Another way to write an obit

As y’all may know, I recently had occasion to write my father’s obituary.

It wasn’t easy. Aside from my deep emotional investment in the task, there was the fact that I don’t think I’d ever written one before. I had, of course, edited thousands over the years — although not any more than I absolutely had to.

I may have been reluctant to admit this to my colleagues at the time, but at the very beginning of my newspaper career, when I was a copy editor in the mid-’70s, I used to do all I could to avoid handling obits. I’ve told you how things worked back in those days of technological transition. Next to each Harris 1100 editing machine — the copy desk shared four or five — there would be a basket filled with copy awaiting editing. Each item consisted of hard copy typed on an IBM Selectric (the only font our massive scanner could read), with a coil of loosely-rolled punch tape clipped to it with a clothespin.

If I saw that the basket next to one 1100 was filled with obits, and another machine was open, I’d take the other machine. Why? I found obits depressing. Not so much because it was sad that some stranger had died, but because they said so little about the person’s life and character. I would think, This is it? Perhaps the only time this person’s life is summarized in print, and this is all it would say? That seemed to me even more tragic than the death itself.

Part of that was because in those days, obits were a free service offered by a newspaper, handled by the one non-business division of the publication, the newsroom. Funeral homes made money off the obit, but we did not. Since it was free and journalists handled it there was a strictly followed format. You could say this and that, but you couldn’t elaborate — nothing beyond the most simple, straightforward facts.

About 20 years ago, as newspapers’ financial fortunes failed, that changed. Obits were handed off to the advertising department. That meant bereaved families could write the obits themselves and say anything they liked and go on as long as they liked — but they would pay for it, at a steep rate, by the inch.

I was sad to see my industry stop providing that free service, but glad to see some life introduced into these accounts — even though so many of them are poorly written.

It also meant that when I had to write my father’s last month, I had quite a free hand, as long as we were willing to pay for it, which we were.

I wrote it as well as I could, communicating in as dignified a manner as I could my Dad’s life, as a naval officer, as an athlete, as a husband, father, and grandfather. It contained personal color, but since as an amateur genealogist I see these as important historical documents, I wrote it so that anyone in any time would find it appropriate. My fictional friend Jack Aubrey would have found the summation of Dad’s time in the Service perfectly commendable two centuries ago. I hoped it would be helpful to descendants tracing the family tree two centuries in the future.

That’s one way to write an obit. But in this pay-to-play era with all its freedom, there are other ways as well, and some of them are fun to read.

So it is that I pass on one brought to my attention by Stan Dubinsky, who sent it out to his email list with the headline, “Best obit ever: ‘Renay Mandel Corren – A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday’.” An excerpt:

Of itself hardly news, or good news if you’re the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news. In which case have I got news for you: the bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family has kicked it. This was not good news to Renay Mandel Corren’s many surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom she even knew and, in her own way, loved. There will be much mourning in the many glamorous locales she went bankrupt in: McKeesport, PA, Renay’s birthplace and where she first fell in love with ham, and atheism; Fayetteville and Kill Devil Hills, NC, where Renay’s dreams, credit rating and marriage are all buried; and of course Miami, FL, where Renay’s parents, uncles, aunts, and eternal hopes of all Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, are all buried pretty deep. Renay was preceded in death by Don Shula.

Because she was my mother, the death of zaftig good-time gal Renay Corren at the impossible old age of 84 is newsworthy to me, and I treat it with the same respect and reverence she had for, well, nothing. A more disrespectful, trash-reading, talking and watching woman in NC, FL or TX was not to be found….

It continues, at some length, in the same vein. I encourage you read the whole thing; it might alleviate the boredom of yet another routine Friday for you.

Still, as much as I admire it, I tell myself that the way I wrote my father’s obit was the right way, for him and for me. I’m almost sure of it…

As Billy Kwan asked, ‘What then must we do?’

Billy Kwan, making a point…

I was listening at Mass on Sunday — I really was, to the best of my ability. But until I went back and read the Gospel reading again, and some commentary on it, I missed something that should have grabbed my attention right away. Here’s the relevant first half of the reading:

Lk 3:10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages….”

