Sunday, March 27, 2016

223. Martin Shkreli -- again!

     This is a brief follow-up to an earlier post on Martin Shkreli, #214, “Fraudster, or The Immigrant’s Dream Come True?”  This post will make no sense unless you read, or reread, that earlier post.

     There are many views of the young and sexy Mr. Shkreli, as for example:

·      A financial boy wonder, being many times a millionaire at age 32.
·      An exemplar of the American dream, rising from humble origins in an immigrant family in a crowded apartment in Brooklyn to make it big on Wall Street.
·      An alleged criminal indicted for securities fraud and wire fraud.  (The government’s view.)
·      An unscrupulous pharmaceutical CEO and “morally bankrupt sociopath” who overnight raised the price of a drug from $13.50 to $750, provoking a storm of protest that he seemed to enjoy.
·      A narcissist who, when not instigating financial mayhem on Wall Street, does an hours-long live stream on You Tube talking about himself.
·      The world’s most eligible bachelor (his own words) and God’s gift to women.

     Out on bail, Mr. Shkreli had fallen out of sight, eclipsed by the electoral antics of a clutch of raucous candidates.  But on Thursday, March 17, he resurfaced in testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, which is investigating, not his misdeeds on Wall Street, but his nefarious pharmaceutical practices.  Not that he was himself present – he disdains Congressional committees to the point of testifying, when he has to, only by video – but his name and actions were vividly discussed.

     The witness who was present and testifying was Howard Dorfman, the former general counsel of Turing Pharmaceuticals, the outfit that Mr. Shkreli headed when he raised the price of the drug to astronomical levels.  A 30-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, he had protested the price hike.
“Mr. Shkreli told me that he was the most knowledgeable person with regard to this business model, that I was seriously misinformed.”  The Turing CEO  “basically said that no one cares about prices” – an assertion proven quickly false, when the price hike set off a national furor that sent drug prices plummeting and made them an issue in the presidential campaign.  Mr. Dorfman was fired a few weeks after his disagreement with Shkreli, and Shkreli himself resigned as CEO in December, after his 6 a.m. arrest by the FBI on fraud charges.  Two Turing execs were also called to testify, but they said that they had not been involved in raising the drug’s price, which remains at its elevated level.  And how did the Senators characterize Turing and its practices?  “Scam!”  “Sick game!”  “The incarnation of evil!” 

     But the price hike, while denounced universally, is not illegal in this country, as it would be in some others.  Mr. Shkreli’s legal imbroglio involves Wall Street shenanigans whereby he allegedly took cash from one of his entrepreneurial undertakings in order to satisfy claims arising from his liquidation of another – a slick variation of a Ponzi scheme.  Mr. Shkreli is nothing if not innovative.  But it’s his sheer chutzpah that fascinates me and motivates me to do this sequel.  How his problems are going to be resolved is a matter well worth pondering.  I’ll keep you posted as his adventures continue to unfold.

     And once again, the book:  Forgive me, if I can’t resist tooting my own horn.  No Place for Normal: New York just got a stellar online review from Reader Views – the kind authors dream of but rarely receive – which I will reproduce here in its entirety:

No Place for Normal: New York
Clifford Browder

Mill City Press, Inc. (2015)

ISBN 9781634137249

Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (03/16)
“No Place for Normal: New York” by Clifford Browder is a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City. Readers are regaled with tales about city icons - from street characters to celebrities, famous restaurants, and tourist locations such as Greenwich Village, Union Square, and Central Park, rounded out with tales of inspiration, adventure, drama, and nightlife. New York City has no room for anything normal - the more eccentric, different, weird, and astonishing, the better. It is undeniably the most unique city in America, as demonstrated in these great stories.
Although a transplanted Texan of many years, my hometown is Saratoga Springs, New York. That noted, I must say that one of my favorite stories in the book is “Upstate vs. Downstate: The Great Dichotomy.” Even as a child, I remember when people asked me where I was from I would always respond “Upstate New York” as opposed to just “New York,” clearly wanting to establish the difference in the inquirer’s mind. I don’t recall how that was ever ingrained so deeply in my mind; even so, I can’t imagine what would have happened if NYC had succeeded in seceding from the state!
I believe one of the most interesting stories in the book is on the back cover. I found the author’s short bio to be an interesting story in and of itself. Browder, a writer and retired freelance editor, resides above the Magnolia Bakery – you know, the Sex and the City Magnolia Bakery! He has never owned a car or a television, and in his own words, “shuns the cell phone and tolerates the computer!” Living in New York City – unplugged? Now that’s a story!
I thoroughly enjoyed “No Place for Normal: New York” by Clifford Browder and highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City. It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps!
*                   *                  *                  *                   *                 *                    
     The book is still available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World
     Coming soon:  Good-bye to a Real New Yorker, My Friend John Anderson.  Beyond that, maybe a minipost on European traditionalism vs. American modernism and our cult of the New, via Edith Wharton.  Yes, ideas for squibs keep coming, resurrecting the blog that I thought I had buried.  Short posts, however – quick reads, nothing more.
     ©   2016   Clifford Browder


Sunday, March 20, 2016

222. Skunk Cabbage: Its Significance, Its Charm

Another surprise minipost!  Here is a short poem on an unlikely subject:

             Skunk Cabbage

In March
In wet spots in woods
The first wildflower of the season appears
An odd-looking thing
Mottled purple-brown without petals
Suggestive of a monk in a cowl
A hoodlum in a hoodie
Or the gaping mouth of a prehistoric monster.
Its name: skunk cabbage.
Flies love it, humans don’t;
It stinks.
A precursor
Weird, smelly, ugly
Of the magic, the miracle of spring.

