February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley, a National Treasure

I've written Legacy Matters for several years now and I've never seen so many encomiums following a death of a great figure as I have read following the death of William F. Buckley.

The New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin, Sesquipedalian Spark of Right,  tells the story of his remarkable life and achievements.

Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

President George W. Bush said Wednesday that Mr. Buckley “brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War.”

In remarks at National Review’s 30th anniversary in 1985, President Reagan
You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism,” Mr. Reagan said.

“And then, as if that weren’t enough,” the president continued, “you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”
“All great biblical stories begin with Genesis,” George Will wrote in National Review in 1980. “And before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 has become a conflagration.”
At the age of 50, Mr. Buckley crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his sailboat and became a novelist. Eleven of his novels are spy tales starring Blackford Oakes, who fights for the American way and beds the Queen of England in the first book.
Mr. Buckley’s spirit of fun was apparent in his 1965 campaign for mayor of New York on the ticket of the Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if he won, he answered, “Demand a recount.” He got 13.4 percent of the vote.

John Tierney on A Giant of Conservatism


Simply Superlative by George Nash focuses on his enormous productivity.
During his nearly 60 years in the public eye, William F. Buckley Jr. published 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); dozens of book reviews; at least 56 introductions, prefaces, and forewords to other peoples’ books; more than 225 obituary essays; more than 800 editorials, articles, and remarks in National Review; several hundred articles in periodicals other than National Review; and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. He gave hundreds of lectures around the world, hosted 1,429 separate Firing Line shows, and may well have composed more letters than any American who has ever lived.
William F. Buckley Jr. was arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century. For an entire generation he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure. He changed minds, he changed lives, and he helped to change the direction of American politics.

But it is the personal memories that are the most telling of his incredible generosity of spirit.  Nyron Magnet writes The Unbought Grace of Life
his whole being provided an answer to that ultimate question, How then should we live?
I saw his character become ever more clearly the unmistakable, irreplaceable Buckley: witty, cultivated, playful, urbane, gracious, brave, zestful, life-affirming, tireless, and gallant—the incarnation of grace. He taught many not only how to think but also how to be.

He did all this with singular flair and joie de vivre. Moreover, he did it with a welcoming spirit which earned the gratitude of those whose lives he touched.

While at college, David Brooks wrote a smart-aleck parody of WFB's book Overdrive and when Buckley came to the University of Chicago to deliver a lecture, he said
“David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.”

That was the big break of my professional life.
Buckley’s greatest talent was friendship. The historian George Nash once postulated that he wrote more personal letters than any other American, and that is entirely believable. He showered affection on his friends, and he had an endless stream of them, old and young.

Peggy Noonan writes May We Not Lose His Kind.
Buckley was a one-man refutation of Hollywood's idea of a conservative.... Bill Buckley's persona, as the first famous conservative of the modern media age, said no to all that. Conservatives are brilliant, capacious, full of delight at the world and full of mischief, too. That's what he was. He upended old clichés.
With the loss of Bill Buckley we are, as a nation, losing not only a great man. When Jackie Onassis died, a friend of mine who knew her called me and said, with such woe, "Oh, we are losing her kind." He meant the elegant, the cultivated, the refined. I thought of this with Bill's passing, that we are losing his kind--people who were deeply, broadly educated in great universities when they taught deeply and broadly, who held deep views of life and the world and art and all the things that make life more delicious and more meaningful.

Larry Perelman, American born son of Russian Jewish refugees when 18 wrote to Buckley to thank him for emboldening Soviet Jews to come to this great nation and asked for the opportunity to express his gratitude by playing for him.  Fourteen years later, he had The Last Supper with WFB on the last night of his life
it was just like any other Buckley dinner — i.e., it started with cocktails and ended with cognac.

He knew well that he was the most important person in my life after the two people who had actually given me life. I will cherish hundreds of memories of his boundless acts of generosity, which changed my life forever.

Christina Galbraith, daughter of Evan Galbraith, WFB's best friend,  writes in Ember
He was a truly kind man, genuinely caring to anyone in his company. His kindness was not for show. It was discreet. He drove an hour every Sunday to take his house staff to Mass in Spanish; he opened his home to practicing musicians and supported innumerable young scholars.