Hours later, it hit me: That’s the passage Billy Kwan loved so much!

That memory is from a movie I loved so much, and have always thought should get more attention than it does: “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

There are so many reasons for that. Among them:

  • I’m not a huge Mel Gibson fan, but I think this was his best.
  • He played a journalist, and a large part of the conflict is his struggling to handle certain moral questions raised by obsession with getting the story, no matter what. It’s an actual moral question that journalism raises, different from the irrelevant things most critics of media raise.
  • Sigourney Weaver.
  • The fact that it’s set in the Third World, at the same time that I was living in a very different part of that world, also as a Western outsider. There’s something in the atmosphere of it that seems very right and accurate.
  • Various esthetic considerations, from the cinematography to the music.
  • The amazing fact that this was Linda Hunt’s greatest role, and she was portraying a man. Not to make any sort of latter-day Identity Politics point, but because she could, and she did a fantastic job.
  • Billy’s question, which pervades the film.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that. Here’s the scene in which Billy shares this question of ultimate import to him — and to us all, if we’re as good as Billy. I always remember it the way he says it, “What then must we do?” And in our Scripture reading the “then” is left out, which is probably what caused me to fail to recognize it right away (also, it’s “should” instead of “must,” but that wouldn’t have thrown me off if the “then” had been there — a matter of rhythm). I just realized a few moments ago that he said it that way because he was citing the title of Tolstoy’s book, which he mentions in the scene…

This week’s Tweet about ‘Latinx’

Frequently on this blog, you see me take a stand in defense of the English language — such as with my regular rants about the verbification of such perfectly-good nouns as “impact.”

Earlier this week, I took a moment to stick up for Spanish. Since I see that it attracted some attention (1,083 impressions), I thought I’d share it here — although you gringos may not be very interested.

Here was the Tweet:

I almost didn’t post that, because I didn’t want to start an argument on Twitter, and I suspect (but have no data to support the assertion) that people who actually use and like “Latinx” would easily make a Top Five list of People Most Likely to Get Offended.

I only posted it because, well, it was in a headline in The New Yorker. And come on, people, if you can’t trust The New Yorker to respect language — especially English, but other languages as well — then you can’t trust anybody. All is lost.

Anyway, it provoked no argument, which was a relief. In fact, it even picked up a few likes — including from folks who are not on the rightward side of any culture wars over language or gender or ethnicity or such.

Of course, being opposed to “Latinx” should be a pretty noncontroversial position, given that only about a fourth of U.S. Hispanics have even heard of the term, and only 3 percent use it. Or at least, that was the case last year. And personally, I haven’t noticed much movement toward wider acceptance since then.

So, back to where I started: Why on Earth would The New Yorker use it, and not ironically? You’ve got me…

Joel Lourie on losing Bob Dole

I just thought I’d share this with y’all. I found it on LinkedIn, and asked Joel, and he said he didn’t mind.

It’s what Joel Lourie, former Democratic state senator, had to say upon the death of Bob Dole the other day. I share it because it reminds us the way one human being is supposed to speak of another, regardless of such insignificant things as party affiliation:

Bob Dole was a good man, and yes, definitely a hero, and he deserves all the kind words that come his way.

You’ll see Joel’s post got more than 140 likes. Quite a few were from other friends of mine, including James Smith…

Pew tries to figure out what we really think. Good for Pew.

Pew Research Center keeps trying to figure out what Americans really think. I’m aware of three different sets of political “typologies” the organization has created in recent years. I appreciate that, although personally I kind of liked the first one. Maybe it’s just that I preferred where the country was politically at that time. Of course, I prefer where the country was at almost any time in our history to the place where we are now.

Anyway, I want to thank Bryan for trying to keep the blog going while I’ve been dealing with a lot of difficult things, particularly the loss of my father. And I want to thank him particularly for this post, because I had not been aware that Pew was at it again.

Bryan’s post was headlined, “Neither of the Two Political Parties Suit You? Here’s Why.” The simple answer I would normally give a question like that is, “No, they don’t, and here’s why: Because I think.” But that’s because, as you know, the two parties have been making me cranky for a long time.

