Natasha Richardson Dies

Life is fragile and short.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Natasha RichardsonActress Natasha Richardson has died from injuries sustained during a skiing accident earlier this week. She had been on life support since the time she was admitted to the hospital in Canada, and was then subsequently transported to a NY City hospital.

Life is fragile and short. That a routine slip and fall on a bunny slope, during a beginner’s skiing lesson, could result in fatal injuries is quite a shock. That it could happen to one of the premier actors of a generation makes us all feel a bit more vulnerable.

RIP, Ms. Richardson, and sympathies are extended to husband Liam Neeson, their children, and and everyone in her family.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 by Richard Blair |
Category: Salute

In Which I Eat Humble Pie

Pass the whipped cream.


Commentary By: The Xsociate

Most people don’t like being wrong, but when it comes to my belief that the filibuster of the FISA bill debated before the Senate yesterday wouldn’t matter, I’m gladly having a heaping helping of humble pie with my late night meal. Dodd’s threat of a genuine, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster, succeeded in staving off the much expected cave.

While jubilation is warranted, the battle is not over. Even Dodd, who along with his fellow compatriots deserve praise for their efforts, recognizes this is only a temporary stay of execution. The bill has been tabled until after the first of the new year and by then the supposed deadline for passing some sort of bill will be even more immense and the Bushies will pull out all the stops to get their dictates enacted.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some pie to finish.

(X-posted at The Xsociate Files)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007 by The Xsociate |

Marcel Marceau: 03/22/23 to 09/22/07

If death is the silencing of a loved one, what are we to conclude about the passing of a silent one? I’m not sure I can answer my question…but it crossed my mind to wonder if he who spoke less leaves more?


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

While we live in a fully visual world, it is often dominated by what is spoken. Rarely do we communicate without words…and when we do, it can frequently demonstrate the most poignant expression of our humanity…be it a smile, a tear, or two people holding hands. Meaningful moments of silence are rare…and with the passing of Marcel Marceau, they become even more infrequent.

My first memories of Marceau date back to my childhood. I can recall the first time I saw Marcel Marceau perform on television…and I remember being mesmerized by the silent images. Today, as an adult, it seems clear that his appeal to me and all children is as it should be.

Children first learn to understand the world through visual observations. As such, the world is a limitless source of fascination. In seeing Marceau perform, the visual world was suddenly transformed into a cognitive experience…a morphing of the obvious into the sublime.

In a world where words have become pedestrian, pantomime remains an art of refinement…an effort to simplify and exemplify…yet clearly an equation whereby less becomes more. If death is the silencing of a loved one, what are we to conclude about the passing of a silent one? I’m not sure I can answer my question…but it crossed my mind to wonder if he who spoke less leaves more?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

Thoughts On The Loss Of Life In Minnesota

As we say goodbye to those lost in Minnesota, I celebrate their lives and I honor their memories. Today, I accept what I can know and I know what I can accept. In that harmony, I am humbled by both the beauty and the immense uncertainty of the human condition.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Tragedy elicits many responses…often automatic reactions that we rarely seek to understand…and that is as it should be given the shocking nature of the assault upon our psyche and the overwhelming grief that will certainly follow.

As I watched the unfolding of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the devastation that will undoubtedly accompany the sudden loss of vibrant lives, I began to think about the function of faith and the impact of a belief in god during such moments of distress.

As a person who grew up closely affiliated with Catholicism…but no longer believes in any conventional construct of god…I often reflect upon the differences between my reactions to tragedy then and now. Before expanding on these thoughts, let me first provide some background information.

Several years back, I found myself in the midst of a difficult situation…one of those moments where one is uncertain how one will be able to survive the magnitude of the event…a period of time we’ve all experienced where we feel that our ability to hold our lives together is being challenged.

As I was lying in bed, unable to relax and enduring waves of anxiety along with rapid fluctuations of being hot and cold, I found myself praying for god to intervene…something I suspect we’ve all done and a practice that can often bring comfort.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I became angry with myself and what I perceived to be a pattern of living that no longer resonated and, more importantly, no longer brought comfort. There I was, asking god’s help and feeling helpless and I just stopped. Instantly, I vowed to stop praying, to stop relying upon an external mechanism to save me from my moments of despair…to begin to accept the nature of this human existence, and to find the strength to endure…on my own.

Thus began my journey away from faith and towards facing the complexities of life more bravely and without the need to invoke the assistance of a higher being. It’s important that I explain my thought process. My decision wasn’t born of anger with the god I had believed in for many years. In fact, I felt ashamed for having asked god’s help so often and I tried to imagine him as a friend whose role had become little more than the comforter…the go to guy that everyone calls upon in times of trouble…and I decided it was wrong and that it must cease.

