Category Archive 'Obituaries'
25 Sep 2010

Achieving Objectivity in Harvard Yard

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Mitchell Heisman

In October of 1903, a 23-year-old prodigy who had recently finished his first book and who was widely regarded as a genius, Otto Weininger rented a room in the house in Vienna where Ludwig van Beethoven died 76 years earlier, and shot himself in the heart.

Weininger, a prodigy who had received his doctorate at an unusually young age, wrote a book, titled Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) arriving at extremely troubling conclusions. Weininger believed that human beings and human culture and society inevitably contain a mixture of positive, active, productive, moral, and logical (male, Christian) traits and impulses as well as their passive, unproductive, amoral, and sensual (female and Jewish) opposites.

Weininger was of Jewish descent and afflicted with homosexual inclinations and was in despair over the decline of modern Western civilization due to ascendancy of the female/Jewish impulses he deplored, so acting in consistency with his philosophical conclusions, Weininger took his own life.

Last Saturday, Mitchell Heisman, a 35-year-old psychology graduate from the University of Albany, shot himself in the head in front of Memorial Church in the Harvard Yard within the sight of a campus tour. Heisman had been residing nearby in Somerville, Massachusetts, supporting himself on a legacy from his father and by working in some Boston area bookshops, while pursuing his own studies and working on a (so far unpublished) book.

Mitchell Heisman published on the Internet a 1905-page suicide note in which he explains his actions as an experiment in nihilism undertaken in search of objectivity. Heisman, like Weininger of Jewish descent, is critical of liberal democracy, egalitarianism, materialism, modernism, and Jewish ethical opposition to “biological realism and the eugenic evolution of biological life.”

The suicide note pdf is fascinating document displaying considerable learning and evidencing a sharp sense of humor and originality of thought.

The most rigorous objectivity implies indifference to the consequence of objectivity, i.e. whether the consequences of objectivity yield life or death for the observer. In other words, the elimination of subjectivity demands indifference to self-preservation when self-preservation conflicts with objectivity. The attempt at rigorous objectivity could potentially counter the interests of self-preservation or even amount to rational self-destruction. The most total objectivity appears to lead to the most total self-negation. Objectivity towards biological factors is objectivity towards life factors. Indifference to life factors leads to indifference between the choices of life and death. To approach objectivity with respect to self-interest ultimately leads to indifference to whether one is alive or dead.

The dead are most indifferent; the least interested; the least biased; the least prejudiced one way or the other. What is closest to total indifference is to be dead. If an observer hypothesizes death then, from that perspective, the observer has no vested interests in life and thus possible grounds for the most objective view. The more an observer is reduced to nothing, the more the observer is no longer a factor, the more the observer might set the conditions for the most rigorous objectivity.

It is likely that most people will not even consider the veracity of this correlation between death and objectivity even if they understand it intellectually because most will consciously or unconsciously choose to place the interests of self-preservation over the interests of objectivity. In other words, to even consider the validity of this view assumes that one is willing and able to even consider prioritizing objectivity over one’s own self-preservation. Since it not safe to simply assume this on an individual level, let alone a social level, relatively few are willing and able to seriously address this issue (and majority consensus can be expected to dismiss the issue). In short, for most people, including most “scientists”, overcoming self-preservation is not ultimately a subject for rational debate and objective discussion.

Maximizing objectivity can be incompatible with maximizing subjective interests. In some situations, anything less than death is compromise. The choice between objectivity and self-preservation may lead one to a Stoic’s choice between life and death.

Whereas the humanities cannot be what they are without human subjectivities, the inhumanities, or hard sciences, require the subjective element be removed as much as possible as sources of error. Objectivity leads towards the elimination of subjectivity, i.e. the elimination of one’s “humanity”. A value free science has no basis on which to value human things over non-human things and thus no basis to value life over death or vice versa. Social science will become equal to the standards of physical science when social scientists overcome the subjective preference for the life of humanity over the death of humanity.

To attempt to resolve the contradiction of myself as a scientist and a human being on the side of science leads towards viewing myself as a material object. While this contradiction may be impossible to resolve, the closest approximation of reconciliation may consist of the state of death. In death, the teleologically-inclining biases of human subjectivity that hinder one from viewing one’s self as a material object are eliminated.

