Forty year old men in movies

I’ve been on this planet for forty years, and I’m no closer to understanding a single thing.

says Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation.

Forty years old, and I’ve never done a single thing I’m proud of.

says Harvey Milk, early in Milk.  It’s his fortieth birthday when we meet him:

The film then flashes back to New York City in 1970, the eve of Milk’s 40th birthday and his first meeting with his much younger lover, Scott Smith.

Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams tells us he’s thirty-six:

Annie and I got married in June of ’74. Dad died that fall. A few years later, Karin was born. She smelled weird, but we loved her anyway. Then Annie got the crazy idea that she could talk me into buying a farm. I’m thirty-six years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I’m about to become a farmer. And until I heard the Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.*

but that was in 1989, when, believe it or not, life expectancy was 3.89 years shorter.

Then of course there’s:

and

What’s going on here?  I pondered this.  Is it because forty years old is about when directors get the chance to make movies like this? Most of them are men, so it’s no surprise the topic they’re obsessed with is forty year old men? 

Are there movies about explicitly forty year old women? None leap to mind. There are several movies about a ~ thirty year old woman’s crisis. Bridget Jones, My Best Friend’s Wedding – but I can’t think of forty year old women appearing quite so often with such clear declaration. (Although maybe that’s a bias in what this observer, himself a forty year old man, picks up.)

Could it be the actors? This is when make actors tend to be developed in their craft, at the peak of their power, empowered to wrestle with material they choose, yet also perhaps pondering some bigger questions than might concern a younger man.

Is forty when a man straddles a divide between the free adventures of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood? Truly, finally, no more postponement, he must make some choice? Does that choice make for a movie?

Or maybe it’s simpler than all that.

Let’s say you just turned 40. Obviously, 40 is just a number, but in many ways, it’s a milestone. Though people are living longer these days into the 80s and 90s, still age 40 is considered the halfway mark.

(That’s from this article on Seeking Alpha.)  

Maybe it’s just the halfway mark.  When you get to halftime you ask, how am I doing?  You check the scoreboard, talk in the locker room.  “Make adjustments,” as the football coaches always say.

In the middle of the journey of our life

I found myself in a dark forest,

for the straight way was lost.

Not a bad way to start a story. (Dante’s Inferno, Canto I, translated by Google)

* Ray Kinsella says that before he heard the Voice, he’d “never done a crazy thing in my entire life.” But earlier in the same speech he tells us:

I marched, I smoked some grass, I tried to like sitar music, 

Sounds like a guy who’s at least experimental (or is he saying he did all the cliché things of any ’60s college student?). 

Ray also says that (along with Annie) he bought a farm in Iowa, the “idea” of which was, his words, “crazy.” 

I think Ray protests a little too much here. I think he is the type who would at least consider a crazy thing.  Perhaps that openness is part of why the Voice chose him.  

 

 


One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown

1966.  The Beatles return from the US, having played what will be their “last proper concert,” Candlestick Park, San Francisco, August 29.  They have some time off.

For the first time in years, the four of them were able to take a break from being Beatles.  With three months free, they could do what they liked.  Ringo chose to relax at home with his wife and new baby.  John went to Europe to play Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s film How I Won The War.  George flew to Bombay to study yoga and to be taught to play the sitar by Ravi Shankar.  This left Paul to his own devices.

For a while he hangs out in London, where he’s surely the most famous person.  It gets a tiresome, really.  Paul gets the idea of going incognito.  He arranges a fake mustache, and fake glasses, and slicks his hair back with Vasoline.  He has an Aston Martin DB6 shipped to France, and across the Channel he goes.  He drives around France for a bit, relaxing in Paris, sitting in cafes unrecognized.  From his hotel window he shoots experimental film of cars passing a gendarme.  On he goes.

Upon reaching Bordeaux, he felt a hankering for the night life.  Still in disguise, he turned up at a local discothèque, but was refused entry.  “I looked like old jerko. ‘No, no monsieur, non’ – you schmuck, we can’t let you in.” So he went back to his hotel and took off his scruffy overcoat, his moustache and his glasses.  Then he returned to the disco where he was welcomed with open arms.

I absolutely hoovered up this book.  I’ve read a bunch of Beatles books in the last few years: Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming The Beatles, the gossipy The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett, about the Beatles post Beatles.  This last one may have been the most compelling, even though much of it is patient unraveling of complex business and tax situations (plus anecdotes about decadence.)  A tragedy about the years the Beatles spent suing each other.  Maybe because how a person handles that kind of stress – the stress of tedious meetings – is more revealing, the personalities really came to life.

You’d think I’d be bored of the Beatles.  The facts of the history don’t even interest me that much, and I doubt there’s a Beatles song on my top 100 most played.  I’m not that much of a Beatles fan, to be honest, not compared to the psychos.  (A funny bit in this book is Craig Brown, saying he’s spent a few years in deep on Beatles books and lore, acknowledging he’s barely scratched the surface of like, people who know every version of the lineup of the Quarrymen.)

We don’t need a recounting of the basic beats of the plot of the Beatles.  We know.

