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Grand Gestures…

HandingMoney.jpgSo today, Jake DeSantis of AIG publicly resigned, on the Op-Ed page of today’s Times. Publishing his letter of resignation, and describing what he would do with his “post-tax retention payment” (read: bonus) was an admirable act. But it made me mad anyway.

DeSantis rightly points out that he and people like him are being made into whipping boys by government officials with a need for easy scapegoats (read: Congress, Cuomo, Blumenthal) and by their own corporate officers (read: Edward Liddy).  It’s true: the bonuses offered to AIG employees – heinously disproportionate as they may be – are tiny droplets compared to the financial tsunami that has engulfed us all.

But as we all know, when the going gets tough, the finger-pointing gets going, and DeSantis’s letter eloquently summarizes what it’s like to be on the other end of the finger-pointing – despite his assertion that he and his colleagues had nothing to do with the credit default swap transactions that unhinged AIG and the financial industry. 

I feel for the guy; I really do. It can’t be enjoyable to hear yourself – even in the abstract – be pilloried by all and sundry; to know that you have become a symbol of excess and greed, even though your life story is, if not quite rags to riches, a real “American Dream” story. 

DeSantis admits that his hard work has allowed him to profit “more than most” in the economic boom, so that his family will be insulated from loss in a way that many others will not be. I’m sure that in the boom years, he and his family gave generously to a variety of variety of charitable and cultural institutions, so that those organizations too have benefited from his economic success: the “trickle-down” in practice.

And, in fact, his generosity will continue, now that the bust is upon us, because he’s going to give away whatever is left of his “post-tax retention payment” after the government figures out what it’s going to do with/to his money.

How much is that post-tax retention payment? He is very precise: $742,006.40.

Once he gives us that amount, however, whatever sympathy I had for his predicament (and it wasn’t much) evaporates like public support for financial bailouts.

He’s right: it’s not fair that he and his blameless colleagues have become public whipping boys for the excesses and dishonesty of corporate culture. It’s not fair that those who created this crisis seem to be skating away to their coastal villas and gated communities relatively unscathed. It’s not fair that Edward Liddy approved the bonuses for AIG employees several months ago and then last week said the bonuses were “distasteful.”  Hell, for that matter, it’s not fair that Barack is drawing so much heat for not being able to fix in two months what it took the Bushies eight years to create.

But why is it fair that DeSantis can feel entitled to a bonus check that is more than I will make in six years combined, before taxes? So he works “10, 12, 14 hours a day” – but so do many, many of the people I know and not one of them makes anywhere near that amount of money – and probably never will.

I do understand that railing at these AIG bonuses is really beside the point but, as I said in an earlier post, I love a metaphor, and these bonus checks create an irresistible metaphor: about corporate greed, about a society that values materiality rather than humanity, about capitalism’s inability to regulate itself…

And of course, in seeing this metaphor, I am forced also to confront my essential petty nature: I can’t feel bad for this guy, despite respecting his decision to give away the money and admiring the guts it must have taken to go public with this letter.

Because, c’mon, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make such a grand gesture? To say, in order to make a point, that you’re going to give away close to three-quarters of a million dollars – of your own money? Not grant money, not foundation money, not money on some budget line somewhere. Your money. Just to make a point?

Seeing as how grand gestures are a bit beyond me at the moment (and not having access to the op-ed page of the Times to air my views), I have to settle for a little blogsophere sputtering and a confession: I have a bad case of populist outrage.

I’m not sure there’s a cure.

Continue Reading · on March 25, 2009 in Uncategorized


cheesebook.jpgOn New Year’s Day evening, Husband presented me with one last gift – a book about my favorite thing. Not sex, not children, not yoga: cheese.

I grew up in the midwest, okay, northern Illinois, where basically it’s not a meal without a dairy product. Before the big-box stores took over, there were huge fields surrounding the town where I grew up – and those fields were full of cows.  