I cannot fully reconcile my understanding of the world with my existence in it. There is a conflict between the value of objectivity and the facts of my life. This experiment is designed to demonstrate a point of incompatibility between “truth” and “life”. In this experiment I hypothesize that the private separation of facts and values, when disclosed to the wider social world, creates a conflict of interest between the value of sociobiological objectivity and the “facts” of my sociobiological existence such that it leads to a voluntary and rational completion of this work in an act of self-destruction. …

How far would one be willing to go in pursuit of scientific objectivity? Objectivity and survival are least compatible when objectivity becomes a means of life, subordinate to life as opposed to life subordinated to objectivity. If the greatest objectivity implicates confronting the most subjective biases, this implicates confronting those truths that most conflict with the subjective will to live. By simply changing my values from life values to death values, and setting my trajectory for rational biological self-destruction, I am able to liberate myself from many of the biases that dominate the horizons of most people’s lives. By valuing certain scientific observations because they are destructive to my life, I am removing self-preservation factors that hinder objectivity. This is how I am in a position to hypothesize my own death.

So if objectivity is not justified as end, then objectivity can be a means of rational self-destruction through the overcoming of the bias towards life. Rational self-destruction through the overcoming of the bias towards life, in turn, can be a means of achieving objectivity. And this means: To will death as a means of willing truth and to will truth as a means of willing death. …

Why am I doing this? Ah, yes, now I remember the punchline: I’ll try anything once!

There is nothing to take seriously!

I have not had time yet to read the whole thing, so I’m not completely sure just what I think of all of the late Mr. Heisman’s opinions, but I am intrigued enough to have resolved to read all of it. I’ve even downloaded and saved a copy.

My guess, at this point, is that his book is probably well worth publishing.

HuffPo story

Harvard Crimson

IvyGate

New York Post

12 Sep 2010

Robert Waldorf Loveless (January 2, 1929 – September 2, 2010)

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Late period knives, featuring his optional Naked Lady stamp

America’s greatest custom knife maker and most influential designer, Bob Loveless, passed away recently at the age of 81 of lung cancer.

I’ve never owned a Loveless knife.

I called Bob Loveless once about 20 years ago and asked to purchase his catalogue. He offered to send me one, but assured me it was basically pointless. His waiting list was somewhere beyond 6 years. He charged (at that time) a cool $100 an inch for a knife, and there was an extra charge for a Naked Lady stamp. Both for the frontal and rear versions. I remember asking him if he charged extra not to put that on a knife, and he laughed.

“Most of my customers are rich, vulgar guys, who absolutely love it.” he assured me.

He proceeded to explain that he thought it was a pity that people who actually wanted to use them couldn’t afford to buy them and that the enormous wait made every knife a financial opportunity for the buyer. But he liked making that much money, he conceded.

It was kind of a shame that the excellence of Loveless’s designs propelled within his lifetime his products into a stratospheric world of high-end collecting, but admirers could at least console themselves that Loveless spawned a nearly infinite number of imitators and copies of Loveless patterns could be found by the score, some made by bladesmiths collectible in their own right as well as by mass market cutlery companies.

Like a lot of artists, Bob Loveless was an extremely smart guy and a colorful rascal. He will be missed.

Local LA Times obit

Wall Street Journal article

Wikipedia article

A Loveless dealer website


Bob Loveless, 1974

03 Sep 2010

His Highness Shri Shaktimant Jhaladipati Mahamandleshwar Maharana Sriraj Sir Mayurdwajsinhji Meghrajji III Ghanshyamsinjhi Sahib Bahadur, Raj Sahib of Dhrangadhra Halvad, KCIE, FRAS, FRAI, FRHistS (3 March 1923-1 August 2010)

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The Telegraph remembers Meghrajji III, the last ruling Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, and the last surviving knight of the Order of the Indian Empire.