Pew, as always, takes a more thoughtful and patient approach than my gut response.

To help you get engaged with the topic, take the test. See where Pew puts you.

As I said, while Pew may have gone through this process many times, I’m only aware of three times. The first was in 2014, and it tagged me as being in what it called the “Faith and Family Left.” I made a joke about how apparently Pew thought I was a black preacher or something, but I really mostly felt comfortable in that category, which Pew described this way:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives.

And yeah, while I suspect no political group in the history of the world is with me on every issue, I was mostly comfortable with that one. I think it described why I felt such kinship with the black Democrats of South Carolina who came out to save the country on Feb. 29, 2020, by launching Joe Biden toward the nomination. The Identity Politics people would look at me and disagree, but as far as I’m concerned, those are my people. They stood up and went for the right man, not giving a damn about the trendy considerations roiling the Democratic Party in other parts of the country. And the rest of the country, thank God, got the message and got on board.

There are a lot of forces tearing our country apart and directly menacing our republic right now. One of them is what I’ve come to think of as the “ones and zeroes” problem. This was actually a serious problem 20 years ago, but it is far, far worse now than it was even then. I mean the increasingly blind members of the two tribes, and particularly the utter insanity that has gripped the Republican Party, followed by the failure of the opposition to coalesce consistently behind the one rational alternative, which Joe Biden represents. (If Democrats could shed the woke crowd and the Bernie Bros and demonstrate that the approach Joe embraces and personifies was the path it embraces without hesitation, I believe Trumpism would melt away as the vast center got behind the rational alternative. But we’re just not that kind of country right now, are we? More’s the pity. At least the Dems did the right thing long enough to get Joe elected.)

Then, in 2017 — when the nation had gone stark, raving mad, and more than ever needed a non-binary way of thinking about politics — Pew tried creating a new system, and utterly failed. It was awful, worse than useless. It put me in a bin full of obnoxious strangers, the “New Era Enterprisers.” The description it provided of that group made it sound like I was Martin Shkreli  or something — you know, the Pharma Bro.

I’d never seen Pew get anything as wrong as that before. But hey, it was 2017 — every thinking person in the country (and much of the world) was traumatized, when it came to politics.

Things are still awful, but they’ve settled down a bit.

And now Pew has a new model, the one to which Bryan called attention.

This one I like, although I’m not sure whether I like it as much as my “Faith and Family” designation. I liked that group. Still, this one has much to recommend it. It’s called “Establishment Liberals.” I like “establishment,” because as a communitarian and a traditionalist, I cherish the institutions that hold our civilization together — and were doing a great job of it until these last few years. But, I must confess, I don’t like it quite as well as “Faith and Family.”

As for the rest, well, I never was comfortable with “Left.” That sounded like they were making me out to be some sort of Bolshie, and I’m anything but. Not my sort at all. I much prefer “liberal,” but that’s because I use the word as a political scientist would, not the way it is so popularly used among the general population today — as a cussword among the GOP base, and as a badge of honor among the folks who see themselves as the sworn enemies of any “conservative.”

I wish Pew would steer clear of both those words — liberal and conservative — because of the way they’ve been corrupted by the in or out, good or bad, “my team or the enemy” crowd, which sees everything in tribal absolutes.

They’re both fine words, or were, originally. I can embrace both and apply them to myself, depending on the issue and the context. “Liberal” meaning generous, open, fair-minded, tolerant, and “conservative” meaning traditional, respecting core institutions and established ways. They’ve both fine things.

So I embrace the new label in that sense — the sense that Bret Stephens is using it when he laments the ways that both ends of the current political spectrum are eroding, even trashing, the liberalism that has made it possible for our country to live up to its finest aspirations. Stephens defines it this way:

By “liberal,” I don’t mean big-state welfarism. I mean the tenets and spirit of liberal democracy. Respect for the outcome of elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the principle (in courts of law and public opinion alike) of innocent until proven guilty. Respect for the free market, bracketed by sensible regulation and cushioned by social support. Deference to personal autonomy but skepticism of identity politics. A commitment to equality of opportunity, not “equity” in outcomes. A well-grounded faith in the benefits of immigration, free trade, new technology, new ideas, experiments in living. Fidelity to the ideals and shared interests of the free world in the face of dictators and demagogues.

