Archive for August, 2007

A Simple Math Lesson

Friday, August 31st, 2007

The sub-prime lending crisis is another opportunity for us to test our math skills.

My children never seem to stop asking me the question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Just the other day my daughter and her friend got into an argument as to which was more useful, statistics or calculus. I could resist the urge to say, “They are both important, we use calculus to calculate some very complicated statistics problems.” But, the truth is that the average American tries to avoid math at every opportunity.

The Christian Science Monitor used the ignorance of the American public to create a shocking graph and fear mongering story on the crisis. I don’t understand the reason for this obvious exaggeration of the lending crisis. Maybe its just to sell more papers. Maybe there is another reason. I honestly don’t know. But the graph and the story make it look like the world is crashing down all around us. The truth is bad enough for the people that this crisis effects. Why do we need to create panic among the rest of the people?

First of all lets look at the graph that the Christian Science Monitor published. It can be found here.

I reproduced the graph from the data presented. It looks like this:

This graph gives the impression that housing prices are going up, and then suddenly the bottom has dropped out this year. What the graph really shows is the housing bubble. If you read this graph more closely we see that the graph shows the percent increase from the year before. In a good economic situation we would like all objects to hold real value. We don’t like it when our car gets old and we need to buy a new one. The truth of the matter is that things age and fall apart. Similarly houses age and fall apart. But houses age slowly. Another reality is that inflation is real. In an ideal economic situation a house would be bought at a price, and at some time later it would be sold for the same price taking into account aging and inflation. And, a very low constant inflation rate would be the best situation.

When we move away from the ideal situation we suffer. This is because eventually the market catches up to the reality. This action in the housing market is known as bursting of the bubble. So, if we look at the reality of the situation the way that we all think about this we would come away with a calmer outlook on this crisis. I am not saying that there isn’t a crisis. Obviously people who bought houses last year are actually going to have loans for amounts that are greater than the current value of their home. Similarly many people were swindled into borrowing money that they could most likely never be able to pay back. But, the crisis isn’t as dire as the Christian Science Monitor suggests in this article.

If we look at this same information in the way we normally would we see something much different. We see a house purchased in 1987 for 100% of its 1987 value. We can see the price of the house rise to over 300% of its 1987 value in 2006. Then in 2007 the price of the house falls to 294% of its 1987 value. These questions must be asked: “Is the person who’s house fell in value from 302% to 294% of its 1987 value really suffering very much? Have these people really lost anything that they deserved to have?”

The point here is that if you bought a house last year, and you want to sell it now you might have a problem. However, if you bought your house two years ago or more you have no problem even if you want to sell it today. Your house is worth less than what it was last year, but last year people were willing to pay more than its was actually worth. Most likely they are still willing to pay more than it is really worth, even though it is less than it was recently worth.

This sounds confusing, because people have a hard time realizing that 2007 dollars and 1987 dollars are not necessarily the same. People also don’t always understand percentages. And, in this case “percentage of change in price from the previous year” is not a clear concept. But, the real question is “Why would the Christian Science Monitor want to confuse the general public with this article?”

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Reflection

Say What, Mr. President?!? Interpretation Needed

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Have a look at this from the President and see if you can tell me what he’s trying to say:

Q So you need those Australian troops there.

THE PRESIDENT: We need all our coalition partners. And I would hope that — and I understand, look, everybody has got their own internal politics. My only point is, is that whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq, we’ve got more work to do. We, the free world, has got more work to do. And I believe those of us who live in liberty have a responsibility to promote forms of government that deal with what causes 19 kids to get on airplanes to kill 3,000 students.

The reporter was asking about the 500 Australian troops in Iraq. Did the reporter get a satisfactory answer? Can you tell me how I should interpret what the president did say here?

I’ll leave you with a fine quote from our president as you contemplate your comment to the above:

Freedom yields peace. Asia is peaceful. Why? Because freedom is prevailing, that’s why.

And…it’s peaceful in Iraq because….

Another Rat Jumps The W, Rove and Co Ship: Tony Snow Gets Replaced By A Fair Beauty

Friday, August 31st, 2007

I didn’t catch this on the AM MSM reporting today. Did you?

Apparently, Tony the snow Job has had enough. Good news: Dana Perino is taking over. She is definitely easier on the eyes, as Dave Letterman would say.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good afternoon to you.