Ed Capano, former publisher of the National Review,  tells of his perfect charity
He practiced what I consider perfect charity: doing things for others that no one knew about.  The Vietnam vet blinded in action who wrote to Bill asking if NR came out in Braille. NR didn't so Bill did the next best thing, he helped the vet get some of his eyesight restored by flying him to N.Y. and having a personal friend who happened to be one of the best ophthalmologists in N.Y. examine him and then successfully operate on him. Oh, and the vet married the nurse who took care of him. Or the time at a cover conference when I told him that a house I liked just came on the market and he asked me if I was going to buy it. I sheepishly told him that I couldn't afford the down payment.  A few days later his secretary brought me a personal check from Bill for the down payment with a promissory note to pay him back whenever.

"The Sacred Elixir of Life" and  Facing Death
Bill was philosophical — or better, religious — about death. His gleaming eyes, when I last saw him, seemed, at times, to look beyond you; it reminded me of what Robert E. Lee said of his own gaze in his last years: “My interest in Time and its concerns is daily fading away, and I am trying to keep my eyes and thoughts fixed on those eternal shores to which I am fast hastening.” Bill knew that he, too, was hastening towards those shores, as, of course, are we all. Not for him the megalomaniac egotism of Stalin, preposterously trying to bargain with the creator he had denied. Bill thought deeply about death; how else could he have achieved such a surpassing mastery of the obituary notice, that form which, in his hands, was not only a minor art, but also a means of understanding the value of life, even though it is lived in the shadow of death?
Bill taught us much about what Auchincloss called “the sacred elixir of life.” In the last lines of his elegy of his wife, he taught us, too, something about how to die. He spoke then of the condolence he received from “a confirmed nonbeliever,” who for once would have liked to be mistaken, and hoped that, “for you, this is not goodbye, but hasta luego.” Bill said: “No alternative thought would make continuing in life, for me, tolerable.”

Charlie Rose's moving appreciation of William Buckley who talks about  growing older and facing death.

A longer Rose tribute here where he realizes, "There is not always a tomorrow."

Andrew Malcolm at the LA Times gives us a private memory of WFB

And, Buckley recounted, instead of the outside scenery, he ended up that night in the dark cockpit watching instead his dying friend in admiration, still excited, still himself, exulting at the world's beauty as he came down slowly for a landing at the end of a long trip.

Then, Buckley looked at me and took a sip of his drink. "I hope at the end," he said, "I come in for my last landing the same way."

And so he did, after a last supper that started with cocktails and ended with cognac, he went to his desk to write and there he was found the next morning, that great generous spirit gone.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

February 28, 2008

Hastening Death

When a doctor hastens a death in order to harvest the organs, he faces criminal charges. 

Dr. Hootan Roozrokh is the Surgeon Accused of Speeding a Death to Get Organs. 

He faces 8 years in  prison if convicted on all counts.

Much as I am in favor of organ donations willingly made, I am inalterably opposed to hastening any death to harvest organs.    In law school, it's called a "bright line" - one step over the line and that's it.  I don't care how sympathetic a case can be made for the doctor.  He went over the line and should be punished.  Let his experience  of being charged and maybe his conviction stand as a warning to other doctors.

His lawyer argues that the doctor did nothing to adversely affect the quality or length of his patient's life.
We can not know that because we do not know what is in the mind of a dying person.

"Adversely affecting the quality or length" of  life is such a slippery standard.  Who is to say what the 'quality of life' is?  Yet everyone can understand what 'hastening death' is.

What the doctor did is see his patient as an object not a subject, a life to be shortened for his convenience.  By so doing, he denied his patient the dignity we owe every person.  We don't have to kill people to get their organs.   

His mother got it right.

“He didn’t deserve to be like that, to go that way,” she said. “He died without dignity and sympathy and without respect.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:06 PM | Permalink

Your Intellectual Property

Know those organ stickers you put on your driver's license?

Now there's one for you can affix to the same license that expresses your desire to become an intellectual property donor.   

         Intellectual Propety Donor

Using such a sticker will not comply with the laws of any state, if any survivor  wishes to challenge it, so I expect legal contests in the future. 

via Kottke

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:15 PM | Permalink

February 27, 2008

Weeping over his victims' graves

The chief executioner of the Khmer Rouge wept when he returned to the place where thousands died on his orders.

