Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012

*Bear with me.  By Monday I should have more time to spend on blogging and writing too.  And if anyone has been trying to reach me via Goldport Press, be patient another couple of weeks.  It’s been… interesting.*

Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012

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.

113 thoughts on “Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012

  1. In teh book _Brith-think, Ameri-think_, ostensibly a humor book, the author posits that one difference between the British and the average American is that “Americans think death is optional.” As a result we fret over foolish things (like gaining a stone while on vacation) and ignore the truly critical stiff (getting rid of slugs and green fly in the garden). Hey, I said it was humor.

    But that stuck with me. “Look, life has a 100% fatality rate. Accept it, take a deep breath, and act like a grownup,” is what I want to say to a lot of people. I’ve watched people die, once in a hospital and once in the plane I was flying. We seem to forget that a) death is part of living and b) there ARE things worse than death, seriously worse than being hit by a car or getting the “its stage Four and is in your pancreas and liver” news.

  2. 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.

    This is the real future-killer. And we’re so arroagant that we imagine that if we Americans don’t go to space, no one ever will. Right now, we’re just drifting along and handing the future colonization of the Solar System over to the Chinese. Our reasons are stupid: we won’t risk even injury to our crews from such things as radiation poisoning and bone density reduction (compare with the attitude toward scurvy in the 16th-17th centuries).

    Our great-great-grandchildren, looking up at a foreign-owned sky, won’t thank us for this.

    1. Agreed. It’s as if, having gotten risk down to manageable levels, as a society we became positively risk phobic and now *everything* is about risk management. And there’s no way to grow and mature without at least *some* risk, which leaves stasis (which can’t be maintained) or regression ( in which case small amounts of risk will be the least of our problems). That is how China was so far ahead of the rest of the world and then consistently lost ground until it was nearly as far behind as it had been ahead. It happens, and it can happen ro us.

    2. I remember when the Challenger accident happened, my Grandpa and my Dad were both very critical of the NASA policy of waiting three years to launch anything to fix the O-rings.

      They would have been willing to fly on a shuttle, even with the O-rings as they were, because it didn’t take long to figure out what went wrong. All that was needed for safety sake was to avoid launching in extremely cold weather!

      Part of the problem is that we, as individuals, might not be risk adverse–or rather, we calculate risk differently from bureaucrats, and are also willing to accept higher levels of risk–but the bureaucrats in charge are hyper-risk-adverse, and don’t want to do anything wrong.

      Never mind that the net result may be that they actually *cause* death as much as they try to prevent it: consider the FDA, who will insist on study after study to ensure that a drug is safe, when people are dying waiting for the drug, and won’t be able to afford said drug afterwards because it becomes too expensive due to R&D costs (which, in turn, prevents research being done on *other* drugs). At what point do we just say “we’ve done a couple of trials, use this at your own risk!” and then collect data on the people who volunteer to use it?

      (Related: I’d like to do away with patents altogether for all sorts of reasons, but having the FDA looming over us, particularly with the power to ban substances at a whim, is completely incompatible with my desire to get rid of patents. In order for a patent-free system to work, we HAVE to get rid of the FDA first. Heck, if I had to choose between getting rid of medical patents and getting rid of the FDA, I’d choose the FDA, because I am convinced that this organization does far more harm than patents do.)

      1. There may have been more to it than that. It was reported that Soviet “trawlers,” usually in the area prior to shuttle launches, cleared out prior to the Challenger launch. I hazily recall an explosion at a Soviet space facility after Challenger, then maybe one in the US, then there were the cut seals found in plant. Not enough to definitively say there was some clandestine tit-for-tat going on, but enough to make you wonder.

        1. Yeah, like every manufacturer of every component in a plane when most of the crashes are from pilot error…..

        2. Perhaps, but I’m not sure if concerns of sabotage justify halting the Space program for three years. It would seem to me that that is the type of effect that the saboteurs would appreciate….

      2. Not just CYA bureaucracy — there is also the Tort Bar, which firmly believes that for any circumstance resulting in serious injury or death there is a deep-pocketed defendant waiting to be found.

        1. This. IMHO the US would be much better off if the number of members of the tort bar was to drop (due to purely natural causes and age attrition) to about a tenth of the current level, if not lower.

          1. “Natural causes?”

            I suppose the inability to live after being shot is natural enough… 😎

            1. In The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight author Jimmy Breslin refers to a gang boss dying of heart failure — it failed when somebody put a knife in it.

      3. If we were to do away with patents, how would small companies or individuals benefit from the time, investment, and work involved in creating something? Or, in the case of medical research (due to the insane costs involved), even big companies?

        1. I have worked for several small companies, some of which have even owned patents. I have yet to see how those patents have done anything other than provide the company bragging rights to investors.

          Indeed, of the several companies I’ve worked with, I think only a couple of them would have been able to handle the costs of actually instigating a patent lawsuit. I consider it fortunate, too, that none of my companies have ever been sued for patent infringement. It’s too easy to create something, or even use something that has been prior art (sometimes even going all the way back to 1958!), that turns out to have been patented–with the only option being to settle out of court, because patent cases are typically *very* expensive.

          That, and the companies I’ve worked for have succeeded mostly because they’ve had itches to scratch, and then have shown that their products touch a nerve in the greater community. Patents are generally an afterthought in the process.

          I don’t have an easy answer for medical research, except that a large portion of the costs involved are driven by FDA regulation, which is heavily invested in CYA bureaucracy. Even in this space, however, patents only provide an illusion of protection: other countries hold our patents hostage, so they could get American medications at a cheaper price.

