Just Shelley

How we deal with death is a reflection of how we view life

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Slashdot has a story about a car accident involving a small group of people driving to Paris from the SANE 2004 conference. Richard Stallman, the leading open source advocate had been in the car but had been dropped off earlier. Unfortunately, a young man, Hans Bakker was killed, and the other two in the car seriously injured.

Much of the Slashdot thread is condolences to the family, but there is the usual Slashdot irreverence to events, the dark humor, and to anything that the readers consider ‘phony’. There is something merciless about being anonymous, but oddly, there’s something honest, too. Overall the thread touches, greatly, on how we respond to the deaths of others, especially those people who we don’t know, directly.

Dave Rogers had written a comment in one of my posts in response to another person who brought up the 3000 killed on 9/11 that I think fits this event in a way (I hope, Dave, you don’t mind the association) and is worth bringing to the front page. Excerpted from the entire comment is the following:

Everybody dies. I just read an article on CNN about flu vaccinations coming out next month for the upcoming flu season. The article mentions that about 36,000 Americans will die this year, as they do pretty much every year, from the flu. Where’s the multi-billion dollar effort in public health improvements to mitigate the loss of life from the flu? “Ah,” you say, “You poor deluded fool, those are natural deaths. Nothing we can do abut that. Regrettable and all that, but it’s not the same thing as terrorism!”

I grow tired of mentioning that about 45 thousand Americans will die in automobile accidents this year. About 16 thousand Americans will be murdered by other Americans this year. And about that same number of Americans will kill themselves. Somehow that all just seems to be part of the cost of doing business to everyone except the people who loved them.

Everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to choose how or when, except perhaps for those poor, desperate 16 thousand that take their own lives, but everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to live. Not when they choose to live their lives in fear.

But when 3 thousand Americans are killed in a terrorist act, which might otherwise be termed 21st century barbarian street theater, well, then we have to go and do something!

There’s no overstating the horror of 9/11. But there is the possibility, which has long since become the reality, of turning it into a fetish, an obsession, and an excuse.

Dying is easy. Living is hard. Everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to live. There’s a danger in paying so much attention to the deaths of a relative few, however horrifying, that we lose sight of what it means to live. There’s more to life than the fear of death. There’s more to living than trying to protect yourself by killing others; or endorsing and supporting the killing of others. Living in fear makes people do terrible things, and no one is immune to that – not “them,” not “us.” But living is hard. Living life in faith is harder still.

Dying is easy. Living is hard. Everybody gets to die. Not everybody gets to live.

I’ve been trying to write a post on how not choosing to die is not the same as choosing to live. It reflects much of what’s been going on in my life, and the lives of my family; it also touches on two young men, webloggers, who when faced with life and death, chose death. But I haven’t been able to finish the writing because I’m still waiting on the denouement.

Until then, ponder Dave’s very compelling words, and read the comments at Slashdot. If the discussion there has ‘degenerated’ into the usual quarrel as it always does with this site, there is still much food for thought.


Tower Grove test flight

I didn’t get out for photos until late afternoon, and the light was almost gone. I went to Tower Grove for my camera tryout, testing various modes, but taking the photos as Nikon RAW format (NEF). I am still amazed at how fast the photos recorded, and how well the camera did under difficult lighting conditions.

I used the 18-70mm zoom that comes as part of the D70 kit, and especially adapted for digital cameras. Next trip I’ll start testing out all the other lenses and the various accouterment I’ve collected over the years.

Being RAW format, I also needed to tweak the photos bit in Photoshop, but not as much as expected. Later as I become more familiar with the camera and the capability, I’ll probably be better with the light shifts in the sky (polarizing filter would help with that, but I don’t have one for the new lens.)

It was trickier getting the images into Photoshop than I thought. I finally had to settle for using Nikon Capture to convert to TIFF, and from there to Photoshop. Tomorrow I hunt down the Adobe RAW plugin for Photoshop 6.x.

I wish I could show you how sharp these images are in uncompressed format, but that doesn’t translate well to ‘web shots’. Take my word for it – sharp. This is a lovely camera, and I can now do some considerable damage to yours and my bandwidth.


