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Louis Dubose is politics editor at the Austin Chronicle. He previously worked for the Observer and the Liberty Vindicator. PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS. Join the Texas Civil Rights Project $25 a year. Volunteers needed. 2212 E. MLK, Austin, TX 78702. for more information. by Dr. Hunter Thompson and published in Rolling Stone. Thompson’ s observation that Nixon’s remains “should have been burned in a dumpster” did not, however, ington, D.C., in the belly of the beast. Cutting-edge medicine is con ducted mainly things like sentences, paragraphs, ideas and enthusiasms further than some editors preferred.” In a touch Robert McGill Thomas, Jr. would have appreciated, Kaufman slips into his subject’s voice to describe a party Thomas gave a week before his death. “Last week he officiated at the annual New Year’s Eve party he first started giving at the family home in Shelbyville 32 years ago. About 5 percent of the town’s 12,000 people attended, and Mr. Thomas, wearing a blue silk shirt with an embroidered sun and moon that he bought for the occasion, cheered his guests and the new century. As in past years, he expressed hopes that the fireworks he had ordered would not set fire the Presbyterian church across the road.” Kaufman also quotes writer Joseph Epstein, who was an admirer of Thomas: “I have noted an interesting general-assignment obituary writer with the somewhat overloaded name of Robert McG. Thomas Jr., who occasionally gets beyond the facts and the rigid formula of the obit to touch onof all things to find in The New York Timesa deeper truth.” You will find no deeper truth in Fame at Last, which does to obits what the University of Texas School of Journalism does to journalismreduces its subject to a body of quantifiable research material and pours it all into a database. We learn that there is, in the Times obits, a distinct gender bias: “Of the 2,000 or so obituaries that run each year in the New York Times, only 17 percent are women.” Wealth matters. As does educational achievement. We also learn, in one of a number of observations that are completely lacking in context, that “Jackie Kennedy was, one suspects, a one-of-akind historical figure. Certainly no Helen Keller, she nonetheless embodied a kind of elegance, dignity, and determined privacy that was enormously appealing to people.” As this is the authors’ first reference to Helen Keller, the reader is left to fill in the blanks. In a coda on “success and fame” the authors hold Richard M. Nixon up as an example of perseverance: “Forced to resign from the nation’s highest office, over the next two decades, Nixon slowly but surely repaired his battered reputation by publishing a series of serious books about foreign affairs. By the time of his death, he had remade himself into a Grand Old Statesman.” \(The definitive Nixon obituary was written itte e fitl,C1 vr 4400,10,4’y rettoo.”‘ 001,, ,, v;voo :004-74itl 4.7:”i f .;:o tirr :1-37::4.;.,;1441:.,0 at major medical Enough, and enough N-ve*ii 1′ 14, sc h ools rf,11 t7r yet again. Fourteen strike the right tone for re .0-.0. chapters followed by a . . a Times homily on success was In fairness to the au more than this avid obit thors, a compilation of 9;*01, reader could endure. Such a Times obits has already.r -rer e olt,/*T. ,,,,z view of how to die a good been published. So it was death starts to make even,Lib 0.6,;…:. er,v100% … unlikely that anyone would erty seem appealing. .slejnrokr .tra, do another such collection. t r In the end, as Thomas so And there are some interest amply demonstrated, its the de ing facts collected here. For tails that make the man. Drs. Ball example, it is gratifying to Wo7VO’ and Jones did use several of his sub know that at 117 column inches jects in their profiles, including, in their Allen Ginsberg had a full inch on chapter on “The Millionaires Who Do Not Cold Warrior Clark Clifford, and’ Live Next Door,” Edward Lowe, who ten inches on Vietnam War archi 1f struck it rich after discovering a market for tect Dean Rusk. Though Rusk kiln-dried clay. Yet they omit the context bested Ella Fitzgerald with her 102 given to us by Thomas. “Cats have been inches, she in turn had almost two more domesticated since ancient Egypt, but until feet of obit space than did U.S. Congress a fateful January day in 1947, those who woman Barbara Jordan. Yet all this could kept them indoors full time paid a heavy have been contained in a smart, slim vol price,” he wrote. “For all their vaunted ob ume that would have complemented the ex session with paw-licking cleanliness, cats, isting anthology \(The Last Word: The New whose constitutions were adapted for arid York Times Book of Obituaries and desert climes, make such an efficient use of When the authors depart from water that they produce a highly concentheir charts and graphs to recapitulate the trated urine that is one of the most noxious stories already told in the Timeswithout effluences of the animal kingdom.” That hitting a single coloratura noteFame at passage didn’t make the cut in Fame at Last becomes deadly. At the end of 14 Last, whose authors merely inform us that plodding chapters ranging from “The MilLowe made his millionsand the Times lionaires Who Do Not Live Next Door” to obituary pageby developing and market”People With Utterly Unusual Lives,” ing kitty litter. there is even a six-page afterword. Not satisfied with having led readers to predictable conclusions, the authors continue: “Some other observations on success: Location is important. You need to be in the right place to get started: If you want to be a movie star, you better move to Los Angeles, because that’s where movies are made. Book publishing remains concentrated in Manhattan. Bigtime lawyers tend to be clustered in power cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. If you’re interested in government, spend time in Wash 0 DECEMBER 22, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7 r