          1. Patents are a commodity – The idea is everyone will eventually do something that violates someone else’s patent and get caught. If you don’t have a relatively deep and varied pile of patents in your portfolio, you have no chance to discover something of yours that they are violating, and thus have nothing to trade off to make the other sides patent suit go away.

            This is a corporate strategy of certain big electronics manufacturers with the names of certain large southern states in their names that start with “T”: Assemble a humongous yet individually as vague as possible patent portfolio, both internally as a result of R&D expenditures and externally via M&A and outright purchases, and hire lots and lots of “junkyard dog” patent attorneys. Then you can go after anyone that is doing anything in any of your markets to try and get pertpetual licensing payments, which go directly to their bottom line.

            When such a thing that may be covered by non-disclosure agreements may or may not have happened at one of the places I worked, we may or may not have whipped out our patents on round-shaped trash cans and desks with four legs and demanded licensing fees for all their desks and trash receptacles, and amazingly enough the cross-licensing agreement fees all may or may not have cancelled out and in the end we didn’t have to pay anything except to our patent attorneys.

            1. There’s apparently a guy who files a lawsuit against anyone who uses the word “mirror” in the name of their video game, based on some obscure, failed title that he created decades ago.

          2. So, in other words, don’t try to create something that will be crazy popular, and only go for the niche markets that everyone else doesn’t care about. Got it.

            How about when it IS something that would be highly popular? When there is NO recourse against a company who blatantly took your design and sunk more resources into producing it than you would be able to, so they took all your business away?

            1. First, everything, even crazy popular things, are to one degree or another, “niche” things. There’s no getting around that, short of creating A Company that Makes Everything.

              Secondly, there IS ALWAYS recourse against a company blatantly taking my design: at a minimum, I have to provide better products, customer service, and improvements than anyone trying to copy me. I don’t know what to do about the issue of someone who could sink more resources into such an endeavor than I can, because as far as I can see, patents aren’t sufficient to keep me from being creamed. Indeed, patents are merely yet another weapon that can be used to cream me.

              Two examples come to mind: Farnsworth and his TVs vs RCA, and Kearns and his intermittent wiper blades vs Ford. In both of these cases, the individuals won their patent cases, but they still lost the war.

              Incidentally, I work for a software company that’s developed a new product that will be taking customers away from the old available software systems. At a recent conference, our booth was the most popular one there, because everyone is irked by the old software, the lack of customer service, and the quirky price plans. There’s nothing that I’m aware of that should be patented, so our competitors can copy what we do…but it can easily be asked, why didn’t they implement these features in the first place? Particularly when customers have been asking for some of these things for years!

              Indeed, this company came into being because the software was initially developed in-house, to satisfy needs that simply weren’t met by other software systems.

        2. The one patent case I remember a little guy winning was intermittent windshield wipers. The first automaker went to court and claimed intermittent wiping was nothing more then an extension of existing technology. The next question was: “Then, why didn’t you market them until AFTER he patented them and tried to sell you the technology?” Won a lawsuit against Ford and Chrysler; missed filing deadlines against other automakers.

          1. It is my understanding that he won the lawsuits, but it destroyed him financially and he sacrificed his marriage in the process. As such, it doesn’t give me much confidence in the claim that the patent process protects the little people….

      4. To what degree is the problem created – or at least highly exacerbated – by the fact that the bureacrats know that if they *aren’t* risk-averse, and something bad happens, there will be lawsuits where they (or the organization they represent) are held negligent for underestimating the severity of a known risk?

        1. This is a big reason why the FDA requires test after test after test. You never see headlines “FDA Causes Millions to Die While Waiting For Drug to Get Out of Testing” but you occasionally see a headline “Millions Die from FDA Approved Drug and It’s All the FDA’s Fault”.

          It’s also why Child Protective Service bureaucracies have terrible powers for taking children away from parents. You seldom get headlines “CPS Unjustly Takes Away Child” but you do get “CPS Looked Other Way in Abuse Case and Child Died”. Never mind that it’s not Government’s role to make sure that we’re perfectly safe, and furthermore, if a child is neglected or outright dies, it’s ALWAYS the caretaker’s fault, and only marginally the Bureaucrat’s fault (who, rightly so, should have only limited tools to protect children, because we need to protect innocent parents as well).

          Both problems (and many more like it) are the result of the American Public (admittedly, at the behest of the Media for various reasons) expecting our Bureaucracies to make us perfectly safe, and in the process, removes any accountability from patients and doctors and pharmaceutical companies (for drugs) and parenting (for children), among other things, in doing the right things.

          1. I have seen both of the stories you say I seldom see, but (a) you’re right that they are more rare, and (b) they tend to really only resonate in particular communities rather than in society at large.

            I would agree that the fault lies in the american public’s expectations of *pure safety*; the bureaucracy’s harmful response to those expectations is natural and predictable.

          2. There’s a theory of “strict liability” that says you’re responsible even if the buy misused the product. There’s also the (mostly European) theory of having to prove something new is safe under all conditions before it can be used – intended, practically, to preserve old technology against disruptive new ideas.
            Both memes are part of the false idea that everything should, and can, be made totally safe.

    3. “Our great-great-grandchildren, looking up at a foreign-owned sky, won’t thank us for this.”

      I was born before the moon landing. (Granted, I went back to sleep before it happened when my parents picked me out my cradle and put me in front of the TV.)

      That time frame is plenty of time for lots of reversals.

    4. And we won’t even allow those people who are ready to take the big risks which might create something big to take those risks. They will be kept safe even if it means keeping them in straitjackets most of their lives. Of course you’ll get the ones who will go and kill themselves anyway taking stupid non-productive risks to get the adrenaline high and look cool, but since those are small personal risks that mostly happen out of the public eye they are either allowed, or if not really still in most cases impossible to prevent anyway, people are after all very creative (and when somebody dies that way it’s lawsuit time because it wasn’t prevented in some other way than teaching the lunkhead to not do it). But big and public – no way no how, can’t let them do that, it would be too traumatic to the poor public if something bad happened.

