By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I had been watching the news more than usual lately. Now I realize why I stopped. It’s depressing. Part of the reason why it is depressing, is because of the speed at which you are hit by Talking Heads all over the world. Everyone is yapping at you. Everybody knows yapping doesn’t help solve problems. You need some quiet time and a new approach.
Thus consider this article my attempt to improve America and cut my own personal jitters by ignoring the media for one whole day. That’s right. That’s the beginning of how you can help America. Stop listening to the Talking Heads.
They are cuter than you are and they talk faster. But they don’t know any more. I have been doing an informal survey about the media. Turns out the media are nothing more than “no dead air” and give the drug companies lots of space to promote diseases no one ever heard of. That’s right. They don’t want to cast light. Their job is not to cast light. It is to make you nervous as hell so that you get a serious case of jitters and go on a shopping spree you don’t need.
I have come up with a list of things you can do right this very day, that will make America better. I am going to start with, turn off the media for one day. Let’s not listen to any media whatsoever. Turn off the tube. Don’t read any newspapers, and do not go on the internet and look for ”news”. Let’s just have a day as God intended. Quiet. Serene. Peaceful. That’s the first thing you can do for America and that America needs. You can calm yourself down and ignore the Talking Heads.
You can easily put these people in their places. They get there because you are glued to the screen. I know. I have been glued to the screen my whole life. Now that I am 70, I don’t need to know. Many years ago when I was going to school in England a very wise woman told me, “Don’t read the secondary sources, read the primary sources and avoid the rest”. Boy, was that good advice. In other words listen to the people, not the Talking Heads who are interpreting “the people”. Your interpretation is good as anyone else’s. Go for it.
Now let’s get started. I want you to go and get a box of donuts or whatever is in season in your neck of the woods. Go buy a dozen and take them to the Fire Department OR take them to the Police Department OR Take them to some service provider like an EMT at the hospital who stayed up all night. Or to a teacher. You don’t have to do them all. All you have to do is one box. It will cost you about 3 bucks. Best 3 bucks you ever spent. You will flabbergast everyone.
Or consider the people who run the water department OR people who run the sewage department. These are people who make America work. What you can do is astonish them with your gratitude because goodness only knows they get constant criticism. Now, speaking about criticism… Go for one day without criticizing America in any way, shape or form. Instead list five things that you love about this great nation. God shed His grace on thee. You know it. It is time to remind yourself.
You are on a roll, let’s keep it up. Let’s go a single day without having any racially charged language whatsoever. No N-words or F-words or any other kind of hate speech, just words doing what the way they were intended to do (facilitate communication). In other words use language to bring people together, not to rip them apart.
More good ideas.
Too many of us are guilty of racial profiling. Today, let’s just clear it all together off of our palette. Caution may be necessary in certain times and places but massive racial profiling is not. My father used to say ”red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in His sight”. Remember that song from Bible School
“Jesus loves the little children of the world”?
Well, not just the little children. He likes the big ones, too. You could help God by getting rid of all racially charged language. Do you really need it? Do you want to be defined by the expletives that you use? I sincerely hope not.
Next, here is a particularly good action. Help somebody. Just do a helpful deed. Do it. It becomes infectious. Only the other day I was carrying up some groceries in the elevator, and I managed to drop them. I am not the world’s most coordinated person but I have never before dropped a full bag of groceries.
As there were a number of cans in my bag; they rolled all over the lobby. I was chagrined, not least because I find getting up and down a little difficult. I wondered what I was going to do with my goods and cans that were spread all over the place. And all of a sudden I heard a voice from behind me and the voice said “You seem to need some help, sir”.
Frankly, I was astonished, and as I turned around I remembered that God works in mysterious ways. I saw a beautiful woman perfectly turned out, ready to help me. And she did.
Whatever mood or condition I was in prior to her speaking to me. I quickly changed my tune to; “Wow”, thank you! I wasn’t looking so much at her beautiful exterior as I was thinking about her beautiful interior which is far more important. We can all be beautiful inside and it doesn’t cost a cent.
So, she picked up my cans and helped me put them back in the bag. Then she went up in the elevator with me, another unexpected benefit. She then said “Would you like some help”? What could I say, I was putty in her hand.
A good deed resonates. When was the last time you simply helped someone? You didn’t have to ask. You didn’t have to make a big to-do about it. It could be a small thing, although picking up rolling cans off the stone floor did not seem a small matter at the time.
Let’s do something today that all of us should never forgo. Let’s listen to what someone else says. Actually listen. We don’t listen anymore. We yap at each other. It’s degrading, and it doesn’t get us anywhere. America works because we allow other people to have their say without jumping all over them when they are saying it. It is hard to do but if everyone just listened, we all will be better off.
Compliment people on their work. It could be a waitress. Have you ever watched a waitress or a waiter? They work hard, as Donna Summer said. “They work hard for the money”. Compliment them.
Remember, America is a land that works because we work together. We don’t have to like each other. God only knows we don’t have to like each other, but we do have to get along. The funny thing is once you start working with people and get to know them, most of the time you find out that they are pretty likeable.
Another thing you can do today is don’t pre-judge anyone. I am guilty of this myself. I have pre judged so many people in my life. They didn’t look the right way. They didn’t walk the right way. They didn’t have the right skin color. They didn’t come from the right prep school.
My whole life, and I don’t say I am alone. I have got 365 million colleagues in this battle. Let’s not pre judge. Let’s for one day go without pre judging anyone and see what happens.
Then, pass this on. America, the can-do country certainly can do this. We have met the enemy as Pogo once said, and he is us. There isn’t a thing on my list which admittedly is incomplete although helpful that you can’t do right now. That your spouse can’t do. That your children can’t do. That your next door neighbor can’t do.
