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Art of the Obituary
 

Art of the Obituary: Baby Doc

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How much Duvalier Jr. took with him when he made a run for it in the face of a popular uprising is anyone’s guess. Anything from four-hundred- to nine-hundred-thousand dollars is the commonly-given estimate…Having fled to the French Riviera, Duvalier burned through his fortune quickly and then engaged in a tawdry divorce dispute in 1993. Having been nearly wiped out by that, Duvalier was kept afloat by the donations of ordinary Haitians in France, including cab drivers, who for reasons best-known to themselves felt this was the right thing to do, and Duvalier took it as no more than his due. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in 2003, Duvalier said, “I laugh when I hear the amounts: $400 million, $800 million. It’s a lot of blah, blah, blah.” The only contrition he had was this: “Perhaps I was too tolerant.” Leaving behind him innumerable unpaid bills, including for hotels, Duvalier returned to Haiti almost exactly a year after the massive earthquake in January 2010 that destroyed much of the capital city and at least half of the government. Almost inexplicably, Duvalier was greeted by a cheering crowd on his return. He was arrested, and was technically on trial when he died, but the charges never went beyond the corruption; there was never, and now will never be, a reckoning for the human rights abuses in the Duvalier years.

-by Kyle Orton, via Syrian Intifada

• • •

There have been some murmurings that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier might get a state funeral in Haiti.

Rather than spending money on a funeral, how about just putting up a sign that says “Good Riddance.”

-by Gary Stein, via Sun Sentinel

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Art of the Obituary: Robin Williams

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I start laughing. I’m already in my 20s, and Mrs. Doubtfire is not for me, and I am already cynical enough to realize that this movie is trying to convince you that a hero can be a man who neglects his family and then deceives both said family and the United States court system by cross-dressing. I still laugh, though, because Robin Williams is so funny. He is funny enough that I am crying laughing, even though I know this movie’s main plot points describe a horror movie, not a comedy. And I realize that Robin Williams is the only reason this movie is well remembered because the actual plot is completely insane. I’m sitting there, realizing that this movie is not for me and it is very weird, but I am laughing, and the laughing feels good, and I haven’t laughed in a very long time because I am depressed every day. And I realize that Robin Williams isn’t just funny, he is funnier than my omnipresent emotional pain.

by Chris Gethard, from Vulture

 

The Art of the Obituary: William Ash

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William Ash (November 30, 1917 — April 26, 2014)

Mr. Ash graduated with honors from the University of Texas, then wandered as a hobo, bouncing from boxcar to boxcar, job to job. He worked at a bank operating an elevator. (An acquaintance asked if his employer knew about his academic success. “Yes,” he replied, “but they’ve agreed to overlook it.”) In 1934, as a cub reporter for The Dallas Morning News, he gazed on the bullet-riddled corpses of Bonnie and Clyde.

Disappointed to have missed the Spanish Civil War, he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to battle Hitler. (The United States was neutral at the time.) Reaching Detroit in early 1940, he walked across the Ambassador Bridge to Canada to enlist, giving up his American citizenship.

He found he loved to fly, a delight that ended abruptly when six German fighters shot him down near Calais on France’s northern coast.

His first escape attempt as a prisoner of war involved hiding in a shower drain. Two weeks’ solitary confinement followed. He nonetheless found the act of escape exhilarating, despite — or because of — the danger. He loved to take risks.

“If he saw a big red button, he had to push it,” Mr. Foley said.

Excerpted from the New York Times

 

Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011

Where are the great men? Are we beyond the point of elevating the individual over the group, or are there simply no more individuals? Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer, has warned for more than a decade of the emergence of “leaderless jihad” as terrorist movements spawn violent individuals. But lately his idea has been turned on its head, as the movement for freedom attempts to override the putsch for security. It seems there are no more barriers between the secure, the secured, and the guardians of their security; it is all the same anarchy, brutality, violence, and havoc. There is the elite and then there is everyone else. Enter Vaclav Havel.

The words of a Czech man were forwarded to me this afternoon, and they hit me like a cold sheet: “Yep, the last great man.” Every obituary printed today mentions Havel’s achievements: playwright and poet, artist, intellectual, and dissident — but these are titles. More important, he was an inmate who could only forsake the cell-block walls and bars later because he lived long enough to see the cafes and meet the Western intellectuals who idealized him, because he lived in a parallel time and knew moral courage as more than mere words.

In Sageman’s analysis, individuals are inspired by violence done in the name of a collective. In Havel’s world, the antithesis of Sageman’s, individual creative acts spawn a collective, which together can challenge and — inshallah and man willing — destroy an oppressive system. Havel did not create the guidelines of creative defense, nor did he spawn every activist who was tired of a system in which every last piece of bread must be saved because the proverbial rainy day is, in fact, every day.

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The Art of the Obituary (7): Momofuku Ando

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Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant noodles (March 5, 1910 – January 5, 2007)

He ate Chikin Ramen, his original flavour of noodles, almost every day until he died. Though sceptics pointed out that they were loaded with fat, salt and monosodium glutamate, he looked bonny and spry. Seabeds across Asia were littered with plastic noodle cups; but that was not his fault.

Excerpted from The Economist

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Whoever Emerges is a digital and physical art instillation by artist and poet, Michael Brod. Visit Whoever at Gallery 221 in New York.