June 29, 2008

Harriet McBride Johnson, R.I.P

She fought against those who would say her life was not worth living.  Hers certainly was.

A Life Worth Living

When Harriet McBryde Johnson died earlier this month at the age of 50 from a congenital neuromuscular disease, obituaries called her a "disability-rights activist." This is far too narrow a description of her life. She was less a traditional activist than an acute social conscience. Ms. Johnson forced us to look at disability in a different way -- not as something that we should seek to eradicate, but as something that is integral to the human condition, a "natural part of the human experience," as the American Association of People With Disabilities puts it.
She was brutally direct when she talked about disabilities, including her own. "Most people don't know how to look at me," she wrote, describing her severely twisted spine and her "jumble of bones in a floppy bag of skin." But she abhorred the "veneer of beneficence" that overlay the arguments of those who said she would be "better off" without her disability. "The presence or absence of a disability doesn't predict quality of life," she argued, challenging Mr. Singer's support of what she called "disability-based infanticide."
People with disabilities, she said, "have something the world needs."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:49 AM | Permalink

June 28, 2008

10 things your body can do after you die

1. Get married in China
2. Unwind with a few friends
3. Tour the globe as a scandalous work of art
4. Fuel a city
5. Get sold, chop-chop style
6. Become a Soviet tourist attraction
7. Snuggle up with your stalker
8. Don't spread an epidemic
9. Stand trial
10. Stave off freezer burn

Complete gory and gruesome details at Mental Floss via CNN.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:59 AM | Permalink

June 25, 2008

Son Turns Dead Dad into Teapot

"Those cups of tea with dad were special and when he died I really missed them."

John Lowndes has no problem stirring up happy memories of his dad after putting his ashes in an
urn with a difference.

He found that when Ian died 10 years ago aged 75, one of the things he missed most was their tradition of putting the world to rights over a nice cuppa.

 Son Teacup Dad

So he brewed up the idea of giving him leaf eternal by having his ashes mixed with clay to make a teapot.

He approached local potter Neil Richardson who made two teapots - in case one breaks.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

June 24, 2008

Addicted to Grief

Just about every adult has experienced the grief of losing a loved one.  In time, we move on keeping the loved one as a blessed memory,  no longer a painful one.

Some people, a minority to be sure, never get over it.  Years later, they still feel the  loss acutely.

Complicated grief can be debilitating, involving recurrent pangs of painful emotions, including intense yearning, longing and searching for the deceased, and a preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one.
Reporting in the journal NeuroImage, scientists at UCLA suggest that such long-term or "complicated" grief activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly giving these memories addiction-like properties

Addicted to Grief? Chronic Grief Activates Pleasure Areas of the Brain

"The idea is that when our loved ones are alive, we get a rewarding cue from seeing them or things that remind us of them," O'Connor said. "After the loved one dies, those who adapt to the loss stop getting this neural reward. But those who don't adapt continue to crave it, because each time they do see a cue, they still get that neural reward.

"Of course, all of this is outside of conscious thought, so there isn't an intention about it," she said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink

June 23, 2008

ScanCafe for digital copies of treasured photographs

Kevin Kelly's blog Cool Tools is a favorite of mine because I'm always finding good information about products and services that make life easier.

 Scancafe 2

He's found a service that can scan your old photos and slides cheaply called Scancafe.

Here is how it works: You pack up your images and mail them to ScanCafe's headquarters in Northern California.  They count them up, and repackage them before shipping the pieces to India.  In India they are scanned, touched up, rotated and then privately posted to your account at their website.  You then go through the images online and select the ones you want to keep.  You are allowed to dismiss (and not pay for) up to 50% of the total for that order.  You can reject the images because you aren't happy with how they look online, or simply because you don't want the image.  In the specific  case of original photo negatives, there is no reliable way to communicate which image(s) you want on the strip, so ScanCafe will scan the entire strip of negatives.  You'll have to reject the particular frames you don't want (but no more than 50% of the total order.  Combine them with slides to keep your percentage down.)

After you've made your selection, ScanCafe will send the originals back to the US and then from CA they will ship you a DVD/CD with your images and your originals.  It takes 7-8 weeks door to door.  The quality of the scan is great for everything except huge billboard enlargements.  The photos are scanned at 3000 dpi which gives a file about the quality of a 7 megapixel digital shot.  You can scoop the final jpeg images into iPhoto or Flick'r or Blurb books.  They are rotated into correct up-down/sidways orientation by hand.

