Saturday, March 29, 2014

Local Boy Done Good

Dr. Borlaug's statue in the U.S. Capital, full cite below, fair use claimed

Greetings All:

I'm working on a post that I will publish sometime next week that will certainly be one of my more somber ones.  Before that drops, however, I've got a "good news" story.

The photo in the statue is Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.  He's in the news this week as his statue was unveiled in the U.S. Capital.  Each state gets only two statutes, so this is a big deal.  He is the latest edition from my home state of Iowa. 

Dr. Borlaug was like countless of other young Iowa men in the depression.  He had no family wealth to rely on but likely had an abundance of concern about the future.  He faced this first by getting an education and then by figuring out a way to help feed a LOT of hungry people.  Through his amazing work in developing grains that would grow in rough spots around the world (rough in soil composition and otherwise) he earned many accolades.  In the commentary about his statute, the Architect of the Capitol's website offers these words:

"Borlaug remained active and interested in the challenge of feeding the world’s increasing population throughout his life. For his achievements in this field, he became one of only three Americans (and seven people worldwide) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1970), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2007)."

This is an incredibly impressive list of accomplishments.  However, what strikes me as particularly wonderful about this man was his humble pursuit of a noble cause-feeding people.  In his obituary in the New York Times, it discusses his learning about winning the Nobel Prize.  He at first thought it was a joke.  Then when convinced it was real, he kept working in his Mexican field, saying he'd celebrate at a later time.  I suppose he was thinking less about the tux and speech in Norway than the people still needing food.

Dr. Borlaug with his wife, Margaret, after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. From the New York Times Obituary cited below, STR/AFP/Getty Images,fair use claimed
 I am always curious about what inspires people to do such extraordinary things.  I think the following quote from the Times obituary answers this question:

"Norman worked his way through the University of Minnesota during the Great Depression. More than once in those desperate years he encountered townspeople in Minneapolis on the verge of starvation, which sharpened his interest in the problems of food production." 

And a sharpened interest it was.  I am not a big numbers guy and my farming career consisted of precisely six hours of baling hay one day in high school.  So I like this bit (again from the obituary):

"Gary H. Toenniessen, director of agricultural programs for the Rockefeller Foundation, said in an interview that Dr. Borlaug’s great achievement was to prove that intensive, modern agriculture could be made to work in the fast-growing developing countries where it was needed most, even on the small farms predominating there. 

By Mr. Toenniessen’s calculation, about half the world’s population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution."

Half the world, most impressive.  Unfortunately, we still have a l-o-n-g ways to go to address hunger in the world.  According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, undernourishment is at a mind-boggling 842 million people. 

http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/, fair use claimed

 Then again, when one looks at where the hunger is located, these are also in places of the world where things are a mess.  By example, let's just look for a moment at the Failed State Index.  I am not going to spend too much time on this except to say that if you line up the map above with the nations that are falling (or already have fallen apart, the connection between that and hunger is all too easy to make.  There are some things that even the dogged efforts of Dr. B cannot address.

As I try to be an optimist (hey there Cubs fans) I will conclude with some good news.  According to the UN report, the number of hungry folks is down from 19% of the world's population in 1990-1992 to 12% in 2011-2013.  That is progress.

Dr. Borlaug was a humble Iowa boy who headed up to the Twin Cities and saw the face of hunger first-hand.  It moved him to act.  Perhaps it was the haunting images of the hungry from his college days in the Twin Cities.  Perhaps it was his belief that there was a way to grow more food.  perhaps it was the fact he was a descent man who elected to use his skills, education and abilities to make the world a better place.  

As I think of Dr. B's accomplishments, I recall the quote of Robert F. Kennedy:  
 
"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why.  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

 
Norman Borlaug dreamed too of things that never were, like grain growing where it never had before.  He truly is a local boy done good. 

Be well my friends,
Jeno

Sources:

http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/dr-norman-e-borlaug

http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/about-national-statuary-hall-collection

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/benjamin-victor-sculpts-an-agricultural-hero-norman-borlaug-for-the-national-statuary-hall/2014/03/24/30450644-b375-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/14/business/energy-environment/14borlaug.html?pagewanted=all

http://ffp.statesindex.org/

http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another Friday Down

The World, or at least (515) Famous Waveland Cafe,  photo by Jeno Berta

Greetings All:

As I mentioned a few posts back, it's Lent.  That time when those of us who are Catholic, including those poorly practicing ones like myself, abstain from meat during the Fridays until Easter.

On a recent Friday, I happen to find myself in the capitol of the Hawkeye State, Des Moines.  The reason for this trip west is that my eldest daughter qualified for an choir event and the whole family went along for the ride.

I love road trips, especially short hops like this.  However, the only challenge with these is that dietary issues kick in, like on this particular Friday.  I don't eat what one would call a "plant-centric" diet and therefore, I had to make a deliberate effort not to eat meat.  This was made more challenging by hitting some of the "destination dining" places in Des Moines, including The Waveland Cafe and Fong's Pizza.

