Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant is a 1992 crime drama starring Harvey Keitel and directed by Abel Ferrara. It's the story of a New York City detective addicted to drugs, gambling, alcohol, violence and weird sex. His descent into hell is through the investigation of a particularly sick crime, an imaginary National League baseball playoff series between the Mets and Dodgers and a drug-addled Catholic vision experience.

While the movie might not be just the thing for everyone, The Onion AV Club interview with director Ferrara paints a great picture of the movie-making process that any cinema buff will find interesting. For instance:

"O: On the commentary track, you look at the credit "A Pierre Kalfon Production" and ask, "What's a Pierre Kalfon production?" So... what is it?
AF: Yeah, it's a joke. This is some robber baron. He's the guy who was the in-between guy between Canal+ [the largest French financing company] and us. In France, if you rob a quarter-million dollars from the budget, that's business as usual. I'm not kidding. I'm very angry about what happened. They're using our names to raise money. In their mind, if it wasn't for them, there would be no financing, so they see it as their money, you dig what I mean? When you deal with the French... The French, they stick together. So between Pierre and these guys, it got to a point... Canal had put up X amount of money to preproduce the film, and we never saw a penny of it. We were preproducing it for nothing, and all along, Pierre had this money in his pocket. I initially said, "Forget it, I'm not going to do this." But then, who would believe that there was $200,000 appropriated for preproduction, and I didn't know about it? So we were forced to make the film. I wasn't going to have anything to do with this film, but I made it with Canal under the express consent that Pierre have nothing to do with it, and I have final cut anyway. Everything went along well until we finished the movie and they just stole the fucking print and put on all these producers that I never even heard of. And now, with the poster, Barry Amato—the guy who produced the film, who actually made it happen—his name isn't even on it. It's a nightmare. We own 25 percent of this movie, but when they sold it in the States, they made a deal with a company that doesn't even have distribution set up. I mean, who is Barry Barnholtz? Who are these people? We own that film. We slaved on it for two years. In the film business, it's basically honor among thieves. I see the biggest rip-offs in the world, and they're all sitting next to each other at Morton's or Spago. With this film, we're seriously thinking about filing a class-action lawsuit. They promised me theatrical distribution, and they opened it in L.A., but they have one print. They booked three cities, and they only have one fucking print. No ads. Who the fuck do these people think they are? They put it out, we get very good reviews in the L.A. papers... In the rest of the world, we don't have these distribution problems, though we still have never gotten proper accounting. I don't want to sound like some whiner, but there's a place where you've got to draw the line, and this is the film. This is one of the reasons why we haven't done another film since then."

Read the whole interview here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Most Important Second

In modern America there can be no more significant moment than the one in which a law enforcement officer points a weapon at an individual. In a society that purports to respect the sanctity of life, the judicial process and the theory of presumption of innocence, this second can be instant death or the beginning of a long and convoluted process of incredible expense. This Los Angeles Times story highlights one of the truly bizarre features of the US legal system.

But it's not really bizarre. It's actually another feature of a statist welfare system, the recipients being appeals attorneys, prison guards and judges instead of unmotivated losers. With the average time spent on death row in California being over 25 years and no one at all being executed since 2006, the death penalty has become an expensive and ineffectual scam that can only be administered instantaneously by a deputy sheriff or patrolman.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Probably the Tip of the Iceberg

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Democrat Salvatore diMasi was convicted on June 15 in federal court on seven of nine felony counts, including extortion and conspiracy in connection with the award of state contracts according to the Boston Herald. DiMasi is the third consecutive Massachusetts speaker to be convicted of crimes committed while in office, although the previous two served no jail time.

There's a question waiting to be answered here. Is DiMasi a criminal that took advantage of his elected position to line his own pockets? Or is he merely a casualty in the ongoing battle between the all-powerful federal government and their inferiors at the lower level of the polity?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nature Valley Grand Prix, What Did We Learn About the Women?

Peanut Butter & Co/2012 rider Lauren Tamayo shows us the results of a race mishap.

When it was all over for the ladies on early Sunday afternoon we knew for sure a couple of things that we may have suspected. First, Italian sprint queen and current world road champion Giorgia Bronzini can climb hills, too, if they don't go on all day. Second, Kristin Armstrong, who sat out this race last year because she was about to become a mother, is working her way back to where she was when she won this event three years in a row and was an Olympic gold medalist. Third, Joelle Numainville, a rookie in the women's pro peloton last year, is now a bonafide threat to occupy the podium after any race, along with her more experienced Tibco to the Top team mate Erinne Willock. These two Canadians regularly compete with Colavita rider Leah Kirchmann from Winnipeg. Canadian ladies are a dominant force in women's cycling. Lastly, for even the casual spectator, women's racing is a much more exciting affair than the formulaic product produced by the men. Sorry, guys.