Some people are concerned about sending their precious originals to India - or anywhere for that matter.  They should not be. ScanCafe has a very elaborate tracking and shipping system that would work even if you were shipping jewels.  Their scanning facilities in Bangalore are more organized than you are.  I have more trust in this system that I would handing them over to any neighborhood scanner.

I have a big crate of old slides and photo albums just waiting to be scanned.  So far, I've taken a number of slides to my neighborhood camera store for a specific project and been pleased with the results.    If any of you have used ScanCafe, I'd be interested in your experience.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:33 PM | Permalink

Oregon Health refuses life-extending cancer drug, will pay for suicide.

We've crossed a certain line when the Oregon Health Plan will cover comfort and care and doctor-assisted suicide but not a cancer drug that would slow cancer growth and extend the life of a patient.

“Treatment of advanced cancer that is meant to prolong life, or change the course of this disease, is not a covered benefit of the Oregon Health Plan,” said the unsigned letter Wagner received from LIPA, the Eugene company that administers the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County. 

The patient, Barbara Wagner, said

“To say to someone, we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it’s cruel,” she said. “I get angry. Who do they think they are?”

The drug company Genetech stepped in and said it would cover the cost of the drug.  With this Gift of Treatment,

Wagner said she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both.

“I am just so thrilled,” she said. “I am so relieved and so happy.”

Dr. Bob writes about Crossing That Dark River.

it was only a matter of time before our pragmatism trumped our principles. Once the absolute that physicians should be healers not hangmen was heaved overboard, it was inevitable that the relentless march of relativism would reach its logical port of call.

Death, after all, is expensive — the most expensive thing in life. It was not always so. In remote pasts, it was the very currency of life, short and brutal, with man’s primitive intellect sufficient solely to deal out death, not to defer it. There followed upon this time some glimmer of light and hope, wherein death’s timetable remained unfettered, but its stranglehold and certainty were tempered by a new hope and vision of humanity. We became in that time something more than mortal creatures, something extraordinary, an unspeakable treasure entombed within a fragile and decomposing frame. We became, something more than our mortal bodies; we became, something greater than our pain; we became, something whose beauty shown through even the ghastly horrors of the hour of our demise. Our prophets — then heeded — triumphantly thrust their swords through the dark heart of death: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” We became, in that moment, something more than the physical, something greater than our short and brutish mortality. We became, indeed, truly human, for the very first time.
We will, no doubt, congratulate ourselves on the wealth we save. We will no doubt develop ever more ingenious and efficient means to facilitate our self-immolation while comforting ourselves with our vast knowledge and perceived compassion. Those who treasure life at its end, who find in and through its suffering and debilitation the joy of relationships, and meaning, and mercy, and grace, will become our enemies, for they will siphon off mammon much needed to mitigate the consequences of our madness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

George Carlin, Dead at 71.

George Carlin, 71, died of hear failure in Los Angeles shortly after being admitted for chest pains.


His comedic sensibility revolved around a central theme: humanity is a cursed, doomed species.

"I don't have any beliefs or allegiances. I don't believe in this country, I don't believe in religion, or a god, and I don't believe in all these man-made institutional ideas," he told Reuters in a 2001 interview.

Carlin told Playboy in 2005 that he looked forward to an afterlife where he could watch the decline of civilization on a "heavenly CNN."

He's the only comedian whose case, the "Seven Words" went to the Supreme Court which upheld the right of the government to sanction radio stations for broadcasting offensive words when children might be listening.

"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," he told The Associated Press earlier this year.

He produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies, from his own comedy specials to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" in 1989 - a testament to his range from cerebral satire and cultural commentary to downright silliness (and sometimes hitting all points in one stroke).

"Why do they lock gas station bathrooms?" he once mused. "Are they afraid someone will clean them?"

 George Carlin

New York Times, George Carlin, Splenetic Comedian, Dies at 71

By the mid-’70s, like his comic predecessor Lenny Bruce and the fast-rising Richard Pryor, Mr. Carlin had emerged as a cultural renegade. In addition to his irreverent jests about religion and politics, he openly talked about the use of drugs, including acid and peyote, and said that he kicked cocaine not for moral or legal reasons but after he found “far more pain in the deal than pleasure.” But the edgier, more biting comedy he developed during this period, along with his candid admission of drug use, cemented his reputation as the “comic voice of the counterculture.”

