The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told

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The Book of the Week is “The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told, A True Tale of three gamblers, the Kentucky Derby, and the Mexican Cartel” by Mark Paul, published in 2020.

Sidenote: Speaking of gambling, in May 1988, Paul Laxalt, a Republican from Nevada, and in June 1992, H. Ross Perot, an Independent from Texas: jumped into the race for president. The latter exceeded many people’s expectations.

Anyway, the author described the American horse-race gambling environment of the late 1980’s. At that time, off-track betting was putting smaller racetracks out of business, because gamblers could watch the races on which they bet, live– simulcast on video screens at racetracks and casinos; in other words, wherever gambling was legal. They did not need to be physically present at the racetrack.

Through the decades, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) got wise and cracked down on gamblers’ financial crimes such as tax evasion and money laundering. The author described one guy at the racetrack who illegally paid cash to winning bettors who wanted their money immediately, who were willing to pay a twenty percent fee to him rather than to the IRS.

The suspenseful part of the author’s story began when he and his best friend identified a talented filly– a female horse– that was running in major races. Practically all horse races had previously featured colts because on the whole, they were bigger and stronger and so more likely to win races, and were worth more money because they could be hired out to breed more race horses like themselves at a much higher volume than could females.

The author and his friend took what turned out to be a life-threatening risk by driving down from California to a casino in Tijuana, Mexico, to place a bet months in advance, on the said filly that was to run in the Kentucky Derby. He explained that by placing bets on events to take place far into in the future, gamblers get tremendously advantageous odds; for instance, 50 to 1 odds three months in advance, rather than, say, 2 to 1 odds on race day, on a horse to win– because that horse has become the favorite. However, if the horse doesn’t run in the race, regardless of the reason, the gamblers will lose all of the money they bet.

Read the book to learn of the gamblers’ activities before, during and after their fateful bet on their favorite horse in the Kentucky Derby.

naomi osaka (sic)

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The Book of the Week is “naomi osaka (sic), Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice” by Ben Rothenberg, published in 2024. In this large, wordy volume the author showed how in chasing big money– noise from the incestuous relationships among the industries of: sports, media (which includes social media), entertainment and politics– has reached a screaming crescendo.

As a member of Generation Z, a professional athlete, a biracial individual, and a frequent poster on social media– Naomi was treated as a Very Important Person when she put her two cents in.

Born in October 1997 in Osaka in Japan, Naomi and her family moved to Long Island, New York State when she was three years old. Her Haitian father and Japanese mother were inspired by the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena– professional tennis players– to push their two daughters to also become professional tennis players, beginning when they were pre-schoolers.

As is well known by its fans, singles tennis is a super-suspenseful game because either player has plenty of opportunities to make a comeback. It’s always unpredictable. Upsets happen all the time. Even when “It’s gotten late early” (as Yogi Berra would say) because a match seems to have been won already, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

After a socially isolated childhood in which her parents made extreme sacrifices for her career, Naomi kept professional tennis exciting by making amazing comebacks in tournaments. Although she began to earn obscene amounts of money from tournament winnings and sponsorships, she still expressed her dissatisfaction with various aspects of professional tennis. And the media. And politics. However, Naomi and Serena Williams (a fellow tennis rival) needed to learn how and when to protest to maximize their desired results.

In 2018, Serena Williams argued with a line judge during a match, when she was losing. So she appeared to be a sore loser, regardless of whether she was right or wrong. In 2021 during the French Open, Naomi sent out a message that she would refuse to talk to the media. She was biting the hand that fed her, as her making money required the publicity the media gave her; she was in effect, an employee of the governing tennis organizations because their rules required that she talk to the media. At less emotionally charged times, the governing tennis bodies might have been more receptive to the players’ proposals to change the rules.

BUT, the bottom line is the bottom line. The governing entities subjected to complaints in a push for change, must consider how much money they would lose, or how more money they would make, in effecting the change. It seems celebrities who push a message persistently and have a sufficient number of friends in high places can make a small change.