Tony Snow informed me he’s leaving. And I sadly accept his desire to leave the White House, and he’ll do so on September the 14th. He is — it’s been a joy to watch him spar with you. He’s smart, he’s capable, he’s witty. He’s capable of — he’s able to talk about issues in a way that the American people can understand.

And I don’t know what he’s going to do — I’m not sure he does yet, either. But whatever it is, it’s going to be — two things: One, he’ll battle cancer and win. And secondly, he’ll be a solid contributor to society.

Have a look at what Tony had to day and see if you believe it…particularly about the statement that it was an enormous amount of fun:

MR. SNOW: Just a couple of quick comments. First, Mr. President, thank you and thanks for the honor of serving. This job has really been a dream for me and a blast. I’ve had an enormous amount of fun and satisfaction, and I’m proud to be working for you, and will continue after I leave working for the White House, to speak out about issues I care about.

And for the second time in the same day, the President leaves a very interesting question unanswered with a “Thank You.”

Q How do you feel about losing everybody?

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all.

As the rats jump the ship, the house of cards that Rove built tumbles.

The Answer Not Given Yields A Most Revealing Question

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Many of you know that W was busy trying to paint some lipstick no the economic pig that’s been growing because the lenders are no longer dolling out bad loans to bad risks. Of course, the usual propaganda spew comes a day late and a dollar short. Remember, this is the Administration that supported the change in Chapter 11 policy that forced a large number of people into very difficulty places.

Even so, I thought the one question that managed to get asked today was rather revealing.

Q Sir, what about the hedge funds and banks that are overexposed on the sub-prime market? That’s a bigger problem. Have you got a plan?

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Thank you? My goodness. Sounds like a good question that a president and his crack team should be able to answer, no?

Adsense Irony

Friday, August 31st, 2007

I was reading about our President’s new plan to bail out mortgage holders who took out those way to good to be true subprime mortagages, when I noticed the Google ad on the side. Talk about your bad timing.

Here’s a hint for you - $250,000.00 for $650 a month isn’t a good deal - its a too good to be true deal.

Deciphering What Is Written On The Bathroom Stall

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

As the blogosphere has sought to digest the meaning of the Larry Craig incident, it has begun to spur a worthwhile debate…one which has been ignored and has lurked in the background in ways eerily similar to the behavior that led to the arrest of the Senator.

Generally speaking, the public is opposed to encountering unexpected or offensive behaviors in public environments…and that is a reasonable concern for those within government to address. Clearly, the opinions regarding which behaviors constitute a nuisance or create the conditions under which to charge an individual with a crime will vary from individual to individual…often dependent upon one’s values, one’s religious beliefs, ands one’s propensity for tolerance. The fact that there are discordant beliefs simply complicates the task for those charged with monitoring such activities.

By and large, citizens believe that law enforcement departments are committed to treating each individual fairly and with the same level of respect for their civil liberties. At the same time, history tells us that this isn’t always the case. Regardless, most citizens afford our law enforcement departments the benefit of the doubt…which is as it should be…but only to a point.

In writing about the Larry Craig situation, I broached the question of whether the targeting of men who have sex with men (I avoid using the term gay because studies indicate that many of the men who participate in these clandestine encounters are married and consider themselves to be heterosexual) receives a level of attention that is commensurate with that given to those who engage in opposite sex liaisons in public locations.

I have asked readers and colleagues to ponder the question and to cite any examples whereby tactics similar to those employed in the Senator’s case are being utilized to charge those engaged in opposite sex public encounters. At the moment, I have not been provided with any such examples…though a few individuals have cited prostitution stings as examples. I have discounted such examples because they constitute a specific crime that is not at play in circumstances like that of Senator Craig…meaning that the individuals charged in men’s restrooms are engaging in consensual sex without the exchange of money (by definition the exchange of money is an act of solicitation), which generally leads to charges of lewd behavior, indecent exposure, or disorderly conduct.

I don’t want to devolve into a legalistic discussion though some basic understandings are required for this debate. Firstly, laws can and do vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so one size doesn’t fit all. Secondly, courts have offered a number of rulings on the subject though no definitive across the board position can actually be derived.