His best loved routine was Stuff.

My favorite is baseball and football

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:06 AM | Permalink

June 21, 2008

Underwater murder

On their honeymoon husband goes scuba diving with his new wife on the Great Barrier reef only his wife never comes up.

Since the husband was an experienced diver, since he asked his fiancee before the wedding to increase her life insurance and make him the sole beneficiary, since he, as her dive buddy, didn't rush to help his inexperienced wife who was struggling to breathe and sinking into the deep but instead decided to swim away for help, Daniel Watson, an American tourist is charged with murder.

Of course, someone had an underwater camera and took pictures.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:02 PM | Permalink

June 20, 2008

Russert Funeral, Memorial Service and Rainbow

From Newsweek, The Russert Miracles

The first "Russert miracle," as attendees called it, happened at the private funeral service held at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown; the family of the late Meet the Press host Tim Russert had requested that Senators Obama and McCain to sit together, and the two presidential combatants obliged. CNN Washington Bureau chief David Bohrman, a former NBC producer, describes the scene to NEWSWEEK: "They sat side-by-side and spoke for twenty minutes. The body language was total friendship. They were warm and friendly and truly engaged in a conversation.... I kept thinking here we are at the funeral at the son of a sanitation worker and the presidential candidates are having their first one on one conversation here."

After the memorial service, the crowd moved to the rooftop where they saw the sky open up to a rainbow.

"After the magical experience of this service, to come out and see the rainbow and Luke at the bottom of it made the last dry eye weep," said NBC News executive Phil Griffin. The last song in the memorial service was, fittingly, "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

When asked his reaction to explain the sudden appearance of the rainbow at the exact moment, Luke Russert, his sparkly smile so reminiscent of his father's, said: "Is anyone still an atheist now?"

Howard Kurtz reports on the memorial service for Tim Russert,

From the three network anchors to a former governor to the Buffalo nun who taught him in seventh grade, Tim Russert's extended family bid farewell yesterday to "an unmade bed of a man, with an armful of newspapers and a cellphone to his ear," as Tom Brokaw described his colleague

But it was Peggy Noonan who grasped the essential point in A Life's Lesson.

When somebody dies, we tell his story and try to define and isolate what was special about it—what it was he brought to the party, how he enhanced life by showing up. In this way we educate ourselves about what really matters. Or, often, re-educate ourselves, for "man needs more to be reminded than instructed."
The beautiful thing about the coverage was that it offered extremely important information to those age 15 or 25 or 30 who may not have been told how to operate in the world beyond "Go succeed." I'm not sure we tell the young as much as we ought, as clearly as we ought, what it is the world admires, and what it is they want to emulate.

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really.
The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires. That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about Joe was he took care of people."

After Tim's death, the entire television media for four days told you the keys to a life well lived, the things you actually need to live life well, and without which it won't be good. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they're loved, which involves self-sacrifice; holding firm to God, to your religious faith, no matter how high you rise or low you fall. This involves guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field. And enjoying life. This can be hard in America, where sometimes people are rather grim in their determination to get and to have. "Enjoy life, it's ungrateful not to," said Ronald Reagan.

Tim had these virtues. They were great to see. By defining them and celebrating them the past few days, the media encouraged them. This was a public service, and also what you might call Tim's parting gift.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:32 AM | Permalink

June 19, 2008

While breaking into house, robber shoots self dead

Man shoots self dead while breaking into house.

Police in a Dallas suburb say a man trying to rob a house accidentally shot himself after kicking down the door and died in the driveway.

Grand Prairie police say the body of 19-year-old Cameron Sands was found outside the house early Tuesday.

Police Lt. John Brimmer says the evidence indicates Sands shot himself while trying to pull the gun from his waistband. He then dropped the gun and ran until he collapsed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:03 AM | Permalink

June 18, 2008

You are a Witness to History

Adriana Lukas muses on the new museum in Hungary dedicated to Nazism and Communism in House of Terror.

I believe that the best and only way to understand Communism and Nazism is through the lives of individuals who were affected by it not through a historical methodology or chronological exposition.

