Tuesday, December 23, 2008

There is no greater sin than desire

Central Park lantern in the snow. 5:00 PM. Photo:JH.
There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough
Will always have enough.

I picked this up from the Comments section
of a blog called Cassandra Does Tokyo whose subheading is “Mostly original content that examines financial surreality in equity markets in general, and the Japanese stock markets in particular.” The entry, made this past Sunday, was titled: “The Happiest Man In the World ...?!?” I found Cassandra through one of my favorite web sites, Naked Capitalism.

Naked Capitalism is the weblog of a woman named Yves Smith and it is about the financials. It is an agglomeration of opinions, analyses of financial news, and commentary, along with an excellent Comments section. The Comments demonstrates an intelligent, perspicacious and at times witty readership. You learn. NC also demonstrates the uniqueness of the medium, and the nature of its power. A television panel discussion, newspaper or a magazine could never produce smart discussion that goes on in Naked Capitalism’s Comments section.

Click to order.
Another thing about Naked Capitalism and its readership is, that despite everything that has gone down and is still going down, it is surprisingly upbeat without being naïve or delusionary.

Yves Smith is a woman probably in her 50s or thereabouts who has worked in the financial industry much of her life. If she hasn’t, then it doesn’t matter how long she has been in the business. Her inner mantra is common sense with the occasional promise of wisdom. There is something very Zen about it all. One is provoked to “think,” a nudging process no longer common.

All that aside, back to the business of Enough is Enough and Happiness, etc. In New York, at least in the world that we cover in the New York Social Diary, everyone is talking or thinking about the catastrophe of Madoff and his merry band of thieves. I say Merry Band because it is becoming clearer now that the dust is settling that the man wasn’t doing this all by his lonesome. There were others. Others who in a police docket might be called accomplices. Last time I heard, accomplices are also considered criminal.

Yesterday’s Diary included a letter from a reader in Houston who recalled the Final Days of Enron and the disaster it created for thousands of people. We know now that Mr. Lay who later took the fall (and conveniently died before going to jail) wasn’t the only one carrying out that Grand Swindle. There were others in on the game. And from what little we have been able to extract from the Enron affair, we know there is much we don’t know, and will never know, including the identities of many of its enablers. I’ll call them enablers for now, although it’s beginning to sound an awful lot like partners (or accomplices). There are all kinds of partners – junior, senior, silent. I don’t know who they are, but they do.

In the beginning it was all about Madoff. The mastermind. But was he a one-man band? Charles Ponzi, the man for whom the scheme/swindle is named, certainly wasn’t and his scheme was ricky-ticky compared to Madoff.

Which brings me back to Cassandra’s Commenter’s poetic lines of real life. We are now entering the end of the year holiday week. It will be longer this year with Christmas and New Years right in the middle of each week. A lot of New York goes away for the holidays. Schools are out. Things quiet down. It is restful (although potentially dull around NYSD-land). Everything slows. Michael’s, my luncheon haunt, closes through the Monday after New Years -- to give you an idea of how slow it gets.

However, we know we are living in tremulous if not quite turbulent times, and we know the headlines will have more in store about Madoff & Co. We know we will hear of more terrible financial pain and fears and anxiety. And maybe more Madoffs. Even President-elect Obama has said several times in public, “things will get worse before they get better.” That is a simple remark, plain and clear. It is worth hearing. So are the lines from Cassandra’s column, so I’ll repeat them since the shoe fits for a lot of us:

There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough
Will always have enough
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