I try to make it as far as possible into Lent without succumbing to the temptation of being a carnivore on Fridays.  Alas, like many a #5 or #6 seed in the NCAAs, I get knocked out.  This year I got a first round bye as I obtained dispensation from my Priest for dinner on March 7th.  The most recent Friday almost went into overtime.

One may wonder why I do this if I am not aggressively practicing my faith.  I might ask myself the same question.  But first, a bit on the history of the meatless Fridays.

There is a school of thought that this came about when the Pope threw a (fish) bone to the Italian fishing lobby by decreeing no meat on Fridays.  From the article I found below, that is an urban (or should I say, "Holy See") legend.  However, some of the supposed rationales behind the rule are interesting.  Here's a link to the story if you're curious:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/05/150061991/lust-lies-and-empire-the-fishy-tale-behind-eating-fish-on-friday

Then there is a more parochial reason for abstaining from meat on Friday.  Christ was, after all, crucified on a Friday.   Here's a great blog post on the subject from a Father Zuhlsdorf for more information:

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/09/quaeritur-some-history-on-meatless-fridays/

Food and food restrictions are not limited to Catholics.  In fact, the other two major monolithic religions of the world, Islam and Judaism, have rules on what one can eat and when.  I took the photo of Maccabee's Deli" as we walked out of the Waveland.  If we would have had more time in town, I would have gone back for a pastrami sandwich.  I just would have known not to ask for cheddar cheese with it, as that's not kosher and this is clearly a kosher place.

Maccabee's Deli Photo by Jeno Berta

Then there are those who decline certain foods not for any religious reason.  There's the scene from Pulp Fiction where Jules tells Vincent, "I don't dig on swine," (or words to that effect.)  For those of you who are students of the modern classics, here's a link to the You Tube posting of that scene, public domain claimed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0zJSgHDnpw


Vincent and Jules having the discussion on breakfast meats, photo credit, Miramax Films, Fair Use/Public Domain claimed, http://www.miramax.com/movie/pulp-fiction

The day went pretty well, even without meat.  I had breakfast of pancakes at The Waveland and for good measure finished off Dawn's cheese hash browns.  I may have abstained from meat but it was no sacrificial meal.

Then lunch, at Fong's Pizza.  I love pizza, pepperoni pizza, to be precise,  Is there Italian sausage, sure, throw it on there.


Fong's Pizza in Des Moines.  Photo by Jeno Berta

I skipped the Pepperoni but did get a great t-shirt.  Photo by Dawn Berta

I decided that I had to keep the streak going.  I got cheese pizza.  It was great.  The streak is intact.

I asked the rhetorical question (I think that is what it is called): why follow this rule if I am not that devout a Catholic?  This post is already w-a-y too long to get into a deep theological discussion, so let me simply say this:  For me, it is a way to engage in a bit of voluntary self-denial, a way to remind myself just what a life of ease and comfort I can live.  For whatever reason, I remember watching my friend Eric participate in a Lincoln-Douglas Debate in high school in 1986.  I remember him quoting a statistic of how fifty Asian-Indians consume the same about of energy as one American.  Although that number may have narrowed some, the point is we as Americans have it really good.  I don't think that is something we should be ashamed of.  However, just speaking for me, I think it is good to engage in some self-denial.  If nothing else, it's a good reminder of just what a life of Reilly I am fortunate enough to live.  Who knows, it might even have a spiritual effect? 

So another Friday is down for Lent.  I'll see how I keep doing.  In the meantime, I am looking forward to my next trip to Des Moines and Fong's Pizza, hopefully not during Lent.

Be well my friends,
Jeno 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Bracket

Here's my bracket for the 2014 Basketball Tourney, photo by Jeno Berta

March 20, 2014 (Happy Spring!)

Greetings All:

It's that time of year where the sports world's spotlight shines on the sport of college basketball.  The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, a/k/a "March Madness," a/k/a "The Big Dance" (I'll stop here) is upon us.  As I type this, my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes have already exited the tourney before it barely begun.  They fell tonight to the Volunteers of Tennessee.  Drat.  Although I'm bummed about the loss, it pales in comparison to what happened earlier today.  Coach Fran McCaffrey's son, Patrick, had surgery on his thyroid yesterday morning.  Thankfully, the surgery went great and he's doing well.  That is about a billion times more important than the score of a basketball game.  

Still, it does stink they lost.  To say otherwise would make me the worst kind of hypocrite.  I have cheered too loud and too long to say, "Oh, it's just a game."  Nope, I am bummed they lost.  I was hoping they would pull it out but that's how the ball bounces...

