Madoff Raised a Tragedy

Bernie Madoff Mugshot
Today it was announced that Mark Madoff, the son of Bernie Madoff, apparently hanged himself in his New York City apartment. His father was arrested two years ago today.

There are accusations about whether or not Mark Madoff and his brother had knowledge about what their father was doing and whether or not they benefited from it. But it was Mark and his brother who turned in their father.

We do not know what other dark clouds Mark Madoff was facing, but it is easy to see that his life was changed by the actions of his father. Add to that the albatross from his own choice to betray his father. Unfortunately, Mark Madoff’s children now carry their father’s burdens, even though Mark’s wife worked to lessen the connection to their grandfather by changing their last name. According to reports today, Mark Madoff’s two-year-old son was sleeping in the bedroom next to the room where Mark hanged himself. One’s heart goes out to the family, despite the suffering created by Bernie Madoff himself. I cannot help but wonder how Bernie Madoff feels about all of the tragedy he has wrought on so many lives, including his own sons.

Bruce Springsteen has written several songs touching on the father-son relationship, borne out of his own troubles. The lyrics to “Adam Raised a Cain” seem relevant here: “They fit you with position/ And the keys to your daddy’s Cadillac./ In the darkness of your room,/Your mother calls you by your true name.” It is unfortunate that the sins get passed on from generation to generation.

You’re born into this life paying,
for the sins of somebody else’s past,
Daddy worked his whole life, for nothing but the pain,
Now he walks these empty rooms, looking for something to blame,
You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames,
Adam raised a Cain.

In one of his most beautiful songs, “Long Time Comin’,” Springsteen sings one of the best wishes a parent could have for a child. In a single line, he gently erases the curse of “Adam Raised a Cain.”

“Well if I had one wish for you in
this God forsaken world, kid
It’d be that your mistakes will be your own.
That your sins will be your own”

On this cold winter day, may your sins be your own.

Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo via public domain.

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    Army of Shadows vs. Inglourious Basterds

    When watching Army of Shadows recently, I could not help comparing it to Inglourious Basterds.  It might not be fair to compare Army of Shadows’s realistic portrayal of the French Resistance to the Nazi-killing fantasy, but let’s do it anyway.

    There was something disorienting about the way that Quintin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds glorified violence while also portraying the enemy as a regime that glorified violence.  The movie is supposed to be fun, and I understand that.  I love some of Tarantino’s violent movies, like Pulp Fiction.  And Inglourious Basterds had some excellent scenes, with Tarantino doing an outstanding job of portraying building tension in the opening farmhouse scene and in the scene in the bar.  But I just could not fully enjoy a movie where we were supposed to root for a sadistic character (played by Brad Pitt) against sadistic Germans when it almost seemed the Pitt character would have fit just as well in a Nazi uniform instead of a U.S. uniform had he been born in Germany.

    By comparison, one cannot imagine the “heroes” of Army of Shadows working for the Nazis, even though we see those characters doing acts of violence in a much darker movie.  Army of Shadows portrays members of the French Resistance in day-to-day activities to survive and continue the movement.  The movie seems to show what it was really like to resist a totalitarian powerful authority like the Nazis.  The individual’s struggle is to keep the resistance alive in the shadows while betrayal lurks around every corner.

    There is no large-scale successful destruction of Nazis in Army of Shadows, and, in fact, you do not see any successes toward stopping the government.  But the main characters are still heroic in their existential struggle to continue in spite of the appearance that everything is doomed.  In the movie, Resistance leader Phillipe Gerbier (played by Lino Ventura) speaks of facing death but might as well be speaking of the movement itself when he says, “It’s impossible not to be afraid of dying.  But I’m too stubborn, to much of an animal to believe it.  If I don’t believe it to the very last moment, the last split second, I’ll never die.”

    The 1969 movie is directed by famed French director Jean-Pierre Melville and based upon a 1940’s novel by Joseph Kessel, which in turn was based on Kessel’s experiences in the Resistance.  The book appears to be out of print, and the movie only made it to the U.S. a few years ago.  When the movie was released in 1969, French critics campaigned against it.  They believed it glorified the Resistance and Pres. Charles de Gaulle (although the movie is not about de Gaulle) during a time when the president was not popular due to his reaction to a 1968 student uprising.  So the film did not do well in France, and it was not released in the U.S. until 2006.  More than five million viewers have watched the trailer of Inglourious Basterds on YouTube while viewers have only seen the trailer there for Army of Shadows less than 35,000 times.  After more than 40 years, it’s time to see this excellent movie you might have missed.