  3. What concerns me is that America, as a nation, no longer admires self-sacrifice. Do we teach our children that there are concepts, ideas, movements that are greater than our own individual lives? Do we encourage boys to admire people like Gaius Mucius Scaevola? We once did. I don’t think we should glorify violence, but I think we have reached a point where we – generally speaking – will do anything to preserve life for the sake of life rather than accept that sometimes we must sacrifice.

    I had a kid in a class for which I was a TA totally LOL when the professor was explaining about the 300 Spartans (and yes, despite that popular but silly movie, there are still people who have never heard of the 300 Spartans). When the professor asked him what was so funny, the kid replied in essence, “What they did was stupid. Persia was an advanced empire. Sparta would have been better if they’d gone with the Persians.” And others AGREED!!

    Even my professor – a liberal individual – was speechless. I actually unprofessionally facepalmed. But that is where we are going. We will sell out to the most “forward-thinking” competitor because advancement.

    1. I can construct an argument that Britain would have been far better off in 1941-2 to have negotiated a truce and alliance with Germany, one which guaranteed their independence, recognized their authority over the British interests in North America, Africa and Asia. They could have used the resultant peace to develop their island’s defenses and build up their military throughout the world.

      They could even have offered material support for Germany’s war against the USSR, potentially establishing themselves to knife the Nazis in the back after Germany had seriously degraded the Soviet military. The fact that England’s royal line would have created sufficient pretext for restoring a Kaiser.

      They would have been better off, but they chose to be nobler.

      The American Cincinnatus would be considered a doofus by today’s kids for having renounced power (especially when you consider the villainy of those waiting to succeed him.)

      1. I think what surprised me about the student’s response was not that Sparta would have been better off (after all, the student was technically correct that Persia was the more advanced culture), but that we should eschew our liberty in order to be “better off” and, by extension, that anybody willing to die for those liberties was stupid. My generation is replete with people who think that luxury and comfort are the nobler achievements over independence – that is what I found concerning.

        1. Edited to add:
          “The American Cincinnatus would be considered a doofus by today’s kids for having renounced power (especially when you consider the villainy of those waiting to succeed him.)”

          Seriously. People today would probably have George Washington seize the supreme power of the state and create a beneficent dictatorship rather than retire to Mount Vernon. Oh . . . wait. I forgot that Washington is now out of favor because he owned slaves. Nevermind. Silly me.

        2. Now that I think about it, would *we* have been better off, had Greece fallen to the Persian Empire? Granted, at the time, that the Empire was more advanced than Greece…but it would seem to me that Greek independence proved to be greater for future advancement than Persian culture, however advanced it was at the time.

          1. A victorious Persian empire might have been in better position to crush Islam, rather than adopt it.

            1. In which case they might have overwhelmed the Byzantines rather than fighting to a standstill that allowed the Arabs (spun off by the Byzantines) to come in in the late 600s (using traditional Muslim history and not more recent research). Which could have a WHOLE lot of interesting complications, including an empire that extended farther East, along with the Nestorian Christian population, and that blocked the Mongols from moving as far south, deflecting them north and west much father into Europe far sooner than actually happened.

              1. Do the Byzantines even exist in a Europe in which the Greeks were absorbed into Persia? That would certainly indicate an impediment to Rome’s success … which leaves Carthage undemolished.

                1. “Do the Byzantines even exist . . .” Probably not, or at least in a very different form, given how Rome developed over time. I was just thinking of the “stronger Persia vs Islam” bit rather than going all the way back.

                  It would mean no more Hanukkah, maybe, without the legacy of Alexander . . . Eh, I think I’ll let the Great Author write that alt-hist rather than messing with it myself. I’ve got enough to do.

              2. The Romans were fighting the Persians before the Byzantines were there. If Persia had remained extended to the Adriatic as per Alexandrian Persia, the decider in things like the Rome v Carthage wars would have been who could ally with the Persians.

                The buffer of all those Greek chunks (including Egypt) between young Rome and the eastern Parthian Empire was what allowed Rome to grow. If the border was next door, some Persian local boss would have likely rowed on over and stomped this uppity Romulus-Remus city state.

                1. Especially if the Greek Colonies in Italy saw Persia as their over-lord or at least were friendly enough with Persia to call on Persia’s aid.

            2. Persia conqering Greece probably wouldn’t have helped Persia stop Islam.

              Right before the Islamic conquest, Persia was hit by a double-whammy. First was an epidemic of some sort that swept through the Sassanid Persian Empire. It killed off a good-sized chunk of the population, greatly weakening the empire. Second was a civil war over the succession, which iirc was instigated when the previous ruler died during the epidemic. So there were two big events, one after the other, that greatly weakened the empire. And just as the empire was starting to get its act back together, the Arabs attacked.

              Persia was at about the weakest state that an empire can find itself in. It’s questionable whether anything could have stopped the collapse.

            3. Perhaps, but the big questions in my mind are, “If Persia had succeeded in taking over Greece, would we have the Scientific Method we have today?” and “Would we have had the seeds of freedom and republican government?”

              If Persia would have absorbed Greek values and culture, perhaps…but I’m not sure that they would have. But then, I have no idea why Rome absorbed so much of Greek culture after conquering them…

    2. Isn’t that pretty much saying that Africans should have been happy to go to the Americas as slaves?

      Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

    3. Exactly. Instead of teaching people only to “live well”, we should also be teaching, by historical example, to “die well”. Another old value no longer valued.

