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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Space, the funeral frontier

I wrote a blog entitled Space...the final frontier (that we'll never get to?) on December 6, 2011. It was all about the seeming-impossibility of humankind ever traveling to a distant, earth-like planet, despite our best efforts to find one (or more). The catch is that the planets which seem to be good candidates are so far away that we'd all be dead before we could even get close.

                                         It sure is pretty out there...

This blog - which could be construed as a follow up to my December 6th missive - may offset the notion that we shouldn't bother looking for distant, habitable worlds. Why? Because, it seems, there are a fair number of people who will pay good money to send a few of their ashes into space. As this BBC article highlights, there are people dying just to get into orbit - never mind traveling to strange, new worlds.

There is no doubt that space is an amazing place. Having recently moved to northern AL, my wife and I have already taken the time to lay in the back yard at night and gaze up into the dusky heavens while pointing out the few constellations whose names we remember. For most of us, space is something we can see but never touch. Despite decades of enjoying Star Trek, Star Wars, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and countless other space-based offerings - including the Apollo missions - I know that I'll never get there. At least on this side of heaven.

Apparently this inability to actually get into space bugs some folks enough to shell out good money so that a tiny amount of ashen remains can be carried into space in varying degrees. I say varying degrees because there are several programs run by companies like Celestis; these programs range from shooting a tiny canister of your loved one's remains out of the atmosphere and giving the capsule or module to you after it returns to earth; to the more Trek-ish, the Voyager program is where you wave goodbye to that same small capsule/module as it heads off into deep space.

           These are the voyages of...some dead guy

As romantic as that sounds, I have my glass of cold water handy. Simply getting a capsule containing a single gram of ashes into space (defined as a zero-gravity environment) will cost you $995. Want a larger representative sample? To blast a module containing seven grams of ashes into space will cost you double that.

There are orbital and lunar options as well. But the creme de la creme is Celestis' Voyager program. Launching a single gram of ashen remains into deep space exploration will run $12,500; prefer the module option in which seven grams of ash can boldly go where no (dead) man has gone before? That'll be $25,000 please.

Twenty-five large - to send seven grams of ash hurtling into space?

I don't mean to be insensitive; I can definitely see the attraction. But especially after this 60 Minutes episode where it was discovered there is a fair amount of 3-card Monte going on with earthly remains in cemeteries all over the country, I'm not sure I'm up for spending the equivalent of a nicely equipped Toyota Camry on sending seven grams of my ashes into space. I mean, how do I know they won't just make a big to-do about putting my ashes in the capsule or module, give my loved one a nice plaque and go out back and dump me in the butt-can?

I know this may rain on some folks' parades but we're talking about someone who has already passed on to the happy hunting grounds, gone to be with their maker, risen into heaven or descended into Dante's Hot & Spicy. We're talking about spending a lot of money on shooting ashes into space.

I respect everyone's beliefs; I respect the fact that it may give someone closure or at least comfort to think of their loved one hurtling through the dark, airless vacuum of space. They can spend $25000 and believe that dear, sweet Harold (or Ethel) is in a better place, helping mankind chart the unknown reaches of space.

My belief is that when you die you are, well, dead. Whatever is left of your human form is a lifeless shell bereft of anything you may have been during your life. Burning that shell and shooting a portion of it off into space may sound romantic but what about the important part?

What about the soul of the person who has passed? Where is that?

In my opinion, it would be better to spend your money on taking care of your soul - and the souls of others - than worrying about these fleshy modules we inhabit here on earth.

What do I believe? God has already got a place in the heavens for me when I die. When it's my time, I won't need Celestis or anyone else to blast me into the heavens. I'll already be there.

Sorry about that old capsule I left behind...

What do you think?


Thursday, May 17, 2012


We are a species of complainers.

Growing up, my otherwise conservative and sensible mother unwittingly gave me a peek into the world of complaint-driven society. Two things stand out in my memory: when Mom wanted to get somewhere and another driver impeded her progress? Let's just say that if her car had an app for instantly revoking someones driver license, Mom would have worn that sucker out.

