Death in the Surprise Position

I have been reading in recent days and casual attacks on strangers (or even mass murder) don’t really seem to be getting more frequent.  But people feel as though they are.  People feel as though these are sitting RIGHT in our lap, so to speak.  People hug their kids a little tighter before sending them off to school.  People worry.

Part of this, of course is the media feeding frenzy.  In the same way Halloween was made a night of fear for many parents by what turned out to be totally made up stories of people putting blades in apples and what not – yes, there was a case of poisoned candy, in California, but it wasn’t random at all, it was a stepfather trying to get rid of his stepson.  In the same way, the Tylenol poisonings of the eighties turned out to be a husband’s attempt on his wife, disguised as a bunch of killings of strangers.  But the media reports these and people who hear the report often don’t hear the debunking, and next thing you know you are changing the way Tylenol packages its active agent (though other medicines, and vitamins too, happily use capsules) and hospitals are spending time on Halloween x-raying candy.

In the same way the perception that at any minute someone could come into the classroom and let loose with a gun on your kids makes people panic and demand – mostly very bad – legislation, ranging from disarming those who would never commit such a crime, to making sure all the kids behave “normally” to making the life of odd, but perfectly functional people sheer misery.

And part of the horror that allows the media to whip this up is… death.  Worse, death of children.  (The shooting in the theater in Aurora, CO, though bad, didn’t evoke the horror this does.)

I was thinking about this the last few days and I realized we – we modern people – have a very odd relationship with death.

Look, I’m in no way complaining about this, okay?  I want you to understand that upfront.  For my final exam in American culture, back in Portugal, I had to read this very stupid book who deduced all sorts of crazy stuff about Americans from the fact our dead are usually embalmed.  Frankly, I think the author should have his head examined.  (He also went on about our putting people in old age homes, forgetting that our elderly live MUCH longer than normal, which means at the end they need a lot more specialized care.  He also seemed not to get the sheer immensity of our territory which means family can be flung all over the continent.  Organizing a rostrum to visit grandma and make sure she takes her meds is a tad-bit more difficult than in a village or even a moderately sized town.)

However, I’m a fifty year old woman who has never had to sit with the dying, never had to help prepare a body for burial, and the whole idea of death seems a little unreal – a little odd.  Oh, I’ve lost people I loved: both my grandfathers, when I was 14 and 20, but I was going to school and (at the time) this was something to be guarded as it were and also mom thought I was too young, so I was protected from the nitty-gritty of death.  Then when my beloved grandmother died I was over here and … well, every time I go over I’m a little shocked that she’s not there, that I can’t go over and have tea with her.  I visit her grave, but it’s more like she’s moved to yet another country, one I can’t reach.  (Since I believe in life after death, this might be literally true, but not physically true, if that makes sense.)

But even if I had looked after my grandparents as they died, or helped with the burial, I would still have been highly unusual in light of the experiences of my ancestors – and your ancestors too, while we’re at it, only your ancestors would have been far more remote than mine.

My parents are the in-between generation between WWII and boomers.  They were both born during WWII.  While Portugal was neutral – and of necessity sending supplies to both sides to keep from getting womped.  No, I don’t want to hear it about Portugal being craven.  This would be far more believable if everyone didn’t go about sainting the Swedes for being neutral.  The Swedes didn’t even have Spain next door ready to march in if they went in with the allies.  The fact that Portugal didn’t join the axis or violate its treaty with Great Britain is the telling point – apparently more than once it was thought that it would be bombed.  They remember some sort of public officials coming around putting tape on the windows to minimize flying glass, and they remember blackout curtains.

Their histories are quite different, too.  Though the country was very, very poor – just recovering from bankruptcy – my father was solidly upper middle class, living in a relatively large house and from a family with enough land to grow most of the stuff they needed (though they weren’t farmers.)  Mom on the other hand lived in what can only be classed as a slum, in what had once been a prosperous craftsman’s cottage… sometime in Elizabeth’s day, I think.  My grandfather came from a wealthy family but had run through the money and sold the land and then run through more money.  (He was a brilliant, fascinating AND deeply flawed man.  I loved him and miss him still, but I was always aware there was … another side to him.)

However, both of them had – disproportionate numbers, mind – of their classmates die very young.  It was so common for mom, in fact, that the favorite game of her childhood was – I swear I’m not making this up – doll’s funerals.  Mom explained to me she was prized among her classmates because she made really good cloth dolls.  I was stomped.   I mean how many dolls could a kid need?  Then she explained that she made them, they played with them about a year, and then they had a wake and a funeral for the doll.  And then they made another.  This is how common death was for them – a normal part of “mothering”, like feeding, cleaning and dressing the kid.  Think about that for a moment.  Let it sink in.

As I said, I’m not complaining.  I like the fact that given my unspectacular fertility, I was able to raise both kids to adulthood and have a better than even chance they’ll outlive me.  Kings and Queens in the past lacked this probability.  It’s a good thing.

However it makes us weird about death.  And it distorts our view of everything.

Accidents most of all.  What, you think it’s a coincidence that the more remote the possibility of death, the more we pile on safety mechanisms in cars?  The more we make our kids wear helmets and eye protection for perfectly harmless activities?  (I think the end run of this is that we pad all the trees, like the royal family of Spain when their kids had hemophilia.)

And it goes further.  Any death has become unthinkable.  We react with shock to any death that doesn’t take place after protracted illness.  We start cowering back from eating meat because “the poor animals” and we shy back from any war and try to have it humane and with ROEs that make it impossible to do what war should do: inflict terror and pain on the enemy until they surrender.  (I think this goes hand in hand with no longer knowing how to END a war.  We don’t say “We’re going to end it by winning.”  Or “It ends when the other guy is rubble.”  No, we say “We need an exit strategy.”)

If you think of death as the dark tints of life, we’ve become washed out, and in many ways incomprehensible to cultures in which death is still very common.

I know, I know, culture this, culture that – but in the end I wonder how much of our decay and our seeming wish for suicide, from having too few kids to not being ruthless enough to those who hurt us, comes from the fact that death has come to seem unnatural and strange.

Again, I’m not complaining.  I’m no more fond of death than anyone else, and no more resolute in the face of it.  I know I might be called upon to die for what I believe in, and that’s fine – it’s much, much harder to accept dying because someone’s clutch slipped, or because I caught some weird virus no one could figure out.  And I can’t imagine dying even at 100 without feeling that I’m leaving a lot of stuff undone.  Still, I can come to terms with my own death – the death of those I love is something else.  I’ve already told Dan he must die after me or I’ll never talk to him again.  The thought of losing the kids is unimaginably horrific.  Heck, I’m all broken up about the idea of losing a cat within the year, and I’ve lost cats before.

BUT while I wouldn’t want a return to things quasi-ante, and while the solutions I could pose – as a science fiction author – range from the repugnant to the horrible and are all “I don’t want this” (Though some might make interesting stories.)  I do wonder what part of our decay, or the decay of our willingness to fight and win, is because death is alien and a surprise to us.

We have become like the elves who spawn rarely and live unnaturally long “blessed” lives.  Maybe there is some ancestral memory there.  Maybe there is a cycle where you become too comfortable, too little used to death, and then the ruthless cultures come in and destroy you, because they walk with death everyday.

