Page 20 THE VILLADOM TIMES III • September 9, 2009 fire tower and he fell about 40 feet onto the rocks, and was killed instantly. He was 28, and it was like losing Wild Bill Hickok. It was like a piece of America had died: the piece where people were not afraid to speak their minds. We are not supposed to mention Chappaquiddick because Ted Kennedy is now dead and is supposed to be beyond our criticism. The surest way to protect your reputation in American politics is to die, especially in ways that are violent and melodramatic and plainly wrongful. This was probably established in the American psyche by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Lincoln was an extremely intelligent, thoroughly decent man who terminated the ugly institution of slavery and kept the Union together, though he sometimes stretched the law to do both. He suspended habeas corpus and kept people in jail based on their non-violent subversive comments: the same sort of thing that put John Adams down as one of the worst and most unpopular of the early presidents. Lincoln covered up for his wife when she mulcted the taxpayers out of some money to redecorate the White House in the middle of a war. He was notorious for not wanting to get involved with the poor people who had watched him grow up, except for his stepmother, whom he treated with genuine affection. He despised his father and arranged to have no time for him. The utterly necessary greatness of ending slavery and saving the Union clearly outweighed the flouting of the Constitution and the petty snobbery by a factor of 10-1, but Abraham Lincoln was not perfect. He was an exceptionally good man with some genuine flaws. The person who killed him was a scoundrel with women and a drunkard, though he was not “crazy” and showed courage in carrying out a political murder ordered by Confederate authorities. Booth shot Lincoln, and Lincoln suddenly became not just great but perfect. This set a precedent. If there was anything good about a temporal authority figure, death projects him or her beyond any possible rebuke. James Garfield, one of the last presidents to be born poor, was murdered so quickly after his inauguration that it is impossible to judge whether he would have been a great president. Garfield’s assassin was crazy, and there is no way such an obvious psychotic would face execution today, but another presidential precedent was established. All people who kill U.S. presidents must be crazy! Booth, despite his hyperactive performances on stage, was not insane, but most people think he was because the next guy to kill a president was as nutty as a fruitcake. It’s reverse projection, sort of like people who see Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II as a couple of soft Hitlers instead of a great European statesman and a mediocre European statesman, both committed to full civil rights for Jews. William McKinley, the last president to serve in the Civil War, was killed by an anarchist who has also been described as crazy. McKinley’s assassination was wrong, but he was murdered by a confused and idealistic young man who was protesting labor conditions in the United States, and American conduct in the Philippines, which was genocidal. Dismissing McKinley’s death as the act of a madman was a good way to look away from firing squads shooting 10-year-olds on Luzon while 10-year-olds in America toiled in badly lit factories or in coal mines for a pittance. McKinley, being dead, was spared the blame that might have come from launching a war we did not need that Americans from William Jennings Bryan to Mark Twain did not want. Some Americans clearly wanted the war. When Japan made noises about oppressed Asians, Teddy Roosevelt scrapped an existing treaty for mutual protection between the United States and Korea and gave the Japanese Korea as a consolation prize. The Japanese were tough on dissident Koreans, but the number of Japanese executions of Koreans was dwarfed by what America did in the Philippines. The ultimate presidential murder was John F. Kennedy’s. The bullets that took Jack’s life also took away, for quite some time, the mention of his extramarital adventures, his bungled handling of PT-109, and his betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, which was the real reason America got into Vietnam. Again we have the “crazy” assassin who acted alone and somehow fired a bullet from a junk rifle through JFK twice and Governor Connelly once, only to have it pop up in absolute pristine condition right next to the stretcher. Oswald said he was setup to take the blame off the actual killers. Then he was shot in front of 100 cops in a police station. To put the frosting on the cake, we have a major motion picture implying that JFK was killed by LBJ, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cuban exiles, and gay people all working together. The real JFK was obviously murdered because he had betrayed the people who helped get him elected by cracking down on them after they