Nature Valley Stillwater Criterium results:
1. Giorgia Bronzini
2. Evelyn Stevens
3. Kristin Armstrong

Nature Valley General Classification results:
1. Amber Neben
2. Erinne Willock
3. Kristin Armstrong

HTC-High Road star Evelyn Stevens gets ready to put the hurt on the peloton charging up Chilkoot Hill in Stillwater.

Joelle Numainville rides to the start line.

2008 World Time Trial Champion and race leader Amber Neben gets ready for 18 miles of racing with 2,000 feet of vertical climbing.

The ladies begin their 13 laps of torture, forgetting about the picturesque scenery of Stillwater and the St.Croix Valley.

Amber Neben leads world champion Giorgia Bronzini across the line two laps before the finish.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bloodbath on Hennepin Avenue

Lauren Tamayo leads Shelley Olds, Leah Kirchmann and Joelle Numainville around a corner in Minneapolis.

The Uptown Minneapolis Criterium is a popular feature of the 5-day, 6-event Nature Valley Grand Prix, one of the premier bicycle races in the US. On June 17, eighty-one ladies, including world road racing champion Giorgia Bronzini, from Placenza, Italy; Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong; US champion Shelley Olds; world record holder Lauren Tamayo; multiple world champion Amber Neben and US time trial champ Evelyn Stevens lined up at the intersection of 31st & Hennepin to make 28 laps around a neighborhood variously described as "trendy" and "chic", then crowded and noisy with cyclists, racing fans, al fresco diners and various breeds of dogs on leashes, all celebrating the end of the work week.

As is often the case, the women's race was an aggressive affair compared to the tame, predictable effort put forth by the men later in the evening. The powerful Peanut Butter & Company/2012 team was anchored by Armstrong, a four-time winner of the women's championship and leader by 23 seconds in the general classification standings after three stages. Other teams had taken aim at winning the stage, if not the overall leadership. Diadora Pasta rider Olds, who had won the NVGP general classification as a member of the Peanut Butter & Company/2012 team last year, attacked immediately with Amanda Miller of HTC and Leah Kirchmann of Colavita/Forno d'Asolo. They were soon joined by second-year sprint star Joelle Numainville and then powerhouse Lauren Tamayo. Eventually this group extended its lead far enough that Armstrong's place in the standings was threatened and teammate Tamayo dropped back to escort the US Olympic hopeful back to the front. The riders were making a right turn from Lake Street to Hennepin Ave. to get the bell for the last lap when disaster struck. Olds may have brushed a barrier and then struck another rider. The crash ultimately took 39 riders down, including some of the leaders.

Four competitors were taken to the hospital by ambulance, including Olds, Hillary Billington, Robin Bauer and Laura Ralston. Armstrong received road rash and an injury to her arm but walked away. During the time it took to sort matters out, remove broken bikes and send injured riders to the hospital, officials nullified the race, meaning that no results would apply, including points awarded for sprints. Two more events remain to be contested, a 76 mile road race around Menomonie, WI on Saturday and a gut-wrenching up hill and down 13 lap criterium in the St. Croix River valley city of Stillwater on Sunday.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Twin's Season Is Over Already

If you're a Minnesota Twins fan, you're probably already aware that even though it's early June, there will be no play-off activity at Target Field in 2011. A steady march of key players to the disabled list has put the team in such a hole that they would have to win 63 of their last 96 games in order to reach 90 victories, a .656 pace that no team in the major leagues has done so far this season. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Sadly, the great American movie musical has become as extinct as the dinosaurs. Fortunately, celluloid, and now digital recordings have preserved the work of some of the country's most talented entertainers. In 1947 Paramount Pictures released "The Perils of Pauline", a fictionalized account of the career of Pearl White, the star of the original silent film series of the same name. With songs written by Frank Loesser and starring the indefatigable Betty Hutton as Pearl White, this is one of the great musicals of all time. Watch and listen to the incomparable Hutton as she sings "Rumble":

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's only money. What's to get excited about?


Missing Iraq money may have been stolen, auditors say

U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion, sent by the planeload in cash and intended for Iraq's reconstruction after the start of the war.

By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

June 13, 2011

Reporting from Washington

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the George W. Bush administration flooded the conquered country with so much cash to pay for reconstruction and other projects in the first year that a new unit of measurement was born.

Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.

This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion in cash — enough to run the Los Angeles Unified School District or the Chicago Public Schools for a year, among many other things.

For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history."

The mystery is a growing embarrassment to the Pentagon, and an irritant to Washington's relations with Baghdad. Iraqi officials are threatening to go to court to reclaim the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, seized Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

It's fair to say that Congress, which has already shelled out $61 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for similar reconstruction and development projects in Iraq, is none too thrilled either.