All of this used to be the more-or-less common ground of American politics, inhabited by Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes as much as by Barack Obama and the two Clintons. The debates that used to divide the parties — the proper scope of government, the mechanics of trade — amounted to parochial quarrels within a shared liberal faith. That faith steadied America in the face of domestic and global challenges from the far right and far left alike….

So yeah, I embrace liberalism in that academic sense, a sense that respects the meanings of words. I always have.

So “Establishment Liberals” sounds pretty good. Kind of like “Conservative Liberals,” in a way. It sort of cocks a snook at the people using words to try to tear us apart. I like that.

But so far I’ve dealt only with the name. Let’s look deeper. Pew provides a lengthy description, but let me just quote some of the bits I like best:

… Establishment Liberals are some of the strongest supporters of the current president … of any political typology group.

…Establishment Liberals are the typology group most likely to see value in political compromise and tend to be more inclined toward more measured approaches to societal change than their Progressive Left counterparts. Like other Democratic-oriented groups, most Establishment Liberals (73%) say a lot more needs to be done to ensure racial equality. Yet they are the only Democratic-aligned group in which a majority of those who say a lot more needs to be done also say this can be achieved by working within the current system….

Establishment Liberals stand out for their current satisfaction with the direction of the country and optimism about the future. Roughly half (51%) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country today, compared with 36% of Democratic Mainstays and even smaller shares in other typology groups….

An overwhelming majority of Establishment Liberals approve of Joe Biden’s job performance as president as of mid-September, including six-in-ten who strongly approve….

You see where I’m going with this: Joe’s our boy. Always has been, is now, and probably always will be (because, thank God, I don’t see him changing at this point).

Some of the rest, like the fact that folks in my group are strongly Democratic, doesn’t work for me. For instance, Pew says “On a ‘feeling thermometer’ ranging from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the warmest, most positive feelings, Establishment Liberals give Democrats an average rating of 77.”

Not me. I gave the party a score of 30. Of course, I gave the GOP a zero, so I guess by comparison a 30 is kinda “pro-Democratic,” at this moment. Whatever.

The point is (yep, I’ve again taken 1,500 words to get to the point) that it’s great that Pew keeps trying to find ways of explaining the way people really think about politics in this country. They need to keep doing this, and the rest of us need to join in. Because too many — far, far, too many — of us have been buying into the stupid, insulting idea that there are only two ways to think (using the word “think” extremely loosely), and you’ve got to choose one and hate the other. Up or down. Left or right. On or off. Black or white.

This sickness, this “ones and zeroes” thing, is destroying us. It’s tearing us apart. It’s destroying any chance we have of living together peacefully, with all our differences, and continuing to build a civilization that cultivates and embraces real, thinking human beings.

And Pew’s helping us see that, however imperfect its changing models may be. Bottom line: Good for Pew for trying.

 

Happy Birthday, Dad…

At this time 80 years ago, the attack hadn’t come yet. I’m writing this at 11:14 a.m. our time, but it’s still 0614 at Pearl Harbor. If I remember correctly without looking it up, the Japanese planes arrived at 0755.

At least some of them came in over the Waianae mountains. When my wife and I visited the museum in 2015, I pointed toward the range and told her that’s where they came from. I had seen those ridges often enough from our backyard when I was in high school.

Burl cut in to provide perspective. He said yes, they came from there, but they didn’t skim low over them the way you may picture it. They were up high — when they bombed the harbor they were that high, he said, pointing to models that were little larger than flies glued to the ceiling of the museum entrance, about 10 or 12 feet above us. I had had no idea. Of course, the torpedo planes had to get low, but the bombers did not. At any rate, the way those battleships were lined up next to Ford Island, if you missed one from that height, you hit another.

There are other details I’ve known at one time or another, but I’m not going to look them up to check.

