Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, August 19, 2003  

Who's the "Greatest Figure of the 20th Century?" The Dalai Lama? Mother Theresa? MLK? Left-wing bloggers (including me) make the call (and two of those three didn't even make the list). This group seems somewhat less objective than the previous "Worst Americans" list, and includes both the unworthy and excludes the worthy.

Among the unworthy, Bill Clinton leads the pack. Come on people, Bill doesn't make a top five list for best presidents in the 20th Century, must less best figure (compare him to aforementioned absent folks). Kennedy and Eisenhower are poor choices as well. FDR is rightly chosen, and is in my mind the only US president who warrants a mention. (Carter, a poor president, is an arguable inclusion based on all the wonderful human rights and diplomatic work he's done since.) Edison's a straddler, but I would have placed him in the 19th Century.

Among the omissions are, of course, Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. The list is heavily skewed toward pols and scientists. Any rounded list would include some more folks from the arts: only Picasso, Louis Armstrong, and George Orwell made this list (and Orwell's a wonk's choice for literary figure if ever there was one). Literary figures? I went with Beckett and Sartre. It was the century of film and not a single filmmaker made the list. I went with Kurosawa. I also threw in two pop musicians, and this was the hardest. I chose Louis as the embodiment of jazz, and then I chose Dylan, mistakenly. Given a second chance, I'd have chosen Chuck Berry.

Of 28 listed figures, 18 were American, showing a xenophobic streak among lefties (in my own list, only six of 20 were yanks). Fourteen (depending on how you count) were political figures, and only 3 were artists. Seven were scientists or innovators.

A few folks I had who didn't make the list are Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Linus Pauling. I waffled over Pauling and Salk, but decided to go with Pauling, who had a funky and full career. I knew he wouldn't make the list.

How would you vote?

(Oh, and I should give some props to John Hawkins, who conceived of a fun and clever way to bring a lot of traffic to his site from lefties who might otherwise rarely visit.)

posted by Jeff | 9:27 AM |
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