Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baked on the premises

Nidra Poller

So Wolcott of Vanity (not) Fair is munching on my copine Pamela? He gobbled me too. Back when I was covering the al Dura trials. Pauvre type! His stomach is bigger than his eyes. He thinks you should have done a Madoff file, right? So if you didn’t, it’s because…well you know…because he’s…uh that is… Ha! I’ll be glad to cover the Madoff story for Atlas, here and now. First and foremost, nothing easier than to get the whole world’s media clucking over this mega-swindler. Capitalism strikes again. And don’t you know, it’s uh…hum…that is… Yeah! Some are tearing their hair out with losses, many more are chortling and chuckling at the sight of the rich reduced to rags. And all the more chortlable when the villain is…uh…y’know…hum. So what! Just try to put legs on the story of the mega-mega-swindle that is going on right now, right in front of your eyes--I’m talking about sharia compliant finance--and the chortling stops. The Madoff scam is exposed. Everyone knows what to think about it. While sharia compliant finance is slipping in on cat’s feet. Bernie Madoff hung around in country clubs and fleeced Jews? Big deal! Sharia compliant finance straddles Harvard University and the Treasury Department, while sleazy sharia specialists hidden backstage pick through the billions, sniffing out anything that’s not halal. That’s their day job. In the evening, they make pronouncements that should chill our blood. But I don’t think Vanity Fair has bothered to look into this story. What kind of pronouncements? Oh, nothing to worry your little head about. Things like “kill the infidels, take their property, rule their nations.” Your bailout money is puffing up their turbans, and you’re still chortling about Madoff, the biggest most worldwide scam in the history of…the ignorant. Get wise. Check out

What did Madoff do that Obama didn’t promise? He redistributed the wealth! And he made bundles of money for many happy investors, before the pyramid collapsed.

I clipped out an article from Vanity Fair when I was in the States in October-November. Barack Obama was on the cover of every magazine you could get your eyes on, and Vanity Fair had come up with a cute angle to polish his shoes: an article about his éminence grise, but of course she isn’t grey, she’s black. Black, and classy. Rich and successful. Glamorous and dynamic. Sassy too. Just the kind of unofficial advisor a perfect president needs. Someone who will tell him the truth (unlike Vanity Fair that will flatter him until he bursts). She was married briefly a long time ago but has made her way to the heights by flying solo. She comes from a distinguished black family. Her name is…Valerie Jarret.

Wonderman’s choice to pick up his senate seat. But you know, because all the media left right and center have been telling you ever since the Blagojevitch story broke, that the president-elect miraculously managed to walk on the filthy waters of Chicago politics without being tainted. That’s the word. Tainted. They all used it. And no PC policeman was quick enough to pick up on that. What do you mean “tainted”? Isn’t that a snide racist slur? The reason no one picked up on it is they were all so busy patting each other on the back for having discovered, unanimously, that our next president could not, would not, cannot be tainted by corrupt Chicago politics.

As for Madoff, do you think his victims might have also fallen for the Obama scam? I spent two days in Palm Beach before Pamela joined me for our Great Reverse Schlep. Someone took me to a country club. Was it the same one Madoff milked, or another that looks just like it? Most of the well-heeled members had already voted. For Obama, bien entendu. They pfhawed and pfsted at the very thought of Sarah Palin. A heartbeat away from the Oval Office. She’s dumb, they told me, as if I were too. A few brave souls actually agreed to sink into overstuffed armchairs and debate the issues. What struck me is that these were people who had made it the hard way, starting with nothing, and yet they bought into the pseudo-Marxist claptrap floating around their candidate’s anointed head. They saw themselves as over-privileged. And they were volunteering to pay higher taxes in the name of social justice. If they fell for Obama, maybe they’d already fallen for Madoff?

Political scammers are like financial scammers—charming sweet talkers.

Well, Wolcott thinks you didn’t want to touch the Madoff scandal because the villain is…uh…um…that is… Hmph! If it happened in France, would they call him a youth? That’s what they called 21 year-old Demba Touré, stabbed to death in the 15th arrondissement by a 17 year-old “adolescent.” After the tragic incident, dozens of youths went on a rampage, setting fires, smashing shop windows, enraged (against the shopkeepers?) because the youth, whose parents are on pilgrimage at Mecca, was killed by another (similar or slightly different?) youth whose identity has not been revealed. The word “youth” figured five times in a 100-word Figaro report on the arraignment of…uh…youths involved in the post-crime violence.

As far as I can see, English-speaking media haven’t picked up the story. It’s not just one more murder among youths; it’s a barometer. Commentators imposed a sociological explanation when “youths” rioted in 2005. Most of the mayhem was committed in the banlieue, and so of course it was the banlieue’s fault. What can you expect from these poor underprivileged youths rejected socially and geographically, parked in those godforsaken banlieues!