Meghrajji III was the 45th and last ruling descendant of the Jhala clan of Rajputs, of the Suryavanshi lineage, claiming descent from Surya, the Hindu Sun god. They were a warrior clan who originated in Baluchistan and arrived in India during the eighth century. The clan name derives from a miraculous feat by its founder Harapaldev’s wife, Shaktidevi, who caught up her children through an open window when they were charged by an elephant in must. Jhalvan is Gujarati for ‘catching’ and her children and descendants thus began to be called Jhala.

[I]n 1952, he opted out of what he described as “that rare and gubernatorial prison” for the freedom of a commoner at Christ Church, Oxford. There was some grumbling about his lack of academic qualifications, but he enjoyed the friendship of the House’s senior censor Hugh Trevor-Roper. When it was objected that Raj (as he signed himself in private correspondence) had not done any military service, Trevor-Roper pointed out that he had been commander-in-chief of the Dhrangadhra armed forces for six years.

The prince drove a sky-blue Jaguar at great speed around Oxford, and in 1953 received an invitation to the Coronation in Westminster Abbey. Over a period of six years he read Philosophy, took a diploma in Anthropology, and earned a BLitt with a thesis on the Brahma Samskâras (sacraments) as well as finding time to study drawing at the Ruskin School of Art and design ties as part of his heraldic studies. He also played the flute.

At his parties the champagne flowed freely. Allotted a set of four rooms, he had a retinue that included an ADC, a secretary and two servants dressed in dove-coloured coats and black caps. In deference to his age and position, he was made a member of the senior common room.

Dhrangadhra and his fellow princes had governed 565 states that covered almost half of the subcontinent, and at first they kept themselves aloof in the new republic. But on returning home from Christ Church he found that his fellow former rulers were gradually taking to democratic politics, proving an increasing irritant to the Congress government.

In 1967 he was elected to the legislature in Gujarat, the western Indian state into whose Saurastra peninsular Dhrangadhra-Halvad had been amalgamated. He subsequently became a member of India’s Lok Sabha (the country’s lower house of parliament), where he introduced measures to safeguard the constitutional rights of former rulers, particularly against the proposed abolition of the princes’ titles and their privy purses. Together with the Maharaja of Baroda and the Begum of Bhopal, he led the “concord of princes” which conducted a bitter battle over three years.

Interviewed by Harold Sieve of The Daily Telegraph, Dhrangadhra was agreeable to letting slip princely trappings, but his fellow princes were proud of their titles and didn’t see why they should no longer be permitted to fly their flags on cars while every lorry and taxi driver could do so. There was a brief reprieve when the Constitution Amendment Bill, stripping them of their titles, was declared illegal. As a result parliament was dissolved. But on the day of the subsequent election Dhrangadhra was ill in University College Hospital, London, and narrowly lost his seat.

Under the new government the chief justice was replaced and the Constitution Amendment Bill was reintroduced. After it became law Dhrangadhra was most exasperated by his fellow princes’ failure to back the compromise he had proposed.

Born Mayurdwajsinhji on March 3 1923, his birth was celebrated with the beating of war drums and the release of all Dhrangadhra-Halvad’s prisoners. Although small in comparison with its neighbours, the state comprised 1,157 square miles with a population of about 250,000, and rated a 13-gun-salute.

Tika, as the eldest son was traditionally known, was allotted apartments with his two brothers and eight sisters, and they had limited contact with their parents apart from a meal on Sundays. They were educated at the palace’s royal school, where he learned to recite Kipling’s poem If, and started his day either riding or doing drill at 6.30am. Scouting, carpentry, ploughing with bullocks and tinkering with cars as well as academic work followed. The feudal atmosphere was tempered by the headmaster, Jack Meyer, a tough member of MCC. Meyer was pleased when he asked Tika whether, when he was rich, he would buy cars or dig wells, and the boy replied: “Dig wells.”

In 1933 the royal school moved to England, where it became the public school Millfield in Somerset. But although Tika was one of the first seven boys in the school, he soon left to end his English school days at Haileybury before returning to India in 1939. He next went to St Joseph’s Academy at Dehra Dun and started at the Shivaji military school in Poona before becoming the maharaja.

