Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mister Gripes: Sarah Palin, Random Rants, Little League...

Ex-Governor Palin – Put yourself in her shoes [$500 Manolos, of course, compliments of the NRC] – you’d probably do the same thing: it’s a couple of days after the November election, you’ve spent the past 90 days crisscrossing the country speaking to frenzied, adoring crowds, even upstaging the party’s Presidential candidate, flying on private jets, staying at $1,000-a-night hotels, adorned in $150,000 worth of Neiman clothes purchased with a Republican Party credit card, with no heavy lifting for months.
And, now you’re disembarking from a plane in Anchorage, to no cheers, no crowds, no nothing, just an unsettling quiet on a cold, misty evening. Tomorrow you’re governor again, and it’s back to dealing with simpleton legislators and mind-numbing issues like mineral rights and highway funding; plus, those damn Democrats and their ethics committee want to look at your per-diem expense accounts, of all things. Besides that, in a half-hour, you’ll have to get reacquainted with that slacker husband again, clean up after all those squealing children, and, to top it off, deal with that lazy bum, Levi, who not only knocked up your daughter but now sits around the house doing nothing but eating pizza and drinking beer.
And, look what’s out there if only you were unencumbered with a governor’s responsibilities and prohibitions: oodles and oodles of cash. Low-hanging fruit like book deals and speaking engagements all over the world at $50,000 to $250,000 a pop. Millions and millions.
Mr. Gripes is certain Governor Palin, ostensibly a proponent of never giving up on the tough tasks, looked at what was in front of her, and, with not a moment’s hesitation, said, “I’m out of here.” The next Presidential election did not factor into her decision at all. After a national campaign, being governor was ‘dudsville’. And, let’s face it, 2012 is a millennium from now.
To her credit, Ms. Palin possesses tremendous confidence and ambition – those qualities permit her to overlook her faults, and take big risks. Her timing, too, is exquisite, so she pounced at the opportunity.
That’s not to say she’s done with a run at the Presidency. Her ambition will never let that notion disappear. With her vaulted self-esteem, she just knows she’d be a superb President. In fact, a poll of Republicans was conducted by Gallup right after the election, and Mr. Gripes was astounded by one finding: 72% of Republicans indicated they’d vote for Sarah Palin for President. Yikes. Or, as the old sportscaster Mel Allen would exclaim after another Yankee home run, “How about that!”