Everyday life is as important to understanding of what happens as are historical milestones. It might help people realise how little it takes for the society to find itself in a grasp of a toxic ideology and how gradual the decline can be, how unnoticed the erosion of freedom, dignity and moral strength.

You too are a witness to history.  What will you say about the history you've seen to your children and your children's children?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:18 AM | Permalink

June 16, 2008

New Mother Discovers Her Own

How my baby helped me discover the tragic mother I never knew

For good or ill, most of us see flashes of our mothers in our daughters  -  but for me it's both shocking and exquisitely sweet, because my mother has been dead for more than 30 years.

I never knew her, and that's why it's so wonderful to find shades of her again now. She's there in the glint of my daughter's smile, in her infectious laugh and sparkiness; but most of all, she's there in the love I have for Nancy.
But I knew, however painful it might be, that I had to find the true essence of my mother.

Tentatively, I asked my mother's brothers and sister to write down their memories of her. (Sadly, my grandmother is now dead and my grandfather is very old.) I needed to know who my mother was. I needed to discover what she would have wanted for me.

I needed to know mundane details about her. Which hand did she write with? What made her happy? What made her laugh? For the first time in over 30 years, I wanted her existence to be acknowledged.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

June 15, 2008

The Presence of My Father

Because he was the most important man in my life,  it doesn't seem so long since he's been gone even though my father died sixteen years ago.

In fact, I got a letter from him, or part of one, just last month.

In the course of getting ready to sell the family house after my mother's death, some fifty years of accumulated stuff had to be gone through and decisions made as to where all the stuff was to go.

Going through some old files, my brother Kevin found a sealed letter written by my father to be opened only after his death.  Never opened, it contained a last will and testament written by my father in January of 1961 just before a trip he was to take to California with my mother.

Apprehension before a long trip is common, instinctively connected to the apprehension of our own mortality.  As Katherine Mansfield wrote, "Whenever I prepare a journey, I prepare as though for death.  Should I never return, all is in order."

Just before a long trip is when most people write or revise their wills.

My father was only 38 and the father of seven young children when he wrote the will we just found.

He hadn't traveled much since the war where he was a Flight Officer in the Army Air Force.  While recuperating from an illness, he met and, a month or two later,  married my mother, an Army Air Force nurse.    I came soon after.  We moved to Vermont when he began college on the GI Bill.    By the time he had finished law school and passed the bar, a fifth baby arrived, little Colleen.  At the same time, he also got the highest mark on the civil service entrance exam, a congruence of events that elicited an invitation from Governor Herter to come in and receive his gubernatorial congratulations.

 Dad Governor Herter

He supported all of us on the salary he received from from his day job at the Massachusetts Board of Conciliation and Arbitration which handled industrial and job disputes.  With his new civil service ranking, he was appointed Chairman of the Board.

Only a few years later, he was invited to join the American Academy of Arbitrators and that was the occasion of the trip to California - to attend his first conference and take my mother with him as a sort of vacation, a rare separation from all of us.

So I understand the apprehension he must have felt and the pressing need to write a will, appoint guardians, and record where his accounts and policies were.  What I did not expect were his notes "a few words to each child."  What came back with resounding force was the importance of his Catholic faith and passing it on.  His presence is palpable in what he said and in his handwriting which is as recognizable to me as my own.  I imagine his writing this late one night at the kitchen table.

This is what he said:

Jill, you've been a wonderful daughter, your sense of values are superb. Always have God come first, be kind & considerate and charitable & use your wonderful intellect. All my love.

Kevin, you always tried hard to be good and you were never really bad.  Work hard and try hard and you'll be a fine man. Your religion is the best gift we have given to you & always cherish it as you have in the past.  All my love.

Debby, in many ways the most thoughtful and kindest of all.  But exasperatingly thoughtless at other times, we've always loved you deeply Deb and we know you'll rely upon God to direct your life.  All my love.

Billy, a good boy, we're blessed with wonderful children and Billy, you've got the makings of a fine man.  Enjoy sports with Kevin & Robbie, be true to God & your faith & remember to work hard for a solid goal in life.  All my love.

Sweet Colleen, our most affectionate & a good girl, be kind & thoughtful always & do a good, good job in school as Mother and I want you to make us proud.  Say your prayers & cherish your faith.  All my love.

Dear Robbie, you've been a good boy & always kind to little Julie.  Kev & Billy will help you & teach you gams & when you go to school we know you'll work hard.  Be a good Catholic boy.  All my love.