In Ross Mathews’ case, in around 2012, a certain fast food outlet re-introduced a butternut squash menu item because Mathews and his social media friends bombarded the restaurant with messaging that appeared to show how popular the item was. In 2019, a bit of legislation was finally passed due to Jon Stewart’s long-time rigorous activism to compensate 9/11 first responders who had been harmed.

It is unclear whether other kinds of protests work, because they involve ideology rather than money. Due to the overwhelming propaganda that smears violence in the streets committed by brainwashed youth protesting a war, it is impossible to prove whether the war was stopped sooner by the protesters, or even how much the course of the war was affected by them. Of course in a war, there are hugely complex interactions of profit-seeking entities that throw a wrench in the works.

Another aspect of messaging in most situations, is that the bulk of the most active commenters are people whose jobs are on the line if they don’t weigh in with positive or negative coverage, in a way that is financially or ideologically advantageous for their employers.

At any rate, in late August 2020, in the wake of a number of emotionally charged, law-enforcement actions against people of color, Naomi wielded her tremendous power and influence as an individual professional athlete– jumping on the bandwagon of a protest among team-efforts of other sports– to postpone a very important tennis tournament in order to make a political statement. She was able to postpone it, due to the way professional tennis is governed internationally.

Naomi spurred hours of stressful phone calls among the chief executives of the major tennis organizations– the USTA, WTA, and ATP. But it is hard to prove whether that kind of political activism has actually worked in stemming violence and racial incidents.

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Naomi and her adventures in professional tennis.

Winchell

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The Book of the Week is “Winchell, Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity” by Neal Gabler, published in 1994. Two cliches that apply to the likes of Walter Winchell’s role in the evolution of the American entertainment industry include: THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN, AND DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN.

Born in April 1897 in East Harlem, Winchell got into Vaudeville as an adolescent. In the 1920’s, there were about six major New York City newspapers, and readers had their favorite columnists. In August 1924, Winchell got his own column, specializing in Broadway gossip in the newly launched Evening Graphic.

Winchell’s career took off. By summer 1929, he was writing for the Hearst-owned paper, the Mirror. The following spring, he launched a radio show, and the following summer, he acted in a movie. He associated with Mobsters, advertising their night clubs while he received protection from them.

Winchell vacillated between suffering from imposter syndrome, and behaving like an alpha male with hubris syndrome. He was a dream dispenser for his readers; they aspired to adopt the lifestyle of “Cafe Society.” In the 1930’s, this set consisted of star-struck social climbers, heirs and heiresses who had done nothing to merit their own celebrity.

Winchell acquired significant power to make or break peoples’ fame with his column, by promoting or smearing them. During the Depression, he honed his showmanship and propaganda techniques, becoming a strong political influencer. Beginning in 1933, he flacked for FDR and smeared Hitler. His rhetoric was anti-Communist, anti-Fascist and anti-isolationist.

Lacking significant formal education, Winchell rode a wave of success based on envy, anger and vengeance, into the 1950’s. The author wrote, “The real grievance was the control he exercised over his social and intellectual superiors and what that control portended for the elites.”

Read the book to learn a lot more about Winchell and others that smacks of other public figures whose rises and falls have been largely similar, in the history of this country.

Will

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The Book of the Week is “Will” by Will Smith with Mark Manson, published in 2021.

Born in September 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Will described in detail what he learned from the people in his life, from the cradle onward. His life has not always involved the wealth and privilege conveyed in his hit song, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Smith related anecdotes in which, like his father– he displayed poor impulse control. Smith’s father could be a mean drunk, while he himself sublimated the traumas he experienced from his family’s dysfunctionality through constant goal-oriented activity.

If Smith took even a short break from his fantasy life, and later, his working life, he would be forced to acknowledge other people’s emotions and possibly even face his own shortcomings. So he laser-focused on competing to be the best at whatever he was doing, in completing a mission.

The lowest point in Smith’s existence came in the early 1990’s, when he was saddled with crushing debt load. To make matters worse, his association with gang members posed a life-threatening situation. Law enforcement had caught up with them. Smith got in trouble when a friend protected him with a knockout punch to his attacker: “But as I sat in that jail cell, facing aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, and reckless endangerment charges for a punch I hadn’t even thrown…” He obviously grew from experience, but didn’t elaborate further.

