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Various thoughts on Death

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is trying to make some time to blog. Why you might ask? Well, no reason in particular save that of thinking that he might have something to (virtually) say. There was one specific impetus today to write. He read a blurb on some website he frequents (and cannot recall now) that interviewed some very tech savvy people and asked them what ancient technology they insisted on keeping though it was very much outdated. One person talked about an old touch tone phone at their home they loved. Another talked about an old calendar notebook. But one said a blog.

A blog you say…

Hummm… Your Maximum Leader has one of those. Is this medium truly ancient and dead? Well. If it is it makes your Maximum Leader more resolved to try and keep using it.

So…

Your Maximum Leader has been thinking about death a little bit recently. The thought was first brought on a few weeks ago when Mrs Villain’s grandmother passed away. She was 105 and 3 months. She was, if your Maximum Leader might be forgiven for sounding uncaring, ready to go. And it was her time. Indeed, it was past her time. Probably 3-7 years past her time depending on which event one might want to use as a delineation. (She broke her hip about 7 years back and became mostly immobile at that point. But about 3 years ago her sight and hearing gave out pretty much continually - there were days when she seemed to be able to hear better than others.)

Regardless. She shuffled her mortal coil without excessive suffering or illness. As your Maximum Leader tweeted that night (using a paraphrase of a prayer that jumped into his awareness), the long burden of years was lifted for her.

In some ways, the long burden of her years was lifted for the rest of us as well. Your Maximum Leader doubts that she really remembered who he was for the past few years. There were times when she seemed to recognize Villainette #1. She did always remember Mrs Villain. Your Maximum Leader was amused to himself that she was able to recall Villainette #1. Your Maximum Leader’s eldest did make an impression on “great nannie” as we called her. We took Villainette #1 up to great nannie’s house in Rhode Island a few times before age and the onset of some infirmity required the move to the assisted living facility. Great nannie must have really bonded with Villainette #1 in a way that few did afterwards. Your Maximum Leader was amused that great nannie would remember Villainette #1; but wasn’t too sure about the father of this growing girl.

Great nannie also loved the Wee Villain. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that she always knew that the Wee Villain was her great grandson; but he was always sure that great nannie loved boys. She raised two of her own. She always seemed to prefer the company of men (over the company of “weak women”). Your Maximum Leader thinks that, with her own strong New England personality, she just had little toleration for the public face of women in her age.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure exactly how he should feel about great nannie’s passing. He is a little relieved. He thinks that it is something of a blessing. At some level he might even be happy for her. But he generally isn’t sad. He’s prayed for her (now that your Maximum Leader is trying to be more observant of his Catholic faith). But he isn’t sad. Should he feel some guilt about this? Perhaps. But as far as deaths go, this one is as good as one can get.

After thinking about this peaceful passing, there are other ruminations on death that come into his mind.

Two cases in particular. That of murderer Jodi Arias and kidnapper Ariel Castro.

Allow your Maximum Leader to step back and go over some ground that he’s not trod here in a while. For those of you who might not have been around years ago at the onset of this blog (and if you weren’t your Maximum Leader has to wonder what on earth brought you here more recently), your Maximum Leader has for most of his life favored and supported the death penalty. That effectively changed thanks to a post by our bloggy friend Skippy. The post concerned the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. That post, the links in it (especially to the New Yorker piece on Cameron Todd Willingham) and later the movie Incendiary basically changed the way your Maximum Leader thinks about the death penalty and its application.

(NB: You should read all of those links. And if you get a chance, rent Incendiary. Your Maximum Leader drove from his home in Fredericksburg, VA to downtown DC to see the movie during its limited run at one cinema in the area.)

Basically, the death penalty is over applied in the US. We like to think that we are being tough on crime by prosecuting and convicting in death penalty cases. But really, we are in the end harming our justice system. The harm is caused by a pervasive sense of doubt as to how the death penalty is applied and if it was called for. Was the death penalty sought because the accused was poor? Was black? Was marginally mentally competent? Was the prosecutor up for re-election? Too many questions.

But then just as one’s mind starts to ponder the many questions about the death penalty, as person like Jodi Arias comes around.

