Monday, December 29, 2008
"I really don't think obituaries should ever be written by some no-name editor with a lot of deadlines and little life perspective. ... Because of this cookie-cutter process, obituaries start sounding like postmortem personal ads to me. "He was romantic, honest and loved eating out. In his spare time, he enjoyed taking long walks on the beach."
When my grandfather passed away, my family and I wrote his obituary. Has anyone had an experience with an obituary of a loved one being written by a paper's editor and not their actual family? I'd be curious to hear what it's like from the other side.
If you don't know Kitt apart from her role as catwoman on the old Batman TV show, you should check out the clip. She is graceful, classy, vivacious and full of life.
And, of course, it doesn't hurt that she was sexy as hell and approached life with great humor.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
In the comments below, Dethmama asks whether assisted suicide has ever been televised in the U.S., as they have just done in Britain.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I don't want to minimize the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Obviously, having a detector in your home is not a bad idea. And it's a terrible, avoidable tragedy if anyone dies by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
I'd just like to point out—I can't remember the last time I saw a major news show do a segment on the importance of keeping smoke detectors up-to-date. And according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning kills 170 people, on average. In contrast, in 2006, fire claimed the lives of 2,580 people—that according to the Center for Disease Control.
This all reminds me of Amanda Ripley's book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, which I blogged about earlier this year. She came up with an equation about what elicits fear:
Dread = Uncontrollability + Unfamiliarity + Imaginability + Suffering + Scale of Destruction + Unfairness
Both fire and carbon monoxide poisoning rank fairly high on this scale, but the carbon monoxide poisoning is especially potent. If you watch the NBC clip, you can imagine being the family, sleeping at home, and not even knowing a "silent killer" is attacking. The scale of destruction is low, but the suffering is high, it's unfamiliar to many of us, and it's certainly uncontrollable in many ways—that sense heightened by the fact that carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and invisible. And with something like a poisonous gas that randomly seeps into the air, fairness doesn't even come into play. It gets pretty high marks on the fear scale.
What? A TV show using fear to hook in viewers? You're shocked, I know.
Anyway, get a carbon monoxide detector if you want. But if you're concerned about utility, check your smoke detector batteries first.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
This catalyst was a televised assisted suicide—the suicide of Craig Ewert who was 59 and suffering from motor neuron disease.
Ewert took a fatal dose of barbiturates in a Zurich clinic in 2006, although the documentary covering his decision and final act was first shown just last week.
Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain. According to the NY Times, about 100 Britons have committed assisted suicide in the past decade or so—by traveling to Switzerland or other locations where assisted suicide is legal.
I'm really glad the show aired. You all know I support death with dignity and assisted suicide, but beyond that, even for people who are against this movement, discussions like this get us all thinking and talking about death. And the more it comes into the open, the less alien it becomes. And I hope, the less frightening it becomes.
Ewert's wife was quoted in the New York Times saying, “For Craig, my husband, allowing the cameras to film his last moments in Zurich was about facing the end honestly,” she wrote in The Independent, a British newspaper. “He was keen to have it shown because when death is hidden and private, people don’t face their fears about it.”
My thoughts exactly.
Monday, December 15, 2008
It's a lot to cover in such a short article, but Dr. Robert Steinbrook offers a succinct and logical take on the controversies and goings-on.
One interesting point: due to legal challenges, Oregon law makers and health workers had about three years to figure out how to implement their version of the law, while Washington state will only have four months. How will this change the shape of care?
Friday, December 12, 2008
A fascinating op-ed piece from today's New York Times.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Martin Lindstrom conducted a study that involved showing subjects warnings on cigarette packages from overseas. While U.S. packages have statements about the ill effects of smoking, many cigarette cartons overseas actually depict images of lung tumors caused by smoking, and other such graphic images.
MRI technology allows researchers to tell what parts of the brain receive oxygen, and hence, what part of the brain are in use. Lindstrom was looking to see if the warnings activated the amygdala—the part of the brain that registers alarm.
The images did not affect the amygdala. Instead, they affected the nucleus accumbens—the part of the brain that turns on when a person craves something.
So, it appears from this study, the warnings are having the exact opposite of the effect intended, and instead of savings lives, may actually be helping lead to preventable deaths through smoking.