Northern Illinois borders Wisconsin – more cows, more cheese. Thus the fans of the Green Bay Packers are called “cheeseheads” and are frequently spotted with foam-rubber swiss cheeses on their heads.This is not entirely due to the presence of cheese in their lives. It’s just that it’s so damn cold there in the winter that all semblance of reason flees to Boca until about May.

So, yes, cheese. The first time I went to Holland, I stayed with friends in Maastricht, and when my hostess pulled out the tupperware container of cheeses for breakfast, along with a basket of warm bread, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

My husband likes cheese but doesn’t quite understand how, or why, one would easily – happily – make a meal of cheese and crackers, or cheese and apples, or cheese and pretzels. Or just some slices of cheese. It is an act of love that he’s given me this book: American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses: Who Makes Them and Where to Find Them. It was written by Clark Wolf, who is friends with all those California food pioneers: Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, etc etc.

The book has great pictures of goats and cows and cheese-makers and, of course, cheese, but it also has recipes: three different recipes for mac and cheese (including one made with three-peppercorn goat cheese); Kentucky spoon bread with goat cheese and country ham; oven-roasted raclette with sausage, potatoes, and pickled green tomatoes; chipotle-blue cheese dressing; cheddar cheese and poblano chile soup with crisp cheese crackers…

Some of the recipes are way more complicated than I am capable of at this point in my culinary career (I made sloppy joes for dinner. On hamburger buns. There was no side dish. My children had leftover pizza. Abysmal).

This book must be on a cardiologist’s Most Wanted list, however: the mac and cheese recipe, for instance, calls for butter, milk, heavy cream, and two cups of goat cheese – and the chef recommends serving the dish with slices of fried aged cheddar.

Do you think that this book is perhaps a bit of a Trojan horse? That in the guise of feeding my cheese addiction my husband may be trying to kill me with butterfat?

Maybe. But what a way to go.


Note unrelated to cheese, other than cheesy self-promotion: I’ve got another post in the NYC Moms Blog. Click here to read it.

Continue Reading · on January 1, 2009 in Uncategorized

The Dress…

Thumbnail image for redrealdresss_thumb.jpgIt’s been four days since The Election and mirabile dictu, Barack is still president. No Rovian chicanery has caused a recount in some Ohio district, no “non-activist” judge has reinterpreted the amendments that allow women and African Americans to vote.  So that’s a relief, eh?

There are some rumblings among public school parents in NYC, of which I am one, about rumors that Barack is thinking about nominating Joel Klein (NYC Chancellor of Schools) as Secretary of Education. Klein is a high-handed autocrat who relies far too heavily on test scores as a measure of “accountability;” he cuts the school budgets at the whim of the mayor – while spending millions and millions of dollars on meaningless surveys that are expensively printed and mailed to every single public school parent in the city. There’s more to complain about, but this post is not going to be railing about NYC’s public schools. That would take an infinite number of blog posts plus my head would explode.

Instead – well, on this gloomy wet New York day, I’m going to weigh in on something infinitely more profound: The Michelle Obama Grant Park Dress Debate.

It was hideous. Maybe in person, or at a cocktail party, or on Project Runway, that red-and-black dress would be totally hot and fashion forward. But under the lights, on TV, and in front of 125,000 people? Uh…no.

Critics of the dress, however, have overlooked the truly horrible aspect of this Narcisco Rodriguez creation. The dress is at the top of this post – now look at this:
BlackWidowSpider.jpgSee that red double triangle?


Is that the image the new first lady should be projecting? Methinks not.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still walking on air about Obama’s election and would willing give just about anything (first born? second born? Husband? all three?) to be able to attend any of the inaugural parties – or even to stand in the cold in DC and watch on some Jumbotron somewhere as Barack gets sworn in

(FYI: Inauguration Day? Also my birthday. Makes getting that much closer to 50 almost okay.)

Let’s just hope that this dress is the last time Michelle uses an arachnid as her fashion consultant. Maybe Tim Gunn could volunteer his services?


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Continue Reading · on November 8, 2008 in Uncategorized

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