Around 15,000 people are believed to have been taken from the S-21 torture centre in Phnom Penh, where Duch was commandant, to Choeung Ek just outside the city, known as the killing fields.

Duch, 65, a born-again Christian whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, wept and prayed before the tree on which his subordinates dashed out the brains of babies and small children.
More than 1.7 million people are thought to have been executed or died as a result of torture, disease, starvation and overwork during the Maoist regime of the Khmer Rouge, which lasted from 1975 to 1979.

The five most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge are now in custody, waiting trail. Duch, a former maths teacher, was arrested in 1999 after being tracked down by Nic Dunlop, the Irish journalist and photographer.

Khmer Rouge killer weeps over victims' graves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:26 AM | Permalink

February 26, 2008

Russian Mafia Grave Tombs

  Russian Mafia Grave Tombs

They cost thousands of dollars but what's money when it comes to immortalizing the thugs who were part of the Russian mafia.  They were ruthless and you just know they thought they were cool.

The photo above is from a cemetery in the city of Yekaterinburg, the city where the Tsar and his family were executed in 1918, known in the 90s as the crime capital of Russia, otherwise the main industrial and cultural center in the eastern Urals section of Russia.

Two thousand miles away lies Dnipropetrovsk, third largest city in the Ukraine, but the sensibility of mob culture are very much the same.    Everyone wanted what the others had.

  Russian Mobster Graves

Photos from English Russia with a hat tip to Scribal Terror.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:43 PM | Permalink

A call for solidarity: "No believer should die alone and abandoned."

So spoke Pope Benedict XVI when he received participants at an international congress entitled: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects."

In keeping with the teaching of the Church for centuries, the Pope Strongly Condemned all Forms of Euthanasia.
Death", said the Pope, "concludes the experience of earthly life, but through death there opens for each of us, beyond time, the full and definitive life. ... For the community of believers, this encounter between the dying person and the Source of Life and Love represents a gift that has a universal value, that enriches the communion of the faithful". In this context, he highlighted how all the community should participate alongside close relatives in the last moments of a person's life. "No believer", he said, "should die alone and abandoned".

The Holy Father called for time off so that relatives could  care for the terminally ill.
"A greater respect for individual human life inevitably comes through the concrete solidarity of each and all, and constitutes one of the most pressing challenges of our times".

"The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a poor family or a hospital bed".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

Your Final Farewell Party

In the Washington Post, Dan Zak reminds us that you don't have to be at death's door to do a little planning for your final farewell.

Hey, It's Your Funeral

But what about a handbook on this side of the mortality line? What about a guide for the not-yet-deceased-but-could-go-at-any-minute-without-warning? And we can go any minute. Choking on our roast beef, driving to or from work or simply dropping dead. Unlike the Baldwin and Davis characters, we can't haunt or communicate with our friends and families. So they are left to deal with a mess of personal effects and life's half-completed projects, e-mail and bank accounts with unknown passwords, and doubts about what to do with our bodies and legacies. In the wake of our deaths, we leave an incomplete puzzle whose pieces may be forever missing.

If you find that scenario less than appealing, there are simple things you can do to get things in order just in case. But many people don't know where to start -- or don't even want to start.

The Post then asked readers to send in their plans for a final farewell party.  Here's a selection of their responses.

Feeding the Flowers
Nice as it might be, I don't believe in life hereafter. When I die, I will be cremated. My ashes will be mixed with wildflower seeds and packaged in little envelopes. This way, each person can sprinkle them wherever they want. It's a comfort to imagine myself of some usefulness after my death.

One Last Laugh
I have given strict instructions: a wry smile on my face if the embalmers can manage it and a prominent card on my chest to be viewed as any mourners gaze down upon my remains, reading "Smile . . . I'm dead and you're not."

Nothing but Blue Skies
My choice is to have a pilot friend scatter my leftovers over an unpopulated area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No fuss, no crowds, no weeping/wailing. Just a final flight for this old aviator.

One Final Party
My plans are outlined in my documents folder under "Open Casket, Open Bar." The instructions include "take my remains to Demaine's" (a nearby funeral home). One week after my graduation into the Lord's presence, schedule a one-day viewing with open casket and open bar (wine, champagne, beer -- no mixed drinks) and '60s music: Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, the Who, the Doors, etc., as background.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:47 AM | Permalink

February 23, 2008

"I cried every night for six months'

Countess Mountbatten was in the family boat when it was blown up by the IRA one summer August morning, killing two adults, two young boys and leaving three fighting for their lives. 