  4. It has political consequences. One study found that if you reminded people they would die, their views took a sharp conservative terms.

    Of course, SJWs spin this as “defense mechanisms” and “conservatism is fear of death” instead of “leftism is delusions of immortality.”

  5. How odd, as a 40 year old American I actually have more experience with final moments than is usual (except for those in professions where it I’d common) but hadn’t really thought of it.

    My mom is an RN so took care of Grandma in our home during Grandma’s final days. I was a high school senior and went to kiss Grandma goodbye before school and she had passed in the intervening half hour or so since the last person had checked on her. Even then, *we* didn’t prepare the body, I wonder if there are regulations that “encourage” allowing the mortuary to do it. Probably just a matter of convenience and letting the people with practice do it.
    Of course I stayed with John as he was dying (made possible by my in-laws taking the kids) even then I missed one of the last chances to talk to him because I *had* to eat and they didn’t call me. At the end his parents, best friend, our pastor, and myself were there when they turned off life support. I told him I had promised to let him go if it got that bad (he had no functioning lung tissue left) and that I would keep my promise. He was gone immediately. Once again, we didn’t prepare the body, so I guess as Americans having professionals do it *is* part of our ritual.

    I apologize for the length of the post, I can only hope that brevity is not indeed the soul of wit.

    1. I apologize for the length of the post, I can only hope that brevity is not indeed the soul of wit.

      Heh. If you look back at some of the other comments, this one is not that long at all.

      As to the meat of your comment – we had signed off to bring my father home for “home hospice” care, and they had gotten the bed set up and him in it. We were talking in the kitchen because he was asleep, and he passed away while we were talking. My family, though, is a little odd about such things. We acknowledged the fact, contacted the appropriate people, and went on talking in the kitchen. We did go individually to the living room to say our goodbyes, but didn’t make a big deal out of it.

      Then again, after one relative’s visitation, while we were gathered at a cousin’s house, four or five of us decided to go fishing.

    2. The professionals we have preparing bodies have to start somewhere. My aunt Mary was given up for adoption because my grandmother couldn’t afford to keep her. My father tracked her down shortly before he died.

      The family that adopted her ran a funeral home, and she was washing bodies from the age of 6, if not earlier.

    3. I believe embalming is required by law in many U.S. States, which would explain why families generally leave it to the professionals.

      1. I’m led to believe that embalming is not required nearly as widely as many think. The local Jewish burial society would be able to give the low-down on applicable laws in any given region.

  6. Neither I nor my brother were at my father’s side when he passed this year. My brother was in a plane somewhere over Washington D.C. in the midst of a hurried red eye flight to make it to PA from California so he could be there and I was laid out flat on my back with the stomach flu I probably picked up during the two long stretches in the ER we endured to see what was going on with the terrible pains Dad was having in his legs. (Turned out to be acute leukemia that came on with blinding suddenness.) My tower of a sister-in-law did us the immense kindness of identifying his body before cremation, for which I am grateful because I don’t know if I could have handled it. The last time I saw my father alive he was incoherent and struggling against everything holding him down in the hospital bed. The next day I got sick and two days later he was gone.

    All that being said I have no regrets, I’d been living here with my parents and helping them out, and I’d said everything that needed saying to my father in terms of how much I loved him.*

    Still, the absence is palpable. He was the heart of this house and that’s gone still. The light of this house is fading, as my mom’s mind slips farther and farther away into dementia. Seems my role is to ease everything to a close and put the period at the end of the story.

    Sorry to ramble, but it was a very pertinent post and I felt moved to bear witness.

    * (Although one thing I’m dealing with is we never talked about “after”. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve had to figure out on the fly. Lesson learned: get your affairs in order and let your loved ones know what the plan is. That includes will, finances, and these days you should have someplace where somebody trusted can get your passwords.)

    1. Years ago our family was traveling home from someplace and Dad got this idea to take a detour to visit his mother. It was a nice visit and shortly after we got home we received the word that she had passed away.

      A year ago last September, my sister Ruth visited Mom in the nursing home just after Mom’s birthday. Mom surprisingly seemed to know who Ruth was and Ruth had a better visit than she expected. Two weeks later Mom passed away.

      Personally, I’m sorry that I had been slacking off visiting Mom because the last I saw her, she was in no shape to respond to anybody. [Sad Smile]

    2. I wouldn’t call this a regret, because it couldn’t be helped, but I was learning about Heinlein through Alexei Panshin’s website of collected works. Alexei’s relationship with Heinlein was somewhat toxic, but even though Alexei recognized flaws in Heinlein’s personality and works, Alexei still deeply admired Heinlein.

      Up to this point, the only Heinlein work I was aware of was “The Cat Who Walked Through Walls”, and reading it didn’t inspire me to search out his other works.

      In any case, I was developing an interest in Heinlein, both his works and himself as a person, and I wanted to talk to my Dad about it. He died, perhaps a month or few before I would have been comfortable bringing it up.

      Since then, I’ve been gradually reading his works, starting with his Juveniles; I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to discover that some of the short stories I remember from my youth were written by Heinlein. (Particularly “And He Built a Crooked House”.)

      1. I remember Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage. The plot of which wound its way between the heroine voting for something (it won) and voting against something else (it still won).

        And for all her spiel about why she changed, it was nevertheless clear why the issue had to win despite her. Because if it had lost, the onus would have been on her side to figure out what to do instead.

        Mind you, the issue was “what to do with a planet that, when we (without permission) dumped our adolescents on it as a survival test, killed a lot of them”, so she could have said, We live ’em alone because being tougher than we anticipated is not a crime on their part. But that would still have put too much on her to decide.

