Monday, June 29, 2009

Betrayed and Confused by Bernie Madoff?

Today Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for perpetrating one of the most spectacular frauds ever on Wall Street. At age 71, unless his sentence is reduced or commuted, Madoff will likely die in prison.

Even his wife Ruth says that she feels "betrayed and confused." But not so confused that she failed to claim some of the $80 million in personal accounts and various homes as her own property separate from her husband. Nonetheless, the court ordered her to forfeit all but $2.5 million, and we imagine much of that will go to attorney fees before this is all over.

The exact amount of the Madoff fraud depends on your point of view, with estimates ranging from $171 billion representing all the money that may have passed through Madoff's hands during the long period of his fraud to $65 billion in fraudulently inflated balances shown on the last account statements to $13 billion in net losses. Any way you count it, that's a lot of money, and many who invested with Madoff have seen their life savings wiped out. Only $1.2 billion has been recovered so far.

But Bernie did not make off with all our money. As earth shaking as these amounts are, the Madoff fraud hardly even registers on the global Richter scale. The U.S. stock market fell more than 50% from its high in October 2007 to its low in March 2009, a loss of around $10 trillion. On top of that, another $23 trillion was lost in other stock markets around the world. In other words, less than a penny on every dollar lost can be attributed to Madoff.

Since March, stock markets in the U.S. and around the world have made some of those losses back. That helps to heal the collective psyche, which was suffering not just the pain of what had already been lost, but the acute anxiety of losing the other half too. For the Madoff victims, that's their reality.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Prayer for Harvard Square

The Mendon Mennonite Church visits Harvard Square every summer to pray, sing, and witness. We would provide you their web address but they don't have one. You'll just have to visit them at 70 Cape Road in Mendon, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Cry for Me Argentina

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) finally turned up after being largely out of touch with his staff this past week. You can watch the meandering 18 minute mea culpa but here's the skinny on his story:

Governor Sanford was not as his staff suggested earlier this week hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford was instead in Buenos Aires, Argentina breaking off his romance with a woman he's known and exchanged emails with for eight years but says he's been romantically involved with for only the past year.

The emails are rather juicy:

"I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light."
I think he is talking about the Argentinian practice of kissing on the cheek European style, alternating sleeved and sleeveless t-shirts to show off their farmer tans (or whatever they call a farmer tan on the Pampas), and holding one's elbows with arms crossed (Argentinian women are known around the world for their magnificent elbows). But I digress.

The State, the major newspaper in South Carolina, has been in possession of the incriminating emails since December and so found out about the affair at least 6 months ago. A reporter from The State met Sanford's return flight from Argentina at the Atlanta airport (a big place). So The State apparently knew or suspected where he was all along.

Sanford's wife (I'll leave her name out of this) found out about the affair 5 months ago. The two have been working to repair their marriage, in part through the religious counseling of a prominent pastor that Sanford was able to produce at his press conference.

The wife says she asked her husband to leave the house two weeks ago, and not to contact her while he worked out his stuff in a trial separation, which explains why she did not seem so concerned with his whereabouts earlier this week. But there is every indication from her statement she is willing to take her husband back:

"I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage. ... I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance."

Not perhaps the most romantic idea of love. On it face, it doesn't compete well with what Mark expressed in his intercepted emails:

"The rarest of all commodities in this world is love. It is that thing that we all yearn for at some level — to be simply loved unconditionally for nothing more than who we are — not what we can get, give or become."
But love is not everything that Mark expressed:

"In all my life I have lived by a code of honor and at a variety of levels know I have crossed lines I would have never imagined."
In the end, or at least in this round, it seems that honor has won out. I will give Mark Sanford points for not making his wife stand next to him at his press conference. And in the pubic realm, I will give him points for not draping his press conference with flags.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cambridge River Festival 2009

Tents along the Charles River.

The TOAD and Lizard Lounge Folk and Roots Stage at Weeks Bridge.

Miss Tess and The Bon Ton Parade on the Toad Lizard Stage.

Tim Gearan on the Toad Lizard Stage.

Akido demonstration.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Still Life in Harvard Square

Sitting still.

Standing still.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Funk 'N Junk in Harvard Square

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Secret Garden

We've been watching work in and around Radcliffe Yard for several years. This spring, a peek over the wall revealed a new garden. This is a welcome addition.