Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Part of "Guilty" Don't You Understand?

Bernard Madoff has not made the cut for any of my Chutzpah of the Week awards basically because, regardless of the magnitude of his fraud, there was a certain banality (or, perhaps, to avoid connotations of Hannah Arendt, I should turn to Daniel Mendelsohn's latest New York Review piece and call it banalisé, as in "rendered quotidian, everyday, normal") about his actions. It has only been with the rendering of a verdict that his true capacity for chutzpah has surfaced. Here is how the story broke on the BBC NEWS Web site:

Last week, Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty to all 11 charges against him when he appeared in a New York court last week

He was remanded to jail until his sentencing in June.

But Madoff's lawyers have argued to a US appeals court he should be released as he had not fled while under house arrest at his Manhattan penthouse.

This bears some family resemblance to one of the classic paradigms of chutzpah: the man who kills both his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the Court on the grounds that he is an orphan. It goes without saying that, having been found guilty, Madoff should not take the comfort of his penthouse for granted. However, that penthouse offers more than comfort; it also offers virtually uncontrolled connectivity. As prosecutors try to investigate who else (including immediate family) may have been involved in Madoff's scheme, we have been treated with accounts of his efforts to move around large assets through his computer without ever having to leave the penthouse. Having established Madoff's guilt, the Court has a certain responsibility to his victims to make sure that he does not do further damage; and confining him in a way that deprives him of his connectivity resources seems like a step in the right direction. The Appeals Court probably appreciates this factor by replying that they will make a decision "in due course." Meanwhile, Madoff finally gets his Chutzpah of the Week Award for his last-minute ploy to maintain business as usual in the face of his guilty verdict!

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