Friday, June 27, 2008

Death with Dignity in Washington

There's something about people who write editorials for the Seattle PI. It's starting to seem like, every position I strongly advocate for, the editorial writers, guest or staff, find a way to equate my side to Nazism. Last time it was long-time PI columnist Joel Connelly over a local transportation issue. (Here's my letter to the editor.) Now, it's about the Death with Dignity initiative that may be on the ball0t for Seattle voters this fall.

Hubert G. Locke, a retired professor and former dean of the Daniel J. Evans Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington has a guest editorial in today's paper. He admits that he is torn on whether to support the initiative and lays out a lot of reasoned arguments to support the initiative and a lot of emotional arguments to not support it. Here's an excerpt:

"Having one's druthers is a good part of the argument for the Death with Dignity Initiative. The wish to be in control drives much of what we do throughout our lives; it is not surprising such a wish should loom large when we contemplate our end. Living wills and 'do not resuscitate' directives are steps many already take to affect some say in how their demise will be handled. Is not the choice offered by the Death with Dignity Initiative simply one more option for those who might wish to bypass the mental and physical agony that too often accompanies dying? It's hard to argue with such a position. But it's equally hard to argue with those who observe that our lives were not ours to create and neither should they be ours to end."

I disagree with him here. American law argues for separation of church and state. There is no legal grounds on which to say there has to be a morally or ethically natural end to life. The initiative simply allows people who have six months or fewer to live, as verified by two separate doctors, to control the circumstances of their death. It allows for an honest, and with luck, pain-free death.

But then here's where Locke goes a little crazy. He accuses supporters of the initiative of taking society onto a slippery slope. Here's what he writes:

"What, for example, is to prevent a society that authorizes or allows a practice from taking the further step of encouraging it and ultimately of insisting on it? We are not that far removed from the history of the German Third Reich in which the government of an otherwise decent, modern, highly civilized nation launched a program to rid its society of people who were mentally and physically disabled. Such people, it was argued, live lives that are of no value and are a drain on the society that must care for them."

Let's forget that he called the German Third Reich "decent, modern, highly civilized" outside of exterminating disabled people ... because addressing that will make my head explode. ... Those of us who advocate for Death with Dignity are trying to help people who have six months or less time than that to live, and are suffering greatly, take control of the circumstances of their death. How dare he insinuate that we are pushing forward on a plan that will eventually lead to willful extermination of disabled people. So, I guess according to the Seattle PI, I'm a Nazi, two times over, because I support expanding mass transit and because I support Death with Dignity. Who knew the Nazis were so diversified in their belief system? Argh!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taking Suggestions for July Poll

It's usually a bit of a struggle for me to come up with the monthly poll, so this time I thought I'd try asking for suggestions. If you have any thoughts about what it should be for July, you can leave your ideas in the comments of this post.

Thanks, y'all! :)


There's an interesting article in the New York Times today that discusses questions that have arisen out of Tim Russert's death. His sudden heart attack has led many people with similar conditions to want to look for the thing that Mr. Russert did wrong—which medication should he have been on, which test did Mr. Russert's doctors miss, etc. But in reality, while there are things that could have been done differently, Mr. Russert and his medical team didn't do anything wrong. He had some high risk factors for a heart attack—large waist circumference, low HDL (protective cholesterol)—but he also had some good factors on his side—no family history of heart attack, low LDL (negative cholesterol), his high blood pressure was being managed by medication. (All of this is laid out in the article.)

What is noteworthy in this situation, the article points out, is that cardiologist can find people who are at risk for heart attacks, but they cannot distinguish those who are at very high risk of having massive heart attacks in the near future, say in the next year or two. And for anyone who has been identified as a heart-attack risk at all, that's got to be a scary uncertainty to sit with. The easier reaction would be to want to blame Russert or his medical team, wanting to think they did something wrong that led to his death. But the reality is, we just don't have the technology to know exactly who is at the greatest risk.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Life and Death for Fictional Characters

OK: Spoiler alert for Indiana Jones, Sex and the City movie, Harry Potter, Lost if you're not caught up.

