Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

Watermelon and Other Amazing Things

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

   

 The amazing watermelon.

The amazing watermelon.

By Bob Gaydos

  I have recently taken a brief break from writing, well, just because. It helped. For one thing, I learned that if you can turn your gaze away from the chaos of the day, even briefly, sometimes life can be amazing. For example, you know what’s amazing? Watermelon. Watermelon’s amazing.

       Think about it. It is sweet, juicy, virtually free of calories and is loaded with nutrients, including Vitamin C and lycopene, a combination which, the science suggests, may fight off cancer, heart problems, macular degeneration, inflammation and cell damage, while protecting your skin and hair. Also, being mostly water with a little fiber, it’s good for digestive health. You can eat it or drink it, it grows anywhere that it’s not too frigid and if you binge on it, it’s a terrific diuretic. Yum today, gone tomorrow.

        Amazing. Who thought of this?

        Well, we don’t really know. It was just kind of here, like a lot of other stuff, just waiting to be discovered, apparently in West Africa, from which it spread to Egypt, India and by the 10th Century, China, which is today’s largest producer of watermelon. Europeans brought it to the New World in the 16th Century and the Japanese, to the dismay of seed-spitters, developed a seedless variety in 1939. Today, there’s a watermelon variety for every palate or picnic.

        One more bit of watermelon trivia: In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate declared watermelon the official state vegetable, although the rest of the world considers it to be a fruit. Oh, Oklahoma.

         But the point here is that this fruit grows abundantly, is both delicious and healthful and has virtually no significant risks associated with it. It’s like someone left us a gift and hoped we would find and appreciate it: You’re going to need and enjoy this, earthlings. Until recently — well, just now — I hardly gave it a thought. But no more. Go ahead, I know the season’s about over, but find one and take a bite.

       Amazing, right?

       You know what else is amazing? Benford’s Law. In fact, it is mind-numbingly amazing, in my humble opinion. It’s also called the Newcomb–Benford law, the law of anomalous numbers, or the first-digit law. By any name, it’s well, you know.

        As simply as I can explain for the non-mathematicians or non-accountants (like me) out there, the law states that in naturally occurring sizable groups of numbers, be it dollars in a budget, acres, heights of mountains, populations, street addresses or stock prices, the first number of each entry is likely to be 1 about 30 per cent of the time, while 9 is the leading number only about 5 percent of the time. And, the frequency moves downward from 1 to 9 in a predictable curve. This happens all the time, unless the sample is too small or there are restrictions in the collection, such as the height of basketball players (5 to 7 being the range).

 The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

         In practical terms, this means it’s possible to determine if someone is cooking the books, the natural tendency of humans being to distribute numbers randomly, with each number having an equal chance of lead status. The law has been admitted in criminal fraud cases at local, state and federal levels. The IRS must use because it won’t even comment on it. A recent study of reported Covid-19 cases indicated that results from Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Chile are suspicious, because the numbers don’t match the Benford Curve.

    I learned about this amazing law from the Netflix series, “Connected,” which I recommend for those who like their science approachable and with a little humor. It turns out the law had a leading role in another Netflix series, “Ozark,” in which it was used to detect fraud in a cartel financial statement. And in the 2016 movie, “The Accountant,” Ben Affleck uses It to expose the theft of funds from a robotics company.

    So I’m really late to the game on this one. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing that, in the seemingly randomness of our numbers-crazy society, someone/thing/power has provided order, if we only know where to look for it. Physicist Frank Benford knew where to look in 1938 when he did an extensive test of the phenomenon first noted by astronomer/mathematician Simon Newcomb in 1838. Newcomb noted that the early pages in a book of algorithms were used much more often than the later pages. Benford took Newcomb’s observation and gave it meaning.

       Here’s one more amazing thing I just learned after years of taking it for granted — horses can jump fences even though they don’t really see them the way humans do. It’s not as simple as see the fence, jump the fence.

        For starters, horses’ eyes (the largest of any land mammal) are not in the front of their heads like ours are. Horses have one eye on each side of their face. Just take a look. Never gave it much thought because, well, it looks right and normal, which it is. But it also means horses have to turn and raise their heads a lot more than we do to see the full picture of things in front of them, including fences they have to jump.