helped him edge out Nixon. They took out his brother Bobby for good measure and framed an Arab so the media would grab for it. Now we have the androgynous orgy that broke out with the death of Michael Jackson. The media seized on a replay of Jackson’s career as if he had been a combination of Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, and General George Marshall, with a couple of natural-cause dead presidents thrown in for good measure. He was an entertainer who had a lot of money and gave a lot of it to good causes. Does being dead render you flawless? I suspect it won’t work in my case, so I think I’ll just keep ducking those bumpers. Byron Hamilton Berwick III was a sad case in coming down on the wrong side of a split decision. His mother and father had split up when Byron was a baby. His father had done well, and Byron’s brother, who stayed with his father, became an ambassador. Byron, who stayed with his mother, lost all his front teeth in fist fights, never saw the inside of a college, and became a short-haul truck driver and weekend biker. He also had a brief stint as a Navy SEAL, and reportedly penetrated Cuba several times without a passport. He washed up due to discipline problems and ended up fostering the bridle paths of Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba “along with six other swabs and a guard with a shotgun and a dog,” as he so aptly put it. “I saw Vietnam before the tourists ruined it,” he added with a note of nostalgia. Byron had his problems with politicians above the local level. His particular bane was the Bergen County Sheriff, though his disdain did not stop him from being a guest at this man’s accommodations on a number of occasions. He was a bad dude. I once saw him throw a half-full beer can at a county car, and hit it. The car just kept moving. Nobody got out to look at the dent. Byron was about my size. While I was in better shape 40 years ago and still somewhat proficient in the martial arts, he could have taken me out with one punch at a moment’s notice. He never did. Instead, he regaled me with his opinions on world events. I will never forget the absolute indignation, the towering outrage that Byron disgorged the night we heard about Chappaquiddick. “He murdered that girl!” Byron shouted, failing his muscular arms with the spider tattoos toward the bare boards of the roof in the garage where the club stored its motorcycles. “He murdered that girl, and you watch, he’s gonna get away with it! If that had been any or us, he’d get the chair!...You watch, he’s gonna hide behind his family’s money and get away with it.” Byron was not around to see the denouement of the Chappaquiddick saga. He was not around to sift the evidence of whether Mary Jo Kopechne, who was in the car with Ted Kennedy when he drove it off a bridge, had died of drowning in a few minutes or suffocation in a few hours, during which time she could have been rescued if Kennedy had made a telephone call from one of the four houses he walked past on his way back to the hotel. He was not around to ponder why an outrageous drunken blunder that caused the death of a woman was penalized less severely than a second offense for speeding when everybody else was speeding but the arrestee was black or Hispanic or Asian. Using what was left of his influence with his brother the ambassador, Byron got himself a job as a forest ranger, where he could spend all day in a fire tower cultivating his racially impartial contempt for humanity while still responsibly supporting his wife. One day, an aneurysm in his brain split open while he was climbing the ladder to the The importance of death in preserving reputations Heidi Wise, president of Coddled Creatures LLC, congratulates her dog Sugar, who recently received the AKC Canine Good Citizen Certificate. CGC is a certification program designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. The two-part program stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. Manners matter Eva’s Village (continued from page 11) accomplish with the following funds: A sum of $20 will provide a hot lunch for four hungry people, or a winter hat and gloves for two homeless people. Forty dollars will provide fruit and vegetables for 20 families living in the Hope Residence of Saint Frances at Eva’s Village, or a week’s worth of diapers for 10 infants living in the Hope Residence. For $60, Eva’s Village can provide a cup of coffee for more than 2,000 homeless men and women. A sum of $100 will provide three days of complete meals for 20 homeless women. “We have all been witness to the power of a random act of kindness, how something small can make a big impact,” Sister Perez added. “Every single day, Eva’s Village is fueled by the kindness and generosity of others. By supporting our anti-poverty programs, you can personally improve the lives of people in your own community by giving them the resources they need to achieve self-sufficiency.” To register or donate, visit online at or call (973) 897-1261.