A few weeks back, we had a lot of discussion about narrative and fictional characters. I'd like to come back to that theme to talk about a trend I've noticed in recent years. We seem to be unwilling to kill off our beloved fictional characters.

When the Harry Potter series finished last summer with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there was massive speculation about whether book seven would end with his demise. Would Voldemort do him in? Would the two finish off each other in a final showdown? Would Harry lose to he who must not be named and would evil wizardry win the day? Well, no one really thought that would happen; it was a childrens' book after all. In a 2006 interview, about a year before the book was released, J.K. Rowling said she might kill Harry. So fans did open the novel wondering whether Harry Potter would still be alive when they closed it. But despite a good scare near the end in which Harry has a near-death experience, Harry survives the battle with Voldemort and goes on to marry his long-time love.

Similarly, before the recent Indiana Jones sequel came out in theaters, many fans wondered if this would be the movie in which Indiana Jones finally died. It has been 19 years since the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Harrison Ford is now 65 years old, old for an action star. The series seemed to be introducing a new generation of archaeologist/adventurer in Shia LaBeouf's character. And on top of that, one of the remarkable things about Indiana Jones as a hero has always been his fallibility—he's never seemed invincible or naturally strong. He comes across as an everyday man who is put in extreme circumstances that push him to his limits and force him to act in amazing ways. It would have fit his character arc very well for audiences to see him die on screen. But he does not die either.

Rumors popped up before the release of the Sex and the City movie that one of the beloved characters from the well-known TV show would die when the story hit the big screen. Early speculation especially centered around Samantha, who suffered breast cancer in the TV show. Producers and writers decided to keep all of the characters alive and well.

There are also TV shows like Lost that frequently blur the lines between life and death. Claire seems to recently have died, but she didn't even get a death scene. Instead, she just left her baby behind and got up and walked into the woods. Now she is with her father, Christian Shephard, who has become some type of Angel of Death on the show. Charlie visited Hurley, even though Charlie had drowned. Boone keeps finding ways to come back. So does Mr. Friendly. There are flashbacks and flash-forwards, so that even once a character has died in the present, we still see them as part of the show in flashbacks, and they may still exist in the present but have died in the future (as with Locke). Death is not treated as a permanent goodbye on Lost.

I wonder if this zeitgeist has something to do with our country being at war. We're under such stress and and see so much turmoil and death in reality, we don't want to feel it with our fictional characters. We want our fictional characters to have happy endings. And now that the economy has taken a turn for the worse, it's all the more motivation for things to work out in the land of not-so-real.

Friday, June 20, 2008

More on Cannibalism

Even though I don't love this topic, I know at least several of you find it interesting. (Actually, I do find it interesting; it's just creepy, too.) I wanted to share this last anecdote that I found while researching cannibalism for a recent post.

Apparently (and I say apparently because no one can verify his actions) around 1931, a New York Times reporter named William Buehler Seabrook got a hold of a piece of human meat, ate it, and wrote about the description. Here's his description:

"It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable."

I'm finding two different stories about how Seabrook came across the meat.

1. From an intern at Sorbonne Hospital. Reportedly, the intern took the meat from a human who had died in an accident, i.e., no diseases in the flesh, etc.
2. On a trip to West Africa, where he lived with a cannibalistic tribe.

It seems he did this in the interests of research, although no one is 100% sure that it actually happened. We can only verify his written account of the incident. Does it make you hunger Shai Hulud? :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Poster Jackie Lynn brought this up in my previous post about suburban/rural rabbit hunting. Do you all remember the website Save Toby? The site was notorious in 2005 because its author threatened to kill a cute little bunny named Toby if visitors to the site didn't donate $50,000 to his paypal account. (You could give to the cause by simply leaving a donation or by buying merchandise that said "Save Toby.") Had the money not come in by June 30, 2005, he said he would take Toby to the butcher's to be slaughtered for food.

