Dollars, fame and early death

I don't know much about finance.

Forget high finance. I don't even know much about low finance.

I was raised in an all-but-poor, working class home, and remember well watching my mother put dollar bills in different budget envelopes every Friday night after Pops got paid.

His radicalism - he KNEW he was underpaid and a pawn of his bosses, Masons all, as he told me endlessly, Protestants who had it in for Catholics - and Mom's (necessary?) penny pinching formed my soul.

Because I was, as a friend called me in the Sixties, when everyone but the true clones resisted authority to some extent - parental, social and cultural - The Rebel Without a Pause, I turned the old man's class hatred into anarchism and the old woman's fear of debt into a challenge: I would owe everybody.

This hasn't made me a financial success, but even someone such as I could have predicted the financial crisis building around housing and the real estate market.

Doing a story on real estate for one of these papers a couple of years ago, I was struck by the greed steaming off the interviews I was doing. I also remember quite well the cautionary note sounded by an older, lifelong real estate peddlar in the Green Lake area who told me, off the record, he was very worried about the local housing market.

"We're selling houses to young people who can't afford to buy, with mortgages I worry they won't be able to pay. I can see lots of foreclosures and a real mess down the road," he said.

Again it takes no genius to see that when Bill Clinton, that devilish philanderer, left office, the United States was solvent, and after eight years of compassionate conservatism the country is a debtor nation that owes everybody.

We have built an entire economy on sand and debt and sooner or later, to quote another American I think history will treat as harshly as it will treat George W. Bush, "the chickens," economic cluckers in this case," will come home to roost (eventually)."

Or, as my poor old father used to say: "There is no free lunch."

What is it about Americans and celebrities?

How can one be sanguine about this nation's future when more citizens are upset by Anna Nicole's death, and Ms. Spear's burgeoning problems that they are about the failing economy and the totally bogus, lost police action in Iraq?

We don't read - so maybe we have, as a culture, lost the ability to think. But it's still mind-boggling to me that millions of people still care endlessly about someone like Ann Nicole Smith.

She was never in a good movie. She never said an interesting word. She married a very old man primarily for his money. She was a poly substance abuser. She died. So? Outside of the titillation, who cares?

Ms. Spears is a totally media created clone of a star whose best feature wasn't her voice but her naval. Why should we care what happens to her? There was a great editorial cartoon in a British paper a few years ago showing a mass of Sudanese folk being killed in the background. In the foreground was an obviously American housewife watching television and crying out piteously, "Poor Lacy." For those of you who follow this scrap religiously but can't remember what it was that held you spellbound five years ago, Lacy was the pregnant woman killed by her philandering husband and brought to justice by his "girlfriend," who could evidently countenance cheating but not murder.

Let's say thanks for that moral line drawing, no matter how late it entered Amber's game.

All that said, some celebrities have talent and I will miss Heath Ledger, whose performance in "Brokeback Mountain" alone separated him from the Anna Nicole-Spears folly.

His death is sad and tragic-seeming, a valuable life lost, along with the future work he'll never do. Unfortunately, this downward spiraling culture we share will treat him just like it did Ms's. Smith-Spears.

Dennis Wilken can be reached at

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