All I know is that in the Elizabethan age, people had a lot of kids and expected to die much younger than we do.  (No, don’t want arguments.  Shakespeare died at 58 and it was considered a very great age.)  They got in brawls on the street over very little.  They killed and died with abandon.  Death was familiar.  This also allowed them to embark to strange lands in ships made of wood, with no real direction, knowing chances were they’d die in the adventure.

We have few kids, we live long, protected lives, and we won’t risk going to space, we won’t risk doing anything that might involve the loss of human lives.  And we want someone to protect us from the (very rare) madman with a gun.  We want to banish even the specter of that death we don’t really know.  We want to continue our happy, sheltered lives.

I wouldn’t trade our conditions for theirs – but neither do I want human civilization to regress because of the consequences of forgetting that the old bony gentleman is always with us, scythe at the ready.

I have no solutions – just a question – now that our children are not in the valley of the shadow of death, how do we teach them that it’s still needed at times to five up life to fight evil?

UPDATE: Post now up at Mad Genius Club.

144 thoughts on “Death in the Surprise Position

  1. It was brought home to me very vividly how perilous the life of a child was before the development of antibiotics and vaccines was, when I visited the historic old pioneer graveyard in Fredericksburg a couple of years ago. It was only in use for about fifteen years, from 1850, and there were only about fifty graves in it … but all but ten or so were for children and babies, some of whom had only lived for days or weeks. The most heartbreaking were several of children from the same family, with dates of death about a week apart. (There was a huge diptheria epidemic in the last year of the Civil War.) Consider how much of a mother’s life might be taken up with nursing the sick. A cut on a finger could get infected … and a child could die from something that is taken care of nowadays with a couple of stitches and a prescription from the doctor. Of the other ten or so graves, a few were of people in their twenties or so – two of them killed by Indians. And in the corner were the stones of a couple who had managed to live to the ripe old ages of seventy. I have begun to think that Victorian death rituals, which strike many as being absolutely morbid and unhealthy might actually have been of considerable comfort to the survivors…

    1. The Victorians were a bit odd. They were on the cusp of the change — they could see how various bits of technology and science meant that children didn’t have to die, and yet the children were dying. Before then, it was taken for granted that children died, and after then, that children dying was a freakish and outlandish thing. The transition was odd in many ways, no doubt.

    2. My grandparents took care of the local graveyard, so we spent a lot of time there as kids.

      It was a shock to realize that there were so many kids, only a few with dates-of-birth having the outlandish date of 18xx, and some of them were very small and inexpensive because people simply couldn’t afford the huge angle-crying-on-two-adult-sized-plots memorials.

      Even then, there was hardly ever more than one or two from a family. I didn’t know enough to ask if that was because those who lost more were unmarked or something…..

    3. I’m very well aware of death. I remember the death of my grandparents – all four of them. I’ve lost both my parents (at 80, so they were with us a long time), most of my aunts and uncles, and a dozen or so cousins.

      I’m also aware of it because my wife is 70, and a smoker. She has thyroid problems, arthritis, and has already had one stroke. I’m not much better: I have significant back problems and diabetes, and I’m 66.

      Jean and I have also lost a child. Not ours by birth, but Jamaal spent almost two years with us before he was adopted. He was killed when he ran in front of a dump truck three weeks after the adoption was final. We grieved for almost a year over that young child, not ours, but ours. His funeral was extremely hard on Jean.

      Death is a part of living. It’s going to come, only the timing is undecided. In the meantime, we should live our lives with that knowledge, and do what we can to help ourselves and others through it each day.

      1. My mother and all of my aunts and uncles are gone, only one I have left is my father and he is 89. Two cousins, brothers, died when I was a teen, one, a year or two younger than I was drowned when he was about nine, I think, and his older brother died several years later in his early twenties by diving head first into an empty swimming pool. Three young guys race to a small pool on the deck of a freighter they are working on, all jump in about the same time, the other two with their feet first but my cousin dives properly – talk about a dumb way to die. I didn’t much know the younger brother, but the older lived with us for a while when he was studying in a school close to us, and I really liked him. He was nearly a decade older than I was, but with three younger siblings, that brother and two sisters between them, he was very good with big brothering (okay, I don’t think that’s a word, actually…), even young girl cousins.

        I do think I don’t fear my own death, I just fear having to spend a long time in ill health and getting worse with no hope of recovery before it, especially if we are talking about something like Alzheimer’s – failing body sounds bad enough, but failing mind really scares me.

        But again, who knows if I can keep that attitude when death actually comes, unless that will be something too fast to allow anticipating it.

        I think I can handle people dying pretty well now, you mourn and then you go on, but on the other hand it has been a long time since I lost anybody really close so perhaps I’m a bit too confident here. And when it comes to relationships like parents and their children or other very close relationships – smothering people, especially the ones you care about, by trying to make absolutely sure they will never, ever face any of the risks which might kill or badly hurt, or perhaps just hurt in general, is bad, but what the hell can you do about it?

          1. I guess I may have gotten sort of a bit numbed to the fact that people die during my teens. Besides those two cousins their father also died in that decade, and so did the only grandmother I had known (both of my grandfathers and my paternal grandmother had died long before I was born). And one of my classmates, he lost control of his bike when going to school and swerved right in front of a truck, dying instantly. My father even knew the driver.

            And grandmother was the only one who died at an age when it starts to become something expected. Or at least not surprising or shocking.

            1. It’s not a surprise to me when I lose a cousin, unless they’re considerably younger than I am, like my cousin Penny who died of cancer twelve years ago (age 39), or my cousin Ellen who died of cancer last year (63). Both of my parents came from large families – 11 on Dad’s side and 10 on Mom’s. Many of my aunts and uncles were equally prolific, having anywhere from seven to sixteen children. I’ve got several first cousins I’ve never seen. I don’t even want to THINK of the second and third cousins. Still, each one is a shock. The husband of one of my first cousins died last week at the age of 71. His wife is the same age as mine. Death comes to all of us, but it’s still difficult to accept.

              1. I’ll have to say that when someone in my family dies before 80, it’s a bit of a shock. We seem to be too stubborn.

                I haven’t had a family death that really hit me hard yet. Partially, that’s probably because I don’t form very deep relationships with anyone, but mostly it’s because I haven’t known anyone who died “prematurely”. My mother was the closest one, and she had been sick for over a year before she died at 82.

    4. It was very common for children even in the early part of the 20th century. Though not just the children, My mother who was the youngest of 3 born in 1929. He father was in his late forties.
      Her mother was his second wife. His first wife and he had 2 children the first died very young the second died at birth along with his wife. This was also very common in the period before modern times. Men in their forties often where on their second marriage and not because of Divorce.
      Death for earlier generations was even in wealthy America very common.

  2. If you remind people that they are going to die — for instance, you have them write a reflection on the fact that their hand will one day be the hand of a skeleton — they grow more conservative when you test that.

    This has political implications.

  3. I’m no more familiar people dying than you are– three classmates, if you expand it to “people I ever had a class with,” and one of my shipmate-friends. (hit by a car, not in battle)

    But, thank goodness, I am a ranch kid– I grew up with one of the topics of dinner being “which cow was this, anyways?” Calves and cows die. A lot. No matter what we do to stop it.

    I startled the ultrasound tech recently (the “see if there are obvious problems” exam) by saying “you can control risks, but you can’t control outcomes.” (We were talking about the defect where the baby’s spine doesn’t close– it’s an especial terror for me, for no dang good reason.) She hadn’t had someone use that perspective before. People think they can, to quote a Washington state drive for something or other, “aim for zero deaths.”

