heard that before.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#11 in a series)

April 16th, 2014

Robert “Ratso” Rizzo has just been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

This is breaking news: watch this space for updates and links.

Edited to add: link with more details.

In addition to the prison sentence, Ratso will also have to pay $8.8 million in restitution to the city of Bell: but he will get credit for “money he and the city’s former police chief have already returned to the city”.

The LAT also states that Ratso will be allowed to serve this sentence concurrently with his 33 month sentence on tax fraud charges. One of the LAT‘s editors tweets:

In other news, Superintendent Jose Fernandez of the Centinela Valley Union High School District was paid $674,559 last year. For comparison purposes, the head of the NYC schools made $412,193. The head of the LA school district made $393,106.

The district gave him $230,213 to purchase more seniority in state retirement systems so he would receive a higher annual pension.

Isn’t that kind of “Here, let us give you some money so you can end up taking even more money out of our pockets?”

The FBI may be investigating. Or at least asking questions before they start an investigation. (I’m not sure what laws may have been broken: being paid a lot of money isn’t a crime by itself.)

From 2010 through 2012 he also did well — and progressively better — making $310,965, $382,370 and $407,786 respectively, according to district records Fernandez provided after a California Public Records Act request.

Doesn’t that still seem kind of high? The Centinela school district has “6,600 students, five high schools and a $70-million budget.” There seems to be an argument being made that Fernandez pulled the district out of possible bankruptcy; but at the same time, there are also claims that teachers were being laid off while he was getting paid to purchase more seniority in the retirement system.

Edited to add 2:

“I can’t go anywhere,” Rizzo murmured.

On a completely unrelated note, there’s an iPhone app called “Tiny Violin“.

Banana republicans watch: April 15, 2014.

April 15th, 2014

I have written before about the California city of Cudahy: election fraud, marijuana dispensary bribes, the bimbo and the badge, payoffs in the Denny’s

Latest developments:

City leaders in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities used city-issued credit cards for excessive travel, meals and entertainment, mismanaged state funds and had virtually no internal controls to prevent the misuse of taxpayer dollars, the state controller concluded in a scathing audit released Tuesday.

The city has been ordered to repay $22.7 million in “redevelopment funds”.

On a totally unrelated note, here because I just love typing the name, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow has pled not guilty to the charges against him.

Who holds back the electric car?

April 15th, 2014

By way of the Y Combinator Twitter, I found this rather interesting Fast Company article about “Better Place”.

Better Place was born to be revolutionary, the epitome of the kind of world-changing ambition that routinely gets celebrated. Founder Shai Agassi, a serial entrepreneur turned rising star at German software giant SAP, conceived Better Place “on a Davos afternoon” in 2005 when he asked himself, “How would you run a whole country without oil?” Four years later, onstage at the TED conference, Agassi, a proud Israeli with a bit of a Steve Jobs complex, wore a black turtleneck and promised, with the confidence of a man who has known the future for some time but has only recently decided to share his findings, that he would sell millions of electric vehicles in his home country and around the world. He implied that converting to electric cars was the moral equivalent of the abolition of human slavery and that it would usher in a new Industrial Revolution.

Shai Agassi was on FC‘s “2009 Most Creative People in Business” list. He was on the cover of Wired. Better Place raised almost a billion dollars.

And if being on the cover of Wired wasn’t a dead giveaway for you, they collapsed.

Agassi had assumed that the car would cost roughly half the price of a typical gasoline car and would have a range of at least 100 miles. Instead, batteries were delivered with a range of closer to 80 miles, and the terms with ­Renault meant he was selling an unsexy family car for about the same price as a nice sedan like the Mazda3 or the Toyota Corolla. (Not to mention that customers were asked to spend an additional $3,000 or so a year to rent the battery and pay for the use of charging and swap stations.)

I have been, and continue to be, somewhat critical of Tesla. But I think one thing they’re doing right is positioning their vehicles as a premium product that’s worth the asking price.

Better to light one small candle…

April 14th, 2014

…than to let the tax-fattened hyena get away without going down in flames.

Robert “Ratso” Rizzo has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison on his tax fraud charges.

He was also ordered to pay $256,000 in restitution to the federal government.

As I noted earlier, this sentence will likely run concurrently with his sentence on the Bell corruption charges, which will be handed down Wednesday.

Random notes: April 14, 2014.

April 14th, 2014

Don’t forget: tomorrow is National Buy a Gun Day. I’m not sure I’ll be observing it on the 15th this year, but we’ll see how things go…

I see Lawrence’s killer paramedic, and raise: 77 arson fires in a Virgina county over five months. Serial arsons are kind of interesting on their own, but who did it and (allegedly) why, is the twist here.

In the past four days, the NYT has run two stories bemoaning the closing of J&R Music World. Just saying.


“There is a place for using apps and all kinds of technology to prepare for the holiday, but I would prefer to do that beforehand so that when you’re actually at the Seder you’re actually speaking to one another,” said Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the dean of the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which ordains rabbis in the Conservative movement.

I think Rabbi Nevins is on the mark with this. But:

The use of the electronic Haggadot comes just as Conservative rabbis are embroiled in a debate over whether to make e-readers permissible on the Sabbath. Rabbi Nevins wrote a paper last year saying that such devices violated the spirit of the Sabbath and the holidays, traditionally viewed as a sanctuary from the workaday world.