As I try (and sometimes fail) to be an optimist, there is an upside to my team being done.  I can get off the emotional roller-coaster that is this game.  Unlike other sports, basketball is sadistic in how many things can go wrong and how many things your team cannot control.  Five seconds is a lifetime.  Twenty seconds is an eternity.  Oh, and then there is the matter of your team playing against a team that is (how shall I put this) just better than yours.  Basketball has ceased to be a dribble and shoot game.  It is a physical game where size and strength matter.  You can make all the free throws in the world, but if you're playing against a team with superior athletes, you're almost certain to lose.  Such is life.

So for the next three weekends, I can watch the games with a degree of emotional detachment.  This detachment just became more profound after learning I'm OUT of the Warren Buffet Billion Dollar Bracket contest (thanks Oklahoma).  

For those of you who are not aware of the "audience participation" aspect of this tournament, there are 34 games played in the first and second round of the tournament and then another 16 games this weekend.  That's a lot of basketball.  Everyone can get into the act by filling out a 'bracket," the listing of all the teams playing each other and predicting who will win.  I filled out a bracket after a thoughtful period of reflection lasting about eleven minutes.  I can't be too full of moral outrage at blowing my perfect bracket.  I simply did not care that much.

And even if I did, the chances of picking the perfect bracket is really, really slim.  How slim, you might ask?  Well according to Ezra Miller a guy who's a math prof at Duke University, really slim is 1 in 10 pentillion.  What's a pentillion?  (I had no clue either.)  That is one in 10 billion.  Or as I mentioned it's really, really slim.  The link to the article with more fun-filled math facts is listed below:

http://www.policymic.com/articles/85401/mathematicians-have-determined-your-odds-of-picking-the-perfect-ncaa-bracket

I wonder if anyone will ever pick the perfect bracket.  I doubt it.  I suppose it is one of the reasons that this is "March Madness."  If someone does, then I tip my hat to her or him.  To the rest of you whose team is still in the tourney, good luck and enjoy the ride.  For those whose team is out, remember, there is always next year.

As for me, I will continue to check my bracket, just to see how my eleven-minute investment pays off.  I also will look forward to the Iowa spring game for the football team on April 26th.  

Be well my friends,
Jeno

Such is life.  



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Do Something For Walt

Mr. Bruhl's, from the Business Insider article cited below, fair use claimed  
 Greetings All:

On March 9th, Walter George Bruhl, Jr, Marine Sergeant and Korena War Veteran passed away.  I did not know Walter Bruhl.  I likely would never have heard of him for but seeing the Post from Business Insider on Facebook.  I am glad I did.  Mr. Bruhl penned his own obituary.  It is amusing, clever, at times biting and a wonderful send-off.  As I mentioned, I did not know this man.  However, after reading his obituary, I wish I had.  After reading his full obituary, I suspect many of you will feel the same way.  Here's the link to the article and the full obituary: 

 http://www.businessinsider.com/walter-george-bruhl-junior-obituary-2014-3#ixzz2wKCBlhJ3

Death is inevitable.  It will come to all of us.  Yet few of us take the time to fully prepare for it, especially to the degree as Mr. Bruhl.  Only half of us (Americans, to be precise) have a will and only 42% have a living will.  

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=86992

This is part of the intrigue, at least to me, about Walter Bruhl.  He took the time to write his own obituary.  Is there some self-centered aspect to this?  I suppose.  However, when I read it, I don't hear a man blowing his own horn.  I see someone who did not take himself too seriously.  He also spared his family yet another of those unpleasant tasks of having to write about a loved' one while in the initial stages of grief and under the deadline of the newspaper.  

There is another aspect to this story.  By reading this obituary, it gives all of us the opportunity to think about how we want to be remembered.  It also can be a catalyst for starting those things we want to do but have not gotten around to for whatever reason.  From starting a not-for-profit to a fitness program, getting going is a hard yet necessary step.  However, we're still around to get going.  I'll put my own spin on the saying, "There's no better time than the present," to "The present is all we have for sure, it's the only time."

Sometimes we need a jolt.  There is the story of the jolt Alfred Nobel got when he read his own obituary.  Nobel had made a fortune with his invention of dynamite.  When his brother died, the newspapers mistakenly thought that this Nobel had died and wrote an obituary about Alfred.  It was not flattering.  If anything, it summed up Nobel's life as being a creator of destruction.  

Alfred Nobel, Fair Use/Public Domain Claimed, link to Chabad.org article below
Nobel was shocked.  He knew unless he did not do something significant and soon, his life would be recalled, fairly or otherwise, for his ability to blow things (and people) up.  This obituary was his jolt.  From that day, he worked to create the Nobel Prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize.  A man who otherwise would have been known (and vilified by some) for destruction became known for peace and progress.

As I often do for my blog posts, I consulted my research team (Google) and after a deliberate 20 second search, came up with the below article from Rabbi Dov Greenberg.  Although the article has, understandably, a religious aspect to it, there is a secular message for everyone- it's never too late to change your life's focus and your obituary.