         Briefly, according to British Eventing Life, horses have two kinds of vision. One, monocular vision, means they see each side separately with either eye. This gives them a remarkably wide field of vision, except for what’s right in front of them. So they can see both sides of the fence as they approach it, but they can’t tell how close they are until they’re within about six feet. That’s when their binocular vision kicks in. They raise their heads to see directly in front of them to judge distance and height. Not much time when you’re cantering.

    

 See the fence; jump the fence.

See the fence; jump the fence.

    This feat also requires considerable teamwork from the rider, whose job is to give the horse every chance to succeed. That means providing a good approach and verbal, hand, leg and seat prompts, if necessary. Well-trained horses make it look easy, but here’s another amazing thing: Horses’ brains have a left side and a right side, that act as two separate brains, meaning horses have to be trained from both sides. Their amazing double brain quickly computes the data received from both visions as the horse approaches the jump. Up and over. I don’t know who thought of this. By the way, if I messed up any of this explanation, I hope horse people will forgive me. I just find this animal to be amazing.

        Finally, I guess my point here is that, at a time when amazingly evil and stupid things are happening, it is still possible to find some amazingly positive things in everyday life. I just need to keep looking for them. Peace.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

BOB GAYDOS

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

THE REPORT … mowers, mail, movies and moving Michael Cohen

April 20, 2020

072F2413-04EB-42B5-8BE1-B11114B646CD

Bob Gaydos

    So the lawn guy showed up unannounced and unsummoned today to a great deal of running about, barking and general enthusiasm. The dogs were excited, too. Went out to greet him at appropriate social distance. “You mowing?” I asked. “We’re essential!” He answered. “Heard last week. That Cuomo’s a tough cookie.” Yes, he is. Thankful for that. By the way, the grass is now neat and manageable for walking about and tending to business. The dogs are excited about that as well. Grateful to have a lawn guy.

  —  By the way … Michael Cohen, we hardly knew ya and now you’re about to leave us? The onetime lawyer/fixer for Hewhosenameshallnotbespokenhere has been residing at a minimum security federal prison camp in Otisville, about a 10-minute drive down the road from us. But if Cohen comes through a two-week quarantine in a medium security penitentiary next door, he’ll be going home to finish out his three-year sentence. He can thank COVID-19. Since social distancing is a major challenge in prison, some federal inmates are being switched to home confinement. Also, Orange County, where Otisville is located, had 211 confirmed virus-related deaths at this posting. My first reaction to the Cohen news was that somebody cut him a break. But then I remembered he cut a deal with the feds to get a lighter sentence on campaign fraud and lying to the FBI about hush money paid for Hewho… so Hewho wouldn’t likely make a call for Cohen. Looks like the system just did its job. Go figure.

   — By the way … We’re doing our part to burnish the reputation of Netflix and Amazon Prime during this period of isolation. Recent viewing includes “The Danish Girl, “The Coldest Game” and “The Ladies in Lavender.” Each is a little quirky, but time-passable with some good performances. Any suggestions, please feel free in the comment section.

    — By the way … If the post office is worried about losing $2 billion a

Forget the rain, snow, etc., the Post Office needs cash.

Forget the rain, snow, etc., the Post Office needs cash.

month because of the pandemic and Republicans in Congress won’t bail it out, why doesn’t Jeff Bezos just sign a month-to-month contract with the USPS to make up the difference? He could do it out of his pocket change and not even touch his Amazon stock. It would actually be a patriotic thing to do.

  —  By the way … a report just issued by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that the 2017 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia covertly meddled in the 2016 presidential election, with the ultimate goal of helping Hewhoshallnotbenamed win, was accurate. Big surprise only in that Republicans admitted it.

   —  And finally, by the way … if there was any doubt left of the utter lack of basic decency in today’s GOP, I give you Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of the great state of Texas, which is starting to reopen its economy despite warnings from medical experts that it’s too soon and spreading the virus could result in deaths. Says Patrick: “There are more important things than living and that’s saving this country.” No plan. No leadership. No concern or compassion. Nothing. Texas is no country for old men or women.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

THE REPORT …

Vlad, Rudy, Meryl, Rand and Joe

   I started writing this report, which I intend to deliver on a fairly regular basis, a couple of weeks ago. It was my latest attempt to keep up with the news in the Era of Trump without being caught up in the daily chaos and without ignoring items of interest in the rest of the world, including my backyard and even my own mind. Mostly my own mind.

