Grave Matters

relicSince the early Middle Ages, relics of the saints,  preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial, considered extremely valuable. After all, they work miracles, protect local communities and — not a  small matter — they attract pilgrims. In one way or another, these tremendous benefits turn into money, prosperity and profit in  BuddhismChristianityIslamHinduismShamanism, and many other religions.

St_MartinBishop of Tours, enthusiastically ordering the destruction of pagan temples, altars and sculptures, and later known as Martin of Tours , was a rather decrepit man. Still, he found strength to wander between the two cities. Residents of these towns have long been monitoring his moves, waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for his demise in order to acquire his remains. At times, the patience on both sides run so low that the “good Christians” of both places were ready to kill the bishop. Martin died in the village between these cities. The villagers, on whom such luck had unexpectedly fallen, managed to deceive both cities, hiding the body and inventing a convincing alibi. St Martin’s shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.Elizabeth of Hungary.jpgElizabeth of Thuringia, a Hungarian princess, was so virtuous that no one doubted her posthumous transfer to the rank of saints. When she died in 1231 at the age of 24, good people of faith simply tore her body into pieces, only to put their hands on their very own chunk of saintly flesh. Speak about “tangible”!

Saint_RomualdRomuald was revered as a saint in his lifetime.  In his old age, in a small monastery Val di Castro, he mentioned of his wish to move away and settle in another city. The prospect of losing Romuald, particularly his soon-to-be remains, in favor of some unworthy neighbors, did not sit well with his comrades. Overcome with not so saintly worries, they conferred and decided that murder was their only option to keep Romuald for themselves. Unholy brothers promptly proceeded to exercise this very option. Thus Romuald was murdered… God only knows how mercifully.

Of this and more in Barley, N. (2006). : Encounters with Death Around the World. New York : Henry Holt & Company.

Encounters with Death Around the World

Within the multitude of attitudes toward grieving, Grave Matters reveals that after death the body may be preserved or obliterated, transformed into furniture, or eaten. In this cross-cultural study of how people lend meaning to death, Nigel Barley uses autobiographical vignettes and a careful blend of ethnography and comparative theories to reflect on today’s mortuary practices and issues.


Happy Birthday, Black Death

The Triumph of Death is an oil panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562). Image courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Triumph of Death is an oil panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562). Image courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid

 Black Death is created, allegedly, on March 20th, 1345.

Plague is a bacterial infection found mainly in rodents and their fleas. But via those fleas it can sometimes leap to humans. When it does, the outcome can be horrific, making plague outbreaks the most notorious disease episodes in history.

All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried […] At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese. (As related by a Florentine chronicler.)

Most infamous of all was the medieval pandemic that swept through Asia and Europe. It reached Europe in the late 1340s, killing an estimated 25 million people. And, mind you, there wasn’t quite as many Europeans in those times as there are now — merely 70 million.

Inspired by the Black Death, The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre, an allegory

Inspired by the Black Death, The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre, an allegory

The chronicler Agnolo di Tura ‘the Fat’ relates from his Tuscan home town that

… in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead […] And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.

7" version of The Black Death released by Dark Descent Records.

7″ version of The Black Death released by Dark Descent Records.

The Black Death lingered on for centuries, particularly in cities. Outbreaks included the Great Plague of London (1665-66), in which one in five residents died.

The cause of plague wasn’t discovered until the most recent global outbreak, which started in China in 1855 and didn’t officially end until 1959. The first breakthrough came in Hong Kong in 1894 when researchers isolated the rod-shaped bacillus responsible—Yersinia pestis. A few years later, in China, doctors noticed that rats showed very similar plague symptoms to people, and that human victims often had fleabites.

A historical turning point, as well as a vast human tragedy, the Black Death of 1346-53 is unparalleled in human history.

Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist

Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist.

“Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist,” thus spoke evil scientist in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny short titled “Water, Water Every Hare.

There are numerous “anthologies” about “mad doctors” on the Internet, just google them. The four below are my “favorites.” More than a century apart, the first two look like amateur showmen, experimenting on cadavers in front of fascinated spectators, while the other two are true evil. And Josef Mengele, Angel of Death, isn’t even on the list…

Giovanni Aldini

Giovanni Aldini

Giovanni Aldini professor of physics at Bologna in 1798, was the nephew of Luigi Galvani, Italian physician, physicist, biologist and philosopher, recognized as the main pioneer of the bioelectromagnetics, the man who pioneered galvanism. Aldini spent most of his life testing the medical applications of his uncle’s discovery. He traveled Europe staging shows of his experiments.