Random Rants…
The ‘foot-in-mouth’ act of Joe Biden is sure wearing thin.
I’m really tired of Don Imus constantly pleading for money for his rodeo camp for kids. New Mexico officials, shut it down.
The Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica has the textbook persona of the pipsqueak he is: pugnacious and obnoxious. Mr. Gripes cannot read or listen to him any longer.
One thought jumps out whenever I observe Bob Woodward of Watergate fame: he’s lost his fastball. There is no cache to Mr. Woodward any longer. His smug countenance says it all: I’m famous, I’m rich, and I’m in tight with the political establishment. Mr. Woodward is a classic American sell-out.
John McCain’s ‘maverick’ days are over. He’s once again nothing but a war-thirsty, ‘let’s commit another 100,000 troops’ conservative. Mr. McCain’s face tells it all: anger, frustration, humiliation and a thinly veiled hatred for the guy who whipped his ass, President Obama.
The hip-hop music craze seems to be fading. Thank God. The complete collapse of Western civilization has been pushed back a few weeks.
Clothes don’t always make the man: David Gregory, who dresses as if his underwear were Armani, can’t hold a candle to the late Tim Russert, who looked like he bought his suits off the rack at Burlington Coat Factory, at 2 for $199.00.
Whenever I see Diane Sawyer on her morning show, I’m reminded of how a New York Times entertainment reporter once described her act: she exudes a “creamy insincerity.” Perfect.
After observing Alan Greenspan testifying before a Senate committee a couple of months ago, I figured out the character defect that very nearly brought down the American economy: he is a man who does not take counsel from anyone kindly – he listens only to himself. Hubris, I think the Greeks call it.
Forget the garment business – it’s relocated to Bangladesh now. New York City’s largest growth industry these days is traffic tickets. It feels like there are a million of those parking ticket maidens out there every day writing summonses at 8:01 am. Shame on you, Mayor Bloomberg. Nothing new though: New Yorkers have been treated with contempt by its leaders for decades – we’re long-suffering fools.
If David Letterman’s intent was to make light of his affairs with staffers by intentionally evoking laughter on his show, he’s nothing but a low-rent skunk.
Roman Polanski forced a 13-year-old to ingest Quaaludes and drink champagne before he raped her. Twenty-five years in maximum security seem a just prison term. And, throw into the cell Whoopi, Penelope, Marty and Woody while you’re at it.
Since 2002, there’s been a net loss of 700,000 automobile manufacturing jobs in the Midwest alone. I traveled through Cleveland and Detroit this summer: a tableau of desolation and empty buildings, America circa 1931. We’re in a heap of trouble, folks.
No one’s going around trumpeting their net worth these days, are they?
Baseball has traditionally been played by ‘boys of summer,’ yet If the 2009 World Series goes to a seventh game, the game will take place on the night of November 3rd. Insane.
I miss very much my best friend of 45 years, Gerry Z. Wherever you are, Big Z, I hope you’re at a piano, playing Bach, and looking forward to a blissful Sunday afternoon of watching football. Life is so unfair and painful when close friends die.
Little League – It’s all too much. Too many television cameras, too many anxious ‘my-boy’s-gonna-sign-for-a-million-bucks’ parents, too many perfect playing fields and pristine uniforms, too much pressure, too much exposure and too much cloying ‘Mom-and-Apple-Pie’ sentimentality. Little League’s gone the way of so many other American institutions – a kid’s sheer elation at playing the game of baseball has been smothered by officious parents and, yes, corporate interests. Once upon a time, Little League was a small-town civic responsibility, set up so a locale’s young boys could simply play competitive baseball on placid Saturday afternoons. Now? It’s on television for weeks on end, with competing teams from as far away as Sri Lanka. The fun has been bleached out.
America’s moved so far and so fast from its innocent days of 50, 60 years ago. Allow me, kind readers, to recall Mr. Gripes’ own momentous first day of Little League. Asked to appear for a tryout at a local elementary school, I dutifully showed up, a shy, eager, energetic and, above all, frightened boy of 7 or 8, with about fifty other boys. We were told to get in line, as one of the coaches proceeded down the queue, writing down names. When he was in front of me, the coach, who was, I dimly remember, a rather aggressive, loud type, screamed out, “Son, where’s your glove?” My parents, adherents to a decidedly benign-neglect approach to child-rearing, had forgotten to purchase a baseball glove for their eldest son. To my eternal mortification and humiliation, of all the kids at this tryout, I was the only boy -- and a doctor’s son, to boot -- who did not have a glove.
The coach, who knew my father in passing, just stood there, incredulous, shaking his head slightly, further embarrassing me. In retrospect, I suspect he was contemplating a riddle Mr. Gripes has been pondering ever since, “What planet do these Israels come from?” I have little memory of anything else from that day, except I took my fielding trials at shortstop with a first baseman’s mitt borrowed from my cousin, did not mishandle any ball hit to me, came in first or second in all of the sprint races, and didn’t hit badly either. The smirk on that coach’s face disappeared. Following the tryout, I was handed a note to be taken home and given to my father. I didn’t have the nerve to examine it, but I’ll bet it went along the lines of, “Jimmy appears to possess the instincts to be a pretty good ballplayer, but please for God’s sake, buy him a goddam glove, will you, Doc!” Two days later, I received a brand-new, gorgeous Bobby Richardson infielder’s glove. From that day on, I never stopped playing baseball for twenty years.
My point – too long, I know – is this: In those days, boys played baseball all the time – on school playgrounds, in friends’ backyards, on streets, everywhere, until nightfall, when we couldn’t see the ball any longer. We chose sides, and played and played. There were no adults around to supervise, to organize, or to schedule. We simply played because we loved to swing that bat and run those bases. For Mr. Gripes, it was the great passion – by far – of his childhood. And there were not any meddling parents around. Yes, there was Little League, but essentially until the age of 13 or 14, it was strictly for Saturdays, with a practice or two during the week. It turned out we were given the gift of time and space to learn the basics of cooperation and fair play on our own. And, above all, baseball taught us about getting back up after failure – maybe it’s the pitcher forgetting about the monstrous home run he just gave up, and mustering up the nerve to face another batter, or the hitter completely overmatched a couple of times at bat, yet not giving up when he gets up again. That’s a great lesson, the idea of failing, rising off the mat and moving forward despite formidable obstacles. And, boys then played the game in total anonymity; sure, parents came to Little League games, but for the most part we were left alone. That’s Mr. Gripes’ advice: allow children to find their own passion. Parents and coaches, sure, enjoy your child’s Little League games, but try not to interfere – just let the kids be kids. That way, the love for the game will endure.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Iran, Big Bopper and the Imperfect Perfect Game

