Spare a thought for the family of Andrew Olmsted. You may not know him, or even have heard of him, but you’re about to. This is what was posted on his blog site over the weekend:

“This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits … I’m dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren’t going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.)”

Andrew was a major in the US army and, last week, became that nation’s first 2008 fatality in what Borat so aptly calls the “war of terror” in Iraq. He had prepared a final blog post in the event of his death and a friend agreed to click the “publish” button should anything happen to him. It did, and so his friend obliged.

Olmsted specifically asks in his last blog “that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn’t a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side.” So as much as I want to emulate American comic and satirist Dennis Miller who would say at this point: “Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but …” (and then proceed to go off on an eloquent diatribe about something or other, usually other), I won’t.

I just want to use Olmsted’s last post to ponder a couple of things. Well, not the post itself, but the fact of the post. And if I may borrow a technique from fellow blogger Ndumiso Ngcobo, I’m going to bulletise my thoughts in no particular order:

  • This evening my four-year-old daughter came to me in tears. She had broken a small china teapot someone had given her for Christmas. I fixed it with glue, and her world was OK again.
  • My six-year-old son is beside himself with anticipation. Tonight the tooth fairy will visit our house for the first time (what’s the going rate these days, by the way?). His world is good.
  • The weekend’s Sunday Times carried a blow-by-blow account of Jacob Zuma’s charge sheet. Things don’t look too great in his life at the moment, although he does have a fourth honeymoon to think about.
  • Barack Obama had a good week by fending off the used-car salesman John Edwards and the shrill, smug, shifty Hilary Clinton in the first Democratic primary of the 2008 race. That’s not only good for him, but probably for all of us. Even better news is that most of the Republican voters in Iowa decided to go along to the Democrats’ caucus instead.
  • We took our Christmas tree down this evening, confining it to another year in its cardboard box on the dusty shelf in the spare-room cupboard.
  • I finished reading Andrew Feinstein’s book a couple of days ago, and am some 200 pages into Mark Gevisser’s biography on Thabo Mbeki. Between the two of them I’m finding myself fluctuating between outrage and empathy, a strange mix of emotions.
  • We still don’t know what happened to Madeleine McCann.
  • There’s something called “Deathlist”, which lists famous people expected to die in 2008 (if you find yourself on the list, by the way, don’t stress too much … they only had a 5% success rate in 2007).

In preparing this week’s Mail & Guardian podcast, I came across this series of facts:
In 12 months’ time … the world’s oceans will have risen by another inch or so; there will be about another 200-million people on the planet; and about 36 000 more species will have become extinct. We’ll have a fairly good idea of who the next South African president will be; the US will have elected its new president; the Olympics in Beijing will have come and gone; there will have been another Harry Potter movie; and we’ll be 18 months away from the Soccer World Cup. And it’s not all good news … there will probably be another album by Britney Spears and another reunion of a Sixties rock band.

So where am I going with all of this? Sadly, I have no idea. These are just things on my mind right now. And it just seems to me — and perhaps this is the hangover from the festive season of love speaking — that the world is sort of poised for something at the moment. I’m not usually one given over to sentimentality or sissy things like emotions, and I’m certainly not someone who sleeps under a glass pyramid atop a web of tightly woven lentils. I just have this hunch that 2008 is going to be remembered.

But as we all settle in to our 2008 lives (which, let’s face it, are not that different from our 2007 lives), maybe it’s time to take stock of a couple of things that are real and important. Maybe it’s a tooth fairy; maybe it’s a charge sheet. Perhaps right now the biggest thing in your life is a broken china teapot, or maybe it’s a lost primary. Maybe you’re excited about what lies ahead for this country; perhaps you’re depressed about what’s going on now. There’s a chance you feel sorry for Thabo Mbeki and will feel even sorrier for Hilary Clinton come November. Maybe you couldn’t care less about either or about the fact that Fidel Castro is making his sixth appearance on the Deathlist.

But whoever you are and wherever you are, dwell for a moment on the fact that someone was sent into a war (or chose to go into a war, I don’t know) and had the foresight to leave his friends and family with something in case he never came back. Now that’s class. Hats off to Andrew Olmsted.


  • Tony is a corporate animal but it wasn't always so. He used to work in the media, with a specific interest in technology; travel; music; and getting free stuff. He doesn't consider himself a thought leader, although he does confess to having thoughts. He presents the M&G's weekly podcast.


Tony Lankester

Tony is a corporate animal but it wasn't always so. He used to work in the media, with a specific interest in technology; travel; music; and getting free stuff. He doesn't consider himself a thought leader,...

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