Archive for Life and/or Death

Eternity isn’t what it used to be

I was looking at the Wikipedia page for April 15, and this line turned up in the midst of Births:

Birth and death of Kim Il-sung

Turns out the DPRK is serious:

As of 2014 there is no President of North Korea, as the office was left vacant from the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994, and was abolished with the 1998 constitutional changes. Instead, the functions and powers previously belonging to the President were divided between three officials: the head of government, the Premier of North Korea; the speaker of the legislature, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly; and the head of the military, the Chairman of the National Defence Commission and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, currently held by Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-Un. The latter Kim is also the First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and is reckoned as “Supreme Leader” with absolute control over the country.

I always figured it would take three people to replace me, not that you could find three people to work that cheap.


Songs for a hole in the ground

Something called Dark Asylum Radio is asking:

Today is your funeral - what song is playing as they lower your body?

Given my modest but solid military record, I’m pretty sure that the local detachment of something or other will dispatch a bugler to send me off with “Taps.”

During the ceremony — perhaps as a recessional — I have requested the playing of this. The kids, I think, will honor this request.

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Freddie’s still dead

Last week’s QOTW speculated that Fred Phelps might have had something of a change of heart before shuffling off this mortal coil.

In possible support of this premise:

Last week, Fred Phelps’ son posted on Facebook that his father, the longtime head of the notoriously venomous Westboro Baptist Church — famous for protesting military and other high-profile funerals and events with neon “God Hates Fags” signs — was “now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka.” Despite Drain’s attempts to downplay the severity of Phelps’s condition, it was reported Tuesday that the 84-year-old Phelps had passed away.

Most intriguing about Nate Phelps’s Facebook post was not the news that an octogenarian’s health was failing, but that Fred Phelps Sr., who founded the hatemongering church in 1955 and turned his progeny into some of the loudest and most despised people in America, had been excommunicated last summer.

“Drain” is Steve Drain, who may have orchestrated that excommunication and installed himself in Westboro’s seat of power.

Still, this might be the single most salient thing said about the demise of Mr Phelps:

(Via Miss Cellania.)

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There’s been a murder

You may even have seen one:

In a Time Magazine article titled “The Mystery of Animal Grief” by Jeffrey Kluger, scientists explain that animals do grieve — and that they honor and mourn their dead with an intensity some people don’t even display.

For instance, researchers have observed how crows will gather around a departed crow and call and call until hundreds of flock mates arrive. They will then stand surrounding the dead crow and maintain total silence, broken only by occasional approaches to offer odds and ends to the corpse — for instance, pebbles or short sticks. After a period of time, they will depart, never to return.

More turnout than I could ever dare to expect, even allowing for the people who were just wanting to make sure I was dead.

(Plucked from Georganna Hancock’s writing research.)

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Simulated existence

Yours truly in Vent #318, 25 November 2002:

Some day, more likely some night, that “finite number of breaths” will be reached, everything will come to an end, and no one will know until two or three days later because some mundane task wasn’t performed on time, some phone call wasn’t returned, or, most absurdly, because this goddamn Web site wasn’t updated.

Glenn Reynolds, last night:

YEAH, SCHEDULED BLOG POSTS WOULD DO THE SAME FOR ME: Woman’s auto-payments hid her death for six years. But not for six years.

If there should prove to be a way to blog from beyond the grave, I’m in. Or I will be in, anyway.

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Starkness all around

This was arguably the most frightening thing I saw online all last week:

A medical volunteer who’d gone to Kiev, she’d just been shot.

I am delighted to note that she’s alive and (almost) well.

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Human nature in action

Thirty-four distraught Michael Jackson fans demanded compensation:

The fans brought their suit against Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, who served a two-year prison sentence for his role administering the singer what turned out to be a lethal dose of the anaesthetic propofol. The plaintiffs claimed in court they had suffered “emotional damage” from Jackson’s death at the hands of Murray.

Were the plaintiffs told to beat it? Not all of them:

On Tuesday, five of those fans actually claimed victory, albeit a symbolic one, in French court, which ruled that they had successfully proven they had endured emotional suffering as the result of the King of Pop’s death and were awarded damages — of one euro each (about $1.36).

Then again, they apparently weren’t after actual money:

[Their lawyer told Agence France-Presse] the distraught fans weren’t planning on seeking payment from Conrad Murray, but “they hoped their status as recognised victims would help them gain access to Jackson’s gravesite in Los Angeles, which is closed to the public.”