In 1802, Aldini electrically stimulated the heads and trunks of cows, horses, sheep and dogs with high powered batteries. The animals’ jaws and eyes moved as though animal cadavers came to life.  Aldini2

His most famous experiment was publicly demonstrated in January 1803. Aldini sent electric charge through the face of a hanged criminal, George Forster, who had been executed for the murder of his wife and child. The face moved and contorted, eyes opened. By all accounts, the hanged murderer came alive. To freak out the horrified but fascinated audience some more, Aldini inserted an electric rod straight up the corpse’s anus. The cadaver, then, truly made a show, kicking and hitting Aldini’s assistants with his violently twitching legs. People were duly impressed. Some spectators even demanded to hang George Forster again.

Andrew Ure (1778-1857), a Scottish doctor, scholar, chemist and early business theorist.

Andrew_UreIn December 1818 Ure created a public sensation when he announced that he had been carrying out experiments on a murderer called Clydsdale after his execution. Ure claimed that by stimulating the phrenic nerve, life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging. It has been claimed that Mary Shelley used Ure as a model for her main character in the book, Frankenstein (1818).

Appropriate dissections exposed the various sites on the body selected for electrical stimulation.
No bleeding occurred proving that Clydesdale was indeed dead. Application of the connecting rods to the heel and the spinal cord at the level of the atlas caused such violent extensions of the bent knee ‘as to nearly overturn one of the assistants’.

In an attempt to restore breathing, the rods were connected to the left phrenic nerve and the diaphragm.
The success of it was truly wonderfull. Full, nay, laborious breathing instantly commenced. The chest heaved and fell; The belly was protruded and again collapsed, with the retiring and collapsing diaphragm’.

The real drama occurred when the electric current was applied to Clydesdale’s supraorbital nerve and heel.
By varying the voltage, ‘Rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face’.


More on Ure’s experiments: Glasgow: The Matthew Clydesdale Story.

shiroSurgeon General Shirō Ishii was a Japanese army medical officer, microbiologist and the director of Unit 731, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army.

A doctor’s “god-given mission,” Ishii said, was to block and treat disease, but the work “upon which we are now about to embark is the complete opposite of these principles.”

In the name of defeating Japan’s enemies, Ishii and his staff spent the next five years mixing witch’s brews of pathogens that cause some of the world’s most horrific diseases: anthrax, plague, gas gangrene, smallpox, and botulism, among others.

Unit 731 used Chinese prisoners (dismissively termed maruta, or “logs”) as guinea pigs, forcing them to breathe, eat, and receive injections of deadly pathogens. Allied POWs were also allegedly targeted.

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Victims were often killed before the diseases had run their course, so autopsies could show their progress through the body. Ishii’s men also supplied the Japanese Army with typhoid, cholera, plague, and dysentery bacteria for battlefield use. In addition, they contaminated water sources, released disease-carrying fleas, and dropped contaminated wheat from airplanes.

Although dissolution of Unit 731 in 1945 led to the destruction of many of its records, there is no doubt that Ishii and his men had caused the death of many thousands of Chinese, and possibly hundreds of Russian and Allied prisoners of war.


Sidney Gottlieb, aka Dr. Feelgood  was an American chemist and spymaster best known for his involvement with the Central Intelligence Agency’s 1950s and ’60s assassination attempts and mind control program, known as Project MKUltra.

There are stories that have come to light, over the years, that make the Central Intelligence Agency look like a collection of Looney Tunes shorts. The violence, the slapstick, and the over-the-top ridiculousness of the experiments that have been conducted over the years boggle the mind. They came from the (slightly-boggled) mind of one man: Sidney Gottlieb.

Sidney Gottlieb proved to the world that there are few things more dangerous than a chemist with a metaphysical streak – especially if he collects a few thwarted ambitions. Born in 1918, he was deemed physically unfit for duty in the Second World War. Instead of going to war, he went to the University of Wisconsin, and graduated with a degree in chemistry. His degree didn’t help him [get] into the army, but it did [get the CIA extremely interested.]

The Central Intelligence Agency, barreling into the Cold War, was trying to devise new ways to get an advantage over the enemy. Old warfare strategies wouldn’t work. They had to brainstorm new ones. It’s said that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. The CIA, at the time, seemed set out to prove that there were no bad ideas at all. And Gottlieb was just the guy to try to help them.