If you go to the site now, you'll see a notice that Toby is safe; enough money was raised. ... But remnants of its controversial days remain. There is a picture of Toby in a pot, presumably one which he would have been boiled in. There are recipes for different ways to prepare Toby.
Here's an article from MSNBC about the controversy—I don't think it will surprise anyone that animal rights activists didn't like

I guess I thought the site's owner was joking all along, and it got blown out of proportion. I never took it seriously. But maybe he really would have killed Toby. If that had been the case, maybe it makes it a little better that he planned to eat the rabbit, but it still smacks of extortion if it all was real.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tired of Drinking the Kool-Aid ...

Man, I hate the phrase "Don't Drink the Kool-Aid." It's the most thoughtless way to criticize someone for being thoughtless. If you lob this insult, you're essentially telling someone they're embracing the perspective of a particular group to the point that they've stopped thinking for themselves. But it's the most vitriolic, bumper-sticker way to say it. It's so abbreviated and self-righteous, there's no possible way to argue back against it. It's one of those arguments that someone makes to stop conversation, under the guise that they're actually making a good point.

Can we please respect people we disagree with a little bit? Just because someone has a different ideology, doesn't mean they would just blindly follow some thought leader into mass suicide.

FYI: If you're interested, a little on the entymology of the phrase, here, and here.

Advanced Parkinson's Disease

A lovely episode of On Point focusing on Dr. Thomas Graboys, a once prominent cardiologist now suffering from an extreme case of Parkinson's Disease. Host Tom Ashbrook interviews Graboys, his wife Vicki Baker-Graboys and his physician Dr. John Growdoin, director of memory and movement disorcers at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor or neurology at Harvard Medical School.

The show is great because the Graboys are amazingly articulate about what they go through and also frank about their struggles and about what they're learning. They talk about their day-to-day lives, and they are incredibly open about how hard it is. Vicki admits he is not the same man she married.

Around the 23 minute mark, Thomas discusses his desire for physician assisted suicide. He says he wants to have control over the way the end comes, and I think that's a sentiment you'll often hear from people with terminal diseases who want physician assisted suicide. Here's a link to the show.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nicholas Francisco Investigated by Amateur Web Detectives

I missed this article when it was published late last month, but it's about my coworker Nicholas Francisco who went missing on February 13, 2008. Nicholas has apparently become a subject of fascination for amateur investigators online. There are several websites dedicated to trying to uncover exactly what happened to him.

For those who don't know, Nicholas left work around 6 p.m. on February 13 and never made it home. He never showed up to work the next day. About a week later, police found his car in a condo parking lot that seemingly has no connection to Nicholas. (You can read my initial reactions from February here and here.)

Anyway, back to the cyber PIs: On the surface, I guess this seems harmless enough. Just collecting facts, passing some theories back and forth. It's nice that they're interested, and who knows, maybe someone will turn up something police and friends and family will miss.

But here's what bugs me about the entire online dialogue over Nicholas' disappearance—it's been bugging me since this situation began, and I at first resisted writing about it for fear that being too personally focused into the drama was giving me a lack of perspective. But I feel more confident in my ability to analyze now. Some of the people who are not directly involved are just not sensitive enough to the stakes here. When he first went missing, an entry was posted on the blog for The Stranger, a local Seattle paper. And someone commented that they knew where he was, they saw him sucking them off behind the nearest 7-11. Many other commenters asked why he deserved to have all of this attention drawn to him in the first place. And especially at those early stages, friends and family were reading these types of postings to see if anyone commented with information or helpful tips. It was really hurtful to read things like that.

Now these casual investigators aren't really doing anything wrong. But they are posting rumors. They're asking questions about whether Nicholas, a married father of two, was secretly gay with a boyfriend on the side. They are saying he had rumored connections to the Wet Spot, a whips-and-chains sex club. Without evidence. Even on a blog, you don't post that kind of stuff about an individual person unless you have something to back it up.