Iran - A nation that operates solely on religious principles - the theocracy in Iran, for one --cannot endure - impossible. A clash between a burgeoning class of young, educated citizens and a corrupt ruling religious order was inevitable. Something's got to give in this struggle, and I'm afraid in the short run it's not going to be the deadly grim and frightened mullahs.
The 'Supreme Leader': That appellation, redolent of Orwell or the Land of Oz, sums up beautifully the pomposity, grandiosity and, yes, the fraudulence of the ruling mullah class. The story goes that the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution that overthrew the Shah, was the embodiment of God on Earth. As he was dying, he passed, through his fingertips, his divinity to Ali Khamenei, the present ruler and Supreme Leader. Since he's essentially the channel of God's will, every decision he makes is just, final and absolute. Today, he's murdering his country's women and children. Some divinity. A theocracy must fail - to cite Karl Marx, the contradictions become too apparent.

In the flush of elation after the Shah was overthrown, the Iranian revolution and ruling class were sustained for thirty years. This past election destroyed the legitimacy of the regime, though. The Supreme Leader, injecting the will of God, steals the election. The Big Lie didn't work any longer. Iranians were not duped; the ruling mullahs treated the voters as dumb, powerless fools, and enraged the citizenry. And, then, when students, not yet besieged by work, marriage, children or all the other burdens of middle age, decided to act on their impulses, the revolution was on.

A couple of thoughts on religion in general: at the outset, let me state emphatically that Mr. Gripes is a strong proponent of freedom of religion - any individual should be permitted to worship whomever or whatever they choose: Buddha, the Virgin Mary, false idols, The Supreme Moose of the Northwest, witch doctors, burning bushes, Zeus, or, indeed, although I can barely refrain from cursing, psycho-wacko Scientology with all its nutty Hollywood trappings - it's not my business to object. But what I can't support is the imposition of a particular religion on any other person. Worship in your church, and leave everyone else alone. 'Organized' religion, though, doesn't leave well enough alone. Every religion, certainly, thinks its divine path is the only true path to enlightenment and to whatever awaits us after death. Emanating from a belief in a religion's superiority is the urgency to convert practitioners of alien faiths. And, that in a nutshell is why so many murderous, bestial cruelties have occurred through the ages. The prospects of a glorious, idyllic afterlife have been the excuse to unleash unspeakable horrors on the 'unenlightened' masses. The reality is that there's no such thing as a 'superior' religion: none of us knows what awaits us, none of us has seen God, and, if indeed there is a merciful God, he works on a 'level playing field'; He would assert surely, 'No religion, just like no man should lord over any other man, is superior to any other religion.' Unfortunately, world history, seized by power, money and the sexual allure of women, has rarely operated according to that precept - just the opposite, in fact.

By the time you, my readers, have read this column, I fear the courage and collective strength of millions of protesting Iranians may have already been expunged by the implacable mullah power structure in Iran. The state has all the weapons, police and sadistic militias on their side, and will not hesitate, once the decision is made, to shoot and kill their own citizens; the ruling mullahs, no longer legitimate in the eyes of citizens, desperately cling to power. The will of God must be served even if thousands are murdered. The universities will be closed for a long time, and when they're re-opened the curriculum will be entirely Islamic-based. Suppression works when the opposition has no guns.
But, despite a foreboding sense that this will end in terrible bloodshed, Mr. Gripes marvels at the irrepressible human soul. Exploited, beaten, humiliated, and treated often as nothing more than lumps of animal flesh, the arc of history demonstrates that human beings just don't give up; their instinctive yearning for lives of free will and free thought inexorably compel them to act, in the face of impossible odds and likely imprisonment or death. That's courage. History tells us over and over this spirit can never be vanquished for long.