It's a small study (only 32 people), but still, the results are startling and deserve follow-up with further research. If the trend continues, it looks like the Attorney General's office needs to change the way they approach policy on cigarette warnings.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Batman: The Dark Knight, which made huge sales at the box office, is once again making huge sales in DVD. And today, Heath Ledger has been nominated for a posthumous Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the Joker.
Ledger gave a tremendous performance as Joker. It was externally loud and outward, but at the same time, he portrayed a character with an intense, seething inner life. He showed a man whose psyche was rotting away to such a degree that he had lost all sense of right/wrong and societal norms. Yes, it was a comic book character, but you bought how this being could have been born out of a real-life scenario.
Now, I do have to admit, there is extra value added because it's the last great role Heath Ledger will ever put down on screen. The finality of it all is enticing. I think he might have one more film left in post-production? But for the most part, Ledger's work is over, and that casts a haunting resonance this piece. How do we separate that from evaluating the work?
I don't think we can. And maybe it shouldn't matter.
As I said when he died and people were flocking to see the film in the theaters, there's a sense of public grieving that comes from appreciating this role. And I'm a huge fan of public grieving. It's cathartic and healing and doesn't happen often enough. There's no doubt it's a quality performance, and I don't see anything wrong with Ledger getting every possible recognition for his performance as Joker, even if part of the reason is the fact of his death.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
For years, I operated under the belief that we were all making ourselves beautiful in order to be more attractive to the opposite sex so that we might project the impression that we could be strong, healthy breeding partners. (I realize I'm making grand, sweeping generalizations here.) What does it say that some of us feel the need to project our sexuality and attractiveness of our deceased physical form?
Some of the procedures specifically mentioned in the piece are Botox to minimize wrinkles, and breast augmentations.
I can't get past the idea that this is taking wanting to look good to an absurd degree. I hate to sound like a hypocrite. After all, I do advocate for everyone having the death they find ideal ... but worrying about fewer wrinkles and perky breasts post-mortem seems ridiculous.
Understand belief in afterlife, sad to see preoccupation with physical afterlife. Plus, this isn't just thinking about afterlife, this trend seem based on the assumption that consciousness of your physical form will continue to some degree after death.
But what do you think?
The blog is honest and informative about the dying process—not to mention about the mother-daughter relationship. It's a site we all could learn from.
The author's mother just passed away, and the most recent entry is about the death.
I highly recommend the site, and the post.
I'm reading a new novel by Jonathan Carroll called The Ghost in Love that deals with the aftermath of a man not dying when he should, in a fantastical way. A representative of the angel of death is left in limbo, hanging out on Earth, waiting for him to die. In the meantime, this ghost in limbo falls in love with the man's ex-girlfriend, hence the title of the book. I've just started the novel, but so far, it is full of humor and the most beautiful, non-saccharine sentimentality.
Here's an excerpt that I particularly like:
"She fell in love easily but walked away just as easily from a relationship when it went bad. Some men—and there had been many of them—thought this showed she was coldhearted, but they were wrong. German Landis simply didn't understand people who moped. Life was too interesting to choose suffering. Although she got a big kick out of him, she thought her brother Guy, was goofy for spending his life writing songs only about things that either stank or sucked. In response, he drew a pictue of what her gravestone would look like if he designed it: a big yellow smiley face on it and the words I LIKE BEING DEAD!
Little did either of them know that she would like it when her time came to die, years later. German Landis would move into death as she'd moved into new schoos, relationships, or phases of her life: full speed ahead, hopes ahoy, heart filled like a sail with reasonalbe optimism and belief that the gods were fundamentally benevolent, no mater where she was."
I love the notion that Carroll is presenting here that personality and attitude in life can carry over in to the way a person moves into death. It makes for a fun, life-affirming—and death-affirming for that matter—narrative.
Alan Cheuse gave a poignant review of this novel, and nobel winner Jose Saramago's novel Death with Interruptions, which has recently been tranlated into English. That book is also on my list or to-reads.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Just to lighten the mood a bit, I thought I'd share a couple of photos from doggy obedience class. My border terrier, Banner, had graduation from advanced obedience last night. The big finale was getting all of the dogs lined up in a row, very close together, all in down stays. Much easier said than done :) If you don't know what a border terrier is, he's the small, scruffy, black and brown one.