First Father's Day Without Grandpa

My sister and brother-in-law visited Omaha, Nebraska, last week to visit family. Omaha also happens to be where our grandfather is buried. He just passed away last October, so it was the first they've had to visit his grave. They made a special trip to the cemetery, cleaned the headstone, which was muddy from all of the recent storms, and left him a Hershey bar. My grandfather spent most of his life working for Hershey Foods ... so anyone who knows him would understand why there is a Hersey bar at his grave.

I thought it was really sweet that they took the time to visit and thought about making a meaningful gesture. My sister even took care to get a white chocolate bar, much safer than milk chocolate for any wild animal that might eat it (which is probably what will happen to the bar, realistically).

It made my mom tear up to hear about it. I think it was a little hard for her, her first Father's Day without her dad.

Friday, June 13, 2008

58-year-old Tim Russert dead

Shocking and sad news that no one in the media seems to know quite what to say about. The New York Times has a brief story, told in their blog, The Caucus. It's clearly not an obituary they were prepared to write.

CNN calls him "one of America's leading political journalists," but also has a very brief story, labeled with the words "developing story" on their homepage.

USA Today has a longer piece, but the last half reads less like a cohesive article and more like an amalgamation of flattering facts pieced together.

I'm sure for a man of this stature, and one who was actually in the media, we will see more comprehensive coverage in the days to come. But for now, the media are clearly in a state of shock and don't know what to make of this sudden loss.

One greater message that may come out of this sadness: Tom Brokaw broke the news on NBC. One of his comments was that Mr. Russert often "worked to the point of exhaustion." Combine that with the fact that Mr. Russert seems to have died from a heart attack at work—this may prove a poignant reminder of why my generation places more importance on work/life balance than my parents (the baby boomers) did.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Can a country recover from genocide?

Yesterday, On Point with Tom Ashbrook addressed recent changes in Rwanda, noting how much progress has been made given what horror took place there in 1994. Ashbrook describes visiting shortly after the 100-day genocide and seeing people greet each other in shock, "So many had died they assumed that friends and family were dead."

According to guest Stephen Kinzer, there are up to 1 million murderers in Rwanda, but there is not possibly the infrastructure to try them or deal with them. So, there must be healing. Kinzer noted an incident in which he saw a woman whose husband and children had been murdered by one of her neighbors with a machete. She also had a huge machete cut on her face from the same man. She was sitting on a log next to the man who had committed this crime and she told Kinzer that she forgives the man. This healing he credits to religious faith.

And now it appears to be turning into a functional, potentially middle-class country, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. Is it a sign of great hope, or is it a front, hiding tensions and violence that is still under the surface? After all, Robert Mugabe was hailed as an agent of change when he first took power. Such an interesting discussion. You can listen here. Kinzer also has a new book called A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.

Dead hiker fell in love with Seattle, brother says

A headline from today's Seattle Times. I don't want to be glib about this incident. It's a sad story. But I can't get over the phrasing. Shouldn't the headline instead say something like "Now dead hiker fell in love with Seattle, brother says"? I keep seeing this image of a zombie wandering the streets of Seattle.

Anyway, the man in this story used his body to shield his wife from a late spring storm on Mt. Rainer, and that's part of why he passed away. Hero is a term that gets wrongly thrown around a lot, but at least for his wife, this man was a hero.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dr. Oz on Death

Today, Oprah has a show all about death and the way we in America talk about it. It's a rerun, but I didn't get a chance to post about it the first time it aired. I'd like to mention a couple of points from the episode. First, I really like the description Dr. Oz (Oprah's resident medical expert) gives of the general problem our country has with talking about death. He says:

"We do not do death well in America. Americans like to win, and we see death as losing. ... Death is an integral part of this amazing life that we have the ability to live."