Craig Brown goes so far beyond that.  He assumes you know the rough outlines, and somehow he breathes new life into these old bones.  He makes moments pop.  Specimens of time, how far can we go to recapturing them?  That’s the real question of this book.

Brown will take an incident – the day Bob Dylan turned the Beatles on to marijuana, for instance – and turn it over from every angle, consider every account.  How do we know what we know?  Who’s telling us?  What was their agenda?  How much can they be trusted? The historigraphy, you might say.  At the same time, he puts us right there as Brian Epstein looks at himself in the mirror, repeating a single word over and over.

Take Pete Best.  You probably know that story, the original drummer, they replaced him with Ringo.  The cruelty of how that went down, how the Beatles treated him, shocks here in Brown’s retelling.  I didn’t know, for instance, that in 1967 Pete Best tried to kill himself.  Brown takes us thereL

He locks the door, blocks any air gaps, places a pillow on the floor in front of the gas fire, and turns on the gas.  He is fading way when his brother Rory arrives, smells gas, batters the door down and, screaming “Bloody idiot!” saves his life.

If you want to know what happened to the comedians who had to perform in between the Beatles’ sets on Ed Sullivan, this is the book for you.

Can I reprint all of Chapter 30?

Seems like I’m just approximating picking this book up in a bookshop.  What harm in that?

Craig Brown: going on my Role Models and Inspirations board. In a random, unrelated search I learn that he is aunt by marriage to Florence Welch, of Florence + The Machine.  That’s the kind of connection Craig Brown would track down and work over for any possible meaning.  Maybe there’s something there, maybe he’d discard it to the flotsam of chance, who knows.  The point is he’d track it down.

Brown’s 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret is great too, if you’re into The Crown type stuff.

 

 


Meat – Plants – Stuffing

I’ve created a new taxonomy of food, I believe it is correct.

There are three types of food:

  • meat
  • plant
  • stuffing

All foods can be fit into these categories.

Questions:

Yes, what is bread?

Bread is stuffing, obviously.

Potatoes are a plant, aren’t– 

Let me stop you right there, potatoes are stuffing.  Fries are stuffing, chips are stuffing, mashed potatoes are stuffing.  Potatoes in all forms are stuffing, you know this.

And corn?

All corn is stuffing.  Most American stuffing comes in the form of compressed corn.

What are carrots?

Carrots are plant.  Boiled, mushy carrots approach stuffing, this is because you’ve beaten out of them their plant nature.  The highest forms of cooking retain the true nature of the meat or plant.  The cooking and preparations of stuffing take wider forms.

What is cheese?

All dairy is stuffing, again, you know this in your heart.

What about ice cream?  Ice cream is its own thing.

I’m willing to accept those who create a mental category called “ice,” “ices,” or “ice cream” which includes Popsicles, sherbets, etc.  I think you’re being dishonest with yourself though if you don’t accept that ice cream is a form of stuffing, however joyful and harmless.

What about fish?

Hmm ok I guess we were including fish with meat but I will allow fish as its own category.  There are four types of food,

  • meat
  • plant
  • fish
  • stuffing.

What is soup?

Vegetable soup?  Plant.  If there’s a potato in there, that’s stuffing.  Corn of any kind is stuffing.

OK what is miso soup?

That is a liquid.

Wait a —

There is a category called “spice,” if you insist miso soup could be a spice, along with salt, bbq sauce, gravy etc, things we eat that are not in the three food categories.

What is a tomato?

Some call it spice, and we respect that, but it is plant.

What about the cheese on a pizza?

Stuffing, as is the crust.  Pizza is a stuffing food, even if it contains some plant (tomato, if you believe tomato to be a plant not a spice).

Evan Amos photographed “Chicken McNuggets

What is a McDonald’s Chicken Nugget*?

Great question, let’s say the answer together on three, one, two, three, stuffing, you said stuffing didn’t you?  Because it is stuffing.

For that matter, some low-quality burgers are in fact not meat but stuffing.  I’d suggest even a 100% beef burger, if made from corn-fed, lot-processed beef, is stuffing.  And the cheese is stuffing, and the bun is stuffing.  That’s why it’s so important to get lettuce on there, so at least you get plant.

In what proportion should I eat these foods?

Look, that’s up to you, I’m not here to dictate diets which I think are VERY personal and person-specific.  But we do feel that being honest about this taxonomy, saying to yourself “this is stuffing, I’m eating stuffing,” keeping track of how much of each category you eat, may be helpful towards establishing nourishing and sustaining and sustainable food habits.

What’s an apple?

Plant.

Apple pie?

Stuffing.  The vanilla ice cream scoop is possibly “ice cream,” its at the very least a different kind of stuffing, but we don’t let ourselves get sidetracked into subcategories.  Short answer, stuffing.

(I’ve got him now, watch this:) Excuse me, what about apple pie?

Stuffing, please leave.

What about my beloved bivalves, oysters and clams?

Those are meat, or if you insist, fish.  Lobster is stuffing, as is any crab whose carapace is larger than a quarter.

What about like a chip, but it’s made out of lettuce?  Some kind of Veggie Crisp?

Plant covered in stuffing.

I don’t think I have any more questions, thank you.

You’re welcome, please enjoy these categories and spread them widely.