Today is about memory rather than precision. But there is one memory I’d like to check out, to make sure I have it just right: As I recall from being told, that afternoon my Dad helped another kid deliver papers with news of the attack. It was an extra, if it was the Post. Probably also an extra if it was the Star.

It was my Dad’s 13th birthday, and that’s how he celebrated it.

I’d like to hear him tell the story again, so I have the details fresh in my mind.

But I can’t.

Did he use this bike to deliver those papers? I don’t know…

DeMarco: A Requiem for the United Methodist Church

The Op-Ed Page

EDITOR’S NOTE: I publish this with an apology to Paul. He sent it to me on Nov. 11. I just saw it yesterday. This is how backed up I was over the last couple of months, with my father’s rapid decline and death. It looked like it still had some shelf life, so here it is.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The founding vision of the UMC, of which I have been a member for more than thirty years, made perfect theological sense. The power of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that the Samaritan was good but that he was a Samaritan, a group despised by the Jews. When they created it in 1968, the UMC’s founders were convinced that its members would make real the transformation toward which the parable points us, redefining whom we see as our neighbor.

The UMC was born into an inflection point in the nation’s racial dynamic. Landmark civil rights legislation was providing blacks legal access to a range of previously forbidden opportunities. The UMC was poised to build upon the changes that were reshaping secular society and accelerate them. United Methodists had a power greater than any human statute. We had God’s Law and the inexorable power of Jesus. Our faith could move mountains. Our integrated congregations would lead the nation into a more just future.

The trouble was, 1968 was too late to reverse centuries of Methodist segregation. White and black Methodist churches had long histories and traditions of which they were protective. Many UMC members found the idea of integration to be much more appealing than the reality.

As the decades passed, it became clear that black and white churches wanted little to do with one another. They were rarely successful in recruiting new members of the other race. In recognition of the racial petrification of local congregations, the UMC tried in 2001 to rebrand itself with the tagline “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” The campaign had no impact: more people moved out of our open doors than into them.

Next year, without a miracle, our faltering church will divide itself.

You would be forgiven if you assumed the split would be over race: it is, after all, our founding vision and our most obvious failure.

Instead the schism, at least publicly, will be over gay marriage and gay clergy. But we are arguing over gay people simply because it’s easier to talk about than the real issue.

There is scant scriptural imperative to divide millions of United Methodists over homosexuality, which is mentioned explicitly only seven times in the Bible. Two verses in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) are the most well-known. In these verses to “lie with a man” is to commit an “abomination.” The latter verse requires that two men engaged in homosexual activity “shall be put to death.” In the third verse (Romans 1:26–27), Paul condemns “men (who) abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” The other four are perfunctory (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and 1 Timothy 1:10), oblique (Genesis 9:20–27), and bizarre (Genesis 19:1–11). Theologians (which I recognize I am not) debate the meaning of these passages on many levels, including whether they are primarily about the sin of lust rather than loving, committed gay relationships.

I often hear the argument, “Hate the sins, love the sinners.” But that’s not what Leviticus 20:13 demands. It wants us to hate the sinners so much that we kill them. Thankfully, even the most zealous Christians don’t act on this command. They accept that the Bible reflects first-century mores, some of which are today seen as harmful and unjust.

The UMC has from its beginning admitted the cultural bias of some scripture relating to women. To give just one of many examples, in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul specifically enjoins women from being ministers, saying “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Again, I’m not a theologian; this and other verses about women are hotly debated in those circles. But to a layman, this seems a direct, unambiguous injunction which the UMC commendably ignores. The UMC affirms the equality of woman and their ability to preach and lead in every realm of ecclesiastical life, including as bishops, the highest position in the church. If we can reject a plethora of Biblical teaching on women as outmoded, why are we fighting so intensely over the meager teachings about gays?

The heart of the matter is the reach of God’s grace. Who is included in his love, and more practically, who do I want sitting next to me in the pew?

One side doesn’t see inclusion as a virtue or a moral obligation. They are comfortable in a church focused on individual salvation composed of people who look and think like them.

The other side wants all of God’s people in the sanctuary. They are disappointed that the UMC has given up on its original vision of racial reconciliation and, in its present form, appears to lack the ability to bring God’s grace to the gay or any other marginalized community.