Over time, I came to believe that in letting go of god, I had actually become a better person…and if he did exist, my actions better honored the friendship and kinship he had provided. I accepted responsibility for my life…regardless of its origin or its inevitable end…and I faced both with a resolve to avoid the instinct to succumb to fear.

In doing so, I feel certain that if there is a god, I am finally living as he would have wanted…exercising my free will and finding harmony with the random nature of the world in which I live…all the while accepting that mortality is part of this wondrous journey.

Coming back to the disaster in Minnesota, both now with my new perspective, as well as back then with my prior beliefs, I find great sadness in the loss of life…but it has taken on a new meaning for me. While the pain is the same, I understand and accept that the life we know and live here on this earth is a sacred gift…regardless of how it was received…that must be celebrated…and even though it comes to an end…for us and for those we love…it lives on if we live it well…and finally, when we leave this life with grace, it has no doubt been well lived and will certainly be well remembered.

As we say goodbye to those lost in Minnesota, I celebrate their lives and I honor their memories. Today, I accept what I can know and I know what I can accept. In that harmony, I am humbled by both the beauty and the immense uncertainty of the human condition.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

A Death By Any Other Name Would Not Be Accepted

Sometimes when writing a posting, one knows in advance that it may be controversial and has the potential to be met with anger…and sometimes that leads one to decide against ever publishing it. Other times, despite the probabilities, one pushes ahead and publishes such words because one believes they need to be spoken regardless. This [...]


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Sometimes when writing a posting, one knows in advance that it may be controversial and has the potential to be met with anger…and sometimes that leads one to decide against ever publishing it. Other times, despite the probabilities, one pushes ahead and publishes such words because one believes they need to be spoken regardless. This is one of those postings.

On Memorial Day weekend…as well as any time one seeks to stop and remember those who are no longer here…we look for ways to understand death and to reconcile with the ominous nature of our mortality. Try as we might, one is never fully prepared for the death and loss of a loved one…and though time may lessen the time we spend in pain, it never lessens the depth of the pain that we do experience.

When we attempt to understand death, we often draw comparisons in order to help us accept our loss. For example, with the death of an aged grandparent, we might tell ourselves that despite the obvious loss, our loved one had the good fortune of living a long and meaningful life. Unfortunately, there are times when our loss is virtually inconsolable and we’re unable to find a single scintilla of justification. Clearly, we all hope to avoid the latter…but life doesn’t always afford us our hopes.

The death of a soldier is an event that rarely goes without notice…and that is as it should be. Nonetheless, it is also quite troubling…and though we may not take the time to fully understand our reaction…in some primal way, it is known without analysis or discussion that the loss of a soldier requires a debt of gratitude since the life of each soldier is given in the service of the country we embrace. This unspoken, though well understood, sense of debt exists regardless of how one views the conflict that facilitates the loss of a soldier.

When a war is unpopular, or thought to be unnecessary, it creates a heightened angst when one is forced to recognize and assimilate the loss of a soldier. That heightened angst, in my opinion, comes from our natural tendency to seek to justify the loss of life. If one opposes the war, one may well struggle to find the means to soothe the loss. Perhaps the void that internal conflict creates is something we should embrace since it may be the very mechanism by which we can bring an end to conflicts that seem unwarranted. Nonetheless, navigating this highly sensitive terrain is akin to walking a mine field…if one fails to step lightly, an explosion can ensue.

With that said, I embark on a perilous journey…a journey intent on not only exposing the angst mentioned above…but a journey intended to accelerate that angst. To be clear, I honor and value the lives of every soldier lost as well as– every individual and though I infer no disrespect, I realize some may not agree…and so I apologize in advance should my words seem otherwise.

This coming Friday, Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be released from prison after serving eight years for his part in assisting in the suicides of over one hundred individuals…individuals that by and large suffered ailments that would eventually end their lives or that had taken from them the lives that they cherished such that they already felt dead…though by some trick of fate, remained here in this existence against their will.

Assisted suicide is legal in only one state under highly regulated conditions and it remains a very controversial issue. Perhaps that is because we prefer to engage death as a matter of chance rather than as a matter of choice. I understand that argument though I’m not sure it can withstand a reasoned review. Again, let me be clear…my argument is not meant to minimize the religious beliefs that stand in opposition to assisted suicide and I readily accept objections to assisted suicide on that basis alone.

Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion one can make a reasoned argument that we frequently fail to apply our beliefs about death consistently. Three headlines, one from 1998, and two from this Memorial Day weekend help demonstrate my point.