        1. I haven’t yet read Rite of Passage, but I’ve heard that it reads like one of Heinlein’s Juveniles, so I suspect that I’ll like it.

          On the other hand, it’s also my understanding that it was written, in part, as a protest against Heinlein’s politics (which I sortof agree with, actually, so I might disagree with the political conclusions)…

          At the same time, since I became aware of Heinlein through reading about Alexei’s interactions with him, I really ought to read that story!

          1. I recall having read Rite of Passage — but that is the extent of what I recall about it. Frankly, The Thurb Revolution left more of an impression.

          1. If I remember right, the issue was that the Wise and Good people of the ship discovered that the people on the planet (who had about a 19th century tech level) were refusing to control their population!!! Our Heroine saw families with four or more children!!!

            And the people on the planet were killing their uninvited guests because they knew damn well what the hyper-tech busybodies would do as soon as they found out. Maybe if they killed all the witnesses…

  7. Being a country kid, I helped my dad doctor cattle, kill chickens for dinner, and kill snakes after eggs and varmints after chickens. We also went hunting, deer, squirrel, and raccoon. I saw my grandparents go into the hospital and not come out alive.

    My life experience taught me that death was part of life. I have done by best to pass that attitude on to my children, and now my grandchildren.

    It also helped that I read a lot of books that brought up exploring caused death. The one that really sticks out is Louis L’Amour and his westerns.

    Life is not guaranteed, but death is not something to be afraid of. My religious beliefs encourage this attitude, although it is not the sole source of it.

    1. I am the only child of two youngest children who married late. Family has been dying my whole life. Mother’s mother was the only one of my grandparents left when I was young, and died before I hit my teens, one of the few who was a bit younger in the families than me, a cousin, drowned when he was nine and I was about ten or so, his father, my maternal uncle died a few years later, the older son of that family died in an accident before I was twenty, and after that it was an uncle and an aunt one after another, my mother when I was 26, my father was the last one a couple of years ago at the age of 90. I have three cousins from father’s side left, and the youngest is almost ten years older than I am.

      Pretty used to the idea that people die. :/

  8. “we won’t risk going to space, we won’t risk doing anything that might involve the loss of human lives”…Part of it is the risk thing, but a big part of it is that many people are now so narcissistic that they have no interest in exploring anything outside of themselves.

    There is an an old science-fiction story…(Ambition,” William Bade, 1952) in which a scientist working on space travel finds that he has somehow been brought by time-travel to an era hundreds of years in the future. He is thrilled, because he assumes that the people of the future will have developed space travel to a high degree, and that he will actually be able to fulfill his dream of journeying to the planets.

    And he finds that the future civilization indeed has created vehicles that would easily be capable of such exploration…but they are used only as super-airliners. Nobody has any interest in traveling into space, indeed, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. A sympathetic woman explains to the protagonist that “this is the Age of Man. We are terribly interested in what can be done with people. Our scientists…are studying human rather than nuclear reactions.” There appears to be no thirst for adventure in a form likely to be recognized by a 20th-century man. (Indeed, it seems that the reason the future people chose the protagonist as a research subject is that they found his interest in going to the moon and beyond to be so bizarre as to be worthy of psychological investigation.) The story’s subtitle is:

    “To the men of the future, the scientific goals of today were as incomprehensible as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!”

    1. Wow, pretty prescient given how things have gone. Didn’t take nearly as long as the author had thought though.

  9. Funeral customs in the US vary even within the same state, so the following is not representative of the entire nation:

    My great-grandfather built caskets as needed and my grandmother lined them. That would span the beginning of the 20th Century for at least a couple of decades.

    My grandfathers and my father helped dig graves. This was a job of all the men in the community. This continued through the 1940s and maybe into the 1950s. The last I saw dug this way was early 1970s, and was done at a last request of the deceased, who wanted to be buried the old fashioned way.

    The transmission from homemade to store-bought caskets happened in my grandparent’s lives. So did the practice of funeral vaults. With store-bought caskets, the shipping case was used as an inner form to make a hollow space as the men mixed and poured concrete at the graveside. After the funeral, the top was nailed shut, and concrete poured on top. This wasn’t just to keep the casket intact. Subsidence was a problem in some places, and this prevented it.

    Bodies were prepared at home up into the 20th Century. At one time embalming was also done in the home. Bodies lay in state at the home, becoming rare into the 1970s. My wife and I remember it; the kids have never seen it. This perhaps explains why mortuaries are sometimes called Funeral Homes and Funeral Parlors. Note that hardware stores often offered embalming, as well as casket sales.

    Embalming became common in my parent’s lifetime, the purpose more to allow viewing of the body than long-term preservation. Prior to embalming, burials were typically next-day events. Hence my great-grandfather and grandmother often worked through the night to have a casket ready by morning.

    From this un-scientific survey, the transition from home preparation of the body to the mortuary handling all aspects took place in just three generations. The reason why may have been more convenience than dispersed family, since often the entire community took part in the preparations. Note that I come from a rural environment, which is considerably different from urban.

    1. Several years ago, I attended the funeral of one of my wife’s cousins, who was buried in a cemetery of a tiny town just south of the Utah border. At the end of the service, several of us filled in the grave, and then put the sod over it.

      I had no idea that you could do that!

      A couple of years later, I had to bury a son who had died shortly after he was born from prenatal adult onset cystic kidneys. (Yes, it was kindof weird.) One of the factors in choosing to bury him in the same cemetery was the fact that I had the opportunity to dig out the grave, and then fill it in again. We had the option to dress him for burial as well, but we were advised against it, since it had been a month since he had died, and infant babies (even ones that have been embalmed) don’t hold up well over time.