UPDATES:

The comments roll in:

Fish is meat and lobster is fish.

Agree that fish is meat.  Lobster is stuffing.  A lobster eats meat (fish) or stuffing (waste, carrion, etc) and turns it into more stuffing.  It does not magically turn stuffing into fish.  Unfortunately, by the way, would be great if it did!

(Getting some pushback on this.  Maybe lobster is meat)

What is a chickpea?

Stuffing!  Look, there’s nothing wrong with many stuffings, especially natural stuffings.  They have an important place in any diet!  My favorite food is spaghetti, a stuffing! (with tomato sauce, a spice/plant).

Hello! Some questions from @ccheever and me: what about eggs (hard boiled or sunny-side up no stuffing/frills)? What about tofu (also by itself), which could fit any of the 3 categories?

Hi Helen!  Eggs are… meat!  Once it becomes an omelette, an egg is stuffing.  Tofu is stuffing!

What about nuts?

Nuts are stuffing.

Ok one more: cauliflower.  Seems like the stuffing of vegetables.

Plant.

What about mushrooms?

This is a tricky one.  Fungi is special.  But I will say 90% of mushrooms are served as stuffing.

 

* Bourdain had many funny takes on the McNugget, here’s one from a 2014 interview with Kam Williams, Baltimore Black:

AB: I think it’s very hard to make an argument that a Chicken McNugget is either chicken or a nugget? If you’re eating unwholesome, street food in a country where they have to make do with whatever scraps are left to them, at least you know what it is, and generally have some sense of where it came from. Whereas a McNugget, to my way of thinking, is a Frankenfood whose name doesn’t necessarily reflect what it is. I’m still not sure what it is. Listen, Kam, when drunk, I will eat a McNugget. It’s not the worst tasting thing in the world, but it’s one of the things I’m least likely to eat, because I choose not to.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ray Dalio

In a “Principles” app that takes its name and lessons from a bestselling memoir by Mr. Dalio, this week’s case study on meaningful work and relationships features a video from a 2013 “Family Reunion” for employees who had been at Bridgewater for at least a decade.

“Every one of these people here is, you know, my family,” Mr. Dalio said in the video. “I’ve watched them grow up, like, coming out of college and watching them get married and have their kids. You know, I didn’t behave any different to the people I work with than with my kids.”

Some of the employees who appeared in the video were among those laid off this month, said people familiar with the matter.

from Friday’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Bridgewater Associates Lays Off Several Dozen Employees,” by Juliet Chung.

Ray Dalio is a beloved figure here at Helytimes.  If you’ve read Principles, this behavior is not inconsistent, I’m sure he told these employees that to achieve success they must first face and accept harsh realities.


Scrapbasket

Some local street art (by Bandit?).  Since painted over I believe.  At least I can’t find it.

Photo I took in William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS.

from this WSJ commentary by Kate Bachelder Odell about leadership failures in the US Navy.

“Soldiers bathing, North Anna River, Va.–ruins of railroad bridge in background,” by Timothy O’Sullivan.  May 1864.  The work of Timothy O’Sullivan has my attention.  Follow his photos on the Library of Congress and you’ll travel in time.

by Alexander Hope.

Original Caption: Subway train on the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, New York. The problem of how to move people and goods is ultimately bound up with the quality of life everywhere. The lands adjacent to the Bight, rivers flowing into it, and bays and estuaries edging it have direct upon the environment of the coastal water. The New York, New Jersey metropolitan region is one of the most congested in the world, 05/1974.

Just thought this was funny.


San Francisco (and Los Angeles)

Earlier this year, you moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco. How is the transition going?

It felt like the opening minute of Randy Newman’s song “I Love L.A.” Looking back on the twentieth century, I recall it was Los Angeles that was always the city of the future, and the city of craft and guilds. Every movie was essentially a six-month startup that brought together know-how and expertise from so many different areas: art, set design, costume, carpentry—and all the weirdly named professions like grips, gaffers, and boom operators. That ethos still lives on in the spirit of the place. With SpaceX and other aerospace companies making headway, I wouldn’t discount Southern California in the race to become the next big creative cluster. Of course, Sacramento may ruin the entire state before that happens. But that’s another story.

Michael Gibson (had never heard of) in City Journal.  Gibson wrote a piece for City Journal where he called San Francisco “America’s Havana.”  He pointed out inarguable problems with San Francisco, which is a shocking mess.

But, like Havana, San Francisco is also magical.  There’s just something about it.  Maybe it’s the drastic geography, set on hillsides over a bay that’s both perfect and hidden.  The sea air is part of it, for sure, and the lushness of the flora.  In both Havana and San Francisco, the very air is magical.

When you read the history of San Francisco, a certain tolerance of criminality always seems to have been part of the mix.  Stepping over a druggie passed out on the street wouldn’t’ve been unfamiliar to a resident of Gold Rush-era San Francisco or Barbary Coast San Francisco, or the 1940s San Francisco that inspired all the noir movies.

I’ve had in my files this bit by Lillian Symes from a 1932 Harper’s, reprinted from the archive:

The city of cheap yet superb living:

More:

When I got to LA in 2004, I found the living superb.  It was cheaper than New York City, but I’m not sure it could really be called cheap.  And it’s gotten less cheap.  Readers, where would you say, these days, the living is cheap yet superb?