Fair warning, this piece is highly informative but not always easy to listen to due to its graphic nature.
In Washington state, there are two options: hanging and lethal injection. Fascinatingly, reporter Patricia Murphy draws out some of the ethical issues involved.
The state divides the tasks into as many parts as possible so no one worker feels responsible for the execution. Also, in the case of lethal injection, three shots are given: The second is a paralytic; this makes the execution aesthetically peaceful for those watching, but from blood work done in autopsy, there is evidence that those executed feel pain even though they cannot move or communicate it in any way.
Like I said, not an easy listen, but full of good information if you're up for it.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
A Reuters story on the aftermath of the Black Friday, in-store death.
A Wal-Mart statement had this to say:
"Tomorrow morning we will release our sales numbers for the month of November," the statement said. "This event is overshadowed by the tragic death of Jdimytai Damour at our Valley Stream, New York store on Nov. 28."
Too bad the death is overshadowing the release of their November sales figures. Nice of them to put things in perspective.
I'm a pretty analytical girl ... which makes me so glad for people like Codrescu, who have poetic minds. Codrescu calls the death a sacrifice to the American religion of shopping.
"And so we went shopping! We so went shopping, in rumbling herdlike elephant masses, we killed a guy who didn't get out of the way fast enough. It's a tragic incident, but by no means meaningless. Shopping is a religion, and some religions demand sacrifices.
The Wal-Mart employee died for us on Black Friday, but have we stopped to think what his sacrifice means? Not at all: We're stampeding right on through to the other side of Christmas. We aren't just shopping: We are saving America."
I'm sure a lot of the more thoughtful of us already have done this, but maybe we should all stop for a minute and think about what his death means.
With 39 counties in the state and 39 individual county prosecutors, the situation leads to all sorts of comparisons and questions about the arbitrary nature of the death penalty. For example, why is Darold Stenson likely to be executed while Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, will serve life in prison. (One explanation: Ridgeway bargained for life by giving information about the location of the bodies of his victims who had not yet been found.)
If yesterday's piece was noteworthy for its compassion, today's piece is an equally adept look at the fallability of a system that must necessarily be administered by a collection of individual people.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
According to the same study, we spend more money on health care than most of the nations that outrank us in terms of life expectancy. So where's the disconnect?
One popular theory, and one Dr. Snyderman hints at in the piece, is that America spends a lot of money on heroic measures, using expensive new equipment and experimental procedures, more often than just focusing on preventive medicine.
Another theory is that we spend too much on the last years of life, putting too many health-care dollars into prolonging life by a few months or years with dramatic, expensive effort, rather than keeping ourselves healthier while younger.
You can go here to see the original study results and a state-by-state ranking.
Two things: 1) I guess they postponed the series until December 3rd from the original air date of December 1st because of the stay of execution. I did not hear this postponement advertised, if it was. 2) Even though they advertised it as being part of Morning Edition, it is actually produced by the local NPR affiliate KUOW. Sorry for any confusion I caused by passing on their misleading information.
Logistical snafus aside, it's a good piece on the stress families of victims go through when a death penalty case comes up in the courts.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It's from The Oregonian, and it argues that Washington State's recently passed Death with Dignity Act is not simply another fluke, like Oregon's, but the beginning of a larger national trend.
The author, Don Colburn, points out that the Death with Dignity Act captured 59% of the vote and won 33 of 39 counties in Washington. That means, it didn't fall into the typical, Seattle and other big cities vs. eastern Washington and other more rural areas—a fairly typical liberal/conservative divide in this state. The initiative also outdid our Democratic governor, who won reelection. And it outdid Obama, who won the state.
So yes, Washington state can be fairly progressive and fairly liberal, but Colburn shows us that it's not just progressive liberals supporting Death with Dignity. Compassion and Choices has mentioned many times their desire to spread this work to other parts of the country. We just have to keep pushing the dialogue forward.
Patricia Murphy from KUOW, Seattle's local NPR affiliate, gives a really understandable, comprehensive analysis of what happened in the case in an audio clip at this link. The clip is from a week ago so does not go into all of the twists and turns, but it will fill you in more fully than any newspaper story I've read on this issue so far.