    It ignores the give-and-take that any attempt to be safer involves.

    1. That particular birth defect was the reason my aunt (with same name as my mom) died at a few months of age. That she survived that long, given the conditions is a miracle. i know about her because everytime we tried to get a long form certificate they told us it couldn’t be because this person I claimed was my mom had died as an infant. Then we went down and told them “check the birth date.” They were almost exactly a year apart in age.

      Anyway — for that reason, it was a terror to ME.

      1. Ah, but the first time I ever heard of it was in relation to that famous picture of an unborn baby “holding” the doctor’s finger– they’d just finished repairing the kid’s spine. So it’s always been something that was fixable. (obviously not true for either of our parents’ generation)

        I was a kid myself at the time, and that picture is still awesome….

        1. Spina bifada? I’ve got a cousin with spina bifada and he’s just fine in his late thirties. And he wasn’t even diagnosed until three. (Some serious malpractice in there.) True, he could read before he could walk. . . .

            1. Yes, exactly.

              And HEY! on learning to talk before learning to walk. I ALMOST learned to read before I learned to walk. (spoke at very early age. Around one and something. Walked at two plus, closer to three. My parents were worried sick. Not unusual for how premie I was, etc, but…)

            1. My mother-in-law had a close neighbor whose son’s first child was born with spina biffida. They were told they would be lucky if their daughter lived to be three. She’s now 51, a college graduate, and the mother of two boys of her own. The one thing that irritates me the most about Obamacare is that it’s going to stifle the kinds of medical development that allowed her not only to survive, but to have children and a semi-normal life (her legs never really developed, and she’s spent most of her life in a wheelchair). Some of the research going on now promises to extend our lives for decades, and repair the kind of spinal damage I have, among other things. I take that personally.

  4. I’ve already told Dan he must die after me or I’ll never talk to him again.

    My wife told me that too.

    We do seem to have developed as a society, an unhealthy relationship with death, danger, and adventure. This might explain the great popularity of some YA and Youth fiction. It’s the only way that the kids can learn about death.

    Remember the huge fuss about the rumors that a character was going to, ohmigod, DIE in the next Harry Potter book? You’d have thought that J. K. Rowling was one of the most terrible people in the entire world for forcing kids to see a character die.

    To a certain extent you can blame it on helicopter parents. You can also blame part of it on the school system. Just think of that poor kid in Utah who was so terrified that he took a pistol to school. And now he gets punished, instead of the people who terrified him. They didn’t bother to mention that violent crimes have been declining worldwide since Tetra-Ethyl Lead was banned as a gasoline additive, and that he was in far more danger crossing the street.

    Of course telling people that things are getting better, doesn’t sell news, does it?


  5. It occurred to me, in another context, the other day that, while I have been to plenty of funerals and memorials, none of them have ever been for someone I knew well or intimately. Apropos of nearly nothing at all.

    The notion that intimations of mortality might make one more conservative has interesting implications, which I will explore. I somehow wonder if I knew that all along (though Grid alone knows how), and that’s why I kill off my favorite characters so often — some kind of morbid didactic impulse.


    1. You know — what brought it home to me is how every time a kid dies (and we’re not talking on the scale of the CT shooting, where it has some justification) they bring in counselors to talk to the kids. Even if this kid wasn’t a CLOSE friend or a friend at all. Like… knowing people die will harm the kids.

      1. It ties in with the fact that many of us adults are so…unaccustomed to death that we don’t know how to handle it ourselves. When a kids asks her parents “how many dead people do you know” and the answer is “uummm…”; in many ways it makes sense to bring in someone who can help explain “the proper way” to deal with the reaction to death. Somewhat like having a fireman come to school to explain how the fire extinguishers work.

        1. The problem with that notion is that I don’t trust the “professionals” to know the right way to deal with it.

      2. I saw an article somewhere today about plans to bring in “grief dogs” for kids in Sandy Hook. I s’pose that it is better than the highly-educated grief S.O.B.s that are commonly utilized, but I doubt this represents an either/or circumstance, so those poor kids will probably have to cope with both. At least this way they’ll have somebody with whom to toss a frisbee.

          1. Also, dogs probably don’t mark you as damaged goods for those of us whose professions depend on them not having any mental labels 🙂 PUPPY POWER.

          2. I saw pictures of the therapy dogs– whole bunch of the best groomed, sweetest looking golden retrievers I’ve ever seen, from sun to red-gold in color.

            I’d figure that’s way better than human therapists. Dogs are very accepting animals, and they’ll put up with being hugged.

            1. Even non-therapy dogs make a huge difference. I know that having an adorably sweet puppy to snuggle up with makes a massive difference sometimes when I am feeling sad. With all the psychological benefits of having animals around, makes you wonder about the people who are morally opposed to ‘enslaving poor animals’, hm? I’m pretty sure that for dogs especially, their mutually beneficial relationship with humans has made them far more successful than otherwise possible. There was a really neat article I read last year, I think, about how much dogs have co-evolved with us over the last several thousand years. It’s really cool 🙂

              1. I saw that!

                The only part that made me want to bang my head was how they couldn’t figure out how the dogs had ended up in the camps at all, and ended up basically figuring they’d been scavenging and nobody kicked them out.

                Seriously? Did none of the folks involved have more than passing familiarity with the phenomena of Guys Finding Cool Gifts For Cute Girls?
                Bonus points are given if getting it was dangerous, and the longer the gift lasts, the better.

                Look at a baby wolf, and imagine nobody else has one.
                They’re pack animals. They have cute, fluffy babies, in fairly large groups. They can live off of scraps. And the packs can kill people. And they have cute, fluffy babies.

                Good heavens, my dad and his brothers raided raccoon nests for the cute babies, and they didn’t even have girls around!

                Even if the gift-for-a-cute-girl theory doesn’t work, it’s easy to see someone having mercy on a bunch of crying little puppies, even if you just wiped out their pack. Humans like cute babies, even for other species.

                1. Yeah, and due to the nature of wolves being pack animals, it’s fairly simple to get them to listen to the alpha. If a human raises a wolf (while possibly more dangerous because they’re wild and have stronger instincts than most domestic dogs), you can still trust them quite well just because of the nature of the animal.

                  But I agree; I can certainly see people taking them in because they had to kill the mom, and there were adorable little fluff-balls left over. Especially in the context of this discussion, of a people familiar with death and loss of infants, they would certainly think twice consigning an innocent animal to death. And a wonderful relationship was born ^_^

                  1. And if you raise enough wolves, and kill the ones that grow up to attack people but keep the ones who accept humans as a relaxed sort of pack…you’ve got dogs, eventually. (I’m guessing you’ve been around at least half wolves that got the less-good-with-people traits, or heard and believed how dangerous they can be. I have no idea how personality can be bred like that, but I’ve SEEN it.)

                    1. There’s a blogger named Wollf who has an at-least-part fox pet.
                      Not sure how that works, but he’s not of the “that cat has a short tail, it must be half rabbit” type background, so I believe him.

                2. yes – but I still think there is truth in the other idea– it makes sense… I think a combination would work (wolves scavenging, guys finds pups, dogs are born)– the problem with your story is have you ever tried to raise a full-blooded wolf pup? You can’t tame them — they don’t even notice human interaction like other pups. Plus researchers found that they will attack the ones who have raised them. So there had to be an addition to the “cute puppy” theory–

                  1. Researchers also “proved” that coyotes can’t breed with dogs, which has been shown to be false.

                    I know that some wolves can be raised to live decently well with humans– you just can’t act like they’re dogs. I’d guess it selects for the less-dominant wolves, but I don’t really know; I just know that when my grandma was a little girl, it was far from uncommon, and it only became rare when laws got in the way.