"Congress is not looking forward to having to spend billions of our money to make up for billions of their money that we can't account for, and can't seem to find," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who presided over hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq six years ago when he headed the House Government Reform Committee.

Theft of such a staggering sum might seem unlikely, but U.S. officials aren't ruling it out. Some U.S. contractors were accused of siphoning off tens of millions in kickbacks and graft during the post-invasion period, especially in its chaotic early days. But Iraqi officials were viewed as prime offenders.

The U.S. cash airlift was a desperation measure, organized when the Bush administration was eager to restore government services and a shattered economy to give Iraqis confidence that the new order would be a drastic improvement on Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The White House decided to use the money in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq, which was created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to hold money amassed during the years when Hussein's regime was under crippling economic and trade sanctions.

The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors.

But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified.

House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials "used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds."

Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless.

Iraqi officials argue that the U.S. government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq. That makes Washington responsible, they say.

Abdul Basit Turki Saeed, Iraq's chief auditor and president of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, has warned U.S. officials that his government will go to court if necessary to recoup the missing money.

"Clearly Iraq has an interest in looking after its assets and protecting them," said Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States.

According to available calculations, a billion dollars in $100 bills would weigh roughly 22,000 lbs. That means that a normal C-130J could crawl across the sky with about $1.64 billion in C-notes, not counting pallets, lunches for the crew, and toilet paper. In any event, the Herc will haul a lot of cash. During WWII, the "cargo cult" was established in the Pacific, where islanders believed the airplanes arrived with presents from a supreme being and attempted to attract airplanes with small airstrips and even aircraft "decoys". There's probably a similar feeling among the Iraqis, whose emirs and tribal chieftains have a continual courier shuttle running between Iraq and the banks of Europe and the US, deposting the $100 bills in accounts that will then be tapped for homes in Naples, Florida and London, Harvard tuition, well-bred race horses and plastic surgery.

Naturally, the story continues:
The U.S. watchdog on Iraq reconstruction is disputing a report quoting him suggesting that $6.6 billion in Iraqi oil money entrusted to U.S. hands may have been stolen.
The charge, if true, would make the theft of funds the largest in U.S. history, and has already angered Iraqis reportedly debating whether to sue over the missing funds.
The Pentagon refuses to endorse the charge that the disappearing dollars were stolen -- either by greedy U.S. contractors or others involved in its movement from U.S. holdings to Iraq. And now, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen said he never said that $6.6 billion in missing money was swiped.
"What we concluded in our previous audits is that it's been virtually impossible to account for what happened to that money," Bowen told Fox News in a telephone interview Monday, adding that criminal cases have led to the convictions of people who have stolen money from a special fund set up by the U.N. Security Council.
But Bowen said he did not mean to imply anything more when he answered a Los Angeles Times reporter's question about whether it would be serious if billions of dollars was stolen from the Development Fund for Iraq.
"I said, yes, it would be a very significant serious crime," he said. "So yes, the reporter was correct that some of it, and perhaps a lot of it, has been stolen. But we don't have a factual basis to reach that conclusion. What we said over and over again is that the lack of controls created vulnerabilities to fraud, waste and abuse."
Bowen did not say where the Los Angeles Times derived the $6.6 billion figure in question, a figure that he didn't use.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration airlifted to Baghdad a total of $12 billion that was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the Federal Reserve currency repository in New Jersey to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for reconstruction of the country.
Bowen said most of the money was deposited in Iraq's central bank for distribution to Iraqi ministries and contractors, but he doesn't know how much.
"Iraq could have it all," he said. "They probably do have most of it."
The Pentagon has been unable to properly account for the $2.8 billion that it controlled under the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which allowed military commanders to spend money for reconstruction projects. Bowen said the Pentagon's comptroller asked him last year to help audit the flow of money.
"More important, we're trying to work with the Iraq government to find out what happened to the rest of the money," Bowen said.
Bowen emphasized that the missing money is not U.S. taxpayer funds. The revenues in the DFI come from among other sources -- Iraq's oil and gas exports, as well as frozen Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the now-defunct, Saddam Hussein-era oil-for-food program.
But previous audits have shown the Defense Department didn't do a good job of tracking the money and Iraqi officials told The Los Angeles Times that under a 2004 legal agreement, Washington is responsible for the missing funds.
Iraq's chief auditor and president of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit has warned Washington that Baghdad will sue if necessary to recoup the money.
"Clearly, Iraq has an interest in looking after its assets and protecting them," the newspaper quoted Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaidaie saying.
Bowen said the U.S. needs Iraq's assistance to obtain the bank data regarding the disbursal of the funds so that his office can close the books on jurisdiction over DFI by the end of the summer since it's been years since the U.S. has had control over it.
"We're going to account for it as best we can," he said.
Fox News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/14/auditor-disputes-report-about-66-billion-in-iraq-money-being-stolen/#ixzz1PHwQD3gT

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ruler on Ice?