My own memory," says Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, "is of a vision of a ball exploding upwards and then of 'coming to' in the sea and wondering if I would be able to reach the surface before I passed out.

I have very vague memories, now and again, of floating among the wood and debris, being pulled into a small rubber dinghy before totally losing consciousness for days." In her lucid intervals, unable to open her eyes, or speak, or even weep, she began to realise that a monstrous swathe had been cut through her family.

Her father, her mother-in-law, her 15 year-old son Nicky dead.  Nicky's twin brother Time was left terribly injured and blind in one eye. 

"As anyone whose child dies will know only too well, this news utterly devastated me," she says. "In fact I was so overwhelmed by grief for Nicky, who was just on the threshold of his life, that I began to feel guilty that I was not able to grieve for my father, whom I really adored, in the same way.

For almost the past 30 years, Lady Mountbatten has been turning her personal loss into a force for good - not just mending her own shattered family but using her experience to help other bereaved parents, through her support of two charities, the Child Bereavement Charity and Compassionate Friends.
Lady Mountbatten once confided that, before the bomb, she "would have said that the death of any of my children would have killed me as well, taken away completely my own wish to live".

Through sheer force of personality, that didn't happen. In her endorsement of the Child Bereavement Trust's new book, Farewell, My Child, she refers to "the seemingly endless black tunnel" through which those left behind have to pass to reach "the light that truly does appear at the end, and which we eventually found ourselves".

Though 84 and now widowed, she is in no way to be pitied. The robust family spirit, a tensile weave of humour and stoicism, runs through her conversation, her lively dress sense and her manner.

Her features are still beautiful. Pinned to her ruffled fuchsia blouse is a brilliant yellow butterfly. Her purple and pink chequered tights make me feel dowdy. Survivor is too feeble a word for her.

"She has that half-full attitude to life," says Jenni Thomas, founder of the Child Bereavement Charity, which trains and supports doctors and nurses in bereavement counselling. "We find her an inspiration. You come away feeling better for meeting her. She'll quietly listen to someone in trouble and then put her wisdom to it."

Hats off to a  remarkable woman.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 PM | Permalink

The Tears of Abraham

Does the promise of eternal life deny the reality of death and help us escape from grief? Is faith an evasion, a psycho-social narcotic developed to avoid the pain of loss?

The Tears of Abraham by R.R. Reno in First Things .

If we turn to the Bible, then we will be surprised to discover that, in the primal history of humanity, death seems to evoke no strong emotional responses.

But something odd happens. With Abraham comes the promise: land, prosperity, and the immortality of countless descendants. ...for the very first time in the Bible, we find a scene of mourning. Abraham enters her tent and weeps over his dead wife (Gen. 23:2).
Thus the psychological paradox of faith: a belief in God’s promises heightens rather than softens the existential pain of death.

Faith blocks this easy deliverance from the afflictions of loss. But with hope comes more than heightened affliction; it also stiffens our resistance to the power of death. Abraham does not weep forever. The pain of loss has brought him low, but he “rose up from before his dead” (23:3). Stricken by the power of death—what could be more powerful we often wonder?—he straightens and prepares himself for action. He goes to the local chieftains. He wants a burial place for Sarah, a place to put her “out of my sight” (23:4)

“Out of my sight!” It is a shocking thing to say about the body of a loved one, but it is a sentiment repeated in the Bible. Jesus chastises one who would follow him but wishes to delay on order to bury his father. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he says (Matt. 8:22, KJV). The principle is not general, as if Christ came to abolish the law (both natural and revealed) that compels children to mourn for, bury, and remember their parents. Rather, like Abraham who rises from his distress, those who follow Christ must recognize that even as death continues to crush life, it cannot control the future. “O death, where is thy victory?” asks St. Paul with haughty confidence in the power of life. “O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:01 AM | Permalink

February 21, 2008

"Your work here is finished, there is nothing you can take with you"

From a Buddhist hospice, the Signs of Dying with Suggested Cares as well as After Death Care

A simple practice for the dead that is appropriate for Christians, Buddhists or a person of any spiritually, is to visualize God, Buddha (or who ever) on the top of the head of the deceased and while saying out loud or silently to the deceased "Now you have died and will leave your body, your work here is finished, there is nothing you can take with you, let go of everything including all regrets and be your true self, a being of light and love for all those you have known and not known. Now you can learn everything you need, generate supreme faith and devotion to your refuge and the wish to be unified with your (divine source, your God, your spiritual master, the Dharmakaya, or Amitabha Buddha).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:47 AM | Permalink

Young widows and widowers

Having been a young widow, I can attest that the needs of those widowed at a young age are quite different than those widowed in their sixties or seventies.