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/271383/jewish/The-Man-who-Changed-his-Life.htm

Back to Mr. Bruhl and the end of his auto-obituary.  He asks that in lieu of flowers, that we do an act of "...unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for some poor unfortunate soul in his name."  That seems like a reasonable request and a fitting way to honor this man.  I do not think these acts have to rival Alfred Nobel.  If anything, the more personal the act, the more genuine it would be.  As I read the article on Nobel from Rabbi Greenberg, I thought about From the Talmud-

"...And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a

 Here's a quote that's a bit more modern and secular, from Robert F. Kennedy:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 

 
So there you have it, one act of kindness will benefit the recipient, but in some sincere way the rest of us.  By doing something to honor Walt's memory, we're also doing something for the world we share with everyone else.  Not only is it an honorable way to remember Sergeant Bruhl, but a practical benefit to the rest of us.  I think that is some that both Walt and Alfred would approve.

Be well my friends,
Jeno



Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Captive Saint

Images of Saint Columba, Saint Patrick, and Saint Brigida, Taken from the Spicilegium Sanctorum, and engraven at Paris,A.D. 1629, by Messingham.  Public domain claimed.

Greetings All:



Or should I say, "Top o' the morning!"  It is that time of year when a bunch of folks celebrate their Irish heritage and welcome everyone else to join in the fun.  Yesterday, we bundled up to headed down to "The Grand Parade,"  the only bi-state St. Patrick's Day Parade in the country.  About 20 years ago, I had the good fortune to get to drive the Grand Marshall, back when the Camaro was in its prime.  The parade was super and it was good to see a gathering of a clan of Irish and Irish for the Day.  The parade was grand indeed.  Even the sun came out, Irish eyes were not only smiling, they were squinting for those without sunglasses.  I am pleased to also report that it was a fun, well-behaved crowd, at least from my spot on the parade route.   


I know there are those who take issue with some of the more..."robust" celebrating that takes place.  I suspect that there might be one or two lads that will have a wee bit too much fun.  I just hope they have the good sense not to drive home.  These folks are thankfully few and far between.  To those who take issue with St. Pat's being too much about fun too trivial, I'd offer this:  One of the many great gifts to the world from the Irish is wit, story-telling, song and yes, fun.  The older I get, the more important fun becomes.  In fact, spending time with family and friends is not a trivial endeavor.  It is an essential ingredient of life.  


And this is a fun time of year.  While it might not seem like it outside, spring is coming.  I always consider day of the "Grand Parade" to be the unofficial start of spring,...even if I'm wearing a wool sweater and gloves.  Today there is snow on the ground but it’s a temporary annoyance.  Winter is dying and with spring comes new life.  Spring is the season of optimism.

The banner from "The Grand Parade" 2014, photo by Jeno Berta



I also think us Irish are optimists.  It’s not that we’re immune to reality.  For centuries, the Irish endured sufferings, culminating with that most genocidal event, the potato famine.  A million Irish men, women and children died, starved actually.  Source (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml)  I found this quote from one of my favorite writers, William Butler Yeats that sums up what it was to be Irish not so long ago:  "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."  

Many of us who are descendants of those who had that “abiding sense of tragedy,” coming to America and finding yes opportunity, but also bigotry.  We’re not that far removed from the days of “No Irish Need Apply."  The picture below is of a memorial in my hometown of an Irish family coming to America.  The parade ends a bead necklace throw away from it.  I think if Bill Y would have seen yesterday’s parade, he’d have to re-think his quote as joy and tragedy had flip-flopped.

The Irish Memorial in Downtown Davenport, photo by Jeno Berta

So you might be wondering how I tie up optimism with tragedy?  Here’s how, the namesake of the holiday, St. Patrick, the captive saint.  St. Patrick was kidnapped as a youth and sold into bondage in Ireland by pirates.  Clearly, that’s a tragedy, even by Irish standards.  Still, St. Pat did not wallow in his circumstances.  He found a basis for it, a justification for action.  Here’s a quote from him:  

"Therefore I cannot and ought not to be silent concerning the great benefits and graces which the Lord has bestowed upon me in the land of my captivity, since the only return we can make for such benefits is, after God has reproved us, to extol and confess His wonders before every nation under heaven."

From The Beginning of the Books of the Bishop St. Patrick, source:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18482/18482-h/18482-h.htm#chap01 

I think St. Pat was too hard on himself.  I also think that when he looks down on the revelry he'll see these next few days, he'll smile.  I also hope he recognizes that his captivity helped spur freedom for so many more who followed him.  Now that is something to celebrate.

Slán abhaile,

Jeno

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Stare Down

http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/himmler-prisoner-locked-staring-contest-defiance/ public domain claimed

Greetings All:

I'm no fan of the former Soviet Union.  My Dad fought against it in '56 during the heroic yet ultimately doomed Hungarian Revolution.  I think Stalin was one of the most evil men who ever lived.  It's not very Christian of me, but I truly hope he's in the Pol Pot wing of Hell with Hitler, Mao, and the guy in glasses in the photo.