San Francisco scenes:

 


I’m no expert on our 21st President

but somehow get the sense that Chester Alan Arthur did his best.  I guess signing the Chinese Exclusion Act would be the ugliest mark on his record.  He tried to stop it!

 


Valparaiso

Went back to watch one of my all time favorites.  Read more about Valparaiso in my book!


All right, good for him

Willie Nelson in Vulture.  And:

I read that you and Snoop Dogg were doing a new song. Is he also a fan of Willie’s Reserve?
Oh yeah. I was over in Amsterdam one time and I called him. I said, “Come on, Snoop. This is where you and me need to be.” We had a heck of a good time.


Uh oh


Pickett’s Charge: A microhistory of the final attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 by George R. Stewart

Forget where I came across a mention of George R. Stewart’s microhistory of Pickett’s Charge. could’ve been anywhere.  The idea of a microhistory intrigued so I got a used copy.

How about the career of George R. StewartMan: An Autobiography.  Genius.

If we grant – as many would be ready to do – that the Civil War furnishes the great dramatic episode of the history of the United States, and that Gettysburg provides the climax of the war, then the climax of the climax, the central moment of our history, must be Pickett’s Charge.

Thus to hold, indeed, is not to maintain that a different result, there by the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall, would of itself have reversed the course of the war and decisively altered history.

Stewart takes you there, to the clump of trees and the angle in the stone wall.  If you want to know where Hancock was at approximately 3:30 pm that day, and from where Longstreet watched what he knew was likely a doomed advance, this is the book for you.

The task at hand is to make sense out of what must’ve been absolute insanity, deafening, smoky confusion for the participants.  Consider the 19th Massachusetts, around 3:50 pm:

The men were jammed in to an average of six deep.  When a man had loaded, he pushed his way to the front to fire.  Sometimes he had to doge around to get a place through which to point his musket, and in the confusion men might be shot from the rear.  With men firing from everywhere the noise of the discharges was deafening.

Sometimes the lines even surged together, and there was a sudden swinging of clubbed muskets.  In one of these encounters, Private De Castro of the 19th knocked down the color-bearer of the 14th Virginia, he himself using the staff of the Massachusetts state colors as a club.  He seized the Virginia flag, brought it back, and thrust it into the hands of his colonel.

Some of the events seem almost mystical to the modern reader.  The wounded Confederate general Armistead falls at the Union lines:

Armistead had been heard, in some lull of the musketry, calling for help, “as the son of a widow.”  This we must take to be the code of some secret society; at least, the words gained immediate response.  Some of the men of the 72nd Pennsylvania requested permission of their officer to go to his aid, and carried him behind the Union lines.

As a wounded general, even though of the wrong side, he was granted much attention and every courtesy.  A surgeon, Henry H. Bingham, soon arrived, but could only inform Armistead that he was dying.  Bingham promised to deliver any personal effects that the general might desire forwarded to his family.

Armistead was, according to Bingham, a man “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken spirited.”  The words that he then spoke were destined to become a small storm-center of controversy: “Say to General Hancock for me, that I have done him, and you all, a grievous injury, which I shall always regret.”  He was then carried to the hospital.

Attitudes were at play which seem hard for us to access.  Stewart:

Horrors there were in plenty – men struck in the eyes, through the intestines, in the genitals.  Men were carried away maimed for life, and at least one wounded man drew his revolver and shot himself.  But to write of Gettysburg in terms of the Somme or of Monte Cassino would be a painful falsification of history.  Nothing is more striking in the sources generally than the absence of gloom.  The armies suffered casualties such as few modern armies have endured, but the men did not seem to feel sorry for themselves.  Did some primitive spirit of combat sustain them?  Or a romantic sense of glory?  Or an intense patriotism?  Or was it a more imminent hint of immortality, as when a private of Brown’s battery died in a religious ecstasy?

One of Stewart’s great sources is the records of a trial, twenty-five years after the battle, which resulted from a dispute between the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association and the Survivors’ Association of the 72nd Pennsylvania about where on the battlefield they were permitted to put their statue:

Some of the testimony is of a remarkable poignancy, even though the heat of battle was so many years in the past.  We have the boiling over of pride in the regiment:

Q.  Did you see any Massachusetts or New York regiment come down and run over the Seventy-second?

A. I would like to see somebody say so!  I would like to meet the man who said it!

We have the vivid personal memory:

Q. Where did you find the bodies in the angle; I mean of the Seventy-second people in the angle?

A. The most I can remember was one by the name of Metz belonging to my company – him and me were great chums – and he fell across the stone wall.  He fell crossways across the stone wall.

As for Pickett himself?

He himself realized that his conduct during the afternoon had been such that he would be accused of cowardice . . . His career really ended at Five Forks, April 1, 1865, when he again lost most of his division.  On this occasion, while his men were being crushed, Pickett was behind the lines and out of touch, enjoying a shad-bake.  These were the last days of the war, and the scandal was somewhat hushed up.  But Pickett thereafter had only some fragmentary regiments, and he was relieved of his command the day before the surrender.  Lee, seeing him at Appomattox, remarked, “I thought that man was no longer with the army.”