NY Postscript - A month ago, Mr. Gripes described the inconceivable catastrophe that's befallen New York citizens: I was referring to our New York State government, a quagmire of immense proportions. I'm sorry [actually not so sorry: it's grist for Mr. Gripes' mill] to say it's gotten even more farcical.
Let me describe the current scene: the NY Senate, comprised of 62 individuals, as of two weeks ago was split 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans. A majority leader, who guides the activities of the body, was a Democrat, obviously. Everything changed about 10 days ago, when 2 Democrats moved over to the Republican side, giving the Republicans control of the Senate; they naturally voted in a Republican as the new majority leader. Not so fast: the Democrats, boiling mad, asserted the majority leader election was bogus, and refused to enter the chamber to conduct business. In fact, they locked the doors to the Senate, and no one could get in. Unbelievable.

Governor David Paterson, a non-comprehending boob constantly stumbling over himself, not because he's blind, but because of his bumbling incompetence, initially says and does nothing, but then, astoundingly, insists the delay in Senate business is preventing lobbyists [??] from carrying out their occupational duties. It only gets worse. One of the Democrats-turned-Republican reneges on his new party, and returns to the Democratic fold. Now, it is 31-31, a deadlock. [Let me make a stab at the inducement that compelled this man to come back to the party: he's promised funding for his son-in-law's non-profit 'community' program, of which exactly $11.31 will actually go to the community, and $432,000 will be his son-in-law's annual salary for 'running' the one-desk, no-phone operation.]

Let's go on: It's 31-31. Nothing's happening as of this writing, and hasn't for a week. No sessions, no legislation, no meetings, nothing. Each one of these clowns goes before the TV cameras, and says we must get on "with the people's business," but it's the other party's fault. During this period, it's gotten so ridiculous that one senator, who would be the new Republican leader, wanted a judge to permit him to cast TWO votes in any legislative vote: one as a regular senator, and one as majority leader. This action, he claimed, is necessary to break a deadlocked vote. A legislator asking for a judicial OK so he could vote two times: that's got to be a first in the history of the glorious, 'one-man-one-vote' republic.

Back to the business of the 'people'. Mr. Gripes is a 'people' in this great commonwealth, and he'd like to proffer a people's resolution to fix all of this: let's borrow from France two guillotines, refurbish and lubricate them, restoring the blades to their razor-sharp calibration of, say, 1793. Place them outside on the Albany public plaza, in plain view of Senators peering down from the large French windows of their chamber. Relate to the Senators that they'd better get to work, or citizens, amassing in large numbers on the square, will be permitted to enter the Senate, and conduct less parliamentary but far more purposeful business of their own, perhaps replicating the actions of a vigilante mob. Surely that, as the cliché goes, "will focus the minds" of our august senators, who might even extract their thumbs out of their rear ends and take up the "business of the people."

The 'Perfect' Game - This year is the 50th anniversary of the greatest pitching performance in baseball history: a 5'7" lefthander of middling ability named, in alliterative fashion, Harvey Haddix, threw twelve innings of perfect baseball - facing 36 batters - and got them all out, not one runner reaching first base. Sometimes, though, a man who has achieved his dream is humbled by sudden reversals in life. Mr. Haddix, who for this one game outpitched Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Koufax, Cleveland, Feller, Maddox, all of the greats, never did complete his perfection, and in fact lost the game. After 12 innings, the score was 0-0. In the 13th inning, the opponent, the Milwaukee Braves, got their first base runners on base, and scored a couple of runs on a Joe Adcock [remember him?] home run - later changed to a double due to a Hank Aaron running mistake -- and won the game. I distinctly recall reading about this the following morning, and simply thinking, "Wow... this'll never happen again." 36 up and 36 down. And he got beat.

