November 27, 2015
Mr. Bad News, “One of the best pieces I ever wrote in my life, which no one ever heard of,”
From the Esquire archives, a 1966 piece by Gay Talese, Mr. Bad News, a profile of New York Times obituary writer Alden Whitman about which Talese said, “One of the best pieces I ever wrote in my life, which no one ever heard of,”
This is part of an occupational astigmatism that afflicts many obituary writers. After they have written or read an advance obituary about someone, they come to think of that person as being dead in advance. Alden Whitman has discovered, since moving from his copyreader’s job to his present one, that in his brain have become embalmed several people who are alive, or were at last look, but whom he is constantly referring to in the past tense.
Furthermore, he admits that, after having written a fine advance obituary, his pride of authorship is such that he can barely wait for that person to drop dead so that he may see his masterpiece in print. While this revelation may mark him as something less than romantic, it must be said in his defense that he thinks no differently than most obituary writers; they are, even by City Room standards, rather special.
While death obsessed Hemingway and diminished John Donne, it provides Alden Whitman with a five-day-a-week job that he likes very much and he would possibly die sooner if they took the job away and put him back on the copydesk where he could no longer write about it.
“Death never takes a wise man by surprise,” wrote La Fontaine, and Whitman agrees and keeps his “files up-to-date,” although he never permits any man to read his own obituary; as the late Elmer Davis said, “A man who has read his own obituary will never be quite the same again.”
Gay Talese photographed by Vanity Fair for its profile, What You Should Know About Gay Talese, in which he says, "“You figure, what can they do to me now? At 82, you can do anything or say anything you want—you’re bulletproof. You run the world in your head.”
November 24, 2015
Great Thanksgiving Listen
The Power of a Letter with Words of Love
Precious mementos such as letters, trinkets and photographs are far too easy to lose during your lifetime, and when one of these beloved items is lost it leaves a hole in your heart that never heals.
Veteran Bill Moore was lonely and missing his significant other, just like most guys stationed overseas during WWII, and just like the others he made himself feel less lonely by writing his beloved Bernadean letters.
When Bill came home he married Bernadean, the letters becoming part of their love's legacy, but somewhere along the way one very important letter disappeared, only to reappear 70 years later in a thrift store in Colorado.
Watch Moore read this letter and talk about his wife who died 5 years ago in a touching video on YouTube. His daughter remarks, I could see the true depth of his love."
State Funeral in Venice for Bataclan massacre victim Valaria Solesin
Valaria Solesin, a PhD student studying demographics at the Sorbonne University, was the only Italian among the 130 victims of the ISIS attacks in Paris. A beautiful girl cut down at the start of her life is always a tragedy, but this one is more so because of the horrifying circumstances of her death.
She was given a state funeral in Venice that was broadcast live nationally as thousands gathered in St Mark's Square.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti attended the ceremony.
At her family's request, Solesin's friends and religious leaders of various faiths spoke at the funeral, which was held outdoors on a sunny morning in front of the arched doors and domes of St. Mark's Basilica.
'I want to thank the religious figures - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - who are here together in this square as a symbol of our common humanity at a moment when fanatics try to turn a massacre into an honourable act by invoking a faith,' Solesin's father, Alberto, said with her mother, Luciana, by his side.
The ceremony, which began with the playing of both the Italian and French national anthems, was broadcast live nationally by Italy's state broadcaster RAI.
The sheer beauty of the funeral from the flower-decked gondola carrying her body up the Grand Canal to St Mark's Square, the tolling of the bells, and the final notes of Beethoven's Ode to Joy provided consolation to the grieving family and nation.
There is a gallery of photos at the link
November 23, 2015
She wasn't dead, only playing videogames for 10 years
A Chinese woman, who was missing for 10 years and - at one point - presumed dead by her parents, has been found living in internet cafe for a decade. The woman, known under the pseudonym of Xiaoyun, was found by police at a cyber cafe in the city of Hangzhou, east China, reported the People's Daily Online. She said she had been supporting herself by playing games at internet cafes.
Xiaoyun later confessed to the fact. She said she was a rebellious teenager and decided to leave home after an argument with her father. .... '[I] had ran away from home before. And at that time when I tried to ask my dad for some money, [my parents] wouldn't give it to me, saying I must be lying. 'So I decided to run away for good.'
Xiaoyun said during the decade she had lived in several places including Jinhua, Jiangxi and Hangzhou. She made a living by working at different internet cafes. She was particularly good with an online game called Cross Fire, so other gamers would pay her to play the game for them. Xiaoyun said she usually spent the night at internet cafes, or sometimes public bathhouses.
Her parents had presumed Xiaoyun was dead for a long time. They had even had her name removed from their household registrations at the local police station.
November 9, 2015
"For the wake does not so much wake up the dead as wake up the living"
Mark Milburn writes In Praise of Wakes in First Things.
As a social gathering, the wake is numb business right from the start.,,,,the call of the traditional wake, followed by a Mass and burial, is stronger than you know. Because, despite your neurotic apprehensions, you don’t send flowers. You go. To the wake. You almost always decide to go to the wake. Why?
You go because the casket visit, the pious obsequies, and the shunt into wet, cold mud—not to mention the little after party offered to the remnant who have followed the cortege to the grave—all these ceremonies, together create, an oddly restorative effect. You go because the spritz of something foreign to the soul follows the trinity of wake, funeral and cemetery. The feeling is so oddly beautiful it’s something a Catholic has to think of as grace. Then again, maybe you feel better just knowing you’re still alive.
