We give thanks 10

On this as on every Thanksgiving Day

we thank

all our readers for their interest in what we have to say about the passing scene and the eternal questions

all our commenters

and especially our contributing commenters:

Liz, your invariably insightful and cogent comments sustain and encourage us. We could not keep going without you.

Jeanne and Chauncey, we depend on what we learn from you about America and Britain respectively.

Cogito, Jason P, Animal, Zerothruster, we know how lucky we are to have your attention.

Azgael, though we may not always enjoy your rigorous criticism, we appreciate your intention to correct us.

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Thursday, November 28, 2019

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Again we are censored and silenced 14

Our Facebook page has again been suspended.

This time for 7 days.

Here’s the notice:

You can’t post or comment for 7 days

This is because you previously posted something that didn’t follow our Community Standards.

This post goes against our standards on hate speech, so only people who manage The Atheist Conservative can see it.

The Atheist Conservative
Yesterday at 8:21 AM

Anjuli Pandavar writes cogently and incisively: ‘I am an atheist. I think religion erodes our innate sense of ethics, and that faith can diminish our humanity. But I also accept that belief is a central component of the way many people’s heads work. The problem before us right now is Islam and I do not care if someone leaves Islam to become a Bible-basher or a Hari-Krishna chanter or an atheist. All I care about right now is that as many Muslims as possible leave Islam, that we support the victims of Islam, wherever they are in the world, and that we roll back jihad, by whatever means necessary. Muslims are already raping our daughters and we are already complicit in their deeds. The situation is dire. We are helpless in face of the jihad onslaught because we have abandoned ourselves. …

 

The entire post is quoted.

This in America! In defiance of the Second Amendment.

And yes, we do hate. We hate enslavement, torture, murder. So we hate the appalling doctrines of Islam that not only allow but command enslavement, torture and murder.   

And for that, Facebook hates us.

Of all ideas, those of religions most need to be critically examined, since they claim to be the truth and people’s lives are made to depend on their conforming to them.

*

This is what Facebook has done to Paul Joseph Watson:

Facebook Put a Fatwa on PJW

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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Facebook suspends us 15

We’ve been informed by Facebook that we cannot post anything on our FB page “for three days”, because we have”violated” their “policies” by posting something – the video immediately below along with the same comment – that “goes against” their “Community Standards”.

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 27, 2019

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President Trump’s D-Day commemoration speech 2

Today, on June 6, 2019, President Trump delivers his very moving speech commemorating D-Day in Normandy:

 

“This beach, codenamed Omaha, was defended by the Nazis with monstrous firepower, thousands and thousands of mines and spikes driven into the sands so deeply. It was here that tens of thousands of the Americans came. The G.I.s who boarded the landing craft that morning knew that they carried on their shoulders not just the pack of a soldier, but the fate of the world.”

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 6, 2019

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A harmless annual institution 8

“New Year’s Day — Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.” – Mark Twain, January 1863.

Happy New Year everyone!

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Monday, December 31, 2018

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Cheerfully we say … 8

For a long time now, Christmas has been a secular holiday; a season of feasting, of exchanging gifts and greetings of goodwill; a season when, in the north, the long nights are still warmed and lit by fire; when, north and south, evergreen trees are brought indoors and decorated. It is a season of merriment, and the enjoyment of it does not depend on belief in the religion its name implies. In the custom of the festive holiday, we wish all our readers, commenters, followers, visitors and critics, the many who are not religious as well as the fewer who are,

A Very Merry Christmas!

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Monday, December 24, 2018

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A hero not of our time 4

At this gift-giving time of year, you might want to give a book to a teenager who is not a social justice warrior, a snowflake, or a feminist. If so, we recommend the just-out novel Mordec Raids England, the first of a five-volume saga under the overall title The Thrilling Adventures of Mordec the Viking. It is set in a 10th century full of useful anachronisms.

To come clean about an interest, the books were written by our editor-in chief, Jillian Becker, who maintains that the stories are also for time-worn adults who savor irony and indulge themselves with laughter.

The books are available from Amazon in both kindle and print versions. If you bought the first volume for this Christmas you would have an easy choice of the next four books for each of the next four Christmases. Alternatively, you could buy all five books right now. The first of the kindle books is free for a few weeks. The five titles are: Mordec Raids England; Mordec’s Quest; Mordec and the Hidden Hand; Mordec and the Lost Boys; Mordec the Conqueror.