Chat rooms - Here's a statistic I saw the other day in the Wall Street Journal: out of the 300,000,000 Chinese citizens who have access to the Internet, 100,000,000 use chat rooms. Consider that. China's a country with a tightly controlled press, no right to assemble in a public gathering, and an educational system that extols a mass-murderer like Mao Tse-tung, run by a decrepit, corrupt Communist government -- yet chat rooms thrive. Mr. Gripes observes the on-going atomization of American society, as family and social ties continually diminish in importance, and can only conclude that when - not if - China evolves into a more democratic, fair-minded social system, we are cooked. The Chinese ethos of collective will and massive cooperative effort - witness the phenomenon of the chat room - with the backing of a future government that citizens believe in -- will simply roll over the world.

Elvis - An eight-year-old neighbor of mine some 25 years ago, Amanda, was asked for her opinion of Elvis Presley. Her answer: "Presley? I didn't know Elvis had a last name." You're right, Amanda, there'll always be just one Elvis. As summertime commences, I'd just like to offer a couple of tiny biographical tidbits about the monumental Mr. Presley:

* He never appeared in a public performance, other than playing his guitar on his apartment stoop for a couple of friends, before his incandescent discovery. Not at high school, not at church, nowhere.
* Mariah Carey was recently awarded a well-earned plaque for selling her 150-millionth album. In order to catch Elvis, Ms. Carey would have to sell another 850,000,000 records: Elvis is over one billion, and counting.
* A couple of months before his first song was played on the radio [it debuted after midnight one Saturday night, by a bored D.J. who decided to play something new], Elvis and his buddies were arrested for vagrancy in a Memphis park, and escorted out by policemen. Six months after that airing, a park concert was scheduled, and Mr. Presley had to be shielded from thousands of screaming fans, so he was escorted into the identical park by the very same cops. Ah, the vicissitudes of life. Incidentally, Tim McCarver, the TV baseball announcer, grew up in Memphis and was at that concert. Mr. McCarver, a macho ex-major-league catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, later declared, "Elvis was the most beautiful man I ever saw."

Chantilly Lace - Today's the first day of summer. Summertime, the beach and rock 'n roll are interwoven. In its honor, I'd like to present as the final piece in today's column the pure essence of rock 'n roll, millions of miles from the elaborate dross rock 'n roll has become. The Who, Pink Floyd, U-2, Jewel, Madonna, and Coldplay: some of these performers are excellent, but they're so removed from the essence of early rock 'n roll. The Big Bopper in Chantilly Lace joyously brings it back:

Hello Baby, yeah, this is the Big Bopper speaking,
Ha, Ha, you sweet thing,
Do I what? Will I what? Oh, baby, you know what I like...
Chantilly Lace and a pretty face and a pony tail hangin' down
A wiggle and a walk and a giggle and a talk made the world go round
There ain't nothing in the world like a big-eyed girl to make me act so
Funny, make me spend my money, make me fool so loose like a long-
Necked goose,
Roll over, Chaucer, and tell Shelley the news. Early rock 'n roll always speaks the truth.

Comments? Feel free to send remarks to:
June 20, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Silver Lining, The NY State Circus, Credit-Rating Crimes....

A Silver Lining
– There are, indeed, some upsides to the economic depression we’re going through – there’ll be less of those young, cocky broker types with their brain-dead girlfriends sitting next to them driving their gas-belching, brain-rattling Hummers through the streets; we’ll be rid, too, of a lot of those tapas restaurants, with their fancy $16.50 small-plate, three-sardines-on-a-piece-of-lettuce rip-offs -- six of these minuscule dishes only whets Mr. Gripes’ appetite for that Stromboli torpedo-bomb across the street; there’ll be less of those gargantuan McMansion monstrosities erected, after beautiful, tasteful 150-year-old residences have been razed to the ground by too-rich-too-soon dunderheads, whose idea of classic architecture can be loosely summed up as ‘Staten-Island Mafioso’; there’ll be less of those incredibly expensive, vacuous, all-special-effects extravaganzas, of which some coke-crazed producer doesn’t blink at overruns in the hundreds of millions of dollars; there’ll be far fewer over-the-hill , barely ambulatory actors like Harrison Ford receiving $15 million for some celluloid garbage destined to go straight to DVD 10 days after release, and there’ll be a lot less execrable ‘contemporary’ art [remember that exhibit in a Brooklyn museum featuring a picture made with elephant dung?] being auctioned off at $30 or $40 million a pop. Thank God for a respite from all the insanity.