  072F2413-04EB-42B5-8BE1-B11114B646CD   It turns out, turning off Trump is harder than it sounds. As I was compiling my first non-Trump report, the Dotard went and made it all about him again by declaring that a lethal virus roaring through China was no threat to the U.S. and, indeed, was another Democratic “hoax” intended to make him look bad. So coronavirus took over the news and I scrapped my first report. 

    But now, while staying in place as much as possible and simultaneously trying to maintain sanity, I find it more necessary than ever to look for other items of interest — local, national, international, even personal — that might be worth sharing with whomever decides to read it. I guess it’s the newsman’s DNA circulating in my veins.

      So I’m giving it another shot. I’m also using an approach I’ve stolen before. An old-time sports writer favorite of mine, Jimmy Cannon, used to occasionally sum up his take on world events with his “Nobody asked me, but …” columns. It’s a handy writing device. Covers a lot of ground and keeps the writer from getting too wordy. While I’m stealing Cannon’s idea, I won’t steal his signature phrase. I do have some scruples.

     So, “By the way ….” 

     — Did anybody notice that, while the rest of the planet was hunkering down to control the coronavirus, Vladimir Putin was busy rewriting the Russian Constitution to allow himself to continue as the country’s leader until 2036? He got the whole parliament to resign, rewrite Russia’s constitution, got the top court to agree with the changes, and set a nationwide vote on the new constitution for April 22. With or without the coronavirus. He says it’s under control and there’s no reason to delay the vote. This vote bears watching for lots of reasons you can probably deduce for yourselves.

     — By the way, is Rudy Guliani in self-isolation? Ukraine? Asking for producers at Fox News.

     — By the way, the creative genius who came up with the title for Meryl Streep’s latest movie — “The Laundromat,” on Netflix — didn’t do Streep, the film or its subject any favor in my humble, non-movie-critic opinion. There’s no laundromat for starters. The movie is about a whistleblower who uncovers an epic legal off-shore money-laundering, tax evasion operation in Panama. Millions of files.  Lots of political names. True story. Streep plays a swindled widow who, in the movie, blows the whistle on the operation. The director’s come-along-and-we’ll-tell-you-a-story approach is clever, but it trivializes the magnitude of the worldwide con job known as the Panama Papers. A news story that didn’t last as long as Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign. Movie’s still entertaining though.

       — By the way, Rand Paul, ain’t karma a bitch? After being the lone member of the U.S. Senate to vote against an aid bill that included free coronavirus tests for all Americans, he became the first senator to test positive for the virus. Of course, his test was free. And he admitted he had no symptoms. And he continued to go about his usual routine before his test results came back, including visiting the Senate gym. Now, typically, he’s criticizing the government system for testing, rather than acknowledging his own poor, individual choices. Apparently, his personal libertarian philosophy of individual freedom does not include individual responsibility. Putz. It’s Yiddish.

       — And finally, by the way, has anybody seen or heard from Joe Biden lately? Just asking for millions of Americans.

                                                        30

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com

rjgaydos@gmail.com

On Going to the Movies, or Not

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

I’m about a half hour into “The Irishman” — the part where Robert DeNiro throws a gun off a bridge in Philly. I don’t consider this a spoiler alert because, after all, it’s DeNiro in a Martin Scorsese film and you have to figure it’s gotta happen sooner or later. Anyway, I decided to take a break to write, because you can do that while watching movies these days.

So, obviously, I’m watching at home on Netflix and not at a movie theater because apparently nobody does that anymore. Well, maybe not as much. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know there are fewer movie theaters than there used to be and people are not going out to the movies as often as they used to.

White Hutchison, a company that tracks attendance at out-of-home entertainment venues, says the average person went out to the movies 3.5 times in 2018, spending a little over $30 for tickets. That’s a 28 percent decrease from the industry’s high of 5.2 trips by your average moviegoer to the cinema in 2002, the company says.

