Saturday, December 30, 2006

Peggy Noonan on Mr. Ford

Peggy Noonan, who is always insightful and a good read, weighed in on the late Gerald Ford in her Thursday column. Read the whole thing here.

Pomp and circumstance

Pomp and circumstance
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I love pomp and ceremony, and like to commemorate lives well spent. And I spent much of the final weekend of 2006 indulging those particular passions, in connection with the funeral services for President Gerald R. Ford. While not a model of technical or artistic excellence, this picture, taken during the Fox News telecast of the state funeral, now appears with two companion shots in my Flickr photostream. And along with the other two, it will remain there, even if only a few people ever bother to look at it.

One week, two deaths

I took the day off yesterday, and with my wife and children in Utah, along with our only car, I spent the day at home with little to do. But I had the TV on all day, tuned in mainly to the Fox News Channel and the day's dominant news story, the impending execution of Saddam Hussein. The other main story of the day -- the first of several funeral services for ex-President Gerald Ford -- provided a sort of low-key counterpoint to the stream of updates and commentary about Saddam, but the juxtaposition of the deaths of these two profoundly different men gave me much to ponder.

The first of many televised ceremonies for Mr. Ford took place at an Episcopal church in Palm Desert, California, where the Fords had made their home since leaving the White House nearly 30 years ago. He was a modest man, but dignified in his quiet way, and the established protocol for his funeral seems to strike the right balance between Mr. Ford's unassuming nature and the grandeur and dignity of the office he once held. The casket was carried into the church between two lines of servicemen presenting arms, as a band played "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" --which happens, incidentally, to be one of my own favorite hymns. Immediately after this brief ceremony, the church was closed to the media, and family and friends remained inside the church for a private service.

Meanwhile, Fox and other media outlets reported that Saddam Hussein's execution was imminent, and would take place within a matter of hours. The death watch continued until shortly after 8:00 p.m. Arizona time, when it was announced that the execution had taken place. Saddam Hussein, the so-called Butcher of Baghdad, the murderer of tens of thousands, a tyrant whose very name had made additional millions to tremble, had now met his own fate at the end of a hangman's rope, nearly four years after his overthrow and three years after his capture in a desert rat-hole. And unlike the thousands who had been shot, gassed, or shredded at his command, Saddam had been given a trial which, if not perfect by the standards of American justice, was at least fair, and adduced overwhelming evidence of his monstruous guilt.

Today the nation continues its affectionate and respectful farewell to Gerald Ford, who is remembered mainly for his steadiness and decency. Meanwhile, the media speculates on whether Saddam will even be buried in a marked grave, and apart from a few die-hard Baath Party fanatics, nobody grieves over his departure.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"A Ford, not a Lincoln:" Remembering the 38th President

I awoke this morning to the news that former President Gerald Ford had passed away at age 93. One commentator on the Fox News Channel compared the nation's 38th Chief Executive to Harry Truman, and I noted that Mr. Ford had passed away on the 34th anniversary of Mr. Truman's death, which somehow seemed appropriate. Both were seemingly ordinary men who came into office under extraordinary circumstances; both were plainspoken Midwesterners; both were misunderstood and often derided by their contemporaries; and both lived long enough after leaving office to see some measure of luster added to their historical reputations. And not coincidentally, Ford was known to be an admirer of Truman.

Oddly enough, I had been thinking of Mr. Ford only a day or two earlier, while musing about the upcoming Presidential race. I remembered Ford addressing Congress for the last time, after losing the White House to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, and noting for the record that this would be his final State of the Union message -- and then, after a brief pause and to the accompaniment of laughter, adding the word "maybe," in reference to the fact that he was still constitutionally eligible for one more term as President. Thus he remained theoretically eligible as a candidate right up to the very end, and I thought often about how much the country could use his steadiness, decency, and civility today. As one commentator noted after Ford succeeded the disgraced Richard Nixon, he might not be the man for all seasons, but he assuredly was the man for that season.

We remember him most of all for his ordinariness, for lack of a better term. He started his first full day as President of the United States by appearing at his doorstep in a bathrobe and slippers to retrieve the newspaper, after which he prepared his own breakfast. By his own admission, he was "a Ford, not a Lincoln." He was not colorful or charismatic by any stretch of the imagination, and soon became a popular subject for late-night TV comedians, who poked fun at his alleged clumsiness, which was far more exaggerated than real. He had a flat, reedy voice and could not pronounce the word "judgment" correctly. But he never whined or pouted, and never pretended to be anything other than what he was; and by so doing, he did so much to restore dignity and grace to the Presidency.