Meeting others: Young widows, widowers find support in new group.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:43 AM | Permalink

Medical Mystery or Miracle

Raised from the Dead

A South Florida man pronounced dead from a massive heart attack and then brought back to life. His doctor says the man was raised from the dead by a simple prayer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 AM | Permalink

February 18, 2008

Steve Fossett declared dead at 63.

Five months after disappearing while flying over the Nevada desert, Steve Fossett was declared dead by a Chicago court.

Dozens of planes and helicopters spent more than a month searching 20,000 square miles of the western Nevada mountains, one of the most remote and uninhabited regions of the US.
Throughout his life Mr Fosset had set more than 90 aviation records in balloons, fixed-wing aircraft, gliders and airships and 23 sailing records. Some 60 still stand.

On his sixth attempt, in 2002, he became the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon - in one unsuccessful bid he plunged five miles into the sea off Australia.

Three years later made the first solo, non-stop, non-refuelled flight around the globe in the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer.

He also swam the English Channel, completed the Ironman Triathlon and the Iditarod dog sled race and climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Everest, however, eluded him.

Mr Fossett, who earned his fortune as a financial trader, broke the round-the-world sailing record by six days in 2004 and even set world records for cross-country skiing.

The Telegraph obituary  

Steve Fossett, who has been declared dead aged 63, made his fortune on the Chicago futures exchange and embarked on a dogged campaign to break more world records than any other sportsman in history; he set 116 records in hot air balloons, sailing boats, gliders and powered aircraft, getting into numerous scrapes and surviving several brushes with death.

He was known in Britain for his friendship with Sir Richard Branson, an erstwhile rival balloonist who became a co-sponsor.

Branson once described Fossett as "a loner: half-Forrest Gump, half android" and suggested that he was not so much interested in sport for its own sake as in testing the limits of his own endurance: "If there's an ocean to swim, he'll choose Christmas Day and it must be snowing and, if possible, the only day in the last decade when the channel ices over," Branson observed. "That's Steve for you."

At some point in his thirties Fossett typed out a list of his lifetime sporting goals. These included swimming the English Channel, climbing the highest mountains on six continents, establishing eight world records in sailing, and flying non-stop around the world in a balloon. Once his business was firmly established he set out to tick items off the list. He achieved them all - and more. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Explorers' Club, and in 2002 won the Gold Medal of the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:11 PM | Permalink

The Queen of Mean's $4B

Leona Helmsley.

Her obituary here
Her will here
Her bequest here
The four very big ones (nearly quadruple the giving of any other American last year) will go to the Leona M and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Among good causes and works it supports are: Greenwich Hospital, the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, and the Alzheimer's Association. She also gave $5m to the families of New York firefighters in the wake of 9/11.

The year's other big givers are Baron Hilton of hotels fame – $1.2bn; George Soros, the financial wizard – $474.6m; and Michael Bloomberg, the media magnate and residing mayor of New York – $205m.

And so Leona will go down to posterity in rather better odour than she lived, ever demandingly, among us. She was hard, tyrannical to staff (she once made a waiter in one of her hotels beg on his knees for his job after serving a cup of tea with a smidgen of water in the saucer), and petulantly fired one man when she discovered he was gay. But, in the years to come, thousands of Americans will owe their lives to the medical facilities her billions will provide. Why, the woman's very nearly a saint.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:02 PM | Permalink

February 17, 2008

When a King doesn't leave a will

When someone dies without leaving a will, their family can be split apart in acrimony.  When a king doesn't leave a will, a country can.

When King Pakubuwono XII died four years ago, he left six mistresses with 35 children, but no wife, no heir and no instructions about the succession here in this city in central Java.

