Archive for Life and/or Death

Really getting up there

My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in 1899; he earned his three score and ten, and then moved on to whatever was next. Incredibly, to me anyway, there are three people born in 1899 who are still alive today:

Recently crowned as the oldest person in the world, Michigan resident Jeralean Talley turned 116 years old on Saturday.

Talley is one of three living members of the 19th century club, having been born on May 23, 1899 in Montrose, Ga. In 1935, she moved to Michigan, where she married her husband, Alfred, who died at the age of 95 in 1988.

The other two:

Georgia resident Susannah Mushatt Jones (born July 6, 1899), and Italian citizen Emma Morano-Martinuzzi (born Nov. 29, 1899).

All women, of course. (The oldest man still around is Sakari Momoi, of Japan, who’s 112.)

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As the years go by

The clock keeps ticking, until such time as it stops altogether:

How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous …

I’m not particularly concerned with efforts to kill me, except to the extent that I’m aware that one of them will eventually succeed. The skies have been taking potshots at me pretty much this entire damn month.

Still, one contemplates matters other than one’s eventual demise:

What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.

Those who don’t have their minds, of course, will eventually have to retire from political office.

I remember coming back from the Monday grocery run — delayed from Saturday due to inclement weather — and thinking: Remember how Rainbow Dash memorizes what’s on the ground while she’s flying? I need some way to learn where all the new potholes are.

Obviously I’m not completely insane. Yet. The morning’s panic attack, however, makes me wonder if I’ve started on the downhill slope.

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And the cycle repeats

I do not, generally, endorse the notion of reincarnation. (Nor did I when I was here last time.) One of the problems I find with the concept is that its most fervent believers tend to assert that they were someone notable in a previous life; scarcely anyone claims to have been a serf who perished at twenty-two of some hitherto unnoticed disease.

This new toy by Slate will not change that tendency. What it does is take your birthdate, find someone in Wikipedia — someone notable by definition, right? — who died just before your arrival, and then run the cycle as many times as they have entries. In my specific case, they dug up Sir Philip Wigham Richardson:

Richardson competed in the 1908 Summer Olympics and 1912 Summer Olympics. In the 1908 Olympics he won a silver medal in the team military rifle event. Four years later he was 65th in the 300 metre military rifle, three positions event and 33rd in the 600 metre free rifle event.

Richardson was elected as Member of Parliament for Chertsey at a by-election in March 1922, and held the seat until he retired from the House of Commons at the 1931 general election. In 1929 he was created a Baronet, of Weybridge in the County of Surrey.

Not that I’d be surprised to have been a Tory, particularly. Sir Philip, apparently, had served a previous lifetime as British entomologist William Sharp Macleay. The line, says Slate, goes back to Louis the German (c. 810-876), grandson of Charlemagne and designated King of Bavaria while still a child, though Louis apparently did not actively participate in ruling Bavaria until adolescence. His youngest son, Charles the Fat, was the last Carolingian to rule over a united empire. Now if Slate had put him in my timeline, I might have believed some of this.

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N₂ darkness

Attorney General Scott Pruitt remains convinced that midazolam is the sedative of choice for executions:

Pruitt’s office will argue to the Supreme Court justices on Wednesday that the drugs Oklahoma used in Clayton Lockett’s execution in April 2014 met the test established when the high court upheld Kentucky’s lethal injection method in 2008.

There is not, the state contends, an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” when midazolam is used as a sedative, even though the drug does not have the same properties as the barbiturates that have been administered previously.

And, Pruitt said, inmates challenging the state’s use of midazolam must show there is a “widely available alternative” that would pose less risk of harm.

Speaking for myself, I’ve had exactly one dose of midazolam, and I’d say it was a pretty darn good sedative, but that’s just a single data point, and besides, they weren’t putting me to death, or at least they said they weren’t.

Then again: “widely available”? How about “all over the place”?

Before the first Shuttle launch, some ground crew died in the engine compartment of the orbiter, because they were in there during a nitrogen purge. They apparently never knew they had a problem, but simply passed out. If there’s a CO₂ buildup, the body knows it’s asphyxiating, and tries to do something about it, but no such warning mechanism has ever developed for a pure nitrogen atmosphere, because no animal would have ever encountered such an environment in nature.