Among all these gaudy playthings destined to disappear into the ether, I reserve my greatest joy for the inevitable diminution in the number of professed wine connoisseurs. It’s certainly true that Mr. Gripes enjoys a nice glass of wine just like everyone else, and he can distinguish a pleasant-tasting wine from one that is not. But that’s it. All the pseudo-sophisticated chatter about the characteristics of a good Zinfandel or the finer points of a Chardonnay leaves Mr. Gripes totally unawed. Besides, I could care less if wild boar only goes with some sparkling Riesling, or a Ruffino Chianti is the only wine to accompany that well-done leg of wildebeest. Mr. Gripes bridles at all the rigid rules around oenology; they smack of stern, oppressive ideology -- dare I say it, communism. But Mr. Gripes’ biggest wine gripe is with the critics. They are responsible for some of the most overwritten, over-the-top, incomprehensible paragraphs I’ve ever encountered, and Mr. Gripes reads across the spectrum. Any writer worth his salt understands intuitively good writing means paring down and paring down: clarity is your ultimate goal. That’s not the case with wine critics – Consider a couple of wine reviews I’ve read recently:

For a Rued Chardonnay: ‘Golden color. Heady, slightly reduced foxy aromas mingled with bitter honey. With air, the foxiness blows off, and the honey starts to take over. Deep kernel of peach preserves, pear, tangerine. Highly mineral with wet stone-like minerality. Tremendous persistence on the finish, just gaining richness and intensity with air.’

‘Foxy aromas’? The ‘foxiness blows off…?’ What the hell is this all about? We’re talking about fermented grape juice, not some knock-out dame, mink stole dangling from her bare shoulders, smoking Camels at the bar. Or, ‘Highly mineral with wet stone-like minerality.’ Words without meaning. Pure gibberish. Get over yourself, guy. Maybe three people on Earth have any idea what you’re talking about. Or, ‘tremendous persistence on the finish.’ Are you talking about a wine or Mine That Bird’s miraculous dash at the Derby a week ago?

One more example:
A Malbec: ‘Rich Color, with a lovely nose of purple fruits. Nicely rich taste, with blackberries, earth, chocolate and some basil and sage. Round and complete.’

Mr. Gripes wasn’t born yesterday. ‘Earth’ in a glass of wine? Maybe the Health Department should be called in to inspect the winemaker’s filthy cellar floor. ‘Chocolate’? Did the vintner slip some Milky Ways into the vat? Basil and sage? I don’t think so, Mr. Wine Buckaroo. If you’re craving some seasoned Italian food, there’s a pizzeria one block over.
One final word: I challenge the wine critic who penned these excerpts to stand outside Penn Station one afternoon, canvas a cross section of New Yorkers to sip the aforementioned Malbec, asking them for their opinions. Out of 10,000 not one will tell you, sir, that there’s a smidgen of sage or basil in the wine. The vast majority will simply say, “This is pretty good,” or “I don’t really like it.” The boom years created such an abundance of phony sophisticates and hot air billowing out of their months. Some surcease will do us all some good.

The Circus – For those of you who are lucky enough not to live in New York State, a primer on the most dysfunctional state government in America:

Historians have asserted that Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, authors of the Federalist Papers, fought vigorously for a checks-and-balances system; they reasoned that competing forces would be compelled to negotiate and compromise around mutual interests. Well, the New York government is, and has been for decades, all about too many checks and no balances, impervious to compromise; for one thing, until very recently, one chamber of the legislature has been controlled by Republicans, the other by Democrats – that’s the first roadblock. The dominant political forces are permanently split three ways in the state: the downstate, urban, New York City crowd; the upstate, rural, agrarian sector; and a suburban, highly educated, well-to-do populace. All three have very divergent economic interests, are beholden to extremely tenacious blocs, and are resistant to surrendering any power or influence. Result? Logjam – nothing gets done.

