A Yiddish proverb for Bernie Madoff: “It is not so good with money as it is bad without it.”

Yiddish Proverbs

Yiddish Proverbs

Since Bernie Madoff hit the scene last Thursday, I’ve been looking at my book “A Collection of Yiddish Proverbs”, trying to pick out those proverbs that best describe or comment (or speculate) on Bernie’s behavior. There are many profound beauties there, but –for the moment at least– I’m going with the supremely ironic, and the very wise, and the incredibly succinct. Dwell on the beautiful construction of it:
“It is not as good with money as it is bad without it!”

At age 70, Bernie is, one way or another, about to explore the second half of the proverb.

Some of you know of my interest in and high regard for proverbs. You may or may not know that I have in the Stone Street Catalog, five collections of proverbs (Irish, English, Yiddish, African, and Arabic, which was my contribution to Post 9.11 literature, and is, I contend, right up there with the best of the post 9.11 books. It includes a Post 9.11 essay that I wrote.)
I am working on a sixth proverb book which will be out sometime in 2009, “A Collection of Chinese Proverbs.”

I assume that like me you have been looking at The Media Looking at Bernie Madoff. And I assume that like me, you have not been overly impressed with it.

So –HERE is the announcement that you have been waiting to hear:
I will be publishing here, over the next days (weeks? months?)….The Real Truth About Bernie Madoff.

Yes, The Inside Dope. The Scoop. The hot-off-the-wires. The latest Guess-who-got-screwed’s.

By the way, don’t you think Bernie was trying to tell us something with that surname: Made-Off? (I was on to that straightaway. I was on that first! Along with a million others! Unfortunately the poor SEC guys seem to have missed it completely!
And another thing the SEC missed (–the Height of Bernie-“Catch Me”-recklessness: His auditor had a tiny hole-in-the-wall office under a bridge in Rockland County)

But here, in my blog. Look for…insight-nay-perspicacity, penetration. And –my secret weapon: fairness (what’s that to do with anything, you ask; and, by the way, what is FAIRNESS? Let me say it here: If you’re not looking for fairness, you’re not looking for the truth!).
Of course, if there are feathers to be ruffled, let me be your ruffler. And I know there are feathers to be ruffled.

And comedy! Not that slash-and-burn that passes for humor and elicits guffaws from studio audiences –if only from the band, who seem to be paid by the guffaw– or in those darkened Stand-up rooms.
No, here we strive for a modicum of Comity. What I will call…Stand-up Comity.

Actually, I won’t be writing so much about Bernie, as I will be writing about The Media And Bernie Madoff; The Human Spirit and Bernie Madoff; that sort of thing.

Anyone who’s been watching media for as long as I have, will be able to write this story –how it’s going to unfold over the next….whenever. And write it now, ahead of time, with your eyes closed.

(The Imus-less Imus Show today was “ALL MADOFF, ALL THE TIME”. They were on Bernie’s case, BIG TIME. (I think they might even have used that very line.) The Imus-less analysis was, of course,…penetrating. It was all about the injustice of it all; the anklebracelet-ness Upper Eastside-ness, one-law-for-the-rich-ness of it. br />
The in-depth Imus-less comments –the outpost of Media Cutting Edge were stuck on one dilemma: Would they –if it was up to them– throw Bernie’s ASS or his BUTT in jail? Both, I say: Ass AND Butt, both.)

The Bernie Madoff Story has several irresistible layers, angles, and shadings to it.
First, there’s the mystery of Bernie: why did he do it? Bernie, Bernie, Bernie –say it with me. What sort of person is this Bernie? What did he do with the money? –Actually, my sense is that he didn’t do it for the money. He did it –what do I know, but this is my best intuit– Bernie did it out of a personal sense of weakness that drove him to pretend power, expertise, know-how, to be highly thought of for his smarts among his peers. One problem with that hypothesis: people like Bernie don’t really have any peers.

