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To Be or Not to Be?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
"[I]t is obvious there is nothing in the world a man has more incontestable right to than his own life and person."
--Arthur Shopenhauer on suicide.
As sad and disturbing as the thoughts it may inspire, the legality of suicide is undoubtedly one of the most important moral and civil rights issues of our time and, as we move deeper into this new century, it is only going to become more important. Farah Master's article, while subtly critical of Britain's retrograde laws regarding suicide, is hardly a polemic and treats what is a difficult topic with appropriate tenderness.

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New York City to Gas Canada Geese

Monday, June 15, 2009
One of the more tragic side-effects of humanity's ascendency to the proverbial top of the food chain has been our increasingly pervasive tendency to regard nonhuman life in purely instrumental terms. I'm not saying that other (if not most) living things do not have the same predator/prey relationship with the world, but our species has become spectacularly adept at both vaunting our ability to compassionately relate to others and thoroughly ignoring our sense of empathy whenever it suits our needs, be they petty whims or grand drives.

For instance, I can recall the adults in my neighborhood cursing the various flora and fauna that happened to render their expensively manicured lawns and exquisitely arranged flower beds less than perfect. I found it difficult to understand why dandelions were such awful flowers when they were as beautiful to me as peonies. Nor did I ever understand why people would get so angry at a dewy-eyed doe for eating shrubbery. After all, the grasses and flowers were not native to the regions in which they were planted. They were, in a very real sense, invasive species. The native species -- the weeds and deer -- were only doing as they had always done; that is, try to live.

As I have grown a bit older, I am still taken aback whenever someone complains about the overpopulation of deer leading to more car accidents and such, as if human overpopulation and expansion was not equally to blame for the macadam roadways slicing through the woodlands the cervidae call home. Like the viruses we fear, human beings behave like biological imperialists, entering places we were not invited and resenting the native life for persevering and challenging our dominion.

I bring this up because there's a part of me that is saddened by the City of New York's plan to exterminate two thousand geese in an effort to lessen their potential threat to aircraft flying in and out of the city's two major international airports, as WCBS reports. Now, certainly, I understand and appreciate the desire to preemptively address conditions that can lead to circumstances like those that led to the near-disastrous end of Flight 1549, but the hunting of geese in "about 40 public parks" gives me pause. I can't help but feel the birds have more right to the skies than do humans.

There's no easy solution to this problem, of course. Neither people nor geese are not going to stop flying, so conflict is inevitable. I guess what troubles me most is the indifference such articles reveal. Rather than individual beings with existences as important to them as ours are to us, the Canada Geese are nuisances to be brushed away lest they damage our expensive machinery. And that's the thing: the article does not mention a single human casualty; it just lists the "more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed." Of course, there's no mention of the nonhuman lives "destroyed."

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Just in Time for Spring: A Lethal New Strain of the Flu!

Friday, April 24, 2009
From Reuters:

"A strain of flu never seen before has killed up to 60 people in Mexico and also appeared in the United States, where eight people were infected but recovered, health officials said on Friday."

"The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus from 12 of the Mexican patients was the same genetically as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas."

"Mexico reported 1,004 suspected cases of the new virus, including four possible cases in Mexicali on the border with California.

Most of the dead were aged between 25 and 45, a health official said. It was a worrying sign as seasonal flu can be more deadly among the very young and the very old but a hallmark of pandemics is that they affect healthy young adults."
[Full Story]

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Two Percent of Detroit is Homeless

Friday, January 30, 2009
In an excellent essay published this past Wednesday in the Detroit News, Charlie LeDuff paints a a bleak picture of urban life, one in which human beings play ice hockey in the presence of a frozen corpse and one out of every fifty people in an industrial hub of a wealthy nation lives on the streets or, when lucky enough to find a chair, in one of the city's overcrowded and dehumanizing shelters. A taste:
Convinced that [a pair of legs sticking out of a frozen pool of water in a warehouse]  was indeed a body, this reporter made a discreet call to a police officer.
"Aw, just give 911 a call," the cop said. "We'll be called eventually."
A call was placed to 911. A woman answered. She was told it was a reporter calling. The operator tried to follow, but seemed confused. "Where is this building?"
She promised to contact the appropriate authorities.
Twenty minutes or so went by when 911 called the newsroom. This time it was a man.
"Where's this building?"
It was explained to him, as was the elevator shaft and the tomb of ice.
"Bring a jack-hammer," this reporter suggested.
"That's what we do," he said.
Nearly 24 hours went by. The elevator shaft was still a gaping wound. There was no crime scene tape. The homeless continued to burn their fires. City schoolchildren still do not have the necessary books to learn. The train station continues to crumble. Too many homicides still go unsolved.
After another two calls to 911 on Wednesday afternoon (one of which was disconnected), the Detroit Fire Department called and agreed to meet nearby.

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Al-Qaeda + The Plague = ?