We can remember, God shed His grace on thee. Let’s dig ourselves out from under and remember why He did it. Then when you are finished with the items on this list, sit down in a quiet place and think something good about yourself. This may prove difficult.
After all, we are getting older and we have wrinkles and things don’t work and medications that cost more every day. It may prove difficult to pull one to good thing from this cacophony.
My mother in her declining days got to be very hostile and negative to the point where it was actually painful to pick up the phone and call her because you knew you would have to listen to 30 minutes 60 minutes 90 minutes of abuse about almost anything.
Then, one day I snapped. I said to her “When we talk next week, I want you to say something good. If you don’t say something good about anything, I am never going to talk to you again.”
I called as usual the next week, she went on as usual abusing one and all. My mother. I said to her “Do you remember what I said last week that if you didn’t come with at least one positive thought about yourself; about the Cosmos; about Antarctica; about America; about the women next door; Just one thing at least. I would never talk to you again.”
She paused for a moment because she knew that I am just as bull headed as she ever was.
“The roses in the garden are beautiful today”.
And all of a sudden we were on a different path and this path, had possibilities and life and the prospect of renewal, optimism, hope, and love.
So today let us to take a different path. Let’s assume that we can improve matters because we can. Take the matter of improvement in your own hands. Remember, turn off the media. Their job is to disgruntle you, frighten you, and give you a mountain of anxiety. We don’t need that or the “facts” which prove so often to be ill considered, wrong, and unhelpful.
We are all smart enough to realize that the critical word for all our lives is “together.” As John Adams once said in 1776 to Thomas Jefferson, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately”.
Thank you for reading, now pass it on. Pass it on. Pass it on. In such a way we shall renew the grace of what makes America.
'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.' The watery end of bright-smiled Marie Joseph and her unsettling fate.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It is high summer in Fall River, Massachusetts, once a focal point of American commerce and the most elegant of sailing ships, now a city defined by its gnawing problems and of people who arrive only to count the days until they leave this way station to something better.
Many of these new arrivals are Hispanic and the place where the most adamant of New Englanders flourished is now a place where often the language is Spanish and the orientation Latin. How surprised the mariners of Massachusetts would have been... but even they, unhappily seeing the transformation of their works, would have looked twice at the radiant smile of Marie Joseph, the kind of smile that lightens loads, brings people together, and holds them together when it's needed, as it always is.
Marie Joseph graced lives, she did not impose upon them. Such people are too rare... always valued.... the sinews on which all communities rely, especially the ones which seem to have more than their share of problems.
The new arrivals, not yet ascending to country club status, rely on the plethora of municipal services which, in this year 2011, are stressed, pressured, threatened, deteriorating. But more needed than ever... especially if that service is the state-run swimming pools that provide relief on the so-hot summer days you always forget are a sweltering feature of summer hereabouts.
The thought of the beckoning pool, aqua marine, cool, refreshing, a blessing to folks without air conditioning is just what Marie Joseph wanted... and so, arrayed in that smile that wouldn't quit, she made her way to the modern city's version of the old swimming hole. In the last picture of Marie Joseph, taken the day before she died (June 26, 2011) her smile is incandescent, radiant, cast on the child in her arms with plenty left over for the rest of the world.
That image should have defined the event and the day, a happy memory in a life of challenges and tribulations... Instead, that image stands as irony, proof (if it were ever needed) that life is short, can never be taken for granted, and can end in ways inexplicable and horrifying... as it was about to do for Marie Joseph.
The water slide took her down indeed, to the conclusion of a brief life, just 36 years.
She saw the water slide. It looked fun... especially as she watched a nine-year-old neighbor go down the slide accompanied by the full panoply of quips, expressions, and ear-shattering squeals all kids horde for just such events. She was game. You had to take your fun when and where you could.
As she slid down the water slide into death and eternity, no one (except the nine-year-old) paid any attention. No need. That water slide was popular and no one gave it a second thought. But this day something went terribly wrong... while people who should have seen saw nothing... or at least they say so now...
The first horror: death by drowning, surrounded by people.
Marie Joseph may have known how to swim; her friends and family are not sure. She didn't ask. Why should she; she had watched her young friend use the slide joyously; she probably didn't know the water was 12 feet deep. Once in the water, Marie was in trouble... and must have made a fearful racket as anyone would as they faced the reality of their situation and fought for life. How could this death struggle happen before so many... with only one person, her young neighbor doing anything to assist?
He at least knew something was wrong and tried to pull Marie up, to safety; and when he failed, he called upon the lifeguard for assistance. But demi-god in his Ray Bans, he had better things to do than his job; ignoring kids' babble was part of what made him so cool and exalted.
Here the story goes from tragedy to the macabre, from one family's grief to an enduring symbol of ineptitude, scandal, and staggering incompetence.
Marie Joseph was now dead... but no one knew it...
The friends she came with wondered where she had gone; something no doubt had come up; she'd tell them later. And so the sunburnt children wanting more... and their mothers who had had enough, all went home...
... leaving the body of Marie Joseph entombed in water, her raven tresses in constant movement under the water under the summer's night. And so on this cheerful day did Marie Joseph pass a night peaceful perhaps for her, but of mounting worry and concern for her family and friends. Where had she and her radiant smile gone?
Business as usual.
The next day was business as usual... the kids came to swim and scream, the mothers to watch and gossip, complaining about the temperature and how hot it was; the lifeguard, high above, looked down on the scene and wondered if his girl was cheating on him, of all people.
