Sunday, February 28, 2010
I have eaten at La Loggia once (on a client's dime). The food was excellent. But I try to avoid the place at all costs. To me, it is nothing more than a place to be seen by the courthouse power elite, to rub elbows with judges and kiss their asses. In other words, a paean to fakery and insincerity, a public display of sycophancy and phoniness that proves the point that the spirit of Eddie Haskell is alive and well in the Miami legal community. I witness the glad-handing on an almost daily basis because I do my filings with the clerk at 12 30 so I do not have to wait in line in the morning. Walking down the courthouse steps on Flagler, there is a daily fixture across the street: Judge Jose Rodriguez, cigar in hand, holding court a la Swifty Lazar at Spago's in Hollywood a generation earlier. Rodriguez has a permanent table where he eats daily. His presence is very public. You cannot walk by the restaurant or go inside without seeing him and, if you are a lawyer, saying hello to him. Now I like Judge Rodriguez. He is a no BS kind of guy. Probably one of the better judges in the building. But there is something odd about a judge placing himself at the center of the lunchtime legal crowd every day. Now one might say that all of this glad-handing is harmless and probably contributes to a certain collegiality among lawyers and judges, no different from the countless bar association functions that one sees in the DBR every week where judges and lawyers are photographed together. Perhaps. But what really struck a chord in my mind was a piece in the DBR this week about Lewis Freeman. I received a call from a good friend who was shocked about Freeman's conduct. Her reaction was along the lines of "another crooked lawyer." And she was right. Freeman, by his own admission, stole $2.6 million. According to his lawyer, the reason for the conduct centered around "lifestyle" issues. That is a polite way of saying that he pilfered money for no reason other than avarice. But what I found fascinating about the article was a quote from Freeman's lawyer. Here is the exact quote from the DBR:
'Josephs said he is particularly sad that Freeman will be remembered for his crime and not the many good things he did for the community. Josephs said he went to La Loggia with Freeman after it became public that he was being investigated. “I gained a lot of respect for this town that I thought I had lost when judges, lawyers and everybody else who had the opportunity to turn their back on him came up and hugged him,” Josephs said. “Everybody else falls every once in awhile.”
Now I am as sympathetic towards people who go astray as anyone and am willing to cut someone a break, but this quote and the scenes it invokes are a little bit troubling. Think about it. You are a judge who appointed Freeman to oversee the misappropriation of very large sums of money. You trusted him to be honest. He violated that trust and did it over and over. About that there is no dispute. So you happen to run into him at La Loggia. What do you do? Tell him he is a disgrace? No. Walk away to avoid a nasty confrontation that he took you for a fool? No. You embrace him and wish him well. Am I missing something here? If I miss a discovery deadline or mis calendar a hearing, I get sanctioned and humiliated in front of my colleagues in open court. But if you are part of the "club" and steal $2.6 million, you are treated no different than if you had a moment of weakness and paid that 23 year old hottie $200 to polish your apple at 2 am in the back seat of your car after you had one too many bourbons. I just don't get it.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Alexander Haig, the former Nixon chief of staff, Reagan secretary of state, 1988 presidential candidate, and dapper dresser, died yesterday. He was a four star general who never won a battle outside the corridors of Washington politics. He was to the English language what Phyllis Diller was to women's hairstyles. I remember him well. Right now, assuming his scorecard has more pluses than minuses, God is re-arranging the furniture in heaven to make room for Haig's oversized ego. Haig always fascinated me as an example that someone with average intelligence and judgment could claw his to the highest levels of power for such a long period of time. For conspiracy buffs, Haig offers a gold mine of possibilities. About 20 years ago, Len Colodny authored a book about Watergate, The Silent Coup: The Removal of Richard Nixon, that was bizarre: that Haig, acting on behalf of the Washington/New York political establishment, orchestrated a coup against Nixon so that Nixon could not usher in a new era of Southern and Western dominance of American politics that might last