The state funeral…

When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years. 

State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty. 

From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget. 

If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself. 

100% American…

Look, so here’s the thing about Senator Warren and President Trump… I just don’t care. Arguing the finer points of an Ancestry.com DNA test makes you both look even more ridiculous than usual. That’s no small task given the two pols in question and yet the two of them have managed to yet again exceed exceptions… or is it that they found a way to nudge the bar just a little bit lower?

It doesn’t matter a lick to me if you’re 1/2 Sub-Saharan African, or 1/3 Anglo-Saxon, or 1/4 Pacific Islander, or 1/1024 Native American. Sure, I guess those are all fun factoids to trot out at parties but beyond that they’re mostly irrelevant. It’s the kind of differentiation that feeds into my general eye-rolling when someone defines themselves as Irish-American, or African-American, or Japanese-American. While interesting from the historian’s perspective, or for those who study mass migration, knowing where your 12x great grandparents came from is largely a “so what” kind of declaration. Congrats, your ancestors were Welsh shepherds. Here’s a cookie.

If you say you want to live in a country where people don’t judge or make assumptions based on your background, heritage, skin color, or ancestral place of origin, trying being “just” a plain old American. No hyphen needed. No percentage necessary. Just tell me you are an American and that’s all I need to know.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. History. Throw the date June 6th out there and ask the average man in the street what the significance is, I’m willing to bet the dollar in my pocket that maybe one in ten could tell you that it’s the anniversary of the day America and Great Britain launched the liberation of continental Europe. I won’t even give you odds on them knowing that much of Italy had already been liberated by the time the Normandy landings took place. I’m a history guy, so the nitnoid facts and trivia have always been important to me, but I weep that for so many the pinnacle of American achievement is Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the vastness of our shopping malls.

2. Vaccinations. I’m not a parent. Baring some kind of catastrophic misfire on the range, I never will be. I intellectually understand that when it comes to issues of the health and welfare of their child, a parent is very nearly sovereign. However, in a world where polio, measles, and a host of other diseases that we collectively obliterated in the last century start popping up again, I’m forced to draw at least a tentative connection between those illnesses reemerging and the small but vocal group of parents who have decided that vaccines are bad. It just strikes me that as bad as the adverse reaction to a vaccine can be, getting the actual disease it prevents is quite probably worse. We take our lives in our hands every morning when we get out of bed… I just wish more people would realize that a risk assessment needs to account for both the probably of something happening as well as the severity of the negative impact if that thing does happen. Then again that assumes people operate from a place of reason. Fat chance of that happening any time soon.

3. Bergdahl. What he did or did not do while in captivity is a matter of open dispute. That’s fine. However, I tend to agree with General McChrystal, who stated it most clearly: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.” SGT Bergdahl is an American soldier. He was held by a foreign power and now he’s not. If there is legitimate evidence he violated his oath or otherwise broke the law, then by all means, drag him before a court martial and try the case. We don’t leave Americans behind. Period. That should be a sacred trust between the government and the people both in and out of uniform. There’s plenty of room for honest and frank discussion, but I have a hard time arguing that getting an American citizen back is ever the wrong thing to do. If he’s guilty, lock him away and lose the key, but if he’s innocent, thank the young man for his service and let him get on with his life.