Relevant to this topic, the Senator’s actions constituted disorderly conduct…despite what he may have intended to do. In essence, intention doesn’t necessarily equate with the ability to convict on the lewd behavior charge. The fact that he plead to the lesser charge (disorderly conduct) is evidence of this reality. Further, in some of these cases, the accused have successfully argued that their actions in a closed door stall in a restroom facility cannot equate with disorderly conduct because their actions didn’t actually take place in public. The argument is open to interpretation and it can progress into questions of a fundamental granting of constitutional privacy privileges.

With that said, one can see that the issue is more complex than one might expect. Notwithstanding, it is important to note that the issue isn’t solely one of legality as it is reasonable to consider other factors…such as what the public can legitimately expect upon entering a public restroom. While I am personally opposed to using these restrooms for sexual liaisons, the issue requires a much more comprehensive analysis.

To introduce the other considerations, let me begin with a simple example that will hopefully illuminate my concerns. Suppose one conducted a survey whereby the objective was to gauge the public’s reaction and response to witnessing an apparent sexual encounter in a public restroom. In the study, the respondents witness 50% of the situations involving same sex participants and the other 50% involving opposite sex participants. In both cases, the sex of the participants is obvious, as is the sexual nature of the activity.

The respondents are then confronted as they exit the restroom in order to gauge their reaction as well as what they believe to be the appropriate response from law enforcement. Each respondent is asked to explain what they believe they witnessed to insure that they properly identified the sex of the participants. Once that is determined, they are asked to respond to a multiple choice question outlining the action they believe should be taken.

The first answer is, “While I don’t think they should be doing this in a public restroom, I’m not in favor of it being a crime.” The second answer is, “I think that they should be charged with a crime in the event that a law enforcement officer were to be summoned”. The final answer is, “I think that law enforcement needs to establish a sting operation to target those who might intend to engage in such activity in order to catch and charge them”.

My own belief is that the responses would be skewed towards answer number one with regards to opposite sex participants and towards answer number three with regards to same sex participants. I say as much because it would likely reflect the beliefs held by most Americans…meaning that heterosexual sex is viewed to be more acceptable than homosexual sex. In fact, I would contend that many of the respondents would laugh off the heterosexual activity while many of those witnessing homosexual activity would be outraged.

Therefore, one must ask whether the existing law enforcement actions being conducted in situations similar to that in Minneapolis…which led to the arrest of the Senator…reflect a societal bias with regards to homosexuals. In the absence of similar operations aimed at heterosexual activity, it seems safe to conclude that the treatment is not equal…and is likely reflective of prejudice.

Let me offer an even simpler example to reinforce my argument. All things being equal, a kiss between same sex couples in public will elicit a negative reaction (a moral judgment)…while a heterosexual kiss may elicit no reaction or at worst a negative reaction that such behavior doesn’t belong in public…but rarely a negative moral judgment.

If that same bias is being applied to the actions of law enforcement (and it seems difficult to assume otherwise), we have a problem with selective and unfair discrimination.

Let me share part of a discussion I’ve been involved with on this very topic. The information is from an individual who works with this issue and the men who are being charged with these types of offenses. I am not including his name or the organization as a matter of privacy. While I don’t agree with every point made, I think it provides some important insight into a perspective that is often omitted from discussions of this issue.

Ok. The agency I work for has worked on hundreds of these cases. We have won lawsuits on the matter so I am going to respond to this last post with a few items.

1. Undercover operations have 0 deterrent effect. There is no evidence that sting operations against gay men have a deterrent effect. In fact the opposite is true. When members of the public see uniformed police – THAT is a deterrent. It makes many people feel more safe and if you combine it with signs saying that illegal behavior will be prosecuted or that surveillance is occurring (it doesn’t have to be occurring) then you could argue there is a deterrent goal by the facility. But hiding a police officer does not prevent crime all it does is A. catch criminals or B. invites entrapment by overzealous cops who are frustrated with cautious perpetrators that refuse to take the bait. This is the reality.

