December 2008

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.


This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.


And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

What on earth does this mean?

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

Also, many Christians apparently view their didactic text as flexible. According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all. In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible.

Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it … for goodness sake.

By CHARLES M. BLOW, December 27, 2008, Op-Ed Columnist


A man in a Santa Claus outfit opened fire on a Christmas Eve gathering of his in-laws in this Los Angeles suburb and then methodically set their house ablaze, killing at least eight people and injuring several others, the authorities said Thursday.


Shortly after the attack, the gunman, identified as Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, killed himself with a single shot to the head at the home of his brother in the Sylmar section of Los Angeles, the police said.

In addition to the eight people whose bodies were found in the ashes of the house here, none of whom were identified, at least one other person was thought to be missing, and perhaps as many as three. Among the total of dead or missing were the couple who owned the home and their daughter, the estranged wife of the gunman, the police said.


Investigators continued to search the charred structure Thursday, and coroners said dental records would be needed to identify some of the remains.


The frenzied shooting occurred just before midnight Wednesday at the two-story house, set on a cul-de-sac in this middle-class town about 22 miles east of Los Angeles. Lt. Pat Buchanan of the Covina Police Department said Mr. Pardo, armed with one or two handguns and fire accelerant, had gone to the house looking for his former wife, Sylvia, with whom he was finalizing a contentious divorce after only a year of marriage.


People who escaped the house got out by smashing through glass and jumping. One woman broke an ankle when she leapt from a second-floor window.

The house was owned by James and Alicia Ortega, an elderly couple who were retired from their spray-painting business and who often invited their large extended family over for parties, particularly around Christmas.

Relatives said about 25 people, among them many children, were inside the home celebrating when Mr. Pardo knocked on the door around 11:30 p.m. He had apparently disguised himself as a hired entertainer for the children in order to gain access.

When a guest opened the door, Lieutenant Buchanan said, Mr. Pardo stepped inside the house, drew a semiautomatic handgun and immediately started shooting, beginning with an 8-year-old girl who was hit in the face but who survived, as did an older girl who was shot in the back.

As Mr. Pardo unleashed a barrage of gunfire in the living room, relatives smashed through windows, hid behind furniture or bounded upstairs. Then he sprayed the room with accelerant, using a device made of two pressurized tanks, one of which held pressurized gas. Within seconds, the house was ablaze.

Joshua Chavez of Seattle was visiting his mother’s house, which sits behind the Ortegas’, when he heard a loud explosion. “Then I saw black smoke and this large flame,” he said.

Mr. Chavez ran out to the backyard and heard three girls, including the one who had been shot in the back, trying to climb over his mother’s wall. “There’s some guy shooting in there,” he said one of the girls told him.

“About 20 seconds after that,” he continued, “the house was totally on fire. One girl said that a guy dressed as Santa started shooting.”

Another neighbor, Jeannie Goltz, 51, saw three more partygoers fleeing the burning home. One of them, a young woman, had escaped upstairs from the living room but broke her ankle when she jumped out a second-story window.

SWAT teams arrived shortly after Ms. Goltz had shepherded these three survivors into another neighbor’s house, but by that time Mr. Pardo was on his way back to Los Angeles.

Police officers said they could not recall so horrific a crime in Covina, and neighbors said they would never have imagined anything so grisly on their quiet block.

The Ortegas had lived in the house for more than two decades and were known for their family spirit, their generosity and their dog, which frequently escaped their yard.

“I would generally play Santa for the family every year,” said Pat Bower, a neighbor of the Ortegas for 25 years. “The family was always together. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles were always in the house. They were a gigantic family. We all envied them, actually.”

Robert and Gloria Magcalas lived next door to the Ortegas for 11 years but were celebrating Christmas Eve with relatives in Los Angeles. Their own home was barely spared the flames.

“They were a big, loving family,” Mrs. Magcalas said. “We usually exchanged gifts with them today. They gave us tamales and cookies every Christmas.”

The police said they had found two handguns in the ruins, and an additional two pistols at the scene of Mr. Pardo’s apparent suicide. Officials said they would continue to search the crime scene Friday, seeking information about the identities of the dead.