for a generation. In other words, the powers that be wanted to prevent in 1972 what Reagan accomplished in 1980. It is as nutty as it is interesting. The best part of the book was the claim that John Dean organized the break in of the Democratic headquarters not to spy on political opponents but to retrieve incriminating evidence there that his wife, Maureen, was high a priced call girl servicing the Capitol's power brokers. Dean sued Colodny over this claim and the matter was settled out of court. I could not bring myself to believe the main thesis of the book but I could not put it down. Sort of like reading books about the Kennedy assassination: I don't believe there was a conspiracy but it sure is fun reading about the zany characters that littered the political landscape. Haig's second re-incarnation was as Reagan's secretary of state. Here, unfortunately for him and unlike his stint with Nixon, he was always in the public eye. I never understood why Reagan, a modest man who surrounded himself with competent people, would hire an egomaniac like Haig. My first impression of him was that he had a speech problem. He was incapable of uttering a declarative sentence. I thought that his inability to speak coherently disguised an astute mind that comprehended the complexities of international politics and diplomacy. Otherwise, how could he have been Nixon's chief of staff and Reagan's head honcho at State? But I was completely wrong. His speech was a perfect reflection of his mind: cluttered, confused, and banal. He got by the way all underlings in Washington get by: kissing the right asses. Starting with Kissinger on up, he perfected the art. For some strange reason, Nixon was fascinated with Haig. Thought he was tough and Haig did exude the persona of the take no prisoners military personality that played well with a public that was growing sick and tired of watching the US get its ass kicked around the world. Nixon was always impressed with men who appeared strong willed and flamboyant on the surface. Witness his admiration of John Connally and plan to run him for president in 1976 had Watergate not intervened. Rumor has it that it was Nixon's strong recommendation to the Reagan team that got Haig the state job ("the toughest son of a bitch I ever met" was the quote from Nixon which I now take to mean that Nixon only met one son of a bitch in his life). Haig was a disaster at state. The only good thing that can be said of him there is that he dressed well. He took Reagan for a laid back fool who would allow him to single handedly run US foreign policy. That was a huge mistake. His biggest gaffe came the day Reagan was shot and he appeared in public to assure the world: "I am in control here." Caspar Weinberger, the then defense secretary wanted to strangle Haig. Haig was soon fired and replaced by George Schultz who was everything Haig was not. Haig ended his public career by running for president in 1988 or 1996. I cannot remember and it really doesn't matter. All that he did in that campaign is remind the ten people in the country who paid attention to him that Haig had a lot in common with many of the foreign types with whom he interacted: he could never learn to speak proper English.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I was wandering around Barnes & Noble this afternoon and on my way home listened to the collection of Ethel Waters songs on my IPod. I had not listened to her music for two years. She recorded most of her music in the 1920's. But what really hit me as I was driving were the lyrics of "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?." Here are they are:
Out in the street, shufflin' feet
Couples passin' two by two
While here am I, left high and dry
Black, and 'cause I'm black I'm blue
Browns and yellers, all have fellers
Gentlemen prefer them light
Wish I could fade, can't make the grade
Nothing but dark days in sight
Cold, empty bed, springs hard as lead
Pains in my head, feel like old Ned
What did I do to be so black and blue?
No joys for me, no company
Even the mouse ran from my house
All my life through I've been so black and blue
I'm white inside, it don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh!
I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn
My heart is torn, why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?
'Cause you're black, folks think you lack
They laugh at you, and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue?
When you are near, they laugh and sneer
Set you aside and you're denied
What did I do to be so black and blue?
How sad I am, each day I feel worse
My mark of Ham seems to be a curse, oh
How will it end? ain't got a friend
My only sin is my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue?
