3/21/09

Daphne Merkin in the Times: "(I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him.) "

What a game of charades we play, when first we practise to deflect.

In the middle of her eloquent Times op-ed essay, Daphne Merkin parenthetically informs us, "(I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him.)" (Why do we hear echoes of, "I did not have sex with that woman...")

May we translate? Daphne's brother J. Ezra Merkin was one of Madoff's primary money funnels through his Ascot and Gabriel Funds which blithely placed their assets with Madoff the criminal without informing the Merkin investors (="did business with him"). Ezra is now the subject of several lawsuits and various investigations.

And to go on, somewhere later in her "op-ed" Daphne impishly declares, "...for many of us, money remains at the level of the magical, like coins conjured from behind someone’s ear..."

May we reply? No my dear, that is not the case. For the very few of you who grew up on Park Avenue with silver milchig and fleishig and pesachdig spoons in your mouths, that may or may not be an accurate statement. We would not know since we grew up on Third Avenue and, you see, everyone in our family and all of our friends worked for an annual salary to make a living. We all knew the source of our money. No images of conjuring, nothing remotely magical.

So honey, we hear that you are, "Working on a book on Jews and money." Fine. When you do write about "Jews and money" - please be very clear. If you are writing about the Jews who were ganovim - such as Mr. Madoff and your "sibling" i. e., Mr. J. Ezra Merkin - kindly make certain that you erect a high mechitza to separate them from the rest of us - from us the Jews who work hard to earn our daily bread - those 99.44% of Jews who know exactly where money comes from, and who respect it. Please do put us in a separate chapter in your book.

And finally, when you decide, "Mr. Madoff has not implicated his family; even sociopaths have their loyalties," we say, just hold off on your conclusions about that until the final curtain drops. It is safer and fairer and more accurate to say that sociopaths have no loyalties at all, not even to their families or to those who "did business with" them.

So watch your back, sister and hold off on that wishful thinking. You don't really know what Mr. Madoff will do, or for that matter, what your brother will do, until the performance is over and as they say, until the fat man sings.

Here is the start of the text of Daphne Merkin's dazzlingly literate op-ed and the link to the rest of it.
Op-Ed Contributor. If Looks Could Steal
By DAPHNE MERKIN

IN all the hue and cry that has surrounded Bernard Madoff since news of his preternaturally elaborate Ponzi scheme broke last December, we have chosen to concentrate our inquiry and analysis on the perpetrator and his far-flung world, as though we might thereby begin to answer the question of what made him tick.

Yet, as a culture that tends to look for black-and-white, reductionist explanations, it is doubtful that we will ever fill in the gaps in our understanding of a situation that is shot through with ambiguity. There is no single code word — no “Rosebud” — that will lead us to decipher the Madoff phenomenon, no eureka realization that will account for his strange and ultimately ruinous trajectory or the dissociative behavior that allowed him to believe one thing while doing another. What this intense focus has enabled us to do, however, is to skim over the psychology of the other participants in the drama: the ones who got taken.

Given the demonization of Mr. Madoff and the intense sympathy for the plight of those smaller investors who trusted him, it is easy to forget that he actually did bring something to the table. Indeed, what is lost amid the fury of some of those who handed their money over to him is that theirs was a voluntary — nay, eager — association. No one was holding a gun to anyone’s head, saying sign up with Mr. Madoff or else.

Far from it: people scrambled to find a home within his financial orbit, auditioning for the role of Madoff client the way you would try out for a place at an Ivy League college, nudging connections to put in a good word, calling in favors to get in on a piece of the Madoff action. (Although those who were duped are referred to in the press as “victims,” it seems to me it would be more accurate to define them as casualties. Victims are specifically sought out; casualties are an indirect consequence of some larger action.)

What Mr. Madoff brought to the table, I think, was a sense of mishpocha, of being part of an extended family, but one you carefully chose rather than being arbitrarily born into. He seemed to humanize the cold, frequently anonymous business of investing by giving it an avuncular face. By all accounts, he was the quintessential nice guy. (I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him.) And, no small thing: he looked trustworthy. He has the sort of pleasant mien that makes you think he has your best interests at heart. ...more...

3 comments:

Henry Frisch said...

Is that sketch Merkin or Boss Tweed?

Talmudist said...

Talk about obfuscation :).

tzvee said...

Like sister, like brother.