An American hero—a real hero, by old standards, before the word “hero” became overused—was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 17. Those who celebrated the life of Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert James Eitel paid homage to the best of what this nation produces.
Lawrence Walsh, the Iran-Contra special prosecutor, died two days ago at the age of 102. American liberals adored Walsh in life and now sing hosannas to him in death.
“Lawrence E. Walsh, a former federal judge … who as an independent counsel exposed the lawbreaking in the Reagan administration that gave rise to the Iran-contra scandal, died on Wednesday at his home in Oklahoma City,” said the lead in the New York Times. Walsh’s admirers, reported the Times (no doubt one among them), “saw him as a model of rectitude, a public servant trying to uphold the rule of law and demonstrate that even powerful government officials were not above it.”
My short list of liberal politicians I admire is shorter by one with the death Thursday of Reubin Askew, Florida’s governor from 1971 to 1979. Askew not only provided competent leadership in difficult times for a growing state, he did so with absolute integrity. Personally he was always civil and humble and treated all he encountered respectfully. Character counts, and Reubin Askew had it.
Askew died Thursday in a Tallahassee hospital of complications from pneumonia and a stroke. He was 85. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Donna Lou Askew, and two children.
Askew was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but moved with his mother to Pensacola, Florida, when Reubin was nine. After high school Askew spent two years in the Army as a paratrooper, being discharged as a sergeant. After college at Florida State and law school at Florida, Askew again served his country, this time as an Air Force intelligence officer during the Korean war. After this it was the practice of law and one of Florida’s most remarkable political careers.
Harold Ramis, the thread weaving through some of the funniest movies ever made, passed away this week. How long before his type of humor passes along with him?
“For one vital element of humor is inequality,” Paul Johnson reminded in his short book Humorists, “and striking visual, aural, and physical differences. Differences in sex, age, color, race, religion, physical ability, and strength lie at the source of probably the majority of jokes since the beginning of human self-consciousness. And all jokes are liable to provoke discomfort if not positive misery among those laughed at.”
The passing of Harold Ramis evoked Johnson’s observation. So much of the writer/director/actor’s oeuvre — a pretentious word rarely applied to comedians, at least the funny ones — laughs at our differences.
If ever there was a man deserving the name Caesar, it was Sid Caesar, the uber genius comedian who died this week. He ruled the world of comedy, the incredibly difficult task of getting people to laugh both with you and at you, like an emperor from the first days of black and white television to the late fifties with a power that no other single comedian has ever had.
His spectacular imitations of every kind of cultural and social icon were not just funny: they showed an insight into the human conditions of fear, pomposity, dishonesty, glory hogging that would have made Freud envious. His ability to stretch his mobile face and his polyphonous voice to suit whatever character he wanted to mimic were not just funny but funny in a way that made the lampooned and the audience feel good. He was never obscene and he was never mean. Imagine — a comedian who never used the F word!
I worshiped Sid Caesar and his co-stars, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Howard Morris, and their writers. I’ll tell you why:
I learned only yesterday that Shirley Temple, the iconic child actress, died earlier this week at age 85. Reports on her death were easy to miss. I went through my usual headline glimpses of various websites and saw nothing. I fortunately caught a “Shirley Temple, R.I.P.” by Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator.
I was dismayed by the sparse reaction to the loss of this woman who lived a great American life. Had Shirley Temple died 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, the country would have stopped. People everywhere would have paused to give Temple her due. It would have been the lead in every newspaper and newscast.
But not today. Our culture is too obsessed with Miley Cyrus and gay marriage to give proper recognition to a woman who was one of the most acclaimed, respected, and even cherished Americans, a household name to children and adults alike.
Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner, who lead the National League in home runs seven straight years with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late forties and early fifties, and then went on to a distinguished broadcasting career with the New York Mets, died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, California of natural causes at 91.
Kiner hit 369 home runs in a 10-year career that would have been longer had he not been forced to retire at 33 because of a back ailment. (His relatively short career may account for why it took 15 years for him to be selected for the Hall.) Ralph joined the 50+ Club twice, hitting 51 homers in 1947, 54 in 1949. In three other seasons he hit 40 or more. He hit a home run every 14.1 at bats during his career, placing him sixth in the right-handers’ Most Likely to Go Yard list.
It seems almost impossible that left wing folk singer Pete Seeger was still alive, dying this week, merely age 94. He was old enough to have actively campaigned with Henry Wallace in his notorious third party 1948 presidential campaign, with the former Vice President condemning President Truman’s resistance to Soviet aggression. Even more remarkably, he was old enough in 1939 to have sung in favor of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which divided Poland and began World War II.
Seeger had been a Communist and Stalinist, which he later eventually disavowed, sheepishly admitting Stalin’s crimes. He even in his final years wrote an anti-Stalin song citing “Joe, cruel Joe.”
The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the final curtain on a long sad drama that began in 2005 when he was felled by a massive stroke. He was a legendary warrior for Israel against its enemies and a genius of tactics and strategy. Arguably it took eight years in a coma to wring the vitality from him. He was a giant and an exemplar for those who believe, as I do, that the Jewish state is a benign democratic outpost of civilization in the Middle East. For all those who think that area of the world would be at peace were it not for Israel, let them explain why practically all of Israel’s neighbors are in internecine conflict there today and only Israel is at peace and prospering. Its peace and prosperity comes in large part from the contributions of Ariel Sharon.
Peter O’Toole, who died yesterday at the age of 81, was not an actor’s actor. He did not gain or lose weight for film roles or contract pneumonia wearing a shabby period overcoat on and off the set. He could not maintain his accent off-screen because he never adopted one on-screen. He did not crave acceptance from his fellows. Nor did he care about critics. He saw himself as a “professional,” a plier of a trade rather than an arbiter of high artistic standards: “I’ll accept anything—a poetry reading, television, cinema, anything that allows me to act.” Acting for him was “my business,” “what I do for a living.”