Wiesel: First Hitler, Then Madoff–How You Can Help


In New York this week, I read two  long pieces about the horrible financial chaos caused by the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. There’s a big  story in the current New York magazine, with  a truly frightening cover picture  of Madoff as the bloody  Joker from Batman. Even more depressing is  a long New York Times piece about the damage Madoff’s treachery has done to Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel.

Basically, Wiesel had all the money from his charitable foundation invested with Madoff–all $15 million of it. It’s all gone. Same with his own life savings. Gone. And there’s no government bailout for Madoff’s victims.

Perhaps it doesn’t pay to think too deeply or too long  about just how much pain life can deal out to one man. Somehow Wiesel escaped Hitler’s  savagery, came to a new world, devoted his  life to humanitarian good, wrote books affirming the human spirit, won the Nobel Peace Prize–and then,  at the age of 80, he gets wiped out by one of the absolute worst people of this century (I know it’s early, but Madoff will  be on the list.)

The mind reels at this kind of thing, but we can all do something to help right Madoff’s wrong. Let me ask everyone reading this blog to make a donation to Wiesel’s foundation here,  as I will do today.  If you have to have something in return, Wiesel has a new book coming out soon, called A Mad Desire to Dance. Please buy it. You’ll feel better if you do.


Blogger’s Return

An exhausting but  fruitful research trip to  New York, walking the very streets walked by Bernie Madoff (whom anyone prey to hate would hate),  proves that not even the recession can destroy the city’s gritty charm.

I  return to find the usual 600 e-mails and an unexpected theater audition looming this afternoon–but then, life is an endless audition, isn’t it?  So more about more later, as I continue to contemplate the phenomenon that is Twitter.

Remember, Sexual Violence is for Everyone!

The triumph of greedy, amoral businesses posing as freedom fighters continues as California’s Ninth Circuit strikes down a law that would have slapped an “adults only” tag on ultra-violent video games like the Grand Theft Auto series,  in which players not only shoot cops but pick up prostitutes, use them, and kill them for fun. And Grand Theft is mild compared to some of this stuff.

This is  proof once more that the First Amendment can be stretched and distorted until it covers any kind of voyeuristic  barbarism. We have lost the ability to make distinctions.

 It will be interesting to see if California appeals this one to the Supremes, at which time we’ll hear many a slippery-sloper cry that we have no freedom at all if a 15-year old boy cannot dismember a video prostitute when he wants.

The whole sad tale is here.

By the way, remember Steve Allen’s old PBS series, Meeting of the Minds? He’d bring together great doers and thinkers from history in the ultimate dinner party–imagine  Cleopatra, Ben Franklin, Shakespeare, and, say, Teddy Roosevelt talking things over.  In that spirit, I’d love to bring back Thomas Jefferson and seat him beside the makers of these violent games, or the producers of the various “Saw” and “Hostel” movies. We’re just carrying on your noble work, Tom.

The Winter Gardener

I spent Valentine’s Day putting in a small winter garden. That’s  not  the kind of  “vegetable love”  Andrew Marvell pledges  in “To His Coy Mistress, ”  but I do love gardening, and it was a real pleasure to prepare the ground and plant lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and collard greens, a first for me.  If all goes well we’ll be enjoying some nice salads and side dishes in about six  weeks. I may also add some brussel sprouts and carrots if I can find the time, a problem that also bothered Mr. Marvell  (“Had we but world enough and time. . . “)

The payoff’s not just in the eating, I’ve learned, but in the doing and the looking.  Every day since planting I’ve felt a lift from seeing the plants take hold, looking across the otherwise drab and frostbitten  winter yard to see those hopeful little green flags waving in the breeze (which escalated to a real gale yesterday.)  I’m glad they’re alive, and, if you’ll forgive the burbling anthropomorphism, they seem glad, too,  raising their nutritious budding arms to praise the winter  sun.  There’s something wonderful about the sight.

Of course, the winter garden is just a minor prelude to the big planting in spring, when I’ll put out around 20 tomato plants, a bunch of peppers, eggplant, cucumbers  and some corn. I never get more than a few ears, but when the cornstalks  reach about four feet tall and the tassels appear, it’s lovely.