                    Treat a wolf like a dog, and you’re in trouble; think along the lines of those silly Dog Whisperer shows where they explain that dogs aren’t little people with fur on, and then take it another step or two further for wolves.

                    1. Well – we know in the case of coyotes that researchers were just stupid– however, dogs are more likely to get eaten by coyotes then bred by them.

                      As for treating wolves like dogs– a very massive mistake. (and treating dogs like people with fur– another massive mistake)–

                    2. Basically, they mistook “it doesn’t always happen” with “it never happens.” Well, that and they ignored people who had years of observation and knew that about once every decade or so, a dog would run off and the next spring there’d be big coyotes-with-his-coat-color running around.

                    3. Yep! Someone shared that.

                      I’m never sure if I should be delighted that foxes can be domesticated, or heart broken that they don’t keep the look. *grin*

                      Strictly speaking, though, wouldn’t what we’re looking at be when they FIGURED OUT breeding for characteristics?
                      (Part of why my folks won’t allow vicious bulls, no matter how nice the calves they throw are.)

                    4. Wolves scavenging at hunter-gatherer camps would become acclimated to humans / wolves scavenging at hunter-gatherer camps who did NOT become acclimated to humans would be less successful / more likely to be driven off.

                      Wolves acclimated to humans would be more likely to have their dens discovered / raided by humans.

                      Multiply by several millennia, end result: the peekapoo!

              2. I always kind of figured that “therapy dog” was a fancy way of saying that they’d put up with anything the most hysterical kid would pull on them, with the big reaction being running away if the kid tries to take out an eye.

            2. People tend to vastly underestimate dogs, because humans are “blind” to smell and how much that communicates to a dog. Studies have found dogs able to anticipate their person having a epileptic fit or going into diabetic coma, and surely they can smell fear, anger or sexual arousal on us — the hormones we blithely emit are, to dogs, flashing neon signs which we humans pretend aren’t there.

              1. Our old neighbor had an adorable long-haired rat dog for exactly the “make sure you’re not going to pass out and die” diabetic effect.

                1. I believe they have found some dogs able to spot onset of migraines, as well. A fascinating area of study, with great potential. A dog able to anticipate an epileptic event sufficiently in advance to warn the human means such people can safely drive and engage in a much wider variety of normal activity.

                  The amazing thing is that they are able to identify this effect. For a diabetic it is at least possible to induce a diabetic event and watch for dogs able to notice it. For epilepsy, even if they could trigger the attack I doubt medical ethics would permit it. Until we are better able to identify dogs able to recognize these events it is very difficult to reinforce the trait.

                  1. Apparently there is a dog training center who uses epileptic inmates to train seizure dogs. I saw it on one of those dog shows a couple of years ago–

                2. Last month at a craft-fair, the author at the next table over had one of those; he had epilepsy, and his alert-dog was this beautiful golden cocker-spaniel who went with him absolutely everywhere.

              2. I have been on chemo a long time so when I meet a new dog, they want to get a really good smell of my under regions. Once they know me, they don’t seem to have a problem. I think it is because I smell different since the chemo. When I was on cytoxan, cats wouldn’t come near me. Now that I am on a milder chemo (cellcept) I don’t have the same reaction from cats. They are back to being good friends again.

      3. I’ve read that Charlotte’s Web was initially criticized because it spoke openly about death and that people thought it would frighten kids. What it did instead was show them that death is part of life and that we all have to confront it eventually.

  6. I’ve been saying this for years, and likewise have no (satisfying) solution. We’ve talked about civil war, natural disaster, pandemic disease. SF has posited the notion of BEMs and similar, but these are all external and would cause a great deal of immediate trauma. The best notion is to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, at least emotionally. I see Human Wave writing as the most infective vector for “new” ideas like self-reliance, healthy community (as opposed to communalism, or that even less pleasant -ism), innovation, and the simple lust for life that all seem to be falling by the wayside.

    I think it’s as much an issue of fear as anything else. We don’t experience – by and large – much in the way of genuine fear anymore. A lot of this has to do with how strange we are as Americans. Our societal trust levels are beyond crazy, especially compared with the rest of the world and through history. We’re still willing to lend a neighbor the lawnmower and have a better-than-reasonable expectation of getting it back in basically the same shape. For example, my wife and I recently loaned a car to three different people for extended periods of time, and it’s come back each time. Still want to get rid of the darn thing for good (grumblesnarl). Most of us (and I think I’m something of a young’un here at not quite 33) grew up wandering the wilds with a shouted “I’m going out, Mom,” barely hearing the, “be back by dinner” in return. We haven’t grown up fearing hardly anything. Spiders and such don’t count.

    Foxfier’s words about managing risk instead of outcomes are one of the keys. It’s not that most of us are particularly blithe about the potentially catastrophic (at least on a personal level) consequences of most of our choices. Especially this motley crew! It’s simply that we’ve reached a place in our own maturation process where we’ve said, “I understand the consequences and accept them as part of the cost of doing business,” and then sallied forth eyes open and head high.

    It’s that huddled, reactive cringing that drives me bughouse nucking futs when I see it. My extended family members asking with fear (for me, which is nice. kind of.) in their eyes, “you’re writing? but what will you do for food?” Or expecting my motorcycle or firearms to be the death – literally: these things are dangerous, and danger=death, at least subconsciously – of me. It’s certainly possible, but there are plans I’ve developed and skills I’ve acquired over years of being in dangerous situations that have helped me survive, and after a few decades you get to be pretty good at it.

    All of that rambling to say, “keep writing competent people going boldly into danger and overcoming challenges.” Give your readers characters that grow; characters that don’t simply survive, but thrive through their choices. Stories where hope is justified.

    There’s more in my skull, but it needs to percolate a bit more, methinks.

    1. Dave, I think you are right about the lack of fear. Several psychologist-types have mused about the surge in thrill-seeking “sports” as a way for people to experience the risk and fear that we no longer encounter. I’ve been in mortal danger twice, and it really does concentrate the mind (mostly along the lines of, “Sir, I realize you’re busy, but if you give me an idea as to how to get out of this, trust me, I won’t get into this situation again.”) That was enough for me. I’ll stick with flying airplanes upside-down for my thrills.

      1. There was a long comment thread (at whose blog I can’t remember) a couple of years ago which started as comments on the obligatory seasonal story about bad and dangerous toys, but wandered off into a discussion and reminiscence among the contributors about all the dangerous stuff they had done as kids which their parents didn’t know about – jumping into deep swimming holes, riding bikes down steep, steep hills, making small explosive devices, climbing very tall trees and rock cliffs – that sort of thing that parents today don’t let their precious little snowflake do. Until they go off to college and play dangerous games with automobiles, alcohol and the opposite sex. (Among others) The concensus emerged that maybe, just maybe, you have to live dangerously as a kid to learn how to properly assess risks. Maybe it is better to get a concussion doing something stupid on a bicycle at 10 MPH as a ten year old, than to become a quadriplegic after a stupid stunt on a motorbike at 85 MPH at twenty.