(Should we rename the fort named after this guy?)

You needn’t bother adding this volume to your library unless you’re a fairly serious student of the battle, but it’s impressive to observe Stewart’s achievement, and to think on these events.

If I have a criticism of this book it’s that Stewart is so entertaining he can make all this seem like sort of just a violent field day.  To clear up that impression real fast, one can look at any of a number of grim photographs Timothy O’Sullivan took that day, and after, photographs which still shock.  This one, “Dead Horses of Bigelow’s Battery,” for instance.

How Lee took the devastating day:

Summoned to receive orders, [General John D. Imboden] found the commander so exhausted that he could scarcely dismount from his horse.  Shocked by this weariness and by the sadness of the face, Imboden ventured to remark, when Lee stood silent, “General, this has been a hard day on you.”

Lee looked up, and then spoke mournfully, “Yes, it has been a sad, sad day to us.”  After another lingering silence, Lee commented on the gallantry of Pickett’s men, and then after another pause, he cried out, in a loud voice, in a tone almost of agony, “Too bad!  Too bad!  Oh!  TOO BAD!”

 


Life is moving

In the Moscow Art Theatre, in Tel Aviv in the Habimah, productions have been kept going for forty years or more: I have seen a faithful revival of Vakhtangov’s twenties’ staging of Princess Turandot; I have seen Stranislavsky’s own work, perfectly preserved: but none of these had more than antiquarian interest, none had the vitality of new invention.  At Stratford where we worry that we don’t play our repertoire long enough to milk its full box office value, we now discss this quite empirically: about five years, we agree, is the most a particular staging can live.  It is not only the hair-styles, costumes and make-up that look dated.  All the different elements of staging – the shorthands of behaviour that stand for certain emotions; gestures, gesticulations and tones of voice – are all fluctuating on an invisible stock exchange all the time.  Life is moving, influences are playing on actor and audience, and other plays, other arts, the cinema, television, current events, join in the constant rewriting of history and the amending of the daily truth.  In fashion houses someone will thump a table and say “boots are definitely in”: this is an existential fact.  A living theatre that thinks it can stand aloof from anything so trivial as fashion will wilt.  In the theatre, every form once born is mortal; every form must be reconceived, and its new conception will bear the marks of all the influences that surround it.  In this sense, the theatre is relativity.  Yet a great theatre is not a fashion house; perpetual elements do recur and certain fundamental issues underlie all dramatic activity.  The deadly trap is to divide the eternal truths from the superficial variations; this is a subtle form of snobbery and it is fatal.

This made me hmmm as I consider what to think about the exiling of comedy now felt to be unacceptably hurtful.


Rubber bullet and non-lethal projectile collecting

Sunday morning four weeks ago on the streets of the Beverly – Fairfax district was a bonanza for us collectors of non-lethal shells and projectiles.

The Honus Wagner card of this kind of collection is the LAPD stamped bean bag shell

A key guide for the hobbyist is the LAPD’s equipment page.

I hope I don’t have any more opportunities to add to my collection.

(Always remember the scene in The Last Castle (2001) where James Gandolfini, a military history buff, hears Redford, a real veteran, assess his collection of Civil War bullets and Minié balls: “it’s just something that caused some poor bastard a whole lotta pain.” 

Couple real good scenes in that movie.  When Redford teaches Ruffalo the meaning of a salute!)

 

 

 


How to read a Racing Form // Belmont Stakes value picks

Every time I’m in Las Vegas I pass through the sports book and pick up a few racing sheets. I’ve never been able to make much out of them, but the life of the full-time degenerate who’s eating a hot dog and watching the 3rd at Gulfstream or Louisiana Downs is somehow attractive.   Why is that?  What is it about this that’s appealing?  The songs and legends are part of it, for sure.  I’ve always found sitting in the stands at Santa Anita an appealing afternoon.  Less so since news of the frequent horse deaths.

Santa Anita is running right now, without spectators.

“I love to go back to Paris,” Hemingway said, his eyes still fixed on the road. “Am going in the back door and have no interviews and no publicity and never get a haircut, like in the old days. Want to go to cafés where I know no one but one waiter and his replacement, see all the new pictures and the old ones, go to the bike races and the fights, and see the new riders and fighters. Find good, cheap restaurants where you can keep your own napkin. Walk over all the town and see where we made our mistakes and where we had our few bright ideas. And learn the form and try and pick winners in the blue, smoky afternoons, and then go out the next day to play them at Auteuil and Enghien.”

“Papa is a good handicapper,” Mrs. Hemingway said.

“When I know the form,” he said.

from the Lillian Ross New Yorker profile of Hemingway.

How do you “learn the form”?

I chanced recently across this academic paper, Sports Betting As a New Asset Class, by Lovjit Thukral and Pedro Vergel. It addresses the possible money-making potential of a strategy of “laying the favorite.”