White Hutchison also says the downward trend is the result of all the other new entertainment venues competing to try to lure people off the convenience and comfort of their couches. The competition has convinced many moviemakers that only blockbuster-type “event” movies can do this and, again, the figures bear this out. The 10 biggest grossing movies of 2018 accounted for a third of all ticket sales and eight of those movies were offered in 3D and all 10 at IMAX theaters. And no, as opposed to the word I used referring to “The Irishman,” there’s not a “film” among them. They’re stories jazzed up with lots of special effects, action and/or cartoon characters.

I started wondering about the state of cinema-going when I read that Netflix was making a blockbuster movie with Scorsese, DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, but was forgoing the usual 90-day window given to let theaters show the movie before offering it to Netflix subscribers, mostly streaming rather than DVD’s now. Instead, the movie would get limited release in select theaters and be available on your phone or tablet or smart TV in 30 days.

Wouldn’t theater owners be ticked off? I wondered. Yes, they would and are. Then again, Scorsese made the film 3½ hours long, which is tough to sit through without intermission, popcorn refill and bathroom breaks. Also, most theaters can only show it twice a day because of the length, cutting into potential profits.

Nonetheless, Netflix went through with this plan and “the Irishman” opened initially on eight screens in New York and Los Angeles. More were added a week later. It had good ticket sales and mixed reviews in select theaters. But it drew about 17 million smaller-screen viewers in its first week of release on Netflix.

What’s the point? I’m not sure, but this was certainly an “event” film because of the cast of characters in front of and behind the camera. Maybe that’s the point. What exactly do we mean by an “event” movie today? Forgive me here as I wander into a now-distant past to my introduction to movie-going. (It’s a long film. Let’s call this an early intermission.)

***

My mother loved to go to the movies. In Bayonne, N.J., where I grew up, there were six movie theaters in the 1940s and ‘50s. Not bad for a city of some 65,000. There was also lots of public transportation and the streets were safe to walk. If you wanted to see whatever movie was the latest hit, there was no problem. It was also cheap.

When I was old enough, my mom would sometimes take me along. She would also often buy whatever dish was for sale to continue to put together the full set. Gold leaf trim. I still have some pieces. For me — and my mom, I’m sure — going to the movies was an event, something to look forward to and enjoy a lot more than 3.5 times a year.

And star power? Here’s a sampling, in no particular order, of actors you could see on the big screen in the 1940s and 1950s: James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper, James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck. Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, William Holden, Tony Curtis, Ingrid Bergman, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier, Robert Mitchum, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. (Don’t bother checking. I didn’t repeat anyone.)

When I reached my early teens and could go on my own or with friends (remember, the streets were safe to walk then), I looked forward to Saturday matinees. It usually included two westerns (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, John Wayne), at least six cartoons and a serial (“Flash Gordon” or “Don Winslow of the Navy”). For a quarter. Popcorn was extra. Now, that was an almost weekly event.

Times have changed. Television ended Hollywood’s Golden Age. Smart phones, etc. are killing television. The streets aren’t safe. Popcorn at the movies is a budget-buster.

But also, while you can watch football on a phone today, you cannot see someone “act.” There is an added dimension when you share an emotional moment in a movie with a theater full of strangers that is missing on your couch. While they have connected us as never before, in some ways smart phones have also made us more isolated. As for the movies themselves, rewriting comic books for the big screen can only go as far as the characters (Batman, for example) allow. And, though spectacular visual effects may be big box office, they can’t replace the feeling of watching a grownup story portrayed by talented actors.

Which kind of brings me back to “The Irishman.” I’m hoping Netflix and Scorsese are right, in the sense that you can still make story and actor-driven (male and female) movies and make money today. (I can enjoy, but have a limited quota for whiz-bang and fantasy.) The head of Netflix’s movie division says to relax. “If everyone would just be calm and talk through it, over the next few years we’ll be able to find the right answer for everyone,” Scott Stuber said recently.