Smith earned bragging rights for making movies that allegedly made more money than any other Hollywood actor’s movies, including Tom Cruise’s; he spent a longer amount of time than anyone else in promoting his movies in foreign countries, and performing in free concerts for his fans.

Read the book to learn many more details about: Smith’s childhood, the people who guided his careers, his wrongheaded notions that led to love-life failures, and some of his misbehaviors and extraordinary achievements.

Impresario

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“He was clearly in the early stages of what his colleagues referred to as Alzheimer’s, although it was never diagnosed as such. Whatever it was, it didn’t prevent him from functioning effectively much of the time, yet by this point…”

–Around 1969, Ed Sullivan began having “senior moments.”

The Book of the Week is “Impresario, The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan” by James Maguire, published in 2006.

Born in 1901 in East Harlem, Ed Sullivan grew up in the New York metropolitan area. He had a burning desire to become famous and rich. Therefore, beginning in his teen years, he met as many people as he could, and hung out at all the city’s hippest social clubs (celebrity hangouts) that featured alcohol and performances.

In 1948, he finally got to host his own show on TV, after paying his dues failing at radio shows and succeeding at writing a newspaper gossip column. Even so, he got lots of hate mail. His CBS-TV show, Toast of the Town was partially sponsored by Lincoln Mercury (car) dealers in Southern states. They were livid that he refused to stop shaking hands with and hugging black performers. Sullivan was racially egalitarian, but politically, rabidly anti-Communist.

With the 1955-1956 season, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show— as the host had achieved his goals of wealth and stardom; media ratings, really. He began talks with Warner Bros. to make a movie of his life. In preparing the script for that endeavor, unsurprisingly, the clashing of egos resulted in back-and-forth shenanigans; summarized thusly: “When Jack Warner realized that Sullivan had completely thrown out Wallace’s second version… hearing of Sullivan’s plans for still more rewriting… He cancelled the film.” That was eight months after signing the contract.

In summer 1967, the CBS Standards and Practices department was strict about performers’ not saying specific words that smacked of sex or drugs. The band The Doors got away with “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” in its song “Light My Fire” because the show was live, and the lead singer disobeyed the censors.

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about: how The Ed Sullivan Show was able to stay wildly popular and attain high ratings for decades despite its host’s lack of charisma; (Hint: It changed with the times in featuring guests who entertained audiences of all ages, until advertisers’ demands changed); the people who helped make it so; and the secrets of Sullivan’s success.

All American

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The Book of the Week is “All American, The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe” by Bill Crawford, published in 2005.

America’s tradition of holding a Thanksgiving Day college-football game began in the early 1890’s. The schools with football teams practiced profiteering from the get-go. They charged fans admission to the games, and gambling was rampant; even in preseason games. Even among the coaches– who themselves, sometimes played in the games. The coaches also made obscene salaries, even then.

Football had no passing, only rushing, until 1895. And hardly any rules: with respect to creative plays, and preventing injuries. There was unnecessary roughness galore, not to mention minimal, if any, protective equipment, and fan interference was sometimes allowed. Officials arbitrarily enforced the few rules there might have been. Play continued in all kinds of weather.

Born in May 1887 in Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe received most of his education on sports fields, although he was supposed to have been in school. His mother was of Native American, Irish and French origin. At sixteen years old, Thorpe began attending Carlisle Indian Industrial School. It was a military-style trade school for Native Americans where they could live on-campus.

In 1903, the Carlisle team tricked the Harvard Crimson with a play in which a Carlisle player hid the ball under the back of his jersey while his teammates hid their helmets under their jerseys so the opposing team couldn’t find the ball until its actual holder had run into the end zone for a touchdown.

Another dirty trick involved sewing an image of half a football onto various players’ jerseys, making it unclear as to which receiver caught the ball, to trick the opposing team’s defense. But, there was still no penalty for pass-interference, so receivers could be tackled before touching the ball. All of them. Even if they didn’t have the ball.