The 143rd Belmont Stakes, the third race in America's mythical "triple crown" series for three year olds is a 1 1/2 mile feat of endurance known as the "Test of a Champion". The winner was 24-1 longshot Ruler on Ice, followed by two other horses ignored by the bettors. The $2 exacta paid $928, the $2 trifecta $8,268 and the $2 superfecta totaled a cool $74,052. Until 6:41 pm EDT on June 11, 2011, nobody would have considered Ruler on Ice any kind of a champion. With a maiden victory at Delaware Park as a 2 year old and just a conditioned allowance win at Parx in Philadelphia during the current campaign, the Kelly Breen trainee had minimal qualifications for a race of this magnitude. In his previous effort, the Frederico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, he was beaten by Concealed Identity, who went on to finish up the track in the Preakness. There were, however some factors that could have been twisted into positives for the horse. None of the entrants had genuine off-track credentials, which might be considered a plus. Most important, maybe, was an equipment change. Breen had been dissatisfied with horse's concentration in previous races. As he said, they had already gelded him, so they couldn't do it again. He decided to run him with blinkers for the first time. Normally, an equipment change before a big race is a negative, it indicates that the trainer is experimenting, attempting to come up with a recipe for success, that he doesn't have the horse where he wants him. And that was indeed the case for Ruler on Ice. No one can know if the sloppy track, the blinkers, Johnny Velasquez losing a stirrup on Animal Kingdom, or what else might have determined the outcome of the race. Or that if the race were run tomorrow the results would be the same. All we know is that on one rainy spring evening Ruler on Ice ran a mile and half faster than eleven other horses and put his name in the record books forever.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I wanted to do this TWICE this weekend

This sort of thing needs to happen more often:

American society has developed an increasing abhorrence of violence, except in spectator sports like football and ice hockey and ultra-technological warfare. The words, "We don't want anybody to get hurt" are often used in confrontational situations by law enforcement, who are happy to hurt people and consider it an occupational fringe benefit that only they can enjoy. But there are offensive people who are unwilling to listen to reason and only understand violence and concomitant pain. Mr. Eddie isn't just randomly running amok, he's administering much needed discipline at no expense to the rest of society. So, what's wrong with a little violence? Especially when it's so well deserved?

Another great example of somebody getting what they deserve:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Disquistion on Government

John C. Calhoun 1782-1850

A few weeks ago some lamebrain that considers himself a student of the War of Northern Aggression realized that Lake Calhoun, adjoining the trendy Uptown district of Minneapolis, was named in 1820 after John C. Calhoun, then the Secretary of War and the individual that authorized the establishment of nearby Fort Snelling. He has proposed to the Minneapolis Park Board that the name of the lake be changed because Calhoun was an advocate of slavery. Who knows where this will go but it made the local media. Coincidentally, at that very time, I was reading Calhoun's "Disquisition on Government" and his "Discourse on the Constitution of the United States".

The popular perception of Calhoun today is that he was a retrograde states rightist and outspoken promoter of slavery. Both are true as far as they go, but the story is much more complicated than that.

John Caldwell Calhoun was born and raised in rural South Carolina and was the very epitome of the self-made man so important in American folklore. After graduating from Yale in 1804, Calhoun completed law school and was elected to the U.S. House in 1810, remaining a national political figure until his death forty years later, holding every major office except the Presidency itself. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators, along with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Robert La Follette, and Robert Taft. No doubt the next Senate Committee tasked with a similar job will name John Kerry, Carol Mosely Braun, Barbara Boxer, and Teddy Kennedy shortly before the world comes to an end.

Calhoun's political ideas were rooted in the interests of the South, an agrarian society. He, and many others, believed that the United States was made up of British colonies that had banded together through the Articles of Confederation to achieve independence from Britain while retaining their own sovereignty. The US Constitution, adopted after much debate and acrimony, was, as historian Charles Beard pointed out, a means to insure the payment of War of Independnce debt, among other things, through a central government more powerful than that of any of the states. While the new constitution was eventually ratified by each of the states, there remained a substantial minority of the population that never intellectually accepted a lesser role for the states. Calhoun was a leader and spokesperson for these people, believing that every state had the right of "nullification", meaning that if a state found a federal law to be onerous it had the right to nullify that law and forbid its enforcement within that state. This concept was particularly directed at the federal protective tariffs used to finance the federal government in that era. The southern states, with little industry of their own, were forced to subsidize northern manufacturing to the detriment of their trade in raw materials with Europe. The federal government did cut tariff duties in response but never eliminated them entirely. During the first half of the nineteenth century slavery was legitimized by the US Constitution itself. Even abolitionists in the north had to admit that they could do little about southern slavery, except prevent its spread to new western territories. Slave state southerners could envision a future where they would be surrounded by new anti-slavery states and become even more of a minority nationally. Thus the argument between North and South was rooted in two different views of the ideology of republican government. The South felt that there was no single federal government with a power over individual states and that ultimately a state had the right to secede from the Union if it felt that to be necessary.