        1. I can attest to “doing dangerous things as a kid”, since I’ve been through so much of it myself, as well as seeing it in my brother and cousins. There were a few times in the military where life got just a tad bit more exciting than I’d bargained for at the beginning, also. The biggest problem with today’s children (at least those who live in an urban or suburban environment) is that they have no freedom to do much of anything but sit in front of a television, video game, or computer. Kids that live on a farm or ranch have the freedom to roam, to explore, and to learn, to get hurt and recover, to learn what you can do and what you can’t, that city kids are denied by circumstances, and suburban kids are denied by fearful parents. I think that’s why the “red” areas produce the majority of those in the military — they’re not quite as structured as the “blue” (urban) model.

      2. Dave, your post brought to mind the surging popularity of adrenaline sports, but I see TXRed has already addressed it. Throughout most of history, most people got more than their quota of adrenaline out of just living life, they had no need to seek ‘sports’ to provide it (there have been and always will be adrenaline junkies, in the past and hopefully the future many of these became explorers, poineers, or joined the military or a myriad of other jobs that provided an excess of adrenaline, currently there is a distinct bottleneck of job choices that provide such adrenaline).

        1. My friend’s younger brother just died, last summer, doing that. Skiing down Mt. McKinley, something called Orient Express couloir. Seems it’s named ‘Orient Express’ after the Japanese and Korean climbers who have fallen, and died, there. She’s having a hard time dealing with his death, but she does seem to accept the fact that even if it did, in the end, kill him he was still doing something he loved.

          She also seems to be more accepting, since summer, of the fact that her older son spends most of his free time in front of a computer than she used to be.

  7. When when my beloved grandmother died I was over here and … well, every time I go over I’m a little shocked that she’s not there, that I can’t go over and have tea with her. I visit her grave, but it’s more like she’s moved to yet another country, one I can’t reach. (Since I believe in life after death, this might be literally true, but not physically true, if that makes sense.)

    It does, believe me.

  8. I wonder if the insulation from death and danger is the main cause of the hoplophobia now splattered across the front pages. When you have taken a life, however small, it makes you think about things. About whether you’d do it again, or differently. When I was young I had the summer task of guarding our blueberry bushes with a severely underpowered Daisy BB gun. It was so wimpy I could have shot myself in the foot repeatedly and not broken the skin. And yet I managed to terminate with extreme prejudice three robins, because they were so stupid they would *sit* there as I plinked them (and finally got the fatal headshot). I had to think about whether or not I was OK with killing them. My eventual conclusion was I had given them plenty of non-lethal warning, and Darwin got a vote. But it wasn’t easy.

    I’ve also seen the whole chicken process, from warm clucking critter to the naked headless roaster. Didn’t make me a vegetarian, but it did make me *mindful* that the yummy chicken I was eating had once been alive. Dumb as a box of rocks, but alive.

    Going up the food chain a bit, I was once involved in a situation where I had to make a life-and-death decision for a human. In three seconds. No, for the panting hoplophobes reading this, it didn’t involve a gun. A car. I was very, very fortunate in my choices and nobody died–but the decision I made was pretty much endanger one person? or twenty? I knew as I did it I would have to live with the consequences of my decision. It was NOT easy. But voting “present” would probably have resulted in severe injuries and deaths. There was no clear zero-damage option.

    I dunno if fixating on death and dying is the cure, but there should be more focus on consequences in life — and that sometimes there is no good choice. Yet you still have to live with it.

      1. It is fun though to semi-jokingly say to those people that pigs are walking bacon, and cows are walking steak. But I’m kind of a jerk to people who aren’t comfortable with the fact that their dinner was once alive (animal and vegetable).

        1. My folks are in the beef industry, so I try not to be a jerk, but… there was this time when a very, very obnoxious evangelical vegan was going on…and on… and on… with ignorant insults.

          While eating gummy worms.

          I finally ask her if she had any idea what “gummy” was made of. (boiled cow joints and toes, basically– if you cook a roast, or even a turkey sometimes, similar though impure stuff will form on the drippings)

          As long as someone’s not trying to be a jerk, it can be rather funny. My family tries not to do it to folks, in part because “your food was alive” is a common traumatizing tactic PETA-jerks like to use. Background matters— if the only animal a kid has ever been around is puppies and kittens, drawing a connection between those and food is just being a manipulative jerk, especially with the lies they tell about the entire process…. Understanding where food comes from is very important. That’s why organizations like the Cow Belles and the Cattle Men’s Association and the Cattle Women’s Association exist.

          1. That detachment from food is problematic for just that reason you mention. Most people are incredibly vulnerable to these emotional appeals because they don’t have any idea what actually happens to the animals, where their food comes from.
            That’s not to say that we should all be raising and slaughtering our own beef, but at least be cognizant of the fact that you’re eating a cow. With kids even more so, I think helping them be aware of where their food comes from is the best defense against a lot of the insanity that permeates our culture around diet and nutrition. While on that parallel, that applies just the same to energy and pretty much any other material need. I think one reason environmentalists are so effective indoctrinating kids in school is that few people talk to their kids about all the many ways energy is a necessity of life. If they don’t know what the massive benefits of it are, then nebulous costs like “Omg there’s pollution!!1!” suddenly outweigh anything else they know.

            Added to that, most kids aren’t exposed to economics NOR the immense importance of concepts like cost in terms of rational decision making until a much later age, when they’ve already had a good few years of marinating in feel-good environmentalist group-think under their belt. And we wonder why they scoff at the (to them) marginal costs associated with banning abundant energy sources.

            Knowledge is power 🙂

            1. With kids even more so, I think helping them be aware of where their food comes from is the best defense against a lot of the insanity that permeates our culture around diet and nutrition.

              And that’s why most ranchers will offer to bring in animals to meet, let kids tour their operations, do exibits at the fair, explain why the mommy piggy has a board between her and her babies…. (“Farrowing crate.” The factory farms always push to get them removed, because they can afford to lose roughly half of all piglets to “mother rolled over on them,” and it LOOKS bad if you don’t know what you’re seeing.)

          2. Did you hear about that woman who was trying to gain her sustenance from the sun? She died (true). So the circle of life (because even plants are alive) should be understood. I like the thought of giving thanks– because we cannot stay alive on our own. We need water and fuel.

  9. Interesting. I was part of a group of mostly ex-pats from all over in Switzerland in the 1950’s (everybody had memories of war some had signs – and given the political nature of Switzerland at the time folks from another Canton were in some sense ex-pats themselves – some even said the bombing of Schaffhausen wasn’t an accident and shouldn’t have been, it was earned). Somebody instigated a tell us about your home culture show and tell with Sweden standing for all of Scandinavia. Danes and Norwegians were quite annoyed and said that neutral Sweden was not representative.

    Events surrounding the death of Leslie Howard (Steiner) may say something about the nature of neutrality in Portugal in 1943.

    Friend of mine watching an elk die had a momentary lapse saying something about the look and the eyes reminded him of watching his wife die. Et in Arcadia Ego – we forget to our peril.

    1. -Et in Arcadia Ego-

      Brrr, yes. Those old pastorals are so full of sunshine and sheep and relaxing shepards that it’s easy to overlook that bit of text on that one rock over there, but if you do, you miss the whole point of the piece.

    2. Those four main Spanish munitions companies I mentioned yesterday were having a grand old time during WWII. They were selling pistols to the Germans and the British alike. Nobody’s money was dirty as far as they were concerned.