Thursday, January 22, 2009
A few days ago, the Sun reported that the plague (though which variant -- bubonic or pneumonic -- was not specified) had broken out among al-Qaeda recruits training in Algeria, killing more than forty people in the organization's remote enclave in the country's Tisi Ouzou province. Although the tabloid's story seems to make light of the situation ("ANTI-TERROR bosses last night hailed their latest ally in the war on terror — the BLACK DEATH"), a related article in the more reputable Telegraph suggests that the cell may have actually been developing biological weapons when the plague broke out. Given the fact that "[i]t was reported last year that up to 100 potential terrorists had attempted to become postgraduate students in Britain in an attempt to use laboratories" to hone their skills, such possibilities are indeed quite frightening.

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Scared Sober?

Sunday, June 8, 2008
From Reason's Hit and Run:

"Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears -- a few to near hysterics -- May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident."

"About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene."

From the comments following the post:
Gahan: "This sort of crap makes me want to call that police officer's family and tell them he was killed in the line of duty, just for kicks."

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Hospitals Learn Not to Reuse "Disinfectant" Wipes Infected With Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
From Reuters:

"Disinfectant wipes routinely used in hospitals may actually spread drug-resistant bacteria rather than kill the dangerous infections, British researchers said on Tuesday.

While the wipes killed some bacteria, a study of two hospitals showed they did not get them all and could transfer the so-called superbugs to other surfaces, Gareth Williams, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, said."


"MRSA infections can range from boils to more severe infections of the bloodstream, lungs and surgical sites. Most cases are associated with hospitals, nursing homes or other health care facilities.

The superbug can cause life-threatening and disfiguring infections and can often only be treated with expensive, intravenous antibiotics."

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SDSU Appears to Be a Normal School, Sadly

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Among those arrested were 75 students, some of them working toward criminal justice or homeland security degrees. One criminal justice major was charged with possession of guns and cocaine, authorities said."

"Authorities say they infiltrated seven campus fraternities and found that in some, most of the students were aware of drug dealing by fraternity brothers."

"One student allegedly dealing cocaine was a month short of obtaining a master's degree in Homeland Security and worked with campus police as a student community service officer."
[Full story]

Is it bad that I am wholly unsurprised by the idea of cops-to-be breaking laws and frat brothers selling drugs?

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"I Choose You!"

Monday, May 5, 2008
From the Associated Press:

"Doctors know some patients needing lifesaving care won't get it in a flu pandemic or other disaster. The gut-wrenching dilemma will be deciding who to let die.

Now, an influential group of physicians has drafted a grimly specific list of recommendations for which patients wouldn't be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia."

"To prepare, hospitals should designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who will and who won't get lifesaving care, the task force wrote. Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:

-People older than 85.
-Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
-Severely burned patients older than 60.
-Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.
-Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes."

"If followed to a tee, such rules could exclude care for the poorest, most disadvantaged citizens who suffer disproportionately from chronic disease and disability, he said. While health care rationing will be necessary in a mass disaster, 'there are some real ethical concerns here.'"
[Full story]

Scary. Real damn scary.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008
From The Observer via The Guardian:

"Chaining up a dog and forcing it to go without food and water in the name of art is a surefire way of making yourself unpopular with animal lovers."

Guillermo Vargas, also known as Habacuc, "has been called an animal abuser, killer and worse over claims that a stray dog called Natividad died of starvation after he displayed it at an exhibition last year at the Codice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. Vargas tethered the animal without food and water under the words 'Eres Lo Que Lees' - 'You Are What You Read' - made out of dog biscuits while he played the Sandinista anthem backwards and set 175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner. More than a million people have signed an online petition urging organisers of this year's event to stop Vargas taking part."

Not to defend Mr. Vargas's actions, or those of the gallery in which Natividad was chained, but it seems as if animal rights activists may be erroneously reporting that the dog died when, in fact, he did not. According to Juanita Bermudez, the director of the gallery, the dog "was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in." Of course, it makes a good deal of sense that people would be up in arms about this sort of thing. Still, if Natividad did escape with his life, that fact will undermine the authority of some of the understandably concerned animal rights activists who have (either mistakenly or in a deliberate manipulation of information) presented a far bleaker picture of the installation. I mean, there are scads of people already clustering "animal rights activists" under the broad umbrella of alarmist extremists. Let's not give those people any fuel.

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Faces of Death

Thursday, April 10, 2008
From the Guardian:

"The German photographer Walter Schels thinks it not only odd, but wrong that death is so hidden from view. Aged 72, he's also keenly aware that his own death is getting closer. Which is why, a few years ago, he embarked on a bizarre project. He decided to shoot a series of portraits of people both before and after they had died. The result is a collection of photographs of 24 people - ranging from a baby of 17 months to a man of 83 - that goes on show in London next week. Alongside the portraits are the stories of the individuals concerned, penned by Beate Lakotta, Schels' partner, who spent time with the subjects in their final days and who listened as they told her how it felt to be nearing the end of their lives."

"Some of the subjects, says Schels, were bitter about how lonely the business of dying had made them feel - for some, this was why they agreed to take part in the project. "Some of the dying said, 'It's so good you're doing this - it's really important to show what it's like. No one else is listening to me, no one wants to hear or know what it's really like.'""

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