By SOLOMON MOORE and ANAHAD O’CONNOR; COVINA, California —December 26, 2008


There is a teaching in the Talmud that says an individual who comes before God after death will be asked a series of questions, the first one of which is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?” But it is the Ten Commandments that have weighed most heavily on the mind of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles in light of the sins for which Bernard L. Madoff stands accused.
“You shouldn’t steal,” Rabbi Wolpe said. “And this is theft on a global scale.”
The full scope of the misdeeds to which Mr. Madoff has confessed in swindling individuals and charitable groups has yet to be calculated, and he is far from being convicted. But Jews all over the country are already sending up something of a communal cry over a cost they say goes beyond the financial to the theological and the personal.
Here is a Jew accused of cheating Jewish organizations trying to help other Jews, they say, and of betraying the trust of Jews and violating the basic tenets of Jewish law. A Jew, they say, who seemed to exemplify the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes of the thieving Jewish banker.
So in synagogues and community centers, on blogs and in countless conversations, many Jews are beating their chests — not out of contrition, as they do on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but because they say Mr. Madoff has brought shame on their people in addition to financial ruin and shaken the bonds of trust that bind Jewish communities.
“Jews have these familial ties,” Rabbi Wolpe said. “It’s not solely a shared belief; it’s a sense of close communal bonds, and in the same way that your family can embarrass you as no one else can, when a Jew does this, Jews feel ashamed by proxy. I’d like to believe someone raised in our community, imbued with Jewish values, would be better than this.”
Among the apparent victims of Mr. Madoff were many Jewish educational institutions and charitable causes that lost fortunes in his investments; they include Yeshiva University, Hadassah, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The Chais Family Foundation, which worked on educational projects in Israel, was recently forced to shut down because of losses in Madoff investments. Many of Mr. Madoff’s individual investors were Jewish and supported Jewish causes, apparently drawn to him precisely because of his own communal involvement and because he radiated the comfortable sense of being one of them.
“The Jewish world is not going to be the same for a while,” said Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York.
Jews are also grappling with the implications of Mr. Madoff’s deeds for their public image, what one rabbi referred to as the “shanda factor,” using the Yiddish term for an embarrassing shame or disgrace. As Bradley Burston, a columnist for, the English-language Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote on Dec. 17: “The anti-Semite’s new Santa is Bernard Madoff. The answer to every Jew-hater’s wish list. The Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn’t have come up with anything to rival this.”
The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that Mr. Madoff’s arrest had prompted an outpouring of anti-Semitic comments on Web sites around the world, most repeating familiar tropes about Jews and money. Abraham H. Foxman, the group’s national director, said that canard went back hundreds of years, but he noted that anti-Semites did not need facts to be anti-Semitic.
“We’re not immune from having thieves and people who engage in fraud,” Mr. Foxman said in an interview, disputing any notion that Mr. Madoff should be seen as emblematic. “Why, because he happens to be Jewish, he should have a conscience?”
He added that Mr. Madoff’s victims extended well beyond the Jewish community.
In addition to theft, the Torah discusses another kind of stealing, geneivat da’at, the Hebrew term for deception or stealing someone’s mind. “In the rabbinic mind-set, he’s guilty of two sins: one is theft, and the other is deception,” said Burton L. Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“The fact that he stole from Jewish charities puts him in a special circle of hell,” Rabbi Visotzky added. “He really undermined the fabric of the Jewish community, because it’s built on trust. There is a wonderful rabbinic saying — often misapplied — that all Jews are sureties for one another, which means, for instance, that if a Jew takes a loan out, in some ways the whole Jewish community guarantees it.”
Several rabbis said they were reminded of Esau, a figure of mistrust in the Bible. According to a rabbinic interpretation, Esau, upon embracing his brother Jacob after 20 years apart, was actually frisking him to see what he could steal. “The saying goes that, when Esau kisses you,” Rabbi Visotzky said, “check to make sure your teeth are still there.”
Rabbi Kalmanofsky said he was struck by reports that Mr. Madoff had tried to give bonus payments to his employees just before he was arrested, that he was moved to do something right even as he was about to be charged with doing so much wrong. “The small-scale thought for people who work for him amidst this large-scale fraud — what is the dissonance between that sense of responsibility and the gross sense of irresponsibility?” he said.
In a recent sermon, Rabbi Kalmanofsky described Mr. Madoff as the antithesis of true piety.
“I said, what it means to be a religious person is to be terrified of the possibility that you’re going to harm someone else,” he said.
Rabbi Kalmanofsky said Judaism had highly developed mechanisms for not letting people control money without ample checks and balances. When tzedakah, or charity, is collected, it must be done so in pairs. “These things are supposed to be done in the public eye,” Rabbi Kalmanofsky said, “so there is a high degree of confidence that people are behaving in honorable ways.”
While the Madoff affair has resonated powerfully among Jews, some say it actually stands for a broader dysfunction in the business world. “The Bernie Madoff story has become a Jewish story,” said Rabbi Jennifer Krause, the author of “The Answer: Making Sense of Life, One Question at a Time,” “but I do see it in the much greater context of a human drama that is playing out in sensationally terrible ways in America right now.”
“The Talmud teaches that a person who only looks out for himself and his own interests will eventually be brought to poverty,” Rabbi Krause added. “Unfortunately, this is the metadrama of what’s happening in our country right now. When you have too many people who are only looking out for themselves and they forget the other piece, which is to look out for others, we’re brought to poverty.”
According to Jewish tradition, the last question people are asked when they meet God after dying is, “Did you hope for redemption?”
Rabbi Wolpe said he did not believe Mr. Madoff could ever make amends.
“It is not possible for him to atone for all the damage he did,” the rabbi said, “and I don’t even think that there is a punishment that is commensurate with the crime, for the wreckage of lives that he’s left behind. The only thing he could do, for the rest of his life, is work for redemption that he would never achieve.”


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The revelation that Bernard Madoff — brilliant investor (or so almost everyone thought), philanthropist, pillar of the community — was a phony has shocked the world, and understandably so. The scale of his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is hard to comprehend.

Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?
The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.
Consider the hypothetical example of a money manager who leverages up his clients’ money with lots of debt, then invests the bulked-up total in high-yielding but risky assets, such as dubious mortgage-backed securities. For a while — say, as long as a housing bubble continues to inflate — he (it’s almost always a he) will make big profits and receive big bonuses. Then, when the bubble bursts and his investments turn into toxic waste, his investors will lose big — but he’ll keep those bonuses.
O.K., maybe my example wasn’t hypothetical after all.
So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients’ money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn’t understand. And while Mr. Madoff was apparently a self-conscious fraud, many people on Wall Street believed their own hype. Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest): the money managers got rich; the investors saw their money disappear.
We’re talking about a lot of money here. In recent years the finance sector accounted for 8 percent of America’s G.D.P., up from less than 5 percent a generation earlier. If that extra 3 percent was money for nothing — and it probably was — we’re talking about $400 billion a year in waste, fraud and abuse.
But the costs of America’s Ponzi era surely went beyond the direct waste of dollars and cents.
At the crudest level, Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still haven’t closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.
Meanwhile, how much has our nation’s future been damaged by the magnetic pull of quick personal wealth, which for years has drawn many of our best and brightest young people into investment banking, at the expense of science, public service and just about everything else?
Most of all, the vast riches being earned — or maybe that should be “earned” — in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.
Think of the way almost everyone important missed the warning signs of an impending crisis. How was that possible? How, for example, could Alan Greenspan have declared, just a few years ago, that “the financial system as a whole has become more resilient” — thanks to derivatives, no less? The answer, I believe, is that there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing.
After all, that’s why so many people trusted Mr. Madoff.
Now, as we survey the wreckage and try to understand how things can have gone so wrong, so fast, the answer is actually quite simple: What we’re looking at now are the consequences of a world gone Madoff.

* By PAUL KRUGMAN (December 19, 2008)

The murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, which raised awareness about missing children and led to television shows like “America’s Most Wanted,” has been solved, the authorities said Tuesday.


At a crowded news conference in the police station here, the police said they were convinced that Adam was killed by Ottis E. Toole, a drifter and convicted serial killer who confessed to the slaying and then recanted before dying in prison in 1996.

Adam was abducted from a mall across from the police headquarters here on July 27, 1981. His severed head was found two weeks later in Vero Beach, 120 miles north of the mall. The body was never found.

John Walsh, Adam’s father and the host of “America’s Most Wanted,” was at the news conference with Adam’s mother, Revé, and their three children.

“Today is a reaffirmation of the fact that he didn’t die in vain,” an emotional Mr. Walsh said. “For all the other victims who haven’t gotten justice, I say one thing: ‘Don’t give up hope.’ ”

Mrs. Walsh added, “This is a wonderful day, in spite of why we’re here.”

Chief Chadwick E. Wagner of the Hollywood Police Department said he regretted that the case had not been closed earlier and attributed that failure, in part, to flaws in his department’s investigation.

“This is a day that’s long overdue,” he said. “This case could have been closed years ago.”

Chief Wagner said Tuesday’s announcement was not the result of any new discovery, but rather the accumulation of all the circumstantial evidence over the years. “What was there was everything that was in front of our face for years,” he said.


Chief Wagner said the investigation had always focused on Mr. Toole, and added that the case was strong enough for the police to have charged him before his death.

The photograph of the freckle-faced Adam, holding a baseball bat, became well known to Americans after his disappearance. The police investigated hundreds of leads — the serial killer Jeffrey L. Dahmer was a suspect at one point — but no arrests were made.

As hope for Adam’s return faded, the Walshes began an organization to aid and comfort other families of missing children, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The Walsh family also helped lobby Congress to pass the Missing Children’s Act in 1982, which created a national computer database of information on missing children at the F.B.I.

In October 1983, Mr. Toole told the police that he had abducted Adam from the mall and drove for about an hour to an isolated dirt road where he decapitated him.

Investigators lifted bloodstained carpet from Mr. Toole’s white Cadillac. But DNA testing then was not as advanced as it now, and investigators could not tell if the blood was Adam’s.

When a detective assigned to the case in 1994 went to order DNA testing on the bloodstained carpeting from Mr. Toole’s car, the carpeting and the car were found to be missing.

Mr. Toole, who confessed to dozens of killings over the years, was a longtime companion of another serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. Mr. Toole died in prison on Sept. 15, 1996, while serving five life sentences.

In 2006, on the 25th anniversary of Adam’s disappearance, President Bush signed into law the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. It expanded the National Sex Offender Registry, created a new child abuse registry and strengthened penalties for crimes against children.

Mr. Walsh said at the news conference Tuesday that while his family would never recover from Adam’s death, it could finally move on.

But, he added, “it’s not about closure; it’s about justice.”

* By YOLANNE ALMANZAR (December 17, 2008)

One way or another, there’s really no way for the economy to grow strongly and consistently unless middle-class consumers spend more, and they can’t spend more unless they make more.
This is a widely held view, and I’m as much in favor of a strong middle class as anyone. Nonetheless, I’d say that in terms of strict economics it’s wrong. There’s no obvious reason why consumer demand can’t be sustained by the spending of the upper class — $200 dinners and luxury hotels create jobs, the same way that fast food dinners and Motel 6s do. In fact, the prosperity of New York City in the last decade — largely supported off of super-salaried Wall Street types — is a demonstration that you can have an economy sustained by the big spending of the few rather than the modest spending of large numbers of people.