The authors take a simple betting strategy based on Horse races in the UK and invest consistently on laying (betting on the event not to occur) the 4 favourite horses (with the lowest odds) in each race. They find the following:

(1) this type of horse racing strategy provide uncorrelated returns to the market;

(2) the strategy outperforms the Credit Suisse Hedge fund Index and S&P 500 Total returns on average for the last 6 years.

Can this be so?  A quick investigation reveals that “laying the favorite” in this way doesn’t seem to be a commonplace option in US horse betting.  I don’t think this strategy would be financially viable here.

This talk of laying favorites reminded me of my friend Beth Raymer’s book, Lay The Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling.

The book was made into a 2012 film starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the book, Raymer describes learning from the professional gambler and line-setter Dink:

Studying to find value — into it!  I resolved to learn how to read a Racing Form, and try to glean some information from it that might give an edge.

Using the very helpful resources provided by the late Neil Benoit’s Getting Out Of The Gate website, which has a Racing 101-401 course, I was able to grasp the basics.  This resource at Art of Manliness was also quite helpful, and there’s a Wikihow about racing forms, but it’s Benoit who really gave us a gift.

I’d like to try and summarize my learnings for you, to save you the time in case you’re interested, and because the easiest way to really learn something is to try and teach it.

Let’s take as our example the first horse, Route Six Six, in the 7th race tomorrow (Saturday, June 20) at Santa Anita.

Up top we’ve got some basic info about the horse, like who owns her (f=filly), and her mom (Dam) and dad (Sire).

Personally, and this is based on zero study, but I suspect there’s all together too much focus on breeding in horses.  It feels distracting and possibly irrelevant, like when the old-time scouts in Moneyball are focused on how hot a player’s girlfriend is.  It just feels old-fashioned and unstatistical.  But then again, since I haven’t run any statistical studies, this belief of mine is based on zero evidence as well.

You know what I want to find out from a racing form?  One thing.  How fast is this horse?

I turned to my high school experience as a cross-country runner under the rigorous coaching of Livingston Carroll, who also taught statistics.  He’d always have a pretty good sense of the average race times of most of our competition.  It seems to me that the racing form, while interesting as a compressed pile of information, doesn’t really focus in on the central question: which of these horses is the fastest?  Beyond that is intangibles and unpredictable noise.
Luckily the Racing Form gives us lots of info towards figuring out which horse is fastest, if we can just figure it out.  We get a bunch of data on the horse’s recent races.
We see that Route Six Six ran on the 16th of May 2020 in the fourth race at SA (Santa Anita) in fst (fast) conditions at a distance of one mile.  OK, already useful info.  Remember what Thomas Ainslie says in his Complete Guide about the basic components:
1) elimination of horses that seem unsuited to the distance of the race
2) elimination of horses that do not seem in sufficiently sharp condition
3) elimination of horses that seem outclassed
4) elimination of horses at a serious disadvantage on today’s footing or in light of track biases
The distance helps us sort out #1.  Route Six Six, as we can see, has been running at 1 mile, even 1 1/8 mile.  A mile is 8 furlongs.  1 1/16 mile should be a reasonable distance for this horse.  Races of a mile or longer are called “routes,” vs shorter races, “sprints.”
In my limited experience I find routes are more predictable.  At Los Alamitos they run races at 330 yards.  At that point it can come down to what kind of jump you get out of the gate, which seems harder to predict based on the info in the Racing Form, or at least a different category of study.
Now, let’s talk about class.  It’s worth reading Benoit on class.  Horse races are at all different classes, starting (for our purposes) with Md Sp Wt, or Maiden Special Weight.
A maiden horse has never won a race.  Maiden races are thus famously kind of unpredictable.  Let’s say you win a maiden special weight, as Route Six Six did on December 31, 2018, “breaking her maiden.”  Well, now she’s on an Allowance race.
When it comes to understanding class, the metaphor of minor league baseball is often used.  Going from maiden racing to an allowance race is like going from single A to AA ball.   A horse moving up or down in class is facing a different caliber of competition.
Now, as they say, “the horse doesn’t know what class it’s in.”  But it’s something to watch for, and learn from the Form.  Is this a promising up and coming racer moving up to face faster horses?  A declining athlete going down a level to compete against weaker competition?
Note that Route Six Six is coming down from an 80K to a 62K.  I don’t know what that means, may not even be anything, but it seems like a slight step down in class.  Which could be good!
Now, these numbers in bold.  The Beyer Speed Figure.
Beyer figures are a whole thing
as my bud Jeff Fischer says.  The Beyer speed figures are exclusively in Racing Form, and they’re designed to kind of create a uniform assessment of the horse’s speed, homogenizing for track variables, etc.  They’re still calculated by Beyer’s team.  From a profile of Andy Beyer by Michael Konik in the autumn, 1996 issue of Cigar Aficiando:

Beyer took a stack of old Daily Racing Forms and did the laborious math by hand, sifting through years of data, applying the analytical skills he had developed as a games-playing child. “‘Six furlongs in 1:13 equals seven furlongs in 1:26 and a fifth’ was my E=MC2,” Beyer says, laughing. By 1972 he had managed to construct a reliable speed chart that incorporated the important element of track variance, a measure of track speed and bias, which was previously calculated by an antiquated–and, in most cases, inaccurate–system. Beyer devised a highly specific, sophisticated method for determining track variances, a method that accounted for the times turned in by different types of horses.