A decidedly off-the-wall idea, if you ask me.

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Jack Baruth considers the current state of F1 racer Michael Schumacher:

I’ve wondered what would have happened if someone had appeared in front of Michael that morning. “I’m from the future,” the someone would say, “and I’m here to tell you that you’re facing massive risk this morning, you shouldn’t go skiing, you should lay off for the day. I don’t have any proof of this, but trust me.” I know a fair number of people who could be dissuaded from just about anything were someone to appear in front of them with a story like that. Even if they didn’t actually believe the whole time-travel thing, their jimmies would be sufficiently rustled by bringing up an exact accounting of their actual risk on a given day in a given activity. Michael Schumacher was not one of them, I’d suspect.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect I can be counted among the dissuadable: more than once I’ve seen something that I couldn’t possibly have seen before — and yet somehow I had, which tells me that bomb bursts seemingly from the future carry more credibility with me than perhaps they should.

Schumacher, most likely, would have none of that:

He’d likely have responded with something like: I know the risk, I’m aware of it, used to it, I’ve taken all precautions, kindly step out of the way, I have some skiing to do. The response of a competitor, a champion. Make no mistake. He was never just going to “switch off” that discipline, that courage, that determination, any more than the man on the street can “switch off” laziness, addiction, envy, underachievement. He was always going to be someone to push the boundaries a little bit. He may never return, but who among us will accomplish what he’s done, given twice the lifetime or more?

I tend to minimize my own accomplishments, to the extent that I admit to having accomplishments at all; I have always suspected myself of being an underachiever the easy way, by allowing people to overestimate my capacity for — adequacy? (I tried “greatness” in that spot, but it looked ridiculous.) Just yesterday, someone I need to know better suggested I might have brass balls sufficiently massive to cause an audible clink when I walk; I didn’t demur, exactly, but it occurred to me that with regard to the incident in question, I didn’t do anything a kid a quarter my age couldn’t do, though odds are the kid wouldn’t dare.

And I believe Schumacher will come out of this. I’d feel better, though, if I’d seen it in a dream.

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Are you kidneying me?

There are times when I fear for the sanity of the 149 members of the legislature, some more than others:

Ordinarily, if one wants a dumb legislative idea regarding crime and punishment in my fair state, one must rely on the Grand Old Party. They’ve got a flap-brained contingent that’s always willing to take a look at doing something to criminals that makes Theodoric of York, medieval judge, say, “Dial it down a bit, eh?”

But we are bi-partisan in our silliness, and comes now the latest proof, state representative Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, home of the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival. Rep. Dorman, one of the few Democrats surviving in state government these days, wants to introduce legislation that will allow death row inmates to donate their organs when their sentences are carried out.

Well, actually, this depends on what the meaning of the word “when” is:

[C]urrent acceptable methods of execution wreck several of the body’s major organs at once and degrade their viability for transfer. That’s where Rep. Dorman borrows from [Larry] Niven, as instead of being killed by lethal injection an inmate being executed would instead be anesthetized and the needed pieces removed before brain death occurred. So technically, Rep. Dorman, you’re suggesting organs be harvested from living people. That sound you heard was Christian Szell saying, “Ew.”

I’d suggest harvesting organs from legislators, but that brain-death issue would still be a factor.

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Quote of the week

Africa need not be a pestiferous hellhole — except that folks of the David Attenborough stripe seem to prefer it that way:

The dirty little secret of Africa is that if you got rid of the TseTse fly and allowed irrigation, that Africa could become another Kansas (an area that was once called the “great American desert”, and where there was once a severe famine … now with irrigation, and modern variations of wheat developed in the Ukraine, it can feed the world).

Of course, David wouldn’t like that: it would mean prosperous farmers where his beloved animals now live.

As for all those starving children: David has an opinion about them too: “And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.”

yeah. It was similar British Malthusian thinking that led to the millions of dead Irish in the potato famines of the 1840′s, where grain was exported and locals starved to death or died trying to migrate to other lands on “coffin ships”.

Of course, mankind is a blight upon the landscape — well, some of mankind, anyway. And it’s always amusing to see people trying to explain how it is that they, personally, are not.