* Paul Krugman, 17 dec. 2008


Well Paul, don’t you think McDonald’s generate more jobs than expensive restaurants. To serve middle class you need to create more jobs than to serve rich.
— Imad Qureshi

Assuming that you’re right, and you can have an economy driven by a small number of super-rich, what does that do to the business cycle?
If the bulk of your economic spending comes from the working class, and the economy hits a rough patch, most people will continue to spend the vast majority of their income. It’s not like they have any choice. This is, I suspect, why food stamps are such an effective economic stimulus–people have to eat.
But if most of your spending is driven by $200 dinners, an economic downturn could lead to a dramatic cutback in spending.
So even if an economy of $200 dinners for a tiny upper class (and Ramen noodles for everyone else) can create full employment in the short term, it might not lead to long-term economic stability.
— Eric

Of course, in a democracy, no one would vote for such a situation. If the quality of life for most people goes down, a new government will come into power. That will happen if the economy goes down, or inequality gets amped up, which is what had been happening in the U.S.
— Chad Okere

No doubt you are correct, but the underlying assumption is that those few are going to spend at the same level as the many would and it was my understanding that that just doesn’t happen in the real world.
— Will McKenna

Can you support the statement that the prosperity of NYC was driven off super-salaried WS types? It seems (on the face of it) unlikely to me that they represented more than a few percentage points of overall spend in NYC, or that this was a significant percentage of the overall increase in spend there.
— Anurag

The obvious reason, since Mr Krugman seems to have forgotten it, is revolution: the dispossessed, deprived lower classes revolt.
Examples in the previous century include the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution. In both cases there were wealthy upper-class elites doing just fine out of the selective application of industrialization, with no broad middle-class or working-class participation in economic advancement. On a broader note, it is tiresome to hear economists assert that economics is solely a matter of mathematical models, each of which is limited by simplifying assumptions to a narrow range of applicability.
Any investigator has to be aware of the limitations of his assumptions; economists famously fail to address this.
— Michael Meo

Can you provide a little more explanation on this? It seems like in most industries, it takes about the same number of workers to serve one customer or produce one product, regardless of how much that customer is paying or the product costs. For example, it doesn’t take five times as many workers to produce a Lexus than a Toyota, and therefore the economy is better served by producing 1,000,000 Toyotas than by producing 200,000 Lexuses. Is this wrong?
— Daniel

Indeed, you are correct as usual. There are countless third world cities supported entirely by the spending of a thin class of hyper-wealthy elites. None are places where you would ever want to live, unless you were certain that you would be among that thin class of hyper-richies.
— John Gear

It’s not enough to suggest that it’s numerically possible that a phenomenally rich small core of spenders can equal a much larger number of smaller spenders.
There’s also the question of what is *likely*, and consumption goes down as a percentage of income / dividends etc. as you’re dealing with richer & richer people.
It’s numerically possible that the super-rich can *volunteer* to pay more taxes than they have to, or make equivalent donations to charity.
But they don’t. And they won’t.
— El Cid

As I am on the left of the political spectrum (and moving further left every year, but I degress…), I believe there are is much social justification for a large and strong middle class. However, Dr. Krugman is correct. Look at Chile in the aftermath of the September 1973 coup. It took many years for the economy to grow, but when all was said and done, almost half of the population had fallen below the poverty level, yet the richest had increased their wealth by more than 80%.
— Chuck

Well, we can debate the finer points of economic theory as our global economy continues its journey downward. However I would simply like for us to consider that this is also about creating an economic system that is rooted in justice, not simply models and theories. The corrupt and bankrupt system we’ve got right now is rooted firmly in inequality and injustice. We can do better than this….
— Rita

It’s what keeps our country peaceful within our own borders. When we’ve had two classes, we’ve had violence and civil war. What? You thought the civil war was about ending slavery?

I just got back from NYC and noted an increase in cheap eating places like Pret a Manger. Duncan Donuts seems to be muscling in on Starbucks. NYC is expensive to be sure!
Whether existing jobs are working for the middle class or the upper class the question is how many jobs exist, what do they pay and what is the cost of living.
I have always heard that people on the lower end will be content with their row boat when others have a yacht as long as they can get the rowboat. Marxist economists though say when the disparity gets too high and people can’t get their row boats there will be social instability. China seems to think so.
— David B. Fisher

In this respect economics is like engineering. Any good engineer can design a machine with gears that turn and lights that flash, but the point is to know what the machine is supposed to do.
So, the question to ask is, what is the purpose of an economy? If the purpose of the economy is to allow a tiny minority to live like Pashas while the majority working class live at subsistence level, such a system is undoubtably workable. If, on the other hand, a society determines it ought to “promote the general welfare,” then the system should be designed to that end. Both systems are valid economically in the same way that both clocks and typewriters are both functional engineering.
— Dan Helphrey


He won’t go away. He is well past his prime, boxing’s version of a future baseball Hall of Famer still toiling in the minors.
Evander Holyfield: dedicated or delusional? Courageous or crazy? At 46, he does not care what boxing fans think. For those urging him to get a life or to find normalcy, whether out of care and concern for him or simply the desire to shove the doyen off boxing’s stage, he says: “I have respect for that. But that’s just your opinion. I have an opinion, too.”