….You go because a wake, and funeral, and burial are the greatest cure ever for that miasma which medieval philosophers called acedia, or sloth. The funeral wake is a tonic that shakes into vivacity the sluggard soul. For the wake does not so much wake up the dead as wake up the living—we—who sleepwalk in the anesthesia of everyday life. The wake startles out of dropsy the listless soul. I mean the modern soul who gazes at the chasm between himself and a life of holiness, and who can only respond by reaching for his smartphone to touch-start his new app, thinking “Oh, Hell, I’ll just send flowers?”
….Whether we are at the casket or at the graveside, or at Mass, there we join the community of the living and the dead. And so as in The Odyssey, Book XI where the dead tell their stories, here at a wake and funeral we hear the stories of our dead.
Google's tribute to a Great Legacy
On YouTube Hedy Lamarr's 101st Birthday Google Doodle
Lamarr made “Ectasy” when she was just 18, and it was released the same year that she married one of Austria’s richest men, a munitions manufacturer who did business with Mussolini and, according to Lamarr’s autobiography, hosted Hitler at their castle home.
Lamarr, who was of Ukrainian-Hungarian Jewish heritage, eventually made her escape from spouse and situation — she wrote that she fled to France in disguise — and was discovered in Paris by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer.
Lamarr, billed as the “world’s most beautiful woman,” spent the next decade acting opposite such stars as Clark Gable, Charles Boyer, Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland.
During World War II, though, Lamarr also put her mind to the war effort, determined to invent something that would help defeat Hitler. (Her first marriage had resulted not only in reportedly hosting the Fuhrer, but also in gaining knowledge of torpedoes.)
She and California neighbor/composer George Antheil co-created a frequency-hopping system (using a player-piano roll) so radio-guided torpedoes could avoid interference jamming — an invention for which they received a patent in 1942, though the U.S. military would not employ the technology for two decades, during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Last year, a century after her birth, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Va. “Although Lamarr and Antheil never profited from their invention during their lifetime,” the Hall of Fame site says, “it was acknowledged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997 as an important development in wireless communications.”
November 8, 2015
"Numbers are unique, and they say: I was here. I existed"
Paul Ford examines The Final File and explores the Social Security administration’s list of America’s dead
Due to some flaw in my personality I love thinking about where my data goes after I fill out a form….This happens to me every few months, the desire to just grab and hold on to and explore a large database. …. Databases are interesting to read and explore. They’re one of the things that makes the web the web.
Which explains how I found myself in possession of the names of more than 85 million dead Americans—the Social Security Death Master File…..It’s a strange thing to be in possession of a massive list of dead people……The web site cancelthesefunerals.com contains the work of a frustrated individual named Tom Alciere, who believes the Social Security administration is “unforgivably sloppy” and has added “tens of thousands” of individuals to the list who are not yet dead. Alciere has made the index available to all who want to download it. So I downloaded it, unzipped the files, and began to poke around.
The Death Master File is something of a political hot potato of late. 60 Minutes has covered the story of living people registered as deceased—apparently, if news of your death is greatly exaggerated, it’s hell on your credit. In March 2015 the U.S. inspector general’s office announced that it had found 6.5 million people aged 112 or over in the living Social Security database who had yet to find their way into the database of the dead. Meaning there are 6.5 million more opportunities for fraud.
Look at all these people, assigned citizenship via nine digits, enjoying their duration on the mortal coil. Living people tend to this data, adding the newly gone in periodic updates. Almost all the names I saw were assigned to strangers; the Social Security numbers were a meaningless blur of digits. The checking accounts and properties are handed on to the next of kin. New people, like me, have come along to occupy the names. But numbers are unique, and they say: I was here. I existed. Bureaucracies organized me into folders. I was worth the paperwork.
20 Hilarious Funeral Humor Memes from usurnsonline.com.
Cause of Death
November 2, 2015
Passing on the memory of trauma
I don't know what to make of this study - it's very small - nor do I accept the controversial idea of "epigenetic inheritance”, but I am open to the possibility that some memory of trauma, such as the black plague, can be passed on to later generations.
Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.
The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.
They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.
Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” - the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.
The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health.
The team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”
They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children.
Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of pediatric genetics at University College London commented, “Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”
Cherry blossoms and mice
Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.
Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell - shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.
On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.
November 1, 2015
Medicare will reimburse doctors for conducting end-of-life discussions
Doctors should have been doing this all along, but the pressures on billing made it difficult, so now End-of-Life Discussions Will Be Reimbursed by Medicare
The federal government will pay doctors who speak with patients about the type of medical care they want when they are near death, a turning point after a similar proposal six years ago ran into opposition and was stripped from what became the Affordable Care Act.
The rule announced Friday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will reimburse, starting Jan. 1, health-care providers if they choose to have conversations with Medicare patients about advance care planning—also known as end-of-life discussions. The decision affects about 50 million beneficiaries and could ripple through the health-care industry. Private insurers often follow payment practices adopted by Medicare, the national insurance program for seniors and the disabled.
Efforts to provide compensation to doctors who hold such consultations was opposed in 2009 by mostly Republican opponents of the health-care overhaul, who said the law would lead to “death panels” tasked with seeking out cost savings by rationing care. A provision to pay physicians for such end-of-life counseling was stripped from the final bill.
But the rule, proposed in July, hasn’t triggered the same backlash as before. Since 2010, legislation that would allow reimbursements to physicians for advance planning discussions has gained bipartisan support and backing from hospice and physician groups. Some private insurers already have begun paying providers for the discussions, as have a handful of state Medicaid programs.
The public also supports the move. Eight in 10 people in the U.S. said Medicare and private health insurers should pay for end-of-life conversations, according to a September poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"What I care most about is learning your reasons for loving life"
Jacques Lusseyran: Blind hero of the French Resistance who survived Buchenwald,
“When you said to me: ‘Tell me the story of your life,’ I was not eager to begin. But when you added, ‘What I care most about is learning your reasons for loving life,’ then I became eager, for that was a real subject.”