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Fark blurb of the week

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The last ride

And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be no chance that anyone will actually think of this:

It’s not that I don’t like funeral processions, it’s I don’t like the inconvenience to everyone else that’s not part of the procession, the danger of traffic and the fact there are people with crummy attitudes, bad vision and distracted that are driving without paying attention to traffic lights. Even with a cop, it’s still dangerous; especially for the cop.

So, lets have them at 3:00 am. Traffic is light, most of the drunks have gone home and there’s not a great need for a special escort.

The person putatively being honored certainly wouldn’t care one way or another. And I know the sight of a funeral procession has a dispiriting effect on me as a driver: all that there-but-for-the-grace-of-God stuff, plus the fact that I’m suddenly ten minutes late for wherever I was going.

At least it’s better than the usual political motorcade, where you know that you’re being inconvenienced for the sake of pomp and/or circumstance.

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Can we get that paneling in tortoise-shell?

Sure, if it’s death paneling:

Federal funds are running out at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center and officials plan to close the site and euthanize hundreds of the tortoises they’ve been caring for since the animals were added to the endangered species list in 1990.

“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray during a visit to the soon-to-be-shuttered reserve at the southern edge of the Las Vegas Valley last week.

Not evil enough to get him to refuse to take part in this charade, obviously.

And you have to figure, the Feds historically are a lot more concerned with endangered species than they are with the likes of you and me, so when our time is deemed to have come — well, let’s just say that it gets hot out there in the middle of noplace.

(Via the still-alive Brian J. Noggle.)

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At least it gets your attention

Still, if death is a mere warning, what ultra-dire consequences must be in the offing?

Death may be a warning

This is the online version, with a wordier but maybe less alarming alarm.

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Small-head thinking

“Mental illness,” said Hugo Schwyzer, “is a bitch.” Which is, I think, indisputably true. And to demonstrate it:

Hugo Schwyzer, the social sciences academic at Pasadena City College best known as the “porn professor,” tried to commit suicide [Thursday] night, he told the [L. A.] Weekly.

He was visiting his mother in the Monterey area, where he grew up, when it happened about 10 p.m., he said. He was placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, the professor said:

“I took an entire bottle of Klonopin,” he said. That’s a muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety drug.

Schwyzer said he’s physically OK but reiterated how the social media fallout from a sexting relationship with a sometime porn star and multiple affairs with women made his marriage “over” and sunk him into a deep depression.

The sexting relationship and the multiple affairs didn’t destroy his marriage, but Twitter did? Maybe I’ve been taking tweeting too lightly all these years.

The prof says Twitter and article comments roasting him as a woman hater and regurgitating a 15-year-old suicide attempt and attempted murder of a girlfriend have taken their toll.

Maybe it’s just me, but actually trying to kill a woman — well, I’m sorry, but that sounds like the very definition of hate to me. Sucks if that’s interfering with your love life, Prof.

And I’m with Tim Blair on this one: “Instead of Klonopin, he should try KFC. It seems to cheer up other Hugos.”

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Quote of the week

To set this up, here’s a WaPo headline: “Baby boomers are killing themselves at an alarming rate, raising question: Why?”

Now if you look at that URL, you’ll discover that in place of “raising” is the word “begging,” which is not what’s being done here, although “begging the question” is seriously misunderstood as a concept of late. As to “Why,” though, I can quote you the opinion of Vox Day:

The generation that has had to put up with the vagaries of the Baby Boomers for literally its entire existence knows very well why they are killing themselves at an unusually high rate. It is because Baby Boomers are disproportionately inclined to be narcissistic, selfish, short-sighted, superficial bastards who don’t give a damn about anything except themselves, and they are psychologically incapable of grasping the basic concepts of mortality or graceful old age… The realization that 65 is not, in fact, the new 18, and they really and truly are not cool anymore, is simply proving too much for them to bear.

Having never been cool, I’m having less trouble with the concepts of mortality and/or graceful old age.

Still, there’s an upside, according to Day:

Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to think Generation X is actually inclined to celebrate these rampant Boomer suicides. It doesn’t fill us with glee to know they are offing themselves en masse, merely a modicum of appreciation for the first positive and non-selfish consequences their generation’s actions have ever produced. Say what you will about them, but at least they are saving us an amount of effort.

Although I have to look at this in connection with a popular whine among Boomer kids, many years ago: “I didn’t ask to be born!”