If it is okay to read books on the Sabbath, why is it not okay to use e-readers? (Please note: while I have a great admiration for the Jewish religion and people, I am not Jewish, nor am I a Torah scholar.)

Lawrence also suggested at dinner the other night that I do a comprehensive prison personæ for the city of Bell: basically, a quick reference guide to who’s been convicted of what, and how much time they’ll serve. I may do that in the next few days, but I want to hold off a bit: Robert “Ratso” Rizzo is supposed to be sentenced on his tax charges later today, and sentenced on the other charges related to his role as Bell city manager on Wednesday. I will update here once Rizzo’s sentences are announced.

By way of Popehat on the Twitter: NYC’s Brecht Forum is closing. No, this wasn’t a place where folks sat around and sang “Mack the Knife” and other songs: that would actually have been kind of cool.

The center’s mission, according to its website, is to “create, within existing society, a counter-hegemonic culture of working people and their allies, who are capable of challenging the capitalist agenda, prefiguring new ways of thinking and of self-organization, as well as creating new ways of relating to each other and nature.”
Figures like Noam Chomsky, William Greider, Lewis H. Lapham and Naomi Klein have spoken at events at the forum. Affiliated groups include the Institute for Popular Education, the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory and the Strike Anywhere Theater Ensemble.

Yeah, Donnie, they’re Marxists.

“Rising Manhattan rents forced us to Brooklyn, but we have incurred debts and costs that are insurmountable,” the board members wrote, saying that they had decided to close the forum “with dignity” and the hope that “the larger project we all care so deeply about may survive in a different form.”

Awwwww. But where will they go now?

Plenty of serious discussion about politics and philosophy took place in the brick building on West Street, but the activists who gathered there had a lighter side, too, sometimes playing foosball or a Marxist version of Monopoly, called Class Struggle.

I was hoping to be able to provide an Amazon link for “Class Struggle”, just in case you have any children in your life that you hate. Sadly, it appears that “Class Struggle”, produced by Avalon Hill (!), is out of print and used copies are pricy. Here’s BoardGameGeek’s page.

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadian Navy.

April 13th, 2014

I remember Guy Lombardo from when I was a wee lad. Every New Year’s Eve up until roughly 1976, there was Guy and his Royal Canadian Orchestra hosting their New Year’s Eve special. Sometimes I was able to stay up and watch at least part of it.

I associated Guy and the RCO with Lawrence Welk and Liberace and, for want of a better word, the kind of music my maternal grandmother and grandfather liked. But at the time, there were only three real television channels, I never really got into Dick Clark, and “Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadian Orchestra” flowed trippingly off the tongue.

I hadn’t thought of Guy in years, until a few paragraphs in The Power Broker got me wondering about him. How did he end up hosting those specials? What else did he do, and where did he come from?

Wikipedia turned up one of those odd historical byways that I’m so fond of. In addition to being the leader of the Royal Canadians, Guy raced boats. Seriously raced boats. As in, he won the Gold Cup (which is the biggest prize in boat racing) in 1946.

From 1946 to 1949, he was the reigning US national champion. Before his retirement from the sport in the late 1950s, he had won every trophy in the field.

Before his retirement, he was planning to make a run at the world speed record on water. His retirement may have been prompted by the fact that the boat he was planning to use disintegrated during a test run.

(As a side note, that record isn’t for the timid. Wikipedia claims “an approximate fatality rate of 85% since 1940“, though it should also be noted that this statement is tagged “Citation needed.” No matter what the actual percentage is, looking over the history of attempts makes it very clear that this is an expensive way to kill yourself very fast if anything goes wrong.)

And what’s the relationship between Guy and Robert Moses that brought this up in the first place? Guy and his RCO were basically Robert Moses’ house band. Moses set them up at Jones Beach and gave them an incredibly sweet deal: Moses didn’t just pay Guy and RCO to play at the park, but also absorbed all the costs of running the venue, and allowed Guy and the RCO to keep most of the ticket money and advertising revenue. In return, not only did Guy and the RCO play at Jones Beach, but they also entertained at various other offical functions for Moses, and Moses used them to impress people he needed to impress. For example, if you had a small child and Moses needed your help with something…well, Guy entered the Jones Beach theater every night on one of his speedboats. Wouldn’t your kid love to ride along with Guy as he made his grand entrance in Tempo? Of course they would.

(There are a couple of good biographies that need to be written. I can’t find any evidence that there was ever one written of Guy and his brothers, and it sure seems there’s more to their story. I think you could also get a good book out of the story of Rosebud Yellow Robe.)

Banana republicans watch: April 10, 2014.

April 10th, 2014

Woo hoo woo hoo hoo!

Eleven years and eight months in prison for Angela Spaccia, former assistant city administrator for the notoriously corrupt city of Bell.

And speaking of the notoriously corrupt city of Bell, here’s second day coverage of the plea deals by the former city council members.

As part of the deal, each will pay restitution to Bell, which was left on the brink of bankruptcy, largely because of the large salaries paid.


“I don’t imagine any of you are planning on running for public office again, but you will be precluded from doing so,” [L.A. County Superior Court Judge Kathleen] Kennedy told them in court.

Edited to add 4/11: Second day story on the Spaccia conviction. Nut from that story: in addition to the prison time, Spaccia has also been ordered to pay $8 million in restitution.