Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Self-Inflicted Wound

Today's news reported the death of Huguette Clark at age 104. She was the daughter of William A. Clark, a U.S. Senator and copper magnate from Montana whose fortune was rivaled only by that of John D. Rockefeller. She lived as a recluse for 75 years in a luxurious apartment in Manhattan, but apparently spent the last 23 years in hospitals for unknown ailments. Her only relatives, nieces, nephews and cousins, were denied access to her as were all but her trusted accountant and lawyer, both of whom are now under scrutiny for perhaps mishandling her vast funds. At the time of her death, she was worth an estimated $500,000,000. She gave sparingly to charity, and had no friends. Even her lawyer and accountant knew her only as a voice behind a closed door, like the Wizard of Oz.

Huguette Clark spent her early years in Paris and New York and spoke English with a French accent. She took dance lessons from Isadora Duncan in her teens and was a fixture on the society flapper scene of the 1920's. She married in 1928 but divorced two years later, never married again and had no children. She owned multi-million dollar estates in California and Connecticut, but confined herself to her sumptuous quarters on 5th Avenue with her priceless collection of French dolls.

The normal expectation is that wealth will buy freedom but Ms. Clark seems to have kept herself a prisoner, which intrigues me. The world is vast and wondrous. I cannot imagine having the means to see it all, and not doing so. I never dreamed I would find anything to respect about Paris Hilton, but she undeniably makes use of her family's wealth. Yet even beyond the waste of bottomless resources which bestowed an enormous capacity to enjoy life and do good, Ms. Clark's story seems like a life unlived. We have all heard that money can't buy happiness, but I wish she had at least tried. How very sad to die, and be missed by no one.

Monday, May 02, 2011

On Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden

I'm glad he's gone but I don't think his death solved anything, although it surely helped our President's reelection campaign. Bin Laden was a symbol of evil, but his victims are all still dead while al-Qaeda is still alive and will surely seek reprisal against us. Our public celebrating compounded their perceived insult, and while I admire the unbelievably brave Navy SEALs who took him out, it always makes me nervous when civilians take to the streets chanting slogans. Especially when they're chanting in my own language.

I would have preferred solemnity and quiet after President Obama's announcement, not because bin Laden deserved it but because our own national dignity does.