It should be noted that other, better-funded teams had tens of players who could enter the game anytime, whereas Carlisle had a tiny team whose players were both offense and defense.

In 1906, the newly formed NCAA established specific rules that dramatically reduced injuries, but failed to address the financial shenanigans that have greatly enriched colleges and individuals for the past century.

In 1907, when he was twenty, Thorpe joined the Carlisle football team, which had been coached by Glenn Warner since 1899. Warner headed the school’s Athletic Association, but he was not an employee of the school. So he got paid by a profit-making organization, which got its revenues through gate receipts of sports-competitions hosted by the school– football, baseball, track, etc.

Since Carlisle was a school for Native Americans, it received full federal funding for tuition, room and board for all its students. The Association didn’t have to award tuition-scholarships. Coach Warner used the Association as his personal piggy bank.

Yet another part of Warner’s job that has characterized football coaches since time immemorial, was to hush up the bad behavior of his players so as to squelch bad publicity the school would receive when players got drunk and destroyed property or got into fights, broke school rules or NCAA rules, etc.

Read the book to learn of what an exceptionally excellent multi-sport athlete Thorpe was (though he played mostly football; hint: “Twice Thorpe managed to run downfield and catch his own punts” and on one of those receptions, he shook off three or four tacklers to run twenty yards to score a touchdown.); the scandal surrounding him; and much more about his life and the tenor of the times in “amateur” sports.

When the Media Love A Romance – BONUS POST

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Here’s a little ditty that explains why Taylor Swift is still a “thing.”

Sung to the tune of “When A Man Loves A Woman” with apologies to Percy Sledge.

WHEN THE MEDIA LOVE A ROMANCE

When the media love a romance
Taylor Swift must stay on viewers’ minds,
and nothing else.
The media THANK the Lord
for the easy money they’ve found.
They report on triVIA when they see it.
She can do no wrong.
Turn their backs on wars-trials-elections.
They award her a CROWN.

When the media love a romance,
she spends her last PR dime
trying to hog the attention she needs.
The media CLING to their comforts
and stay in the tabloid lane,
but that’s NOT how it ought to be.

Well, American media LOVE a romance.
And they do everything they can
trying to promote the NFL.
Lonely, sad viewers eat it up.

When the media love a romance
deep down in their soul,
they want to distract from misery.
Always playing viewers for fools,
it’s a highest-bidder show.
Hard news is impossible to see.

When the media love a romance
She can do no wrong.
Unless more money brings another queen.
Yes, when the media love a romance…

Shanghai Acrobat

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The Book of the Week is “Shanghai Acrobat, The True Story of Courage and Perseverance from Revolutionary China” by Jingjing Xue, translated by Bo Ai, published in 2021.

Born in 1947 in Zhejiang Province in China, the author was sent to live at an orphanage when he was two years old. He never did find out exactly why, as his biological parents were alive. Anyway, the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe recruited him when he was nine years old. Other members of the group were as old as fourteen. He happened to possess the right temperament to endure its rigorous training (that included corporal punishment) and get good at balancing on his hands in various precarious positions.

There were daily academic lessons, too, and a lot of political ideology thrown in. The instructors constantly emphasized the teachings of Mao Tse Tung, and bragged about what a prosperous, wonderful country they lived in. Mao took the calculated risk of allowing performers and athletes to travel outside China where they might learn about other peoples’ lifestyles and defect– so that he could show off his own people’s greatness.

By the late 1950’s, the author was traveling and performing with the Troupe. In 1960, they went to cities controlled by the Soviets, and ironically, to African countries (such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Guinea and Morocco) whose native peoples were starting to throw off their colonialist yokes.

In the early 1960s, owing a ginormous monetary debt to the Soviets and not wanting to pay it, China decided the Soviets were wrong to stomp on the memory of the great leader Stalin (who had died in 1953 and whose crimes were revealed a few years later); Mao theatrically broke off diplomatic relations with the Soviets.