And throughout this day, mere feet below the teaming activity, the lifeless body of Marie Joseph moved to the water's beat, its whereabouts known only to God. Yes, on this evening, too, and throughout the stages of the night, did her unseeing eyes abide in their incomprehensible resting place.
And, though its staggers belief, it went on for another day... another day with the corpse swimming with youngsters... and where chary mothers saw nothing... and lifeguards with plum summer jobs, envied, yet saw absolutely nothing.
And still the story worsens, morphing from the shocking to the incredible.
Now officials, making a periodic visit, appeared. Despite the inexplicable disappearance of Marie Joseph, now common gossip, these officials made only the most cursory of inspections... not one suspecting that the pool itself and its cloudy waters held the body. Like everyone else but one small boy they looked... and saw nothing, though the corpse of a beautiful woman was dissolving into debris....
... which teams of lifeguards missed and even the people charged daily with inspecting the pool, cleaning it, keeping the waters fresh and clear. Add these, too, to the staggering number who should have seen... but say they did not.
Now, of course, alarm bells ringing in the face of widespread condemnation, officials great and small come slowly forward, mutter platitudes, and run for cover. A tiny fraction of this energy would easily have saved the life of Marie Joseph or at least given her honorable burial, sparing her from becoming a thing of horror and nightmare. For such she has become, no longer the beloved
person she was but a fearful presence for the children who now see a place of sun, light, air and shimmering water as a place of dread and abhorrence, wondering what else they may find there.
Marie Joseph did not deserve her fate. Let some poignant lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, provide her one better:
"Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear
All the knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott." (1842).
I've chosen the original version of Lord Tennyson's poem, first published in 1833, and put to music by Loreena McKennitt (1991). It is haunting, spectral, and profoundly sad.
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It all began when a handful of revolutionary students at the University of Andes closed the University, thereby trapping a delegation from the University of California; who were there on an overseas student program. The rebels closed the University of the Andes and the students who were already there from University of California didn’t get any academic credits for the year. Their parents were furious.
Pressure came to bear on the Chancellor of the University of California system, and he shut down the program in Bogotá. As a result I who was to go to Bogotá had to make a last minute switch to participate in the University of California’s program. I who was supposed to be going to Colombia went instead to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The year was1968 and that is where my story begins.
While I was at the University of St. Andrews I saw a vacancy notice for the representative to the Student Representative Council (SRC). The vacancy that was open was for Faculty of Arts which was fully three quarters of the University.
I had been in Scotland for just 3 weeks but nothing daunted. I decided that I would run for the seat that had my name written all over it. Nothing was going to stop me from coming to a strange country and in the flickering of an eye lash, run for office. It was audacious. It was bold. It was thrilling. And as I pointed it out to my dear friends who were part of the University of California delegation; if I lost; no big deal, no one would know who I was anyway, but if I won… I would be at the cover of Time magazine.
Well, as things worked out. I was elected, to the astonishment of absolutely everyone at the University. However they didn’t like having an American on the SRC, much less as a representative of the largest block at the University. But because they had to do something, they appointed me Chairman of the Rectoral Committee. Rectors are a unique United Kingdom phenomenon. They are the elected representative of students on the board of trustees.
They traditionally come to the University. Spend a few days and don’t intervene too much. I was fortunate enough to meet Sir Learie Constantine (1901-1971) who was at that time the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. Sir Learie had been a famous cricketer in his youth and was now nearly at the end of his career which was capped by his selection as the first black peer of the realm.
As Chairman of the Rectoral Committee. I worked very closely with the new rector, Sir Learie Constantine and came to know him very well along with his charming wife, Lady Constantine.
The Rectoral celebrations at St. Andrews went off without a hitch giving us national publicity for the first time ever and so to speak put St. Andrews on the map. I spent many hours with Sir Learie planning things. Getting everything in order; arranging the speeches and so forth. It was in short a triumph.
Thereafter I looked around the University for other Triumph. And in my search I learned about the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot Races.
Now, I admit I am not a horseman. The quadruped doesn’t interest me very much. That degree of interest is reserved for my sister, Shelby Allison who is a horse collector and breeder. She would have been a better candidate for the Royal Enclosure. But I had my eyes open on what would increase my network of useful contact and experiences.
I wrote to Sir Learie and asked him if he could get me four sets of tickets. One for me and one each for my three friends from the University of California. Could he get me four tickets for the Royal Enclosure. He didn’t know the procedures but he willingly picked up the phone and called the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England to get us 4 sets of tickets.
His Grace was rather taken aback as he pointed out to Sir Learie, that foreigner like us, had to go to their respective embassies to apply for tickets. That was the correct way. But what do you do when a charming man like Sir Learie ask you for a favor for his buddies? The tickets were immediately forthcoming.
This created a furor amongst my friends, because of what we would wear? The wearing of the proper clothes is absolutely essential for Ascot. You better be impeccably dressed or else you will be tossed out of the Royal Enclosures.
So, we looked around and when the tickets came; they came with instructions. There were three men in the delegation (Mark, Morris, William Powers, Ingoldsby and me) and one lady, Lucy Shepard.
Now, in those days there was a company called Moss Brothers ( universally known as “MossBros”). It is here that the gentlemen were outfitted for the Royal Enclosure.
I can well remember when I came to MossBros in London. I had absolutely no experience wearing top hat and tails. Not to worry. There is no one in the world fussier about decorum than a gentleman’s gentlemen at the establishment. He knew and he dictated. Your job was to stand quietly while the necessary decisions were rendered.
In short order we were out fitted with our royal kit. And we looked absolutely fabulous. Indeed, when I looked in the mirror the day I returned from my final fitting it was “mirror mirror on the wall, need you ask who is the fairest of them all? You are man .You are dude.” And I was.