By combining his newly minted speed ratings with his fresh perspective on track speed, the young columnist invented the Beyer Speed Figures.

Interestingly, Beyer come up with his numbers specifically because so much of racing thinking at that time was centered around class:

“The orthodoxy back then said that ‘class’ was the measure of a race,” Beyer says, while making hieroglyphic notations in the margins of his race program. “For instance, if a $10,000 claimer was running against a slower $200,000 claimer, the assumption was that the slower but ‘classier’ horse would win. I was looking for a way to verify–or contradict–that assumption.”

We’ll come back to Beyer Figures in a bit.
Now, how about the jockey?
Don’t bet the horse, bet the jockey
is an old racing adage.  It is interesting that jockeys have very different stats and results.  Here are the stats at Santa Anita from this week’s Racing Form.
Prat wins 27% of the time, and J Valdivia Jr wins 10% of the time.  Worth considering.
Finally, we see the results of the horses in previous races:
Note those boldface names on the most recent race.  That tells us that Ax Man (AxMn) and Multiplier (Mltplr) both are in this very race!  So Route Six Six is running today against two horses that have already beaten her!  This is good information to know, as we try and figure out who will win today’s race!
The notes on the race are kind of helpful, but in the age of YouTube, you can also go back and watch these previous races, and see if there’s anything interesting that may not be fully recorded here in the Form.
One more thing: works.  Sometimes the horse hasn’t run any races, and all you have to go on are the “works,” or officially timed practices.  These are intriguing measures of a horse’s speed, although the horse is (always? almost always?) running alone in these conditions.
Take a look at Route Six Six’s opponent Ax Man’s works:
That bullet mark means Ax Man had the fastest work of any horse of the day on June 17 at Santa Anita.  How meaningful is that?  Depends, I guess.  (Note that Ax Man is a gelding (g in the gender line).  They castrated Ax Man?!  Rude.  I don’t know much about the meanings of horse gender on speed.  The colts seem a little faster than the fillies, but three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby.)
Here’s my crude handicapping method:
Let’s start by just trying to rank these horses on speed.
Simply averaging the Beyer speed numbers, occasionally throwing out some outliers, and factoring in a pinch of understanding about class and jockey and so on seem indeed to be a reasonable predictor of which horses will finish first in a race.  In two days of experimental handicapping, the winner was always in the top three I selected via this method.
Now, you compare these results to the odds.  It’s possible to occasionally spot a “value” horse.  I found the results, as Ainslie would say, salutary.
In horse race betting, you’re not competing against nothing, or even the morning odds.  You’re competing against the other bettors.  Their bets determine the final odds.
Knowing a particular horse is the fastest competitor in a race isn’t that useful, because it’ll probably be reflected in the odds.  Very occasionally, though, you can spot anomalies, where your personal handicapping of the race differs from the odds in an interesting and possibly profitable way.
Remember though, the track is taking an 18-20% take.  You need to predict 20% better than the cumulative wisdom of the crowd just to break even!
Anyway, here’s how I’d handicap the Belmont Stakes tomorrow:
1 – Tap It To Win – average Beyer Speed Figure minus any outliers I chose to throw out: 75.6
Coming off two consecutive wins, but if this race goes off at any kind of speed will struggle to keep up
2- Sole Volante – 90.2
Very consistent, won on June 10 decisively.  A fast horse, maybe underappreciated.  Worth looking at the odds close to post time.  This could be a value bet.
3- Max Player – 75.33
New jockey today.  Don’t think this horse is fast enough.
4 – Modernist – 76.4
Last won a race in February
5 – Farmington Road – 77.33
A solid also ran horse
6 – Fore Left – 72.75
This horse’s last win was in United Arab Emirates.  Feels fishy.  But that was a good clean win and very fast.
7 – Jungle Runner
A weak horse
8 – Tiz The Law – 91
The strongest contender by far, on the cover of Racing Form this week.  But look, the favorite loses something like 78% of the time.
9 – Dr. Post – 84
Can a new jockey get something out of this horse?  The pickers like Dr. Post.
10 – Pneumatic – 89
Something just seems off about the results for this horse.  Does he know how to win?
Hely Picks
8 – Tiz The Law
2 – Sole Volante
10 – Pneumatic
I haven’t looked at recent odds.  This morning Tiz the Law was at 6-5, and Sole Volante 9-5, so no real value there.  Fore Left came in at 30-1, and Pneumatic at 8-1.  Pneumatic to show could be interesting?
One attraction of horseracing is it really draws out a certain kind of stylized or old-fashioned writing in enthusiasts:

Benson has had it with this hanging crepe for its own sake!

Disclaimer: I’ve spent maybe twenty hours learning about horseracing.  I know nothing.  There are thousands of horse race bettors who’ve spent easily 10,000-20,000 hours on this.  There are whole teams that have seen every single race any one of these horses have run, and spent hours putting information into fast computers.  That’s the competition.   I’m posting this for my amusement, and to enhance the amateur enjoyment of this pastime for my well-rounded readers.
Before you bet any actual money, which no one’s encouraging you to do, see if you don’t find a small “mind bet” as emotionally stimulating, as satisfactory in victory without being as painful in defeat.