2. Charging people is the goal. Police are very politically motivated. Their jobs and their bosses jobs are very much designed around getting rid of undesirables including queers. These operations usually carry a higher charge like in the Craig case where he claimed he had to negotiate it down to a misdemeanor. Charging felonies is about getting queers on the sex offender registry, shaming them in public, or costing them so much money they won’t dare fight the charge in court. We had a case of 770 arrests in 4 months. Almost all were innocent. 50 of the guys got in touch with (agency name omitted) and all were acquitted because the officer refused to show up for court, meaning that he would commit perjury about what he put in the police reports. There is a fine for the charge, a fine for the court fees, attorney fees and sometimes there is a “nuisance abatement” charge so they can take your car which costs hundred to get it back. This is thousands more if you go to court. I repeat. These charges do not deter men or else every cruisy area where there were arrests would see reductions. This is not the case.

3. Police mostly are not responding to public complaints. Police know about cruisy restrooms because of websites and a few public complaints. We have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after FOIA after FOIA and never once have we received a public complaint of public sex. If this is such a big problem, which justifies an undercover operation, there should be some documentation. Nada. In (state omitted), the State Police even called their operations “Bag a Fag” operations and printed T-Shirts saying so. This is the sign of bias not serving and protecting. If there are really people observing public sex (which is rare because most of this activity is committed by guys that do not want to be seen or caught) then a uniformed cop walking in should be able to see the same thing right. Right. But they don’t want to deter it or stumble across it, they want to invite it. They want it to happen. 9 times out of ten these men never get a warning and sent away. They invest so much money and time that they love charging on the first offense, charging high and publicizing the hell out of it.

4. I have trained over 1000 police, some as a condition of our lawsuit and nearly all of them believe that gay sex is so sick they would do anything to root it out. I have had cops say out loud in a training that they would watch two women go at it, send a str8 couple home and bust a gay couple. I have also had cops admit in these trainings that these operations are scams designed to make money and shame people. Some chiefs and some prosecutors won’t honor them at all. In (state omitted) we have shut down many of these when high level chiefs have admitted that uniformed cops are an effective way of dealing with the “problem.”

I think this is invaluable information…information that gives the reader a first hand view of the realities confronted by those who have engaged in such activity and the obstacles they face…but it also provides insight into which methods may be effective in limiting or deterring these activities as well as exposing the possibility that the motivations of those who establish programs like the one found in Minneapolis may be biased and misguided.

It’s difficult to argue in favor of a program that isn’t effective…unless, of course, one is particularly prejudiced against those who are participating in the behavior. If the goal is to extinguish this activity, it appears that these sting operations are less than effective.

Rather than rely upon one source, I consulted a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice titled, “Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places”. The following excerpts are from this lengthy document and they reiterate and reinforce some of the concerns shared in the prior quotation.

There are widely different perspectives on public sexual activity. Some do not believe the behavior constitutes a public safety threat; some view the behavior as a “victimless crime” involving two consenting partners; and some see the behavior as a threat to the community’s “moral decency.” “Impersonal,” “casual,” and “anonymous” sexual behaviors have negative connotations to many people, as they stand in contrast to ideals of romantic love, monogamous relationships, and long-term commitments. Moral overtones pervade discussions of nudity and sexuality, particularly when they address same sex interactions. These judgments often underlie the public’s concern. Community morals and beliefs about how the law should regulate morality will affect how each community addresses the problem. This guide does not adopt any particular moral perspective; it is intended to inform you about the effectiveness and consequences of various approaches to controlling public sexual activity.

Primarily, such activity constitutes nuisance behavior and does not pose a serious threat to community safety.

The responses to public sexual activity can be fraught with difficulty. Charges of harassment, entrapment, bias and discrimination against homosexuals have historically surrounded efforts to address public sexual activity between men. Therefore, it is vital that you objectively analyze the problem so that you develop fair and effective responses.

Certain patterns (e.g., opposite-sex coupling at a “lovers’ lane”) have not been studied empirically, while others (e.g., same-sex contact in public restrooms) have been studied much more extensively. It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.

When apprehended, many offenders may suffer substantial social repercussions, in addition to any criminal justice related consequences that may ensue. Threats to their marriages, friendships, jobs, reputations, and social standing often cause them to try to distract attention from their behaviors by showing exaggerated degrees of respectability, such as strong ties to the religious community or passionate condemnation of homosexuality. The larger the community’s moral objections to public sexual activity mean that participants have much to lose if they are discovered.