So prepared for our trip to Royal Ascot. But where would paragons like us stay? We had no money. However, these were the days when it was still possible, according to the famous book by Arthur Frommer, to see “Europe on $5 a day”.
To do so you had to stay in places which were not at all fashionable in anyway. We chose to stay within our meager budget, by checking in the youth hostel nearest to the racecourse which was in Berkshire, England.
Such places were officially called youth hostels, but we in our grandeur called them “hovels”, and no wonder.
Here is the invariable routine of such a place. Up with the larks, to share some humble but nutritious gruel. To cheerfully do the chore you were assigned upon arrival (making beds, sweeping the floor, cleaning latrines) and exit singing “I love to go a wandering”.
As you may imagine we didn’t fit in to the designated routine. Nonetheless we did everything required. Cleaning and dusting in our Cinderella finery in which we would soon present ourselves to Her Majesty.
Work completed, we sauntered across the street to pick up a regular red two tier bus. We garnered every eye in the county. Everyone looked at us from the time when we dressed in the youth hovel to the time we got on the bus to the time we got to Ascot. We were the cynosure of every eye and quite right too. I felt like either a celebrity or a refugee from the winter palace. In those days before the renovation of the Ascot course and buildings, we were exceptionally close to the sovereign. We were, in short, her guests.
Her Majesty arrived with her family and guests in a landau. Highly polished and in the perfect condition, the British are so well known for. It made a lovely sight. Everything in place, it was a thrill for sloppy Americans who moments before were sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets. Once we settled down, we had ample opportunity to see Her Majesty and I dare say she took advantage of her opportunity to see us. It was no doubt part of the reason why this year she found Ascot so successful.
We became quite comfy and we did this for four days. For four days we watch the queen drive up in different outfits with trademark diamond brooch, always looking regal. Everything Comme il faux.
Ascot is a place for queen to have fun, and she does. She puts some flowers in her bonnet to get into the spirit of the hats competition. She appeared at all times affable. I believe the year I went (June 1968), the queen mother was with her. She was the most affable and jolly old soul imaginable. The whole environment was light and gay.
The queen loves her ponies and no doubt places an occasional flutter at the betting window as we did, losing some of California’s money and subsidizing the profits for the racecourse. We were happy to do so.
For the four days we did this we became quite a sight in the neighborhood, after all every day we left the Royal Enclosure we returned to our youth hovel to our so-called regular life. This had no glamor in it whatsoever.
Liquor, Lunch, and Looking.
Ascot started in 1711 by Queen Ann and has always been about looking. It did start as racing and racing continues to be the official reason for having this outing. The truth of the matter for most people is the chance to be seen and to have their hats on the telly. In this competition gentlemen lose out immediately. Our role is simply to look smart and I have to add, I was delighted to preen, looking like no boy from Illinois has ever looked. In other words terrific.
Things are different for the ladies. Sadly, we no longer have milliners. Ladies have to rely on the help of their own imagination or their friends or someone in the village who creates hats. As a result most of the hats created are grotesque, garish, and something no real lady would ever wish to be seen in.
That’s where Cecil Beaton and Audrey Hepburn come in. Cecil Beaton was a marvelous artist. He designed the Ascot scene for “My fair Lady “(1964) and he did it with exquisite precision laying down a standard that no group of people has ever beaten.
What I want to do now, is show you some of the things which are at display at Ascot this year. As usual some of them were extremely regrettable sort of like a paper plate turned on upside-down on their head with a bunch of cherries or butterflies. All their on ladies heads making ladies look ridiculous. But it is all in a good cause. The queen herself often wears flowers and greenery in her hats as she is driven up in the Royal Enclosure and mingles with hoy ploy like me. Now I say to you,"Everyone who should be here is here. Every duke, and earl and peer is here." It is Ascot Opening Day.
P.S. The costume that took the cake this year (2017) was owned by rather rotund gentleman; who popped out of the crowd in a suit no one from MossBros could duplicate. He promptly became involved in some fisticuffs. There were people who didn’t like his taste so expansively on display. A moment later both ladies and gentlemen were involved in a melee. Oh, how the mighty have indeed fallen.
And click here for Lerner and Loewe’s Ascot Gavotte.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Walk down the corridor at any dormitory at any university campus in the land. One of the things you are sure to see more often than not, are sign that says “Men working” or “No Parking” or “Deer crossing” and many others. These directions are found on signs carefully “liberated” by students out on treasure hunts. The signs are considered wampum, and most college students at some point or other have lifted one or more to decorate their dormitory room. The more rare the direction the more prized they sign.
Now, technically the students know this is theft. Technically, the universities know it too. But no one makes a big deal out of it. It is just something kids do during their college years. Steal things and then post them in their dormitory rooms. It is like wearing eagle feathers in their war bonnets.
Otto Warmbier came out of this tradition, and so when he went to North Korea as part of a special trip for Westerners, he probably didn’t think a great deal about lifting a sign that was in the corridor of the hotel where he was staying. The sign said “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il’s patriotism!” He certainly never thought it would be much of an issue. After all, why do people go to North Korea in the first place? Because it is dangerous. Because they want to come back to his home in Ohio. They want to come back to their homes with tales a plenty, tales for life.
Close to the case
I feel very close to the Warmbier case. In 1968, I was 20 year old and en route to Poland, which was then under the control of the Communist regime of Wladyslaw Gomulka. Gomulka was a very nasty character and Poland was in deep distress at that time. The Communist Party still ruled, and any action against the regime could result in torture or even death.