Image via National Geographic

MKUltra was a nebulous plan to dose pretty much anyone the project could get its hands on with LSD. In San Francisco, prostitutes paid by the CIA secretly gave their clients LSD and dropped them in a room with a two-way mirror to let agents observe what happened to them. In Kentucky, mental patients were dosed with LSD, supposedly as part of their treatment. Around the country, prisoners were given LSD and subjected to mind-control experiments. The CIA even tried to discredit Fidel Castro by dousing a TV station in which he was about to give an interview in LSD.

The project was an unqualified failure. One person died (not Castro), many had lasting mental damage, and quite a few went on to sue the nation when the records eventually went public. LSD, Gottlieb found, did make some people more suggestible, but it did not give anyone the ability to ‘control’ someone’s mind – at least not to get any kind of predictable action as a result.наркота

When Gottlieb wasn’t trying to break someone’s brain, he was trying to poison people. He was the one to come up with the infamous ‘poison cigar’ and ‘exploding seashell’ gags which failed to take out Fidel Castro. When he didn’t aim to kill, he simply aimed to annoy. He wanted to spray thallium on Castro’s shoes. Supposedly this was to make his beard fall out, but more likely it was yet another murder plot. Thallium is an element that is so toxic it has earned the nickname of “The Poisoner’s Poison,” or “Inheritance Powder.” Although it can be treated with dialysis or chemicals that absorb the element, thallium isn’t just a depilatory.

One idea Gottlieb oversaw, meant to poison Castro, was instead used on an Iraqi general. It involved a poisoned handkerchief tucked into a suit pocket. It did not work. Another failed assassination scheme involved a tube of poisoned toothpaste meant for Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. This toothpaste was meant to be doused with a biological agent, rather than a chemical one. This was a bit outside Gottlieb’s experience, so he experimented with many different possible agents, including smallpox, tuberculosis and equine encephalis. Lumumba eventually died in 1961, the victim of an uprising against him.

The Things We Won’t Know

Before Gottlieb left the CIA in 1972 to (no kidding) work with lepers in India, he became the head of the Technical Services Staff. There, with access to records, he destroyed about eighty percent of extremely damaging files, many of them about his own projects. This is frustrating for those who want to know the facts. (From the article in io9 Every crazy CIA plot you’ve heard of originated with one man.)

Young Blood

10743736-Human-blood-circulation-symbol-with-red-blood-cells-flowing-through-veins-and-human-circulatory-syst-Stock-PhotoFor the Ancient Greeks, blood was a magical elixir.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) — author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire — described the mad rush of spectators into arenas to drink the blood of fallen gladiators.

Centuries later, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499),  an Italian scholar and Catholic priest who was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, promoted drinking young blood as a means to regain youthful vigor.

Of course, this was the time of the Inquisition, and the Inquisition was known to come down hard on that kind of thing.

The first recorded attempt of a blood transfusion was described by Stefano Infessura, the 15th-century chronicler. He details the illness and eventual demise of Pope Innocent VIII.


Pope Innocent VIII lay dying. His physician, Giacomo di San Genesio, gave him a blood transfusion orally, as the concept of intravenous circulation had not yet been invented. Three boys, age 10, agreed to this experiment after being promised a ducat each. Unfortunately but predictably, the Pope and all three boys died.

Needless to say, this tragic and brutal event (and, perhaps, a few more unrecorded transfusions) was itself infused with myth and plenty of speculations. Some claimed that Pope Innocent VIII had habitually drunk the blood of Jewish boys and that his last libation was a drink of young blood pumped out of the three non-Christian youngsters veins.


Pope Innocent VIII  after ingesting blood of young boys, at the entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom. Seriously.

Enough of history for now. After all,

Roaring 1350s

Centuries passed. Blood transfusions are performed routinely every day, and to a great benefit to people (and animals) who need them.

Even vampires are no longer quite as scary as they used to be in real life and in folks lore of the past. A great number of them in novels and movies are cool, if somewhat pale in appearance, metro-sexual creatures. On a protein rich diet of fresh blood of virginal maidens, the sexy bloodsuckers stay young forever…

600 years ago, Marsilio Ficino taught that drinking young blood is a sure-fire way to stay springy, vigorous and youthful well into an old age. It seems that the results of the latest scientific research agree with Ficino’s claim.

No, not drinking blood — bloody libations should be left to vampires and past Popes — but, well, blood sharing.

The procedure is called parabiosis. The first parabiosis experiments were conducted at Cornell University in the 1950s. Clive M. McCay and his colleagues  joined rats in pairs by stitching together the skin on their flanks. Blood vessels grew and joined the rats’ circulatory systems. The bloodstreams of the young and the old rat were now flowing as one, supplying both animals.