You can click on the video link above to get the full flavor of the song. The song is a tale of self loathing, sort of the reverse of black pride. But I think it is a perfect reflection of the pre WWII era. African Americans were expected to act like second class citizens in public and private. And I am sure her white audiences loved it as much has she probably hated herself for singing it because she needed the money. I Googled her name and came up with this brief description of her childhood: "Ethel Waters was born to a 12 year old mother, Louise Anderson, who had been raped by a white man, John Waters. Although she was raised by her maternal grandmother, she took her father's surname. Reared in poverty, she left school at the age of 13 in order to support herself through domestic housework." Not exactly a pretty picture. But she persevered as did many black entertainers of the time. And there were many: Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey, and Julie Christy. These were people who came up from the streets. At least one, Billie Holiday, was a former prostitute. And the lives of the others were probably just as difficult and tragic. But the drudgery, poverty, and overt discrimination made them what they are and caused them to produce the music they did. And great music it is. It is really too bad that the great black musicians pre-1960 do not get the recognition they deserve.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
February is Black History Month. It is time for some revisionist history in the sporting arena. More specifically, baseball. Jackie Robinson is held out by the mainstream media as the driving force to integrate baseball in the late 40’s. The hagiography is almost universal and unchallenged. However, the image is distorted and simplistic. If you scratch beneath the surface, what you find is a lot more interesting than what passes for conventional wisdom. Robinson was the first African American to play in major league baseball. Every major league club retired his number 42. I always felt he received a disproportionate amount of credit for bringing integration to baseball. It is probably unavoidable that he did so given the publicity his signing entailed and the laziness of the media in not looking for the deeper story. It is as if Robinson singlehandedly opened the door through which hordes of black baseball players walked and then treated as equals. Such was not the case. Not by a long shot. Jackie Robinson was but the tip of the iceberg. There were thousands of black minor league baseball players who suffered worse indignities than Robinson did while struggling to make it in the big time. Names like Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bill White, Frank Robinson, and Vada Pinson are some of the better known players who cut their teeth in the lower echelons of baseball before making it in the majors. And equally as important were the unknown and not so talented ones who laid the foundation and never made it to the big time. The late David Halberstam, one of the most underrated American authors of all time, lays out the struggle of the black baseball player post Robinson in two books: "The Summer of 1949" and "October, 1964." The former is advertised as a history of the Red Sox/Yankee pennant race of 1949 and the latter a rendition of the 1964 World Series. But anyone familiar with Halberstam's work knows it is always much more than what the title infers. Bill White, the former Yankee first basemen, talks of going to spring training and having to stay in separate hotels in the early 60's. We hear stories about the dangers of playing minor league baseball in small Southern towns in the 1950's. As bad as getting cursed in Philadelphia in 1948, imagine playing in some crackerjack town in Georgia in 1955 and having to walk to the parking lot alone after the game. Not a pretty sight. The upshot is that Robinson may have been the first but he was not the only one who deserves credit for pushing the ball forward. Halberstam brings up another interesting point that shows the free market at work. The Yankees had the best farm system in baseball from the 1930's through the 1950's. Starting in the late 40's, they refused to recruit black players. This decision cost them dearly. Halberstam argues it was the main cause of their decline from 1965 through 1975. Ditto the Red Sox but on a smaller scale as they were never that good to begin with but they had some horrible teams from 1950 up to 1967 and not many black faces in their lineup. Not so the St. Louis Cardinals. They went after Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Bill White. In 1964, they added Lou Brock. Gibson, a proud man, suffered in silence. He was an angry man and bitter over the way black players were treated. This anger manifested itself in his pitching style. I remember watching him pitch in the mid-60's. He always had a look in his eye that elevated the pitcher/hitter duel to a life and death struggle. Hank Aaron once advised a young hitter on how to handle Gibson: don't crowd the plate because he will knock you down. But don't stand too far either because he will hit the outside corner. If you hit a home run off of him, don't run too fast around the bases because he will give you some chin music next time up. And don't run too slow either. He will hammer you next time because of that too. So here is a salute to the thousands of black players who played professional baseball on all levels in the 1950's and early 60's. They should not be forgotten.