He might have guessed what would happen. Two half brothers each claimed the ancient crown, and the family split into two bitterly feuding factions.
Shortly after their father died, on June 12, 2004, each contending brother had himself crowned King Pakubuwono XIII. One coronation was held inside the palace, one outside, at the mansion of a friend.

When the time came to commemorate their father’s death, palace insiders say, the princes carried out separate tomb-sealing rituals: two teams of masons, two teams mixing cement, two solemn ceremonies.

In a Sultanate Known as Solo, One Too  Many Kings.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:18 AM | Permalink

February 16, 2008

Being dead on and off has made her life a hassle

The problems starts when someone in Florida died and Laura Todd's social security number was accidently typed in.

Woman Says Being Dead Ruins Her Life

The IRS says I'm dead. Everybody says I'm dead," she said.

She said being dead off and on has made everyday life a hassle. She said her bank closed her credit card account and attached a note of sympathy: "Please accept our condolences on the death of Laura Todd."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:10 PM | Permalink

Late fees still apply

This maybe urban legend is from Siggie though it ring true.

Family Member: “I am calling to tell you she died in January.”
The Bank: “The account was never closed, and the late fees charges still apply.”
Family Member: “Maybe you should turn it over to collections.”
The Bank: “Since it is 2 months past due, it already has been.”
Family Member: So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?”
The Bank: “Either report her account to frauds division or report her to the credit bureau. Maybe both !”
Family Member: “Do you think God will be mad at her?” (I really liked this part !!!!)
The Bank: “Excuse me?”
Family Member: “Did you just get what I was telling you? The part about her being dead?”
The Bank: “Sir, you’ll have to speak to my supervisor.” !

(Supervisor gets on the phone)
Family Member: “I’m calling to tell you she died in January.”
The Bank: “The account was never closed, so the late fees and charges still apply.” (This must be a phrase taught by The Bank!)
Family Member: “Do you mean you want to collect from her estate?”
The Bank: (stammering) “Are you her lawyer?”
Family Member: “No, I’m her great-nephew.”
The Bank: “Could you fax us a certificate of death?”
Family Member: “Sure.” (fax number is given)

After they get the fax:
The Bank: “Our system just isn’t set up for death. I don’t know what more I can do to help.”
Family Member: “Well, if you figure it out, great ! If not, you could just keep billing her. I really don’t think she will care.”
The Bank: “Well, the late fees charges do still apply.”
(What is wrong with these people??!!)
Family Member: “Would you like her new billing address?”
The Bank: “Yes, that will help.”
Family Member: ” Odessa Memorial Cemetery, Highway 129, Plot Number 69.”
The Bank: “Sir, that is a cemetery!”
Family Member: “What do you do with dead people on YOUR planet?!!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:50 PM | Permalink

Starved in treehouse

Man starves  himself to death in a treehouse.

A man in Germany has committed suicide by hiding deep in a forest and starving himself to death.

The man, who has not been named, kept a diary as his life ebbed away...in which he wrote of his pain at the break-up of his marriage, his estrangement from his daughter and his long-term unemployment.

A sad story and ending.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:46 PM | Permalink

February 14, 2008

Dmitri's Choice

The rights of an author to insist on his work being destroyed posthumously are now being ferociously debated in the literary world.

An unfinished novel by Vladimir Nabokov lies locked in a Swiss bank vault and his son Dmitri, now 73 and in poor health, vacillates about his father's wishes to have it destroyed.

Burning question of whether to grant Vladimmir Nabokov's destructive last wish.

Many authors, including the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, believe passionately in honouring Nabokov’s instructions and point out that the fragments would in no way represent the book the author had intended to write. But others argue that Laura is just one of several of Nabokov’s works that he wanted destroyed after his death.

Academics who are keen to see Nabokov’s final work also cite the examples of other prominent writers — notably Franz Kafka — who had their works published posthumously despite their explicit instructions.

Nicolai Gogol destroyed the second half of Dead Souls nine days before he died. It finishes in mid-sentence. Emily Dickinson published fewer than a dozen of her 1,800 poems during her lifetime and left strict instructions for her sister, Lavinia, to destroy the rest. Lavinia destroyed many of her letters but stopped short of the poetry and ensured her sister’s legacy.

Edward Elgar, on his deathbed, asked his friend W. H. Reed to destroy his unfinished third symphony but Reed never agreed.

Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Véra, prevented the destruction of an early draft of his best-known work, Lolita, when she blocked her husband’s path to the incinerator.

