Monday, March 23, 2009

Bernard Madoff and a current bestseller

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was written by the Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson, who died shortly after completing the book in 2004. It is a thriller with a powerful financial criminal and the crisis he brings to the financial markets. The resemblance to our current crisis, and Bernard Madoff’s role is eerie.  Near the book's close, Larsson speaks of the stock crash:
The Stockholm Stock exchange found itself in freefall and a handful of financial yuppies were threatening to throw themselves out of windows.
And the hero says:
“The idea that Sweden’s economy is headed for a crash is nonsense,” Bloomkvist said.
“We are experiencing the largest single drop in the history of the Swedish stock exchange—and you think that’s nonsense?”
“You have to distinguish between two things—the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day . . .. That’s the Swedish economy and it’s just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago. . . . The Swedish Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy . . .. It only means that a bunch of heavy speculators are now moving their shareholdings from Swedish companies . . . systematically and perhaps deliberately damaging the Swedish economy in order to satisfy profit interests. For at least twenty years, many financial reporters have refrained from scrutinizing [the greatest perpetrator of fraud]. On the contrary, they have actually helped to build up his prestige by publishing brainless, idolatrous portraits. If they had been doing their work properly, we would not find ourselves in this situation today.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Really Matters

Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "Outliers" is, like all his books, clear, concise and innovative in its perspectives.
He focuses on getting to the facts under the accepted illusions. What characteristics are crucial for success in life, and which hinder it? As a teacher, I found it required reading, for its gimlet-eyed view of what does and doesn't work in our schools today.
One thing: he says that one test question seemed impossible:
Teeth are to hens as nests are to ?
That's easy.  There's an old expression that something is as rare as hen's teeth.  So what bird rarely has nests?  The cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other species, so I think the answer is:
Teeth are to hens as nests are to cuckoos.
Check out his website for more info.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Life Well Lived

WAGNER--Rubin, 89. It is with profound sorrow that we announce the
passing of Rubin Wagner, for over 66 years the proud husband of the late
Sima Wagner, patriarch of our family and mentor to so many. Ruby lived a
life devoted to his wife, his children, Harry and Leon, his daughters in
law, Myra and Marsha, and his grandchildren Elliot, Lauren, Gabriel and
Daniel. For his dedication to his family, to his friends, to those in
need; for his jokes, "have you heard my latest?", for his good humor and
love of Judaism and Israel, and for the respect with which he treated
his fellow man, rich or poor, Ruby was widely loved by the countless
people whose lives he had touched. Born Ruvke Wajner (pronounced Viner)
in Vilna, Lithuania, Ruby was the older son of Aron and Sore Chana, both
of whom perished in the Holocaust, and brother of Mendel who disappeared
into the Ponary forest. At the outbreak of World War II Soviet Russia
invaded Vilna and ceded it to Lithuania. On February 20, 1940 at the age
of 20, Ruby eloped with the love of his life, Sima Benosher. In June
1941, Soviet Russia annexed Lithuania and closed Jewish institutions.
Sima, Ruby and baby daughter, Sheyna, lived together with his parents in
a life of relative comfort where their baby's 'feet never touched the
ground' from the constant love and attention she received from her
grandparents. A year later the Germans entered Vilna. Ruby cared for his
family in the ghetto. He survived the war in concentration camps often
working as a barber, a skill he had learned in his mother's thriving
beauty salon. Ruby was liberated in 1945 unaware that his daughter had
perished or that his wife survived. Sima and Ruby were reunited to begin
life again, lived in Heidenheim, Germany among many friends, had their
first son, Aron (Harry) and in May 1949 set sail for America. Beginning
in a railroad flat apartment at 1958 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn,
Ruby did what he had to do to support his family eventually becoming a
barber in a shop in the basement of the famous Hearst Building near
Columbus Circle. A few years later he had the opportunity to go into
partnership to build one single-family house in what was then the
farmland of Huntington, New York. He asked the advice of one of his
successful clients who told him, 'the barber chair will be here if it
doesn't work out.' Founding Ripley Associates and Forest Green Ruby and
his longtime business partner, Victor Cynamon, built many homes,
developed much property, at one time becoming a large landowner in
Huntington. Moving to Roslyn, New York then Aventura, Florida Ruby was
always active in his community whether planning cantorial concerts,
doing what was needed at his synagogues, or participating in Holocaust
remembrance. Throughout his life Ruby was a proud 'Vilner', to him a
very special identity. Vilna was an important center of Jewish life, a
center of Jewish learning, a nexus of Yiddishkeit. Ruby was one of the
publishers of 'Vilna in Pictures' a highly regarded pictorial history by
Lazar Ran, the longtime editor of 'The Daily Forward', a project on
which he and his colleagues worked for many years. From his youth an
aficionado of soccer, Ruby came to love the Brooklyn Dodgers and New
York Mets. He loved his weekly poker games, vacations in the Catskills;
he loved happy occasions, Chivas, and any food that starts with the
letter 'a' (as in 'a shtikkele cake, a drink', etc.). Finally, Ruby
deeply loved the country that gave him and his extended family the
opportunity to rebuild their lives and flourish from the horrors that
they had survived. Funeral service will be held on Sunday, March 8th at
12:00pm at Gutterman's, 8000 Jericho Turnpike, Woodbury, NY 11797 P:
516-921-5757. Shiva will be held on Sunday through Wednesday: Sunday and
Monday at the home of Harry Wagner 23 Tamara Court, Melville, NY 11747
Sunday: all day, Monday: beginning at 6pm, Tuesday at the home of Leon
Wagner, 8 Lincoln Woods Purchase, NY 10577, beginning at 6:00pm,
Wednesday at the apartment of Elissa and Great Neck Richman 860 United
Nations Plaza, #35A New York, NY 10017, beginning at 6pm. In lieu of
food, the Wagners would appreciate a contribution in memory of Rubin
Wagner to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 15 West 16th Street,
NY 10011.