      The funeral home family (who also happened to be cousins of my wife) had some interesting stories of different funerals in the area. Apparently, in the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona area, one has a lot more…flexibility…in how one can run a funeral, than in the various cities. (It’s my understanding that any funeral services involving cannons and/or explosives are generally discouraged in any cemetery in the Salt Lake or Utah valleys, for example…)

      1. I have a friend who is trying to spin up a slightly eco-crunchy cemetery with options for cremation, vertical burial with trees, etc. He is seriously looking in to a cremation at sea option. Viking funeral for the win!

        My father’s ashes are disposed around the largest tree in the Olympic National Forest. You get a permit from the rangers ahead of time, and it was no trouble. We drove out and scattered him, took a picture for the relatives who couldn’t be there, and went on our way.

        I know of another person whose ashes were made part of a cannon salute 😉 *everything* is better with explosives. Except maybe souffle’.

        1. John’s ashes are buried with his older brother, which means he will be buried with his parents when they pass. That works for me since I don’t much care what happens to my bits when I don’t need them anymore, but my in-laws did ask me if I was okay with it. It’s a lot harder for my in-laws since he was the second of three adult sons they lost and he was named for his dad so the stone has my f-i-l’s name he has to see whenever he visits.

      2. With the embalming, I suppose graves in your country are left intact for a long time? In Finland we now need to pay every 30 years or so for the next 30 years or the grave site will be reused. I think they dig what was down there up before the next burial and take out what human remains will be found, but since embalming isn’t used here there rarely is much left. No idea what might be done with the bones that maybe are, but in the 90’s I knew a young man who had a human skull on his bookcase he had found from a pile of dirt on the outskirts of some cemetery (totally illegal, btw, taking it would have counted as desecration even if the skull was no longer in its grave. I still sometimes wonder if I should have ratted of that to authorities, but the guy was an ODD who probably had never really thought it through, and seemed to treat the skull with dignity so I didn’t). And smaller bones and pieces of human bones are not that uncommon a find from piles where the earth dug out from a grave site is waiting to be reused.

        I think my mother’s grave’s time is up next year and I will need to pay for the next decades.

        And my condolences for your loss.

        1. The cemetery in the State of Washington where my parents are buried sells burial plots on a “perpetual care” basis – i.e. minimum-labor lawn maintenance paid for from future sales of unused plots and perhaps some investment income from memorial trusts. I think that’s fairly typical. Might have to re-use plots in a century or so, but most of our towns aren’t old enough to face that problem.

          1. The fact is there is plenty of land where my mother is buried, the new cemetery of that town is in the middle of nowhere and there is forest all around, and I think at least some of that land already belongs to the church. Same with most of places in Finland, Helsinki is the only city where the parishes might be having some problems with getting the land. But somebody decided to be provident a few decades ago. I wish they had at least chosen a bit longer period of time until you have to pay or it gets reused than every 30 years or so.

  10. There is one other factor in the “transition” – and it is the major one. It is the rent-seeking by the entire “death industry.”

    In most States, you cannot get away for less than several thousand dollars in “final expenses.” The statutes and regulations do not allow you to do anything but go through a licensed mortuary, with approved coffins, vaults, etc. With an absolutely huge profit margin built in at every stage.

    This is why I tell anyone that asks me about providing for their final day on the Earth that they really, really want to either set aside a good chunk for funeral expenses (or take out one of the insurance policies for same), and arrange all of the details, with an absolutely binding contract, beforehand if they can stand to do so. Yes, mortuary people are, as a class, great salespeople, on a par with realtors and luxury car salespeople. It’s not quite unethical, but I have tangled with them several times, unfortunately, to keep the bill down to reasonable levels (in accordance with my instructions from the relative that just died).

    1. The original purpose of life insurance was to cover your funeral expenses.

      I know the Institute for Justice pursued a case where monks were told they couldn’t sell coffins, not be licensed as morticians.

    2. I’m a little torn on this. Part of the cost is regulation, I swear that half the cost of John’s funeral was some sort of ‘retrieval’ fee for getting the body from the hospital and I suspect that there’s a lot of cronyism involved in that. At the same time, there’s a good reason for suspecting that an unregulated muslim family cemetary would contain an unusual number of girls who had ‘gone to visit relatives in the old country’s. There has to be a reasonable balance, but I have no idea what it would be.

      1. Here’s one possibility: all cemeteries must be registered as such and provide records of all persons buried there. Every six months or so, someone comes around with ground-penetrating radar and makes sure that the number of people in the ground matches the number in the records. If not, then all bodies buried over the past six months must be exhumed and checked.

    3. While state legislation makes for huge YMMV, you might want to double check. For instance, store-bought caskets aren’t mandatory. You can buy them elsewhere or, as my father and I discussed, build your own (our spouses quite vocally squelched that plan). Even the casket may not be required by law, though cemeteries may insist on that and burial vaults, the latter to prevent ground subsidence. I’m not even sure if embalming is mandatory anywhere in the US.

      Depending on your state, you may not even have to use a cemetery I know of a man who had his wife and later himself buried in his front yard, slab, monument, and all.

      FWIW, I heard a mortician say that once you get above the basic level of funeral vault, none functions any better than another. The reason is that it’s the internal steel liner that really makes the difference, and above basic level they are all the same.

      1. I shook my head in amused wonder when I learned all the elaborate precautions that have to be taken in many jurisdictions to keep the human dust from returning to the literal dust. For environmental and groundwater protection reasons, natch.

        1. True, some are obsessed with preservation of the body, but having seen both cracked slabs and outright rectangular holes of graves without burial vaults, there’s practical reasons.

    4. My parents went through the Monarch Society for their handling and burial. They used to offer prepaid plans that took care of everything, but they no longer did when I looked into one for myself.

