Sunday, December 31, 2006

observations on three funerals

"They" always say that important deaths come in threes. I guess the execution of Saddam Hussein completes the Christmas week trilogy of mortality begun by the deaths of the godfather of soul James Brown and former President Gerald Ford.

Three more different funerals would be difficult to find. James Brown was given a sad but joyful send-off by over 8500 people at an arena named after him (the crowd overflowing into the streets) in his home town of Augusta, Georgia. With a career spanning over 50 years, the hardest working man in show business had given his fans a lot to enjoy, and it was entirely appropriate that music and entertainment were big parts of his farewell. So long, James Brown, I hope you feel good.

There has been a little controversy about attendance at Gerald Ford's state funeral, which is being played much more low-key than the week-long extravaganza that surrounded the death of Ronald Reagan. Two reasons for the difference in scale and scope. One is the wishes apparently expressed by Ford's family for a more modest event. The other is that Reagan's farewell was less a funeral and more a political rally where Republicans, including de facto President Bush, used Reagan's death to reaffirm the "Reagan revolution" and to bask in the glory reflected from the hero of late-twentieth-century conservative Republicans.

Ford was a decent guy who served honorably as President despite the pardon of Tricky Dick Nixon, the second-worst president of the past 40 years (see Bush, George W., for the worst), but as Ford himself would have said, he didn't revolutionize anything. So he got a more modest affair. The relative dearth of Congressmen and other VIPs attending his services is also explained by poor Ford's bad timing in dying over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

But I thought it was particularly cheesy of Bush not to show up. The fraternity of Presidents is small, and that of unelected Presidents even smaller. Unlike some Congressman, the Decider-in-Chief didn't even have the poor excuse of foreign travel to explain his absence. Put bluntly, George W. Bush decided to cut cedar and ride his bike rather than attend Gerald Ford's state funeral. For shame.

And finally, Saddam Hussein was buried in his home village, Awja, in the same graveyard as his odious sons. I'm a bit surprised his burial location has been allowed to become public. I'd have thought the US and Shiite Iraqi governments might have wanted to bury him somewhere without telling anybody, to avoid the chance of Hussein's grave becoming a rallying point for Sunni Iraqis and Baathists and others opposed to the US-backed Shiite regime -- because believe it or not, there are still Iraqis who liked the old bastard.


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