Coffee. Specifically hot coffee. I can't recall a time when we were in a restaurant and Mom did not send her after-dinner coffee back because it wasn't hot enough. Nowadays we have people suing restaurants for incidents involving too-hot coffee.

                         Did she think she was ordering frappucino?

Many of our complaints today inhabit the universe of goods and services. Who hasn't experienced an epic fail when attempting an online purchase, been on the receiving end of a totally mixed-up lunch order, or had Mr./Miss/Mrs. Customer Service make you feel like Eeyore on a bad day. JC Penney has captured the essence of this phenomena in their series of television ads featuring Ellen (last name not required if you live on Earth).

This commercial has complaint written all over it. Ellen starts off complaining about the smell; the cowboy outside the store obviously thinks Ellen is weird after the second series of horse-calling tongue clicks; the gossiping woman in the store is thinking to herself, 'How pushy!' when Ellen elbows in with, "Are you in line?" and then we get the crowning moment...the coupons. It's bad enough that I can't see or hear that word without having Ron White smirking inside my head, "Coo-puns." JC Penney obviously believes coupons are evil and, rightly so, we should be mad as heck about having to use them.

It used to be, back in the day, that you had to get in front of someone to complain. Then, we had the telephone, which allowed us to complain in local and long distance monaural freedom. I wonder if people complained via Morse code over the old wire? Can't you just hear it? Dit dit dah...dit dah dit dah...(Train coming...on arthritis is acting up and them dang rustlers stole ten head of my prize-winning Holsteins).

But nowadays, we can complain on a whole new level - social networking. I am on Facebook and Twitter, although I still haven't figured out what the big deal is about tweeting. It seems like Facebook for people with short attention spans. Seriously, isn't text messaging sufficient for random, pointed thoughts? However this article on the BBC highlights how Twitter, especially, is being embraced as the new tool of modern complaint. And apparently, the corporate world listens when someone (or a hundred someones) tweets.

I'm not immune to the complaining bug; it's so easy to open that door just a crack and let out one little, 'Can you believe what Jimmy's dad did at the soccer game?' and then the next thing you know you're lighting up with your crew after church - still in the parking lot - taking shots at Jimmy, the rude checkout clerk at the grocery store, your boss, every driver in the world besides's easy; there's a lot of low hanging fruit in the garden of complaint.

I don't know what the cure is. But I'm pretty sure Twitter isn't it.

I try to remember Philippians 2:14, Do all things without grumbling or questioning [ESV] (i.e. complaining).

Ephesians 4:29 [ESV] gets a little more specific: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

It may not be as much fun as snickering about Bob as he walks by the water cooler, but we'll all be better off in the long run. I promise you, I'm trying as hard as I can!

What do you think?


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Should we kill?

In my humble opinion, this is a sentence that should never come out of a doctor's mouth:

"I'm sorry, your baby will be born with [insert birth defect or illness here]; would you like to have it aborted?"

I know that there are most likely thousands of medical malpractice suits filed each year. [About 85,000 annually according to this report] What I did not know is that a portion of them fall into the category of Wrongful Birth.

A variety of Internet sites agree in principle that in a wrongful birth action, parents seek damages for a child born with birth defects. The claim for damages is based on the cost to parents of raising an unexpectedly defective child. There is also a companion suit known as Wrongful Life. In a wrongful life action, the child seeks damages for being born with a birth defect rather than not being born.

Let me preface my forthcoming remarks with the statement that I can in no way imagine the anguish a parent undergoes when they are faced with a newborn that will require extraordinary care. My wife and I were blessed with two healthy sons. As I suspect all parents do, we worried if anything would be wrong with our kids. My wife had amniocentesis tests during both pregnancies. And although there were a couple of things that showed up that could have had the potential of manifesting as what we would call abnormal traits, we ended up with two generally healthy - normal - boys.

The article that started me thinking about this aired on NPR this morning.

The segment highlighted Sharon and Steven Hoffman's son, Jake, who was born with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that mainly affects Jewish families and is usually fatal by age 4 or 5.

"There's no treatment. There's no cure. There's nothing," Sharon says.

She says her doctor did not test for the disease. At six months, Jake was diagnosed with it. The couple says he lost control of his muscles and had constant seizures. He died two years later before reaching his third birthday. Sharon says she would have had an abortion if she had known.