After the princes’ parliamentary defeat, Dhrangadhra abandoned politics for scholarship, concentrating on the history of the Jhala family, a warrior clan whose proudest boast was that eight succeeding generations had died in battle against the Mughals. While declining to send his historical work to academic journals, he set up a small palace press to disseminate his work to friends, and obtained software to re-create tartans worn by Dhrangadhra soldiers in the 1940s.

The Maharaja of Dhrangadhra was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1948, and was the last surviving KCIE. He was president of Rajkumar College in Rajkot; and a life member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; of the World Wildlife Fund; the International Phonetic Association; and the Heraldry Society. He was also a member of the Cricket Club of India, the Fencing Association of Great Britain and the Bombay Masonic Lodge.

Hat tip to Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, who has since published a very nice tribute to Meghrajji III on his own blog.

15 Jul 2010

Amedeo Guillet (February 7 1909 – June 16, 2010)

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Amadeo Guillet

The Telegraph published recently an obituary for Italy’s last knight, Amedeo Guillet, a cavalry lieutenant who refused to surrender with the rest of the Italian forces in 1941, and fought on, leading a mixed force known as the Gruppo Bande a Cavallo Amhara (Group Bands of Amharic Horse), under a banner of his own featuring the Cross of Savoy superimposed with an Islamic Crescent and the motto Semper Ulterius (“Always Further”). To his horsemen, he became known as “Il Comandente Diavolo.”

The Telegraphy obituary opens recalling Guillet leading a cavalry charge of 500 men, astride his champion white Arabian stallion, Sandor, through a column of British tanks.

Early in 1941, following outstanding successes in the Western Desert, the British invasion of Mussolini’s East African empire seemed to be going like clockwork.

But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, cut through the 4/11th Sikhs, flanked the armoured cars of Skinner’s Horse and then galloped straight towards British brigade headquarters and the 25-pound artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.

Red Italian grenades – “like cricket balls” – exploded among the defenders, several of whom were cut down by swords. There were frantic cries of “Tank alert!”, and guns that had been pointing towards Italian fortifications were swivelled to face the new enemy.

At a distance of 25 yards they fired, cutting swathes through the galloping horses but also causing mayhem as the shells exploded amid the Sikhs and Skinner’s Horse.

After a few more seconds the horsemen disappeared into the network of wadis that criss-crossed the Sudan-Eritrean lowlands.

It was not quite the last cavalry charge in history – the unmechanised Savoia Cavalry regiment charged the Soviets at Izbushensky on the Don in August 1942. But it was the last one faced by the British Army, with many soldiers declaring it the most frightening and extraordinary episode of the Second World War.

Amedeo Guillet was born in Piacenza on February 7 1909 to a Savoyard-Piedmontese family of the minor aristocracy which for generations had served the dukes of Savoy, who later became the kings of Italy.

He spent most of his childhood in the south – he remembered the Austrian biplane bombing of Bari during the First World War – then followed family tradition and joined the army.

After the military academy at Modena, he chose to join the cavalry and began training at Pinerolo, where Italian horsemanship under Federico Caprilli had earlier in the century won world renown – the current “forward seat” and modern jumping saddles evolved there.

Guillet excelled as a horseman and was selected for the Italian eventing team to go to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. But Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 interrupted his career as a competition rider. Instead, using family connections, he had himself transferred to the Spahys di Libya cavalry with which he fought repeated actions.

He also witnessed aerial gas attacks on Emperor Haile Selassie’s lightly armed warriors, which appalled world opinion. In Guillet’s view, gas was largely ineffectual against an unentrenched enemy which could flee, and he himself was fighting with horse, sword and pistol.

At Selaclacla, after using the hilt of his sword to dislodge an Ethiopian warrior who had grabbed him around the waist, Guillet received a painful wound to the left hand when a bullet hit the pommel of his saddle.

Decorated for his actions, he was flattered to be chosen a year later by General Luigi Frusci as an aide de camp in the “Black Flames” division, which was sent to support Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It was the first post Guillet had been offered without family influence.

There he suffered shrapnel wounds and helped capture three Russian armoured cars and crews. But the atrocities he witnessed on both sides were a sobering experience for Guillet, who deplored what he saw of Italy’s German allies during their intervention.