The proper response, of course, is “If you had, the answer would have been No.” Day, I think, could appreciate that.

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Curtains drawn

A harrowing, yet sort of happy, tale of being thirteen and confronted with “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”:

I didn’t even know what despair was at that age. It was just a feeling I had no words for, a weighing down of my soul that kept me from being truly happy. And here was Elton, so obviously unhappy with things in his life. Was he fleeing from the thing that made him unhappy or was he fleeing from his unhappiness in general? I dug deep into the words, trying to decipher them. The thought of him walking head on into the deep end of the river filled me with dread yet at the same time I thought about how freeing that would be, to just slip into the water and let it take me.

It’s facile to say that there’s no existential dread like teenage existential dread. Which doesn’t make it any less true.

And really, who was expecting something like this so soon after “The Bitch Is Back” or “Philadelphia Freedom”? Yeah, there was “I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself” way back on Honky Château, but we all knew this was just temporary discomfort; at worst, he had a busted wing and a hornet sting.

Still, the river would not be claiming her:

I knew I’d never have the guts to kill myself. But I also knew my first time thinking about it would not be my last. And there was some small comfort in the fact that this musician I idolized shared what felt like a sacred moment with me; that moment when you think maybe enough is enough. I thought about how many other people in the world have felt like ending it all and how many actually did it. It was a sobering thought and I pushed myself into thinking that it could get better, it would get better. After all, Elton John walked away from that river and freed himself from his unhappiness. If he could do it, so could I.

From a point closer to the end than to the beginning, let me assure you: this isn’t a sentiment you have to be an adolescent to appreciate.

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Weather as a spectator sport

One particularly telling graphic from Friday’s tornado outbreak, from

Graphic from 31 May 2013

Each of those little red dots represents a storm chaser. US 81 (the big vertical line) was just crawling with them.

Now in terms of sheer traffic levels, 81 south of I-40 doesn’t compare to regular rush-hour parking lots like the Broadway Distention; but if every third or fourth car is stopped to shoot video, things aren’t moving. Meanwhile, the sky closes in on you.

The first sign that things were getting dangerous was when a chaser vehicle from the Weather Channel was picked up by the wind, carried a couple hundred yards, and then unceremoniously dumped. They survived that one. Not so lucky: the crew from the former TV series Storm Chasers, all three of whom were tossed away.

Then again, the Storm Chasers guys, headed by Tim Samaras, were doing serious weather research, as they had been all along. And you can’t really complain about the TWC team; corporate, over the years, has done everything short of parachuting Jim Cantore onto an ice floe in the Arctic. But the volume of chasers this time around suggests a high volume of people who just want their footage on YouTube to go viral. I’m not sure I’d risk my butt for that.

It did not help matters in the least that one of the local television weather gods made noises to the effect that it might be possible to outrun the damned thing. (See the last 90 seconds or so.)

I definitely wouldn’t risk my butt for that.

(This takes place after the storm had turned away from my general direction. On the extended map, you can see the big bend in I-44 south of Nichols Hills and east of Warr Acres; I live just west of the middle of that curve. A lot of red and purple up there, but nothing actually rotating.)

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Forever and a day

This forgotten (though not by me) Lesley Gore track from the middle 1970s is perfect for the subject at hand:

Our days are numbered. Must they be?

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As the balcony closes

Why, yes, I have kept this for twenty years:

A friend of mine likes to say, “When I have lots of free time, I feel wealthy.”

Roger Ebert, in an email to yours truly, 17 October 1993. (Before you ask: we were on CompuServe.) And I’d bet anything Gene Siskel is waiting with tickets to a premiere.

Addendum: A favorite Ebert story, from 2005.

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Do they even lift?

Charles Darwin may not have anticipated roadkill, but it certainly seems to play a role in natural selection:

A new study by biologists at the University of Tulsa and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln presents evidence to suggest that cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska may be suffering [lower] incidence of collision with cars, thanks to shorter wings.

According to Current Biology, researchers Charles Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown have been paying close attention to the swallow population in this particular section of Nebraska. They’ve found that the birds measured now have shorter wings than did the birds that were first studied back in 1982. What’s more, there are a smaller number of roadkill birds found in the area — despite increases in both swallow population and traffic since the study began. No increase in roadkill-eating scavengers has been found either.

And just to hammer it home, birds found to have met their fate on the highway seem to have wings of above-average length; perhaps the extra feathering reduces agility or speed.

