Funeral rites and wrongs, &c.

From left: Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Clinton at the funeral service for Aretha Franklin in Detroit, Mich., August 31, 2018 (Mike Segar / Reuters)
Bill Clinton and Louis Farrakhan; George W. Bush and John McCain; Mel Brooks and Neil Simon; and more

Funerals can be awkward, as can weddings. They throw together people who might otherwise not like to be together. But you tough it out, for the sake of the occasion. Broken families have to deal with this regularly.

Did you check out the dais of Aretha Franklin’s funeral? You had Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan — and Bill Clinton, a former president of the United States. Leave Jackson and Sharpton out of it. Should Clinton have appeared with Farrakhan? Should he have absented himself from the funeral, given Farrakhan’s appearance? Should he have said “him or me”?

I posed this question on Twitter over the weekend, and got a variety of responses — including, “The funeral is about the deceased. You don’t get to affect the guest list. You don’t make a fuss.” Someone else said, “Of course the president should not have shared a dais with Farrakhan — any more than he would have with David Duke.”

I grant that there are many angles to this question — but I don’t think that Clinton should have appeared with Farrakhan, no.

Here is a piece by Elaina Plott, formerly of National Review, now with The Atlantic, about a John McCain memorial service. I’d like to quote the final paragraphs:

Another special presence came by way of Sam Johnson, the representative from Texas who was McCain’s cellmate at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stood next to Johnson, who was sitting in a wheelchair, throughout the entire ceremony, her arm around his shoulders. When it came time for Johnson to approach the casket, Pelosi helped him stand.

She walked her 87-year-old colleague to McCain’s side, holding his hand and matching his careful pace. They returned to the periphery of the Rotunda, and she eased him back into his wheelchair.

Many eyes followed the tender scene. In the cramped, roped-off section for press, I heard one reporter turn to another. “I thought he was a Republican?” she whispered.

“He is,” the reporter whispered back. And, with a coda befitting the ceremony’s spirit, added, “I think they just respect each other.”

• Sometimes, you’re just on the same beam as someone. You don’t agree with him on everything, but you’re on the same beam. I’m that way with George W. Bush, and always have been. I thought his eulogy for McCain was superb. Let me quote a little.

He loved freedom, with the passion of a man who knew its absence.

He respected the dignity inherent in every life — a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.

Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy — to speak for forgotten people in forgotten places.

That is exactly right. It’s true of Bush, too. These are deep American patriots and universal men, at the same time.

• Mohamed Soltan is an Egyptian-American human-rights activist. He penned a column under the headline “If it weren’t for John McCain, I’d still be in an Egyptian prison.”

He wrote, “McCain’s door was always open to victims of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. His staffers would jokingly complain that they felt as if their sole job was to save prisoners around the world.” Yes. There are worse ways to spend a life, for sure.

Soltan further wrote that McCain “was not only an American patriot but also a champion to millions who faced oppression. His voice echoed in some of the darkest dungeons and prisons around the globe.” That is right. McCain related to these prisoners, and they related to him.

Get this, too:

During my nearly two years in prison in Egypt, the authorities sometimes allowed Islamic State recruiters into our solitary confinement wards. These extremists were deliberately deployed to convince me and other pro-democracy prisoners that hunger strikes and peaceful resistance were ineffective in the face of oppression. They argued that the United States had abandoned its own ideals and values by supporting the likes of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Many of us responded to their propaganda by invoking the name of McCain.

It is hard, for me, to think of a higher tribute.

This article, like the issue it brings up, is overlookable, but should not be: “The Little-Known Education Legacy of John McCain, a ‘Great Champion’ of School Choice.”

• In 2013, McCain did an interview with Isaac Chotiner for The New Republic. I noted a particular exchange at the time, and would like to note it again:

IC: Your wife said she hopes you change your position on gay marriage.

JM: Not to mention my daughter.

IC: When Justice Kennedy’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and allowing gay marriage in California was announced, what was your emotional reaction?

JM: I think it is our society evolving. It would be foolish not to observe that. But I think I am still entitled to my opinions and views and ideas.

IC: It seems like you want to keep your position —

JM: It’s not a position. It’s a fundamental belief.

I loved that: “It’s not a position. It’s a fundamental belief.”

• On Twitter, Lee C. Dunn wrote that everyone has a John McCain “elevator story.” The senator “was always in a hurry. Tourists would always whisper and be afraid to get on the elevator with him. He would hold the door and yell, ‘Get on, get on! Act like you own the place, because you do.’”

• Kasie Hunt of NBC News had an exchange with Sheriff Joe Arpaio that went like this:

Hunt: “Do you think John McCain is a patriot?”
Arpaio: “Yes.”
Hunt: “A hero?”
Arpaio: “That’s hard for me to answer. Because I never had a hero in my life until several months ago when I woke up after 75 years and I found my hero. You know who that person is? Donald Trump.”

We all like what we like.

• On Thursday, President Trump tweeted the following: “What’s going on at @CNN is happening, to different degrees, at other networks – with @NBCNews being the worst. The good news is that Andy Lack(y) is about to be fired(?) for incompetence, and much worse. When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!”

Some questions: If Andrew Lack is the boss at NBC, which he is, to whom is he a lackey? Or is that just name-calling for name-calling’s sake? Also, is it true that Lester Holt fudged a tape? Is it true that “they were hurt badly!”?

It seems that these things are not true at all. Which raises a question: Does it matter whether a president lies? This is one of the great dividing lines in American politics today.

• The Welsh Guard Band is the provider of the queen’s music (or at least one of them). Check out what they did at Buckingham Palace, to honor the Queen of Soul: here. A smile-making gesture, I think.