Additionally, Calhoun advanced the theory of the advantages of the "concurrent majority" as opposed to that of the "numerical majority". The latter is what we accept as normal today, where a simple majority of voters elect representatives and endorse government policies that affect all citizens. On the other hand a concurrent majority, as outlined by Calhoun, would be exemplified by our jury system, where decisions are made unanimously.

Lincoln, of course, did not agree with nullification and sent almost 3/4 of a million men and boys to an early grave to demonstrate his beliefs, in addition destroying so much Southern capital and property that the rebel states took almost a century to recover. By that time, Calhoun had been dead for over 15 years. He had no personal connection with War of Northern Aggression but his ideas were still poison to the industrial North. And government-sponsored education either ignores one of America's greatest statesmen or paints him as a villain, in addition to inspiring grommet-heads to remove his name from bodies of water.

Autopsy Update on Jose Guerena

The Tucson Star reports on the autopsy of Jose Guerena,the 26-year-old Marine vet executed in his own home by the Pima County Regional SWAT team on May 5. No traces of illegal drugs were found in his system and a minimal residue of the legal product alcohol was detected. Perhaps most interestingly, while a total of 71 shots were fired at Guerena by SWAT members, only 22 struck him. The majority of the shots missed him and some went through the walls of the house and struck other nearby buildings. What does this say about marksmanship and concern for the safety of others demonstrated by Pima County law enforcement?

There are other questions as well. Is it a good thing that law enforcement in the US continues to look more and more like military activity? Does the response to alleged criminality, like at the Branch Davidian "compound" or at Ruby Ridge, and now in Tucson, need to be conducted like a military raid? Are US occupational forces in the Middle East returning to America and bringing the law enforcement techniques used to subjugate the Iraqis and Afghanis to places like Tucson? A Pima County spokesman brought up the issue that the approaching SWAT team turned on its sirens for a few moments before arriving at the Guerena home. Do you, if you live in an urban environment, react to the sound of a siren by preparing to surrender to police? If that were the case, shouldn't all of the Guerena neighbors have emerged from their homes with their hands in the air?

The video shows a paid volunteer group of government-sponsored thugs engaged in the most depraved form of behavior. The idea that these individuals are following "procedures" or "obeying orders" hardly relieves them of personal responsibility. They're not heroes. They are all guilty of murder.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Don't fall in the water in Alameda County

The enormously paid public "servants" in California are more interested in their own bureaucratic procedures than actually doing their jobs, as Cal WatchDog explains.

Smiling Alameda County Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck

KGO-TV in San Francisco also covered the event.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Queen's Quest for the Derby

by Kellie Reilly

These are heady days for the House of Windsor. A compelling tale of its past has been commemorated by the Oscar-laden The King's Speech, and its future has been bolstered by the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Moreover, such state occasions as The Queen's recent visit to Ireland, and Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Great Britain last fall, were epoch-making in their significance. And now, at this very confluence of history, Elizabeth II has yet another landmark in view: a victory in the Derby with CARLTON HOUSE (Street Cry [Ire]), perhaps her best chance so far in the one English classic that has eluded her.

The Queen is heir to a centuries-old tradition of royalty promoting racing in Great Britain, a contribution that spans a succession of dynasties. The collection of prized Near Eastern stallions, crossed with English and Irish strains -- the first stirrings of what would become the Thoroughbred -- gathered pace under the Stuarts. The ill-fated Charles I owned an exquisite group of Royal Mares, which later emerged from the tumult of the Commonwealth and left their legacy on the nascent breed.

After the Restoration, his son Charles II made Newmarket the headquarters of the racing scene, a nickname the town still holds. The Merry Monarch was also responsible for the name of the course, "the Rowley Mile," honoring his favorite mount, Old Rowley. Well known for his horsemanship, Charles II actually rode in races himself, observed training sessions from a special post on the heath, and established the conditions of the races known as the King's Plates.

Nearly three decades following his death, his niece, Queen Anne, founded the racecourse at Ascot in 1711. Tribute is still paid to that sovereign at the opening of every Royal meeting, with the mile race run in her name. This year will be particularly special as Ascot marks its tricentennial.