So why not simply bring back the gas chamber, but instead of a toxin, simply remove the air and replace it with nitrogen? I’m sure there are other examples, but I fail to understand why this is such a difficult problem.

Governor Fallin has signed a bill to do essentially that as the state’s official backup execution protocol. I suspect the only reason it’s not moved to the head of the list is the fear of legal challenges — as though there weren’t legal challenges by the score already.

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It wasn’t part of the plan

The IMDb page for actor Gregory Walcott lists over a hundred credits, but there’s only one everyone seems to remember: Jeff Trent, the pilot in Plan 9 from Outer Space, the glorious mess created by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Even Walcott’s Wikipedia page has a picture of him as Jeff Trent.

From The Hollywood Reporter’s article on Walcott’s death last Friday at eighty-seven:

“I read the script, and it was gibberish. It made no sense, but I saw Ed Reynolds [J. Edward Reynolds, nominal head of the production company] as a naive, sweet man. I had done some pretty good things prior to that, so I thought I had a little credibility in Hollywood. I thought maybe my name would give the show some credibility… The film was made surreptitiously. My agent didn’t even know I did it.”

For years, Walcott sought to distance himself from Plan 9. But eventually he came to terms with Jeff Trent: he appeared in a brief role in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, playing a character not unlike Ed Reynolds. And he later conceded: “It’s better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don’t you think?”

Besides, as we learned from Mystery Science Theater 3000, there are plenty of films out there that made Plan 9 look like Citizen Kane.

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The Vulcan passes to a higher sphere

The last tweet of Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015), aka Mr Spock:

The last cluster of letters, of course, means “Live Long and Prosper.” And thank you, Jenny Boylan, for remembering these lines:

You just know that was the kind of man he was.

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The worst unlaid plans

It’s like, how much more blue could this guy’s nads be? And the answer is none. None more blue:

You all probably have a lot of questions and in an ideal world I would be able to answer them all. However the risks involved in providing a “Q&A session” before death is clearly too high as the medical profession always values “quantity of life” over “quality of life.” It appears that the prevailing ethos is to keep individuals in a state of continual suffering rather than allow an individual choose to die. Hence the huge resistance to euthanasia.

The reason for my death is simple. I have concluded that in the realm of dating and relationships the primary characteristics required for men are as follows.

  • Height: above 5ft10
  • Race: huge bias towards caucasian and black
  • Wealth: or other manifestation of power

From my observations and research it appears that you need two of the three criteria for success with very few exceptions. What does this mean it means that it’s “game over” for me. By choosing to depart early, all I am doing is to accelerate the process of natural selection whilst saving myself a great deal of long term pain in the process.

A single evolutionary dead end does not constitute an acceleration of natural selection.

Still, I’m a quarter-century older than this chap is was, I manage two of the three criteria with relative ease — and by now we all know how amazingly successful I am with the babes.

After reading some of his, um, research, I am forced to conclude that most of his problems stemmed from being totally full of crap, which in my experience is not often a selling point.

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Late at nitrogen

You might remember this observation from last spring:

[T]echnically, the firing squad is still authorized in Oklahoma — if both lethal injection and the electric chair should be found to be Constitutionally impermissible. This was a semi-clever maneuver by the legislature to make sure they had something to fall back on if the courts took issue with the drug cocktail.

Add to these two options the possibility of a third:

With no debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-0 Tuesday to authorize “nitrogen hypoxia,” which depletes oxygen supply in the blood to cause death.

The bill’s author, Moore Republican Sen. Anthony Sykes, says it’s likely the bill will be amended before the session is over.

Three lethal injections remain on hold in Oklahoma while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether Oklahoma’s three-drug method is constitutional.

At least they wouldn’t have to sweat supplies: half the tire shops in town have nitrogen-generating devices.

Last I looked, the title of SB 749 had been stricken, which requires some explanation:

Strike the Title: to change the title of a bill to a few words which are briefly descriptive but constitutionally unacceptable. The major intent of this action is to ensure that the bill will go to a conference committee. The same effect may be achieved by striking the enacting clause. Any Senate legislation being reported out of a Senate committee, with the exception of an appropriation bill, must have an enacting clause or resolving clause and a Senate and House author.

