Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 2008 BC Classic: Raven's Pass Like a Freight Train in the Lane

I really wish the Champ could have ended his stellar career on a high note, but what a move by Raven's Pass - he certainly earned his pay.

So hats off and farewell to the original Camium Orange horse. $10,000,000 earned in short two years, and a luxurious life of oats and mares before him; who could ask for more?

The 2008 Breeder's Cup Classic

Playing favorites in the Breeder's Cup races is about as wise as making toast in the shower, but what can I say? Today is Curlin's last race, and he's my hero right now. I'm going to single him in the Pick-4 and probably a Pick-3 as well.

It's not a bet based strictly on my heart, I just don't think any of the other contenders are quite up to the task for a few reasons. Henrythenavigator, Raven's Pass, and Duke of Marmalade (who is my current nominee for Best Name of the Year) all look strong, but Euro invaders tend to do better at the East Coast tracks - the California heat doesn't agree with them, and it's supposed to be 90 degrees at Santa Anita today. Also, Henry (the strongest of the three) and Raven's Pass are natural milers, and they're going to have to deal with two extra furlongs today.

This leaves Go-Between, who only just notched his first G1 victory, and Casino Drive, coming back from an injury after having to sit out the Belmont Stakes. At a morning line of 8-1, Go-Between seems like an underlay. He's a strong G2 horse, and even though he's improving, I wouldn't touch him for less than 12-1 in a field of this caliber. Casino Drive is an intriguing semi-longshot (a morning line of 10-1) but if he rolls home, I'll take it like a man. Student Council is listed at 20-1 in the morning line which means he might be worth a side bet, but these are deep waters and it's hard to imagine him taking this. Much stranger things have happened in the Breeder's Cup, though.

Something that's bolstered my confidence in formful results is last night's card. The recently expanded BC has five races on Friday. Of the five, the favorites came home twice, the second choice came home once, and the longest shot to cross the line was 11-1. Of course, this is not a guarantee of un-wacky results today.

Tune in to ESPN at 5:45 for live coverage. Tune in to No Hassle at the Castle later tonight for some lame excuses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bedtime for Democracy

A very short open letter to the New York City Council:

Shame on you.

Everyone in NYC who voted for Term Limits

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bloomberg to Democracy: Drop Dead!

I went down to the spirited hearing on term limits at City Hall last night, and predictably, the dominant opinion of the witnesses was against the repeal of of the law. I think it's going to get torpedoed anyway; it was clear that many council members are relishing the possibility that they could serve twelve years instead of eight (at $112,500 a year, plus benefits).

The amazing thing was the pattern of argument adopted by the council members and the witnesses who wanted to see term limits overturned: They essentially said that the voters chose wrong in '93 and '96 and needed to be corrected. Hmmm. This logic could then be applied to any number of publicly-approved laws that the city council doesn't like, I suppose.

Where does democracy fit into all this? Those arguing in favor of overturning term limits said that the current law deprives the electorate of the choice to vote for an incumbent, and that this is grossly undemocratic; that what they were actually arguing for was a restoration of true democracy. The only problem is that this restoration calls for the suspension of a voter-approved law, which leaves their passionate plea for democracy sounding a little hollow. And it was hard not to notice that that most of the people arguing on behalf of the incumbents were the incumbents.

In 2005, Bloomberg himself said that an attempt to overturn the voter-approved term limits law would be "disgusting." He must have taken something to settle his stomach since then, because now he loves the idea. His current pattern of argument for the repeal of term limits is that he is the only person on planet earth who could possibly shepherd the city through the coming hard times brought down by Wall Street. There are two big problems with this: First, it's quite clear that this scheme occurred to him before Lehman filed for bankruptcy and the Dow came tumbling down a few short weeks ago. The crash just gave him a less selfish-sounding excuse.

And secondly, "I'm the only man who can protect you," has been the favored line of dictators throughout history; the standard excuse for the suspension of democracy. The last time it was heard here in NYC was when Rudy Giuliani angled for an extension of his administration in the wake of 9/11, because he was the only man who could possibly lead the city through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Thankfully, he was not granted his extension, and guess what? We somehow managed to get through it without him.

I agree with Mike circa 2005 - this is disgusting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Message to the Mayor: Let NYC Vote!

This Friday the New York City Council is poised to overturn the city's term limits law, expressly so that billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg can run for a third term. The term limits law was approved by voters twice, once in 1993 and again in 1996. Voters are not being given a choice about its repeal, however.

Only one public hearing is scheduled, and it's this Thursday at City Hall: click here for details. Generally when an important piece of legislation is going to be considered before the city council, multiple hearings are scheduled in all five boroughs. But the effort to overturn this voter-approved law is being rammed though with as little fanfare as possible by the mayor and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. When the un-democratic nature of this process was pointed out to Speaker Quinn, she replied: “If term limits get extended, voters will have an opportunity at the ballot box to demonstrate whether it was the wrong or right choice. That is the democratic practice.” But the voters already made their choice, twice.