As a general matter, I would side with honoring Nabokov's expressed wishes, but when I think of all the Emily Dickinson poems we would never seen, I'm not so sure.

Ron Rosenbaum, who has been involved with this question for the past two years in print and in email correspondence with Dmitri Nabokov, wavers too and fully sympathizes with the dilemma of Dmitri's Choice.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

February 13, 2008

Body-snatching in Malaysia

An ethnic Chinese battling Malaysian authorities who snatched the body of his father after saying he had embraced Islam before he died, said on Wednesday that non-Muslims were getting a raw deal in the country.
In the latest case, the elder Gan had been buried as Muslim after an Islamic sharia court in Negeri Sembilan ruled that the man converted to Islam last year. But his family insisted otherwise, arguing that Gan could not have converted because he was senile and paralyzed after suffering two strokes.

They said Gan was also unable to speak after a stroke in 2006, challenging a claim that Gan made an oral declaration in Arabic to accept Islam. His conversion papers were also flawed because they were not signed, they said.His family suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when a civil court rejected their bid to declare Gan a Buddhist, saying it had no jurisdiction over Islamic cases, a lawyer said.

"We are not Muslims, why should we go to sharia court?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 PM | Permalink

February 12, 2008

Charles Fawcett, R.I.P.

An unbelievable life indeed.

The London Telegraph Charles Fawcett

Charles Fawcett, who died in London on February 3 aged 92, was a film maker and adventurer of great and generous passions that embraced Afghan freedom fighters and the much-married film actress Hedy Lamarr.

His unlikely - some would say unbelievable - life was informed by an impulse to stand up for the underdog mixed with a thirst for glamour and adventure. Fawcett charmed everyone he met with tales of swashbuckling intrigue and good deeds.
In Paris Fawcett also took part in the rescue of a group of British prisoners-of-war who had been placed under French guard in a hospital ward by the Germans. By impersonating a German ambulance crew, Fawcett and a comrade marched in at 4am and ordered the French nurses to usher the PoWs out into the yard. "Gentlemen," he announced as he drove them away, "consider yourself liberated."

"You're a Yank," said a British voice.

"Never," came Fawcett's lilting southern burr, "confuse a Virginian with a Yankee."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:03 PM | Permalink

More on skinned cadavers for profit

I'm on record as being creeped out by the Bodies exhibition that has traveled across the country.

Skinned cadaver exhibit
Gruesome Profiting from the Dead

Now I find that There are a few things you ought to know about those 'Bodies'.

Peter Bronson answers the objections of those who say "only uptight Cincinnati" would object to the display of skinned corpses.

Last year the company that leases bodies from China had 11 touring shows of 'Bodies' and made some $30 million in profits.

Fiona Ma, a California lawmaker who passed San Francisco's ban on displaying corpses without consent, says the "grave-robbing" plastination industry in China dissects thousands of bodies for exhibits.

Human rights groups say some of those could be political or religious prisoners who were executed by the same Chinese government that harvests black-market organs.
"When I see pictures of the exhibit, I feel something," said Morris Tsai, a Chinese-American of Mount Auburn, who protested at the Museum Center. "Maybe it's in the eyes or facial structure, but I can totally see that they're Chinese and I feel sorry for them. For we have taken advantage of the fact that since they died poor and alone, that somehow consent isn't necessary to turn a human being into a museum piece."

He wonders how Americans would feel if the bodies were unclaimed victims of Katrina. The answer is obvious: There would be hell to pay.

"Allowing Chinese to be put on display diminishes me and others like me," Tsai said.

I'd say parading dead bodies for profit diminishes everybody.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 AM | Permalink

February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, R.I.P.

Roy Scheider conveyed "an accelerated metabolism" in Jaws, Klute, The French Connection and All That Jazz.

Who knew he was a history major that planned on going to law school and served three years in the United States Air Force before he turned to acting?

For several years he suffered from multiple myeloma and died of complications from a staph infection at 75.

At the time of his death, Mr. Scheider was involved in a project to build a film studio in Florence, Italy, for a series about the history of the Renaissance.

Ann Althouse found the video Bye, bye my life good-bye where Scheider plays Joe Gideon in All That Jazz.