Without restating the whole sorrid case allow your Maximum Leader to summarize Jodi Arias thusly: a somewhat cute crazy bitch murdered her sometimes boyfriend. Unlike Skippy your Maximum Leader doesn’t find Jodi Arias all that physically attractive so he doesn’t quite get the national fascination with the story. (We Americans do like to follow capital cases with a hot defendant. Your Maximum Leader is willing to concede that he might have been more interested in the Arias case if a) he had found Arias more physically attractive and b) it hadn’t just gone on and on and on and on.)

Now… In the case of Jodi Arias, the state should go ahead and execute her. This is as clear a proper application of the death penalty as there can be. Crazy woman has wild monkey sex with boyfriend in the shower. He tells her afterwards that he’s not taking her on vacation with him. Crazy woman stabs and shoots him to death and then plays stupid. Jodi Arias should, now having been convicted, be ushered quietly in front of a firing squad and shot. Sadly, only Utah still shoots people - so lethal injection it is.

Unless you are against the application of the death penalty in all cases (and bully to you if you are); your Maximum Leader can’t see any reason why Jodi Arias shouldn’t be executed. (NB to Skippy: Okay there is one reason. To be Skippy’s sex-toy for a period and then be executed.)

So now having stated a case where your Maximum Leader has no trepidation in serving up an execution, let him move on…

At lunch with some respectable men about town the other day your Maximum Leader mentioned off-handedly that Ariel Castro should not be considered for the death penalty.

Just in case you missed it, Ariel Castro is the Cleveland man who kidnapped three young girls. Raped them. Beat them. Induced miscarriages in them. And ultimately fathered a child (of rape) by one of the kidnapped girls. He repeated these crimes over and over on these girls for a period of at least 10 years.

Yet this man shouldn’t, in your Maximum Leader’s estimation, be prosecuted for capital crimes. The most simple reason for this is that none of his victims died. Now, you are thinking to yourself, “Self, what about those miscarriages.” Good point. Although he’s against abortion, it isn’t quite the same. Pregnancies end for many reasons. Even the healthiest and most careful women can miscarry. Though there is a purposeful element to the miscarriages/abortions inflicted by Castro on those poor girls, your Maximum Leader isn’t able to commit to them being murder under the laws of the land. (NB: If it turns out that there is evidence that the babies had reached a stage of development where they might have lived outside the womb if delivered; then your Maximum Leader will reconsider this opinion.) Castro is a terrible waste of a human being. But his victims live. Because of that, the state shouldn’t attempt to kill him.

Your Maximum Leader didn’t realize the shock that this position would cause at the lunch table. One of his friends asked if his opinion would be different if the victim was one of the Villainettes? Of course it would. Your Maximum Leader would seriously advocate for the execution of people who inflicted minor harms on his daughters. But, that is because your Maximum Leader is their father. The law should be applied without that passion. It should be applied rationally and at arms length. Being as objective as possible, Ariel Castro, in your Maximum Leader’s opinion shouldn’t die for his crimes. A lifetime of solitary confinement punctuated by prison shower sodomy? That seems just. But death seems too much.

You may disagree (and frankly you are welcome to). But from what he knows now, that is how your Maximum Leader sees it.

So, there are some thoughts your Maximum Leader has been having about death… And look at that… He’s made a blog post out of them. Perhaps this medium isn’t as moribund as expected.

Carry on.

Margaret Thatcher - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that Yahoo news, and apparently Reuters, are reporting that Margaret Thatcher has died.

This is turning out to be a sad day.

Carry on.

RIP - Jacques Barzun

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader learned this morning (thanks to a tweet from the AP) that renown historian Jacques Barzun had died at the age of 104. Your Maximum Leader, not meaning to sound horrible, had thought that Dr. Barzun had already shrugged off his mortal coil a while ago. Your Maximum Leader remembers reading (part of a borrowed copy of) “From Dawn To Decadence” when it came out. At that time Dr. Barzun was in his early 90s. Your Maximum Leader, sadly, assumed that the masterwork had been published and with his life work complete death followed. (NB: Your Maximum Leader has still never finished that book… And he doesn’t think he owns it… Humm…)

So it is with some sadness and surprise that we can read his obituary as it appears today. The Washington Post obit is here “Jacques Barzun wide-ranging cultural historian dead at 104.”