In a form of visual aid, parabiosis might be described and pictured something like this:


Necropsies performed after the experiment showed that the old rat benefited tremendously from the procedure — its cartilage looked “younger” than it would have otherwise and its fur shone like that of a much younger rodent. How exactly such transformations happened? The researchers had no definitive answer at the time — the actual “mechanics” of the body rejuvenating itself was still a mystery.

This might have been at least part of the reason why the technique of parabiosis fell out of favor after the 1970s.

In the past few years parabiosis has been revived and several labs are known to use it and forge ahead getting results.

In Revival of Parabiosis, Young Blood Rejuvenates Aging Microglia, Cognition the same questions asked and an attempt is made to answer them:

As the brain ages, its microglial cells turn sluggish in their task of ingesting and degrading toxic products, and the flow of blood through its micro vessels slows. Are there components in the blood that age the brain—and can renew it?

The data offered a provocative new twist on the old specter of rejuvenation with young blood. It also reflected the power of heterochronic parabiosis, a surgical protocol of conjoining the blood supply of a young and an old mouse to study complex pathophysiological processes. 

Parabiosis involves suturing the body walls of two mice together such that their capillaries fuse. The mice then live like Siamese twins joined through their blood supply. At the Zilkha conference, Wyss-Coray said that pairing an 18-month-old with a 3-month-old mouse, and letting them live together for five weeks, reversed microglial aging. (From the article.)


These two mice, one old one young, live with a shared blood supply. [Image courtesy of Tony Wyss-Coray.]

Young Blood May Hold Key to Reversing Aging  is an article in the New York Times published MAY 4, 2014.

Ageing research: Blood to blood is an article in Nature. The bi-line says: By splicing animals together, scientists have shown that young blood rejuvenates old tissues. Now, they are testing whether it works for humans.

“After the team [of researchers at Rando Lab] published its results, Rando’s phone started ringing incessantly. Some of the calls were from men’s health magazines looking for ways to build muscle; others were from people fascinated by the prospect of forestalling death. They wanted to know whether young blood extended lifespan.

But despite the hints that this was true from the 1970s, no one has yet properly tested the idea. It would be an expensive, labour-intensive experiment.” (From the article in Nature.)


криорусPhotographer Murray Ballard, among many things he found interesting and took pictures, got interested in cryonics.

From Greek κρύος ‘kryos-‘ meaning ‘icy cold’, cryonics is the low-temperature preservation of animals (including humans) who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future.

The project combines photographs of the technical processes involved, alongside portraits of the people engaged in the quest to overcome the ‘problem of death’. Whilst members have often been ridiculed for their views, I take an objective stance, allowing the viewer to consider the ethics of the practice, and to decide whether members are caught up in a fantasy world of science fiction, or genuine scientific innovation. (M. Ballard)

Here is a few images from Murray Ballard’s series The Prospect of Immortality (as curated for Impressions Gallery, Bradford, England 2011).

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was an American academic, known as “the father of cryonics” because of the impact of his 1962 book The Prospect of Immortality that gave birth to the idea of ‘cryonics’ – the process of freezing a human body after death in the hope that scientific advances might one day restore life. He died in 2011 aged 92.  After several days of preparation, Ettinger’s body was frozen, placed in a cryonic capsule, and cooled to −196 °C (−320.8 °F). Ettinger was the institute’s 106th patient.

“Would you like to live forever and ever, here on earth? In the near future this may become a real possibility. The Prospect of Immortality is a sober, scientific, and logical argument founded on the undeniable fact: that a body deep-frozen stands a better chance of being revived than of one rotting in the ground; and that many people who died fifty or a hundred years ago of ‘incurable’ diseases would today be cured.” Robert Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality

MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_001Aaron Drake prepares equipment for cryogenic preservation at Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

Operating Room, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Phoenix, Arizona, USA 2007

Operating Room, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Phoenix, Arizona, USA 2007


This cryostat stores several “items”: four human bodies, one human brain, two dogs, one cat and 40 DNA samples.


A young man is consoling his beloved dog Saber on the lawn of the Cryonics Institute near Detroit. Saber will be euthanized and cryogenized.  MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_009

Flower box at the Cryonics Institute (CI) in Clinton Township, MI. The institute was established in 1976 by Robert Ettinger. The Cryonics Institute has 1,165 members in total. 164 of those funded members had contracts with Suspended Animation, Inc. for standby and transport. 126 humans,  188 human tissue/DNA samples and 103 pets and 57 pet tissue/DNA samples are cryogenically preserved in liquid nitrogen storage. MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_003

No adult human has ever been revived from temperatures far below freezing. Cryonics patients are cared for in the expectation that future technology, especially molecular nanotechnology, will be available to reverse damage associated with the cryonics process.