The first Hanoverians to ascend the British throne weren't nearly as committed to racing as the Stuarts had been, but the new royal house would come to exert a breed-shaping influence. The Duke of Cumberland, a son of George II, was a pedigree maven who bred the monumental stallions Herod and Eclipse, veritable building blocks of the breed. Without the Duke of Cumberland, the Thoroughbred as we have it today would be unthinkable.

In light of this background, it might come as a surprise that the British royals have had precious little success in the Derby since its inception in 1780. George IV, a hard-core racing enthusiast and inveterate gambler, won the 1788 running with Sir Thomas when he was still Prince of Wales. But a century passed before another Prince of Wales savored a Derby victory.

In 1896, Queen Victoria's son "Bertie" took the Blue Riband with his outstanding homebred Persimmon. Four years later, Persimmon's full brother Diamond Jubilee -- foaled in 1897, the 60th anniversary of Victoria's ascension to the throne -- captured the Derby on the way to glory in the English Triple Crown.

After succeeding his mother as Edward VII, the King made history by becoming the only reigning monarch to win the Derby. That unique royal colorbearer was Minoru in 1909, and his victory was the result of a few twists of fate.

Minoru was leased to the King by his breeder Col. William Hall-Walker. This arrangement came about when the colt was a yearling because the King was disappointed with his homebred crop. But Abram Hewitt relates a more colorful possibility in Sire Lines: Hall-Walker, a devotee of astrology, believed that Minoru was destined to win the Blue Riband, and wanted the King to enjoy an unprecedented victory.

Whatever the real explanation, Minoru was in the right place at the right time in the Derby. The highly-regarded Sir Martin (whose half-brother Sir Barton would later become the first American Triple Crown winner) fell while in front in the stretch, and several contenders were hampered as a result, including the great Bayardo. Meanwhile, Minoru didn't have a straw in his path. Capitalizing on his good fortune, he stormed to the lead and just barely held on from the fast-finishing Louviers by a short head.

Minoru returned to Hall-Walker's ownership upon Edward's death in 1910. He was at stud for two seasons before being sold to the Russian government in 1913. Fate was not on Minoru's side there, for he was lost amid the chaos of the Revolution. In the words of the inimitable Joe Palmer in Names in Pedigrees, it was a time "when anything with a pedigree was obnoxious."

Yet from his short time prior to export, Minoru earned a permanent place in Thoroughbred pedigrees. His daughter Serenissima was a blue hen, and her daughter Selene became famous as the dam of Hyperion, *Pharamond II and *Sickle. Thus Minoru's genetic heritage is diffused across the globe.

Four years after Minoru's popular triumph, royal fortunes took a tragic turn in the 1913 Derby. Edward's son King George V (the present Queen's grandfather) had a runner named *Anmer, who became the target of a suicidal political protest. The suffragette Emily Davison darted onto the course and hurled herself into Anmer's path, bringing the colt down and sustaining fatal injuries herself.

The Queen's father, George VI of The King's Speech fame, experienced Derby disappointment of a different kind with Big Game in 1942. The previous year's champion two-year-old colt, Big Game remained undefeated through the Two Thousand Guineas, and was hyped as the "horse of the century" in advance of the Derby, then staged at Newmarket on account of the war. Unfortunately, he failed to settle for his legendary rider Gordon Richards, didn't stay the 1 1/2-mile trip, and was well beaten in sixth behind the victorious *Watling Street.

One day earlier, George VI had landed the Oaks with Sun Chariot, whom he led into the winner's circle in his RAF uniform. The star filly also garnered the One Thousand Guineas and defeated males in the St Leger, completing an historic classic treble -- the fillies' version of the English Triple Crown -- in the royal colors.

The Queen has likewise registered victories in all of the English classics, except for the coveted Derby. Her first classic winner, 1957 Oaks heroine *Carrozza, was out of a full sister to Sun Chariot. Next came Pall Mall, winner of the 1958 Two Thousand Guineas. Not until 1974 did Elizabeth add the One Thousand Guineas with Highclere (GB), who scored a classic double in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks). During her Silver Jubilee year in 1977, Dunfermline (GB) gave The Queen her second Epsom Oaks title. Dunfermline is better remembered for winning a war of attrition over Alleged in the St Leger, inflicting upon him the only defeat of his stellar career.

Elizabeth has had nine previous Derby contestants. Her first -- Aureole -- came the closest, just days after her coronation in 1953. Until the advent of Carlton House, he also had stronger credentials than any of The Queen's eight subsequent runners. A promising fifth in the Two Thousand Guineas, he dominated the Lingfield Derby Trial en route to Epsom.