Your Maximum Leader is glad to see that Dr. Barzun’s aphorism about baseball is in the obituary. Your Maximum Leader remembers seeing the aphorism on a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame (just like the article says). The saying is: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Rest in peace professor.

Carry on.

Richard Plantagenet - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader asks that you remember Richard III, King of England. He was killed in battle at Bosworth this day in 1485. He fought valiantly, if not triumphantly. He was the last Plantagenet to rule England. He was the last King of England to die in battle. And his death marks the generally accepted end of both the Wars of the Roses and the medieval period in England.

richard_iii_of_england.jpg
Richard III, By the Grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.

It is from Shakespeare’s play Richard III that the name of this site is taken. The important lines come in Act One, Scene III:

But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.

Richard is, in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, one of the most maligned kings in all history. Shakespeare’s play, while vastly entertaining, is far from an accurate portrayal of history and the man as we now know him.

Your Maximum Leader, out of habit, will republish the famous Rex Stout New York Times obituary for King Richard:

“PLANTAGENET — Richard, great king and true friend of the rights of man, died at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Murdered by traitors and, dead, maligned by knaves and ignored by Laodiceans, he merits our devoted remembrance.”

For those of you interested in learning more about Richard you might try the following links: Battle of Bosworth Field from Wikipedia, or the general Wiki on Richard.

Carry on.

UPDATE: Yes, your Maximum Leader would love a mug. Thanks to Robbo for suggesting it.

Carry on.

Winston S. Churchill - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader would remind you all that on this day in 1965, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill died at his home in London, England.

Churchill has always been a personal hero of your Maximum Leader’s. Your Maximum Leader was quite disappointed with Time Magazine when they didn’t select him as the “Man of the Century” for the 20th Century. (Okay, he had already been declared by Time Magazine the man of the half century in 1950… But still… BTW, does anyone care about Time Magazine anymore?) Sadly, your Maximum Leader is finding that many of the details of Churchill’s life that he used to be able to cite from memory are slipping from his memory. (As are so many other tidbits…) Your Maximum Leader has decided, as a result, to relearn what he’s been forgetting. He’ll pull some volumes out of his expansive Churchill Library and set himself to reading.

You all should, in the words of the monument set inside the main doors of Westminster Abbey, “Remember Winston Churchill.” Without Churchill there is no telling how much worse off the world would be today.

Carry on.

PS from your Maximum Leader: Mitt Romney is the only Republican presidential candidate who has pledged to return to the Oval Office the bust of Churchill returned to the British Ambassador by President Obama. Why can’t we get a debate moderator to ask the rest of the candidates their position on this esoteric (but important to your Maximum Leader) issue?

Carry on.

Curtains for the little man

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that Kim Jong-Il has croaked. Your Maximum Leader can’t say he’s sorry at all to hear of Kim’s passing. One supposes that we’ll have to watch North Korea carefully to see what happens in the coming days.

One wonders who, if anyone, the US will send to the funeral (assuming we’re invited). Your Maximum Leader would likely send Bill Richardson if we send anyone above a functionary with the State Department. Of course, anyone other than Richardson, Sectretary Clinton, Vice President Biden or a former US President would likely be viewed as insulting. Which it would be in fact.

Carry on.

One more on Hitchens

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was in the new Villainmobile yesterday listening to the CBC. (He has a demo of SirriusXM radio for a few more months and he’s found that he listens to the CBC once and a while.) While listening to the CBC he heard a number of commentators reminiscing about the life of Christopher Hitchens. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t recall who was speaking at the time but the individual was commenting on how, contrary to his public persona, Hitchens was a consummate gentleman with impeccable manners. The speaker (who now as your Maximum Leader thinks about it, might have been David Frum) said that he visited Hitchens a few weeks ago and even though Hitchens was weak and ravaged by cancer and its side affects, he (Hitchens) stood up from the sofa on which he was laying down and attempted to offer his visitor a seat. The speaker indicated that Hitchens was always the gentleman in private.