        1. There are arguments about the effectiveness and ubiquity of le Resistance in France in WWII … the most charitable conclusion seems to be that it provided a necessary face-saving mechanism allowing the nation to move beyond the war.

          1. Yes. I read a rather accurate and very disturbing mystery set in that period in France. The divided loyalties, the coat-turning…

            It had stripped me raw by the time I finished reading it, so I didn’t look for more right away and — because I’m getting older — I now can’t remember the name of the author or the series and don’t know if there were even any more.

            1. It helped reintegrate collaborators by allowing them to claim they were secretly working for the resistance. I very much doubt any serious effort was made to verify such claims.

              There is also considerable confusion over the various resistance movements, especially the efforts of the communist underground seeking to position themselves to take power after the war.

              A thorough understanding of the politics of resistance movements in occupied Europe might be very informative in navigating the various dissident movements comprising the “Arab Spring” (“Springtime for the Brotherhood and Islamists, Winter for Israel and Jews”.) But why would we want that sort of thing?

          2. The Dutch had the most effective Resistance of the occupied countries not counting Yugoslavian and Soviet partisans on a definition basis. And the Dutch contributed the largest volunteer component to SS formations outside the Baltics … and I’m not sure what that says.

              1. The other statistic nobody can be proud of is that the Netherlands had one of the highest percentages of Jews who were deported and killed. If my memory serves me it was around 97% of the total Jewish population?

                I do remember reading a lot of books about WW2 resistance fighters in the Netherlands as a boy that were quite good!

                1. You know, I think the fact that WWI and WWII were fought after both Europe had got over the idea that foreigners were “alien beings” (as you find in Elizabethan England and even in the Regency) and the fact that they were fought with largely literate populations (and mass media) which means the STORIES about the war were of more importance than ever before — has changed the whole dynamic in some way. In the past countries did nastyevil things but in WWII they had to justify it, somehow to go on living. Does it make any sense? I think to an extent Western civ is dying from wounds suffered in the long war of the 20th century and what it showed about ourselves, but how much influence the do the stories we tell about it have?

                  1. I think that’s a good point; there are certainly plenty of examples from, say, Roman times where atrocities were committed but nobody was left to tell the tales (except the victors, who wrote the books). I think to some extent that’s one of the tragedies of the communist killings of the 20th century, too. Even though we know they happened, both China and the USSR were totalitarian enough that there’s probably not *that* many extremely detailed reports remaining. I can’t imagine they allowed independent journalists to report on their massacres, anyway, and to some extent that makes it easier for the rest of the world to pretend it really wasn’t that bad. I mean, how many people still walk around today who have no idea how many deaths these regimes were responsible for?

                    On a separate note, the post-war reconstruction in the Netherlands (and I imagine other European countries) really is a fascinating insight into how much a productive people can achieve. Most of these countries were utterly destroyed, and while they did get enormous aid from the US for rebuilding, the generation who lived through that period (which is basically my grandparents’ generation) became extremely productive and frugal because of it. I think to a large extent the relative ‘success’ of social welfare states in Europe is only possible because they’ve cannibalized the wealth generated in that post-war era. The cultural aspects of that era remind me a lot of how awesome the Americans were who grew up during the Depression. And the loss of aspects of that cultural identity has hurt these countries just as much as you can see over here.

                    1. Don’t have to go to Roman times. There are good sized cities whose only recorded memory is the death count from Mongols piling skulls and making examples of them.
                      Time was decimate was a horror such that the word has lasted as the count has grown from only one in ten to many more.

                      Hitler’s Germany was pretty totalitarian but kept very good records of their kills.

                      It was as it always is the lies of the sympathizers and the silence of the good men doing nothing that help the horror go on. I’ve heard Arthur Schlesinger say that FDR did all he could for the Jews of Europe and I’ve heard Elie Wiesel say his family might have survived given nothing more than knowledge of the true state of affairs broadcast by the BBC and the VOA. Apparently they were offered what might be called the Anne Frank option of hiding with the help of rightous gentiles or of taking to the woods with help from friends. The choice was that rather than imperil others they would live the few remaining months of the war – the allies had landed and Germany was being attacked East and West with months to the end – in concentration camps – but what the allies called concentration camps after the concentration camps of the Boer War and other such – were death camps. Duranty lives among us.

                      IIRC Norway lost the highest percentage of Jews to the Nazi occupation but this was mostly because the Jews stood out one way and another. Many of the Jews in other parts of Europe were newcomers and refugees who didn’t run far enough. The French of course chose to pack The Velodrome d’Hiver with native French jews as the number of French actively supporting the German occupation far exceeded the number in the resistance at all times. France of course welcomed back from Germany the troops responsible for Oradour sur Glane and put them in French uniforms for service in French Indo China then put them in the dock still in French uniforms. Then pretty much turned them loose as was perhaps only fair.

                      Poland of course cannibilized pretty directly the property of the Jews by cannibilizing or at least killing if not eating Jews who returned after the end of the war.

                    2. We had a friend who was of French-Jewish origin. She told us that when the French government received post-war reparations from the Germans for the confiscation of property of the French-Jews taken by the Nazis, the government accepted the payments “on behalf of” their Jewish citizens and dumped it into the general treasury, thus managing to rub salt into still open wounds.

  10. I have no answers – but I’d say rather spend wisely than give up: “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods”

    Kratman is an optimist and today’s children are indeed I suggest in the valley of the shadow of death.

  11. Hmm, interesting.

    My attitude towards death is somewhat antagonistic. Yes, I know what role it plays in the natural world, but if mankind were satisfied with the natural world, we’d never have left the caves behind, tamed fire, or put our footprints on the moon.

    So this relative lack of death is unnatural? Excellent. I’ve never much loved our natural condition, and death of old age is just another nasty aspect of it we haven’t managed to fix yet.

    There are conditions under which I probably wouldn’t want to continue living. (Incurable crippling disability that traps me in pain, etc). But as long as you wake up each morning and want to live, and if by natural health or unnatural technology you have the means to do so, I’d say go for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s day 3 or day 3 trillion. (Also of course, barring scenarios where your immortality comes at the expense of someone else, as in your novel DST)

    Functional immortality probably won’t happen in my generation, but I can hope two or three generations down the line, we will have solved the problem of ageing. (And it does seem to be something as stupid as counters on our gene’s running out and our repair mechanisms shutting off at age 40.)

    As for safety, and attempting to remove all risk – as long as people are making decisions about the amount of risk they want *themselves* to take, I don’t have a problem with it. My main reservation is in meddling with the lives of others and the risks they want to take.

    1. Going into space is a good example. I think most rockets still have only a 95% success rate, where failure is usually some form of blowing up or separation accident, or failing to make orbit.

      If I were offered a chance to do it, I’d still take it. I’m not sure people living longer, or being less familiar with death, will change people’s attitudes towards taking risks doing things *they* want to do, ventures they want to pursue. If anything, it will make them more paranoid about the risks people they care about take.

      I know I’ve often cringed at my brother standing over the edge of a cliff with barely a toehold, looking down the side of a mountain, or the crazy explosive things he built as a kid. (He called me “old grandma”. He knew better than to listen to my fretting).

      1. I don’t think the issue is so much people not being willing to do the things they really want to do, I think it is more that people are not willing to do the everyday things, without a greater surety that they won’t be putting themselves in danger. This, I think, will also translate into people NOT wanting to do some things, because they are used to being more safe, rather than getting comfortable with a certain level of risk in their lives.