Everything about this stinks, and it does so irrespective of your opinions about the Bloomberg administration or the term limits law. It sends a message to voters that referendums on important issues are meaningless if they become inconvenient for politicians, especially wealthy ones.

Which brings me to an extremely difficult to ignore set of observations about the role of money in all of this. Michael Bloomberg spent $74 million dollars of his personal fortune to get elected in 2001 ($92.60 per vote) and nearly $78 million to get relected in 2005. These numbers completely shattered spending records for non-presidential campaigns. Compare this to the $9.6 million spent by 2005 democratic contender Freddy Ferrer, and it becomes quite clear that it is virtually impossible to offer credible competition, especially in the arena of television advertising. If he runs again, he will spend another numbing sum, again drowning out any other voices and essentially guaranteeing victory.

The size of the megaphone matters a lot, and now Bloomberg is turning his multi-million dollar megaphone at undoing a publically-approved law. The mayor has, to his credit, donated large sums to many NYC civic and cultural institutions, and to a variety of charities. The city council is keenly aware of this, and is loathe to lose this source of non-governmental funding. I would hate to see this revenue stream cut off as well, but isn't this tantamount to bribery?

And there's a sub-plot that's rather unsavory as well: Even if a council member is opposed to a third Bloomberg administration, he or she would benefit from the removal of term limits, too, if said council member wanted to serve a third term. The New York City Council is among the highest paid in the country at $112, 500 a year (they gave themselves a raise in 2006, from $90,000 a year).

In a recent press conference, a reporter asked Bloomberg about the questionable nature of overturning a publicly approved law, and he provided this barely intelligible response:

“Everything we do is controversial. That’s what democracy is all about. If the City Council passes a bill to change term limits, I’ve said I will sign it. And what it really does is it is just gives voters another option. It by no means says the voters don’t have any choice. They just have another choice. And they will be able to make that choice.”

Bloomberg is not Bush, and when the mayor says something this ridiculous, it's clear that he's dodging. He knows this stinks, too, but he's among the wealthiest men on the planet and is accustomed to getting his way.

Michael Bloomberg did not get elected king, and all NYC voters should contact their council members and urge them to vote no on this dangerously un-democratic precedent. All of the council members e-mails can be found at this link.

The Thursday hearing is scheduled to go all day and into the night - the larger the crowd, the louder the message. All will be allowed to speak, right up until the vote on Friday morning, so why not make this your first public oratory? Who knows, maybe you'll be the mayor of NYC some day (but only for two terms, OK?).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brown Out

The short, sometimes brilliant, and often weird career of Big Brown is apparently at an end. The colt cut his right front hoof during a workout on the turf course at Aqueduct in preparation for what would have been his last start: the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita on October 25th, where many (including me) were still holding out hope that Curlin and Big Brown would finally meet.

It's not such a sad story for Big Brown - after his foot heals he goes straight to studly duty. My understanding is that the busier studs have up to 100 dates a year. As trainer Rick Dutrow said at the announcement of BB's retirement: "The best case scenario is he lives a real good life." It's all any of us can hope for, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 24

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life (Natura morta), 1954. Oil on canvas, 10" x 28."

"There are times when I would have loved to have been one, I mean a non-objective artist, so-called, but I always have to find something to hang the paint on."

-Jim Dine, from a 1982 interview

It's very easy to get swept away in the poetry and romance of Morandi still life paintings of the 1950's, with their quiet arrangements of strangely dignified small things and that palette which consists only of the muted colors of memories. My wife nearly cried while looking at some of the pictures at the big exhibition currently on view at the Met, and I must say that as I stood in front of his final canvas, I got a little choked up myself.

But that grid he employed in the fifties, drawn with such force and clarity, is so rigorous and logical and perfect that one has to wonder if the little bottles and boxes were actually the meditations of a philosopher- poet (the preferred Morandi mythology), or was it that they simply provided a place to hang the paint on, to drape a grid over. Those pictures were nearly as formal as Mondrian, and, with their narrow value range, they were flatter than many cubist still-life paintings.

Most agree that abstract painting comes out of landscape and still life. There are no people, no eyes to look at, no events unfolding, and as a result, attention is much more easily spread over the entire surface of the canvas. Morandi's still life paintings and landscapes are always a few brushstrokes away from being muted geometric abstractions; little studies in formal perfection. Like Monet's water lilies or very late Turners, the pictures are barely representational.

So was Morandi in essence an abstract painter who used his bottles and boxes simply as a compositional starting point but ultimately viewed then with indifference? This is one of those arguments which would probably unfold very much like a discussion of whether or not there is a god - both sides would make their case with force and vehemence, but in all likelihood neither would be swayed. But even if you love the late Morandi pictures for their considerable formal achievement, I think it's ok to get a little misty over the poetry of it all; life is complicated, and apparently, so is still life.