John, future patient (client?) take notes of the instructional video about “after death” procedures at the all inclusive cost of $28,000.MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_0092

KrioRus (Russia) is the first and only cryonics company in Eurasia with its own storage facility. A body of a dog arrived from Slovenia. KrioRus boasts having clients/patients from Italy, Holland, Israel, Estonia, Ukraine.MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_006

This portable liquid nitrogen cryostat contains the head of 79 year old math teacher from Saint Petersburg, Russia. White-on-black inscription says NITROGEN DANGER.

And this, below, is KrioRus storage facility. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d feel apprehensive about spending my frozen-after-death-before-thawing 100 years in a place looking like a dilapidated outhouse.

KrioRus cryogenic storage (or so they say)

KrioRus cryogenic storage (or so they say)


Experiment in the home laboratory of Alexander Pulver of Voronezh, Russia. Tests and experiments, in addition to mice, are carried out using pigs.MURRAY_BALLARD_2009_0091

Dr R. Michael Perry, author of  Forever for All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality.

Die under supervision, be refrigerated and — sometimes in the future — thaw and live again, that’s the idea of cryonics in a nutshell. Sounds good for those who have grown really attached to their mortal flesh, I suppose. No holograms. No super-brains or cyber-twins. Some like the idea of this “gamble” expressing cautious optimism:

“This gamble involves the value of life, the cost of (cryonics), the odds that the technology will work (which seem excellent), and the odds that humanity will survive, develop the technology, and revive people.” — Dr. K. Eric Drexler (originator of molecular nanotechnology), from Engines of Creation, Chapter 9,”A Door to the Future“.

Others are apprehensive and ironic:

Cryonics is an experiment. So far the control group isn’t doing very well.” — Dr. Ralph Merkle (inventor of public key cryptography), an observation made during public talks about cryonics.

While still others are of the opinion that cryonics enthusiast dismiss as “ugly”:

“When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.” — Dr. Michael Shermer (historian and founder of Skeptic magazine), “Nano Nonsense and Cryonics,” Scientific American, Sept. 2001


Life Extention

Игра со смертьюShe might be an excellent chess player, but we all know hers is a loosing game. She might intend to live forever, but the best she can do is to die trying.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. (–Steve Jobs)

УйгурHowever, as life marches on, Death is loosing its preeminent dominance of the playing field. Although the outcome of the  endgame remains predetermined by the Cycle of Life — no stalemate here — there is a light emerging from the horizons of science. The tumult of extraordinary recent scientific developments transpired this year alone.

Once it was a myth. Now it’s a dream. And soon it will be an expectation. Suddenly the science of life extension is producing remarkable results. New papers hint at the possibility of treatments that could radically increase human longevity.(–George Monbiot, The Guardian, Monday 7 July 2014)

In July, Trends in Genetics reported that a class of enzymes called sirtuins  could, in the affirmative, increase longevity in mammals.

It followed a report in the June issue of  Aging Cell about a synthetic small molecules that can stimulate the production of sirtuins in mice, extending their life span and improving their health. The results show that it’s “possible to design a small molecule that can slow aging and delay multiple age-related diseases in mammals, supporting the therapeutic potential … in humans”.

A no less fascinating discovery reported in scientific papers concerns an external hormone (a pheromone) secreted by nematode worms, called daumone. When daumone is fed to elderly mice, it increases their life expectancy by 48% across five months. In short, “daumone could be developed as an anti-aging compound.”

Great, isn’t it? Who would not want to extend the time before the ultimate checkmate?

Peter Pen

To deny great benefits of life extension is considered by some a blasphemy: political leaders who resist funding of life-extension projects should be charged with manslaughter, one recent article insisted.

Aubrey de Grey is a Cambridge University researcher, heads the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) project, in which he has defined seven causes of aging, all of which he thinks can be dealt with. (Senescence is scientific jargon for aging). De Grey also runs the Methuselah Mouse prize for breakthroughs in extended aging in mice. Right,  Methuselah, a Biblical old man, the one that “altogether, lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.”

"I think it's reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely." -- Aubrey de Grey

“I think it’s reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely.”
— Aubrey de Grey

De Grey has no doubt that “a lot of people alive today are going to live to 1,000 or more”. He lists and immediately dismisses four common concerns of “living forever, rejecting them  as “unbelievable excuses … for aging”, “ridiculous” and “completely crazy, when you actually remember your sense of proportion.” 