Hear, hear. Also, one of the people featured in the show is a young woman named Kris who has cancer that is at a point at which it cannot be cured. Essentially, she must live long-term with the cancer that will most likely one day kill her. It's quite moving to watch her discuss all of the things she has learned from this experience. Kris phrases it thus: "Cancer is my guru."

Kris discusses her decision to marry her boyfriend, despite her medical situation. She didn't want her health condition to stop her from living life. After all, none of us has any certainty really. But one thing she did change was the traditional vows. Kris and her groom did not say, "Until death do us part." Kris explained on the show that she thought that would be too melodramatic. And she's probably right. In her case, it would have been very immediate and had an aching literal feel. It's so impressive how light-hearted and present she is about her situation.

TLC did a documentary on Kris titled Crazy Sexy Cancer. I didn't watch it because I found the name to be in such poor taste, and the advertising for the special was just silly and didn't convey this woman's attitude or strength at all. I wish now that I had seen it. Here's a link to the documentary's webpage though.

And here's a link to the webpage for today's Oprah show, although as I've said before, I don't love linking to Oprah's website. I think it's outdated in its organization and use of technology. The content is good though, so it's still worth a visit sometimes.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Posting and then Killing

The 25-year-old man who killed 7 people in the crowded Akihabara district of Tokyo on Sunday posted a thread on an online bulletin board that was titled "I will kill people in Akihabara." The final post to the thread was at 12:10 p.m., and his attack began around 12:30 p.m. According to the NY Times, the final post read, "It's time."

Today's article in the Times says that in other posts, "Mr. Kato [the attacker] described leaving his home just west of Tokyo, heading to the capital and worrying that rain could hamper his plans. He wrote about arriving in Akihabara at 11:45 a.m."

How do we handle criminals who are willing to blog or post or text about their crimes in advance of them happening? Could the police have done more? Did they have enough information to do anything? And why would he post? Is he trying to become famous? Or taunting the authorities?

Whatever the reasons, it's a sad and senseless crime. And it must be all the more shocking to a country that is not accustomed to random, mass violence. All my best to my friends and family in Tokyo.


To a certain extent, this is just a topic of intellectual exercise, and I realize that. But super commenter Shai Halud suggested the subject, and I do find it worth exploring—is there anything morally wrong with cannibalism. Most arguments against the practice rely upon murder, but what if the person being cannibalized is willing? Is it still wrong?

Here's why I say this is largely intellectual. I really don't think most people will ever lose their basic disgust of eating another person. It's just too ingrained. Even if we can talk through the moral problems, talk through the health concerns, I don't think we can lose the basic, primitive-brain ick factor. But let's talk about it.

According to Wikipedia (with no citation though) there is little evidence that cannibalism was ever practiced as a means for regular nourishment. In other words, it has always been ceremonial—used as part of a human sacrifice, used to further conquer captives after battle, etc. On top of that, there is little strong evidence that really tells us to what extend the groups we traditionally think of as cannibalistic actually were (like the Aztecs, ancient tribes on Fiji, etc.). To some extent, tales of cannibalism were exaggerated by explorers looking to benefit from descriptions of one group or another's savagery—making it easier to justify enslaving the group because they were so barbaric, something like that. Although, there is irrefutable evidence that many, many people have resorted to cannibalism during times of famine and disaster.

What about using deceased people as meat, for nourishment. Let's assume with their consent. I can't find evidence of any society that has ever done this. Does anyone know of any groups who have?

There is of course the German man who advertised for a "well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed." But that seems like more of a kink than an attempt at nutrition. And if you read the description of what happened during this event (follow the link, not for the feint of heart) it's hard not to think of it as two men participating in the murder/suicide of one man. But maybe others disagree with me.