I love people on both sides. I’ve worshipped with my current church family weekly for almost thirty years. We have shared the stories of our lives with each other. We have broken bread together, laughed together, and mourned together.

But soon I will be forced to choose. Here’s how I will make my choice: One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ ministry was his willingness to go where he should not have gone, to associate with people shunned by polite society. In his day these were tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners and outcasts of every kind. We still have outcasts in 2021 – the queer, the trans, the brown-skinned, the immigrant, the HIV-infected. The church I will chose will welcome them all, bless their marriages, and invite them to serve their Lord both as followers and leaders.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This first ran as a column in the Florence Morning News.

How to deal with Omicron? It’s easy as one, two, three

So it sounds like you and the experts you talked to are saying that the answer to preventing variants like omicron and enduring them is not severe travel restrictions. It’s just a lot more vaccinations.

We know what works. It’s vaccination, it’s masks, it’s social distancing, and probably not travel restrictions.

— Exchange between host Michael Barbaro and reporter Apoorva Mandavilli on The Daily

I’m still trying to catch up on things enough to resume blogging, but I just thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on Omicron. There’s a lot about it we won’t know for weeks, until we see just what it does to us and our world.

There are reasons to be concerned, of course. As this episode of The Daily noted earlier this week, there are three principle questions we ask when a new COVID variant emerges:

  1. How contagious is it?
  2. How severe is it? (Will it lead to more hospitalizations, and deaths?)
  3. Will the vaccines protect us from it?

The initial analysis of the variant indicates it has properties that cause concern in all three of those areas — more than Delta did back during the summer.

But we just won’t know for a while, until we see what happens outside the laboratory.

In the meantime, though, we know how to reduce the risk to our neighbors and ourselves:

  1. Get vaccinated, if for some unimaginable reason you haven’t already done so.
  2. Wear a mask around other people.
  3. Avoid other people. Keep your distance. For God’s sake don’t go out into crowds unless it cannot be avoided.

All of these things make it less likely that you will pick up the virus and pass it onto others. Which reduces the chances for Omicron or any other variant, or any other infectious disease, to spread, to reproduce, to evolve. If everyone does these things, the pandemic burns itself out sooner rather than later.

In other words, act like a grownup. Be a responsible citizen. It’s really not that hard.

Supreme Court Possibly to Overrule Roe v. Wade?

By Bryan Caskey

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a case in front of the Supreme Court concerning a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Since Roe, all the court’s abortion decisions have upheld Roe‘s central framework — that women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters. However, the Mississippi law is counter to the core of Roe, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to modify Roe, or do away with it altogether.

If you want to hear the oral arguments, the Supreme Court’s official audio transcript is here.

You can’t always tell from oral arguments what Supreme Court Justices are thinking, much less where they will land in a final decision, but it’s nice to hear the questions they ask. You learn much more about the Justices actually watching them do their job at oral arguments than you get from the Senate confirmation hearings that are essentially an opportunity for Senators to grandstand and audition to be President.

I have no idea what the Supreme Court will do.

Happy Birthday to Winston Churchill

Churchill at age 21 (1895)

By Bryan Caskey

Today in 1874, Winston Churchill was born in  at his family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Considered by some historians to be the greatest man to occupy 10 Downing Street, he was the larger than life man who guided Great Britain through WWII. After Dunkirk, he gave one of his most famous speeches. He was a skilled craftsman with the English language. Here’s the soaring conclusion:

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Little known fact: His mother was an American.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation: Union and Fraternal Peace

By Bryan Caskey

In 1863, just a few weeks after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln issued what some view as the beginning of a national day of Thanksgiving. At the time, hundreds of thousands had died in the bitter Civil War, and the nation was as divided as it has ever been. At the time, Lincoln requested the “…Holy Spirit to subdue the anger what has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom….”

This idea rings true especially in today’s time as we feel can feel divided and frustrated. Reading back through President Lincoln’s proclamation, perhaps we work anew each day to find that sense of “union and fraternal peace”.

