Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Paul Samuelson is very smart but not always polite. When praising John Kenneth Galbraith he wrote something like “it would be wonderful to write his obituary” which only meant that it was enjoyable to write a encominium on Galbraith and any other more literal interpretation would be incorrect, funny and amusing to Prof Galbraith. Among Prof. Samuelson’s words of praise were, more or less, the following “he understood that economics is to important to leave up to the economists” Which is my effort to recall a translation of Clemenceau.

So the question is: “If you could write an encominium on a famous person in the mass circulation comments to a post in “A Fistful of Euros” who would you praise?”

The question is not “Does Robert Waldmann count how many comments each post gets and treat the number as a measure of his success ?” However, if anyone would like to post the comments “yes”,”that’s obviious”, “what a twit” or “that’s really the most pathetic form of self gratification I have ever heard of,” I will count them all the same.

So who would I like to praise ? Too keep the list under control I praise only people who died after I was born

My Mom should be famous
My Dad is almost famous
George Orwell
Vaclaw Havel
Nelson Mandela
Martin Luther King Jr
Jorge Luis Borges
Alan Turing ?
Larry Summers needs some praise right now and I won’t lie or anything but he was very patient with me.
Brad DeLong
Andrei Shleifer
Michael Kinsley
Graham Walker has tenure at MIT so he is sortof famous
Reinhart Selton is the most humble noble laureate that I have every met and he actually takes teaching undergraduates seriously.
Omigod I forgot to mention what an absolutely wonderful guy Salvatore Luria is.
I’m an economist so I have to talk about Kenneth Arrow even though I wish I could be a bit original.
Bernard Kouchner really deserves a better fate
John McCain should not be electe president of the USA even if he is an admirable person.
Happy is the nation that needs no heroes. Less happy is the nation full of people like me who didn’t appreciate Jimmy Carter
Why the hell was Andrew Young such a bad “permanent” representative at the UN ?
Paul Kafka is the nicest winner of the LA Times best first novel prize that I know
Many admirable and famous people who I know who are not going to get totally pissed at me for not mentioning them.

Click if you have nothing better to do than to read the actual praise.

OK I know anyone who doesn’t have anything original to say says his mom is the greatest, but it just so happens that my mom is the greatest. Don’t ask me, ask her daugher in law (Elisabetta Addis who is a very intelligent person who made one huge mistake) “Your mother is my model of what a person should be.” OK now in all of the long boring history of humanity (read on if you are not clear on the concept of long and boring) when has a daughter in law said something like that about her mother in law just because it is so true that it is a posiitive pleasure to say it ?

Out of deep respect for my honored wife I must admit that my mom is the very model of what a person should be. I admit that my idea of what a person should be is based mostly on her teachings and partly on the views of dad who is insanely in love with her after …… roughly 46 years of marriage (ladies I am a man and it is plenty that I remember when I was marrieds so don’t get picky about the exact date and someone or other, who is a friend of Linda Pastan, should not have made that comment about how pregnant my mom was soon after marrying taking advantage of the fact that I remember my big brother’s birthday and not my parents anniversary).

OK so I am a serious, cynical smartass and I happen to think that my mom is just the personification of everything good. This is embarasing but it won’t be quie so bad after youknow a fact or two.

What did my mom do for a living before she retired at age 75 ?

She took care of HIV positive people who were too poor to have health insurance

What does she do now that she is retired ?

The same without pay and without having to deal with reports about rabid racoons except that she has a broken arm at the moment.

Does she recognise the importance of not getting emotionally involved with patients ?

Well my mom is not the type of person who is sure she is right when the rest of the world is wrong, so she accepts the idea that it is better to mantain some emotional distance from patients but, hey good intentions and all that …,each of her patients is a personal friend. It might be noted that for many people with AIDs one more personal freind is worth a lot, but not by me because that would be cheating.

I mean she remembers them years after their deaths. Clearly not a rational strategy.

It’s ggotten easier with protease inhibitors: Now they live and don’t die for sure. Also it is easier now that her patients with an incurable disearse are so much younger than her children. Also people from jail act strangely grateful when a doctor treats them like a patient equal to the President or the Pope or any other patient which reminds one of how people have this weird, incomprehensible and profoundly disturbing idea that some people are worth more than others, but gratitude for nothing special is wonderful.

And that’s not the half of it, but enough about my mom.

My dad is a highly respected scienist, member of the American Academy of Scien ces and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (without knowing what it is but their clubhouse in Cambridge got in my way when I was trying to get from my house to Harvard U) and he wass the first non European to win this big Belgian prize which had to do with Stella Artois beer which I tried to drink but it is as salty as sea water and also Michael Milken gave cancer research awards for the two years between indictment and sentancing and my dad got one of them.

But the really great thing about my dad is that he is a medium high ranking bureaucrat and the people who work with him love him and he has a great sense of humour and he understood that, no matter how great your dad is, when you are a teenager it is embarrassing to admit you have parents and generally why the hell didn’t he ever understand that his contributions to science and human welfare give him the right to be a jerk and why do so many other people eagerly take advantage of the right to be a jerk ?

And look at it from my point of view. I understand that part of growing up is learning that your parents aren’t right about everything and they are not perfect people and they are certainly not the personification of everything good so how the hell am I supposed to grow up given the challenge of having parents who are practically perfect ?

6 thoughts on “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

  1. Speaking of Paul Kafka-Gibbons, he writes (I, alas, will not be there):

    Come help Patty and me celebrate my 45th birthday with dancing and mingling at Toast in Union Square on Friday, March 11th. There are these DJs who ?mash? music (see below) at pleasant volume. The space is nicely divided into a room for dancing, and a couple of rooms for sitting, drinking, and hanging out. No need to RSVP, though I?d love to hear from you. I?m not booking the club for a private party?I?m just inviting you to come. The tunes don?t start till 9, so I?m thinking 9:15 to midnight. I hope to see you there.

    Until soon,

    Paul and Patty, Gabriel and Charlotte

    PS Gabriel and Charlotte won?t be there, though they want to dance.


    Where: Toast is in the old Elephant Walk restaurant space, basement level in Union Square. For directions and parking info, see http://toastlounge.com/directions.htm.

    ?Mashing?? See http://weeklydig.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/article.view/articleID/7654b59d-5624-4a45-b4e7-7712b9c8e448/ or read the same article below. If you want to listen to Lenlow, one of DJs who spins at Toast on Fridays, go to http://luke.enlow.net/music.html .

  2. “Let us now praise famous men” is an ironic passage that is meant to call to mind those were not at all famous but lived as best they could as vibrantly and caring as they could live and died with no memorial. Richard Niebuhr thought the book by James Agee among the finest of the century. Niebuhr taught the book year after year.

  3. Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15

    1 Let us now praise famous men,…

    9 And some there be, which have no memorial;
    who are perished, as though they
    had never been; and are become as though
    they had never been born;
    and their children after them.

    10 But these were merciful men,
    whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

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