That guy would be Heinrich Himmler.  Himmler was about as evil as they come.  He ran the SS and was without remorse for how he did it.  Here's how the website, "Rare Historical Photos," cited above, described him"

"Heinrich Himmler was one of the chief architects of the holocaust, Hitler’s #1 right-hand man, chief of the Gestapo and oversaw all concentration camps, probably the most evil Nazi."

So back to the photo.  Here is some unknown Red Army soldier, a prisoner of war (POW)  locked in a staring match with Himmler.  You can see the outline of his ribs.  (Nazi Germany was not known for the cuisine of their POW camps, especially for those unfortunate enough to be captured wearing Soviet uniforms.)  This POW's survival rate was not great, actually, it was dismal.   There were about 5.7 million Soviet prisoners of war captured and held by Nazi Germany.  Of that number, more than 3.5 died in captivity.  Stalin had rejected the Geneva Convention and that was just fine with the Nazis.  Dumb move Joey, dumb, dumb...


I agree with the description in the link above that this POW engaged in an act of defiance, a calculated one.  He's up against the barbed wire, standing at attention, probably using more energy than I do when I run three miles.  Yet there he stands.  Did he know that he was locked in a stare down with such a high ranking Nazi?  Maybe.  From Himmler's entourage, it's clear he was a big shot.  Regardless of exactly who this POW thought Himmler was, it is obvious that he was one of the overlords, the victor, at least then.  The POW was clearly on the wrong side of the wire.
Life in a POW camp was no picnic.  Despite the comedic description in the 1960s T.V. show, Hogan's Heroes, it was a hard life.  One of the ironies of the war for American and other non-Soviet POWs is that the better the war got for the allies, the worse it got for the POWs.  Ned Handy was an American POW at the infamous Stalag 17.  His book, The Flame Keepers tells of daily life in the camp.  I listened to the audio version of it back in 2007 or 2008.  I recall how Handy described the macabre experience of watching through the wire the Soviet soldiers and their role call.  The Nazi guards would only look at the prisoners' feet, never in the face.  The reason was that at any time the faces belonged to the death.  That's right, the Soviets would bring out their dead at roll call for extra food rations.  As I recall, they kept this up until spring made such actions unbearable.  It baffles the mind (at least mine) that such things occurred.  But they did, and far worse in that war.

Here's a link to this book:

http://us.macmillan.com/theflamekeepers/NedHandy
I wonder who this POW was.  Who knows, he might have been a straight-up Bolshevik, a fanatic communist and one who ratted out less-loyal soldiers to the political officer.  That is possible.  It is more likely he was one of the millions of peasant farmers or factory workers who had as much use for Marx as we do for blacksmiths.  In any event, in this moment, this POW is standing up to a bully.  For that, he's doing a solid and gets my appreciation.

Several years ago, I read the book, Ivan's War by Catherine Merridale.  She does a solid job of telling the story of how the average Red Army soldier, lived, fought, and often died in "The Great Patriotic War."  The POW in the photo is likely whom Merridale was writing about.  Here's a link to the book if you're interested:

http://www.amazon.com/Ivans-War-Life-Death-1939-1945/dp/0312426526 

In war, there are winners and losers.  There are casualties.  Dead, wounded, scared and scarred, all have their place in war.  Then there are the prisoners.  Those who cannot fight anymore, at least not n the traditional sense.  Yet in this photo, this lowly POW stood his ground and locked eyes with the personification of evil.  In that moment, he was no longer a prisoner, he was free, he was victorious, and he won the stare down.

Be well my friends,
Jeno

Monday, March 10, 2014

How Hath the Mighty Fallen

 From The New Yorker, Illustration by Barry Blitt, full credit below, fair use claimed
 Greetings All:

Earlier in the week I commented on the guilty plea of The Real Housewives of New Jersey Teresa Giudice and her husband, Joe.  Here's one more news article:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/03/humbled_teresa_and_joe_giudice_of_real_housewives_plead_guilty_to_financial_fraud.html

Keeping on the theme of "how hath the mighty fallen," here's another one for you:

It's been reported that the former uber power-house law firm Dewey & Leboeuf had some of its former leaders indicted recently for a variety of moral failings.  A less polite yet (for them) accurate terms is,...crimes.  Of course, they are innocent until proven guilty.  Still, as a former Federal public defender, I can tell you that it is not a good day to get indicted.  Speaking of-

The Manhattan DA had this to say about the indictment:  “Those at the top of the firm directed employees to hide the firm’s true financial condition from creditors, investors, auditors and even partners of the firm....”

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/former-top-leaders-of-dewey-leboeuf-are-indicted/?_php=true&_type=blogs&emc=eta1&_r=0

One Assistant DA, Peirce Moser,  had this more blunt assessment in court, stating the Defendants, "...acted out of a shocking mix of greed and hubris."