Thanksgiving Week Art Thread

The Hunters’ Supper – Frederic Remington

By Bryan Caskey

Happy Thanksgiving Week, campers. I hope you enjoy the time off. I have always liked Frederic Remington’s works. Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I thought this painting of the hunters cooking was somewhat appropriate.

Feel free to use the comments to talk about any other art (any medium) that you relate to Thanksgiving.

We lost my father on Monday

Home again: Here’s my brother and me with Dad the day he returned from Vietnam in 1968. I’m the goofy, skinny kid with glasses and braces.

Some of you are aware of what has kept me away from the blog in recent months, and especially the last few weeks.

For those who are not: My father — Capt. Donald Warthen, USN, ret. — died late Monday afternoon, after a long period of declining health. He was at home with most of the family. He had been under hospice care for five days. His funeral will be next Tuesday, that being the first date we could coordinate between the funeral home and the Fort Jackson cemetery.

Now, we are no longer thinking of those hard, last days. We’re thinking of all those years we knew him before. We’re remembering and honoring, among so many things, his years in the Service, which is how he and we have always referred to the United States Navy. I wrote a brief note about that time on Facebook on Veterans Day. I concentrated on his time in Vietnam, because I had so many pictures about that, and because on that day everyone tends to focus on combat service. Here’s that post.

Capt. Donald Warthen, USN, ret.

That note just scratched the surface of his time as a naval officer. And as I say, that’s just one aspect of what we remember. Sailors are at sea for much of the childhoods of their offspring, but when he was ashore he was with us, devoting all the time he could to us. We have many, many fond memories of all the things we did together, many having to do with sports, because my Dad was an athlete — he went to Presbyterian College on a tennis scholarship, but it could just as well have been basketball or some other sport.

I’ll be putting together the obituary, which should be available over the weekend. But the most beautiful thing written about him so far was an essay by my youngest daughter. She never knew him as a naval officer, or as the young athlete — although when she was little, he was the age I am now, and could shoot that age on a golf course (something you’ll never see me do, I assure you). She just knew him as her Popi, who doted on her and all my children, and spent so much time with them when I was working all those long hours at the newspaper. I’m not sharing what she wrote here, because it’s personal and for the family. But I assure you it was better than anything you’ll read from me.

Everyone who has ever met my Dad — and he remembered every one of them, far better than I remember the people I encountered decades ago — had his or her own impression of him, based on the aspect that they encountered.

Monday night, with most of my children — except the youngest, who lives in the Caribbean — gathered at the house, I dug out a dim, old document I had just encountered going through his papers over the weekend, and read aloud from it. It was the narrative part of a Navy fitness report, written in 1970 by someone who had just known him a few weeks — the captain of the USS Kawishiwi, an oiler based at Pearl Harbor. My Dad was his executive officer.

My father was a good officer, a skilled shiphandler and all-around seaman. But more than that he was a good man, and a kind and caring man. I’m glad this captain was able to see all of that:

Neither of the Two Political Parties Suit You? Here’s Why.

Boston Public Library

By: Bryan Caskey

So often we are told that the country is clearly divided into two groups: the Republicans and the Democrats, or it’s liberals and conservatives. And then there’s a small group in the middle that can’t seem to make up their minds – the undecideds. And each election cycle, the two groups try to win over these undecideds. Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Well, life is more complicated than all that, as it turns out.

Pew Research did a large survey and just released the results. They identified nine separate ideological groups.

Here’s an overview of Pew’s nine categories (to see where you fit, you can take Pew’s quiz here):

Faith and Flag Conservatives (10% of the public)

Committed Conservatives (7%)

Populist Right (11%)

Ambivalent Right (12%)

Stressed Sideliners (15%)

Outsider Left (10%)

Democratic Mainstays (16%)

Establishment Liberals (13%)

Progressive Left (6%)

You can read the NPR article that breaks down each group and describes it further. Anyway, thought this would be interesting to talk about. The picture at the top doesn’t have anything to do with the Pew Research survey. It’s just a picture I took last week of the main reading room in the Boston Public Library, and I really like the picture.

Carville indulges in redundancy

It’s the wokeness, stupid!