I was living in London at the time; Like Otto, I wanted to see the world. So a friend and I signed up for a trip offered by the Young Pioneers of Poland. You may not know what a Pioneer is but in those days Pioneers were the young Communists. These were the equivalent of the Communist Boy Scouts. Only the behavior wasn’t very Scout like.
We paid a 150 Pounds to go from London to Zakopane in the south of Poland. The trip was strikingly successfully even although it was billed as a ski-trip. Uncoordinated as I am I didn’t see much time on the ski-slopes except looking up from the ground, head in a drift. However, at the end of the trip which was in January my friend and I decided that we wanted to go to Warsaw to take a good look around the capital. This was not included in the tour price. Nothing daunted we simply got on one of the state railways and rode illegally (First Class no less) from Zakopane to Warsaw. No one stopped us. This was quite an extensive trip involving as it did, traversing the entire country of Poland.
Well, we bluffed our way through to get to Warsaw. Ticket collectors would come to us. We’d pretend we didn’t understand them- which we didn’t because we didn’t speak a word of Polish. The point was that we did this deed of daring-do without having a penny for it or even considering it might be dangerous. We thought it was the greatest hoot of our lives. The danger only added to the spice. I tell you this because American college students then and now haven’t changed that much. They want to one-up their friends when they are travelling. To go to the Eiffel Tower is nothing but to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in a balloon is everything.
Now, I cannot get into the head of the deceased student Otto Warmbier. But I can tell you this, I can picture the scene in Pyongyang that evening when he arrived. He travelled with 10 members on this trip organized by the North Korean Pioneers.
Otto saw in the corridor a sign and I know that he immediately thought hmm, I want this to go on my bedroom in Ohio. It would have made indeed a wonderful addition. Needless to say North Koreans didn’t see it this way. What Otto did was this; he got to the hotel. He saw this sign with its provocative pro-regime message; a message one of-course never sees in Ohio outside of history books and documentaries. He then decided to take it down and keep it. Well, he got it off the wall; then discovered that he couldn’t fold it or easily carry it away. So he took it down to the staff floor in the hotel and left it.
This was all captured in film, because of course being a Communist regime there was tight control run by control freaks. The people who were watching the television screen saw what he did and immediately called in the authorities who promptly arrested him at the airport as he was ready to leave.
The tour guide, Danny Gratton, reported later that Otto didn’t resist and went away with the authorities with a half-smile on his lips, no visible fear, possibly even thinking what a great story it would be when he was back in Ohio telling this tale. And so it might have been had not the North Koreans lost their sense of proportion, something always in short supply.
At no time in the proceedings was Otto Warmbier guilty of anything other than bad judgment. He didn’t curse. He didn’t scream. He didn’t cry. He didn’t try to escape. He didn’t make a fuss. He simply cooperated after all he was bringing to the situation an American outlook. He was behaving in a polite Ohion way because he was sure that he would be out within hours possibly a day or two if the things went longer than expected. And then something went terribly wrong.
Many people know what this is. I am not one of them. You are not going to be one of them either because the people who know are not telling. But I can guess, Otto went uncomplainingly along with the guards and was locked up in a cell. At this point no charges had been brought against him and his mood would have been relatively light. However this all changed quickly.
In the event, he went before a judge, and this is where the bombshell occurred. The judge sentenced him in January 2016 to 15 years of hard labor for the “hostile act”, trying to steal a propaganda poster off the wall at his hotel.
Now think for a moment. Here is a Ohio boy, dressed in Ohio clothes, with a Ohio mentality; no doubt very polite as Ohio boys tend to be. In his eyes he had done nothing wrong, and he was no doubt flabbergasted by the position in which he now found himself.
Why did the regime decide to hit Otto Warmbier with a haymaker, especially at a time when it seemed both the US and North Korea were inching towards a thaw, no matter how slight? No one who is in a position to talk is talking and every day that goes by everyone wants this Otto matter to be silenced.
To err is human
Why? Because one mistake beget another. His captors in a short snippet of film show Otto’s North Korean guards dragging him across the court like a bag of potatoes. Otto looks like a complete and total vegetable, head down no evidence he knows where he is or what is happening. Clearly he did not expect this. No one expected it. But the judge delivered this brutal sentence which probably followed roughing up or worse. I suspect that is what happened. Was he manhandled by some prison guards? Who of course do not have Ohio manners and do not approach their task in a polite and courtly fashion.
They had this hot potato named Otto. He was there; they didn’t know what to do with him. So they probably victimized even tortured him. One thing led to another and all of a sudden there was brain damage, massive brain damage. I imagine this occurred fairly early before any outside authority could be called into the case.
The judge said 15 years. Who told him to say that? How much leeway did he have? Was he being briefed by someone? The regime had a nasty problem on its hands now. They had gone beyond any reasonable kind of punishment. If any punishment in this case; what would have been reasonable?
They had abused Otto. After all he was the prime witness. To cover up what they had done they needed to kill him. A dead Otto was preferable from Pyongyang’s point of view, because a live Otto would have told exactly what had happened, and they didn’t want to have that. So, they covered it up. They kept the brain dead body with all the brutal evidence on his body for what they had done to him. They needed time to prepare the body so there would be no evidence.
It would have been best from the North Koreans standpoint if he had died “naturally” and quickly but they could hold out for a while. Then some bright light in the North Korean government decided that they want the body out and wanted him to die outside North Korea. Anywhere but Pyongyang.
And so the case of Otto Warmbier continued to galvanize people’s attention in the government. What to do with Otto became the persistent question. And what was done with him of course was hours literally couple of days before he died. The body which was now not so much piece of evidence as something appalling which had to be removed from North Korea, everybody had to stay quiet. Nobody wanted to rock the boat.