Dear little Julie, with your imagination & inquisitiveness you'll be a wonderful student.  Jill, Debby & Colleen will teach you how to be a good girl.  All my love.

I was 15, Kevin 12, Debby 10, Billy 9, Colly 7, Robby 4, Julie almost 3.

We were fortunate to have him around for an additional thirty years so this will and these notes never came to light until now.    A gift to all of us, reminding how powerfully and wonderfully we were all loved.  A reminder of how heroic raising children can be.

When I first read it, I burst into tears, so moved was I in hearing from him .

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:18 PM | Permalink

June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, R.I.P.

Like everyone who was familiar with him on television, I was shocked at the sudden death of Tim Russert and then surprised at the outpouring of affection for him.  But I shouldn't have been surprised, I loved him and everyone who knew him and millions who didn't loved him too.  He was fair, tough, passionate and ebullient.

Tom Brokaw broke the news.
My friend and colleague collapsed and died early this afternoon while at work at NBC News...
Tim loved his family, his faith, his country, politics, the Buffalo Bills, the New York Yankees, and the Washington Nationals.

 Tim Russert Nypost

Tributes pour in from people in the media, collected at MediaBistro's TV Newser.

New York Times
Tim Russert, a fixture in American homes on Sunday mornings and election nights since becoming moderator of “Meet the Press” nearly 17 years ago, died Friday after collapsing at the Washington bureau of NBC News. He was 58 and lived in Northwest Washington.
Mr. Russert, who was also the Washington bureau chief and a senior vice president of NBC News, had just returned in the last couple of days from a trip to Italy, where his family had celebrated the recent graduation of his son, Luke, from Boston College. When stricken, he was recording voice-overs for this Sunday’s program.

With his plain-spoken explanations and hard-hitting questions, Mr. Russert played an increasingly outsize role in the news media’s coverage of politics. The elegantly simple white memo board he used on election night in 2000 to explain the deadlock in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore — “Florida, Florida, Florida,” he had scribbled in red marker — became an enduring image in the history of American television coverage of the road to the White House.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Russert’s colleagues at NBC News soon learned that he had a gift for making the most complex political machinations understandable and compelling.

“He had a better political insight than anyone else in the room, period,” said Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, who was then an up-and-coming producer.

He really was the best political journalist in America, not just the best television journalist in America,” said Al Hunt, the Washington executive editor of Bloomberg News and former Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal
In the Boston Globe, Mike Barnicle said

"Tim was uniquely without a mean bone in his body," Barnicle said last night. "He had a joy about him that was nearly unmatched. At the end of the day or the end of the week, there was a part of him that would pinch himself: 'Can you believe I'm allowed to do this show?' "
Russert was shaped by his own father, known as "Big Russ," and by his childhood in Buffalo. The city remained his emotional touchstone for his entire life. "He's better able than anybody I know to live in two worlds," Brokaw told the Globe in 1997. "He has a house in a tony neighborhood in Washington, and his heart's in Buffalo." Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, yesterday ordered all flags at city buildings lowered to half-staff in Russert's honor.

Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post

Russert wore many hats -- onetime Democratic operative, Washington insider, NBC bureau chief, MSNBC commentator, sports fanatic, committed Roman Catholic, biographer of his father, dubbed "Big Russ" -- but his greatest legacy was his sustained style of interrogation. Grounded in prodigious research, Russert would press his guests on past statements and contradictions, often for a full hour, spawning legions of imitators.

Friends were stunned by the news. "I just loved him," said Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation." "When I scooped old Tim, I felt like I'd hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league."


Despite his eventual wealth and house on Nantucket, Russert never seemed to forget the summers he spent emptying pails of spoiled food into a garbage truck. His patter was filled with average-Joe lingo and constant references to his beloved the Buffalo Bills. Russert viewed himself as a translator who made politics accessible to the average voter.

Russert wrote two best-selling books, "Big Russ & Me" and "Wisdom of Our Fathers," which brought fame to his working-class dad and enshrined Russert's reputation as a man of modest western New York roots.

Joe Klein in Time
Back when he was just starting in television — and ever since but particularly back then — Tim Russert was astounded by the joys of the job. Early on, he helped arrange an interview with the Pope for the Today Show — and Tim did it up right: He brought along red NBC News baseball caps for the Cardinals and a white one for the Holy Father. "He put it on!" Tim told me when he came home. "We have pictures!" Then he said, more quietly, "But, you know, it was really something being in his presence. You felt something holy. It was almost as if the air was different." And that was Tim — exuberant, irreverent, brilliant and devout, a thrilling jolt of humanity.