Take note, all victims of depression
All chronic pessimists
All drooping, mournful souls:
Today’s ugly
May herald tomorrow’s beautiful,
Today’s weird
Tomorrow’s wondrous,
Today’s stench
Tomorrow’s fragrance of entrancing bliss.
For this lesson, a plethora of thanks
To skunk cabbage
For its weirdness, its ugliness
Its novel and inspiring

     Skunk cabbage, the endearing popular name for Symplocarpus foetidus, is indeed the first wildflower to appear in these parts – in March or even earlier, at the same time as forsythia -- and yes, foetidus does indeed mean “stinky.”  Though at first glance it seems to be a flowerless and stemless plant, the stems are buried in the mud, and tucked inside the mottled, shell-like leaf called a spathe, is a rounded organ called the spadix, on which the flowers appear.  I have often seen the plant in wet spots in woods in and around the city, always abuzz with flies.  It is of the Arum family, which includes a more familiar spring flower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

File:Symplocarpus foetidus Zazensou in nobusegatake 2008-4-4.JPG
The spadix is visible inside the spathe.
     Once the skunk cabbage flowers have been pollinated by insects (above all, those buzzing flies), the spathe crumbles away, and the spadix becomes enlarged into a compound fruit.  Meanwhile the plant’s leaves poke up out of the wet soil, coiled at first but then unfolding to become big and broad and often bright green.  Seen from a distance, they look like they would be delicious in a salad, but I doubt if anyone has ever foraged them, for if you crush them, they too stink.  (Black bears and snapping turtles are said to eat them, if hard up for food, but they would have to be really desperate.) 

File:Symplocarpus foetidus 003.JPG

     In time the leaves also crumble away, and skunk cabbage, the precursor of spring, is consigned for a year to oblivion, as smaller, more delicate, and less smelly spring flowers appear in the woods.  But I have a warm place in my heart for the plant, since it does announce spring while winter still holds fast, and its structure is a fascinating example of the weird diversity of nature.  Daffodils and tulips have their bards, but I suspect that I am the only one to devote a whole poem to this stinky harbinger of spring.  So three cheers for skunk cabbage; its appearance means that spring is on its way.

     Coming soon:  A brief sequel to post #214, “Fraudster, or the Immigrant’s Dream Come True?”  Martin Shkreli redux, the sexy and very arrogant young entrepreneur who has been indicted on charges of securities fraud.  Never a dull moment, with Mr. Shkreli on the scene.

     ©  2016  Clifford Browder

Sunday, March 13, 2016

221. Peak Experiences

Peak experiences are moments of intensity, good or bad, that are stamped on your memory forever.  Here are five of mine:

1.    Two thousand male bobolinks, singing in a bubbly chorus, one spring morning on Monhegan Island, Maine.  During the migration, weather conditions must have forced them to land on this little island ten miles out at sea.  I have never heard or seen anything like it since.

2.    Dawn on Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees, where, having hiked for two hours up the mountain and slept communally in a little inn near the summit, I woke up, looked out a window, and saw the entire sky suffused with rose – the most beautiful morning sky I have ever seen.  Minutes later, as I hurried through breakfast, I looked out again: the rose was gone, succeeded by a milky white haze covering the earth like a soft blanket – the second most beautiful morning sky I have ever seen.  When, minutes later, I ran out and within ten minutes was at the summit, where I was joined by a group of young Catalans, the white too had vanished, replaced by a radiant sun shining down from a cloudless blue sky: perfect weather for hiking, but minus the magic of dawn.

3.    From Jamaica Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in  Queens, on 9/11, one of the Twin Towers sending a huge column of dark smoke up in the sky, and, shortly afterward, both Towers, now demolished (though I didn’t know it), completely shrouded in smoke that was then carried by the prevailing wind over Brooklyn to the sea.  I had gone there to see migrating warblers; warblers there were, but the catastrophe in Manhattan preoccupied me and the other visitors present; I didn’t get back home in Manhattan until the following day, being put up for a night by a friend in Brooklyn.

4.    The slightly drunk poet Dylan Thomas reading his poetry in a rich Welsh voice at Pomona College in California, and afterward, in a brief meeting with students, scandalizing us – evolved and sophisticated entities that we thought we were – with comments on his “organ” and male masturbation, comments that produced in us a total and embarrassed dead silence.

5.    The old medieval walls of Carcassonne, the famous walled city in the south of France, lit up by explosions in the sky and  seemingly in flames, an effect produced by a marvelous display of fireworks celebrating July 14, Bastille Day, one evening long ago when, a budget-conscious student in shabby khakis, I was traveling around the fair land of the Gauls.  The most breathtaking fireworks display I have ever seen.

What are your peak experiences?  Let me know some of them.

If Donald Trump is elected President of these United States, I will add a sixth item to the list, assuming I’m still sane.

©   2016   Clifford Browder