The real problem of this case was first of all who ordered the beating of Otto? Because I am sure at the very beginning he was beaten in a prescribed North Korean fashion. Who ordered that?
Who ordered the judge to give the 15 year sentence? Because I imagine that sentence was not given by the judge spontaneously but was the result of the government intervention. What benefit would there have been?
Meanwhile Ottos’s body continued to be a silent witness. He was still technically alive but in no position to testify and as soon as the North Korean government decided that there were no telltale wounds on the body and that it was too late for an autopsy. No scabbing of past injuries. As soon as they were certain that the body offered no grounds for accusation against the regime, they got rid of the body.
Now, we have a problem in Washington. The United States government has been trying to build bridges with North Korea. President Trump even offered to go to North Korea to advance things. Now, Otto’s lifeless body was a menace to that. Something had to be done. Poor old Otto; the boy who started the whole thing off, simply by stealing a sign in a prescribed Ohio fraternity boy fashion. His body lay silent. An accusation to everyone involved in the case.
Why had the United States government moved so slowly? Why didn’t they know more about his medical condition? Why didn’t they insist on medical intervention earlier in the case and on and on… The questions are blurring.
It comes to a point where yesterdays’ front page news which is what the Otto story was becomes today’s eighth page news which is where today’s Otto story is today.
June 22nd 2017, today is his funeral where everyone involved just simply wants closure. No more questions. No more accusations. No more evidence. No more speculation. Simply silence. They want the case of Otto Warmbier to be truly buried.
I am here to offer a candle in Otto’s memory. The pictures of him show exactly what he should have been in age 22; bright, clever, a charmer, a bit of wicked wit and high jinx about the boy. The boy who will now never know the joy of marriage, the joy of children, the joy of getting old and cracking jokes on the veranda. All these were denied to him because he became involved in what is probably a human error compounded by other humans trying to cover up. It is a sad story and it is a story that happens every day around the world, the most often of all in North Korea a brutal, stupid, thoughtless, menacing regime.
It involves government officials coming together. They want closure. They want this case to be over and move on and forget Otto. Let’s not do that this time. Let’s remember him as the attractive young man that he was; who made what by any standard anywhere else besides North Korea, that labyrinth of menace was a small mistake that cost him his life. And I say this as we put this matter to rest and continue our talks with North Korea. Let’s never forget this young man. Let’s never forget what North Korea did to him and is capable of.
Let’s also never forget that human error above all is the greatest error that could be imagined and it was human error and stupidity as much as anything else which caused this boy to die. There are now 3 additional Americans in North Korean prisons and one Canadian. Let us not forget the Canadian. I urge President Trump to get on the phone and call Pyongyang and say it would be a kind gesture to let those people go and stay on the case. Otto is dead but there are four lives which could still be saved with prompt intervention. We want the North Koreans to know that what they did was unacceptable. If they wish to be part of the community of nations they must learn our ways. We know their ways; they are the ways of brutality, terror, and random pain. We don’t need to learn theirs, they need to learn ours.
'Look away Dixie Land!' The day that determined the outcome of the U.S. Civil War. The Battle of Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862. And you are there....
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. The American Civil War began April 12, 1861 with the firing of the rebel forces on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. It officially ended on April 9, 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House. In between, 212,938 people from both sides were killed in action, with total casualties exceeding 625,000 in what was the most bloody war ever fought on this planet... and the most embittered, as is always the case when brothers fight each other to the death, enraged, grieving, broken hearted but determined to have victory, whatever the cost...
This war was filled with incident, great deeds of valor, deeds, too, of squalor, treachery, unmitigated cruelty... and chivalry... but of all the deeds in this great struggle, the deeds of just a handful of men determined the outcome. These were the men who fought each other at the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia March 8-9, 1862. And I am taking you there today... for you will want to know who won, who lost, and why it happened the way it did.
For the incidental music to this article, I have selected Daniel Decatur Emmett's famous tune, "Dixie," also known as "I Wish I Was in Dixie," a song originating in the black face minstrelsy of the 1850s. It is a tune that makes even the least likely ready to jump up and whirl. I have selected it today because, as Abraham Lincoln himself said on April 10, 1865, it's "one of the best tunes I ever heard" ... but also because of its famous line, "Look away, Dixie Land." After the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia and all the other Confederate states had nothing to look forward to... and everything to look away from.
But it didn't look that way on March 8, 1862... quite the contrary.
News of the most alarming portent arrives in Washington, D.C., Sunday, March 9, 1862.
Gideon Wells, a New England journalist, found himself urgently summoned to the White House. Come! Come at once! And this Connecticut Yankee, in his unlikely role as Secretary of the Navy, scurried to a meeting where he found Mr. Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, in the greatest possible dismay... and so alarmed himself that he was alarming, too, the President of the Dis-united States of America.
It was a scene to brighten every heart in Dixie... and cause shrewd financiers to sell U.S. Treasury bonds short before Wall Street opened Monday, to chaos and defeatism.
Mr. Stanton could not keep still, could not hide his profound anxiety and fear. He sat down, only to jump up again and rush to the windows... What was he looking for? A savior for the Union cause... What did he expect to see? The CSS Virginia in all her glory steaming up the Potomac, sinking the Federal cause with effortless grace. It was a scene of destiny, and every man on both sides of the struggle knew that history of the gravest magnitude was happening now! To them! At Hampton Roads! And so depending on their point of view and allegiance they either gave way to unbridled joy... or profound despair and lamentation. No one was neutral on this urgent matter.
USS Merrimac into CSS Virginia.
