We will soon know much more about Bernie Madoff’s massive fraud, and the menschiness and studied ethno-philanthropy which made him so irresistible to Jewish investors. But Madoff’s scheme at least required intelligence and a great deal of nerve– there’s a well-worn Yiddish word for it.

Just as emblematic is the case of Walter Noel, subject of a front page story in today’s Times, head of the Greenwich-based Fairfield Greenwich Group which seems to have little other function than marketing Madoff’s fund to gentile investors, especially Europeans. Noel and family –his daughters tended to marry various Euro financial types who went into the family business– pulled in something like $140 million annually for this hard labor.

Noel has been the subject of lavish and admiring spreads in Vanity Affair and Town and Country. Of course, don’t we all admire rich people? But then again, aren’t these rich people supposed to actually do something: play baseball, run record companies, car companies, develop software? If one is looking for the signs of national decadence, the social and financial elevation of Walter Noel may be a better indicator than the election of George W. Bush.

My favorite sentence from the Times piece: “He’s a terribly good person, almost in the sense of Jimmy Stewart in “‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ combined with an overtone of Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Mr. Ball [his friend] said.”

In the obituary of Waspdom, this sentence must find its place.