The opponents you might expect are, as expected, opposing:

Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union argues there is no humane way to kill someone and a bigger question needs to be discussed.

“These types of bills really miss the point. They miss the opportunity for Oklahoma to have a much broader and deeper conversation about if we should be in the business of executing people at all,” Kiesel said.

Say “gas chamber” to me, and the first thing I think of is Susan Hayward as Barbara Graham.

That’s “gas chamber.” With an S:

You may track the bill here.

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A Trident through the chest

This poor girl never knew what hit her:

A western Pennsylvania university student and basketball player likely inhaled chewing gum into her lungs while asleep before being found dead in her dormitory over the weekend.

The Washington County coroner’s office said 21-year-old Shanice Clark of Toronto was found unresponsive at about 3 a.m. Sunday at California University of Pennsylvania.

And this, Junior, is why you can’t have any Juicy Fruit.

(Via Dawn Summers.)

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Give a little whistle

In case you were wondering, Irish funerals aren’t all “Danny Boy” these days:

Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” has been replaced by Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” as the most popular song played at funerals, new research has found.

A study by The Co-operative Funeralcare showed that traditional hymns, football anthems and classic pop songs top the list of the “funeral music chart.”

As funeral music goes, the BBC’s theme from “Match of the Day” is pretty, um, perky. Then again, it is a legitimate football anthem, though I admit I’m waiting for someone to go out to the accompaniment of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Sports Song.”

David Collingwood, operations director of The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “We think we may be seeing a generational shift in attitudes towards funerals, and the choice of music being requested.

“Music plays such an important part in people’s lives that it now acts as the theme tune to their passing. Modern funerals are very much about personal choice, which can be reflected in the choice of music, dress, coffin, flowers, hearses or memorials.”

Which may explain why my brother departed to the strains of “Let It Be” — and why I won’t.

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The first thousand years are the hardest

And by “thousand,” I think I mean “eighty”:

Charles Paul Brown wasn’t supposed to die.

He was supposed to live forever, along with disciples in a half-dozen countries all over the world who embraced his philosophy of physical immortality.

But Brown died in October of complications from Parkinson’s and heart disease, according to the website for People Unlimited, the group he began in Scottsdale more than 30 years ago. He was 79.

The community of immortals he founded is left without its figurehead — and with an apparent contradiction to reconcile. Yet its leaders continue to conduct business as usual, collecting thousands of dollars per year in fees for monthly meetings, retreats and coaching that they say lead to the secret to unlimited life.

The secret, of course, is not dying. If you can pull that off — but that’s not happening. If you can stretch out your days, fine; I keep hearing that massive increases in human lifespan are imminent, and I’m betting that some of them actually show up the day after I’m gone. But unless the laws of physics are somehow screwed, entropy bats last.

Perhaps needless to say, the late Mr. Brown’s group isn’t the only one with an interest in the topic.

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Like hell

Francis W. Porretto contemplates the distance from right this minute to the end of time:

We have been told very little authoritatively about Heaven, but its nature surely includes release from bondage to Time. Nothing else would be consistent with a state of eternal bliss. Indeed, an immortal sentenced to temporal eternity would find it to be the most extreme imaginable torment. Time is the medium of desire, effort, fulfillment, failure, and mortality; to compel an immortal, unalterable creature to endure it would utterly destroy any delight he might be offered within its folds.

At the very least, said creature might well be bored out of his skull. Several MLP:FiM fanfics have envisioned Celestia, having outlived everypony in Equestria other than her sister, trying to conjure up a way to bring on her own death and get it over with already; canon does not state that the diarchs are in fact immortal, but they do seem to hang around for an awfully long time. (When the series opens, said sister has been banished for the past thousand years, which more than meets my definition of “awfully long time.”)

And I find myself asking: does it become easier to accept the eventual end of your temporal existence when you know it can’t be far away? Should I be able to deal with it better at 61 than I was at 21? Because so far, I’m not.