This prompted your Maximum Leader to recall that many years ago he met Hitchens in DC. They ran into each other in a hotel lobby. Hitchens was going to a party, your Maximum Leader to a different party. Your Maximum Leader introduced himself in the lobby and we rode the elevator together. We exchanged small talk about some goings-on in town. Somehow the conversation was drawing down and we exchanged emails. Your Maximum Leader later mailed Hitchens a short polite email thanking him for sharing an enjoyable elevator ride. To your Maximum Leader’s surprise, Hitchens responded the next morning with an equally pleasant email. That struck your Maximum Leader as showing a civility that was often missing from public people.

In closing, your Maximum Leader will restate that which he quoted earlier. The world is a whole lot dumber (and less interesting) without Christopher Hitchens.

Carry on.

Hitchens - Dead.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that Christopher Hitchens has died. (Good WaPo obit here.) Actually, your Maximum Leader learned of this earlier today. But he wasn’t sure what to write.

Your Maximum Leader thought of titling this post “Hitchens - RIP” or “Fare thee well Christopher Hitchens” or any one of a number of other normal titles that include some variation of resting or moving on. But in the end your Maximum Leader decided that all these potential post titles implied some sort of belief in something more beyond death. Of course, Hitchens did not believe in God, the afterlife, or anything like that.

So your Maximum Leader decided that the best thing to do was to just announce it. Christopher Hitchens is dead.

As Anthony Bourdain tweeted earlier, the world got a whole lot dumber today. That is true. The world was better off for Hitchens being in it. Your Maximum Leader didn’t always agree with Hitch, but he was thoughtful, exciting, combative, entertaining, and a hell of a writer.

Because your Maximum Leader can’t help it… Rest in peace Hitch.

Carry on.

Lawrence Eagleburger RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was just perusing the web and saw on Skippy’s site that Lawrence Eagleburger has died. Go and read Skippy’s post, because he’s said much of what your Maximum Leader would have wanted to say if he’d known the news.

Your Maximum Leader is saddened by the fact that the couldn’t find an obit on the Washington Post web site by cruising through all the normal headings. He was reduced to a search of the site to turn up a result. And sadly the Post obit is tragically poor.

Rest in peace Mr. Secretary. A few of us remember your noble service to our republic.

Carry on.

Elizabeth Taylor - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that Elizabeth Taylor has passed.

What really can one say about Elizabeth Taylor?

She was a MOVIE STAR. In many ways she was the MOVIE STAR of her generation. She was more beautiful, more talented, more shocking, more shameless, more, more, more, more than any other star.

Your Maximum Leader should thank Elizabeth Taylor for engendering a love of Shakespeare in his eldest daughter. One day, a few years ago, your Maximum Leader was watching his copy of “The Taming of the Shrew” with Taylor and Burton. As the film got started, Villainette #1, then 10 years old, sat down next to her dad and asked what he was watching. After a very short explaination of the basic elements of the story, Villainette #1 asked if she could watch the film. Sure was the response. She loved it. She “got” it too. From that day on she’s liked her Shakespeare. In many ways your Maximum Leader owes that to Elizabeth Taylor. (FYI… Villainette #1 also likes Cleopatra. A film which your Maximum Leader also likes a great deal.)

Requiescat in pace, Elizabeth.

Carry on.

Dame Joan Sutherland, RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader’s early childhood was musically scored by great opera. He still recognizes specific recordings that his mother owned on record and were played with great frequency at home. He remembers Pavarotti. Sherrill Milnes, a young Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Leontine Price and Joan Sutherland all singing in his home over the ole hi-fi stereo.

Well… Dame Joan Sutherland has died, aged 83, in Switzerland. The Washington Post obituary reads in part:

Born in Australia, she first trained with her mother; a vocal scholarship then brought her to London, where she reencountered Richard Bonynge, a compatriot who was then working a vocal coach at the Royal Opera House. Bonynge helped unlock and develop the upper register and rock-solid technical ability. He remained her constant artistic partner throughout her career, conducting most of her appearances and her legacy of recordings: “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Norma,” “I Puritani,” “La sonnambula.”