  12. There was a great article a few weeks ago about how we won’t ever get off this planet if we keep aiming for zero deaths in space travel. It’s completely preposterous that we try, although not that odd if you consider all the other ways in which people have lost touch with death. And I’m scared for the implications of that with private space companies. Will the public outcry/government outrage be so rough the first time someone who works for a private entity dies up there that it will strangle the infant industry in the crib?

    1. That would be pretty hypocritical. I don’t recall NASA’s early efforts being that safe. Far from it. I think schedule was their primary concern throughout the space race – hence race.

      I would hope they simply ask the astronauts – what risk are *you* willing to take? If the astronauts consent, of their own free will, that’s all that need be said about the matter.

      1. Oh, that’s certainly my hope, and how a rational society would treat space exploration. However, government regulators aren’t always known for their common sense, which makes me slightly pessimistic on my darker days 🙂

      2. However, their early success at keeping astronauts alive played into the image of perfect safety being the goal, which is part of why the Challenger tore everyone up so much and put the space program on hold for so long.

        1. Maybe I’m missing some sarcasm here but in any event this all will bear repeating:

          Grissom, Chaffee and Edward White the Star Road takes a terrible toll.

          “So long as we remember, the crew lives; so long as the crew lives, our future is secure for only when our heroes are forgotten and the light of their sacrifices goes out, will the new Dark Age fall.”

          See also Linda Hamm – nobody told me – and Edward Tuffte – yeah they did right here.

          See also Jerry Pournell wearing his Dr. Pournelle hat on politics including multipart solid fuel boosters with o-rings. Jerry for his sins has heard the Apollo 1 vehicle tapes. Hadn’t a been for NASA

          See also the record in the former Soviet Union for informed consent and free will – close enough to Meryl Streep choosing who will fly the mission.

    2. I was a rocket brat (Dad was an engineer for NASA from Apollo to the early shuttle years) and was convinced I’d live to walk on the moon. Nowadays I wonder: if the colonial powers of Europe could have foreseen that their colonies in the New World would rebel, would they have gone about colonization differently, or not at all? One my worst days, I think expecting the government – any government – to support sending people into space on a permanent basis is like expecting an antebellum plantation owner to hand his slaves fast horses and maps showing the way North. What overlord HELPS his serfs escape?

      1. If you haven’t watched the near-future anime Space Brothers or read the manga, you should. Although it’s a bit more into state-supported space travel than might seem realistic, it’s darned good stuff. (And has more laughs and tears per ep than pretty much any other anime ever.)

  13. Ref the perilous life of a child in the past, in the 60’s & 70’s Peter Capstick was a pro hunter in a couple of southern African countries, and wrote once about how almost all the local men in his crew had anywhere from 8-14 kids; they had that many because, with accidents/disease/animals, they’d be lucky if 3-4 of them lived to adulthood. Sometimes 1-2.

    You mentioned people not understanding the size of this country: first wife’s mother was from Germany, lived in Texas(Dallas area), and wrote to her father back in Germany to keep him caught up with what was going on, where they were going and such. When we married, the mother wrote to him about it and that she was moving to Oklahoma with me. He wrote back that he couldn’t find Oklahoma on the Texas map, and where was that city?

    She sent him a US map and told him OK was the state just north of Texas. When he wrote back his first question was “That WHOLE PLACE is ONE COUNTRY?”

    1. When he wrote back his first question was “That WHOLE PLACE is ONE COUNTRY?”

      It took almost a full day of exposure to post-shooting coverage before I got annoyed enough to look up the European population vs the US’s.

      All of Europe combined is only about twice our size.

      Then I noticed that the talk about deaths was always in the form of top five SHOOTING mass murders….

  14. A couple things. First I think you were totally right in the beginning when you said a big difference is how much the media sensationalizes it now days compared to how it was before. Before it would be reported, but how much would generally be localized. Now every event that can have an impact is sensationalized for agenda. Whether that is ratings, political, etc. While it had been getting worse for a while I think 9/11 became the tipping point. When various parties saw how divorced from things people had become and how much more a tool such things had the potential to be.

    Second, I don’t really think it is how removed we are from death directly. It is much more generalized than that. Death isn’t the only thing that people are reacting to in such a manner. It is more that people are divorced from the consequences of things and are only awakened to them when they can relate directly to them.

    You see people on the cell phone weaving all over the road until they cause an accident and it becomes real to them. People treating kids as if they are a doll to play with till they leave them in their truck bed in the sun and they die, play in parking lots till they are ran over by someone backing out that can’t see them, play in the yard unsupervised and run out into the street then get ran over, etc. People leaving guns around that someone who shouldn’t have access to them can get a hold of them(this most recent event is just the most public). People will step off the curb never noticing they could have been hit by a car. Why when they have the right of way?

    The average person has become so divorced from the consequences so when something does happen they are that more shocked because of it. Then they overreact to it. Right now you see tones of people that now want to say all guns are evil because look at what they let happen. As if there where not a lot off different ways someone could have done to cause the same thing. That isn’t to say there should be no reaction to what happened, but what needs to be measured and not just reacted to. Similar events have happened before(even before Columbine) or narrowly stopped from happening. If people continue to sell our freedoms for some perceived safety(ban all guns as some are yelling for) or security(health care for all in spite of consequences) soon we will not have any left. Again they are not thinking about the consequences.

    1. Ben Franklin said it best: “Those that trade a little liberty for a little safety will have neither.”

      The bureaucrat’s reaction to every possible bad thing is to punish the innocent instead of accepting that the person that did wrong is to blame. That has to stop. If it doesn’t stop, there WILL be war.

  15. And how does this all add to the distance between those who actually do get exposed to death (the soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines off in the wars, and the firemen and police and medical folks here at home) and the masses who are separated so efficiently from it? Every highway patrol officer I’ve ever talked with has seen violent death up close. Obviously the medical professionals deal with death daily. And the kids who have been through the grinder over the past decade-plus in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places all have been there and seen that.

    I don’t have any of those t-shirts so I don’t know firsthand how this exposure to death like this colors ones view of life and society. I know for certain that relatives of mine in the trenches of the medical profession absolutely do see things differently.

    So how does one subset that sees things differently see the masses?

    We have become like the elves who spawn rarely and live unnaturally long “blessed” lives.

    This is an interesting observation. Tolkien’s elves, pretty much immortal but dwindling in numbers, more and more disengaged with the world, even when the great enemy of their past was rising again, being essentially shamed into helping the side of light in the War of the Ring but soon thereafter giving up on Middle Earth, exercising their exit strategy and sailing off into the sunset. Historical elves, knowledgeable and even wise but mercurial and unpredictable, often described as cold hearted, potentially helpful but always very dangerous to any have dealings with. Similar stories across Eurasia and elsewhere about the lesser godlings or the ones who were here before.

    In a couple hundred years after a fall where we aren’t around any more, what stories and legends would be told about those crazy ‘Mercans in the backwater villages of the Phillipines, Vietnam, Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq, or Afghanistan?

  16. I belong to the “Society of them what been shot at”. It DOES have an effect on your life – one that lasts as long as you do. The ability to shoot back is one of the easiest ways of reducing the fear and vulnerability you feel when the bullets are whizzing by. It doesn’t make any difference whether you hit anything or not — just the ability to strike back, however ineffectually, helps relieve the fear.

