Albert H. Shaw, 1913-2010

Al Shaw in 1977

My uncle Albert Shaw lived long enough to be able to look me in the eye and tell me in all seriousness, “I wish I was 92 again.” He was 96 when he said that. He died on Dec. 23, just a few weeks after his 97th birthday, and a small group of family members and friends said goodbye at the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Buzzards Bay last Thursday.

I had several uncles, but Al — one of five siblings on my mother’s side — was the only one who lived nearby when I was growing up. He was someone I saw a lot of when I was a kid. He took me golfing. He also was a frequent presence at the family cottage in Onset, where, in 1977, I took the picture of him that you see here. Along with my grandmothers, he was the one member of my extended family who was actually a part of my life.

Al grew up in Middleborough, in the same house in which I was raised two generations later. He was born on Dec. 7, 1913, and was in the Army when, on his 28th birthday, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He served as a communications officer in Burma, walking miles down the road to the hospital after he contracted malaria. Following treatment, he returned to his post.

Like many people from his generation, intelligence and ability did not necessarily lead to a good job. In mid-life he trained as a draftsman, and worked for a while at a high-tech company in the Merrimack Valley. But one of the periodic tech washouts claimed his job, and he ended up spending the latter part of his working life as a custodian at the Brockton VA Hospital. Yet he was smart enough to have done just about anything he put his mind to, and his reading was deep and eclectic. As recently as this fall, he was telling me in great detail about an article he’d read in the Wilson Quarterly about the Chinese economy.

Following a divorce, Al spent many years living with a couple with whom he was friendly — a friendship that was tested after the husband became totally disabled in a workplace accident. Al stayed on for many years, providing them with invaluable assistance.

In recent years, Al lived on his own in an apartment in Lakeville. He was in remarkably good health until very late in his life, golfing well into his 80s and taking part in a bowling league as recently as this past spring. (And kicking butt.) He only gave up driving around Labor Day. My wife, kids and I spent Thanksgiving with him at his home. He was feeling well and was in good spirits that day.

Yet his congestive heart failure was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. When he landed in the hospital in early December, he decided it was finally time to move to a nursing home. Unfortunately, he had barely begun to settle in when he fell and broke his hip. He died in surgery, his heart unable to withstand the effects of anesthesia.

Al lived a long, healthy life, and he had been making it clear for some time that he was ready to go. He wasn’t a Woody Allen fan (nor am I), but to paraphrase Allen, Al wasn’t afraid of dying; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. He got his wish. I will miss him, but I’m glad my kids got to know him.

That didn’t take long*

John McCain’s Burma-coddling convention chairman, Doug Goodyear, is gone.

*I just noticed that Josh Marshall used the same headline. I wrote mine before I read his. Honest!

McCain’s Burma shave

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reports that John McCain has chosen a convention chair who once worked as a lobbyist for Burma’s repressive government.

“It was six years ago,” protests Doug Goodyear. Well, gee, he’s got a point. In 2002, the military junta had only been in power for 40 years.

Even better: According to Isikoff, Goodyear got the call because the other guy McCain was considering had once represented Ferdinand Marcos as well as the corrupt former prime minister of Ukraine.

Aftermath of the Burmese cyclone

What is a cyclone? It’s a hurricane, according to Wikipedia. According to the BBC, state media in Myanmar (Burma) are now reporting that the death toll has exceeded 22,000, a far cry from the 4,000 deaths that were claimed in the print edition of today’s New York Times. With another 41,000 missing, it’s certain that the body count will keep rising.

This Al-Jazeera English report is pretty interesting:

The cyclone could be a paradigm-changing event for Myanmar, once of the world’s most closed and repressive regimes, as the ruling junta has apparently decided to accept international assistance. On the other hand, the Al-Jazeera report notes that the junta has not given the green light to non-governmental organizations, and that it plans to go ahead with a May 10 referendum aimed at strengthening its repressive grip.

The Democratic Voice of Burma (via Global Voices Online) says that the authorities have done little to help beleaguered storm victims. One anonymous resident of Rangoon, the capital, is quoted as saying:

We don’t know where they [the authorities] are, which corners they have gone to. It is not good to talk about it. They only know how to beat up people. In this kind of situation, we don’t know where they are. These people only know how to beat up people.

Danny Schechter hails Laura Bush for speaking out, and adds: “I spoke with a veteran UN Correspondent last night who said that the infrastructure in Burma is in such poor shape [that] he doubted that they had the capacity to warn the public.”

A horrifying symbol

This Reuters photo is destined to become the symbol of the Burmese government’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. Kenji Nagai, a video photographer for Japan’s APFN news service, was fatally shot while covering the protests yesterday.

It’s early, and there are no doubt details we don’t know yet. But according to the photo caption in the Boston Globe, Nagai kept shooting even after he’d been injured. The Washington Post reports that Nagai was taken away by soldiers, but it’s not clear whether he was alive or dead at that point.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a pretty detailed account that also reports Nagai kept doing his job after he’d been shot. The CPJ’s post includes this statement:

The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the shootings and the heavy government interference and ongoing harassment of journalists who are attempting to cover the unfolding political events in Burma.

The Guardian has posted a remarkable video of Nagai covering the fall of Baghdad in 2003.