No longer a uncritical, puppyish subaltern, Guillet returned to Italy and Libya. He echoed the views of many in disapproving of the pro-Nazi alliance of the regime and absurdities such as the anti-Semitic race laws.

With growing disgust for Europe, Guillet asked for a posting to Italian East Africa, where another family acquaintance, the royal prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, had been appointed viceroy to replace the brutal and inept Marshal Graziani. By this time Guillet had also become engaged to his beautiful Neapolitan cousin Beatrice Gandolfo, and their intention was to make a life for themselves in Italy’s new empire.

Mussolini’s decision to enter the war on the side of Germany in May 1940 ended these dreams, cutting off Italian East Africa, which was surrounded by the territories of its enemies, and separating Amedeo from his fiancée, who remained in Italy.
Aosta gave Guillet command of the locally recruited Amhara Cavalry Bande, as well as 500 Yemeni infantry – approximately 2,500 men. With almost no armour, the Italians used Guillet’s horsemen to delay the advance of the British 4th and 5th Indian Divisions when they crossed the Eritrean frontier in January 1941.

Guillet’s actions at Keru, and subsequent hand-to-hand fighting at Agordat, helped allow the Italian army to regroup at the mountain fortress of Keren, where it mounted its best actions in the entire war. After nearly two months, however, the British broke through, and the road to Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, lay clear.

Most of the Italian army surrendered, but Guillet refused to do so. Aosta had ordered his officers to fight on to keep as many British soldiers as possible in East Africa, while the new German commander in the Western Desert, Rommel, sought to reverse the earlier Italian disasters.

For nine months Guillet launched a series of guerrilla actions against British troops, plundering convoys and shooting up guard posts. At his side was his mistress, Khadija, an Ethiopian Muslim, for he never believed he would ever see Italy or Beatrice again. Two curious British intelligence officers pursued him: Major Max Harrari, later an urbane art dealer who would become Guillet’s close friend, and the driven intellectual Captain Sigismund Reich, of the Jewish Brigade, who was eager to get on with the task of killing Germans.

Despite their attentions, Guillet managed to escape across the Red Sea to neutral Yemen, where he became an intimate friend of the ruler, Imam Ahmed. He sneaked back to Eritrea in 1943 in disguise, and returned to Italy on the Red Cross ship Giulio Cesare, where he was reunited with Beatrice.

The couple married in April 1944 and he spent the rest of the war as an intelligence officer, befriending many of his former British enemies from East Africa.

In the postwar world, Guillet joined the diplomatic service. …

Guillet later served as ambassador in Jordan and Morocco, and finally India.

In 1975 he retired to Ireland, where he had bought a house 15 years earlier for the peace and quiet and to enjoy the foxhunting.

A generous, giving man, with a disarming innocence to his character, Guillet would frequently liken himself to Don Quixote, but say that those who found him ridiculous were the true fools.

He always said he was the luckiest man he knew – surviving British and Ethiopian bullet wounds, Spanish grenade fragments and a sword cut to the face, as well as numerous bone fractures from riding accidents.

He celebrated his 100th birthday in Rome in February last year at the army officers’ club in the Palazzo Barberini, where the royal march was played and friends gathered from Ireland, the Middle East and India – as well as those members of the Italian royal family still on speaking terms with each other.

Christopher Eger article on Guillet.

Beginning of six-part Italian program on Guillet.

Hat tip to Secular Right via Walter Olson.

15 Jul 2010

From the Grave

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Things are really not looking good for Harry Reid in his home state.

This obituary appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 13, 2010:

CHARLOTTE MCCOURT Charlotte M. Tidwell McCourt, 84, of Pahrump, passed away July 8, 2010, after a long illness. She was born Dec. 25, 1925, in Wellington, Utah, and was a 40-year resident of Nevada. Charlotte held a zest for life and loved serving her family of five children; 20 grandchildren; and 65 great-grandchildren. She had been the wife of Patrick L. McCourt for 67 happy years. Active in her community, she assisted in many political figures’ campaign efforts. As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Charlotte served as a leader in the Relief Society for over 20 years. She and her beloved husband also served a full-time mission in the Cabanatuan Mission in the Phillipines. Charlotte is survived by her husband, Patrick; children, Pat and Nellie McCourt, Dan and Lanny Shea, Bill and Marsha Sortor, David and Sherry d’Hulst, and Tom and Ann McMullin; and many grandchildren. A memorial service was held Saturday, July 10, at the LDS Chapel, 921 E. Wilson, in Pahrump. We believe that Mom would say she was mortified to have taken a large role in the election of Harry Reid to U.S. Congress. Let the record show Charlotte was displeased with his work. Please, in lieu of flowers, vote for another more worthy candidate.