(Concerning Know-how: In the global financial meltdown, there is no Know-how. Even the risk-addicts at Goldman Sachs don’t know how to fix it. Here’s a hint: the problem is not with credit; the problem is creditability, credit. The problem is….trust, as in “I trust you, but send cash.
Have you noticed? In all the chaos, all the criminal recklessness, all the inept and unregulated management, all the devastation of people’s money, NO ONE has done anything wrong! NO ONE has admitted to doing anything wrong! No one has taken any responsibility. No, Mr Greenspan, “partially wrong” is not taking responsibility. Can you imagine Adam and Eve say to the Big Cheese, “We were partially wrong!” Why, they’d be thrown out of the Garden, forthwith.)
The ship isn’t just sinking; it’s melting; and it’s on the rocks, taken over by Pirates. (What’s the Somali for “Avast!”)
But seriously: Nobody has done anything wrong; nobody admits to anything; nobody –from the Great Decider on down, owns up or takes responsibility. And you want the restoration of trust? Where would we start? With the thieves? The Keystone Cops. The Fox? The haunted henhouse?)

Trust is going to take a very, very, long time!

But I digress. Back to Bernie –who, by the way, I heard being described as “the cherry on top of the Global Meltdown”. OK –we know what they meant.

Bernie didn’t chase after his clients. His clients had to pursue him; wait for years before Bernie took them on. IF he took them on.

And then took them….

He had that reputation. One of the Pet-names for Bernie was “The Jewish T-Bill”.

The Jewish T-Bill!

Can’t you just hear that one reverberate around the PBCC clubroom: “See that guy over there. That’s ‘The Jewish T-Bill’. Yeah, that’s Bernie Madoff. Bernie’ll make you 10%, 15%, 20% or more….”
“Wow! How do I get him to handle my investments?”
“Don’t bother. Bernie will call you. IF he calls you. Which will probably be NEVER.

Actually, it’s probably not true that “The Jewish T-Bill” didn’t pursue his clients –after all, he needed more and more of them to shore up the collapsing structure….all along what we will call The PONZI SHORE.

[Stop Press: It looks like my instinct on this has been proved correct: It has just been pointed out that it’s Christmas/Hanukah end-of-year Hedge Fund report and statement time –the time when a lot of Bernie’s people will be looking for their money. But this year…the money isn’t there!]

Time for some more Yiddish Proverb from the collection:
“God is not rich: He just takes from one and gives to another.”
“God will provide! Ah, if only He would till he does so!”
“When you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.”
“I trust you but send cash”
“If you have money, you are clever, good-looking, and can sing too.”

Bernie didn’t SEEM to pursue his clients, but he still reeled them in; his reputation was the magnet.

But. He was always on the circuit; he was Available –on his terms: The Hamptons, The Riviera, The Upper Eastside, and –the place that Bernie was most at home: The Palm Beach Country Club, where Bernie could be amongst his own.

His own….what? What are you saying here?

OK. Here’s where we touch on The Most Sensitive Part of the Bernie Madoff Story –The “Jewish” part.

Warning! Prick up your ears! There are two main groups that I would really like to hear this, so: Attention all Anti-Semites! And –Attention all Right-or-wrong Defend-Regardless Jews!

I know you both will want to reject the following piece of Wisdom….but –Bernie Madoff isn’t really Jewish! (That might come as a surprise, so take a moment or two. Begin when you’re ready.)

Consider: Bernie is certainly not “Good-for-the-Jews” Jewish –that bit should be easy to concede. Bernie is “Not a Mensch” (did you see that smile of his under the baseball cap? What WAS that smile saying?): No, no “Mensch”–and there’s another important part of the Jewish Identity I’ve taken away.

No doubt about it: our Bernie seems to have been seriously divorced from his Better Angels. Bernie was Less than Zero. Bernie was…Umgepascht.

(But why? Was he always that way? Or was there a change? What changed? What drove him?
And –by the way– doesn’t it seem to you that there is more than a dash of “Eliot Spitzer” DNA in there? )

It has been pointed out. And it will continue to be pointed out, over the days-months-years, that Most (nobody has yet claimed ‘ALL’ –not even me) of Bernie’s client-victims– were Jews.