His opinion holds that he has one good bout left, maybe more, in his still sculptured body. He will try to summon it Saturday in Zurich in a match with Nikolai Valuev, a 7-foot Russian.
At stake is the World Boxing Association heavyweight belt. Holyfield would buckle it around a waist that has barely expanded since he won his first professional title, in 1990. This would be Holyfield’s fifth heavyweight title, extending his record and distinguishing him as the eldest to reclaim a championship. He would surpass George Foreman, who did it against Michael Moorer at age 45 in 1994.
Holyfield insists such a distinction is not driving him to squeeze the last sweat drops out of his vocation. Nor is it money, even though he is sitting on an incredibly shrinking nest egg. Nor is it about pride or re-establishing his name, no small feat for someone so far removed from fame, other than for his “Dancing With the Stars” gig, that Google Earth would be hard-pressed to find him.
This fight, he attests, is about imparting a continuous lesson in perseverance to his 11 children, particularly the eldest.
Evander Jr. was 8 in 1992 when his father pondered retirement, after he lost a unanimous decision to Riddick Bowe for the undisputed heavyweight title. “My son couldn’t stop crying about it,” said Holyfield, who decided to soldier on because bowing out would have sent the wrong parental signal. “Scared the daylights out of me.”
Seven years later, Holyfield, battling illness as well as Lennox Lewis, considered leaving the ring in the middle of a bout until he spotted Junior in the arena and changed his mind, he said, cringing at the notion of the namesake someday hearing, “You’re going to be just like your daddy and quit under pressure.”
Two daughters recently beseeched him to abandon the sport. He listened, then told them: “I control my life. I make my decisions. I wouldn’t be wasting my time doing something I don’t think I can do.”
Holyfield has parried hooks and thrown uppercuts since he was 8, when a coach at an Alabama boys’ club implanted the dream that he could someday rule the heavyweight division. A career beset by physical hardships and pockmarked by bizarre incidents has left him unfazed. His longevity is a product of rolling with the punches, not only the sort delivered by a gloved fist.
One bout was interrupted when Mike Tyson’s teeth removed a chunk of his ear. Another was halted when a paraglider dropped into the ring. He had fights put off when an opponent had hepatitis and another was imprisoned for rape.

His physician informed him he had a hole in his heart in 1994, prompting the faith healer Benny Hinn to lay hands on him at a revival. (Mayo Clinic doctors later concluded the defect never existed.) The New York State Athletic Commission suspended his license after a loss stemming from a shoulder ailment. Foreshadowing the challenges and oddities was his disqualification for a supposed late punch in the 1984 Olympics, which cost him a shot at a gold medal.
Holyfield, whose ability to be calm in the swirl of chaos may be his greatest strength, has never lost his mojo.
There was the time Lewis accused him of hypocrisy for pledging to Christianity while fathering several children out of wedlock. How did he vent? By predicting a third-round knockout of Lewis (the bout ended in a draw). Holyfield said that the uncharacteristic boasting was uncalled for.

Retirement has not tugged hard on Holyfield, the rare fighter who relishes training. Inspirational gospel music blares through the gym, Holyfield singing along as he endures the mind- and body-numbing ritual of prepping for his fights.
At his camp in Houston, he skips rope and attacks the punching bag to the beat of his favorite tunes collected over two decades, each song remindful of a milestone bout.
He admits to the aches and pains inescapable with creeping age, and he may cancel a session or cut one short.
“I’m not doing what I used to do, trying to burn it every day,” he said. “My body don’t recover as fast.”
In his glory days Holyfield said that he sought divine help only on the day of a bout. Now, he summons his Lord to deliver him through training sessions. “I’m paying a superprice,” he said, “because I want it at this age.”

Besides, motivation “is hard when the money hasn’t been big for quite a while,” said Tim Hallmark, his fitness adviser and nutritionist for all but one fight in the past 23 years.
Holyfield will collect $600,000 to $750,000 against Valuev, spare change for someone with career earnings of more than $200 million, including $35 million for one memorable night with Tyson. The payday for Saturday, though modest by boxing standards, calls into question whether money needs have trapped Holyfield inside the ropes.
Two months ago he faced possible jail time when support payments lagged for his 11-year-old son. Holyfield, now remarried, reached an agreement amid estimates that he spends $500,000 a year in child support.

Last summer foreclosure papers were drawn up and an auction scheduled for his mansion, with its 17 bathrooms and 3 kitchens, on 235 acres of rolling hills south of Atlanta. Ken Sanders, serving as Holyfield’s financial adviser, acknowledged that Holyfield nearly lost his home and toyed with the idea of filing for personal bankruptcy.
“It’s a little tough for him right now,” said Sanders, who served as Holyfield’s first fight manager and is filling the role again. “He’s got some situations we’re trying to straighten out. It’s going to take a little time.”
Sanders declined to offer details, citing possible litigation. Holyfield blamed former associates, whom he accused of gaining power of attorney and borrowing against the value of the property. “It set me back,” Holyfield said, “but everything is good now.”

He added: “If I had a hundred million dollars, two hundred million, I would still fight because I have a goal.”
His goal, to retrieve all three recognized heavyweight crowns by the close of 2009, seems as pie in the sky as a peach praline in heaven.

Since 2001, Holyfield (42-9-2, 27 knockouts) is 6-4-1, mostly against little-known fighters. In his last bout, last year, he was hammered by Sultan Ibragimov. Many who embrace the sport fear Holyfield is not just tarnishing his legacy but stripping off every last bit of paint.
“People say: ‘You ain’t thinking. It’s your ego,’ ” Holyfield said.

Holyfield, who is vastly more popular in China and other countries than he is here, took a jab at the United States: “It’s a sin to get old. People stop respecting you. I know how it’s supposed to end for me as a boxer. And that’s to be on top.”
Hallmark, the fitness trainer, says he is confident Holyfield’s career will not end in an ambulance.
“If I felt Evander wasn’t physically capable of fighting, I would be the first to say that,” Hallmark said. “I haven’t seen anything that concerns me.”

Hallmark tailors Holyfield’s regimen with his client’s advancing age and his opponent in mind. For Valuev (49-1, 34 knockouts), who presents unique obstacles with his height, Holyfield’s strength training has been subjugated by conditioning. Avoiding injury is the top priority. “We have to be wise working him,” Hallmark said.
Hallmark has reeled in Holyfield’s wayward dietary habits, weaning his pupil off bean, milk and corn products, in deference to his Type A blood.