In 1967, Mao capriciously imposed his new twisted logic (a different set of ideas from that of his previous campaign)– the belief that the lowest economic class (the workers, the peasant-tenants) needed to fight the higher economic classes (the bosses and landlords)– because capitalistic activities were anathema. There were a few occasions in which the author was yelled at for saying the wrong things to some non-Chinese people, even though he thought his comments would jive with Mao’s teachings.

As part of the new campaign (called the Cultural Revolution, begun in 1965) to rid China of the dissidents of the moment– performing acrobatics was out of fashion. The radicals loyal to Mao policed the Troupe, finally disbanded it, and psychologically and physically tortured the director in public self-criticism meetings. The author’s acrobatic career was (temporarily, though he didn’t know it at the time) over. He was sent to the countryside for “reeducation.”

With 20/20 hindsight, the author wrote, “To those of us who had been through the Cultural Revolution, the Watergate political scandal was nothing. We couldn’t understand how the American people could force Nixon to resign for ‘peanuts.’ ” It is unclear what kind of propaganda the author and his contemporaries were fed to come to that conclusion.

For, they might have known nothing of Nixon’s real war crimes. But even if Nixon had been innocent of war crimes, he and his underlings still committed election crimes, and worst of all, violated his numerous enemies’ civil rights– evil actions that were considered against the law in the United States. The last fifty years have seen a bit more moderation in China’s political leadership. And radicalism in the United States.

Human nature is such that there has been some convergence (!) between China’s and the United States’ ideologies in:

  • surveillance of citizens
  • incarceration of citizens
  • economics
  • education, and
  • other areas of life.

It’s all in the propaganda fed to the people.

Read the book to learn much more about the author’s life and times, and his fate.

Settle For More

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The Book of the Week is “Settle For More” by Megyn Kelly, published in 2016.

Born in November 1970, Kelly was raised Catholic in the suburbs of Syracuse and Albany in New York State. She conveyed a few simple principles on life. One is, “The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.”

The late, great college basketball coach John Wooden said one should be worried about one’s character, not one’s reputation. The true test of one’s character is: how you treat people who can do nothing for you. Like so many others, Kelly got caught up in worrying about her reputation when Trump and his followers smeared and lied about her.

Anyway, Kelly wrote that there occurred an egregious breach of journalistic ethics during 2016, leading up to election day. It was this: some idiot-box interviewers of Donald Trump told him prior to airtime, the critical things they would be saying about him, so they would appear to be “fair and balanced” in their reporting. Trump knew to behave himself and didn’t react with hostility to those questions or comments. Scripting and rehearsals are the new unethical normal in “journalism” nowadays.

Unsurprisingly, Kelly was the victim of a misogynistic Tweet by Trump. He knew this Tweet would become the subject of a 2015 post-debate news story, rather than her debate questions and his non-answers. He is, after all, the master manipulator of distracting messaging. His distractions are analogous to the scene shown during the closing credits of the movie Animal House: While a parade is passing through the college town, a frat boy says to a guy, “Look at my thumb.” The guy does and the frat boy sucker-punches him and says, “Gee, you’re dumb!” the same way Trump makes outrageously offensive comments for shock value, and then watches the fireworks.

In 2016, Kelly was forced to confront an ethical dilemma in connection with sexual harassment in her workplace– Fox News. Having succeeded in two male-dominated fields, she advised her female readers to get some advice on how they sound, and the clothing and makeup they wear so that they will be taken seriously by their male coworkers and bosses.

That said, it is unclear whether Kelly had the authority to choose the photo (in which she is wearing skimpy clothing) appearing on the front cover of the hardcover version of her book. The question is, would a male TV-news-show host wear a sexy shirt in the cover-photo of his book? Resounding no.

Kelly’s choice in that photo could have been an act of rebellion, or an act of naivete and poor self-awareness, on her part. With it, she hurt her cause of telling female readers to behave in ways that even the playing field with their male counterparts. If Kelly couldn’t control the photo on the cover, one might suspect her publisher was engaging in political retaliation.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn about how Kelly became super-successful as an attorney and as a TV “news” anchor, and how she was also able to have a family life in her time and place in the United States, despite the fact that her society gives males advantages over females.