I had a reasonably quiet week and was only at Kennedy Road twice, for a lunch and a meeting followed by dinner. Su kept herself busy making good food and I have almost used up the government vouchers on sake. We had some weather systems which generated heavy thunderstorms and rainstorms, with tropical cyclone Mulan skirting past, bringing down the room temperature slightly. It does appear that we are at the tail end of summer, albeit a rather hot one.
David McCullough, an American historian and author of bestsellers, died last week in his home in Boston, at the age of 89. TIME staff writer Olivia Waxman reported that TIME had interviewed him twice in recent years during which the man focused on “the importance of studying history so that we can better understand our present and our future.”
The historian and author had won many awards in his time, including two Pulitzers, for Truman in 1993 and John Adams in 2002, both of which had inspired films and TV series. McCullough published The Great Journey in 2011 which was his version of the history of Paris as an expat American; and he had said he wrote the book to make the point that history comprises more than political and military matters. He also joked about Americans watching too much TV and had said he dropped a project on writing about Picasso halfway because he found the artist not sufficiently interesting. He also said that his 2017 book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For was spurred by the then president Donald Trump whom he found had no leadership or interest in learning from history. He had told reporters of Trump that “It’s as if we’ve put someone in the pilot seat who has never flown a plane or even read about how to do it.” Perhaps the angle I find most interesting is his advice for anyone who wants to be remembered in history: he suggested that such people should take up the lost art of diary writing. Now, I took up diary writing the first time when I was in my undergrad days, after receiving a diary as a birthday gift and having read from some horoscope writers that Arians – people born under Aries – should keep a diary. That was at a time when I thought I was an Aries, only to learn years later that I was born under Taurus. Never mind. I did take up diary writing again after I took up my first and only job, but not for very long. Then, of course, I began writing regularly in the year leading up to my Rotary governorship, not under the best situations, but out of necessity, which precipitated in, first my regular letters to my presidents, and later to the publication of my first memoir. My mind drifted to a friend – Alexander Wong – whom I believe would be able to keep an interesting diary with extensive details and photos, as revealed in his recent postings on the social media, for which reason I have been urging him to write his first memoir. I am still waiting.
Back to McCullough, the man also received from President George W Bush in 2006 the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is an award bestowed by a POTUS to recognize people who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other specific fields. The award is the supreme civilian decoration in the United States, which must be distinguished from the Medal of Freedom (without the presidential prefix) which can be awarded by three Cabinet secretaries. The award can also be given with distinction, but interestingly, there are no specific criteria for that, such that any decision to award the higher degree is entirely at the decision of the president. Non-Americans have also received the award, including Mother Teresa and Margaret, and it can also be bestowed posthumously as were the cases with John F Kennedy and Elvis Presley. President Barack Obama had said in 2017 that an award with a distinction indicated “an additional level of veneration” in a class of individuals already held in the highest esteem. I learnt from the internet that as of January 2022, 26 people have been awarded the medal with distinction, or approximately 4% of all awards. It does seem that people love awards and we have just heard that the outgoing Chief Executive meted out the largest number of awards, including a Justice of Peace or JP for herself. Talking of JP, I became an official JP when I became a District Officer in the late 80s, which title I had to give up after I ceased to be in that office. As an official JP, I was to accompany non-official JPs to visit hospitals and correctional institutions regularly and to write a visit report after each such visit, which I did dutifully always, except once when the non-official JP asked that he be the author of the report, which was never an issue, for these reports were to be signed by both the official and non-official JPs. My point really is this. Whereas most people are desirous of the honour of JP-ship, the title primarily means work and responsibility. When I was holding down a full-time job, it could be difficult to schedule such visits. But such work and experience were rewarding and interesting,
I have no idea whether we would have more heat for the rest of the summer. I hope it continues to get cooler; and Su and I have just had our first bite of moon cake.