His passing affects me in a more personal way. I have seen several past, current, and future Chief Executives in person, but Gerald Ford has the distinction of being the only one I have ever actually met. The occasion was a two-day visit he made to Provo, Utah, in December of 1978, while I was living there as a student attending Brigham Young University. I have always had a strong sense of history -- heck, I even named my pet parakeet Elbie Jaye, in honor of one of Mr. Ford's predecessors -- and this impelled me, in effect, to shadow the former President throughout his visit. That would almost surely be impossible today, in the post-9/11 world; but that calamity still lay well into the future on that Sunday afternoon in 1978, when I started my brief but memorable parallel journey with a former President. I made a special trip to the local airport in order to be present when Mr. Ford arrived in a private jet. Only a handful of people were there to greet him, as I recall, but he waved to us from the tarmac, perhaps 100 feet away from where we were standing. I figured that was as close as I would get to him during his visit.

I was wrong. The following morning I learned that he was speaking to a group in a room at the Wilkinson Center, so I went there and observed the goings-on through a window on the door, where I remained for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. Ford was standing up amid the gathering and addressing it informally, and although I could not hear anything he said, I noted the familiar hand gesture I had seen on television so many times, in which he appeared to be shaping an invisible ball. I thought also of the history of which he had been part: the Nixon pardon, the collapse of South Vietnam, the meetings with Mao and Brezhnev, the two assassination attempts, the vetoes.

When Mr. Ford left the room, accompanied by his Secret Service entourage, I followed him all the way downstairs, and at one point raised my voice and thanked him for coming. Much to my surprise, he stopped, turned around, walked over to where I was standing -- perhaps 15 feet away from him -- and shook my hand. He looked me directly in the eye, said it was good to see me, and made me feel as if he knew me personally. I wrote about this encounter that night in my journal, to which I am not referring as I compose this entry today; but after 28 years, I still remember that brief encounter as if it had taken place only yesterday. I do recall noting in that journal entry that apart from the fringe of gray hair, he looked exactly like he did on television, and remarkably well for a man 65 years of age. (He spoke the following morning at the Marriott Center, to a much larger crowd, and I was present for that, too -- although it was anticlimactic, as far as I was concerned.)

For the second time in 2-1/2 years, I will be spending much of the next several days absorbed in the pomp and ceremony of a televised state funeral, and doing my part to give Gerald Ford the affectionate farewell he deserves. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Iran meets Arizona

Iran meets Arizona
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
And while I'm at it, I suppose I should blog this image as well. While it is only of snapshot quality, it may be more significant than the sunset image I posted a few minutes ago. I took this picture in my office at the Maricopa County Superior Court, just before I put the calendar in a large envelope and mailed it to one of my Iranian friends. I was informed earlier this week that it had arrived safely at its destination, and was much appreciated by the recipient.

In addition to my own photography, which I am constantly trying to improve, this was part of my way of sharing Arizona's spectacular beauty with those who are unable to visit the state in person.

Sunset from bus

Sunset from bus
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I took this picture a few days ago while on my way home from work, and the more I look at it, the more I like it. I post it here for no particular reason, except to let my readers -- the few there are -- know that I am doing okay, and that my absence of late is nothing to be particularly concerned about. I just haven't felt much like pontificating lately, but I'm sure an appropriate topic will come along soon to put me in the mood for it once again.

Meanwhile, I have also posted a new image in my other blog, Convivio. Go check it out as long as you are here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

East German coins

East German coins
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
Volumes could be written about all the times I have made a fool of myself during my lifetime, but the story behind these coins is probably one of the more entertaining of them.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Jolly old St. Nicholas, lean your ear this way . . . "

Tonight I attended the annual Christmas party in the Alma 9th (LDS) Ward, where I took this picture of a little girl engaged in a serious discussion with Santa Claus, who is listening intently. I think it is one of the best portraits I've ever taken, and thought it worth posting here, as well as on Flickr. Merry Christmas to one and all -- possibly excepting Kim Jong-il, if he happens to stumble across my blog as he whiles away his time surfing the Internet.