  11. I was there when my father died, along with his entire immediate family. It was the fourth time in less than three weeks they doubted he’d make it through the day. (Very very sick from cancer — he went to his chemotherapy trial, the doctor said he was not only too sick to get his dose, he was so sick he needed to go to the hospital *right* *away* (premature alarm #1.) So they stabilized him in the hospital, sent him home with the caution that he wasn’t going to last long. He was home over Thanksgiving, with a hospital bed and home health care aides to help for a couple hours a day, and us (plus his brother flew in to help) rotating who was sleeping in the room with him. He had an episode of *something* – blood infection, I think, though how it happened I don’t know – and went back to the hospital (premature alarm #2), in an ambulette rather than an ambulance because he put himself on DNR. They didn’t dare give him morphine for the pain when he was in the hospital because his blood pressure was too low, but he pulled through and recovered enough to get painkillers which actually helped again. While in the hospital the transition from patches to pills and IV got a little clumsy and because he was on massive doses of painkillers this almost killed him (premature alarm #3.) Then the next day the blood infection got him. And it was terrible but it was also such a relief. He’d been in a lot of pain for months but had been hiding it, and over the course of two weeks and change it got a lot worse AND he was bedridden AND having difficulty focusing so lack of distractions made the pain subjectively worse.

    In any case, Dad’s death happened in the hospital and his entire immediate family was there. I don’t remember how we were all at the hospital at the time – I know my sister from the opposite coast was in the city because of premature alarm #3, but I don’t remember whether the hospital called us and told us to come say goodbye or if we were already in the hospital for various reasons. I *do* remember we were told he was dying right now and all clustered around to say goodbye and tell him we loved him. The nurse who told us – I think she poked her head in while we were already there, but I’m not sure – said she was calling the doctor; by the time the doctor got there he’d already been gone for ten minutes (both our perception and what the doctor told us.) The doctor apologized for not having arrived in time. We were polite enough not to ask “Who wanted you?” but ten minutes off the death certificate didn’t matter to us, and the absence of strangers at our father’s deathbed *did* (though less than the presence of all the family; I’m grateful we had that blessing.)

  12. 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.

    This is not, of course, the first time someone has mentioned such a thing. I’ve read more than one story which had a species who were very long-lived being extremely risk-averse.

  13. 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.”)

    It’s occurred to me the Star Trek Classic episode, “A Taste of Armageddon” touches on this. Two planets had been at war for centuries, and it had been so sanitized that no one felt any particular need to bring it to a halt. It was all waged in cyberspace, and if the dice showed you had been killed, you reported to a disintegration chamber for a quick, clean, painless death.
    Captain Kirk destroys the Game Master computer, which means the other side will start waging real war with real weapons as soon as they notice. War will become messy, painful, and very, very unpleasant. Anxious to avoid that, the government of the planet accepts Kirk’s offer of the services of an ambassador which they just happen to have on board.

    The point is, the rules of engagement had made the war too nice, and it took the threat of war becoming *nasty* to bring it to an end.

    1. “We’re not going to kill… today”

      Also had a crewmember in a red shirt beam down and NOT get killed… but it was a woman, and for women blue was the unlucky color.

    2. Ah, yes. The quitiessential “Kirk is a cultural imperialist” episode. Never mind that that’s what he was *sent out there for.*

      The reason he had an ambassador aboard was that the Federation had decided to intercede. A war that had lasted *centuries*?! SURELY something could be done to end the horrible waste of life!

      Then they got there, and found out *why* the war had been going on all this time…

  14. A quick distinguo, Ma’am:

    The Swedes didn’t even have Spain next door ready to march in if they went in with the allies.

    The Swedes were actually surrounded by Axis-occupied territory: Norway to the north and west, Finland to the east, Denmark and Germany itself across the Baltic.

    Spain, on the other hand, was not even an Axis power, was not a belligerent, and Franco was not stupid enough to try to invade anybody, given the condition of his own country after three years of civil war.

    Moreover, I haven’t heard much about the Swedes being ‘sainted’ for their neutrality. Many historians and WWII buffs have sharply criticized them for their complicity with the Nazis, and especially for supplying Germany with 75 percent of its iron ore after the outbreak of war. The only people I know of who praise Sweden for being neutral are airhead Leftists talking about the Cold War, who think it was brave and admirable of the Swedes not to take sides against the sainted Soviets.

  15. How can we not be (as a society) familiar with death when we have millions of abortions done since Roe v Wade?

    1. Roe v Wade is not about death, it is about a woman’s freedom to exercise autonomy over her own body, and her access to critical health care to remove unwanted growths.

      Also: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia, 2+2=5, and the dog went to live on a farm.

    2. Because the reality of those being murder is hidden even from those who have them. Which is why the videos shocked so many people. But they’ll forget. they always do.

      1. *sigh* Yes. The whole thing is founded on pretending there is no one there to die.

        Tangentially, some of them add really surreal notes by apparently not being able to tell the difference between “organism” and “adult.” There’s this daft graphics meme going around about how you wouldn’t call an acorn an oak tree, and this-that-and-the-other, so you shouldn’t call a fetus a human being. And I’ve run into people who try the “Suppose I grant your premise for the sake of argument” approach and then do things like compare abortion to evicting a tenant, as if they are under the impression that everyone will overlook the “child” part. (It’s also not really encouraged to evict people by killing them, but anyway….)

        1. I have seen the “you wouldn’t call an acorn an oak tree” argument before; my response was, and still is, “So, you’re telling me that even if oak trees are on the Endangered Species list, it would be fine and dandy to wantonly destroy acorns without any thought?”