The first concern  – “wouldn’t life be crushingly boring?” – can be easily dismissed, indeed. Life is as worthy of living as one makes it. Give and take economic and various other considerations, if it becomes too unbearable, meaningless or simply boring, one can choose the exit door and stop taking medication. As  Seneca said, “Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all.”

Many argue that Aubrey de Grey dismisses  other, more serious concerns without due consideration, by simply ridiculing it.

“How the society would support forever-young-old? Would the major distribution problems, evident now, be greatly exacerbated by a new reality?

What about the proposition that “Dictators would rule for ever?” The political power longevity offers goes hand in hand with the economic power, and it’s not impossible to see how a thousand-year life could lead to a thousand-year reign of indestructible political system long overdue for a change.

What if, beyond a certain point, longevity becomes a zero-sum game? What if every year of life extension for those who can afford the treatment becomes a year or more of life reduction for those who can’t? On this planet of limited resources  and hyperconsumption it’s hard not to be concerned about a direct competition for the means of life, which some must win and others must lose…

There are terrible side effects of getting old, no doubt about it. However, it seems like there will be no bucolic vistas in the future where those who can afford it live 10 consecutive lives.

Interview with Aubrey de Grey

De Grey on Colbert:

In fact, he is all over the internet. Look him up.



1914 – 2014: One Hundred Years…

100. A magical number — very round, three digits, exceeds current human life expectancyancy…

The centenary of the Great War ( 28 July 1914 –11 November 1918). It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, paving the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved, says Wikipedia, and it knows.

For days, the news media was overflowing with images of princes, princesses and world dignitaries without titles photogenically bowing their heads in every spot appropriate for the occasion. Photographs of the battlefields coated with corpses, accounts of seeing comrades blown apart by artillery fire…

British soldiers dash towards the enemy lines in 1914, not long after war broke out.

British soldiers dash towards the enemy lines in 1914, not long after war broke out.

As 888,246 red ceramic flowers stood abloom around the Tower of London, I read an excellent article in the Guardian,  1914: the Great War has become a nightly pornography of violence by Simon Jenkins. It made me think, and it changed my perspective on remembrance, commemorations and ceramic flowers, somewhat. A great deal, actually.

Britain, with its above average number of photogenic princes and princess per capita, excelled in staging of commemorative shows. “A Martian might think Britain was a country of demented warmongers, not able to get through a day without a dose of appalling battle scenes from past national victories,” Jenkins says.

Britain’s commemoration of the Great War has lost all sense of proportion. It has become a media theme park, an indigestible cross between Downton Abbey and a horror movie. I cannot walk down the street or turn on the television without being bombarded by Great War diaries, poems, scrapbooks and songs. The BBC has gone war mad. We have Great War plays, Great War proms, Great War bake-ins, Great War gardens, even Great War Countryfile. There is the Great War and the Commonwealth, the Great War and feminism, Great War fashion shows and souvenirs. There are reportedly 8,000 books on the war in print. 

The Royal Mail has issued “classic, prestige and presentation” packs on the war that “enable you to enjoy both the stories and the stamps”. Enjoy?

Meanwhile our finest historians compete to find the most ghoulish tales from the trenches, the most ghastly cruelties, the goriest wounds. No programme appears on television without some footage of men running through mud. Is there no other way of remembering an event than with images of death, punctuated by men in top hats with silly walks?

So true, isn’t it? Excellent example of commemorative activities becoming oddly “banal, a nightly pornography of violence,”

The most sensible commemoration of any war is not to repeat it. Hence, presumably, the constant references by this week’s celebrants to “drawing lessons” and “lest we forget”. But this is mere cliche if no lessons are then drawn, or if drawn are then forgotten.

Drawn and forgotten… Was the WWI horror beyond human imagination? Little did humans know to what heights their collective imagination can take them… WWI was said to be the war to end all wars. Instead, it has become the preparation and testing grounds for so many other wars, fought with the “lessons” of WWI in perfecting the use of sophisticated technologies and science to kill even more people — 60 to 80 millions in WWII compared to some measly 16 to 18 mills…

The presentation below, by Stijn Bollaert shows the Belgian city of Antwerp in 1914 followed by images of exactly the same places from this year.  How much (or conversely how little) some places change in 100 years! I suppose, the images below attempted to demonstrate the remarkable resilience of our species: We can — yes, we can! — recover from devastation. We need to rebuild, restore… For the future. Otherwise, what would there be for us, the descendants, to bomb, ruin and annihilate?



Survive Or Else…



“We don’t understand the power of nature and the world because we don’t live with it. Our Laurence Gonzalesenvironment is designed to sustain us. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo called civilization.”