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/us-dewey-execs-criminal-idUSBREA251FU20140306 

The court filings are the following:  New York v. Davis et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, and SEC v. Davis et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-1528.  Here's the link to the SEC civil legal filing:

http://go.bloomberg.com/assets/files/2014/03/dewey-complaint.pdf

Here's a bit of background on this law firm.  Both were well-known law firms and wildly successful  The LeBoeuf firm had money, but had not been around that long.  The Dewey firm, founded by the almost President Tom Dewey had  a great rep but had not been bringing in the cash it used to.  Bringing these two firms together gave them both what they needed.

 "'Dewey married money, LeBoeuf married up' was how some characterized the union."

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/14/131014fa_fact_stewart

This firm had revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  The amount causes my head to spin. This firm had thousands of attorneys, approximately 3000 at its height, If I recall.  It must have had thousands of clients, many of the "blue-chip" type.  For a while, it had to be doing very well.  Then the bottom fell out:

"In 2008, Dewey & LeBoeuf had revenues of $954.8 million, more than a hundred million below its targeted budget. It was the first time in a generation that LeBoeuf partners had experienced a shortfall."

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/14/131014fa_fact_stewart

So if I follow this right, the firm was supposed to meet billings of a billion dollars.  They came up short.  Wow...

Stewart's writing gives is an insider's view to how a firm so big, so talented could fall so far so fast.  The tale is as tragic as it is American.  It is the perverse converse of Love the comeback" story.  This is the tale of wildly smart, talented people falling hard and fast.  I am not condoning the alleged illegal activity.  I take particular umbrage at lawyers doing wrong.  Not that we're above human frailty.  If anything, we're more screwed up than everyone else.  No, I hold lawyers to a higher standard because we know better.

Yet as I write this, there is another aspect to this story.  This firm oozed respectability, status, prestige.  I also have no doubt the attorneys there were wildly intelligence, incredibly talented, and motivated to succeed.  Stewart quotes one of the fallen leaders about how he wanted his firm to be know:

"It means being the firm of choice for the best law-school students."

I would have never been hired by this firm.  Hell, I would have never been granted an interview.  In 2000, when Dawn and I were looking to move out to North Jersey, I fancied myself a prime candidate for a job in a New York law firm.  After all, I had ample trial experience (in traffic court) and had written at least three appeals to state appellate courts (all summarily denied.)  Yet there were those two pesky little details about the pedigree of my law school (non-existent by big law firm standards) and my class rank.  Some people graduate with distinction.  I graduated with relief, somewhere between the basement and wine cellar of my law school class.  Opps.  I remember one head hunter who said in a thick Neew Yark accent, "Can't use you hon."  Thanks for the candor,...I guess.  Thus ended my quest to ascend to the "big firm" law practice. 

Had I read about this fall five years or more ago, I might have gloated about this story.  I suppose on some sub-conscience level, I am doing that by even writing this post.  Yet I do not harbor any ill will to those at this firm.  I view this matter as a cautionary tale.  Greed can make people take dumb risks and do stupid things.  Greed can cause otherwise rational people to act in the most unexpected irrational ways.  Again, those indicted are innocent until proven guilty.  They may be acquitted.  I am guessing they have stellar legal representation and this case will drag on for months, if not years.  I wonder if I'll remember this story and its cautionary tale when it all ends.  I hope so.

I'll wrap up with the speech the fictional character Gordon Gekko made in the film, Wall Street

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.
Greed is right.
Greed works.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.
And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechwallstreet.html

The fictional character Gordon Gekko, photo credit to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gordon_Gekko.jpg, fair use claimed

 There are those who view these words as true.  Others disagree.  One man's greed is another man's noble accomplishment.  However, it's never good for a defendant when a third man calls it greed and he's a prosecutor.  From these stories above it is clear that greed did not save that most mighty and storied law firm  Dewey & LeBoeuf.  A law firm that I would have loved to work for in another time and one that never would have hired me.  For that decision, ladies and gentlemen of the recruiting committee, you have my undying gratitude.

Be well friends,
Jeno

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pulvis Ad Pulverem

http://www.familyholiday.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Ash-Wednesday_02.jpg, fair use/public domain claimed


Greetings All:

The rough Latin translation of "pulvis ad pulverem," is dust to dust.  For those of us Christians who observe Ash Wednesday, this is the day.  Full disclosure, I am not what one would call, even while observing the most charitable of definitions a...devout Catholic.  My dear friend and mentor, Bill, gave me some great advice a few years ago when he said, "It's best to have a sense of humor as a Catholic." (Or words to that effect.)  Bill is one of the finest people I know and his words (at least as I interpreted them) meant that while there are things about our religion that may give us pause, smile at them and celebrate the basis of the faith.

The basis of the faith.  As I mentioned two posts back, I had an ugly visit in my professional life from the Ghost of Grammar Past.  I learned last week (among other things) that "bases" meant more that one thing.  If you are Christian, then the basis, the singleness, of our faith is the belief in Jesus Christ.  This post is not meant to get into a deep philosophical and/or spiritual debate.  If I'm qualified to discuss dogma then you might as well throw me the keys to Jeff Gordon's car and let me race on Sunday (until I crash...)  Alas, I digress.