Oh, and the image is Goya's painting of "Saturn Devouring his Son." One of my favorite haunting images by one of my favorite artists of all time. Interesting detail, this work was painted directly onto the wall of Goya's dining room. Bon Appetit :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Shhh! I'm hunting Wabbits

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I were at a birthday party in suburban Seattle. The home hosting the party had a beautiful and large garden. Just like you'd expect in the Northwest—full of hostas, ferns, evergreen trees, lots of leafy, green, vibrant plants. And as I walked in from my car, I noticed a little athletic gray bunny with sharp ears and a sassy expression that said, "I'm not afraid of you, human."

I told the woman of the household—a dynamic, energetic, powerhouse in her 60s who loves her garden—that I had seen a bunny in her yard on my way in, and she said, "Did you kill it?" I was a little taken aback. But I've heard enough horror stories of rabbits and deer destroying yards to understand what she was getting at. Apparently, the sweet little fuzzy one ate all of her irises before they even had a chance to bud, and now he's moved on to other prized blooms. So, not being a natural hunter, she was reluctant to fully "attack" the problem and didn't quite know how to handle it.

Well, today, there is an article in the New York Times about other gardeners with the same problem. Here's a quote I liked:

"Finally, [he] decided he would have to shoot the animals. First, though, he went to each hole and made an announcement.

'I said: ‘I intend to kill you. You have 24 hours to get out,’' he recalls. 'I wanted to give them fair warning. I said, ‘If I were you, I would find another place to live.’ I also promised them I would not take a shot unless I knew it would be fatal.'"

Image from the article as well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Organ Donor Information

Oprah has a nice feature on her website right now that links to information on organ donor information in every state in the U.S. Here's the link.

I wouldn't generally recommend Oprah's site. I think it's pretty outdated and functions more like an old-fashioned slideshow than a modern-day webpage, which is pretty sad considering all of the resources she has at her disposal. But I am a big fan of Dr. Mehmet Oz and the way he teaches health. Organ donation is an issue that we all should think about. It doesn't end up being a possibility for everybody, but for those it is possible for, you can extend life for other people when your life is over. And this link provides a nice, easy way to figure out what you need to do to become an organ donor.

As with any end-of-life issue, if you want to be an organ donor, you should let your family know your decision, so that the situation actually comes up, it's not a surprise and they are prepared to carry out your wishes. Organ donation is still controversial for some—people worry doctors won't work as hard to save the lives of organ donors or just don't want their family members' body parts taken. (And by the way, doctors won't try less hard to save an organ donor.) If your family hears from you directly that it's what you want, it's all that much more likely to actually happen when the time comes.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pringles Can Designer Burried in Can

Can somebody else please unpack this for me? My brain short circuits every time I think about it. From the UK's Telegraph:

"The designer of the Pringles crisp tube has died – and had his remains buried in one of the containers."

Here's the full article.

Cheating Death

A segment from The Colbert Report called Cheating Death.

From his website, it looks like he does one of these segments every week or so. In this version, Stephen Colbert plays up on our fears of being out of control of our health—due to factors like chemicals in our environment, specifically the water supply in this case. And then goes on to make jokes at the expense of the ways we try to extend life and make ourselves look younger, even taking it so far as to extend the craze to pet health. The latter trend fits more with the title of the topic "cheating death." In typical Colbert style, it is drawn to absolute absurdity. It's pretty darn funny.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A fashion legacy

The man who made it stylish for women to wear suits passed away over the weekend. Yves Saint Laurent will likely be remembered for making it okay for women to wear pants—at work, in the evening, for any occasion at which it is suitable for a man to wear pants. And as a feminist, I love him for that. Women can wear dresses, but you don't have to be constricted by them when it's inconvenient. And as a fashion-conscious woman, I love that he focused on classic design. He was a big proponent of women filling their wardrobes with classic pieces that would last for years, instead of buying new trendy pieces every season. If you shop that way, you can save money.

I find it interesting that he has such a clear and distinct legacy already set out for him. Other lasting effects of his designs and his life make emerge as years go by, but it's hard not to see his legacy already all set before us here the day after his death.

Here's his obituary from the New York Times.