    Bonus Subtitle Note: Yes, for you non-French speakers, Army of Shadows is in French with subtitles, and I understand the “resistance” to foreign movies.  You cannot type on your computer or play with your iPhone while reading subtitles.  I understand.  When I put a foreign movie in my Netflix queue, I often move it down the list as it makes it way toward the top.  But do not miss out on great movies like this one just because you have to read a little, and if you saw Inglourious Basterds, you made it through the German subtitles at points.  If you want to read more about Army of Shadows, the Onion AV Club has a good discussion of the movie here.

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    John Lennon Anniversary News Roundup

    Today is the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death.  Below are some of the interesting stories about the anniversary, ranging from Lennon’s life at the Dakota to speculation about a Beatles reunion.  Follow the links of interest.

    — Back in the days before cable news channels, most of us learned about John Lennon’s death while watching Monday Night Football.  The NY Times Blog has the story behind Howard Cosell’s announcement of Lennon’s death, including a link to hear Cosell and Frank Gifford during a commercial break discussing whether or not to say anything.

    –The Behind the Music blog from the UK and MyKawartha.com from Canada both imagine a world where John Lennon was not killed on the streets of New York three decades ago.

    The Los Angeles Times discusses controversies surrounding Lennon’s classic song, “Imagine.”

    The Atlantic Wire questions whether or not John Lennon was a pacifist.

    Huffington Post reviews the new documentary about Lennon’s final days and the murder, Losing Lennon: Countdown to Murder.

    From Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald has information about the doctor who first saw Lennon at the hospital after the shooting.

    — The New York Times discusses life at the Dakota when John and Yoko lived there. John and Yoko brought sushi to the building’s pot luck dinner, and some neighbors were not happy that the couple owned five apartments in the building.

    Rolling Stone has the never-before-published complete interview with Lennon three days before his death as well as other stories.

    Examiner.com presents the television schedule for upcoming Beatles-related shows through December 16. Among the list, Paul McCartney will be on Saturday Night Live this coming Saturday (Dec. 11).

    MusicRadar.com reports the British tabloids are talking about a possible Beatles reunion — with all four Beatles.

    The most important thing today is to play some of John Lennon’s music. You know the songs you like, so I do not need to tell you what to choose. Just listen to whatever you like, and sing along or maybe dance when nobody is looking. That is the best way to remember his gifts to help us and get us through the nights.

    Leave a Comment below to let us know your memories and/or what is your favorite John Lennon song.

    Steve Earle’s “Ellis Unit One” & Justice Stevens

    Not long after he retired, former United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was in the news for writing a book review, followed by an appearance on 60 Minutes. The attention on Justice Stevens and his changing views on capital punishment remind me of Steve Earle’s haunting song, “Ellis Unit One.”

    In several appearances after he retired, Justice Stevens described how he changed his mind about the death penalty. Over time, he came to conclude, as the New York Times summarized, that the Supreme Court has “created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria.”


    Justice Stevens was on the Supreme Court in 1976 when the Court, in effect, established the modern death penalty.  In 1972, the Court held that the nation’s death penalty laws violated the constitution, but in 1976 the Court upheld new death penalty laws. In those cases and in cases throughout the decades, Justice Stevens voted to uphold the constitutionality of the death penalty. But in his final few years on the Supreme Court, he came to conclude that the death penalty system was unfair and constituted a pointless taking of life that does not serve society.

    At the time, Justice Stevens joined two other U.S. Supreme Court Justices who voted to uphold the death penalty in 1976 but by the end of their careers had changed their minds: Justices Harry Blackmun and Justice Lewis Powell.  More often than one might guess, over time, some who advocated for and implemented the nation’s death penalty — judges, prosecutors, police officers, wardens, legislators, executioners — eventually conclude that the punishment is unfair, racist, useless, risks executing innocent defendants, and that society would be better off replacing the death penalty with life in prison.

    The news about Justice Stevens reminded me of a song that tells one of these stories, Steve Earle’s “Ellis Unit One,” which appeared on the soundtrack for the 1995 movie Dead Man Walking and is one of the most moving songs ever written about the death penalty.  The song is told from the perspective of a prison guard.  The guard describes getting transferred to death row at Ellis Unit One, the Texas prison unit that housed condemned prisoners at the time the song was written.

    The narrator does not say what he thinks about the death penalty. Steve Earle’s genius here is to understand that the description is enough.

    Well, I’ve seen ‘em fight like lions, boys
    I’ve seen ’em go like lambs
    And I’ve helped to drag ‘em when they could not stand.
    And I’ve heard their mamas cryin’ when they heard that big door slam
    And I’ve seen the victim’s family holdin’ hands.