He will be missed.  Condolences to all his family and friends

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:47 PM | Permalink

"The U.S. Military Equivalent to Sainthood"

Gerard Vanderleun in a terrific essay "Ain't It Cool?" writes

The American culture of cool has become a nation apart, an alternate-America that looks to the real America as merely some mechanism set up to deliver the many features and benefits of America to the culture of cool without question, by divine right of media.

The American culture of cool is not into giving back anything they have taken from the culture at large. The culture of cool is not a giving culture, it is an taking culture. --
The American culture of cool sees itself as the real soul and real intelligence of America, even as it actually rides on the broad shoulders of America like some strangling old man of the sea that, once taken up, refuses to get down.

The culture of Camp Pendleton despises the culture of cool. The culture here is composed of deeper, abiding and more fundamental things: Duty, Honor, God, Country and The Corps.

 America War Mall

While we're at the mall, some men are exemplifying the best of humanity  and  performing extraordinary acts of valor, the indifference to which is another example as Robert Kaplan points out that
separates an all-volunteer military from the public it defends

Kaplan tells us what it takes to win a Medal of Honor  in No Greater Honor

Over the decades, the Medal of Honor—the highest award for valor—has evolved into the U.S. military equivalent of sainthood. Only eight Medals of Honor have been awarded since the Vietnam War, all posthumously. “You don’t have to die to win it, but it helps,” says Army Colonel Thomas P. Smith

Here are the Medal of Honor Recipients from the War in Iraq.  Inspiring examples of courage, valor and love.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:16 PM | Permalink

June 13, 2008

"She had earned the right to silence."

One of my favorite writers, Theodore Darlrymple writes on The Pains of Memory

Most of my mother's suffering was unknown to me. Of course, there were people who suffered much worse than she: she never saw the inside of a concentration or extermination camp, for example. But yet, never to have seen her parents again, to have emigrated, friendless and penniless, to another country at the age of 17, and to have lost her fiancé killed in a war: that is enough for any human being.

She dealt with it by silence. When the Mayor of Berlin invited her back to Berlin towards the end of her life, she accepted, much to my surprise; and she pored over a map of the city, pointing out to me were she lived and where she went to school. When she got there, the streets were there, but she recognised nothing; bombs had razed everything to the ground.

I offered to go with her, but she went on her own. It is an unfashionable truth in these times of psychobabble and emotional intelligence, but a trouble shared is often a trouble doubled. She wanted all that she had seen, and all that she suffered, to go with her to the grave, for she was of the pessimistic view that man never learns, at least from the experience of others. I do not entirely agree, and wish she had said more; but she had earned the right to silence.   

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 PM | Permalink

June 10, 2008

Hi-tech tombstones in Japan

Hi-tech tombstones in Japan let mourners link to videos of the deceased.

mobile phone QR codes on tombstones that link to photographs and video clips of the deceased.
In addition to images of the deceased, people can view a greeting from the chief mourner at the funeral and browse through the guest book. They can also make entries using their cell phones.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

More young volunteer to be with the dying

Don Aucoin reports For hospices, an infusion of youth

Her first assignment was with an elderly man with Alzheimer's disease. "I began to realize how much difference you can make in the patient's life, and in the family's life," Peden says. "At the moment of death, I was able to comfort him. I held his hand and told him, 'I'm here with you.

At  Charlestown-based Beacon Hospice, the largest hospice organization in New England, the number of volunteers in their teens or 20s has increased by nearly 80 percent in the past year...Nationally, "The age and demographics for hospice volunteers is widening as hospices serve more and more families."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:45 AM | Permalink

June 9, 2008

A Voice So Pure

The jazz, blues, folk, country, pop vocalist Eva Cassidy  died in 1996 at 33 after she noticed a pain in her hip that turned out to be melanoma that had metastatasized.

Her final public performance was Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." 

Unknown outside Washington, D.C. at her death, her posthumously released recordings have sold about six million copies.

ABC's Nightline's documentary on Eva has been rebroadcast three times and is, by one account, the most popular Nightline ever.