From The New York Times in 1998:

Kevorkian Deaths Total 100

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has helped a 66-year-old man with lung cancer kill himself and has now assisted 100 suicides, his lawyer has reported.

Mr. Herman died one day after the Michigan House of Representatives adopted a bill addressing Dr. Kevorkian, who has been acquitted in three trials.

The bill would make assisted suicide a felony punishable by as many as five years in prison and $10,000 in fines, or both. It now goes back to the Senate, where minor changes are expected to be adopted before it goes to Gov. John Engler, who is expected to sign it.

From The United Press International – 05/27/2007:

More Than 100 Soldiers Killed In May

BAGHDAD, May 27 (UPI) – At least 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in May, the seventh time since the 2003 invasion that the monthly toll passed 100, military officials said.

In April, 104 soldiers were killed, the Web site icasualties.com – maintained by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – said. The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed 3,439 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and 13 more await confirmation.

From The Associated Press – 05/26/2007:

U.S. Deaths Near Grim Memorial Day Mark

BAGHDAD – Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling – and expected to rise in coming months.

In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year. And with the Baghdad security operation now 3 1/2 months old, even President Bush has predicted a difficult summer for U.S. forces.

This past week Congress authorized a military spending bill that met with the president’s approval and that did not include any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq…despite the fact that one can argue that the 2006 election– sent a strong message that our elected officials bring an end to the war in Iraq and prevent the deaths of more U.S. soldiers.

Every indication suggests that George Bush will leave office…after eight years…with a significant presence of U.S. military troops still in Iraq. Back in 1998, the state of Michigan passed a law that led to the eight year imprisonment of Dr. Kevorkian for his part in facilitating the deaths of individuals who wanted to end their lives. Now I’m not suggesting the president or this congress should be imprisoned for their part in facilitating the death of 100 soldiers during the month of May…or the nearly 1,000 since last Memorial Day…or the 3,439 total soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began back in 2003.

However, on this Memorial Day weekend, I am suggesting Americans consider this information and put themselves through the process described above…the one which we humans go through when we lose a loved one. If at the end of that process, one feels some additional angst due to the growing absence of justifications for these deaths, then may I suggest that perhaps its time we demand that our elected officials do the right thing? If 100 assisted suicides warranted a law to imprison Dr. Kevorkian for eight years, what would be a reasonable equivalent for accepting the further loss of life in Iraq?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Sunday, May 27th, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

From Armed Forces Journal: “A Failure in Generalship”

Man, this is a blistering rebuke of the leadership of the War in Iraq. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling slams these folks for everything from advising the Administration on what to expect to the execution of the war. His article is in Armed Forces Journal. As the Washington Post notes, “Yingling’s comments are [...]


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Man, this is a blistering rebuke of the leadership of the War in Iraq. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling slams these folks for everything from advising the Administration on what to expect to the execution of the war. His article is in Armed Forces Journal. As the Washington Post notes, “Yingling’s comments are especially striking because his unit’s performance in securing the northwestern Iraqi city of Tall Afar was cited by President Bush in a March 2006 speech and provided the model for the new security plan underway in Baghdad.” The man Bush praised just a year ago is about to be flayed by all sorts of Republican media pundits.

But this article is a bomb and it is going to shake some foundations in the military. Armed Forces Journal is likely read by every single officer in the US military. Its publisher also publishes Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times, as well as many widely read defense related periodicals. This article will likely be read by vast swathes of our enlisted men and women as well, and they will heed what Lt. Col. Yingling has to say. Oh, there will be the Bushies who will say Yingling is a traitor, or worse, but his is a stunning and learned discussion.

This is going to be big. It will be big for our military, and it will be big for our politics as well.

Today, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling is the man to listen to. While he says he will be taking over a battalion at Fort Hood in the near future, watch for this guy testifying on Capital Hill very soon.

Friday, April 27th, 2007 by Steven Reynolds |

A Passionate Liberal Passes

Arthur Schlesinger is dead. Here’s the NYTimes obit.
He came from a time when being a liberal was something to be proud of. I read the Kennedy books long ago, and especially admired the book on Bobby. Indeed, playing Bobby at a school assembly was my entry into politics, and that [...]


Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Arthur Schlesinger is dead. Here’s the NYTimes obit.

He came from a time when being a liberal was something to be proud of. I read the Kennedy books long ago, and especially admired the book on Bobby. Indeed, playing Bobby at a school assembly was my entry into politics, and that book was probably the first truly political book I’d ever read that wasn’t assigned in school. I’ve got a special fondness for Schlesinger. I’ll be rereading the book soon.

Thursday, March 1st, 2007 by Steven Reynolds |