Two things are immediately apparent. One, The Justice Department realizes that efforts to limit this type of activity have moral considerations…and that can lead to prejudicial judgments. Two, the fact that same-sex activity is the only activity that has been extensively studied supports my contention that little effort is expended to suppress similar heterosexual activity. It also suggests that a bias has existed for many years with regard to homosexual activity and it has often been targeted.

A lack of privacy may also be the reason for male sexual activity in public restrooms. In particular, men with heterosexual identities may want to conceal their behavior from significant others. Their heterosexual identities also deter them from using other, less-public venues such as gay bars or sex clubs. Some homosexual men also lack the freedom to pursue same-sex partners privately due to family or peer disapproval. A community’s condemnation of homosexuality may drive the behavior to remote, although public, locations, particularly among those exploring their sexuality and not yet connected to the gay community.

Most researchers and practitioners agree that focusing solely on arresting those engaging in public sexual activity is unlikely to reduce the overall scope of the problem. In your response strategy, you should acknowledge that it will be difficult to affect people’s motivations for engaging in the activity. A balanced approach combining enforcement strategies and those targeting environments that support the behavior is most likely to decrease the prevalence of the activity and the public’s concern about it.

Used alone, enforcement efforts are likely to lead to displacement. Although not the most desirable outcome, there is evidence that when displacement does occur, the magnitude of the problem decreases with the move to a new location.

In addition, an exclusive focus on environments in which same-sex interactions occur can result in charges of bias and discrimination. Therefore, you must address the full range of public sexual activity and target particular locations based on objective, justifiable assessments of threats to public safety.

Again, the report confirms many of the same conclusions offered by the party quoted above and with whom I discussed the issue. I view the warnings in the last paragraph to be a tacit acknowledgment that there has been a focus upon same sex encounters. Note the use of the word objective…a word which tells me that the Justice Department has encountered programs that are subjective.

The report proceeds to list a number of possible responses to the presence of illicit sexual activity in public places. The list begins with 17 suggested responses (proactive actions intended to reduce the activity and make locations less favorable meeting places). This is followed by numbers 18 and 19 which are listed under the heading “Responses With Limited Effectiveness”. Those two items are “Using Undercover Decoys” and “Harassing Or Intimidating Suspects”.

18. Using undercover decoys. While using undercover officers to pose as interested parties in illicit same-sex public activity can lead to many arrests, such operations have not had long-term effectiveness in reducing overall activity levels. At best, they temporarily displace the activity to other locations, and the activity usually returns to prior levels once the operations have ceased. Further, given the active role that undercover officers must take to confirm suspects’ intentions, the police may be vulnerable to entrapment claims. In addition, many officers are reluctant to serve as decoys because of the customary behavioral scripts they must follow. Finally, some may see the serious social consequences of the publicity following an arrest as disproportionate to the severity of the offense.

19. Harassing or intimidating suspects. Many who engage in public sexual activity do not want witnesses and try to avoid being seen. Thus, it can be difficult for police to obtain probable cause for an arrest. When the community pressures police to address the problem, officers may resort to harassing or intimidating those observed loitering in parks or rest areas. This approach undermines police integrity, can create tension with the gay and lesbian community and other residents concerned about civil rights, and has not proved particularly effective.

For the most part, the Justice Department document seems to be a reasonably objective discussion of the topic. I interpret the tenor to be impartial and informative…all of which I find rather refreshing given the well-publicized concerns as to the Bush administrations possible inclinations to politicize the department.

When one considers the arguments I’ve presented, in conjunction with the information provided by external sources, a picture begins to emerge. Clearly, there has been an inordinate historical focus upon the pursuit and punishment of those engaged in same sex encounters…likely a derivative of established social norms and values.

Over time, it also appears that there has been a growing awareness that programs to limit public sexual activity need to evolve and to begin incorporating methods that seek to extinguish the behavior as opposed to criminalizing it. That is a positive development.

Regardless, those in positions of authority are still forced to confront the views, opinions, and complaints of the citizens which they serve and/or represent. In so doing, there is likely to remain a focus upon, and a bias against, same sex activities.

Responsible leadership would be wise to approach the sensitive subject with caution, with an emphasis upon deterrence, and with the ample evidence necessary to prevent overreaction and the imposition of prejudicial programs that are simply designed to appease an angry public.