Mordec son of Hauk is an anomalous Viking: an intellectual teenage action-man. His surprising adventures are packed with highly individual characters, among them a girl warrior, a charming executioner, a gloomy knight, a woman ship captain, a philanthropic troll, a pair of polished caring-sharing hypocrites, an evil but cunning abbot, a billionaire tycoon, all caught in extraordinary situations. One of the most startling and exciting episodes (in the third book, Mordec and the Hidden Hand) is a philosophical-theological debate conducted without a word being spoken. That alone is a must-read. And there is much more for your wonder and merriment in this season and beyond.

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Friday, December 21, 2018

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For whom death is fun and has a bright future 15

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so” – John Donne.

No, Death, thou art FUN. Thou art COOL.

Thou art CHATTER. Thou art ART.

Nothing to be gloomy about.

Where else this revisionism but in the New York Times? By John Leland:

It was the party of a lifetime, and Shatzi Weisberger wouldn’t have missed it for the world. After all, it was her funeral. Or, as she pronounced it, her FUN-eral.

“Come on in,” she said. “There’s lots of food. And a coffin that people are decorating.”

And so it was that a hundred or so people gathered in the common room of an Upper West Side apartment building recently to eat, sing, mingle and hear Ms. Weisberger’s thoughts about death and dying.

“I hope we have fun,” she said.

A former nurse, Ms. Weisberger wore white slacks, white sneakers and a bright floral print blouse. A biodegradable cardboard coffin in one corner bore handwritten messages in colored marker: “Go Shatzi! (but not literally)”; “death is only the beginning”; “Shatzi, many happy returns … as trees, as bumble bees, as many happy memories.”

Ms. Weisberger worked the crowded room. “I have been studying and learning about death and dying, and I want to tell people what I’ve learned,” she said. “Some people are coming because they love me, and some people are coming because they’re curious about what the hell it’s about.”

Is there something to be learned about death other than it is the end of your existence? If Ms. Weisberger revealed something new about it, the NYT does not give it away.

At 88, Ms. Weisberger has found a second calling in what has been labeled the positive death movement — a scattering of mostly women who want to break the taboos around discussions of death.

Taboos? What taboos? How many characters get shot dead every minute on TV? In most Hollywood movies?

Some connect through blogs or YouTube channels; some gather at monthly death cafes; … 

Will you have death with your coffee?

… some find more institutional grounding at the DeathLab at Columbia University’s architecture school or the Art of Dying Institute at the Open Center, a six-month program touching on everything from green burials (bonus: they’re cheap) to certified training for end-of-life doulas.

“Doulas”? Women servants.

Nearly a million people have downloaded the starter kit for the Conversation Project, a guide to discussing plans for the end of life. Others use the popular WeCroak app, which sends five daily reminders that we are all going to die.

All share a common idea: that Western culture has become too squeamish about talking about death, and that the silence impoverishes the lives leading up to it.

Yet again, Western culture is at fault. In better cultures, death is nothing to be “squeamish” about.

So chat about it to enrich your life.

Ellen Goodman, a retired newspaper columnist who started the Conversation Project after caring for her mother at the end of life, likened the foment to the earlier movement for natural childbirth. “Birth was perceived as a medical event, and then in came the women’s movement and ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’,” she said. “It wasn’t doctors who changed the way we give birth in America. It was women who said that giving birth was a human event. I think that we’re trying to do that now. Dying is a human experience. We’re trying to put the person back into the center of the experience.”

True, dying is a human experience – if it it isn’t too sudden to be experienced. If you experience your dying, is there any way you cannot be “at the center” of it?

Ms. Weisberger is by no means a morbid person. She sings in the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus and shops at the new Trader Joe’s in her neighborhood.

If you sing in a chorus and shop at Trader Joe’s, you cannot be a morbid person?

But a few years ago, after sitting with a friend who was dying of cancer, she realized that she was unsatisfied with the American way of death.

“She became terrified, so scared that she couldn’t even talk about it,” Ms. Weisberger said of her friend. “I kept urging her to talk about what was going on, but she wouldn’t. And then she died. So that was a problem. We had not dealt with the issue — myself, herself and the others.”

For whom was it a problem that she did not talk about it? In what way? Would talking about it have changed anything? If so, what?

“So I started studying about it,” she said. Down the digital rabbit hole she went.

She Googled “death”? Wiki taught her all she sought to know about it? The NYT does not say.