While the 1953 Derby was Elizabeth's first as reigning monarch, it also marked the 28th and final chance for Richards, who had yet to win the Blue Riband. The newly-minted Sir Gordon, just knighted by The Queen, famously thwarted her bid for a victory in the "coronation Derby," and achieved an overdue win for himself. Guiding the high-class Pinza, Richards stole a march on the late-running Aureole and careered away in convincing fashion by four lengths. After Pinza was retired to stud, Aureole went on to become a superior four-year-old, capturing the Coronation Cup, Hardwicke and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S., named for the sovereign's parents.

The Queen's representative in 1954, *Landau, was a son of Sun Chariot, but didn't have much more to recommend him. No factor in the Guineas and runner-up in the Lingfield Derby Trial, Landau retreated to eighth at Epsom, well adrift of the winner Never Say Die. Landau later cut back in distance and romped in the Sussex S.

In 1956, The Queen's Atlas scored in one of the Derby preps, the Dee S. at Chester. Nevertheless, he already looked a cut below classic standard, and did well to rally for fifth to Lavandin after suffering interference in the straight. Atlas would prove his merit over an extended distance by landing the Doncaster Cup.

The Queen fielded a substantially better prospect the next year with Doutelle. From the immediate family of Aureole (the two shared Feola as their second dam), Doutelle was a workmanlike victor of the 1957 Lingfield Derby Trial, but unfortunately was the victim of a rough trip in the Derby. He exited his 10th-place finish, behind the cozy winner Crepello, with an injured pastern. Doutelle did not return to action until the fall, when rebounding to take the Cumberland Lodge S.

The Queen's runner in 1958, Miner's Lamp, was a half-brother to Atlas, both out of the Lancashire Oaks winner Young Entry. Miner's Lamp earned his berth with a score in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom, but despite his experience over the course, he became unbalanced on the hill in the Derby. He eventually stayed on for sixth to Hard Ridden, and later earned his signature win in the Princess of Wales's S.

In 1959, for the fourth year in a row, The Queen's colors made a Derby appearance. Above Suspicion was still a maiden, but an accomplished one. The half-brother to Doutelle, out of Yorkshire Oaks and Cesarewitch victress Above Board, missed by only a short head in the Newmarket S. Compromised by a troubled passage at Epsom, he rattled home for fifth to Parthia. Above Suspicion was able to show his true ability that season when garnering the St James's Palace S. and Gordon S.

Nineteen more years would pass before The Queen had a Derby runner, if not a prime contender, in 1978. English Harbour wound up 18th, never seeing the climactic finish between Shirley Heights and Hawaiian Sound.

A decent case could have been made for The Queen's Milford in 1979. Produced by dual classic heroine Highclere, Milford prepped with victories in the White Rose S. and Lingfield Derby Trial. Willie Carson, the stable rider for Dick Hern, had to choose among Milford and his stablemates Troy and Niniski. Carson believed that Troy was the best of the lot, and Sir Michael Sobell's colt ratified the decision with an electrifying, seven-length victory in the 200th Derby. Milford, who faded to a disappointing 10th, bounced back to take the Princess of Wales's S. in course-record time at Newmarket.

The Queen's 1981 Derby hopeful, Church Parade, was a three-quarter brother to Highclere. He didn't offer much encouragement when 14th in blinkers in the Two Thousand Guineas, and he was beaten out of sight when fifth to the mighty Shergar at Epsom.

Highclere might have played a still greater role in The Queen's Derby ambitions, but for a questionable bloodstock management decision. Her daughter Height of Fashion (Fr), England's champion two-year-old filly of 1981, was sold to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum after her record-setting victory in the 1982 Princess of Wales's S.

The price was reportedly around $2 million, but the loss to the royal broodmare band was incalculable. Height of Fashion became a foundation mare for Sheikh Hamdan, and her brightest star was Nashwan, the conqueror of the Derby, Guineas, Eclipse and King George in 1989.

Parting with Height of Fashion, a descendant of Feola's line that had served The Queen so well, was a blunder supervised by her racing manager at that time, the late Earl of Carnarvon. He was the grandson of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who supposedly brought the "Curse of Tutankhamun" on his head by orchestrating the opening of the Pharaoh's tomb. Critics of the racing manager were not hesitant to bring up the curse.

But the Maktoum family might have helped to adjust the balance sheet with Carlton House. Bred by Darley, Carlton House was a gift from Sheikh Mohammed to The Queen. The ruler of Dubai was grateful to the British sovereign for earlier giving him Highland Glen, a horse that he had expressed an interest in purchasing. When The Queen gave Highland Glen to the Sheikh outright, he repaid her generosity in kind.

Such courtly gift-giving is a distant echo of the diplomatic exchanges of centuries ago, when Arabian, Barb and Turcoman stallions were dispatched as gifts to European monarchs. In this way were laid the cornerstones of the Thoroughbred.