Bonynge also helped guide her away from the Wagnerian track that might have seemed to be a natural for someone of her vocal endowments, and into the realm of the coloratura soprano. Sutherland’s first roles included the Forest Bird in Wagner’s “Siegfried” and Clothilde, a bit part, to Maria Callas’s Norma in Bellini’s opera of the same name. Her breakthrough came with a 1959 “Lucia di Lammermoor” at Covent Garden, directed by Zeffirelli; her success put her on the map. She reprised the role for her Metropolitan Opera and La Scala debuts in 1961 — it was for this that the Italian press dubbed her “La Stupenda” — and never really looked back.

Your Maximum Leader has some excerpts of Sutherland singing in Wagner’s Ring on his iPod. He’s listening to them now.

The world of opera has lost one of its finest practionners. Lucky for us her recordings remain as a testament of her talents.

Carry on.

King Richard III of England - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader asks that you remember Richard III, King of England. He was killed in battle at Bosworth this day in 1485. He fought valiantly, if not triumphantly. He was the last Plantagenet to rule England. He was the last King of England to die in battle. And his death marks the generally accepted end of both the Wars of the Roses and the medieval period in England.

It is from Shakespeare’s play Richard III that the name of this site is taken. The important lines come in Act One, Scene III:

But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.

Richard is, in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, one of the most maligned kings in all history. Shakespeare’s play, while vastly entertaining, is far from an accurate portrayal of history and the man as we now know him. But that is the subject of another post.

To close, allow your Maximum Leader to post an obituary first penned by Rex Stout.

“PLANTAGENET — Richard, great king and true friend of the rights of man, died at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Murdered by traitors and, dead, maligned by knaves and ignored by Laodiceans, he merits our devoted remembrance.”

While your Maximum Leader would not lump Shakespeare in with the knaves, Richard’s memory has certainly been besmerched by many.

Remember poor Richard Plantagenet.

Carry on.

RIP - Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader heard on the radio this morning that Robert Byrd, the longest serving Senator in history, had died this morning. If you have not, you should read the 6 (internet) page obit in the Washington Post.

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have much to say about Senator Byrd. This is due to a reticence about speaking ill of the dead so soon after they pass; but also because he doesn’t have much to add to the big picture of his life. Your Maximum Leader can’t recall an issue on which he agreed strongly with Senator Byrd. He can recall a few where he did disagree strongly with Senator Byrd. Your Maximum Leader does have tremendous admiration for the man because of his knowledge of the minutae of the Senate’s arcane rules. Your Maximum Leader loves parliamentary procedure and the ways it can (and frankly should be) used in the legislative process. While he has not read it, your Maximum Leader understands Byrd’s book on Senate Procedure is a classic of the genre.

Rest in peace Senator. Your work here is done.

Carry on.

Peace

As many of you already know, my best buddy Kevin’s mother passed away yesterday. It is hard to express the emotions that crowd one’s mind and heart at such a time. There is sorrow because of the permenant loss. There is relief that her suffering has passed. The contradiction of emotions one feels is often more difficult to deal with than the power of the emotions singly.

I spent time yesterday evening trying to shoo away my family for a little quiet reflection. I eventually did get some time to myself. I regret to say that I didn’t come to any great and noble ideas in my reflective time. I remembered the many kindnesses given to me over more than 3 decades. I remembered camping trips, picnics, concerts, and so many other moments. There was joy, sadness, embarassment, grief, and I suppose some calm at the end.

After my quiet time I went to bed a little earlier than normal. Strangely upon waking this morning I realized I’d been dreaming of the old cartoon “Star Blazers.” Star Blazers was a cartoon that Kevin and I watched together so often afterschool when we were younger.

Strange how the mind works.

Rest in peace Mrs Neidlinger. I will miss you.

RIP - Knut Haugland

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was looking over various twitter feeds he follows today and found an obituary in the NYT that was so interesting: Knut Haugland, Sailor on Kon-Tiki, Dies at 92.

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t want to steal the Amazing Ben’s schitck from Badass of the Week, but Knut Haugland seems to be a real badass. Resistance fighter against the Nazis. Sailor on a balsa wood raft across the Pacific. That is pretty awesome. That he seemed to be a decent man as well was an added benefit.

Your Maximum Leader used to regularly read the Obits in the Times of London to catch the interesting passings. He’s grown out of the habit recently. It would serve him well to start again.

RIP - Knut Haugland.

Carry on.

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