The specter of steroid use hangs over any athlete in Holyfield’s demographic, more so because his name appeared on a customer list of a company that was investigated for the illegal sale of performance-boosting drugs. Holyfield was quoted last year saying that he consumed a drug in 2004 to address “my hormonal problem,” but that neither it nor any other substance he has ingested is banned by boxing.

Hallmark recalled Holyfield’s disclosure that he had rebuffed encouragement from “people” to sample steroids. A few years ago Hallmark arranged for what he described as thorough blood tests, paid for by the fighter, that he said confirmed his long-held belief that Holyfield is clean.

“From what I’ve seen, Evander has never taken anything illegally to enhance his performance,” he said, adding: “I worked with one steroid user, a football player. The day I found out, I threw him out of the gym” and severed relationships.
“He just don’t age,” Sanders said of Holyfield. “He amazes me.”
Home briefly for the Thanksgiving holiday, Holyfield leapt from a chair and demonstrated how he would attack his imposing foe: moving, jabbing, working inside to negate Valuev’s long reach.
“I know people look at this as a freak show,” he said: the old man and the sea monster.
To those critics, he spouts personalized maxims about swimming against the tide of public opinion and likens himself to President-elect Barack Obama and the Wright brothers.
“This country is built on proving you can do it,” he said. To heck with prevailing sentiment: “I came up on the wrong side of the tracks, so nobody ever believed in me anyway.”
Asked if he could retire, forever, after one more night in the ring, Holyfield sat in unusual silence, kicked the question around, and said maybe. “Losing is quitting,” he said.
He won’t go away. Not without a fight, or three.

* By MIKE TIERNEY ; NYT,17 December 2008

The murder of José Sucuzhañay, an Ecuadorean immigrant who died over the weekend at a hospital in Queens, has thrown a harsh light onto a savage, hate-inspired crime that should sicken us all. This horror is also a reminder that bigotry can be deadly, not just to the groups intentionally targeted, but to anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path.

i761178José and his brother Romel appear to have been misidentified as gay as they walked home, arms around each other, on a predawn morning in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Romel managed to escape the three men who emerged from a passing car wielding a baseball bat and shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets.
José was struck on the head with a bottle, then kicked and beaten into unconsciousness. He was subsequently declared brain dead and expired last Friday night, one day before his mother, who was traveling from Ecuador, could reach him.
The victim, who had come to this country a decade ago, had been living the immigrant dream. Starting out as a waiter, he eventually bought several buildings and became co-owner of a real estate agency in Bushwick. He cared for his community and was well-liked in return.

This was the second recent killing of an Ecuadorean in the New York area. In November, Marcelo Lucero was stabbed and beaten in the Long Island village of Patchogue by a group of teenagers who, the police say, had been roaming the streets looking to beat up “a Mexican.”

Several teenagers have been arrested and charged in the Long Island case. But New York City police, who are still searching for Mr. Sucuzhañay’s killers, need to do all they can to bring those people to justice. A lynching in the heart of New York City is more than enough to remind us that bigotry cannot be tolerated.


* EDITORIAL , NYT,17 December 2008

Almost no segment of New York City’s real estate industry was spared in the Madoff scandal, which may be history’s largest Ponzi scheme: commercial brokers large and small, little-known developers and prominent families like the Wilpons and Rechlers all lost money to Bernard L. Madoff, industry executives say.

The outsize impact on the industry may have resulted largely because Mr. Madoff (pronounced MAY-doff) managed his funds much the way that real estate leaders have operated successfully for decades: He provided little information and demanded a lot of trust.

“You have a lot of wealthy people who made a lot of money on handshakes,” said Mark S. Weiss, a commercial real estate broker at Newmark Knight Frank, where several brokers had invested heavily with Mr. Madoff. There was “something about this person, pedigree and reputation that inspired trust,” he said.

Across the city, industry executives said deals had been scuttled or jeopardized because of the scandal. Residential brokers are taking calls from Madoff investors who have had to put their apartments on the market. Many developers had pledged their investments with Mr. Madoff as collateral for projects, and are now worried that their banks will call in their loans.

“The level of devastation, both financial and on a human level, is astounding,” said Robert J. Ivanhoe, a lawyer who is representing 10 developers and investors who lost $5 million to $50 million each with Mr. Madoff.


Indeed, at an industry fund-raiser at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan last weekend, much of the chatter over sushi and crudités was about money feared lost with Mr. Madoff, according to people who attended. And a Manhattan psychotherapist who counsels real estate leaders and bankers said most of the patients he has seen this week have close friends and relatives who lost money with Mr. Madoff.

The victims include executives at the global commercial brokerage CB Richard Ellis, most prominently Stephen Siegel, a major Bronx landlord who is chairman of worldwide operations at the brokerage and whose wife, Wendy, helped organize Saturday’s fund-raising dinner.

Brian S. Waterman, a principal at Newmark, also invested with Mr. Madoff. So did the Rechler family, which has been a major owner of office buildings in the region. Scott Rechler, the head of RexCorp, one of the family’s largest firms, called the family’s exposure “limited.”

Jerry Reisman, a lawyer based in Garden City, N.Y., said he was representing six commercial real estate investors and developers in the area who lost a total of $150 million to Mr. Madoff. They met Mr. Madoff through contacts at country clubs in the tristate area, he said.
“They knew him from golfing in the Hamptons. They knew him from the locker rooms,” Mr. Reisman said. “He was considered a wizard.”