So it's Ash Wednesday and I did make it to Mass this morning...at 7:00 a.m.  I do not live exactly next door to my church, Our Lady of Victory so this was not exactly an...ideal time to head to church.  Still, I did.  Primarily because my Dad advised that a Mass was being said for my Mom.  She passed away in 2010 and when a Mass is said for her, I try to go.  The fact it was Ash Wednesday was either a convenient or annoying coincidence.  I'll elect to bid on the first showcase.

As I was driving to church, I started laughing to myself, recalling in either 2007 or 2008 when we lived in Arizona.  My Mom came down to visit and sure enough, it was during the week of Ash Wednesday.  Of course, my Mom was far too much of a class act to shame me into taking her to Ash Wednesday Mass but we went anyways.  I recall (with more than a bit of embarrassment) being annoyed at my reverse lottery luck of having my Mom visit at this precise time.  Oh well, I said to myself.  There are worse fates to suffer.  I had no idea that a few years later she would be gone.

So this morning, I went to Mass, and did so willingly.  Again, I am no poster child for the ideal Catholic.  At the same time, this morning offered me that most wonderful of gifts- the chance to spend a bit of time with my Dad.  And that, my friends, is a thing to celebrate.

It is true we, like all living things, will return to the earth.  We are destined to decompose.  Morbid, I guess.  Then again, if you believe that our souls move forth at our passing, then leaving our bodies here is not so bad.  I could be wrong, but I elect to believe that when we leave this earth, our ashes are not just or bodies, but all the bad stuff, all the stupid experiences we needed to have here on this planet.  What we leave behind are our family, our friends, the people we mentored and who mentored us.  That makes passing on OK, more than OK.

In the meantime, celebrate the time we have here.  And recall that sometimes the things that are the annoyances of the present become our future memories.  I know this to be true as I was thinking about Mom this morning, wishing she was here, but grateful we were together for that one Ash Wednesday Mass a few years ago.  You know, the one I didn't want to go to...back then.

Be well my friends,
Jeno

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

That Poor Thing Called Fame

The Original Line Up of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, 2010, from the LA Times, public domain/fair use claimed, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/08/bravo-officially-announces-real-housewives-of-beverly-hills-lineup-and-premiere-date.html
Greetings All:

Monday night in our house means, "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" night.  Now before some of you say, "Son, step away from the MacBook Air and let me see your man card,"  allow me to explain that the Housewives is something I watch by choice.  This was not the plan, I assure you.  However, it would be a lie to say that I  have not become a fan of the show, I have.  Well, perhaps fan is not the best word.  I started watching it with my wife Dawn.  But for her, I would never have paid it any attention.  However, it is something that I do watch, willingly.  At times, I look forward to it.  We all deserve (and I might add, need) some guilty pleasures.  As much as I respect, admire and like Tim Feriss, I reject his "low information diet," philosophy.  I follow the news a lot, probably more than I should.  So the whole "Housewives" genre is both amusing and entertaining.  It's the "Pop Tarts" of television for me.  Lots of flavor, no real value.

The show does have an intoxicating draw.  If you've not heard of the show, think of it as The Real World fast-forwarded two decades with the disposable income.  Put another way, it is, glamorous people doing glamorous things.

Or so it seems.  If you follow this genre, you are aware that more than one of the "Housewives" have fallen on hard times.  Then again, one might say they walked right into the brick wall of reality while they were too busy smiling for the cameras and not watching where they (and their bank account) was going.

One of the early Housewives, Bethany Frankel, lit into the mother ship of the "Housewives," Bravo TV, by accusing them of purposefully hiring ladies who talk a good game and walk in very nice shoes, yet are broke.  She states the shows stars are, "...all show and no go" and are more intent of flaunting faux wealth than actually amassing that money!"

http://www.realitytea.com/2013/08/15/bethenny-frankel-accuses-bravo-of-hiring-real-housewives-who-are-all-show-says-75-are-broke/

Considering what has unfolded with a number of the "Housewives," she's got a point.  It seems as if when the bubble burst a few years ago, a LOT of people who appeared to be doing well were actually falling into one, without the bucket of a line of credit.

The poster kids for this "manufactured lifestyle," are Joe and Teresa Guidice.  Today, they pleaded guilty in Federal court to a number of crimes.  It looks as if they are both off to Federal prison for a few years.  If you want to check out the indictment, here it is:

http://www.justice.gov/usao/nj/Press/files/pdffiles/2013/Guidice,%20Giuseppe%20and%20Teresa%20Indictment.pdf



Joe and Teresa at Federal Court, Bravo TV, Fair Use Claimed, see full citation below


http://www.bravotv.com/blogs/the-dish/teresa-and-joe-giudice-plead-guilty-to-fraud-charges

Less anyone think I am giddy about this, I am not.  Joe and Teresa have four kids and their lives are going to, more than likely, become very different, very soon.  My heart goes out to them.  Regret can be a heavy burden and even though we all carry it for our own errors and omissions, in our hearts, the weight often shifts to those we love.  Who knows, maybe Joe and Teresa will come out of prison stronger, better people and help others inside.  It is the best to hope for.  Still, there will be no producers from Bravo to help edit any of it.