Now, who is my pick

I do believe that John Kerry was much more relaxed and confident during the debate. President Bush seemed very pressured at times, very uncomfortable with the venue. He stumbled quite a bit more than Kerry, though usually did recover himself.

(Kerry toasted Bush! On a scale of lightly browned to burnt, President Bush was too done to even feed the hogs.)

I especially appreciated Kerry’s nods when Bush was making statements about his voting records, as if to say, of course I vote that way–but that’s not the point, and this isn’t the issue. I think his point on the tax cuts was a very good one – they benefit people like him and Bush, not the rest of us.

(Yes sir, yes ma’am, he did. Kerry fried ‘em all up and served ‘em semi-sweet, dusted with confect’ner’s sugah! )

I believe that one of the more important points that Kerry made throughout was that when our attention should have been focused on Al Queda in Afghanistan, we misdirected our people to Iraq, and now we’re in the midst of difficult times in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Too much time has been spent on Iraq. And now we have no choice but to continue focusing on that country, to our detriment elsewhere.

(Toast! Toast! Toast! That man was toast! Toast! Toast! He’yah! Sing it out! Toast! Toast! Toast!)

I also believe that Kerry made a very good point about how Iraq is now taxing our resources dangerously, leaving us more vulnerable to terrorism rather than less. I also don’t believe that President Bush’ statement about the Patriot Act (though not specifically named) was a very persuasive counter-thrust.


Towards the end President Bush hinted again about how ‘dangerous’ it could be to switch leaders now, about how it sends mixed signals. No, it does not. It sends a message to the world that in this country we can change leaders when we, the people, want, not when it suits them. That was probably the think that irritated me the most the last year in this election–the implication that we can’t change presidents now or something Bad will happen.

(Bad toast. Bad.)

I supported John Kerry before the debate, so I didn’t go into this undecided. However, I now feel that much more strongly about John Kerry as my choice for President.


Okay, okay, let’s face facts: those who supported Kerry will see him as ‘the winner’ of the debate and those who supported Bush will see him as ‘the winner’; we haven’t heard from the undecided voter, and won’t until election night. But it was fun to let loose a purely partisan reaction. Let me hear you brothers, and sisters…toast!


The Winner of the debate was…

The American people.

The Presidential debate tonight was one of the best political debates I’ve seen. Yes, there was time to bring in canned speech and talking points, but the moderator was exceptionally good at clarifying points, showing when both candidates were similar and both were different. More than that, I thought it was a class act to see the cordial nature of the two men following the debate, as well as the relatively civil discussion during the debate – and we owe much of this to PBS’ Jim Lehrer.

Not that he didn’t turn the heat up; he did. He directly addressed many of the topics and statements that have been tossed around in the back rooms and along the sidelines the last several months. But by doing so, he forced both men to make their statements directly in front of each other, when the other had a chance to immediately refute, or at times, concur with what was said. No more speculation, no more innuendo – what you saw was what you get.

As for which person won, Kerry or Bush – it really does break down into: which man proposed the course you most want to follow. Gone were the memos and the Swift veterans and all of the other folderol that has plagued this campaign. What we saw tonight was what Kerry would do, what Bush would do, their reactions to the questions, how they were different, and how they were the same.

These are the men in the light now. The election really does revolve on what they will do in the next four years if elected. All of those who have grabbed a bit of the light until now, gleefully following this rumor or that, dipping their toesies in the muck, guess what: Your ten minutes are up.


New Toy

I received my beautiful new Nikon D70, and have already put it through the ‘falling off the bed’ shock test. Mustn’t play with camera while in bed, I now say over and over to myself.

I am overwhelmed by what this camera can do, and the speed with which it can record even RAW format images. It’s a dream and a delight, made especially more so when finding out that, yes, my existing lenses all work nicely with it.

I have progressed from being sick as a dog to sick as a puppy, which means getting my butt out of bed and testing the new toy. Besides, I have an enormous amount of work to do, too much to lay about; including work on a couple of new weblogs for the poet in residence (these ones created in Textpattern), some chapters to tech edit, the new online store (you can watch my progress with the separation of data from presentation from processing for OsCommere here), the IT Kitchen software installation, and I’ve had my first assignment for the voter watchdog effort. The apartment management is also in today to do a whole host of tasks – another reason to get out of the house (paint, putty, clanging pipes, oh my).