How surpassingly strange for his widow and family to have this video so widely available.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink

Memorial for Heath Ledger

Seventeen days after Ledger was found dead, a memorial service was held in Perth,  Australia for 750 friends and family. 

After such an extended period of intense shock and grief following his death, I was not all surprised that the day ended with many rollicking in the warm waters of Perth, fully clothed in an exuberant expression of joy in being alive.

Heath's family and fiancee mourn him in bizarre beach party.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

Funeral horses stampede

Funeral horses stampede, overturn hearse

A hearse overturned when the horses pulling it to a south London cemetery stampeded, dragging the carriage and coffin past appalled relatives and sending floral tributes flying.

"It was dreadful," a mourner told the South London Press. "The horses dragged the carriage to the cemetery on its side, tossing the coffin all over the place and destroying all the flowers inside.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:34 AM | Permalink

February 7, 2008

"A striking and painful image"

Ernie Pyle  was a war correspondent who reported the stories of ordinary soldiers in the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Pacific and won a Pulitzer Prize.  Beloved by soldiers and generals alike, he was killed instantly by enemy machine gun fire on Okinawa in 1944.

On April 16, the Army's 77th Infantry Division landed on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, to capture an airfield. Although a sideshow to the main battle, it was "warfare in its worst form," photographer Roberts wrote later. "Not one Japanese soldier surrendered, he killed until he was killed."

Ernie Pyle Death Photo Found

All these years later, his death photo was discovered.

  Ernie Pyle

"It's a striking and painful image, but Ernie Pyle wanted people to see and understand the sacrifices that soldiers had to make, so it's fitting, in a way, that this photo of his own death ... drives home the reality and the finality of that sacrifice," said James E. Tobin, a professor at Miami University of Ohio.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:30 PM | Permalink

Guru to the Beatles

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, dead at 91.

From the Telegraph obituary

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died on Tuesday, probably aged 91, had a profound influence on the Beatles' late career and repackaged ancient Hindu methods of transcendental meditation; TM, as it was known, was aimed at enabling western disciples to achieve a blissful oneness with the infinite in the still depths of the self - at the cost of minimum inconvenience.
The Maharishi pursued his mission in India until 1958, when he conceived "the idea of the regeneration of the whole world through meditation". If one per cent of the world's community practised it, he reasoned, the flow of good vibrations would overwhelm mankind's natural urge to violence.

His claim that it was not necessary to pursue a life of monastic asceticism to attain enlightenment, and that, through TM, practitioners could enjoy "the positive experience of Heavenly Bliss" during their lifetimes, proved immediately attractive to westerners. In 1959 the Maharishi established a base in Hollywood, where he founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement and set about marketing TM worldwide as the "Science of Creative Intelligence"
Early on in his mission the Maharishi began to show messianic tendencies, dismissing as obsolete virtually every other means of developing self-awareness and claiming that all the wisdom of the ages was distilled in TM. During the 1970s he came up with yogic flying, the ultimate transcendental bliss that causes men and women to levitate.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Rules of Thumb

From the very useful rules of thumb


1294.  The less money people have, the more they spend on a funeral.

1222.  After you attend a funeral, expect to go into a cleaning and organizational frenzy when you get home.

Digging a Grave

1414.  The standard size for a human grave is 7'8" long by 3'2" wide by 6' deep, unless there is to be more than one person buried in it. Then add two feet of depth for each body.

1198.  When digging a grave by hand, haul away 17 wheelbarrow loads of dirt and pile the rest by the hole. You will have just the right amount to backfill.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:39 PM | Permalink

February 6, 2008

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

       Ash Wednesday

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

February 4, 2008

"He hit the post where the mat had been removed"

David Monk, 46, went to the Alps for a weekend of skiing with some friends.   

But first some drinking when they had the bright idea of sliding down the mountain.  They had the bright idea of removing the foam crash barriers around one of the ski-lift supports to use as a makeshift sled.

They walked the piste, laid down their new sled, and barreled down the mountain, picking up speed until they came to a crashing dead stop against the barrier they had just denuded of its safety protection.

David was killed and his two friends gravely injured.

"He hit the post where the mat had been removed and that was it. It's terrible for his wife and two young kids.

"We tried to help him but the impact was too strong.
He went into the gap where the padding was and hit his head.

He leaves a grieving wife and two teen-age sons.

How sad and useless.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:04 AM | Permalink