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Posts Tagged ‘betting’

God Hates Renoir, and Other News

October 7, 2015 | by

Photo: Courtesy Max Geller

  • If the prospect of another literary awards season has you rolling your eyes and grumbling about the tastelessness of the establishment, try spicing things up the old-fashioned way: gambling. You’ll find that a well-placed bet, or even a poor one, can bring a certain frisson to even the fustiest book prizes: “I allotted a budget of £100 for the Nobel and Booker combined. My rule was that, with one exception, any winner among the bets I placed had to win me back at least my entire stake. I tend to make three categories of bet: (1) a likely winner; (2) a writer I really admire who’s also a patriotic favorite; (3) a writer I’ve reviewed negatively. There’s often overlap between categories 1 and 3 … Philip Roth has 8-to-1 odds, but I’ve given up on him since he gave up writing books. He seems cursed by Stockholm. I put the rest of my Nobel money on Marilynne Robinson (£4 at 25-to-1) and Don DeLillo (£10 at 50-to-1).”
  • Or you can rage against the arts-and-culture machine with a nonviolent protest, as these enemies of Renoir—who’s plainly the shittiest of the Impressionists—have done outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading ‘God Hates Renoir’ and ‘Treacle Harms Society,’ the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: ‘Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin!’ and ‘Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!’”
  • As unrest seizes the globe and the model of the nation-state faces collapse, theorists are frantically debating the fate of geopolitics—but no one is worrying about the video-game designers. How are they supposed to make a decent historical strategy game when no one knows what it looks like to win the twenty-first century? “In the twenty-first century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? … Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the twentieth century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day.”
  • Francine Prose looks at the frightening but tender psychology underpinning Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film, The Lobster, which “posits a dystopian near-future in which it has become illegal not to be part of a couple”: “Lanthimos’s films often contain such disturbing moments of unexpected, startling violence that people who have never been able to watch Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to the end might be wise to spare themselves. Like Sophocles, Lanthimos understands that sudden self-mutilation generates a particular kind of adrenaline in the viewer. Consequently, the director’s fans learn to brace themselves every time one of his characters stands in front of a mirror.”
  • Dude: Creedence. Creedence Clearwater Revival. There’s a band. I mean, that’s a band for everyone, a band for all times! Talking to John Fogerty reveals some tricks of the trade, including the band’s go-to themes, “foremost among them the nostalgia for some lost agrarian past. But, of course, that same nostalgia was a founding theme of the South … If this vision was itself a sort of cartoon—a brutal and deadly one, with strange fruit hanging from the trees—an odd thing happened when you spread the cartoonish map of ‘Born on the Bayou’ across the partly real, partly imagined Southern landscape: you got a one-to-one ratio. The result was something like realism.”

The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes

December 23, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

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A racetrack in obsolescence.

Racetrack2

Photo: Ilya Lipkin

Every year on the third Monday of January, the Aqueduct Racetrack, in South Ozone Park, Queens, runs a six-furlong race in honor of Jimmy Winkfield. The choice of date, Martin Luther King Day, is not accidental. Of Winkfield’s many accomplishments, which include winning the Russian Oaks an incredible five times for Czar Nicholas II, he is best known as the last black jockey to run a winner in the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.

To be black in the world of horse racing was no easy thing in the early part of the twentieth century. Winkfield, born in Kentucky, had enjoyed a storied career in Russia and France, but when he returned to America he was forced to enter a reception held in his honor through the hotel’s service entrance, with the bellhops and the kitchen staff.

Because of the raw January weather, attendance at the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes is usually rather sparse compared to the bigger events at the height of the racing season. This year, my older brother Ilya and I saw the race completely on a whim—we thought it might be fun to trek out to the Aqueduct like we used to when we were younger. Back then, if the weather was fine, our father would drive us to the track out in Ozone Park, a favorite destination for the unattached men in the neighborhood. Edik from the dry cleaners down the street was a fixture there, as was Pavel, the bartender at the Pennant Sports Bar on Northern, and Parsons, whose brother was an orderly at the elder-care facility where our grandfather died. To me, gaining admission to that world of working men was no less exciting than the races themselves. I watched with great interest as they quaffed beer and studied the odds on the board and cursed when they invariably lost their money. Being a bit older, Ilya had a better sense of what was actually going on. He nagged Pavel until the bartender showed him how to decipher the near-hieroglyphic racing form. The one time my father let him place a bet, we won eighty dollars. It proved to be a red-letter day, because that same afternoon, I fed a carrot to Cigar, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred, just before the first big win of his career. (The Aqueduct now runs a race in his honor as well.) Read More >>

The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes

June 12, 2014 | by

A racetrack in obsolescence.