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Early checkout

This is possibly the most disturbing tweet I’ve ever seen, and as a result it’s going below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A fate marginally worse than death

Still, worse:

Being dead is bad enough, but being dead and having to pay a $200 fine? Geez.

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Shaken and bestirred

The little City News insert that comes with Oklahoma City’s water bill this month has a section this month that five years ago would have been inconceivable. Topic: “What you should do in a large earthquake,” and this is the suggested routine:

Drop, Cover and Hold On! It is the safest action to take during ground shaking. There are three steps:

1. DROP to the ground,

2. Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table,

3. HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

This will probably not work (1) with something other than a desk or table (2) in a tornado.

Quakiest earthquake ever recorded in this state was 5.6, and yes, I noticed it.

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Hands across the nation

Unlikely friendships may be the best kind: you’ve already overcome the presumed obstacles, probably without even thinking about them. Lisa knows how this goes:

I don’t think it was the Internet that opened up the doors to friendships between people who otherwise would never meet in real life. Ham radio operators used to have whole communities of “friends” out on the airwaves. Even before that, people had foreign pen pals with whom they shared years of correspondence without any expectation that they would ever shake hands in real life. Sometimes it was better that way. I remember a professor telling me a story about Henry James that may or may not be apocryphal. Among the many woman, James corresponded with regularly was one he had never met even through years of letters where they found themselves to be soul mates in matters of literature and philosophy. Finally, returning to America after a long stay in Europe, James decided to visit this woman in New York or Boston or wherever it was that she lived. According to the story, just before James walked up the drive to this woman’s home, a housemaid, distracted by something, dropped a basket of soiled linen on the front stoop. Henry, who we all know was a bit of a prig, saw this basket of unmentionables where no respectable home should allow it to be. He was so horrified at the indelicacy that he turned around and never wrote to the woman again. Who knows if the story’s true? But it might tell us that some friendships work best on other planes of existence.

Cue the voice of somebody’s mother, with just the slightest hint of condescension: “Are you talking to your little Internet friends again?”

Well, yes, we are. And some of them, we treasure as though we’d grown up beside them. Lisa knows about that sort of thing, which is why, after a season full of whirlwind activity, she’s taken keyboard in hand to pay tribute to a friend of hers, and mine, and likely one of yours too.

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Joan of Snark

There’s not much that can be said about the late Joan Rivers that isn’t said here:

Okay, maybe one more thing. In her 2012 book I Hate Everyone, Starting With Me, she addressed daughter Melissa:

“When I die (and yes, Melissa, that day will come; and yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action. I want craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing ‘Mr. Lonely.’ I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyoncé’s.”

It will indeed be a showbiz affair:

Joan Rivers is getting her final wish. The late legendary comedienne and E! Fashion Police host will have a red carpet at her funeral in NYC on Sunday, Sept. 7, an insider confirms exclusively to Us Weekly. The rug, which Rivers’ family and friends will walk upon outside Temple Emanu-El, will then be buried with the star.

Seems only fitting.

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Now entering the afterlife

Darn few songs mention the late Don Pardo, NBC announcer since 1944. You can actually hear a lot of him in this one, and besides, it’s great on its own merits:

He married Catherine Lyons in 1938, the year he got his first radio job in Providence; they stayed together until her death in 1995.

Thanks, Don. And you too, Al.

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In the interests of civilization

Meaningless factoid: Lauren Bacall was a first cousin to Israeli president Shimon Peres.

Lauren Bacall and friend

Above, Bacall’s influence on a well-trained critter. Below, Bacall’s influence on a somewhat less well-trained critter:

Bugs Bunny and Lauren Bacall in 'Slick Hare', 1947

Meaningless factoid: Lauren Bacall is the only Oscar winner to have been married to two other Oscar winners: Humphrey Bogart (of course) and Jason Robards.

Something to track down: the dubbed English version of Ernest et Célestine, a French-Belgian animated film based on Gabrielle Vincent’s books, in which Bacall is the voice of The Grey One, caretaker at a mouse orphanage. Released early this year, it was her last film credit.

Not at all meaningless, an exchange between Bogie and Bacall from The Big Sleep:

Philip Marlowe: You wanna tell me now?