At the same time, the society at large must do its part to foster an environment that doesn’t penalize, ostracize, or marginalize those who are desirous of same sex relationships. Simultaneously, closeted gays must summon the courage to come out in order to foster greater understanding in the society…and more importantly…to allow themselves to experience the healthy and meaningful relationships they may feel are unattainable in a judgmental environment.

As I’ve explored this topic, I cannot help but acknowledge the irony found in the opposition to same sex marriage or its equivalent. Truth be told, those who decide to vilify homosexuality may actually do more harm by acting to oppose the recognition of such relationships…a fact that may well be evidenced by the behavior of the Senator and many others.

Clearly, people are entitled to oppose homosexuality. At the same time, denying homosexuals the opportunity to establish meaningful and recognized unions seems to contribute to the damage that can be done to decent human beings…individuals who seek little more than the same acceptance and rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that adults who participate in same sex sexual activities in public locales aren’t culpable for their actions or that they are entitled to interpret opposition to same sex relationships as a justification for their suspect behavior. Nonetheless, I contend one cannot be discussed in the absence of the other.

In the end, if we’re truly a nation which prides itself upon its compassion and its affinity for Christian values, why would we be so careless as to refuse to extend these considerations to our fellow citizens? It’s an inconsistency worth pondering.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Heckuva Quote Brownie

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Katrina Debacle. The Disaster-in-Chief made his annual photo op pilgrimage to tell the good people of the Gulf Coast how gosh darn lucky they are to live in America and worship him as the one true Emperor of the land. The hysterical laughter and rotten tomatoes to the forehead didn’t seem to detract from the celebration one bit.

All the talk about the Gulf Coast has made it clear we’ve moved past the post-mortem of what happened and straight into the just plain mortem that follows. Bob Edwards carried a fascinating interview yesterday with two reporters from the Wall Street Journal who’ve written a book about the whole affair. Needless to say, it was chock full of dramady, pratfalls, and good old-fashioned bumbling ineptitude - think Letters to Penthouse transformed into Letters to FEMA.

They discussed plenty of interesting nuggets…nuggets of, well, nuggets of about what you’d expect of the Wrecking Crew. But buried in the interview was one item that stuck out. It was a quote that summed up Katrina and every moment of the Bushmaster’s presidency and that quote came, surprisingly, from Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown. He presented this wonderful metaphor to the world when questioned about why things went so horribly wrong and what his part may have been. The goes like this:

“What you have to remember is that I wasn’t a crony - I was a crony of a crony.”

From the “Gee, do ya think?” file…

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Duh!

Real People Doing Real Things To Help Real People

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

The good thing about America is that when you can’t depend on your government, you can depend on the people of America.

While the president is busy providing excuses, placating his audiences by citing statistics and pontificating about how wonderful he and his administration are, there are actually real people out there. Doing real things to help real people.

Watch this:

The tragedy is thus: For some reason we can muster billions of dollars to spend on Iraq, but we can’t fix NOLA in two years or less.

The Queen Of Mean Is Still Pulling Strings

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

In truth, I could care less about the estate of Leona Helmsley…but upon reading some of the instructions from her will on the internet this morning, I had to comment about the person that would leave these details and directives. Given the terms of the will, Helmsley, known unaffectionately as “The Queen Of Mean”, lived up to her nickname…even after her death.

NEW YORK - Leona Helmsley’s dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley’s grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire’s estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father’s grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer’s other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for “reasons that are known to them,” she wrote.

“I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley mausoleum,” Helmsley wrote in her will.

The mausoleum, she ordered, must be “washed or steam-cleaned at least once a year.” She left behind $3 million for the upkeep of her final resting place in Westchester County, where she is buried with her husband, Harry Helmsley.

She also left her chauffeur, Nicholas Celea, $100,000.

OK, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that its a free country and Helmsley was entitled to do as she saw fit. I’ll even give her the benefit of the doubt and agree that she actually worked to earn some of the money held in her estate. Beyond that, I’m not sure I can find any other redeeming remarks to make about a woman who obviously spent the better part of her life angry, bitter, and vindictive.