      1. When I was a CTM (cryptologic technician maintenance) there was a rumor that if we were over run that the Marines who guarded us would shoot us. My thing was that they would have to find me first and then they would have to kill me because I would take them out… and then work on taking out who ever overrun the place. Fortunately for everyone, I spent most of my time in safer places– I was in Panama six months after Just Cause though. 😉

        1. I don’t know if it was policy when you were in, but it was as of about five years ago.

          Some guys I know agreed, basically, “F wasting bullets on you– you’ll attack them, and if we die then they can’t write us up, and if we win they won’t.”

        1. Speed is life, or that’s what the pilots say. (Generally, “sitting around in the open” is not life, although “freezing behind cover” can be a plan.) Making even a stupid decision fast is a way to keep moving, both with brain and body; and that helps keep the other guy working to react faster than you. So fear of freezing up is a legitimate fear.

          Unfortunately, I am pretty much guaranteed to make quick stupid decisions when put under pressure. This has so far been okay for me, but not so good for other people. Somewhere in my mind, I’m looking out for myself first and forgetting other people; and that’s a fairly serious character flaw. (Although my second thoughts often are for other people. If I have enough brain working to have a second thought.) Possibly I was born to be a rabbit.

          1. One of my great regrets in life was the death of one of my neighbors in my old apartment building. She locked herself out, and was sitting waiting in the hall for her roommate to come home. I didn’t know her at all, so was nervous talking to her. I offered her the use of my phone, my chair, and my company, but she said she was okay. So I went back to my place, feeling nervous and weird. Sometime later, she had a heart attack and died. I felt horrible, especially since I then suspected that maybe I’d felt so extremely nervous because I’d noticed something wrong with her without knowing it.

            But my reaction to being nervous was to go away and hole up, not to stick around and be nosy, or check on her periodically. I’m pretty sure some people would have instinctively done the exact opposite.

            My reaction to smelling burning smells in the building or hearing about tornadoes in the neighborhood is to be nosy and officious to strangers in the name of safety, so obviously I’m not just a rabbit.

        2. Don’t think so Sarah– you told us of the attack by a man and stabbing him with a heel– I am sure you will think you are freezing, but your body will react–

  17. My favorite scene in the movie “The Way of the Gun” involves two kidnappers facing off against two not-much-more respectable bodyguards. Both sides are armed with serious combat pistols, they all obviously know how to use them, all combat vets. One of the kidnappers suddenly looks to one side; there is a snack bar full of people, including children, and they are all just sitting there watching. “People, there are GUNS here,” the kidnapper says in exasperation. They just sit there frozen. “Get the f*** OUT,” he screams, and they finally run.

  18. Damn. That crack about the elves tends to ring true.
    Fortunately, we apparently have a vibrant society of dwarves flourishing among the rednecks.

    Go dwarves!

  19. Hm. My mom had four children. I am an only child. I was… 2nd? 3rd? right out the door when my youngest brother was floating in our pool — and I ran across to where the nurse was in my second-youngest brother’s room. (He’d gotten into a neighbor’s pool a couple years earlier, and been in a coma ever since.)

    My older brother, I knew only as a photograph.

    I may need a propeller-beanie embroidered with “MOM” on it, but I think I come by that paranoia honestly…

  20. Death came to my family when my brother was killed in a bicycle-auto accident when he was 14. I was 17 and my other brother was 10. My brother had sneaked out of the house and was riding his bicycle over to a friends house around 11 at night. He had just finished re-painting the bike a dark blue color and hadn’t put the reflectors back on it, and he was wearing brand-new jeans and a new denim jacket, so there was no way for the driver who struck him to even know there was a cyclist in the road. It was a total shock to us, but 40 years ago, therapists weren’t even considered. Death was still a part of life, not liked, but accepted, more or less.

    I am glad that all 3 of my children made it to adulthood.

  21. Death — I’ve known all about it since June 20, 1975, and the release of a certain piece of film ( will provide details). For reference: I was born in 1972. “Do — The — Math.”

    It taught me everything I needed to know about life: It is temporary; it will end; and there is no more “right” to it than there is to anything else — “man has no natural rights of any kind”. It also taught me about Reality: There’s always something bigger than yourself; and the only way to defeat it is to outsmart it. (It also contains a shining example of how the media works: “You say [a certain word] — you have a panic on the 4th of July….”)

    Neutrality — Bullshit. There’s no such thing. Everyone has an opinion, an interest, a side. Sweden only had to deal with the Soviet Bunion on one side, and Germany on the other (the saving grace being: Neither of those idiots understood Mahan’s _The Influence of Sea Power On History_). Portugal — if Franco had honored his obligations, chances are D-Day would have occurred in Portugal.

  22. It is an artifact of American life that until recently pretty much nobody reached adulthood without having at least known somebody who “didn’t make it.” I doubt any of us experienced life without antibiotics. Mike Weatherford, one or two others participating here might be old enough to remember life prior to the Salk vaccine,

    I have discussed this with people just a few years older than I am, and learned that in summer, during polio outbreaks, people didn’t go to public gatherings. Swimming pools closed, movie theatres were shunned, newspapers ran daily box scores counting the polio cases and deaths.

    We also forget that dying in hospital is a relatively new innovation. Prior to the 1950s there wasn’t much point going in there, after all. Diseases like Whooping Cough, Measles, Smallpox, Influenza, Tuberculosis and others regularly took people’s lives and this was accepted, if sadly, by families. These days? Death other than by accident or age-related illness is largely unknown. Idiots eschew vaccinations for fear of highly improbable side effects only because they don’t understand comparable risk.

    While this is a good thing, we owe it to ourselves to learn enough about history to appreciate the blessings brought by our wealth. Don’t know about y’all, but I like vaccinations, air-conditioning, gas (or electric) furnaces and especially I like in-door plumbing. Thank-you, Lord, for putting me on this planet when such things are widely available, and please forgive those too effing ignorant to be properly grateful.

    1. My cousin (who is about Mike’s age) had Polio, and he does not have the use of his legs, but he gets around on his crutches pretty well.

      My Father’s family was pretty lucky, if you consider it that way – out of 12 births, 10 reached adulthood.

  23. I was once given the you didn’t kill it and you wouldn’t eat it if you had to kill it argument from a PETA type. I replied that I thought she was against hunting. I got called the A-word for a change. I always get called the A-word.

    1. Depending on the age and appearance of the PETA girl, that is a potentially dangerous line of argument. I can just see Groucho looking her over, waggling his eyebrows and quipping, “I don’t know; I wouldn’t kill you but would happily eat you.”

    2. Heh. I could have told them, “I HAVE killed it, and I HAVE eaten it, so f$%^ you.”

      My dad’s method of cleaning a rabbit was rather interesting, if odd. He didn’t use a knife, except to cut open the belly. Then he would pick it up by the hind legs and ears, and fling it, causing the entrails to fly out. Next, he would pick at the fur on the hind legs, and it would come loose, so he could skin it.

      I did hate when I had to pick shot out of my teeth while eating squirrel, though.

      1. If I was less polite, I’d describe a method of field dressing deer I saw used once … (and no, its not the one I teach my hunter education students …)

      2. The best method to clean a grouse; step on the wings next to the body, grab the legs and pull. Entrails, back, and usually head and neck, come right out, as well as the skin off the breast. What you have left is a clean breast with two fully feathered wings attached. Twist off the wings and you have nice clean grouse breast.

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