Why Not Treat Bankers Like Football Players?

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The media and the country is agog over the four game suspension meted out to Tom Brady for the crime of deflating footballs.  Brady and the Patriots cheated to win the Superbowl, but the most that they will “pay” is that Brady will be absent for the first four games of the upcoming season.

I can’t blame the Patriots or their owners, or their fans for being outraged.  People in politics and finance have done far worse, wrecking the economy and destroying countless lives, and gotten away clean.  Why punish a successful athlete who “did what it takes” to win?

Which brings me to a modest proposal.  Treat bankers like athletes.  No one really thinks that those fund managers and Bank executives who cynically manipulated (deflated?) mortgages and other products and defrauded investors  will ever pay any price or go to prison.  Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein and others are going to live out their lives as very rich men.  So why not “suspend” them?  Close Bank of America for four months, or four weeks, or four days, even.  Annoy customers (I’m one of them) and inconvenience thousands.  Maybe then, people will get angry enough to ask why petty criminals go to prison, and wealthy criminals in nice suits go to the Hamptons.

Einstein of the Ring

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Ok.  The Boxing Rabbi made his comments about the obscene display of idolatry and wealth-worship at the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.  Now to the actual fight.

The reason many viewers found it boring is that Mayweather is a consummate counter-puncher.   The counter-puncher is by definition not aggressive, he waits for his opponent to make a move and then “counters” with a move designed to exploit the opening that appears.  (Every punch leaves the puncher exposed, it is a basic principle of boxing).  The counter-puncher is usually faster and smarter than his typical opponent; he is able to “read” the punches and react before the other guy knows what is happening.  Because the counter-puncher reacts, rather than initiates, the fight is usually more slow-paced.

But there is more.  Mayweather is not just a counter-puncher.  He is a genius.  He has been gifted by God with a genius that boxing has not seen since Muhammad Ali.   He is not only faster and bigger than many of his opponents, he is way, way, way, way smarter.   He is smarter than me.  He is likely smarter than you.   His ability to assess and react with lightening speed is uncanny.  Imagine playing chess but your opponent is throwing chess- pieces at you while making a move-Mayweather is able to catch the flying chess-piece and make a brilliant counter move at the same time.

I’m not sure Floyd Mayweather is a good man.  Many boxers actually are, but Mayweather beats women, and that, in my mind, makes him a violent criminal rather than an elite athlete.  The fact that he is excused for his behavior (which got him jailed) while other athletes are hounded out of their sports is one of the puzzles of our media-soaked age.  His situation is not atypical-there are dozens and dozens of really bad men (and women) who walk free and are even admired for their savvy and business acumen, despite having stolen millions, if not billions.  Mayweather is one of many in our society who pay too little a price for the injury they cause others.  He is not a particularly good man, but when it comes to boxing, he is the only genius.

Boxing as Metaphor

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In the end, the fight was boring.  Despite the efforts of second rate announcers to inject excitement (sorry Jim Lampley but you are not Don Dunphy, and Max Kellerman, you are not A.J. Liebling) the fight was a sorry mess.  Floyd and Manny lunged at each other and tangled arms and necks for 12 rounds, and in the end, it appeared to me that the two “warriors” just wanted to hop into their private planes and go home to their mansions.

That was the problem all night.  The gap between the .01% of America and the rest of us could not have been clearer.  For almost two hours we were treated to the spectacle of a parade of the wealthiest Americans strutting proudly down a red carpet (no, I’m not kidding) and enjoying 200k seats right up front.  The announcers seemed to work not for HBO and Showtime but for People Magazine and Tiger Beat as they breathlessly squealed with joy at the sight of Donald Trump and Tom Brady (who also was at the Kentucky Derby yesterday).  The culmination came when they delayed the fight so more people could shell out the 100 bucks to buy it on cable.  The only nice moment was when they interviewed Denzel Washington who seemed embarrassed and uncomfortable and clearly just wanted to get back to his seat and enjoy a beer.

The late A.J. Liebling (the real one) used to write of boxing as a metaphor for the complex class system in society, as the wealthy “swells” descended into the smoky halls and clubs to mingle with the ordinary folks, if only for one night.  Now, we make no pretense that the astronomically wealthy elite and the ordinary, struggling people even share the same planet.

The Rabbi Reform Jews should revere-but few even know his name

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The Jewish world lost a giant today, with the death of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein at the age of 81.

Rabbi Lichtenstein was the head of the Etz Hayyim Yeshiva, which is located in the settlement of Alon Shvut, in the West Bank.  Rabbi Lichtenstein was an Orthodox religious Zionist, who believed that Jews should be allowed to live on the West Bank, as it was part of biblical Israel.   He was the most respected leader of what would come to be called “Modern Orthodoxy” and his influence is felt today in such institutions as Yeshivat Hovevei Torah, the forward-thinking Orthodox Rabbinical school founded by Avi Weiss.  He was also the most powerful and respected voice for demanding that religious Jews live according to the highest ethical and moral standards, including in the treatment of the Palestinians and in the conduct of war.  He courageously took on other rabbinic authorities who he felt were distorting the moral nature of halakhic Judaism.  Every Reform Jew should know his name, and revere his memory.

He’s no Jonas brother

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The business news reports today that Bernard Bernanke, former Fed Chairman, will be accepting a senior position at a major Wall Street Hedge Fund firm.

I am old enough to recall a time when some prominent men (and they were mostly men, back then) considered it unseemly to “cash in” on their period of national service.  At most, they would accept a university position and teach for the remainder of their careers.

Now, it would be astonishing if a prominent official did not trade on their prominence and more importantly, their connections to make vast fortunes in the private sector.  Actually this is one of the last truly “bipartisan” actions today-everyone does it regardless of affiliation.

I seem to recall that Dr Jonas Salk refused to sell the polio vaccine that he discovered, believing that it would be immoral to personally enrich himself from it-he literally gave it away.

How quaint.

Like the old joke goes, yes, adultery is still in there

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When the Boxing Rabbi was about 16 or so, we rented a house in Marblehead, Mass for the summer.  The owners had left a shelf of Reader’s Digest “Condensed Books” on one shelf, and to this bored, restless adolescent, it provided some diversion for what seemed an unending two months.  During that summer, I must have read twenty novels or so, of which I can only recall two- “Seven Days in May” and “The Man” -which imagined a future when America had a black president.  (In that novel, the only way a black man would become president was if the President, the Vice President, and the Speaker of the House all died, which happens in the first five pages).

I mention this only because I read today that John E Walsh has died.  Mr Walsh was the author of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Bible-which I never knew about because by the time it appeared we had switched rental homes.

According to his obituary, Mr Walsh eliminated about 40 percent of the Hebrew Bible and 25 percent of the New Testament.  The goal was to make the Bible more accessible to readers.  However, all ten commandments are still in there, so no need to rush out to grab a copy.

Today in the Boxing Gym it was not about Boxing

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As readers of this blog may know, I train in a gym whose membership is primarily African-American.

This morning, groups of men continually gathered and spoke in quiet tones about the horrific video of a South Carolina police officer shooting a black man running away from him.

The conversation was mournful and serious.  At one point, one member remarked, “it really does seem that they are trying to kill us”.  Another replied, “Are there simply too many of us for them to tolerate”?

The year is 2015, just days after Easter.  Today in the gym it was not about boxing.