Tag Archives: Vietnam

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a stage appearance!

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.