Vivian Rutledge: Tell you what?

Philip: What it is you’re trying to find out. You know, it’s a funny thing. You’re trying to find out what your father hired me to find out, and I’m trying to find out why you want to find out.

Vivian: You could go on forever, couldn’t you? Anyway it’ll give us something to talk about next time we meet.

Philip: Among other things.

The world seems a bit less civilized now.

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And then he wasn’t

“Tiburon,” he said of his home in Marin County. “From the Spanish tiburoni, meaning to overcharge for no reason.”

When word came down the line that Robin Williams had died, seemingly everyone in my tweetstream posted a favorite comedy or dramatic bit — and in a full hour, there were no duplicates. I couldn’t pick one of them to, you should pardon the expression, save my life.

So I’ll quote Sheila O’Malley, perennially wise, who offered up this personal recollection:

Robin Williams talked at my school. He was otherworldly in person, on some other plane of listening/humor. Also very caring. Sad… He was like a master chess player, 14, 20 moves ahead of everyone else. He felt the joke 20 minutes out. And he made sure it landed … and this was just chatting with the students. He wasn’t performing for us. He was just talking. But he heard shit on a higher frequency.

This is the kind of thing that can drive you to madness if you’re not careful. And Robin Williams, damn his brilliant hide, was never, ever careful.

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Out of Dodge

Two months ago, Andrew Ian Dodge, “former US Senate Candidate Maine (Libertarian), former tea party coordinator, writer & rocker,” and keeper of the Best of Me Symphony and the Carnival of the Vanities, advised that there was a reason he wasn’t as prolific these days:

I have incurable cancer. We are trying to figure out the best course of action regarding chemo & my treatment. Kim Benson, my beloved wife, has been a rock throughout. We shall fight this with all our might.

He made it through this morning, and he had his Final Statement ready to go. He was forty-six years old, far too young to be dealing with cancer — especially since he’d beaten it once before.

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Quote of the week

Glenn Reynolds takes the long view on capital punishment:

I’m skeptical of the death penalty’s administration because the criminal justice system is a disaster. But, assuming guilt, I don’t really care much about the morality of killing people. The nation-state is all about killing people. Its sole reason for existing is that it’s better at killing people in large numbers than any other form of human organization. If you don’t like the idea of the state killing people, you don’t like the idea of the state. If you don’t realize this, it’s because your thinking is confused.

If this perturbs you, ask yourself the question Reynolds hints at: “At what other function can the nation-state be legitimately deemed superior?” No matter what you come up with, it will be based on the power of coercion — at the point of a gun.

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Of course you can eat that

One of a series of Public Lecture Podcasts from the University of Bath is titled “Say it with poison”:

In this lecture, Mr Russell Bowes, a freelance garden historian, will be sharing mysterious tales of how people have died in the garden, and how you can protect yourself against herbaceous murderers.

Of all things veddy, veddy British, this sounds like one of the veddiest.

(Via Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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Right in the ectoplasmic reticulum

Neil Kramer has temporarily turned the Citizen of the Month blog to the cause of flash fiction, shorter-than-short stories, in this case taking place in the city of New York, a place once said to have eight million stories.

Number twenty-two begins with a mind-bender:

If you want proof of the existence of ghosts, just look at logic. A person is more complex than a brick, but a building can last for thousands of years. This means that a human being, based on his innate superiority, must exist longer than a brick. And since we all know that death occurs for people, the only reasonable explanation is that the “person” or “entity” continues to live on as a ghost — at least for longer than the lifespan of a brick.

This may be the most salient thing said of bricks in fiction since Douglas Adams: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

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The essence of sixty

British writer/critic AA Gill points out that contrary to popular sloganeering, sixty is not the new anything:

A contemporary of mine, after a number of marriages, found a girlfriend less than half his age of a transcendent pneumatic beauty who hung on his every word — and dumped her after a couple of months. Why, I asked — she was perfect! “Too many things we didn’t have in common,” he said sadly. Like what? “Well, the Eighties.”