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Monday is President's Day. What used to be two paid holidays for government employees is now one. Lincoln and Washington's birthday have been replaced by a generic President's Day. What it means I don't know and really don't care except that I do not have to go to court and there will be less traffic to curse at. Now might be the occasion to examine the most famous presidential birthday party of all time. I always admired JFK. And to a lesser extent Bill Clinton. Anyone who aspires to the most powerful office on earth not to do great things but to use the office as a resume enhancer to corral women into the bedroom gets a big plus in my book. JFK presents an interesting phenomenon in American politics and culture. Some presidents can pull off stunts that would destroy the careers of others. Ronald Reagan was accused of taking long naps every afternoon. He never denied it. In fact, in one of his farewell addresses, he basically admitted it and laughed it off. And the country laughed with him. Clinton was a philanderer and got away with it because everyone with half a brain knew it and factored that into their support of him. Bush I and II could give speeches as if they were talking backwards. Such verbal syntax would make Clinton a laughingstock. And so it goes. But JFK was different. Granted, the press was a little more circumspect back then and much more centralized. The news was filtered through a few large newspapers and three TV networks. And the doyens of journalism loved JFK. But still. Take a look at the above video. Kennedy's brother in law(and pimp to Hollywood whoredom), Peter Lawford, introduces an obviously drugged and drunk Marilyn to sing birthday kudos to the prince of Camelot. Imagine a wasted Madonna or Haile Berry seductively crooning birthday wishes to Obama in a public forum. Ain't gonna happen. But Kennedy pulled it off. And he did it with class and a sense of style that leaves me green with envy. I was not mature enough in 1962 to remember the relationship between the public perception of political leaders and the reality of many of their lives. The TV presidency still had lots of baby fat so the dark side of almost universal exposure had not caught up with the hagiography that it initially spawned with JFK. The great majority of Americans did not believe their political leaders engaged in such shenanigans. JFK led a duplicitous life in an era of noblesse oblige and got away with it. Call it hypocrisy or whatever but the sharp demarcation between the public and private was not a bad thing. Would our country have been better off if Ike had spent the Fall of 1952 deflecting rumors of himself and Kaye Summersby? Or if FDR with Lucy Mercer? I don't think so. Well, the myth of JFK lives on. Wherever you are Jack, you might want to tap God on the shoulder and thank him for the fact that you were born in 1917 and not 1950. Running for president in these times with your baggage would have been one hell of a "profile in courage."
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Ever since somewhere around 1975, when the first horde of the counterculture generation began meandering its way into positions of power and influence in American society, diversity (and I mean real diversity)has been on the decline. The result is not healthy. A free society does not prosper and continue to be free by forcing its citizens to adopt a lifestyle that is free from alcohol, tobacco, and great tasting food that happens to have negative side effects. The United States has experienced atavistic bouts of Purtianism and survived to renew its love affair with booze, broads, and well, a good cigar. But the most recent push into dull conformity will not be so benign and comical. What is it about some people that compels them to spend the better part of their adult lives trying to control the animal appetites of their fellow citizens? The paternalistic gene is not restricted to any one political ideology buts spans the spectrum of thought from the right with gays and religion, to the left with its obsessive desire to ban guns, cigarettes, and soon that 16 ounce New York strip steak that I throw on the grill every Saturday night, to the apolitical do gooders who want to turn everyone into an ascetic monk whose diet consists of skim milk, tree bark, and vegetables boiled in distilled water. Well, this way of thinking and philosophy is a crock of manure. I drink. I smoke cigars (at least two a day). I chase women. I eat steak, eggs, baked potatoes, and whatever unhealthy food I can get my hands on. I love all of it. My philosophy is simple: if it was good enough for Winston Churchill, it is good enough for me. End of discussion. A real man is not a real man unless he has at least two vices of which he can be proud. Ditto for a real woman. Life is not fun unless it is dangerous and having fun means knowing when to indulge in those little vices of life and sucking the excitement and pleasure out of them without fatally succumbing to their almost irresistible temptations.