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Art of the Obituary

Art of the Obituary: Lee Kuan Yew


This process started for me when Lee visited Harvard in 1967 shortly after becoming prime minister of an independent Singapore. Lee began a meeting with the senior faculty of the School of Public Administration (now the Kennedy School) by inviting comments on the Vietnam War. The faculty, of which I was one dissenting member, was divided primarily on the question of whether President Lyndon Johnson was a war criminal or a psychopath. Lee responded, “You make me sick” — not because he embraced war in a personal sense but because the independence and prosperity of his country depended on the fortitude, unity and resolve of the United States. Singapore was not asking the United States to do something that Singapore would not undertake to the maximum of its ability. But U.S. leadership was needed to supplement and create a framework for order in the world.

Lee elaborated on these themes in the hundreds of encounters I had with him during international conferences, study groups, board meetings, face-to-face discussions and visits at each other’s homes over 45 years. He did not exhort; he was never emotional; he was not a Cold Warrior; he was a pilgrim in quest of world order and responsible leadership. He understood the relevance of China and its looming potential and often contributed to the enlightenment of the world on this subject. But in the end, he insisted that without the United States there could be no stability.

Lee’s domestic methods fell short of the prescriptions of current U.S. constitutional theory. But so, in fairness, did the democracy of Thomas Jefferson’s time, with its limited franchise, property qualifications for voting and slavery. This is not the occasion to debate what other options were available. Had Singapore chosen the road of its critics, it might well have collapsed among its ethnic groups, as the example of Syria teaches today. Whether the structures essential for the early decades of Singapore’s independent existence were unnecessarily prolonged can be the subject of another discussion.

-Henry Kissinger on outliving another close personal friend/world-historical monster


Art of the Obituary: Loukanikos


It’s hard not to take Loukanikos’ death as a metaphor for the end of Greece’s once revolutionary fervor and the people’s downtrodden acceptance of the status quo. Even the once radical Syriza seems to be watering down its positions, adopting a more centrist approach toward the euro and the European Union. The pressure needed to keep politicians in line is absent. There is no one barking threateningly at their feet; there is no one bounding alongside protesters, supporting them and lifting their spirits through the tear gas and noise and upheaval.

I fear that Loukanikos, unlike Kanelos, won’t have an heir. Today dissent is virtually absent in these parts. The time of rebels seems to have passed, and with it, a real character and an integral part of Athens’ spirit is gone forever. If you were out in the Syntagma occupation or followed Occupy Wall Street or walked the streets of Madrid, Cairo or Istanbul, you must be able to sense that today the world is a little less bright than it was just a few years ago, when everything seemed possible.

So goodbye, Loukanikos. May you bite cops in the riotous heavens forever.

via “A Farewell to Paws”, by Yiannis Baboulias, Al Jazeera





Art of the Obituary: Baby Doc


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



Art of the Obituary: Robin Williams


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


Screenshot 2014-05-09 at 11.43.11 AM - Edited

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