Mr. Reisman said his clients were especially concerned because they counted on Madoff investments to complete some of their real estate projects, pledging their investments as collateral for projects. Those developers fear that when their banks realize that their investments with Mr. Madoff have disappeared, they will demand new collateral from other sources, Mr. Reisman said.

Finding those alternative lenders will be difficult given the financial crisis — and given that many other real estate investors have been hurt by the Madoff case.
“Many of these developers, their resources are all with Madoff,” Mr. Reisman said.


There are widespread concerns that some developers will have trouble completing projects currently under construction. Edward Blumenfeld, who runs Blumenfeld Development Group, had invested heavily with Mr. Madoff and considered him a friend. Gary Lewi, a spokesman for Mr. Blumenfeld, said he still planned to complete a shopping complex in East Harlem that is to include a Target and a Costco, as well as several other projects where construction is “in the ground.”

Beyond that, though, Mr. Blumenfeld is uncertain of what his development plans hold. His friendship with Mr. Madoff is even more uncertain, Mr. Lewi said.
“Any long-term plans are being reviewed as we conduct a far larger analysis of this scandal and the impact it could have on us and the development community as a whole,” Mr. Lewi said. “Mr. Blumenfeld was friend to a man who apparently didn’t exist.”

The Wilpon family, the major owners of the Mets, has acknowledged investing millions with Mr. Madoff. The family controls a real estate firm, Sterling Equities, whose Web site says it owns 3,000 residential units and 600,000 square feet of office space. It is unclear whether the firm’s real estate holdings are affected by the Madoff investments.
“We are shocked by recent events and, like all investors, will continue to monitor the situation,” said Richard Auletta, a spokesman for Sterling.

Other real estate developers are finding that their charitable giving has been wiped out by Mr. Madoff. Leonard Litwin, one of the city’s largest apartment landlords and head of Glenwood Management, had nearly all of his charitable foundation’s investments managed by Mr. Madoff.
Gary Jacob, executive vice president of Glenwood, said Mr. Litwin had never met Mr. Madoff but had invested with him on the advice of a friend. The Litwin Foundation had donated money to research for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and charities, many of them supported by the real estate industry.

“It would have no impact to us as a real estate company,” Mr. Jacob said. “But it affects the charitable giving.”
Some members of the real estate industry are receiving the news with a mix of schadenfreude and sadness for their peers. Jeffrey R. Gural, chairman of Newmark Knight Frank, the brokerage firm, said Mr. Madoff had turned his family down as investors about eight years ago because they would not invest at least $20 million. For years, he said, colleagues introduced to Mr. Madoff through relatives or country club friends had sung his praises.
“People used to brag how they were getting these great returns when everybody else was struggling,” he said. “They thought Bernie Madoff was a genius, and anybody who didn’t give them their money was a fool.”
The impact is already spreading to the residential real estate business. Brad Friedman, a lawyer representing about 100 investors primarily in New York and Florida, said several clients have already said they plan to put their apartments on the market. They depended on their Madoff investments to pay their mortgages and co-op fees.
“With that source of money frozen, they’ve got no cash,” Mr. Friedman said. “They can’t pay the electric bill. They can’t pay the mortgage.”
Other buyers have already backed out of deals because they had invested with Mr. Madoff and can no longer finance their purchases. Michele Kleier, a prominent Upper East Side broker, had buyers pull out of purchases on two $2 million apartments because they had lost money to Mr. Madoff. The first buyer put in an offer at 3 p.m. last Thursday, the day of Mr. Madoff’s arrest, only to withdraw it by 5:30 p.m.
The second set of buyers had visited an apartment three times, requested the financial information about the co-op and had the broker notify Ms. Kleier that they would be making an offer on Monday morning. On Monday, she learned that the buyers had backed out because their money was tied up with Madoff funds.
“It’s now two deals in the last four days,” Ms. Kleier said. “It’s amazing.”
Kenneth Mueller, a Manhattan psychotherapist who counsels many real estate and financial executives, said those who lost money to Mr. Madoff called his indictment “the nail in the coffin for the commercial real estate industry,” which had already been hurt by the recession.
Dr. Mueller said many patients were re-evaluating whether they can trust their business partners after Mr. Madoff’s betrayal.
“Madoff was considered a member of the family,” he said.



* By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY, 18 December 2008


Making videos for YouTube — for three years a pastime for millions of Web surfers — is now a way to make a living.
One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.

Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show “is silly,” he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt.

Mr. Buckley, 33, was the part-time host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel in the summer of 2006 when his cousin started posting snippets of the show on YouTube. The comical rants about celebrities attracted online viewers, and before long Mr. Buckley was tailoring his segments, called “What the Buck?” for the Web. Mr. Buckley knew that the show was “only going to go so far on public access.”
“But on YouTube,” he said, “I’ve had 100 million views. It’s crazy.”
All he needed was a $2,000 Canon camera, a $6 piece of fabric for a backdrop and a pair of work lights from Home Depot. Mr. Buckley is an example of the Internet’s democratizing effect on publishing. Sites like YouTube allow anyone with a high-speed connection to find a fan following, simply by posting material and promoting it online.
Granted, building an audience online takes time. “I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime,” Mr. Buckley said — but, at least in some cases, it is paying off.