And, the ringleader of all this is the chief executive, the governor. What a bunch of deadbeats they’ve been. Mr. Gripes will not spend a lot of time on George Pataki, a Republican governor who basically mailed it in for three terms, assiduously amassing a huge real estate portfolio for himself, but otherwise singular in his near-catatonic lack of energy and gubernatorial achievement.

Next, we come to his eminence, Eliot Spitzer, a rising star one day and a disgraced ex-pol the next. He’s elected with the highest majority in the history of the state, more than Franklin Roosevelt or Al Smith even. Six months later, he’s exposed as a serial user of high-priced hookers during Washington trysts that had gone on for years. As governor, he managed to antagonize everyone, with his ‘I’ll-rip-out-your-esophagus’ bedside manner. Mr. Gripes suspects some of his numerous enemies knew about his extracurricular activities for a long time, and opted to rid themselves of Mr. Spitzer at a moment of their choosing. The tale was simply leaked to the press. Mission accomplished.
Now, Mr. Gripes finally has arrived at the marrow of this dispiriting New York tale: David Paterson, Lieutenant-Governor in the Spitzer regime. Initially, after he’s sworn in, Mr. Paterson is viewed favorably by the entire electorate. Seemingly bright, witty and low-key, he’s the perfect antidote to the high-strung and remote Spitzer. Even public confessionals by him and his wife about mutual extramarital affairs don’t really faze anybody – the grace period held.

Not for long, I’m afraid. Barack Obama is elected President, and, in assembling his cabinet, selects Senator Hillary Clinton of New York as his Secretary-of-State. She accepts, and begrudgingly resigns from the Senate. This is the beginning of David Paterson’s spiral south: he and he alone, must select a new senator. Consider this, readers, as we proceed: Colorado in exactly the same situation had a new senator in place within a highly efficient three weeks.
Out of the blue comes Caroline Kennedy as the sure-fire, inevitable candidate. Basking in the beatific glow emanating from the saintly, martyred souls of her father and uncle, and urged on by her Uncle Ted, Mayor Bloomberg, the New York Times and basically every New York glitterati, including the noisome and irritating Susan Sarandon, it looks like a shoo-in. In fact, she’s unofficially ordained as senator when she travels to Harlem for a meal with Al Sharpton, who thinks he represents each and every black voter in New York; in actuality, Mr. Gripes insists, he is, as radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa puts it, nothing but a very shrewd ‘street hustler.’

Governor Paterson, meanwhile, is taking his sweet time making any decision. He asks that all potential candidates fill out a 27-page questionnaire for vetting purposes; he gets them back, and never looks at any of them. On a daily basis, he plays cat-and-mouse with the press: one day he praises Ms. Kennedy, then he asserts he’s made no decision, the next day he says he’s close to a selection, and a week later he’s hinting of unnamed dark-horse aspirants. This charade went on for a couple of months. The New York press, chagrined, embarrassed and angered by its treatment, begins to turn on Mr. Paterson.

Finally it all fell apart. Caroline Kennedy, perhaps fed up by the dilatory game Mr. Paterson was playing, and certainly not relishing her role as the moribund mouse being boxed around by the powerful cat, drops out. Gone. The governor’s people blame Ms. Kennedy for the fiasco, Kennedy’s aides blame Mr. Paterson for his ineptitude, and voters, at that very moment, rise up and say, ‘What the hell are you doing, Governor? You’re an incompetent dunce.’ The electorate, almost unanimously, had decided that Ms. Kennedy was mistreated and used, and immediately abandoned Mr. Paterson. His approval rating now stands at 19%.

State business at this writing is paralyzed: there’s a $14 billion shortfall in the state budget, and an additional $5 billion deficit in the MTA [NY subway, buses and trains] budget. Nothing’s been settled for months, amidst endless bickering, acrimony and disagreement. There is one certainty though: David Paterson is finished. Andy Cuomo, if he desires, would win the Democratic primary next year in a cakewalk. And, take a look at this recent poll: the disgraced ‘John’ himself, Eliot Spitzer beats Basil Paterson in a hypothetical run-off, 54%-39%.
A word of advice to my readers: don’t move to New York. It just doesn’t work.

