La Comédie Humaine

Somewhere out there a new, doubtless different, Balzac is furiously clipping newspaper pieces for his 21st century update of the 19th century cycle of manners and morals. He/she would find some useful tidbits in today's New York Times.Ian Urbina takes us to a "Palm Beach Enclave, Stunned by an Inside Job." Here, in Bernie Madoff's private preserve, a sense of being duped and a spreading mistrust prevail.

The shame of the Madoff scandal seemed especially bitter here in part because the club is known for its noblesse oblige in requiring members to give tens of thousands of dollars each year to charity.The attention was also particularly unwelcome for a community whose grand homes sit hidden behind 20-foot-tall ficus hedges and steel gates.In cultivating an aloof mystique, Mr. Madoff had fooled those who fancied themselves the wiser.Typically, investors needed at least $1 million to approach Mr. Madoff. Being a member of this club also helped.But even with those prerequisites, there was little guarantee that Mr. Madoff would take the client.

But the dis-ease is spreading beyond the confines of the exclusive club:

Ross B. Intelisano, a lawyer representing a collection of its members, said he thought relations at the country club and on the island generally might never be the same again.He had this reputation that hes one of these guys, that hes what Wall Streets all about, he said about Mr. Madoff. Its all about a handshake, and people trusted him.That sort of trust may be gone now, Mr. Intelisano said.People may not really trust the guys they play golf with, he said.

One observer sums up the Palm Beach condition:

Palm Beach is a place of fantasy, Mr. Leamer said. There are no hospitals, funeral homes, people dont talk about the negative.

Aspiring Balzacs may find the whole saga here. But try to keep the negativity down.

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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