Hideous projects in the banlieue were dynamited and replaced with cute town houses entwined with parks, gardens, and playgrounds. Businessmen and shopkeepers were enticed with subsidies and other compensations to bring bustling activity into the banlieue. And efforts were made to bring the banlieue population into the heart of our cities. There were already laws on the books imposing a certain percentage of public housing in every town, neighborhood, and arrondissement. They aren’t really applied, but they served as a constant reminder that people in some quarters are not taking their share of the underprivileged. And that’s not nice, is it?

Builders are encouraged, badgered, bargained, and forced to include a certain percentage of public housing in any given residential complex. And that’s how street crime, drug dealing, and fatal stabbings found their way into the nice, clean, orderly, bourgeois 15th arrondissement. Neighbors have been complaining for years about a phenomenon that used to be called “incivilités,” before it blossomed into outright revolt. The youths complain too. They don’t like the way these bourgeois creeps look at them and refuse their right to hang out on the corners (the park benches were removed…a typical French solution to a loitering problem). And of course these youths are just slightly misguided and suffering from unfair unemployment. A few more social services would set everything right, according to one indulgent resident.

It happens that I “discovered” rue de Commerce this month…on a visit to an artist’s studio. It’s so cute you think you stepped into a traditional shopping street in a nostalgic film. Butcher, baker, greengrocer, pharmacy, and a mix of clothing stores, shoe stores, everything you need just around the corner. La vie parisienne. The 15th arrondissement is so neatly bourgeois, so quietly residential, nothing shabby, nothing fancy except for UNESCO, Les Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb), and Ecole Militaire tucked into one monumental corner, and the majestic sweep of the Champ de Mars marching to the Eiffel Tower.

Last week I attended the closing session of a meeting of the E.U. Agency for Fundamental Rights. During the Question and Answer period, one participant remarked that he had gone for a walk the other evening, around the Eiffel Tower, and came upon two soldiers (he underlined the word and then repeated it in bold face), two soldiers! Not policemen, soldiers. And this gentleman wondered if they were really there to protect the population or was the government taking advantage of a so-called threat to exert greater control over the population.

A silent march was held for Demba Touré today. I’ve scoured the media, can’t find anything about him, except that he has five siblings and is, according to à Soninké. Did he work, go to school, collect unemployment or was he, as the media keep repeating, dealing drugs? They say he was killed in a drug-dealing dispute. But they said Rudy Haddad was beaten into a coma in the 19th arrondissement this summer in a gang warfare incident. Jewish gangs against Black & Muslim gangs. And this time? Was it brown Muslims against black Muslims? We don’t know anything about the killer. His reputation is protected, while his victim is exposed. Both, it is reported, had minor run-ins with the police.

On the Sunday afternoon talk show, Ripostes, a man on the right suggested that the housing crisis could be partially solved if the 30% of residents of public housing with income in excess of the legal limit would move out, and let the people who really need subsidized housing move in. A leftwing sociologist cried out in anguish, “Anything but that! Do you want to create ghettoes? We must conserve social mixing [another hallowed diversity value].” Leaving poor dysfunctional families--whose children will grow up to be youths--to live among themselves will create ghettoes. Peppering these same families throughout our cities will give your ordinary citizen a chance to experience murder around the corner.

Don’t think Americans are the only ones who yearn for hope and change!

Speaking of Baked on the Premises, our corner baker left without saying goodbye. They did a thriving business for years. Kids who munched their pains au chocolat on the way home from elementary school are teenagers now. How many loaves of daily bread did I buy there over the years? Two weeks ago, when I dropped in to pick up the usual petite boule, I found myself in a time warp: the façade had not changed, the shelves were the same, but the bread had taken different shapes and the strange woman behind the counter informed me that our boulanger and his boulangère were gone. Like thieves in the night? No little penmanshipped note on the door to warn us that the yeast would rise under new direction à partir du 1 décembre? Not a word of adieu, after the last “et avec ça”?

I used to bump into la boulangère at the Atsuro Tayama bargain sales, but AT moved out of the neighborhood years ago. That’s normal. You don’t expect a chic boutique to make a tearful farewell. But the boulangerie? I’m still shaking my head in disbelief. We were happy with their bread. Weren’t they happy with us?

Is bread nothing but a commodity in this heartless capitalist world?

I don’t think les boulangers left in disgrace because they’d lost a fortune in Madoff’s Miracle Fund…but let’s pretend they did…just to show Wolcott we can twist anything into a Madoff story…the same way Wolcott can twist anything into a slur on …uh…umm…that is…you know what he means!

Nidra Poller

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