Jaipur Addendum!  

Readers, I just idly checked out the 9th race at Belmont today, the Jaipur.  Will be televised on NBC.  I noticed Hidden Scroll, a very fast horse, had something aberrant in his last race:

What’s that about?  Here we see the pleasures and oddness of the Racing Form as compressed storytelling:

What?

Luckily in this glorious age of YouTube what Hidden Scroll did in his last race, this might be the craziest thing in a horse race I’ve ever seen:

Motherfucking horse nearly broke his own neck, lost his jockey, and still almost won!  He’ll have the same jockey (JR Velazquez) today!  That should be a very interesting race.

 


Bloomsday

Today.  Bloom sees a walking advertisement for his former employer:

A procession of whitesmocked men marched slowly towards him along the gutter, scarlet sashes across their boards. Bargains. Like that priest they are this morning: we have sinned: we have suffered. He read the scarlet letters on their five tall white hats: H. E. L. Y. S. Wisdom Hely’s. Y lagging behind drew a chunk of bread from under his foreboard, crammed it into his mouth and munched as he walked. Our staple food. Three bob a day, walking along the gutters, street after street. Just keep skin and bone together, bread and skilly. They are not Boyl: no: M’Glade’s men. Doesn’t bring in any business either. I suggested to him about a transparent show cart with two smart girls sitting inside writing letters, copybooks, envelopes, blotting paper. I bet that would have caught on. Smart girls writing something catch the eye at once. Everyone dying to know what she’s writing.


Pools and regulations

At swimming pools at hotels and apartment complexes here in California you’ll see this sign.  Sometimes it causes quite a stir from people who’ve never seen it before, as it does summon up some graphic imagery, and violates the traditional taboo on not printing the word “diarrhea” on large public signs.

I’ve been pondering this sign for years.  It’s not a choice to put it up.  The uniform wording and ubiquity suggests there must be a rule.  So that means there must’ve been some kind of meeting at a regulatory agency or the legislature where they discussed the diarrhea danger, and agreed to the diarrhea sign rule.  Sometimes I’ve idly wondered if the sign were some kind of prank on pool owners, to force them to make all lucky pool users ponder the word “diarrhea”  Did a bureaucrat harboring long-felt resentment against pool enjoyers push this through?  Punishment for exclusion from a pool party, years ago?

Well, finally I decided to look into it, and quickly found the answer, in this Conejo Valley Guide post, “What’s The Deal With All of Those  Signs Posted At The Swimming Pool.”

The requirement for this and other community pool signs comes from California Building Code Chapter 31B “Public Pools,” Section 3120B “Required Signs.”

Section 3120B.11 “Diarrhea” indicates the sign must have letters at least 1 inch high, clearly states what is noted above, and is posted at the entrance area of a public pool. Public pools include municipal/park district pools, hotel pools, water parks, swim schools, homeowner shared pools, apartment pools, campground pools, etc. One is thus not required to post this sign at your home pool (unless you really want to).

As the post notes, there have been outbreaks of waterborne disease from pools.

I’m inclined to give some benefit to common sense in the case of pool diarrhea.  I think the California Building Code may have gone too far, living up to California’s reputation as a bit of a ninny when it comes to regulations.  From a brief review, it seems like localities could make local amendments to the building code, and make themselves diarrhea-sign free zones.  I would support that in my neighborhood.  But it’s work to do that, and we can agree it’s not the most pressing problem.

What about the 14 days part?  Must our language always be so bureaucratic?  Do we just need a simpler sign that says: Be Cool About The Pool?  Should the sign also be in Spanish?

Do we have a case study here in how rules, once made, tend to stay just through inertia?  Is this a case of an annoying nanny state, or a reasonable public health measure?  I suppose if it gives an occasional chuckle and a helpful reminder, it’s not so bad.  Just a bit of local color.

 

 


George P.A. Healy (G.P.A. Healy)

Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of five children of an Irish captain in the merchant marine. Having been left fatherless at a young age, Healy helped to support his mother. At sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at developed an ambition to be an artist. Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, aided him, loaning him a Guido’s “Ecce Homo”, which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Thomas Sully, by whose advice Healy profited, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter’s adversity.

so far as I know no relation, there are plenty of Healys and Helys from here to Australia.

He painted Tyler

and drew Grant.

He’s got a few that have appeared in the White House, like this one, The Peacemakers.


Earthquake?

 

or something more?  Let’s get a more detailed atlas…

Lotta shakin’ and quakin’ going on at Naval Weapons Center China Lake (Restricted Area).

I’m prepared to conclude this was no earthquake, but the escape or an attempted escape of a captured UFO.

Interesting thing about this area: though desolate it’s dotted with petroglyphs, some alleged to be 10,000 years old.


Yolo -> Yo lo vi

Interested in the Goya drawing, in his series Los Desastres de la Guerra, where his only commentary is “yo lo vi.”  I saw it.  What else is there to say sometimes?

 

 


RIP Larry Kramer

stolen from behind a Harper’s paywall and presented to you, the Helytimes reader.