Now a film is being produced on her life by Amy Redford, daughter of Robert Redford.

Only because of recordings can people like me who didn't know her when she was alive experience her extraordinary voice.

The Eva Cassidy website.

Echoes of a Voice Stilled Too Early. Richard Harrington in the Washington Post

She was, for sure a diamond no longer in the rough but not yet in the proper setting that would showcase a voice so pure, so strong, so passionate that it should have found a home just about anywhere.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 PM | Permalink

June 8, 2008

Bo Diddley's Funeral Rocked

Bo Diddley's funeral rocked and rolled Saturday with as much energy as his music.

For four hours, friends and relatives sang, danced and celebrated the life of the man who helped give birth to rock and roll with a signature beat that influenced Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and many others.

As family members passed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's casket, a gospel band played his namesake song. Within moments, the crowd of several hundred began clapping in time and shouting, "Hey, Bo Diddley!"

A Rocking Sendoff for Bo Diddley

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:27 AM | Permalink

June 7, 2008

Party for Heaven

With no family or relatives, worried that no one would care about throwing a feast after her death,  a rich 80-year-old Indian widow spent tens of thousands of dollars on a feast for 100,000 in the hope it would please the gods and open the doors of heaven.

Widow throws party to find place in heaven.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:13 AM | Permalink

"Grave schism on the death beat"

That terrific headlne comes from an article by Alex Beam in the Boston Globe
- Grave schism on the death beat.

Seems as if there are rival organizations of newspaper obituarists with the first one, the International Association of Obituarists, the brain child of a "good ol' Texas gal"" who prefers oddball venues and oddball guests.  The upstart second group wants the conferences to be a little more 'boring'.

A rival obituarists guild, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, sprang up to supplant Gilbert's IAO. ... "The IAO isn't really representative of what we are as a profession," says Cleveland Plain Dealer obituarist Alana Baranick, an interim board member of SPOW. "We have outgrown them. We will still enjoy going to their conference because they're so much fun."

Just how fun can be seen with this report from the 2004 conference in New Mexico, Reagan's Dead and He'll Be Deader.

In the closing minutes of the 6th Great Obituary Writers' International Conference (their title), one of the events that obituarists hate the most burst in on them. Just as Tim Bullamore, a Bath city councillor who writes for Fleet Street newspapers and the British Medical Journal, began an elaborate slide show on the glories of his city, where the conference takes place next year, someone rushed in and shouted: "Reagan's died!"

Gasps of astonishment, cries of surprise, uproar and confusion. Several delegates sprinted to the hotel lobby's public call boxes or grabbed cellphones. The bringer of the news was surrounded and peppered with questions. Bullamore's presentation was ruined. Finally, he grabbed the microphone and bellowed: "Reagan's dead and he'll be deader. Let's go on with the show."

He resumed his slides, but it wasn't the same. The 40th president of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, had died inconveniently and thrust obituarists into disarray. But really, they loved it. One delegate, her eyes sparkling, gushed: "Isn't this just wild?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

June 6, 2008

A place for reticence and secrets swallowed

Some good advice for those writing their life stories.

The Judgment of Memory by Joseph Bottum

There is some dispute about who coined the description of bad biographies as adding a “new terror to death.” It may have been John Arbuthnot, describing the torrent of miserable, catchpenny books that eighteenth-century publishers issued immediately after the death of anyone famous. Regardless, the phrase ought to have been reserved for the way deceased parents have been treated in the recollections of childhood published over the last decade and a half. Who would risk bringing up literary children, if the reward is those children’s adding this new terror to their parents’ deaths?
The death of parents leaves their honor in their children’s hands, and the cruel accuracies we might fling in anger against them while they are alive seem even more wrong to use against them once they are gone. “To the living, we owe respect; to the dead, only truth,” Voltaire once opined. It’s a good line: high-minded, confident, sententious in the way only enlightened French philosophes could manage with any aplomb. But it also feels exactly backward, particularly about those we knew and loved. To squabble with our vanished ­parents about how they lived their lives seems more than a metaphysical nullity. It is, in fact, a moral failing.

If love is true—that is to say, a true thing: a really existing object to which the universe itself must bend—then there remains a place for reticence, and secrets swallowed, and the dead allowed to keep their darkness to themselves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:49 AM | Permalink

Designer Funeral

 Designer Funeral 1

The funeral of Yves Saint Laurent at the Saint-Roch church in Paris

If anyone was going to have a designer funeral, it was Yves Saint Laurent.