Now, it’s at this point that we give the by now-familiar list…the Steven Spielbergs, the Mort Zuckermans, Wilpon the Mets Guy….(I’m snapping my fingers to my staff….Names, names…Help me here! Think Burt Lancaster in that movie with Tony Curtis, “Sweet Smell of Success”, wasn’t it? Anyway, snap your fingers impatiently: Names, names, names. More names!)

And that’s another problem that the media is running into: The media wants More Names. I mean, when you have as your third name “Wilpon the Mets guy” you know you’re in trouble. Wil-pon: it doesn’t even sound like a proper name. More like a Mutual Fund.

You’ve run out of Celebrity Names, Celebrity Jews. (Even Mort Zuckerman is about 3rd or even 4th level New York local –unless you know him from the panel if you watch The McLaughlin Bombast Show (actually, for all his Bombast, Old Mac knows his stuff, is worth watching). Or you read The New York Daily News, which Mort owns, and who once –now I think of it– asked me to write an op-ed for them (in which I inveighed against, what else, Barnes & Noble, who now –have you noticed– have NO BOOKS in their stores. No REAL books. No Small Press. No Really Small Press, which is the REAL Small Press.) You are diverting me. Again!

So! Yes!….

Guys! We need More Names. Victims, you got to help us here. Feed the Beast, you know. We need more Celebrities. We need that “Have you heard the latest in the Bernie Madoff thing” codicil. Or we will have to start making them up.

By the way, you DO know how to deliver the list of names, don’t you. Not monotone; there’s an inflection; you have to affect not so much boredom as….ennui. If you don’t know the difference, stick with boredom. (Or, ask a pun-dint: see my earlier blog about Pundints.)

So, where was I. Yes, inflection; boredom veering to ennui. Now, consider the name “Steven Spielberg”: four syllables, right: Stee-venn Speel-berg. Say it with me:
“Stee-venn Speel-berg”. Now, inflection and boredom/ennui: “Stee-venn Speel-berg”.
Good. Now, I want you to do “Stee-venn” flat and a bit rushed, like you want to get on to “Speel-berg” quickly, like 1-2 3! 4. Good. We’re almost there. Now, I want you to do it again, 1-2 (flat,rushed) 3! (higher, more emphasized) and…on…to…4 (higher still…). Then move on to the next name.

And see if you can get an “again-and-again-and-again” rhythm to it; underscore that ennui.

The big BIG question, besides “What did Bernie Madoff do with the money?” is , “Why did he do it to The Jews?” We will ignore the racism behind that question, whether you are Anti-, or Mindlessly Pro, or –my favorite–: Philo!).

“Why did Bernie Madoff do it to The Jews?”

My suggested answers:
1. Because they were there (at the Palm Beach Country Club).
2. Because he could (some of you will recognize that as The Bill Clinton Syndrome). 3. The Willie Sutton option: Because that’s where the money is. At least, some of the money. In fact, probably quite a bit of the money.

It’s probably a combination of all three, with a little bit of “Jewish T-Bill” magic thrown in.

Well, got to go now. And we haven’t even touched on the two What?-Us? sons, and all the rest of that many-tentacled family.
And we haven’t even glanced in the hapless direction of the SEC. Or beyond to the nebbish-impeded at the treasury and the fed. Fed-up yet? Or back in the rear-view to
the “partially-wrong” Alan Greenspan….etc etc etc

You know our problem? It’s that troubling demographic: Our “Know-Nothings” parading as “Know-it-alls”, with that greedy kid inner-demon: “The Want It Alls, and Want It Now”

That’s what SEEMS to be the problem.

The REAL problem is…US!
Correction. The real problem is…YOU!

There! That’s better!

Footnote:
Let’s end with a few more of those fabulous Yiddish Proverbs–
“He who is aware of his folly, is wise.”
“Tell a fool to close the shutters, and he’ll close them all over town.”
“If the rich could have others to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living.”
“Better a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew.”
“If you are going to eat pork, make it good and fat.”
“If you ask the Rabbi he will surely find something wrong.”
“The whole world is full of demons; you can only hope to exorcise them from yourself.”
“The rich have no sense of justice.”

Ah! Where was the wisdom when we needed it!


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