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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

No Deal!: Joe Kennedy Jilts Boardwalk Empire's Nucky Thompson

Joseph P. Kennedy--Played by himself and by Matt Letscher (right)

Last fall, in its final season, Boardwalk Empire added its own fictionalized support to setting the record straight about JFK’s no less dynamic father, Joseph P. Kennedy. Without question, the Kennedy patriarch was a womanizer and a master of financial legerdemain, including making the most of insider information (legal in the 1920s). But he scrupulously remained within the letter of the law. According to David Nasaw’s The Patriarch (2012)--a Pulitzer finalist--and Dan Okrent’s Last Call (2010), Joe’s reputation as a Prohibition-era bootlegger was a myth, propagated by JFK’s political opponents and organized crime habitues.  (That, of course, didn’t stop JPK from leveraging political influence and insider information when cornering the scotch import market immediately after Prohibition).

Joseph’s Choice

As season five of Boardwalk opens, the year is 1931, with the end of Prohibition a growing likelihood.  Boardwalk’s central character, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), pitches Kennedy (Matt Letscher) to join forces in importing Bacardi rum from Cuba to the U.S, ostensibly after Prohibition. (Nucky, a veteran bootlegger, considers Kennedy a strong prospect given his extreme wealth and new-found participation in grain markets—a prelude to post-Prohibition distilling.)

Following conversations between the two that explored their shared roots and self-driven opportunism, Joe rebuffs Nucky, after asking:

What are you doing this for? What are you making the money for?  

For Kennedy, it’s all about family. After a painfully pregnant pause, all Nucky can manage is a stilted “I want to leave something behind.”  (see clip below.)

The Kennedy-Thompson relationship incidentally is a “business” variation on the crime movie theme where [some] cops and robbers discover a mysterious  affinity for one another and gravitate toward a climactic tryst (A favorite is DiNiro and Pacino in Heat).

Rendez-vous with Nucky

JFK: “My father always told me that all businessmen were  .  .  .”

Ironically, as the first chairman of the SEC, Joe Kennedy excelled in putting insider trading and other questionable practices out of business. Initially, many a New Dealer blanched at Kennedy's 1934 appointment. But FDR knew better. Who better than business insider Joe Kennedy, the President figured, to extirpate practices that he himself knew first-hand?

In his memoirs, FDR advisor Raymond Moley recalled vetting Kennedy for the job:

Joe, I know darned well you want this job. But if anything in your career in business could injure the President, this is the time to spill it. Let’s forget the general criticism that you’ve made money on Wall Street.’ Kennedy reacted precisely as I thought he would. With a burst of profanity he defied anyone to question his devotion to the public interest or to point to a single shady act in his whole life. The President did not need to worry about that, he said. What was more, he would give his critics—and here again the profanity flowed freely—an administration of the SEC that would be a credit to the country, the President, himself and his family—clear down to the ninth child.” [excerpted from Nasaw]

                                     Joseph's Choice (via YouTube):

Friday, March 11, 2016

Beware the Elevator Pitch! (and other hybrid phobias)

Claustrophobia by Elevator (from The Pop-up Book of Phobias)

As I was flipping through the venerable The Pop-up Book of Phobias yesterday, lightning struck: We’re hung up on single-dimensional phobias. Why not also combine two complementary phobias into a symbiotic hybrid phobia? That occurred to me when my brain suddenly fused the volume’s separate illustrations for Claustrophobia with Glossophobia (fear of public speaking).

The book depicts Claustrophobia via the confines of a packed elevator. For Glossophobia, it gives you a podium-eye view of an intimidating audience with a menacing microphone trained at your proboscis.  

Fear of Public Speaking
Combining the two into a single nightmare, however, ups the ante. If you're a literalist, you get the bidimensional phobia, FEAR OF THE ELEVATOR PITCH—the bane of insecure sales people, job interviewees, and entrepreneurs pitching venture capitalists.

Fast on the heels of that revelation, it occurred to me that Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and Globophobia (fear of balloons) also make a good match. Why not add balloons to an evil clown’s repertoire?

Eyewitness to Globophobia

I once witnessed Globophibia in action when an otherwise well-adjusted coworker had to leave our office after signing for a birthday card and an accompanying delivery of helium balloons. Returning five minutes later white as a driven sheet, she confessed to a fear of balloons dating from early childhood. Her father, it turned out, had been a state trooper with a macabre sense of humor.  Could popping balloons, I asked her, suggest the sonic side of gun play?  “I’ve never thought of that,” she confessed.

With that in mind, I’ve included Wikipedia’s roster of clinical phobias at this link. Create your own hybrids; coin your own nomenclature. Enchant your guests at your next soiree, unless, of course, you suffer from Partiophobia (fear of parties).