If there is a germinal moment for the positive death movement, it is 2003, when a social worker at a New York hospice center became disillusioned by the care that the medical staff were able to give to dying patients and their families. The social worker, Henry Fersko-Weiss, saw what doulas did for women during and after childbirth. Why couldn’t dying people get the same level of attention and emotional support?

Having a doula around you when you’re dying makes a big difference? Dying isn’t anguish enough, you also need a doula chatting to you?

Using birth doulas as his model, he created a training program for end-of-life doulas, or midwives, to attend to patients’ non-medical needs — anything from helping them review their lives to sitting quietly in witness.

“There are tremendous similarities between birthing and dying,” he said. “There’s a great deal unknown, there’s a great deal of pain and a need for support for the people around the person who is going through the experience.”

For doulas in either setting, he said, “arranging the atmosphere, creating a special space around the event, is exactly the same.”

A little choreography? Costumes? Lighting? Jolly music?

As Mr. Fersko-Weiss was getting his program underway, Joanna Ebenstein, a graphic designer in Brooklyn, was thinking about death from a completely different angle.

“We just don’t know what to do with death anymore,” she said.

Used to know, but have forgotten?

“It’s this big, scary thing. We don’t have a set of rituals around it that contains it or gives it meaning. Ours is the first culture to pathologize an interest in death.”

There is no mention of resurrection, a judgment day, heaven or hell.

No religion mentioned yet.

In 2007, Ms. Ebenstein started a blog called Morbid Anatomy, highlighting ways different cultures represented death. Only in the United States, she said, were images of death absent from art and daily life.

That’s apart from all the TV series, movies, novels; and, in daily life, the streets, if you live – say – in Chicago, Baltimore, or Oakland.

The blog opened conversations about death outside of the realm of hospice or advance health care directives.

From the first posts, she said, she started hearing from an audience she had not known was out there: people who felt isolated by their interest in death. Before then, the only people she knew who shared her interest in death had been in the goth subculture.

“We’re not supposed to be curious about death now,” she said. “But how can you not be? It’s a great human mystery. It’s the thing that defines our life, but we’re supposed to pretend it’s not interesting to us? It’s in horror movies and pop culture, but there was no high culture discourse around it.”

Ah! She has noticed that it is in horror movies and pop culture.

She withheld her name from the blog because she was afraid her design clients, especially Scholastic, would think she was creepy. This was the era when Sarah Palin warned that the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act was trying to impose “death panels”.

Sarah Palin was right. Obamacare has to have death panels. A group (needless to say, diverse and inclusive) has to declare what treatment, what drugs you may be permitted to have. The panel’s job is cost-reckoning and death is always cheaper.

Ms. Ebenstein, 46, sees her work as resurrecting a lost strand of American culture.

This idea that we have now, that death is exotic and cannot be seen, is brand new,” she said. “Your grandparents tended to die in the house. They’d be laid out in the parlor when they died, which the Ladies’ Home Journal advocated changing to the ‘living room’ when the funeral parlor came around. The living room became the living room because it’s no longer the parlor for laying out the dead. And that’s around 1900.”

Verily? From where did she get that piece of esoteric information?

All of these changes are happening, and now we think of death as something that happens offstage, that we don’t see and children certainly shouldn’t see. But that was not possible until so recently.

Doesn’t she own a TV?

In 2014, Ms. Ebenstein and another woman spun the blog into a small museum of the same name in Brooklyn, which closed in 2016 but has been succeeded by a pop-up residency [?] at Green-Wood Cemetery. By then, something had changed. “Now this stuff was cool,” she said.

Part of what changed was a funeral director in Los Angeles named Caitlin Doughty, who dressed like a lost member of the Addams Family and posted a series of plucky YouTube videos called “Ask a Mortician” that spoke frankly about corpses and decomposition and routinely topped 400,000 views. A typical opening line, from a video titled “All My Fave Graves,” went, “Something I’m always trying to get you to do is hang out with dead bodies.”

In April of 2013, Ms. Doughty tweeted, “Why are there a zillion websites and references for being sex positive but nothing for being death positive?”

With that, an inchoate curiosity had a brand name, a cachet and an internet presence. All it needed was an occasion to gather.

On a Monday evening at Bluestockings bookstore on the Lower East Side, Emily Leshner, a graduate student in visual media anthropology, had a question about the end of life. Specifically, she wanted to discuss the issue of digital immortality: is it right for people’s social media profiles to live on when they die? “Our digital presence exists beyond our biological life,” she said. “It made me think what kind of person I’d want to be my legacy.”