An Empty Frame – Mr. Gripes, not one to let go of his rancor, finds that the further he moves away from the financial meltdown of fall 2008, the angrier he feels at the behavior of the individuals who, as custodians of the American financial system, chose collectively to violate the implicit trust of 330 million citizens. Let’s just take a quick glance at some of the rogues’ gallery:

We’ll start with Ronald Reagan, whose creed that “The government is the problem,” set off the war cry of those rock-head free-marketers that regulation would destroy free enterprise; Bill Clinton and George Bush, at the behest of their ungodly wealthy backers on Wall Street, accelerating the pace of a ‘see-no-evil’ regulatory climate; Alan Greenspan, who confessed to be shocked – shocked! – that CEOs of institutions might place self-interest over the well-being of the companies they were running. [An aside is warranted here: that statement offers proof that Mr. Greenspan never in his life had to actually get his hands dirty making money in a real blood-and-guts business.]; The senior executives of Wall Street investment firms and banks who certainly knew better but allowed their judgments to be blinded by enormous quarterly profits and spiking stock prices. There are so many to blame: at the bottom certainly are the mortgage brokers passing on fraudulent applications, and clueless homebuyers, so eager to own a house they thought nothing of taking on 12% mortgages.

All the various robber barons and sleaze-balls ought to have their mug shots put up at the post office under the rubric, ‘Wanted for Stealing America Blind.’ That’s not going to happen in this great land of no accountability. And, I don’t think public shame works either, as most of the big shots that ran this casino are sitting at home with $25-, $50-, $100-, $200-million in the bank.

There’s one picture frame, though, on the post-office bulletin board that’s empty, regrettably, and the villains missing are conceivably responsible for the entire debacle: the credit-ratings agencies. Just think: this catastrophe could have been prevented if one of the three powerhouse ratings agencies actually did its job properly: early in the game if one of those toxic AIG debt instruments, loaded as they were with worthless subprime loans, had been classified as ‘junk’, there would be no crisis. The house-of-cards that was allowed to build on itself and ultimately unleash the hydrogen bomb would have been stopped in its tracks.

Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, and those three alone, determine the creditworthiness of 98% of corporate and municipal bonds sold to the public. Incredibly, they’ve got off scot-free. No real recriminations or penalties whatsoever. And, my goodness, the mistakes they made in the past decade have been gargantuan:

● Lehman bonds were rated an ‘A’ rating – meaning they were a safe investment – right up to September 15, the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy.

● Enron’s debt was deemed creditworthy, and given stamps of approval from the three agencies four days before the company collapsed. It was discovered subsequently that Enron was essentially a criminal enterprise who lost billions of its investors’ and employees’ money.

● AIG’s creditworthiness was rated ‘AA’ right up to the day AIG had to deliver billions of collateral to its customers. It couldn’t, and as of this writing has needed $185 billion to keep afloat.

To a layman, it’s unconscionable that the three companies are even permitted to remain in business, much less flourish. And flourish they will: grading the securities that will be forthcoming out of the Geithner toxic-asset sell-off plan will be – guess who? – Fitch, S&P and Moody’s. They’ll earn $400 million for their labors. For once, Mr. Gripes is momentarily speechless.

Just one more point, and I’ll wrap this up: the business model for ratings agencies is grievously flawed. Each of the three companies is paid by the very institutions whose bonds they’re classifying: objectivity, and that’s the sine qua non in a bond determination, is impossible. An example: Lehman contracts S&P to classify a mortgage securities pool, and S&P comes back with a ‘junk’ rating for the bond. Lehman may pay S&P for this single transaction, but will be very leery of bringing any other similar bond to S&P for a rating. That means lost business for S&P, and lost revenue. Thus, S&P, for its own self-preservation and profit, will inevitably view that type of bond in a more favorable light. That, in essence, is how the system broke down. It’s no different than the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: the contradiction between the dual missions of these institutions -- a stockholder-owned, for-profit enterprise versus a public charter mandated by the government – will always create destructive distortions, and the institutions eventually must collapse. Let the government set up its own ratings agency, and take the profit motive out of the ratings game.