"There is no quality of life," Sharon says. "The only thing that you would be bringing this child into the world to do is to suffer. And die."

[Previous four (4) paragraphs quoted from this NPR report]

Again, let me state that I have no idea how I would react if I had been in Mr. Hoffman's shoes.

In a veritable whirlwind of emotional upheaval, there are two main issues here:

  1. Who is at fault (i.e. guilty) for a child born with serious birth defects?
  2. Can we actually take a step that requires killing a child and call it mercy?

                                                        Is justice blind?

In principle, I see clear cut cases where a trained, medical professional can screw up and directly cause something harmful to happen to a child before he or she is born. I can totally understand parents taking doctors, hospitals, etc. to task for these instances.

But what about a child that, through no fault of anyone, has a birth defect? Is it fair to sue the doctor or hospital merely because a specific test wasn't run? How many parents have sat in a medical facility and said, "Is that test really necessary?" out of concern for the mother's health or maybe for financial reasons due to limitations in health care coverage.

Are we really saying that we humans should have the power of life and death over another human if that person does not meet our standard of normal? Can we blame this on advances in medical science that give us nearly unlimited ability to diagnose fetal health? Or more accurately, the failure to employ such advances in all cases?

And that brings us to the real question we should ask ourselves: do we understand the concept of life well enough to make that decision?

What do you think?


Friday, May 11, 2012

I hate to hate haters

It's getting harder and harder to live a life with any belief. It doesn't matter what that belief is;

  • Do you believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman? Hater.
  • Do you believe that Catholic schools should be able to tailor their participation in sports based on their religious tenets? Hater.
  • Do you think the so-called adoption joke in the Avenger's movie was funny? Hater.

I can agree in principle that some number of folks who seek to shut down other people who hold different viewpoints (than them) might be haters. But what about the folks that are trying to shut down conservative Christian heterosexuals, or Catholic schools, or Hollywood script writers? Isn't this a case of having your cake and eating it too?

It took me several minutes of diligent searching on the web to find this article outlining the actual events where President Obama expressed his support of same-gender marriage. That tells me the hundreds of articles, editorials and blogs I found first indicate strong opinions on the matter in our country. What's my opinion? My opinion is that it's impossible to be against something like same-gender marriage without being labeled a hater. If you're against it, it must be because you hate those who believe a same-gender marriage is okay; you're a bigot, against equal rights...maybe you pulled the wings off of live flies as a child.

In this article, I learned that Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic school forfeited the Arizona Charter Athletic Association's 1A state baseball championship game because the other team (Mesa Academy) had a girl starting at second base. The reason Our Lady of Sorrows gave was reported to be a strict parish policy against participating in coed sports. What a bunch of haters! I mean, come on...what do a bunch of musty old parish rules have to do with baseball anyway? Although the article was fair and balanced - and by that I mean it actually reported the events without seeming to cast judgment - the few comments I read at the bottom were illuminating in their hate for the Catholic school's position.

I haven't seen the Avengers movie, although I hear it's pretty good. I suppose a film that makes $200 million on it's opening weekend can't be terrible. This story making the rounds sheds some light on what seems to be a grievous mistake on the part of the film's makers: including in the script a throw-away punchline by Thor when Black Widow remarks that Loki, Thor's adopted brother, has killed 80 people in two days. Thor's response? "He's adopted."

               What do you mean I'm under arrest for hate crimes?

C'mon folks. As Inspector Kemp told us in Young Frankenstein, "A riot is an ugly thing..."


One definition of tolerance is: A fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one's own.

How much tolerance do people have for other people who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman? How much tolerance do people have for Catholics who choose not to participate in a coed baseball game because they believe something might happen during the game that might be demeaning to a young lady? How much tolerance do adoption rights groups have for others - who may be totally on board with adoption rights or even be adopted themselves - who laugh at a joke about a mythical character being adopted?

Shouldn't tolerance be a two-way street? There are a lot of things people do that I don't agree with, but I don't hate them for it. Don't you think it's about time that we stop confusing lack of agreement with a behavior, belief, concept or principal with hate?

What do you think?