Last year I counted up all the ways that I benefit from gardening–the aesthetics, a partial sense of self-sufficiency, connection with nature, etc.–and put my thoughts in a radio piece. Listen here if you like. And stay tuned for a darker, more violent  gardening tale in the next few days: The War Against the Rats.

Saving the Newspapers

I blogged recently about the sinking fortunes of American newspapers, which God knows have multiple flaws, always have had. It’s great fun to bash the big dailies,  and the alternative papers in cities like Dallas, Miami, Washington, L. A. and other places have raked in the dough by positioning themselves as the Feisty Li’l Truthtellers vs. the Big Bloated Corporate-Friendly Mainstream Media Rags.

All that said, the prospect of losing the dailies is a classic ICAGWO (It Can Always Get Worse) scenario. To take just one example from Texas: To its credit, the highly flawed Dallas Morning News* has waged a long campaign for good causes like a regional transportation system, cleaner air, and  more openness in state government, hammering away at the need for recording every vote in the Lege (they don’t do that down heah), so that, y’know, voters might actually see how their reps are voting on this n’ that. Without the big papers, there would  be no other powerful voice to speak up against the lobbyists and the good ol’ boy system in Austin.

Don’t need to rehearse the familiar list of problems ailing the papers,  chief of which is that more and more of us get “free” news from the Web and see little need to take a pulp-powered paper.

I’d consider myself kind of a transitional figure in the paper vs. Web fight. I’ve been a News subscriber my whole life and can’t imagine starting the day w/o the pulp packet and coffee. But during the workday, I always read big chunks of the NY Times, the Washington Post and others online. For free. The Times tried charging for some online content, but the venture flopped and they went back to giving it away.

  Here’s where that long-awaited system of micropayments could help. I wouldn’t mind at all paying a reasonable small fee for access to these papers, but I don’t want to subscribe to the paper editions, most of which I’d never read.  Why can’t they work out some arrangement whereby you pay a few bucks a month for access to 5 papers, 10 papers, etc.? If all the Big Dailies got together and did that, I think millions of people would chip in.

In addition, as a blogger I often rely on the work of these and other papers to ply my trade. Is it fair that I use their materials to build my house, but never pay a cent for the bricks and shingles?

Here’s another idea for paying the papers when we “repurpose” their content:  Slap a tax on Google. Hmm.


*full disclosure: the News pays me literally dozens of dollars a year to review books.

Eve of Destruction–Again?

I’ve lost count of how many times I”ve heard someone say we’re in “uncharted territory” on the economy and possible fixes. The situation in the Middle East looks as bad as ever, but at least Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Yet.  As for global warming–wait until 40 zillion Chinese and Indians discover the pleasures of the internal-combustion engine.

Some days, the only consolation seems to be:  We’ve been at the brink  many times before, and somehow we’ve muddled through. Here’s proof from 1966.

Obama as Chimp? Lighten Up!

I don’t know if we’re a “nation of cowards” on the subject of race, as Atty. Gen. Eric Holder finger-waggingly insists, but we are a nation of people ready to get stupid and  fight over the slightest racial provocation.

When I saw the now-infamous “Chimp” cartoon a couple of days ago, I laughed out loud and made a note to show it to my daughter, who’s been studying political cartoons in school. The cartoon (below) shows a chimpanzee who’s just been shot by a policeman  (a reference to a bizarre incident a few days back). Another cop says:

“They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Now we learn that not just the usual suspects–Al Sharpton, associations of black journalists–are up in arms, but many others consider it a racist slap at Obama. Black person= chimp, monkey, KKK humor,  etc.

I think that’s an absurd and hyper-suspicious view. My own reaction to the cartoon  went something like this: stimulus bill (botched, rushed, thrown-together grab-bag of stuff) + Congressional ineptitude=it’s like something done by a monkey + chimp shooting incident=this cartoon.

Besides, there’s one other thing the chimp-bashers are forgetting.

Obama didn’t write the stimulus bill.  To the extent it was “written,” (actually, it was assembled like sections of Orwell’s prefabricated henhouse), it was done  by a few Congressional leaders. It was being tacked together while Obama  was being sworn in and going to Inaugural balls.  He basically took it from the Congressional bulls–er, monkeys– blessed it and said, “Here’s the bill.”

There. I’m sure that dose of reason will instantly put out the fires.