The largest naval installation of the Great Republic was at Norfolk in Virginia... and so after the Old Dominion seceded (April 24, 1861) it became a matter of the greatest urgency to both sides to arrange matters there to their greatest advantage. This to the Federal forces meant moving as much as could be moved, destroying the rest. And, to the rebels, to do just the reverse.
Thus was the USS Merrimac, unable to be removed in time and against the rebel sentiments of her crew, burnt and sunk... but not effectively. Her new owners quickly discovered both hull and engines were serviceable... and so began her transformation into the CSS Virginia, the vessel which made Secretary Stanton quail with acute fear and humiliating anxiety.
Because CSS Virginia, for all that she had just weeks ago been scuttled, was transformed into the mightiest ship of all the navies of all the seas... a ship sheathed in iron, designed to deal death to the picturesque, now ineffectual sailing ships of every navy, but without suffering a single nick at all. Thus did the dead Merrimac come to be the super weapon the Confederacy needed to pulverize the Union and secure their freedom from the meddling, inept Yankees they despised.
Confederate triumph March 8, 1862.
The world changed this day... as the Virginia, with the merest motion, rammed the hapless USS Cumberland, 121 seamen going down with her... then the USS Congress was put out of action, surrendering... and everyone, from the merest cabin boy, saw the future... and knew that every gallant wooden vessel, yesterday puissant, was now dross. And so, as cat to mouse, Virginia moved to her next sure triumph, USS Minnesota... while every telegrapher sent on the news, the news that so discomfited Secretary Stanton... and every other brave Union heart. Armageddon was here... and it flew a Confederate flag.
In August, 1861 Gideon Wells authorized work on a top-secret Union ironclad... and in due course the USS Monitor was born, the most radical naval design ever; the invention of Swedish engineer and inventor John Ericsson. And it was this curious, much mocked vessel that steamed into Hampton Roads March 9, just in time, to reverse what but yesterday had seemed certain, Southern command of the seas and therefore victory.
And as Monitor and Virginia battled each other to a draw, each unable to finish its deft opponent, the entire strategic scene changed. All wooden ships, every single one, was now obsolete; thus a new arms race started for command of the seas. USS Monitor had, simply by maneuvering to a draw, stopped the South's "certain" advance and commenced a war of bloody attrition, a war the North could win, and the South had most reason to fear. For without access to the world, the South could only rely on itself... and that would never be enough to ensure independence as every Southern family would, in tragic due course, come to understand only too well.
As for both the historic ships of this engagement, neither sailed for long. Virginia was burnt again and sunk when Union forces took back the Norfolk port facilities in May. As for the plucky Monitor, she sank December 31, 1862 off North Carolina. The remains of one of her stricken crew, 24-year-old James Fenwick, were just recently brought to the surface for honorable burial. He had been married just a few weeks before Monitor embarked on her final voyage; her history short but
"Old times they are not forgotten; Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land."
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
With over 70 colleges and universities in and around Boston, information on commencements is frequent and suggestive. Speculation begins months before the actual commencement season about who will be the most invited celebrity in the honorary degree competition. Then the coverage transfers to what these new honorary degree recipients are saying and what it tells us about the state of the Great Republic and its peoples.
Sadly, no one has recommended my name for consideration; worse, it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. No worries.
I am going to tell you without benefit of invitation my remarks; the remarks I would have given. I am going to give my own Commencement Speech which I modestly tell you is a gem. No doubt about it. Now without further ado, here’s the great speech.
Colleagues of the class of 2017, are you beginning to see you’ve been lied to, deceived and mislead all these years, for the great majority of you will never achieve success, the kind of success you have dreamed of all your life; which you were sure your sheepskin delivered. Instead you will have to brag about today for the rest of your life, for it is the final day you will ever have for living the pampered, coddled, exquisite self deceptive student life you have grown far too comfortable with and which ends today.
Yes starting today, the overwhelming majority of you graduates will not have three nutritious meals placed in front of you with never a dish to wash; all that you need to do is open your mouth and chew. You will not have laundry services that present you with clean linens without you doing any more than sleep on them. You will not have instant friends right on the very floor of your dormitory, no less, just like a sitcom; to cheer you, make you laugh, help you out, and make you think that life is a lark, tra la.
You will discover, perhaps you already have, there will be no one to recommend books and ensure you read them. Worse, as you leave this institution today you already have read most of the books you will ever read in your life. This shocking fact noted historian Arthur Schlesinger (1917-2007) told me many years ago.
Your days of reasonably uncomplicated sexuality will now come to an end unless you live in a commune, or have special expertise in juggling more than one partner at a time. You will be forced to make a decision involving spouses and offspring. Thus the uncomplicated delights of promiscuity end here.
You will no longer be able to face the world In T-Shirt and jeans. You must now dress for others, not for yourself. From here on out you will have to bathe regularly, brush your teeth occasionally, comb your hair, and above all not smell from lack of soap which need not be festooned with some designer’s expensive moniker. Coming as you are is no longer an option. Reading these lines, you are perhaps now aware of the Shangri-La which you will be forced out of in just hours; to pass on to your eager successors, who are eagerly awaiting to repeat your mistakes.
Hey man, you will need to be on time for all appointments for there is no surer way of insulting people than coming late and shrugging it off as if it doesn’t matter. I remember the day this was driven home to me for life. It was at Harvard, in Professor Walter Jackson Bates’ (1918-1999) famous class on 18th Century English literature. Right from the start he made it clear that if you could not trouble to be on time, don’t bother to attend.
Of course the students didn’t believe him. After all they were the most important people in the equation. They could do what they wanted including being on time or not, whatever their lordlings deemed suitable.