No doubt Helmsley’s will was designed to fulfill each and every intention found in the expression, “her reach extended beyond the grave”. Such rancor is not only reprehensible, it is a restive reminder of a woman who apparently lacked the ability to see beyond her own self-absorbed persona…a woman who defined her worth solely in terms of wealth…and likely used that wealth to manipulate all those who came within striking distance of the virtual viper.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that Helmsley was a fool…perhaps a judgment I have no authority to make…but one I’ll proceed to offer with the confidence that my conclusion won’t be challenged by a long line of Helmsley apologists and defenders.

Assuming the reports are accurate that the estate was worth approximately $2.5 billion…the money designated for friends, family, her chauffeur, her canine confidante, and, of course, the upkeep of her granite gravesite…is as best I can tell a paltry sum of just over 35 million, not even two percent of her estate.

In fact, the money spent on her final resting place…when combined with the funds designated for its upkeep as well as the dollars left to her dog…almost matches all the money she left to living relatives.

To understand my calling Helmsley a fool, one story will suffice to illustrate my assertion. A few years back, Helmsley decided to relocate the remains of her husband. The decision was precipitated when the cemetery elected to construct a large group mausoleum that obstructed the view from the family plot.

Leona Helmsley, for years the imperious head of a multibillion-dollar real estate and hotel empire, will spend eternity in a $1.4 million suburban mausoleum with a magnificent view, alongside her beloved husband, Harry.

She previously moved her husband’s remains after becoming dissatisfied with his old neighborhood.

The expansive family mausoleum at Woodlawn was memorably described as a “tomb with a view,” but the sweeping vista disappeared when a public mausoleum — potentially filled with those “little people” who paid taxes — went up nearby three years ago.

An irate Leona called the new construction “a disgrace,” and resolved to relocate the remains of her husband and her son, Jay Panzirer.

She purchased a piece of land in Sleepy Hollow to construct a new mausoleum — and quickly alienated her husband’s new, living neighbors. A wooded section of the cemetery was stripped clean of trees in summer 2005.

The new construction lacked permits, and village officials quickly shut down the project, Zegarelli said.

The two sides worked out their differences — fines were paid and donations were made by the Helmsley group to repair some of the damage. Last August, the mausoleum was approved for the reinterment.

Please note the final paragraph…the one in which the true nature of Helmsley is exposed. Specifically, in the words, “fines were paid and donations were made”, the essence of Helmsley is revealed. Unwilling to see beyond her own desires and demands and unable to resolve issues amenably…Helmsley relied upon her money to buy the cooperation and congeniality of those she encountered.

Unfortunately, such a strategy rarely works with ones own family members…and the fact that she disinherited two of her grandchildren affirms that reality. Regardless, even in death Helmsley held fast to her beliefs and left the vast majority of her wealth to charity…and in so doing she confirmed herself to be a fool. Let me explain.

Anyone who has been around fundraising or worked with charitable organizations knows that those charged with the task of finding and finagling the necessary financial backing are masterful manipulators…and I say as much with no malice since it is a required skill. In my estimation, those who are successful at fundraising must be regarded as capable and competent pseudo-psychologists…and they must have the patience of Job.

Sadly, all too often, people like Helmsley succumb to the serendipitous swooning of these savvy shills…all the while believing that they are receiving the respect and the required restraint they desire and demand…but cannot obtain from those they encounter in the regular course of events…real life people who are often relatives with real feelings which are, on occasion, released in raw and unedited exchanges.

As we know, for a woman like Helmsley, there is little room for give and take…a debilitating condition which I believe she regularly exhibited…though I confess that I do not know the particular dynamics of its origin in her personality. Notwithstanding, this well-documented trait likely made her the ideal candidate for the donation dance…an artful exchange enacted by those able to convey the belief that one’s partner is the ideal lead…while all the while directing their every step until such time as they are furtively separated from the sought after and subtly solicited funds.

At the end of this dance, people like Helmsley are unconsciously convinced that what they have taken in the way of psychic soothing far exceeds the gift they give…and the process of give and take has been reduced to little more than a primal pampering reminiscent of the comforting coos of a nurturing nanny.

In designating that the lions share of her fortune be distributed through the Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust, Helmsley departed this life still enamored with the faulty notion that charity does not and will not begin at home. Fortunately, those strangers who may benefit from her great wealth will not be required to dance with the devilish diva. Tragically, her family and friends who acquiesced to her every whim will remain relegated to the sidelines…still dancing to the demands of a damaged and domineering demagogue.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


Fish.Travel