Damon Young, a philosopher I've never heard of, wrote an article about the scientist who won the Nobel Prize earlier this year in his article, Curiosity vs. Celebrity:  Why Do Some Reject Fame?  He concluded it the following:

"We are, as far as we know, the only species who can speculate on the nature of reality. We have a gift for precise, systematic thinking, which combines deft calculation with bold imagination.
This is not what we are for, but it does seem a waste to devote the only known higher intellect in the cosmos solely to brute necessity or restless distraction – or the combination of the two: celebrity."
 
 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-14/young-curiosity-and-celebrity-in-science/5019458

As I watch these shows, it reminds me that while I don't live the life of the "Housewives," I don't have to pay the costs of that lifestyle.  We all make bad investments.  We have a house in Arizona that is my "Exhibit A."  That is nothing compared to the cost that celebrity can bring and it's not the base price, it's the interest.  

I'll wrap up this post with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Marcus Aurelius.  These words are as relevant as when he wrote them as a Roman Emperor,  "...that poor thing called fame..."

Poor indeed.  When I view my life I realize just how wealthy I am, even here in Iowa, far away from the fame of Reality TV.  And for that, I am grateful.

Be well my friends,
Jeno

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Revenge of Junior High English



Ask.com, public domain/fair use claimed.  (If you don't see the humor in this, you're likely under 30)
Greetings All:

This past week at work was particularly challenging.  I enjoy my job but the expression, "too much of a good thing, " comes to mind.  I had to do a bunch of writing.  I will not bore you with the details but suffice it to say, it was of a "professional" nature.  It also required a degree of attention to detail that required (ahem) multiple re-writes of certain documents.  Less anyone think this is a post about self-pity, it is not.  I recognize that I am quite fortunate to have the job I have, work with great people, do work I find meaningful and overall am very satisfied.  Now with that being said, I was extraordinarily glad when (let's call it the project) was completed.  I've got a stack of paper to shred.  It's amazing how you can proof-read (or think you're proof-reading) a doc and still find typos.  It got to the point where as the deadline was approaching, I was reading out-loud in my office.  It probably sounded dumb to my colleagues, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

It got done and this was a team effort.  Thanks to my colleagues and bosses we got everything done and at the end of the day, it was a good news story.  I did mutter under my breath (more than once) that I was looking forward to writing a blog post this weekend, free of the tyranny of the perfect written work-product.

In retrospect, there was no tyranny involved, just an important, detailed-oriented, un-glamorous project with a deadline.  After all, that's why they call it work, right?  I recognized a couple of things:  First, my eyes are starting to go.  As much as I knew the day was coming for reading glasses, I'd hope it would be a while.  Even now as I type this, I have to look away from the screen for a moment.  Twelve point font ain't what it used to be.

The other thing is that, simply put, I never mastered grammar the way I should.  I recall how I despised the "stupid" rules of sentence structure.  How I cursed the way words were spelled and (i before e, says WHO!) and why is there even a colon or semi-colon?  Well, revenge came this past week.  Had I actually paid attention in class and learned this stuff, I might have actually gotten home at a descent hour Thursday night.

There are different kinds of writing.  I suppose one way to look at it is this:  Some writing you get paid for and others are for fun or at least amateur endeavor.  (And this blog, if anything, is an amateur endevor.)  Still, writing is something that I respect.  I am convinced that the power of the written and spoken word matter.  As I type this, I suspect there are writers from Kiev to the Crimea who are aiding the cause through their words.  That may be no match for tanks.  Then again, look at what happened in Egypt thanks to the internet and 140 characters.  Yeah, words matters.

 I did a Google search on this topic:  the responsibility to write well, and learned about Hannah Birss. 

Hannah Birss is one of countless aspiring writers out there.  She (cliche alert) wise beyond her years.  Here are a couple of her gems:  "Ignoring one of your weaknesses does not make the weakness go away."  Here's another one, "There are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to write, but I will bet that ninety percent of them are based around you. Blaming others does not one any good. If you can accept your successes, you need to be able to accept your failures as well. "

http://theroadpavedwithwords.tumblr.com/post/41916451090/a-writers-responsibility

http://theroadpavedwithwords.tumblr.com/aboutme

So I acknowledge that I was wrong to blow off junior high English.  All the spell-checkers in the world cannot change the fact that some things need to be learned.  If not, then it's re-write city and reading out loud in your office.  Lesson learned, better late than never.

Be well my friends,
Jeno