But besides recalling ages past, Carlton House is in some sense a recapitulation of The Queen's own history in racing. Like her Two Thousand Guineas winner Pall Mall, his name is London-oriented. Like her Oaks and St Leger heroine Dunfermline, he is named for a former royal residence: Carlton House was where George IV was based before taking the throne.

Moreover, the colt's pedigree reads like an episode of "This Is Your Life." His sire Street Cry is out of a daughter of Troy, whom The Queen watched demolish that milestone Derby in 1979. Troy's second dam is by Pinza, vanquisher of The Queen's Aureole in 1953. Street Cry's third dam is by Pall Mall.

Carlton House's dam is by Bustino, a longtime denizen of the royal stud at Wolferton, and the sire of Height of Fashion. Bustino's grandsires are Crepello and The Queen's Doutelle, who had clashed in the 1957 Derby.

Carlton House's third dam, Triple First, finished fourth to Dunfermline as the favorite in the 1977 Oaks. His fifth dam is a half-sister to Never Day Die, whom The Queen's Landau chased in the 1954 Derby.

Like Aureole, Carlton House is trained at Freemason Lodge in Newmarket. Sir Michael Stoute is now in charge of the historic yard once directed by Capt. (later Sir) Cecil Boyd-Rochfort.

Perhaps it is fitting that Carlton House is also embodying the highs and lows of The Queen's quest for the Derby. After stamping himself as a serious classic prospect with a nine-length maiden romp at Newbury last October, the bay colt developed a foot infection over the winter. Stoute was pleased enough with his progress to pitch him into the Dante, following the same route he took with the 2010 Derby hero Workforce (GB).

In that typically key trial, Carlton House scythed between horses with a smart turn of foot to win readily, fueling legitimate hopes for a royal Derby winner. But just as excitement was reaching fever pitch, the antepost favorite sustained an injury blow. On Tuesday his connections revealed that he developed slight swelling in a joint.

Although racing manager John Warren remains optimistic that this reportedly minor issue will not derail his Derby bid, no one wants to cope with any setback days from the race. If Carlton House doesn't line up after all, The Queen's best chance would turn out to be her most painful disappointment. If Carlton House puts this behind him with an historic victory Saturday, the nerve-wracking week will become the stuff of Derby legend.

UPDATE: Carlton House, the Queen's entrant and post-time favorite in the Derby made a gallant bid coming for home but was overtaken by French invader Pour Moi. Carlton House lost a shoe in the stretch but that likely wasn't the cause of his third place finish.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Louis XIV, the Duke of Marlborough and My Lawn Mower

The English have always had an inferiority complex when it comes to their neighbors across the channel. The French aristocracy was already in command of a highly-developed feudal economy when the English were still living with their livestock in mud huts. Later, when the English society had advanced to the point of a smattering of affluence, France became the mecca it remains to this day for most Englishmen. From the late 16th century on, French was the second language for educated Britons. Travel to France was common, in fact required, of members of all but the most impoverished classes. Imports from France, such as wine and clothing, were so popular that punitive excise taxes were levied and responded to by rampant smuggling. English visitors to the continent were flabbergasted by the elaborate residences of the French aristocrats and their own increasingly wealthy lords patterned their new estates after them. See Blenheim Palace, Marlborough's home (and Winston Churchill's birthplace).

This didn't work the other way. The French have never cared much one way or the other about learning English, eating English food, dressing up like Englishmen or visiting London. Anyway, besides importing French architecture, the English nobility also felt compelled to adopt French landscaping. Long driveways lined with oaks, ponds, and most conspicously, lawns.

During the feudal era, large expanses of grass probably made some kind of sense. Horses and cattle could be pastured on them and there was no shortage of serfs to maintain a manicured appearance. The transplantation of the phenomenon to North America is more problematical, however. For centuries there was a labor shortage in the North American colonies and subsequent states. Workers had more important things to do than mow the lawn. Available grass, even in urban areas, was devoted to animal forage. Boston Common was a place where anyone could graze a horse or cow.

Somehow, unlike rugby football, kippers for breakfast and the NHS, obsessive lawn care has made the trip across the Atlantic to the US. You may note that countries in the western hemisphere with a Spanish heritage have no lawn fetish. Anyway, it seems odd that the descendants of practical, frugal Yankees would devote so much time and expense to an artificial plant ecosystem between their front steps and the street. Maybe it's symbolic of our wealth that we no longer require the produce of a vegetable garden or meat, milk and eggs of our own livestock to live happily. The areas around our homes, instead of being scenes of utilitarian enterprise are simply living carpets of a grass that grows naturally nowhere and is expensive and time-consuming to maintain, producing no real benefits except maybe an appearance of concern.