Monday, December 15, 2008


I wonder, did anyone ever call St Bernard "Bernie"? Probably just as well; otherwise it would have been too easy to link him to the (reputed) uber-crook, Bernard L. Madoff, so newly famous in song and story. In my earlier entries here, I find that I (without any warrant at all) slipped ineluctably into calling Mr. Madoff "Bernie." But authorized or not, I seem to be on safe ground: a Google search for "Bernie Madoff" (in parens) turns up 64,000 hits and I can assure you they are not all cites to my stuff.

Could it be that part of the problem is the name? Is there something about "Bernie" that smacks of chicanery? Perhaps: I do find that before Bernie M, there was Bernie E--that is "Ebbers," the wonderman of WorldCom, now cooling his heels in the stony lonesome at Oakdale, Louisiana, for his part in what always seemed to me like the crudest of financial frauds.

Aside from these two Bernies, I admit the evidence bag may be light, but it is not empty. The phrase Bernie the Accountant, brings up 73 Google hits, many of them involving the 79th Academy Awards, and cross reffing the word "abscond" (the list also tags Bernie Provenzano, the Sicilian Mafia boss formerly known as "Bernie the Tractor"). "Bernie my accountant" and "my accountant Bernie" pick up a few more Google hits, but without direct reference to criminal misbehavior--unless you regard the practice of accountancy itself as a felony, which strikes me as extreme.

Meanwhile I'm not sure how much it helps the reputation of the name, but "Bernie" seems to be a prominent monicker among law professors.* Chicago had the revered Bernie Meltzner and Havard, the revered Bernie Wolfman. Neither, to my knowledge, ever denuded a balance sheet; Wolfman is, however, more or less the inventor of the practice of law-professor-as-expert-witness, a trope that has done a good deal to sweeten the purses of so many of his colleagues.

Aside vulgar numbers, there are other Bernies to remember. New Yorkers will recall Bernie Goetz, the Subway vigilante who, on the afternoon of December 22, 1984, wounded four assailants on the Downtown No. 2 train just past 14th Street in Lower Manhattan (he left one a paraplegic). So far as I know, Goetz is still alive; I had dinner with a guy a while back who claims to live in the same building as Goetz; apparently Goetz is now pushing vegetarianism.

From the world of sport, we recall that Formula One Racing has Bernie Eccleston who, aside from being one of Britain's richest men, has the distinction of measuring in at 11.5 inches shorter than his wife; his nose would come in at just about her collar bone, but she is said to be divorcing him anyway.

And fans of the Jim Henson product line will not forget Bernie the agent-accountant who makes repeated non-appearances in The Muppets. As I recall, we never do see Bernie's face. If I were the chief Muppet, I might take this occasion for just a bit of an audit.

Acknowledgment: For these and other Bernies, thanks to Joel.

Update: Steve Waldman (that Steve Waldman?) just sent me an Ipod link to Susannah McCorckle doing "My Attorney Bernie." Thanks, Steve.
*Apparently there is also at least one law professor named Madoff, busy telling people that he she (pardon me, ma'am) is no relation to Mr B. Ha. She says.

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