Bates however was a man of his word. Thus when he saw a young pup creeping tardily into his class, he acted at once hitting the offender with a copy of his masterful volume on John Keats for which he had won one of his two Pulitzer Prices. Because of his precise and graceful aim he nicked the ear of the offender, as Professor Bates boomed out “Don’t bother to come if you are late. Now get out”.
In your future incarnation as a responsible person, people will expect you to do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it. This may well be something no one has properly stressed until now.
Your future will be composed of things you must do completely, and thoroughly and, professionally. You can’t blow them off or ignore them. For example, take your job as a citizen. Most of you have political opinions which are nothing more than slogans derived from a cheap poster. You will become comfortable with mouthing platitudes. Complicated issues, you discover, are far too complicated. Complicated issues after all are just that, complicated. Why bother, then; why study them when all you need is a slogan, a victim who can bring people together, and text messages, which showcase human language in extremis.
You may understand that the nation is a civic entity, where at any given time there is a smorgasbord of essential and compelling issues. You must choose one, it doesn’t much matter which. What matters instead is that you choose a topic larger than you are, in which to invest your time, money, energy, and enthusiasm. You must learn therefore the critical aspects of insuring the Great Republic continues to flourish, and in better shape than now.
One of the most disheartening thing about talking to people who call themselves Millennial is just how trusting they are. If someone posts something on the internet for example, so long as it’s “cool”, they will believe it no matter how unbelievable. Millennials do not want truth. They want lazy habits, sage results in seconds, “Minute Rice” ideas; a society that gives them everything, asking them for nothing.
Thus so long as they are rich enough, they can instantly have what it took their parents a lifetime to get. Everything can arrive at your doorstep, information (never mind if it is accurate or not), food, tickets, a date, a sexual liaison. In short there is a commitment to absolutely nothing and a “no worries” philosophy.
You came to college to learn how to make up your mind, but now it’s constantly updated with more information than you can deal with. You take the easy course and stop investigating in making up your own mind. A recent study showed that people with newspaper subscriptions spent no more than 6 minutes per day reading, claiming they have no time. You know you should read some more, but it never seems enough time. You are left embracing ignorance as your cause.
Many of you will never have an opinion of merit on anything of importance because you will not do the necessary work. Your college doesn’t care. They are worried about continuing the flow of money so they can offer this pap to generations of students yet to come. And all the while the clock is ticking as your college recommends you send in a check or even better set up an estate plan so that Alma Mater gets ever greater amounts of cash. Given this worsening problem, it is necessary to see what you can do to improve matters. Thus here in all humility are the things you can do right now to make sure that you do not become a repository of nothing more than sloth and superficiality.
One, choose the topic you wish to master. Do you want to save polar bears? Then work exclusively to save polar bears. Do not attempt to do it on your own. Tap into the resources that exist and make it a point to know where the resources are and where you best fit in. Do not try to specialize in 5, 10, or 20 different causes. The only way substantial change can occur is by choosing one.
You may think that it is craven or just plain lazy to limit your commitments. The great mistake that budding revolutionaries make is that they use their inability to change everything into an excuse for changing nothing. It is far more important for you graduates to put all your strengths together and seek to make a change in one important area or another. But that takes vision and… work, and you have no time for either.
By now you may be writhing. Just concentrating on one activity may not sound very thrilling to you, but that is because you like to feel important. If you have made a true commitment that comes from the heart and mind you will be willing to give up some or all of the credit in support of others who have made their own selection.
Here, however, where Millennials falter again, you are told (and you believe) that you can be the one who changes the world. But today’s world is far too complicated and doesn’t allow you the luxury of working alone. Instead you must do everything that fosters cooperative effort and forces you to explore ways of increasing the community effort while making it clear that you support the best ways to help in the achievement of the objective.
Two, be honest with yourself. If you have a particular cause, ask yourself if you will be willing to endorse and work for it for years to come. We are at a point in human affairs where great changes can only be effected by great focus and effective organization. Just because you say you want to achieve desirable results doesn’t mean anything.
Three, do your homework. Professor Schlesinger was right. Most college graduates read almost nothing that could achieve for the growth and improvement of the project at hand.
This may all sound depressing to some of you, but let’s simply call it a reality check. At the rate we are “progressively” changing the planet now, Earth as we understand it will soon be a thing of the past. Use yourself as an example. What causes are you supporting? Are you providing them with some meaningful support? What do you do on a regular basis to support this project? Are you engaged in efforts for bringing the cause forward? Are you more than a Sunday soldier or sunshine patriot?
Many years ago there was a famous American comic strip named “Pogo”. It was drawn by Walt Kelly (1913-1973). In the strip the characters blamed everyone for all their problems. The punch line however was stunning. “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
In a few words this master of insight had nailed the problem. We say we want to help. We say the world is a terrible place, a place that yet could be improved by our ministrations. We woke up in the morning determined to be a part of the solution not part of the problem. But here is the worst thing of all: we say we mean what we say, but we do not do what we say. “Do as I say,” my father said “Not as I do”.
You are leaving this great institution today with almost nothing. This lack of preparation highlights the worst thing you will take into the real world. That is arrogance. Arrogance however is one thing you are not entitled to. You have not earned it. Yet here is the real irony. By the time you have earned the right to be arrogant, you will understand that arrogance harms everything you do to help the world. Humility is a far better master.
Leave here today thankful for all the assistance you have garnered, humble before the new world which today you enter. If you do this you will have the best of what is available to you and what will assure you a life of honor, integrity, respect, and most of all, love. These are the things that matter, make them yours for they are the only things worth having and worth living for.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.