          As another example: apples are so common that we seldom give their seeds second thought. BUT if apple trees became rare, you can bet your bossoms that we’d be carefully removing each and every seed found in each and every apple, and carefully nurture it to become the tree it is meant to be! (Trees aren’t human, though, so we aren’t nearly as morally concerned about each and every tree we throw away when we are done eating the surrounding fruit, and these trees are plentiful enough that we don’t have to try to save the 180 or so trees that are found in the 36 apples my family eats every week…)

          1. There is, in fact, a centuries old riddle — a cherry without a stone, a bird without a bone — to which the answers are a cherry blossom, and an egg.

        2. You try to evict a tenant into lethal conditions, and you will quickly discover how limited your right to evict is.

          You try to evict a tenant by chopping him to pieces and throwing him out the window, and you will REALLY discover it.

    3. I think PP and other abortion clinics try to sanitize the abortion for the mother as much as possible – little contact, little chance of perception that “this” was a baby is allowed.

  16. People in the U.S. forget that the notion of the death of a child while the parents are still alive is a rare and special tragedy only dates to WWII, when the production of antibiotics in ton lots for the military led to a drastic reduction in infant and child mortality. Many diseases children used to die like flies from are nowadays scarcely remembered (which raises its own problems; a related one is people not having their children vaccinated, because who ever heard of a child getting whooping cough these days?) Unfortunately, with rising antibiotic resistance in various microoganisms, and the difficulty of getting new antibiotics, such diseases may make an unwelcome comeback.

    1. Yes – The view I’ve actually heard espoused by Moms that they don’t need to vaccinate their fine brattage againts bacterial threats and risk those eeeevull vaccination voodoo curses as they can just get antibiotics to treat any infection has run up against that darn natural selecting thingee working on the bacteria, yielding bacteria that are resistant to lots of standard antibiotics. It also hoses herd immunity for everyone else.

      We’re just lucky the bubonic plague or cholera or some other historically horrific bacterium are still somewhat rare in the modern first world and thus is not extant in enough underdosed yutes to develop a resistant strain. Yet.

      1. The real stunning ones are the ones who want their kids to catch it naturally. I can see balancing the risks of the vaccination (never zero) against the risk of the disease times the odds of getting it. But intentionally infecting the kid with the wild variety. . . .

        1. That one boggles me, too. My mother made sure I (and sister) got every vaccination that was recommended. And she recalls “when the whole town lined up for the polio vaccine.” Even so, coverage isn’t perfect and not all “childhood diseases” had vaccines and I wound up with one or two. I am not a fan of needles, but I would have been thrilled with having a needle stick or two in place of those (rather minor, for what they were) bouts of illness – and that was only a couple, in a modern setting, of a mild case, which left no scars or disabilities. In other words: I was damn lucky.

          1. My f-i-l had polio as a young child. I used to semi-joke that he would have the kids taken away from us if we didn’t get them inoculated. A poster on another blog related being told by an older person of how everyone knew when school got out for summer that someone wouldn’t survive to start school next year because of polio. People my age have no real concept of the horrors of a real epidemic, so I guess it’s hardly surprising that even younger parents can’t even conceive of such a thing.

            1. I have talked with people but a couple years older than I about the way a Polio scare in Summer would close swimming pools and shut-down movie theatres (ahem — air-conditioned movie theatres) for fear of risking the disease. Few people today realize the vast array of epidemic disease — Polio, TB, Measles, Smallpox, Whooping Cough, etc. — imperiled the lives of people, all brushed aside in a blink of an eye.

            2. People think the flu is nothing important, mostly because they mistake the stomach bugs which go around from time to time as the “flu”.

              They forget the real flu can kill, and back in 1919 killed millions. Most history survey classes spend maybe a throwaway line or couple of minutes on the Spanish Flu Epidemic.

              It wasn’t until I had a class on U.S. history from 1917 to 1945 that any real time was spent on it: half a class period. (The other half was spent on the ’19 “Black Sox” scandal.)

          2. You know, when I first learned about the chicken pox vaccine, I was…ambivalent…about it. To me, it’s always been a mild childhood disease. Even learning that it killed up to 100 children a year didn’t phase me, because 100 out of millions just didn’t seem like a risk.

            Something pushed me over the edge, however, and that was learning that chicken pox is a fine childhood disease, but it’s a *nasty* adult disease…and you don’t always get the chicken pox as a child. That, combined with a bout of mononucleosis several months ago (and learning that mono is another disease that’s mild if you’re a child, but nasty as an adult), pushed me over the edge. Vaccines are a guarantee that you “get” the disease, without having to suffer through its major symptoms (for the most part).

            If we could develop a vaccine for mono and CMV and some of these other weird but mostly harmless diseases (if you consider fatigue and the resulting loss of work to be a “mostly harmless” result), I’ll be the first in line to make sure my children get it!

            1. I had mono later than some, but not terribly late. I discovered this when I woke up one day, and tried to get up from bed – and got a vivid, painful lesson in just where all my lymph nodes were located as they “lit up” quite brightly. Getting up got postponed some, and the next attempt was very deliberate.

      2. Yeah, in spite of vociferous claims that Evolution is the One True Way and their belief is absolute, these idjits are remarkably resistant to acknowledging its’ effects.

    2. I recall the story in The Body Electric by Becker of how the old pneumonia wards were palliative at best and the temperature chart would indicate one way for “will recover” and another for “will not recover” and there wasn’t a way to force the line to the desired trend. Until, in the US, 1946, when penicillin was no longer a military only (or near so) thing. And in a few weeks, the wards closed as they simply were no longer needed.

      I do not want to go back to the “good old days.” The idiots that want to take antibiotics for viral infections are infuriating.

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