“Survival is the celebration of choosing life over death. We know we’re going to die. We all die. But survival is saying: perhaps not today. In that sense, survivors don’t defeat death, they come to terms with it.” 

I developed the idea that to survive, you must be annealed in the fires of peril…

                    ― Laurence GonzalesDeep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Nature just IS. It’s neither against us nor it is with us. Our inner world, however, may be very decisively against us at a time when we need to gather everything we have — in, out and beside — to survive in dire circumstances.

That’s pretty much what I’ve got from paging through this book. Generally, I’m not a fan of “how-to” books, even it’s a book about survival.


The idea of a book is this: Since Nature IS, WAS and WILL BE, we are not in control of it. Not fully, at any rate. What we CAN TRY to control is our inner world, thus preparing us to meet adversity and confront our circumstances. Increase our chances of survival is what we can train ourselves to do. And hope, of course, we’ll never need those skills.

Interspersed among numerous true stories is the survivor’s mantra:

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS (be grateful – you are alive)

Be humble. Observe and adapt your knowledge, Nature is not a textbook.

  • BELIEVE THAT YOU WILL SUCCEED (develop a deep conviction that you’ll live)
  • SURRENDER (let go of your fear of dying; “put away the pain”)

Enjoy nature with each small step.

  • SEE THE BEAUTY (remember: it’s a vision quest)
  • PLAY (sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count anything, do mathematical problems in your head)

Have a loose plan and be ready to change or lose the plan.

  • DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY (be determined; have the will and the skill)

Stay calm and don’t rush.

  • STAY CALM (use humor, use fear to focus)
  • THINK/ANALYZE/PLAN (get organized; set up small, manageable tasks)
  • TAKE CORRECT, DECISSIVE ACTION (be bold and cautious while carrying out tasks)

Survivors have meta-knowledge: They know their abilities and do not over- or underestimate them. They believe that anything is possible and act accordingly.


Do it for others

  • CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESS (take joy in completing tasks)

Gonzales talks about the mental stages of being lost. Physically lost. In real peril. Interesting that young children, ages of 1-6, statistically have the highest survival rates. The author notes that this startling fact is fully consistent with survival psychology/neurology.

People who cared to review Deep Survival admit to applying this wisdom while traveling, embarking on adventures, outdoor activities or vacations involving more than lounging by the pool. Some say it’s the best how-to book they’ve ever

I‘d rather talk of some shotrcomings that I’ve noticed, and I wasn’t the only one.  I like pictures in how-to books. Pictures in this post, with exception of the image of the book and the visage of Mr. Gonzales, didn’t come from the book. Just like me, others complain:

I wish this book contained the pictures of the locale of disasters and potential disasters. The lesson that we consistently underestimate nature would be very effective to show an inviting picture of a Hawaiian beach and a caption stating that swimming on this beach will kill you.  (Godfrey T. Degamo) 

The author’s references to oneness with the world, the separateness of the nature world that IS, and the importance of having a highly private world in the soul of the survivor almost in the same breath gets somewhat confusing, if not altogether confusing.

One of Gonzales’ mountaineer-survivors cuts his friend’s rope to save his own life. How about empathy for those injured? Would you be enthusiastic to climb the mountains with a survivor like this guy?

The same reviewer has this to say:

I sometimes wish Gonzales would tone his prose down. Survivors may be the ‘real heroes’, but we need all personalities for our species to survive; from the survivors to the martyrs to the techno-geeks which make the med kits and the radios that rescue survivors. Ultimately, nature doesn’t give a damn if you are a survivalist or not.
Interestingly, the two climbers in the rope cutting incident survived, and continue to climb. It’s not mentioned whether the climbers have climbed together since.

Luck. Gonzales doesn’t talk about it much. In addition to the strengthened inner world (and reading Gonzales’ book) — we do need luck. If Mother Nature is capricious and unpredictable, if you aren’t sure about your partner, then luck or absence of it could mean a difference between life and death.

Speaking of survival, update: 10 minutes after I posted this, virtually in my neighborhood, this happened yesterday and isn’t over yet. I hope the boy survives.Long Peak
Update: The teenager from Canada survived. It was 100% luck that he did.

Terrific And Terrifying Art Of H. R. Giger. RIP

HP Giger1
Hans Rudolf Giger  died on Monday, in Zurich, from injuries suffered in a fall, according to the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland, as reported to the AP. He was 74.


Swiss artist H.R. Giger, seen here at his “Dreams and Visions” exhibition in 2011, died Monday after a fall in Zurich. Giger’s work includes designs for the 1979 film Alien.