Meaning, what portrait of herself would she choose to leave? Beautiful? Rich? Successful? Admired? Smart? Happy?

It was the monthly gathering of the Lower East Side Death Cafe, one of a handful of death cafes that have formed in the last few years around the city. Jafar Al-Mondhiry, a resident in internal medicine, picked up Ms. Leshner’s question. He hoped to start a death-related podcast for other residents — a virtual death cafe. “Is social media a triumph over the body?” he asked.

Around two tables piled with carrots and other snacks, the conversations were lively and unstructured.

Melanie Nilsson described taking her father’s cremated remains to all of his favorite restaurants for a year.

Millet Israeli, a former corporate lawyer who changed careers to become a grief counselor, asked what sort of reactions the others got when they told friends they were attending a death café.

“They said, ‘Is that some sort of goth thing?’” Ms. Leshner said. “That it’s dark and trendy and cool.”

Death cafes, as a formal institution, began in East London in 2011, in the basement of a man named Jon Underwood, who quit his job as a business development director to create small gatherings where strangers could drink tea, eat cake and talk informally about death and dying. To encourage others to replicate his meetings, Mr. Underwood, who died at age 44 last year, published guidelines for discussions and a website for other death cafes to promote their meetings. The discussions have no leaders, are free or inexpensive, and are open to talk of all things death but are not support groups. The organization’s website claims to have initiated 6,503 death cafes in 56 countries.

Ms. Israeli, who facilitated the conversation at one table, met the women who started the Lower East Side group while they were all training as volunteer caregivers at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which takes a Buddhist approach to the end of life.

Ah, so religion does come into it. Zen. Buddhism. Reincarnation?

The death cafe, she said, “is almost like my form of activism to create an atmosphere publicly that permits talking about death. If we can talk about death and dying, maybe that will spread to easier conversations about grief and terminal illness.”

Grief and terminal illness. All fun, all chatter, all of the time. With tea or coffee. And carrots.

Ms. Israeli recalled a guided meditation at the Zen Center imagining her own death: the mouth becoming dry, the body shutting down, the attention becoming more internal. Even with all her work as a grief counselor, Ms. Israeli said, she was nervous going into it. “It seemed scary,” she said. “But the experience was the opposite. As heavy as that sounds, it made it feel lighter. It felt safer than it did going in.”

This is the odd math of the positive death activities. Embracing mortality, practitioners say, helps them live with less fear, more life.

On a Saturday morning at the Art of Dying Institute at the Open Center, Amy Cunningham led a discussion of different ways to hold a funeral, including at home. Ms. Cunningham, 63, worked as a journalist until she decided to go to mortuary school at age 54. “I thought it was going to be like becoming a real estate agent,” she said.

Ms. Cunningham discussed alternatives to embalming — which involves toxic chemicals — and coffins made of wool or other materials that decompose easily.

Always consider what’s good for the environment.

The group included 24 women and two men.

“We’re part of a movement, and it’s really a return to a female presence at the time of death,” Ms. Cunningham said.

Several of those attending worked in hospice or in the funeral trade. Others had enrolled after the deaths of people close to them.

Hillary Spector, who attended, teaches art in primary school and directs and acts in theater. Ms. Spector recently trained to volunteer as a death doula and joined a synagogue to meet people who might use her services.

Judaism making an appearance now?

“It’s a bit macabre,” she said, “but I’ve always been superfascinated by dying — the physiological processes, but also this idea of what happens to our consciousness. I don’t believe in heaven or an afterlife.”

But –

“I also feel that decomposition is deeply spiritual.”

Although –

“One of the things that draws people to this work is that we don’t have a basis in religion. That’s why a lot of people are becoming part of this death positive movement.”

The “spirit” is assuaged by entertaining death at a party.

Others offer different explanations for why all this is happening now. The AIDS crisis transformed grief and caregiving into expressions of community. The mass shootings on the news call for examination: What if today was your last day? The rising interest in Buddhism introduced alternative concepts of dying. And the aging population brought more urgency to questions of how people want to consider the last years.

Also, death has a bright future: the number of Americans dying annually is expected to rise by more than one-third in the next 20 years. In a social media landscape where fringe topics find large constituencies, death is a taboo that connects to everyone.