Scores of the world's most beautiful women gathered yesterday in Paris to pay tribute to one of the most iconic couturiers of the last 50 years.
Miss Bruni noted how Saint Laurent had put women into masculine tailoring.
And her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, said: 'One of the greatest names of fashion has disappeared, the first to elevate haute couture to the rank of art. He was convinced that beauty was a luxury that every man and woman needed.'

Tributes to the 71-year-old 'fashion prince', who died on Sunday from a brain tumour, highlighted how he modernised female fashion in the Sixties and had empowered women by putting them in leather biker jackets and army uniforms.
He was cremated and his ashes flown to a botanical garden in Marrakech, Morocco, where he spent much of his life.

 Designer Funeral 2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 AM | Permalink

June 4, 2008

Buried in a Pringles can

The inventor of Pringles, Fredic Baur who died this month in Cincinnati at 89, was cremated with his ashes buried in a Pringles can.

Via Kottke who remarked he was a clever marketer to the very end.


Cincinnati Enquirer story on Baur's career as an organic chemist and food storage technician at Procter & Gamble.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:13 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2008

Webcasting funerals

An alert reader in the U.K. pointed me to this article to show how webcasting a funeral service has made ceremonies more accessible.

You may wonder how a crematorium in Essex can help bereaved people abroad, including soldiers in Iraq. But we can, thanks to new webcasting equipment.

The system was installed in March last year and is simple and discreet. In the chapel is a fixed camera and two microphones. The webcast is available online live and for a week afterwards. It is password protected, so the family has control of who watches it. The camera also takes a recording, which is sent overnight to Wesley Music, the company that provides the service. They tidy up the sound before offering it as a DVD to mourners.

The benefits of webcasting were clear when we started arranging a funeral last August for a serviceman who died in Iraq. The family and the Ministry of Defence were grateful for the opportunity to broadcast the event to his colleagues in Basra. Wesley Music also worked with the family to make a DVD that included footage of the full military band and ceremonials outside the chapel.
As well as taking the pressure off mourners, it frees up funeral directors to focus on the family’s needs, which is our first priority. For such a small outlay, we feel the system will be of lasting benefit for us as we evolve our services and for mourners in the grieving process

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

Bo Diddley, R.I.P.

I bet there's not a person over 30 who doesn't know Bo Diddley, doesn't like Bo Diddley, and isn't sad that he's gone.

New York Times obituary

Bo Diddley, a singer and guitarist who invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat and, with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock ’n’ roll itself, died Monday at his home in Archer, Fla. He was 79.
In the 1950s, as a founder of rock ’n’ roll, Mr. Diddley — along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others — helped to reshape the sound of popular music worldwide, building on the templates of blues, Southern gospel, R&B and postwar black American vernacular culture.

His original style of rhythm and blues influenced generations of musicians. And his Bo Diddley syncopated beat — three strokes/rest/two strokes — became a stock rhythm of rock ’n’ roll.

Telegraph obituary
Had Diddley been able to copyright the hypnotic and highly distinctive rhumba-like beat that was his musical trademark he might have been able to retire many years ago as a very wealthy man, rather than having to eke out a living in his old age, playing night-clubs, as his health deteriorated.

It was a mark of his standing as one of the founding fathers of pop music that he would become one of the first performers to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987.

For all his success, Diddley always maintained that like so many artists of his generation he had never received his just desserts, receiving only a flat fee for his early recordings and no royalty payments on sales. "I am owed. I've never got paid," he said. "A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun."

Boston Globe obituary

"Bo Diddley is one of the seminal American guitarists and an architect of the rock 'n' roll sound," said Terry Stewart, president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. "His unique guitar work, indelible rhythms, inventive songwriting, and larger-than-life personality make him an immortal author of the American songbook."

Mick Jagger

Singer Mick Jagger has paid tribute to singer-guitarist Bo Diddley as an "enormous force in music" and "a big influence on the Rolling Stones".
Jagger said the US rock 'n' roll pioneer, who has died at the age of 79, was "a wonderful, original musician".

Jagger, whose band recorded cover versions of Mona and Crackin' Up, said: "He was very generous to us in our early years and we learned a lot from him.
"We will never see his like again."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:57 AM | Permalink