28 May 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

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“I missed him even before he was gone.” Steve Bodio remembers long-time Audubon magazine editor Les Line, who evidently had a Weatherby cartridge board and a poster of a Smith & Wesson Model 29 in his Manhattan office.

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Progressive Amnesia: James E. Calfee responds to the attacks on Rand Paul for “not understanding” that state coercion of private businesses was necessary to end segregation by pointing out that the system of racial segregation in public accomodations known as “Jim Crow” was not created by the individual decisions of private business owners. It was put into effect by government through a series of laws passed by Progressive era legislators which were then upheld by the Supreme Court.

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NYT: White House Used Bill Clinton to Ask Sestak to Drop Out of Race.

18 USC Section 600: Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

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Peggy Noonan:

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: “Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust.” Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: “We pay so much for the government and it can’t cap an undersea oil well!”

29 Jan 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

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Osama is a warmist. I guess that figures.

Bad news for literature. Patrician Louis Auchincloss dies at 92 (WaPo obit), and Zen recluse J.D. Salinger passed away at 91 (London Times obit).

Bad news for scholarship. King’s College London is planning to eliminate Britain’s only chair in paleography. No money in that, you see.

Why so few conservative or libertarian academics? Two researchers propose “path dependence” as the explanation.

Five stages of democrat grief over the health care reform bill.

22 Jan 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

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And you a law professor!

Anne Althouse is at her best when she is cutting.

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Texian
, commenting at Breitbart, remarks: The scary part is that four justices think that this does NOT violate the First Amendment. Hat tip to the Barrister.

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Bird Dog, at Maggie’s Farm, recommends going to Yale so you can use the Yale Club of New York City, conveniently located on Vanderbilt Avenue right across the street from Grand Central.

It’s easier than that. They even let people who went to Dartmouth and University of Virginia have memberships, and a fair number of clubs in other cities have reciprocal privileges.

It is the cheapest hotel you’d want to stay at in NYC. The second floor lounge is a peaceful refuge where you can read the paper, sip your drink, and watch traffic bustle busily around the PanAm Building out the window. The bar serves generous drinks. Harvard’s New York Club has a larger bar with good big game trophies, but it’s much farther away from the trains and it has a lot fewer rooms to stay in.

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In the latest, Jan/Feb 2010, issue of the Yale Alumni Mag, the same chap was eulogized by two classes.

1968:

Don Masters started with us in Woolsey Hall in September 1964, served with distinction as an officer in the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam, and completed his Yale degree in 1972. He practiced law in New York City and in Denver through his career, as well as serving in entrepreneurial and general counsel roles. He was particularly active in the recovery community in the Rocky Mountain region. He loved touring on his motorcycle, and died August 31 at a beautiful location near Salmon, Idaho, doing what he loved.

1972:

On a sad note, I received notification that Don Masters was killed some time ago in a motorcycle accident in a remote part of Idaho. His body was only recently found, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, having served with distinction in Vietnam.

Sounds like someone I would have liked to have known.

23 Jul 2009

Leszek Kolakowski, October 23, 1927 – July 17, 2009

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Polish philosopher and intellectual historian Leszek Kolakowski passed away last Friday in Oxford where he had taught for many years.

Coming of age during the Nazi Occupation, Kolakowski became an autodidact who educated himself via the library of a local nobleman in his native Poland. He was a member of the Communist Party after WWII, obtained a degree at Warsaw, and taught logic and the history of Philosophy.

Though his writings were sometimes suppressed, and despite being denounced for revisionism, he was able to work and teach in Poland until the late 1960s, finally being expelled from the party in 1966 and from his university position in 1968.