    Many of the judges who have condemned people to death may have had dreams similar to the one described in “Ellis Unit One”: “Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest / And something cold and black pullin’ through my lungs.” Having such a heavy responsibility may haunt one’s dreams, even if the judge is confident in the choice made. Similar dreadful dreams may have led Justices Stevens, Blackmun, and Powell to renounce their earlier decisions.

    When we read about a horrible crime and have the normal initial human reaction to want the perpetrator killed, we often ignore the death penalty system’s toll on the many people it touches, including the guards, the wardens, the judges, the lawyers, the families of the victim, and the families of the condemned.  Whether or not we agree with Justice Stevens, one must acknowledge the costs caused by the continuing use of capital punishment.  While Justice Stevens’s change of heart reveals the legal and practical issues surrounding the death penalty, Steve Earle’s poetic song exposes some of the human toll.

    Bonus Song Information: The reference to “the Walls” in the song is to the nickname for the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas, about twelve miles away from Ellis Unit.  It is where the Texas inmates are executed.

    Bonus Alternate Versions Information:  In addition to the soundtrack version of the song, Earle has another outstanding version that is a demo with The Fairfield Four providing background singing. The Fairfield Four version appeared on the EP Johnny Too Bad and Earle’s collection of random songs from various side projects, Sidetracks. The latter appears to be available as an import, and the former seems hard to find and overpriced for an EP, but you may hear a clip with the Fairfield Four through the “Johnny Too Bad” link.  This version is worth seeking out.  Finally, a live version of the song is on Steve Earle’s Live At Montreux 2005 album.

    One of Cleveland’s favorite son performers, Michael Stanley, also recorded a version of the song. As a former Clevelander I have the required fondness for MSB, but his version is inferior to Earle’s. As his version progresses, he adds instruments and background singers to the point I thought he was going to break into a full-blown uplifting rock song with a last-minute stay of execution. Still, Stanley has good taste in choosing to cover such a great song, and perhaps it merely suffers by comparison to Steve Earle’s excellent versions. And some may prefer Stanley’s voice and his cover. Leave a comment to let me know what version you like.

    Has anyone ever started talking about a Supreme Court Justice and ended up talking about Michael Stanley?

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    Missed Movies: Solitary Man

    There are two types of good movies.  First, there is the movie that you enjoy while you watch it and then never really think about again — until you are flipping TV channels and come across it and think, “Oh yeah, this was good.”  Second, there is the movie that you continue to ponder long after you watch it. The movie may stay with you for any number of reasons.  Maybe a character reminded you of someone. Maybe the movie puzzled you in a good way. Maybe there was a scene you cannot stop thinking about.

    The 2009 movie Solitary Man falls into the latter category for me. The movie features one of Michael Douglas’s great acting roles and is worth it for that alone.  Douglas plays a womanizer and former car dealership owner who sees many of his bad decisions catch up to him. You may not like or admire the character, but he comes across as a real person, not a caricature, and you most likely will want to see what happens next.

    Solitary Man has an excellent cast, including Susan Sarandon and Jesse Eisenberg (recently in The Social Network).  The scenes between Douglas and Danny DeVito are excellent in a way that may only be possible when played by two old friends portraying two old friends.  In the DVD extras, Jenna Fischer (who you might know from The Office) recalls how when she read the script before knowing the cast, she could only think of Michael Douglas in the lead role.  Douglas does such a great job, there is only one other person I could imagine in the role.  As he has aged, Douglas reminds me more and more of his father, Kirk Douglas, who I might also imagine here as Ben Kalmen.

    [I am not giving away much about the ending, but if you plan to see the movie and do not want to know more about it, skip this paragraph.]  The ending of Solitary Man is one reason I keep thinking about the film.  The end is not an exciting explanation point, but more of a small question mark.  I was reminded of a Tom Hanks movie where a lot of people did not like the ending, but I did.  Here, the ending seemed perfect and true to the movie and the character.  If you have seen Solitary Man, you may read more of a discussion of the ending in this interview with the writer/directors.

    Like many movies in my Movies You Might Have Missed series, you should not watch Solitary Man expecting it to be one of the great movies of all time, but it is a small, entertaining, and thoughtful movie that you might enjoy.  I’m surprised that the movie did not get the attention that it deserved.  Some reviews at the time praised the movie as a smaller version of Douglas’s fine work as an aging English professor in Wonder Boys, because of some similarities between the characters.  But the movies are very different, so you should not be expecting Wonder Boys II.

    While Douglas’s Wonder Boys character had more of a slapstick element, Solitary Man seems more grounded in day-to-day reality.  There are moments of humor, but Douglas creates a real character of flesh and blood.  And, even though you may not admire the character, you will see flashes of humanity and real life here. And that is what creates movies you think about long after the screen goes dark.

    Missed Movies is our series on very good movies that many people did not see when first released.

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