“We got so far removed from death even being an option that we finally got sick of it being closeted,” said Suzanne O’Brien, a former nurse who now trains end-of-life doulas and hosts a podcast called “Ask a Death Doula”. 

“The first step is recognizing that death is a natural part of life’s journey,” Ms. O’Brien said. “We can have it go well or have it go poorly. They say death and taxes are the only things guaranteed in life. But people don’t pay their taxes. So I’m saying death is the only one that’s for sure.”

Shatzi has already bought her after-death outfit. For the well-dressed cadaver.

At the FUN-eral, Ms. Weisberger showed off a burial shroud she plans to use when her time comes. She bought it online, from Amazon, she thinks. Three friends have agreed to wash her body according to Jewish tradition, and Ms. Cunningham — who supplied the cardboard coffin — will provide dry ice to preserve her body before burial, she said. …

I really want to experience my dying,” she told the crowd. “I don’t want to die in a car crash or be unconscious. I want to be home, I want to be in my bed, I want to share the experience with anybody who’s interested.”

Bring your cellphones and take a selfie with the dying Shatzi or her corpse. Or make a video, “A Real Dying Housewife of New York”. A new kind of snuff-film.

Even if it is a scene of pain and struggle for breath – or is that not to be thought of?

And could a picture or film, or a chat with a doula, “contain” death, or “give death meaning”?

No, ladies. Non-existence has no meaning.

Charles Krauthammer 4

This is very sad news.

Fox News reports:

Charles Krauthammer, the beloved and brilliant Fox News Channel personality who gave up a pioneering career in psychiatry to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning political analyst, on Friday revealed the heartbreaking news that he is in the final stages of a losing battle with cancer.

The 68-year-old’s incisive takes on politics of the day have been missing from Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” for nearly a year as he battled an abdominal tumor and subsequent complications, but colleagues and viewers alike had held out hope that he would return to the evening show he helped establish as must-viewing. But in an eloquent, yet unblinking letter to co-workers, friends and Fox News Channel viewers, Krauthammer disclosed that he has just weeks to live.

“I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months,” the letter began. “I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.”

Krauthammer, who graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1975 despite a first-year diving accident that left him a quadriplegic, explained that he had a malignant tumor removed from his abdomen last August. Although a series of setbacks left him in  the hospital in the ensuing months, he believed until recently that he was on the road to recovery.

“However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned,” Krauthammer wrote. “There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

Fox News viewers will undoubtedly miss Krauthammer’s formidable intellect and ability to analyze politics and politicians with a cerebral wit and keen charm. As the dean of “The Fox News All Stars,” the panel of pundits who break down headlines and events nightly on Fox News Channel’s top-rated “Special Report,” Krauthammer could be counted on to make viewers think, question and even chuckle. Krauthammer was on his way to greatness in the medical field when he veered first into policy, and then into journalism. After medical school, he became chief psychiatry resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he studied depression and published ground-breaking findings in top medical journals. But in 1978, he took a job in the Carter administration directing planning in psychiatric research and later served as a speech writer for Vice President Walter Mondale.

It was in the nation’s capital that Krauthammer trained his mind and talents on political analysis and began penning columns for The New Republic, Time magazine and finally the Washington Post. In 1985, he won journalism’s top prize for his weekly political commentary. In his sobering farewell, Krauthammer said he is “grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny”.

“I leave this life with no regrets,” Krauthammer wrote. “It was a wonderful life – full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

Always a realist, always courageous, he is apparently accepting the approach of his death calmly. As he accepted his paralysis the moment it was caused in his youth.

We have much admired him for many decades. His eloquence, erudition, profundity, wisdom, and his wry, benevolent – often self-deprecating – sense of humor, displayed in his columns and on TV, have been for us among the joys and enrichments of life.

He is a great man.

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Friday, June 8, 2018

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Facebook shuts us out 10

Our Facebook page has been shut down by the simple means of depriving us of a space to post something.

The space at the top of the page which normally carries the invitation to “Write something …” has been removed.

Perhaps we have only been suspended and not shut out.

We wait to see.

We have of course complained through the means the company provides. We have heard nothing back.

This follows a gradual shrinking of our “reach” (the number of Facebook subscribers they send our posts to) from thousands to tens – and the removal of many of our posts.

We are being treated by Facebook the way they treat all (?) conservative sites to some degree. But how many are completely silenced?

 

Later:

The space to write something on the page has been restored to us – whether in response to our complaint or not, we have no idea.

Posted under Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, June 6, 2018

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