There’s rue for you. And here’s some for me:

Last year, for the first time, a young girl, French, offered me her seat on a crowded bus. I was surprised at how deeply I resented her. Health looms over the elderly like a threatening monsoon. No ache is innocuous. No lump or discoloured, sagging patch of body is ignorable except our toenails, which become the most sordidly repellent things in all nature. We covertly examine ourselves and our effluvia for the premonition of the dark humour that will carry us away. There is no such thing as a routine checkup. They are all life-or-death appointments.

Doctors start all their sentences with “It’s only … ” But we’re not fooled. This generation is also the one that lingers longest over its departure. Death came to our grandparents with a clutched chest and a searing pain. For us it’s a slow, humiliating series of it’s onlys. What we worry about is dementia, a condition that did not exist in the popular lexicon when I was a child. Mind you, we also thought cancer was as shaming as divorce. Now Alzheimer’s is our abiding fear, the thing we can’t forget.

I have often wondered if I am “prolific,” as they say, as the inevitable consequence of a desire to maximize my output before the time comes when I cannot put out anything.

(Via Kathy Shaidle.)

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On the edge of the abyss

What can you say about a sixteen-year-old kid who may be dying? And what, as a 60-year-old in tolerable health, can I possibly say?

Update, 9 June: It appears that the kid’s lease on life is a lot less tenuous than he said it was.

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In the early morning rain of bullets

Now that Oklahoma, with a single execution, has managed to quadruple the number of Google results for “botched,” other methods besides lethal injection should be considered on the table, and one of those methods is the firing squad:

In the wake of a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma last month, a Utah lawmaker says he believes a firing squad is a more humane form of execution. And he plans to bring back that option for criminals sentenced to death in his state.

Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from the northern Utah city of Clearfield, plans to introduce his proposal during Utah’s next legislative session in January. Lawmakers in Wyoming and Missouri floated similar ideas this year, but both efforts stalled. Ray, however, may succeed. Utah already has a tradition of execution by firing squad, with five police officers using .30-caliber Winchester rifles to execute Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010, the last execution by rifle to be held in the state.

And technically, the firing squad is still authorized in Oklahoma — if both lethal injection and the electric chair should be found to be Constitutionally impermissible. This was a semi-clever maneuver by the legislature to make sure they had something to fall back on if the courts took issue with the drug cocktail.

Speaking of “botched executions,” there are plenty of examples from the last three decades.

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A thousand winds that blow

I was gingerly stepping through the minefield — but it’s a cute minefield! — that is J-pop, when I stumbled across something that isn’t J-pop at all, but which was staggeringly popular in the Land of the Rising Sun:

“Sen no kaze ni natte” is a translation, by Japanese singer/songwriter Man Arai, of Mary Frye’s 1932 poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep”; the title translates as “a thousand winds,” after the third line of the poem. That poem carries considerable weight in Japan; it was read at the funeral of singer Kyu Sakamoto, killed in the 1985 crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, by Rokusuke Ei, who wrote the lyrics to Sakamoto’s biggest international hit, which for some reason is called “Sukiyaki” in the rest of the world.

In 2006, tenor Masafumi Akikawa, seen above, recorded a version of “Sen no kaze ni natte,” which became Japan’s largest-selling single for that year; a Korean version by tenor Lim Hyung-joo was reissued this spring to honor the victims of the April capsizing of a Korean ferry.

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Actuarially speaking

A new task for Britain’s Pensions Minister:

Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister, said retirees need to gain a sense of how long they might live to help make such financial decisions.

He said many people underestimate how long they will live. “If you are thinking about this, what do you do? For best guidance you probably think about how long your grandparents lived. But that is two generations out of date.”

The minister is asking pension providers to give people an estimate as part of guidance which will be rolled out in April next year.

Some estimates have already appeared:

Glasgow City has the worst life expectancy, 72.9 years, compared to Kensington and Chelsea in London on 82.4.

Report co-author Professor Danny Dorling said he could not be certain what had caused the increase, but it was most likely to be poverty.

He said: “As with all these things it is hard to explain why it is happening, but we know that income inequalities have increased and it seems this has been mirrored by health inequalities.

“If that is true, we might see a narrowing of the gap as the latest income figures show that has narrowed recently.”

I, of course, am taking no bets as to the date of my Ultimate Demise.

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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.

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