Mr. Buckley is one of the original members of YouTube’s partner program, which now includes thousands of participants, from basement video makers to big media companies. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, places advertisements within and around the partner videos and splits the revenues with the creators. “We wanted to turn these hobbies into businesses,” said Hunter Walk, a director of product management for the site, who called popular users like Mr. Buckley “unintentional media companies.”
YouTube declined to comment on how much money partners earned on average, partly because advertiser demand varies for different kinds of videos. But a spokesman, Aaron Zamost, said “hundreds of YouTube partners are making thousands of dollars a month.” At least a few are making a full-time living: Mr. Buckley said he was earning over $100,000 from YouTube advertisements.
The program is a partial solution to a nagging problem for YouTube. The site records 10 times the video views as any other video-sharing Web site in the United States, yet it has proven to be hard for Google to profit from, because a vast majority of the videos are posted by anonymous users who may or may not own the copyrights to the content they upload. While YouTube has halted much of the illegal video sharing on the site, it remains wary of placing advertisements against content without explicit permission from the owners. As a result, only about 3 percent of the videos on the site are supported by advertising.
But the company has high hopes for the partner program. Executives liken it to Google AdSense, the technology that revolutionized advertising and made it possible for publishers to place text advertisements next to their content.
“Some of these people are making videos in their spare time,” said Chad Hurley, a co-founder of YouTube. “We felt that if we were able to provide them a true revenue source, they’d be able to hone their skills and create better content.”
In a time of media industry layoffs, the revenue source — and the prospect of a one-person media company — may be especially appealing to users. But video producers like Lisa Donovan, who posts sketch comedy onto YouTube and attracted attention in the fall for parodies of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, do not make it sound easy. “For new users, it’s a lot of work,” Ms. Donovan said. “Everybody’s fighting to be seen online; you have to strategize and market yourself.”
Mr. Buckley, who majored in psychology in college and lives with his husband and four dogs in Connecticut, films his show from home. Each episode of “What the Buck?” is viewed an average of 200,000 times, and the more popular ones have reached up to three million people. He said that writing and recording five minutes’ worth of jokes about Britney Spears’s comeback tour and Miley Cyrus’s dancing abilities is not as easy as it looks. “I’ve really worked hard on honing my presentation and writing skills,” he said.
As his traffic and revenues grew, Mr. Buckley had “so many opportunities online that I couldn’t work anymore.” He quit his job at Live Nation, the music promoter, to focus full-time on the Web show.
There is a symmetry to Mr. Buckley’s story. Some so-called Internet celebrities view YouTube as a stepping stone to television. But Mr. Buckley started on TV and found fame on YouTube. Three months ago, he signed a development deal with HBO, an opportunity that many media aspirants dream about. Still, “I feel YouTube is my home,” he said. “I think the biggest mistake that any of us Internet personalities can make is establish ourselves on the Internet and then abandon it.”
Cory Williams, 27, a YouTube producer in California, agrees. Mr. Williams, known as smpfilms on YouTube, has been dreaming up online videos since 2005, and he said his big break came in September 2007 with a music video parody called “The Mean Kitty Song.” The video, which introduces Mr. Williams’ evil feline companion, has been viewed more than 15 million times. On a recent day, the video included an advertisement from Coca-Cola.
Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube’s advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.
On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle “cross-pollination” of ideas.
Some of the partners are major media companies; the ones with the most video views include Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, CBS and Warner Brothers. But individual users are now able to compete alongside them. Mr. Buckley, who did not even have high-speed Internet access two years ago, said his YouTube hobby had changed his financial life.
“I didn’t start it to make money,” he said, “but what a lovely surprise.”

* By BRIAN STELTER, December 11, 2008

We have seen a lot of political hubris, scratch-my-back politics and sheer stupidity over the years. But nothing could prepare us for the charges brought Tuesday against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.

The governor’s administration was already under a well-publicized investigation into whether it has been selling appointments to state boards and commissions and awarding contracts and jobs in exchange for financial benefits and campaign contributions.
So what does the F.B.I. claim Mr. Blagojevich was up to while the feds were watching him? According to an F.B.I. affidavit, in recent weeks the governor plotted to sell off the United States Senate seat just vacated by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
In exchange for his pick, authorities said Mr. Blagojevich was looking for a substantial salary for himself at a foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions, a highly paid position for his wife on corporate boards, a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself or promises of future campaign funds.
The affidavit also claims that the governor weighed the option of appointing himself should no financially lucrative offer materialize. All this was recorded on court-authorized wiretaps that any target of an investigation would have to assume were in place.

The United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, was clear that the complaint makes no allegations against Mr. Obama. Indeed, it quotes Mr. Blagojevich cursing the president-elect and his team “because they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”
Mr. Blagojevich also appears to be uncommonly sensitive to criticism for someone so apparently comfortable with bare-knuckle, and worse, politics. He was recorded telling aides to inform the Tribune Company, which filed for bankruptcy protection this week, that it would get no state assistance in selling off Wrigley Field unless it fired members of The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who had called for his impeachment.
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was elected in 2002 after pledging to restore honor to the Illinois governor’s office. His predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was convicted on federal fraud and racketeering charges and is now in prison. Mr. Blagojevich has urged President Bush to reduce Mr. Ryan’s sentence to time served as an act of compassion. It makes one wonder if the governor sensed that, somewhere down the line, he might need some of that compassion himself.
Mr. Blagojevich must be deemed innocent until proved guilty. But surely the recorded conversations, full of expletive-laced schemes, render him unfit to appoint anyone, least of all himself, to the vacant Senate seat.
If he refuses to step aside, the Illinois Legislature should move to bypass him by removing his appointment power, impeaching him or scheduling a special election. Certainly no self-respecting candidate should accept an appointment by Mr. Blagojevich.

* EDITORIAL NYT, December 10, 2008

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