Racetrack2

Photo: Ilya Lipkin

Every year on the third Monday of January, the Aqueduct Racetrack, in South Ozone Park, Queens, runs a six-furlong race in honor of Jimmy Winkfield. The choice of date, Martin Luther King Day, is not accidental. Of Winkfield’s many accomplishments, which include winning the Russian Oaks an incredible five times for Czar Nicholas II, he is best known as the last black jockey to run a winner in the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.

To be black in the world of horse racing was no easy thing in the early part of the twentieth century. Winkfield, born in Kentucky, had enjoyed a storied career in Russia and France, but when he returned to America he was forced to enter a reception held in his honor through the hotel’s service entrance, with the bellhops and the kitchen staff.

Because of the raw January weather, attendance at the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes is usually rather sparse compared to the bigger events at the height of the racing season. This year, my older brother Ilya and I saw the race completely on a whim—we thought it might be fun to trek out to the Aqueduct like we used to when we were younger. Back then, if the weather was fine, our father would drive us to the track out in Ozone Park, a favorite destination for the unattached men in the neighborhood. Edik from the dry cleaners down the street was a fixture there, as was Pavel, the bartender at the Pennant Sports Bar on Northern, and Parsons, whose brother was an orderly at the elder-care facility where our grandfather died. To me, gaining admission to that world of working men was no less exciting than the races themselves. I watched with great interest as they quaffed beer and studied the odds on the board and cursed when they invariably lost their money. Being a bit older, Ilya had a better sense of what was actually going on. He nagged Pavel until the bartender showed him how to decipher the near-hieroglyphic racing form. The one time my father let him place a bet, we won eighty dollars. It proved to be a red-letter day, because that same afternoon, I fed a carrot to Cigar, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred, just before the first big win of his career. (The Aqueduct now runs a race in his honor as well.) Read More »

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Something for Nothing

March 19, 2012 | by

America, from its Puritan past to its mass-incarceration present, has never been particularly hospitable to criminals. Yet, from time to time, an outlaw rises to the level of folk hero, based on a captivating personal narrative or a prevailing mood in the culture. Perhaps no category of crook has been more consistently compelling than the con artist. During their heyday, from the mid-nineteenth century up through the first decades of the twentieth, when innovations in transportation brought more strangers together and promises of fast fortune spread across the country, practitioners earned memorable nicknames—Soapy Smith, Snitzer the Kid, Appetite Bill—and spoke in a florid and amusing argot. (Every object in the game, from money to cards to actors, was given a nickname, as were the games themselves, dubbed the wipe, the wire, the big mitt, the huge duke, the tip, the tale, the strap, the spud, or the shake with the button.) Con men normally stole by guile rather than by physical intimidation or brute force. And their thieving relied on complicated mechanisms of performance and intelligence—it was indeed an art, complete with its own hierarchy of ability. The best of them could be imagined as dashing and debonair—like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting, men who valued the game more than what it earned.

Most important, the nature of the con implicated the victim in its own criminal logic. Marks were roped in with promises of inside information on a fixed horse race, rigged stock market, or some other path to easy money—only to see their contributions to the dubious venture stolen right before their eyes. As the linguist David Maurer wrote in The Big Con, his encyclopedic study of confidence crimes and the men that ran them, the operation worked based on a fixed maxim: “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

For many con artists, this was as much an excuse as a credo. Take, for example, the Chicago con man Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil, who claimed to have stolen more than eight million dollars from assorted marks, as victims in the con game are known, during a career that spanned more than half a century. You would think he’d be the last person inclined to judge harshly the avarice of his fellow man. Yet, in 1956, after he’d turned eighty, he explained himself to Saul Bellow, who summed up the man’s conception of the moral universe:

The years have not softened his heart toward the victims of his confidence schemes. Of course he was a crook, but the “marks” whom he and his associates trimmed were not honest men. “I have never cheated any honest men,” he says, “only rascals. They may have been respectable but they were never any good.” And this is how he sums the matter up: “They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something.” He says it clearly and sternly; he is not a pitying man. To be sure, he wants to justify his crimes, but quite apart from this he believes that honest men do not exist.

While many con artists gained larger-than-life reputations, their victims mostly remained faceless, since, as Amy Reading explains in her engrossing new book, The Mark Inside, most were reluctant to take a complaint to the authorities. Local police were often paid off to look the other way, but even if they hadn’t been, marks were unlikely to confess to being robbed while putting money on a crooked scheme. Even the truly innocent—and indeed there were honest and decent people cleaned in cons—wouldn’t be eager to come forward and announce their gullibility to the world.

Who, then, would stand up for the victims, the marks who were considered at best fools, or at worst, criminals themselves? Enter J. Frank Norfleet, a short, mustachioed cattle rancher from the Texas panhandle, who became the most renowned advocate for the victims of cons in the history of the game. Read More »

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