Sen. Robert Byrd, animal advocate

Obviously Robert Byrd was a complicated man. He went from being a segregationist (and Klan member!) to an ardent champion of civil rights and supporter of Barack Obama’s election. He also went from being a supporter of the Vietnam war to a fierce critic of of presidential warmaking and executive power, giving eloquent and impassioned speeches against the Iraq war when most of his colleagues were signing on to the invasion.

Byrd is perhaps best known for his love of the Senate’s traditions and byzantine rules and his unbridled love of pork, which he procured for his home state of West Virginia hand over fist (of course, one man’s pork…). Less well known is the fact that Senator Byrd was one of the Senate’s biggest supporters of the humane treatment of animals. In 2008, the Humane Society presented Byrd with its highest honor, The Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, for his work to improve animal welfare. R.I.P.

Stewart Udall, R.I.P.

Stewart Udall, who was Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, died this weekend. I didn’t really know anything about him before reading this obituary in today’s WaPo, but his accomplishments as head of Interior were impressive. I was more struck, though, by some of the language he used. It’s hard to imagine many government officials today writing something like this:

“If in our haste to ‘progress,’ the economics of ecology are disregarded by citizens and policy makers alike, the result will be an ugly America,” Udall wrote. “We cannot afford an America where expedience tramples upon esthetics and development decisions are made with an eye only on the present.”

It’s almost as if he didn’t think increasing GDP was the most important thing in the world!

From moderate Republican to liberal icon

This New Yorker profile of Justice John Paul Stevens shows what a loss to the Supreme Court his (probably impending) retirement will be. My wife clerked for Stevens in 2007-2008, and I got to meet him on one occasion. He came across as a very gracious and obviously brilliant man. The article is also a good illustration of how far to the Right the GOP has moved in the last thirty-five years. (Stevens was considered a moderate Republican when he was appointed by President Ford.)

Friday Metal: Get well, Ronnie!

Very sad news: metal legend Ronnie James Dio has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery!

Michael Jackson, RIP

Maybe people who are a bit younger only remember Michael Jackson as the weirdo, quasi-hermit he later became. But at the peak of his popularity (I was, I think, in third grade when Thriller came out) he was about the most exciting thing on the planet. Anyway, MJ skeptics, go watch.

p.s. Andrew Sullivan has a nice remembrance here.

MLK was unserious

I was offline for most of the day yesterday and missed this good post from Matt Yglesias on King and nonviolence (via Marvin).

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

The co-founder and longtime editor of First Things, and noted conservative polemicist, has passed away at age seventy-two.

I’ve drifted away from reading FT over the last few years, partly because it seems to me to have embraced a more down-the-line conservative ideology than before (whether that says more about them or me is debatable). But I had been a pretty regular reader since the late 90s and was introduced in its pages to a lot of ideas, debates, and thinkers that shaped my understanding of Christian faith and life. So I have Fr. Neuhaus in part to thank for that.

Other blogger reflections here, here, and here.


William Placher, RIP

The well-known teacher and theologian has died at the untimely age of 60. I only knew him through his books, but he was by all accounts a wonderful teacher and a good Christian man. He spent the vast majority of his career at tiny Wabash College in Indiana; as a leading light of Yale-style “postliberal” theology he undoubtedly could’ve moved to a “better” school if he’d wanted to. He was also a long-time contributor to the Christian Century; you can read a sampling of his work from CC archived at “Religion Online” (scroll down).

Henry Chadwick, RIP

An esteemed Anglican scholar and ecumenist passes. The obituary by Rowan Williams is here (via Derek).

For what it’s worth: I highly recommend his history of the early church and Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition. Highly readable works that wear their (ample) scholarship lightly.

Wm. F. Buckley, RIP

I enjoyed his writing even though I dissented from his brand of conservatism, and he always struck me as an honorable and charitable fellow. For better or worse, he hugely influenced American politics. RIP.