While Giger is best known as a creator of surreal biomechanics an designer of scary creatures for movies, he was also a very skilled artist. Surrealism was  his passion. The artist’s imagination, it is said, was inspired by his dreams.   a

James Cowan, who published Giger’s art books for more than 20 years and has been his friend for just as many years, has this to say in the interview for All Things Considered:

“He would have nightmares, going through passages and tunnels and this sort of thing. And took his dreams and put them on paper.”

“It was his mother who gave him a postcard when he was a little boy of a [Salvador] Dali painting. And it just transfixed him.” 

“He has a place in the pantheon of great painters. No question about it. And if you go back to Salvador Dali and all the great masters of imaginative art, Giger’s right in there.” 

He merged sex, tech and legend; his themes were dark, but not his soul. H. R. Giger was a kind man, and a good friend to many. RIP.

"Giger's vision of a human skull encased in a machine appeared on the cover of Brain Salad Surgery, a 1973 album by the rock band Emerson.

“Giger’s vision of a human skull encased in a machine appeared on the cover of Brain Salad Surgery, a 1973 album by the rock band Emerson.


Giger’s unique aesthetics also inspired a Giger Bar in Tokyo and in his hometown. 

I live, I die, I burn, I drown…


I live, I die, I burn, I drown
I endure at once chill and cold
Life is at once too soft and too hard
I have sore troubles mingled with joys

Delmira Augustini

Delmira Agustini (24 October 1886 – 6 July 1914 / Montevideo / Uruguay)

She wrote poems about passion and death — romantic, exquisite and pungent. She was called  “la Nena” (the Babe) when first collection of her poems came out in 1907, but not long afterward, in the eyes of critics, she turned into a “sexually obsessed” “fevered Leda,” with “pithiness in heat.”

I will tell you the dreams of my life 
On this deepest of blue nights. 
In your hands my soul will tremble, 
On your shoulders my cross will rest… (Intimate)

Delmira Agustini’s poetry stands out as one of the most extraordinary voices of Latin American modern literature.

She lived and died… but neither burned nor drowned.  Most sources, concerned more with her poetry than her life, reports that on July of 1914, she was killed by her husband “in one of their clandestine encounters.” Odd, no?

Delmira died young and her death was of a mysterious kind. After a stormy five-year courtship, she married a temperamental caballero named Enrique Reyes, a young man entirely detached from the literary arena, the word of arts and poetry.

The marriage lasted all but 53 days, and it was a stormy one with fiery scandals and quarrels. And then Delmira left her husband, declaring she wants to be “saved from vulgarity.” Eight months later, Agustini and Reyes were divorced. A month later, however, both were found in a nondescript rented apartment.

Delmira was dead, killed by two shots to the head. Enrique was unconscious, too, with a bullet in his head and a revolver in his hand. Both were in deshabillé.Death dous part...

At first glance, the picture seems to be horrific but pretty much clear and uncomplicated: the abandoned husband decided that if she isn’t his, she won’t belong to anybody else. But the circumstances, surrounding this crime of passion were rather disconcerting.  As it turned out, the couple continued to meet secretly while going through the divorce proceedings. The apartment was their love nest. The dates (as evident from the crime scene) were conjugal. At the same time, the couple maintained the facade of outward hostility — while in public, Enrique showered his ex-wife with reproachful insults.

It’s natural when clandestine lovers get married. But husband and wife become secret lovers? What for?

The mystery of Delmira’s death remains unexplained to these days. Young Enrique Reyes — he was all but 27 — died in the hospital, uttering no coherent word about the tragedy. a

Any ideas what actually happened to snuff the young life of a lovely and talented poetess?

There is, of course, a most obvious explanation — a “run of a mill” crime of passion.  Perhaps, to a passionate romantic poetess the marriage turned a love poem into a boring prose, devoid of drama. Secret meetings are so much more exciting! Anguish, jealousy explosions, scandals… In your hands my soul will tremble…

Maybe, in the end, the intensity became way too strong, and more prosaic Enrique could not stand it any longer andda succumbed to a nervous breakdown?

Might as well, Reyes blackmailed his ex-wife, forcing her into clandestine sex? How many obvious reasons for such assumption is there? Exactly zero. However, careful investigator can not leave that option out.

But then again, little former Señora Reyes was of poet fascinated by death. Perhaps she consciously or
subconsciously wanted to bring her temperamental partner to the brink of murder. Was this tragedy just an execution of complex morbid- romantic plot? A suicide pact, perchance? Even more romantic from the look of it…

If the one you love madly, just as madly in love with Death — that’s rarely a threesome. In the story of Delmira and  Enrique it might have become a love triangle from which only one came alive — Death…vignette1