• Making the rounds in Africa, the British prime minister, Theresa May, did a little dancing — and this provoked catcalls far and wide. Everyone and his brother dumped on May. So I loved reading this, from Ben Hunt, on Twitter: “My unpopular opinion: she’s dancing just fine. Good for her.”

And good for Ben Hunt, too. To step away from and contradict the mob can be very, very hard.

• For the past four years, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights has been Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian prince. He has his admirers and detractors. Each side has a point, or several. In any event, Zeid has now left his post.

One of his last acts was an alarm on Nicaragua. Indeed, the headline in the New York Times read, “U.N. Sounds Alarm on Repression in Nicaragua.” Here are the first two paragraphs of the Times’s article:

The Nicaraguan authorities and paramilitary groups working with them have killed, tortured, raped and forcibly disappeared anti-government protesters, creating a climate of fear that is driving thousands of people to flee the country, the United Nations said Wednesday.

“Repression and retaliation against protesters continues in Nicaragua as the world looks away,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein . . .

For the complete article, go here.

• Respecters of Taiwan are worried about that country — because Taiwan seems to be ever more isolated in the world. And the PRC’s restraint probably can’t hold out forever. Jerome A. Cohen, the veteran American China scholar, sounds the alarm here, in the form of questions. They are good and sobering questions.

By the way, you know where “isolated” comes from, right? “Island” — which Taiwan is.

• Georgi Gotev, a Bulgarian-Belgian journalist (he says “Belgarian”), retailed a joke now current in Turkey: A prisoner goes to the prison library to borrow a particular book. The librarian says, “We don’t have the book, but we do have its author.”

• I was reading an article about a hip-hop podcast (here). A man was quoted as saying, “A key point to his identity as a musician is that he’s been run through the major label ringer. I think his listeners get the sense, and like the sense, that he’s sort of a rogue individual.”

Ringer?! Does anyone actually know what a wringer is — or was — anymore?

• Here is a tweet from J. K. Rowling, best-selling author in the history of the world: “How dare you tell a Jew that their outrage is ‘patently synthetic’? How dare you demand that they lay bare their pain and fear on demand, for your personal evaluation? What other minority would you speak to this way?”

I like the tweet very much — but the pronoun thing gives me heartache . . .

Here is an article about a Homeland Security official — now a former such official — with links to white nationalists. What I like best about this story is that the former official’s name is Ian Smith, though that once-famous name may draw blanks now . . .

• On the Internet — in social media and so forth — you see videos of private, emotional moments: marriage proposals; servicemen coming home for visits, unbeknownst to their children; youngsters who learn that they, at long last, will be adopted. Proof that I am a dinosaur is that I dislike the filming and circulating of these moments, which I believe cheapens them.

I know that some people agree with me, shy as they may be to say so . . .

• Neil Simon died. Mel Brooks said, “He was one of the sweetest and least jealous writers you could ever work with.” A fine tribute. Also, Neil Simon gave people the gift of laughter, which is not only a precious gift, but underrated, I think.

• If you have the time, read this obituary: “Henry Arnhold, Patriarch of a Storied Banking Family, Dies at 96.” The family was chased from Dresden. Get this: “In July 1935, Jews were banned from public swimming pools. That meant the Arnhold children were not allowed to swim in a pool named after Georg Arnhold, Mr. Arnhold’s grandfather.”

Later, Henry Arnhold was a prisoner in a concentration camp in Norway. Eventually he made it to America — and joined U.S. military intelligence. World War II ended and, after 45 more years, the Cold War ended. Get this: “The Arnholds gave four million marks to fix the public pool in Dresden.”

There’s more: Henry Arnhold “paid to rebuild a church and a synagogue and became a patron of the city’s Palucca School of Dance, where his sister Esther Arnhold Seligmann had studied before the war. He also started an exchange program that brought students in Dresden to the New School,” in New York.

His granddaughter Julia said, “He never believed in collective guilt. He never had any bitterness.”

Astounding. Impressive.

• Inge Borkh, the soprano, has died at 97. (Obit here.) She was a great Elektra and a great Salome — which she would not necessarily like to hear: She was loath to be pigeon-holed in those roles. But, man, was she good in them. Great.

I remember what Georg Solti said of her — I remember without looking it up: “A beast. A Teutonic Callas.”

• One more obit, if you don’t mind (here). “Don Cherry, Singer by Night and Golfer by Day, Is Dead at 94.” What a life. What a combo.

Here is a tidbit: “His most lucrative work came as the voice of the animated character Mr. Clean in TV detergent commercials during the late 1950s and early ’60s.”

Another tidbit:

Because of his dual pursuits, he nearly sabotaged himself on the eve of his inaugural Masters, in 1953.

The owner of a local nightclub hired him to sing each night of the tournament. When Clifford Roberts, a founder of the Masters and chairman of Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where the tournament is held, learned of the sideshow, he called Mr. Cherry in for a talk.

“We never had anyone play in the Masters and sing at a local nightclub at the same time,” Mr. Roberts said, as Mr. Cherry recalled in his memoir.

“My reply, without being disrespectful and with a little Texas naïveté, was ‘Mr. Roberts, I have looked at the people playing in this tournament and can’t see anyone else who can sing.’”

Bobby Jones, the Masters’ other founder, took Mr. Cherry aside soon afterward and told him, “Your response to him was a very good one, but I don’t think you should ever use that answer again.”

He skipped the nightclub gig.

Ah, too bad.

Don Cherry’s life was not all fun and games — singing and golf — as whose is? One of his children was killed on 9/11. Cherry wrote a memoir called “Cherry’s Jubilee: Singin’ and Swingin’ through Life with Dino and Frank, Arnie and Jack” (that’d be Martin, Sinatra, Palmer, and Nicklaus). It’s on my list.

Thanks for joining me, dear readers, and catch you soon.



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