Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Godspeed, Bill

You will be missed

I wish to note the passing of William F. Buckley, conservative thinker, grammarian, and sailor.

I know I’m late … most of the other obits came out a week ago. But it took me some time to gather my thoughts about the man.

I never met him, although I once nearly did – I was the news editor of the UNM student newspaper, the Daily Lobo, and he had come to UNM to give a talk. Alas, at the time, Pat was working out of town and I couldn’t find a babysitter for Gerald, who was a toddler at the time. So one of my crack reporters got the story instead.

Politically, Buckley kept to the roots of conservatism, principles which, in recent years, have been completely neglected: that government shouldn’t be meddling in the private lives of citizens, that it is up to us, the people, to decide what is good or bad for us, when such decisions have no impact on society as a whole.

One of Buckley’s strengths was that he could disagree with somebody and still get along. He was fair-minded, and he had a sense of humor. He was never insulting, and he always respected the opposition. When he defeated an opposing position, it was purely through logical reasoning and never through ad hominem attacks.

In grammar and rhetoric, Buckley was a master. He was accused of sesquipedalianism, but that’s a false charge. He always used the precise words to express exactly what he meant, and if those precise words used more than the standard allocation of syllables, that was no problem for him. If little words would suffice, that’s what he would use. He never used the big words just to show off – he used them because they were the words that said exactly what he wanted to say.

Grammatically, Buckley’s prose was superb. He took care to make sure that his sentences said exactly what he meant. Many other writers are sloppy, and they write sentences that can have more than one meaning, or that don’t mean what the writer actually intended. That’s especially true in journalism, where writers are often on a tight deadline and can’t double-check what they wrote. But not Bill. I’m guessing that his prose was pretty good to start with, and that he was really good at self-editing, and that there were good copy-editors reading his work, so that what actually got into print was nearly perfect.

And he was a sailor. He made long-distance passages, and I immensely enjoyed the books he wrote chronicling a couple of them. I would have enjoyed being along on the journeys – not just the high quality of food and wine with which he provisioned the boat, but also the high quality of shipmates along for the journey. One of the common complaints of people who undertake long sailing journeys is that the trip becomes boring – that’s one of the reasons there are many boats available for purchase in Hawaii, from people who started out on an around-the-world journey, but then discovered they weren’t well suited to tedium. But I suspect that if I were on a journey with Bill and his friends, I would not be bored. There would always be good conversation and good humor.

Godspeed, Bill. I hope I may sail with you in another world.

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Blogger Leon said...

I enjoyed your comments. I must confess that while I disagreed with Buckley on most issues, I always enjoyed reading him or watching him on TV. He was both literate and literary. And not only did he have a delightful sense of humor, he never seemed to take himself too seriously! Thank you.

Thu Mar 06, 10:35:00 PM MST  

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