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Temporary to permanent

Though the “permanent” you might not actually want:

Satanic ritual advertised on Craigslist

It is a measure of my own level of dementia, I suppose, that my first thought was “Migod, and people want to buy cars off this site?”

(Via Jeff Thompson on Facebook.)

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A man among men

A rich, full, and most of all discriminating life:

SHUCHMAN — Amos, of New York, on February 1, 2013. Beloved and caring husband of Alice Shuchman for 51 years, father of Daniel (Lori Lesser) and Nina (Brian Roth), grandfather of Jacob, Sarah, Aaron and Ariela. Born in Tel Aviv in 1928, fought bravely in the Haganah. Loved his family, his birth and adopted countries, finance, skiing, opera, ballet and biking in Central Park. Loved everything about NYC, except the New York Times. Services at Beth El Cemetery (Or Zarua section), Paramus, NJ, Sunday at 11am. Memorial contributions to a charity of your choice. His fearless heart still beats within all of us. Shalom, Saba.

(From The New York Times, earlier this month. Via this Megan McArdle tweet.)

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We’ll never know

Somehow this seems painfully prophetic now:

You’ll never know
How much I miss you
You won’t see it in my face
You’ll never know I’ll never find another
That could take your place
Cause I’ll be smiling when I see you
No my tears won’t ever show
Yeah I might always love you
But you’ll never know

Mindy McCready took her own life today. She was all of thirty-seven.

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A note before the end of time

It is so daring, so brash, so fitfully frightening to be alive. It means smiling in the face of oblivion. It means galloping at full force when you know that a cliff is waiting for you at the end of of the next bend in the road. It takes a mad euphoria — an insane whimsy to be so courageous when all of the darkness around us begs that we accept defeat. To do anything but roll over is to be absurd, like chasing the rainbow, or performing the “running of the leaves” in July… in a town that has no living trees…

(From The End of Ponies by shortskirtsandexplosions, chapter fifty-two.)

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Pooch screwed

Alpha dog threatened with demiseThis little fellow, perhaps a pit/American bulldog mix, was sent to the pound by his owner for reasons of imagined moral turpitude:

According to the prior owner, the dog was seen “hunched over” another male dog, therefore, in this owner’s mind, the dog must be gay.

The former owner apparently does not know that “hunched over, aka humping behavior” is typically a sign of dominance in dogs, rather than something to signify a dog’s sexual orientation.

At this writing, rescue operations were pending: otherwise, the pound will pull the plug at 1 pm.

Update, 1:30: Adoption accomplished.

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Affairs to be wrapped up

DreamHost, host of this site for the last eleven years, puts out a monthly newsletter, which always ends with unsubscribe instructions. This is the December version:

If the world doesn’t end this month you’ll be on the receiving end of another DreamHost newsletter in January. If it DOES end next month, unsubscribing now would largely just be symbolic. If I were you I’d just let it ride.

Yeah, I can see that.

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Just hurry up and croak already

The French, they are a faster race:

France should allow doctors to “accelerate the coming of death” for terminally ill patients, a report to President François Hollande recommended Tuesday.

Hollande referred the report to a national council on medical ethics which will examine the precise circumstances under which such steps could be authorised with a view to producing draft legislation by June 2013.

“The existing legislation does not meet the legitimate concerns expressed by people who are gravely and incurably ill,” Hollande said.

Not to mention those people who aren’t in a position to express any concerns, legitimate or otherwise.

But don’t you worry, M. le Président; by the time you get this disposal unit working, we’ll be ready to copy it here in the States.

(Via Christopher Johnson.)

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Well, maybe Honolulu

New frontiers in what used to be called “medicine”:

Whether it’s rationing through death panels or shortage-causing price controls, the socialistic Unaffordable Care Act will bring murder to medicine just like all the rest of the countries that have gone down this road. I think that we need to be thinking of a name for this. The Brits have their Liverpool Care Pathway, Orwellian doublespeak on steroids. I like the “Kenya-Care Pathway,” named for the home country of this law’s main proponent and the current head of state.

Medical practitioners being fond of cutesy acronyms and such, I suggest something like Seems Nearly Unhealthy: Finalize (SNUF).

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Regarding Kurt Cobain

A piece I wrote in 1994, without the benefit of eighteen years of hindsight and/or accumulated cynicism.

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