OK, so I’m going back to the movie. Still waiting for Pacino to arrive on the scene. If you’ve seen it, don’t text me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Playing Solitaire in the White House

Friday, March 10th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The trigger card

            The trigger card

You’ll have to pardon me here as I try to catch up on the news. Last I knew, the narcissist-in-chief (NIC) had just shown himself to be presidential by reading a speech (which he did not write) from a teleprompter for about an hour straight without veering off message, insulting any minority group or mentioning the size of his, uh, inauguration crowd.

A lot of people who call themselves journalists apparently thought this was evidence of a heretofore well-hidden capability to do presidential things.

With that reassurance that all was well with the republic, I busied myself with other, more pressing personal stuff: Reading; having dinner with my sons; wading through a mountain of unopened mail that had been gathering since I was involved in an accident; deciding whether my partner and I should have Chinese or Mexican takeout for dinner; looking for something to add to my Netflix queue while waiting for Denzel’s 2004 version of “The Manchurian Candidate” to become available; being impressed at how well the Sinatra version from 1962 has held up.

Then it got a little spooky. I heard that after his “presidential” reading, the NIC apparently went off message a few days later. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve been able to piece together from all those alternative “news” sites on Facebook, some time late Saturday night, the NIC was wandering around the White House in his bathrobe when the phone rang. His cell phone, not THE phone. A voice on the other end that sounded remarkably like Steve Bannon channeling the NIC’s deceased mother suggested that to occupy his time, since Melania preferred to stay in New York, he should play his favorite game — Solitaire.

“Yes, mother,” the NIC obeyed and hung up.

Having stacked the deck with red queens, the trigger card, the voice called back a minute later and said, “Blame Obama.”

Again, “Yes, mother.”

And that’s apparently how we ended up with one president accusing his predecessor (on Twitter) of wiretapping his home phone. At least that’s the best I can piece together from news reports since no one has offered a scintilla of evidence of such a wiretap and the FBI director (the guy who clinched the election for the NIC) says it never happened. The White House ignored that response and a cadre of lawyers reportedly set out to find  proof of what their master had tweeted.

Now, apparently, all those “journalists” who swooned over the State of the Union reading are what one might call non-plussed for having been suckered again by a performance. “Sir, what  proof do you have of  this dastardly deed by Mr. Obama?” they asked the NIC, who had none, of course. Never does.

No one apparently thought to ask, “Sir, since you’re the president and have the power, why don’t you just declassify the documents that prove you were wiretapped?’’

Well, because: (1.) If there really was an illegal wiretap (the president can’t order one), the guilty parties would have left no records.

(2.) If such records did exist, they would prove that a judge thought there was sufficient reason for the FBI to wiretap the NIC even before he took office and how embarrassing would that be?

But probably mostly (3.), because he didn’t know that the president couldn’t order a wiretap or that a president could declassify any document he chooses. Details are not the NIC’s strong point.

As I take it, you-know-who was so angry that no one — even Sean Spicer struggled to keep a straight face — believed him when he said Obama had his Trump Tower phones tapped — he kicked Bannon and Reince Priebus, his two top aides, off Air Force One when he flew to Florida for his regular weekend of presidential golfing.

Bannon, however, was smart enough, I gather, to pack a few stacked Solitaire decks in the NIC’s bags. Some time over the weekend, as he wandered the halls of Mar-a-Lago in his bathrobe, the phone rang again.

This time, THE phone, not his cell phone.

“How about a game of Solitaire, son?”

“Yes, mother.” Hang up.

Short pause. Red queen.

Ring!

“Hello, mother.”

“Okay, now listen carefully, son. Last time I called you the damn cell phone dropped the call after I said, ‘Blame Obama’ and you made up some cockamamie story about him tapping your phone. What were you thinking? (Bannon’s voice getting a bit hoarse.) Blame Obama for that botched SEALS raid in Yemen, you ninny.”

“Yes, mother.”

And as far as I can tell, that’s how the NIC came to exploit the widow of a Navy SEAL who died in that raid during his State of the Union address, while at the same time blaming his predecessor and his generals for the failure of the mission. How’s that for presidential?

I can’t wait for Denzel’s “Manchurian Candidate” to arrive in the mail. Hope it’s as good as Sinatra’s.

rjgaydos@gmail.com