James Carville should be more careful with words. Quoting from a Maureen Dowd column:

There’s some truth in what James Carville told Judy Woodruff: “What went wrong is this stupid wokeness. Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Wash. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools.”

What he says is entirely true (not just “some”), but “wokeness” doesn’t need to be modified with “stupid,” seeing as it is already that. You don’t say “woke” if you’re talking about wisdom. Of course, Carville has a known affinity for the word, “stupid.”

I prefer what Abigail Spanberger said, quoted immediately after that in the same column:

There’s also some truth in what Representative Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Virginia Democrat in a tough re-election battle, told The Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns about the president: “Nobody elected him to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.”…

Again, she is completely right, not just “some,” Maureen.

Of course, I generally agree with Rep. Spanberger. I agree less often with Carville, but when he’s right, he’s right. Even if he indulges in the use of unnecessary words…

Rep. Spanberger, stumping for that guy who lost.

No one is ‘entitled’ to endanger the people around him

Again, I’m just going to share a tweet, and perhaps enlarge upon it a bit:

I’m just reacting to a headline, of course. The writer of the column is very much taking this guy, whoever he is (and yes, I can see he’s in a football uniform, but that’s all I know), to task. But she is wrong to throw the guy a bone by saying he is entitled to do the first thing.

No, he isn’t. He lives in a society. A society doesn’t work unless we accept, at the minimum, the obligation not to harm the people around us. That’s pretty much minimal. All the other things involved in making a complex modern civilization work — the laws, the system of government, the roads, a monetary system, and so forth — come after that.

Where were YOU people last night? The Braves WON!

I was feeling a bit disoriented by the news I was being fed this morning, so I posted this:

I mean, what’s wrong with people? Where were they last night?

Say what? Where WERE you people last night?

How will you Columbians vote tomorrow?

Who will succeed this guy, shown on the night of his 2010 victory?

No, not Colombians. I mean you people who live in that big town across the river from me.

I just thought I’d ask, before the election happens.

First, Columbians — and many of you are my friends, if I may use that word — please tell me you are going to vote. And too few do, in these elections. Far, far too few. And then, if you don’t mind, tell us whom you support, and why.

I’d tell you who I’d pick, but honestly, I don’t feel qualified to say. First, I haven’t kept up with city issues the way I did at the paper, when we kicked around those and other local matters every day in our morning meeting. And of course, I haven’t interviewed the candidates — even in the truncated form in which I once did it here on the blog.

My easiest-to-imagine leaning is toward Sam Johnson for mayor. But I’m aware that that’s because of — if I may use the word — he and his team are sort of in my friend circle. While I had trouble choosing between him and the late Steve Morrison during the election of 2010 — Morrison would have been an excellent mayor — I’ve been supportive of Steve Benjamin since then. And Sam and Michael Wukela have been very much his guys (Michael is doing communications for Sam, as I did for James three years ago). I like all those guys. Not that we are always on the same side.

Of course, being buds with people may be one of the most common reasons some would back a candidate. It’s not good enough for me, though. I need to know more. I need to have put in the time.

I also like Tameika Isaac Devine, although I don’t know her quite as well. I’ve been pretty pleased since she was elected — a remarkable election in that she proved for the first time that a black woman didn’t have to be gerrymandered into an easy district to get elected in Columbia. Also, I’m very impressed that while Sam has Mayor Benjamin’s support (as you’d expect), Tameika is backed by Howard Duvall. And there’s no one whose informed views of municipal issues I respect more than Howard’s.

So I’m sort of cheering for Sam, but I could see myself cheering for Tameika as well. If I were a Columbia resident, or still editorial page editor with the responsibility of endorsing, I’d have informed myself well enough to confidently propose a choice between them.

But I haven’t.

Meanwhile, I doubt any sort of closer examination of Daniel Rickenmann would cause me to choose him. Maybe it would, but my gut says no. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence that quite a few white business types in town are for him, however. As for Moe, well, no thanks.

As Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary. Which brings me to my point: Never mind what I think. I’ve admitted I just don’t know. What do y’all think? And why?