He taught at several universities in the West, including Berkeley and Yale, but his permanent home became a senior researcher chair at All Souls College, Oxford.

In the West, Kolakowski became an astute and highly effective critic of Marxism from a Humanist perspective. His Main Currents of Marxism (1978) effectively summarized the history of the bacillus as well as describing the destructive progress of the consequent disease.

After the liberation of his native Poland, Kolakowski was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, and on Monday Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski announced that Kolakowski will be buried in Poland with military honors.

Telegraph published an admiring obituary:

Kolakowski’s primary academic interest was the history of philosophy since the 18th century, and he was the author of more than 30 books which combined history, theoretical analysis and pungent, witty writing. His most influential work was a three-volume history of Marxism – Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution (1978), published after he had taken refuge in the West.

It was a prophetic work, written at a time when Marxism still provided the ideological underpinning for a system that was thought to have an indefinite life expectancy. He provided an objective description of the main ideas and diverse currents of Marxist thinking, but at the same time characterised Marxism as “the greatest fantasy of our century… [which] began in a Promethean humanism and culminated in the monstrous tyranny of Stalin”. …

In an article published in 1975, he observed that the experience of Communism had shown that “the only universal medicine (Marxists) have for social evils – State ownership of the means of production – is not only perfectly compatible with all the disasters of the capitalist world – with exploitation, imperialism, pollution, misery, economic waste, national hatred and national oppression, but it adds to them a series of disasters of its own: inefficiency, lack of economic incentives and above all the unrestricted rule of the omnipresent bureaucracy, a concentration of power never before known in human history”.

Kolakowski was particularly scathing about western apologists for Marxist regimes who suggested that economic progress in communist countries somehow justified a lack of political freedom: “This lack of freedom is presented as though it were a temporary shortage. Reports along these lines give the impression of being unprejudiced. In reality they are not simply false, they are utterly misleading. Not that nothing has changed in these countries, nor that there have been no improvements in economic efficiency, but because political slavery is built into the tissue of society in the Communist countries as its absolute condition of life.” He dismissed the idea of democratic socialism as “contradictory as a fried snowball”, and modern manifestations of Marxism as “merely a repertoire of slogans serving to organise various interests”.

03 May 2009

Jack Kemp, 1935-2009

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He was too young to leave us, and we’ll miss him now particularly badly.

LA Times:

Jack Kemp, a former Republican vice presidential nominee and professional football star who cut a path as a conservative purist and a fervent advocate of tax cuts, died Saturday. He was 73.

The longtime professional quarterback, who went on to become a New York congressman, presidential candidate, Cabinet secretary and vice presidential candidate, died at his home in Bethesda, Md.

Kemp was diagnosed with cancer in January, and his swift decline stunned friends and associates. A statement released by his family late Saturday said he died peacefully shortly after 6 p.m. “surrounded by the love of his family and pastor.”

“He was a bleeding-heart conservative,” said Edwin J. Feulner, a former campaign advisor and president of the Heritage Foundation who confirmed news of Kemp’s death. “He was a good friend and a real hero to a lot of us.”

Kemp first gained national prominence with the San Diego Chargers in the early 1960s and then went on to lead the Buffalo Bills to the American Football League championship in 1964 and 1965.

He used his popularity on the football field to win election from a Buffalo-area district to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1971 to 1989.

As a congressman, Kemp was one of the few members of the House — along with Democratic Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill — to have national name recognition. With his Kennedyesque hairstyle, boyish good looks, unbounded enthusiasm and raspy voice, Kemp seemed a natural to bring new energy and interest to the Republican Party when he ran with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996.

The congressman was the leading architect of the Kemp-Roth tax bill, first proposed in 1978 with Sen. William Roth of Delaware, that proposed a 30% cut in federal taxes over three years. Kemp’s 1979 book, “American Renaissance: A Strategy for the 1980s,” contained what became known as Reaganomics during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and helped redefine the GOP’s economic identity. …

Kemp, as much as anybody, helped convince Reagan to embrace supply-side economics, designed to stimulate growth through tax reduction.

Kemp’s tax bill was defeated in the House, but a similar measure was approved two years later, offering a 25% cut in taxes.

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