Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, just so to be ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, the U.S. top executioner and likely earliest adopter of the last meal custom, has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have a death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published nine years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages. Relax, we would never say that that’s the worst of anyone’s problems.
But if you find yourself in such a predicament, what you’re about to read may be useful, even life-saving. No sweat, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it.
There are though a few certainties, once you become a resident of the most feared antechamber in the U.S. It’s been ages since you last believed you could make it out of here alive. Mostly, you’ve been preparing for what comes next. But first, let’s eat.
Since shopping for food is out of the menu, the state provides your last one at no charge. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner with no (more)
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* Out to Get You
* Late Supper
* Ketchup With That?
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Having Guts

Down the Chute, Where
the Slimming Bacteria Live

The mouth. While some may call it a temple for words and tastes, where great thought are expressed, and divine flavors often pay visits, it has also another, far more reductionist and not so noble, role: it’s only the first of two ends of a very long tube.
Albeit we won’t get it to that other side, not now anyway, our survival as humans still depends on what travels down into our fat lips, crosses the battleground of our guts, and gets out through a drain hole. Not all is turmoil in there, though. So come, let’s meet the locals.
For despite the many realms our thoughts have conquered, and the reasons why we orbit around the universe of the table, and always come back for more, we go out of our way to dissociate such fulfilling parts of life from what they ultimately imply, body-wise.
We made love and food with our months, and often recite with eloquence what they mean to us, and coyly, how we could never ever live without them. However, any mention to what goes on below the belt, and our appetite goes into a receding mode, embarrassed that we’d even thought about it.
And yet, deep down, you know you think about it, all the time. It’s just not something that, thankfully, most people would like to share on Twitter. But from a medical point of view, we really are what we eat, even though no parallel connection has been established yet between thought and personality.
That’s why Gulp, Mary Roach‘s book on the human digestive system in all its warts and, well, more warts, is so illuminating. And also, why there’s reason to some cautiously feel good about research that points to a bacteria that may have been making people fat all along.

FANTASTIC VOYAGES
In the 1966 movie, a loose adaptation of a series written in the 19th century by Jules Verne, former Bond girl Rachel Welch leads a team of miniaturized scientists who are injected into a man’s carotid artery to destroy a blood clot in his brain. Of course, if they’d fail, the entire world would end.
It was one of the first cinematic incursions into what was known then about the insides of the body, but mercifully, they stayed clear from digging too deep or going down under. Also, because Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization of the movie’s screenplay, published right (more)
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* We’re Not Alone
* Lies & Weight
* The Long Good Friday

 

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Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That drives some to rehearse their award acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you.
It’s like custom-making your own narrative. Soon there’ll be more Websites of the departed than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). A not so silent majority dwarfing billions currently walking and cursing, who in turn are but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.
We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. The powerful industry of ‘cure,’ however, by making sure that we last, may be spoiling even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
Heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch, though. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the begging for forgiveness.
The same with this new realm we’ve created to keep our distance from others, the Internet. Who do you know who knows your passwords, Wed identities, and above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not even slightly interested in knowing either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s (more)

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* Final Cut
* Ways to Go
* Went Before

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Sunken Past

When a Drought Uncovered Ghost 
Towns & a Scary American Future 

At face value, these ruins hold a certain charm. Cities flooded for progress, they took to the depths a vanishing world of temples and playgrounds. Now they fire up the imagination about lives that laid dormant for so long.
But as they reemerge, a frightful vision of decay awakens, one that a climate gone awry may turn into routine. In Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S., what once stood impervious is now shadows on a beaten land.
Mankind has been using the age-old mechanical power of falling water for thousands of years. But the technological explosion of the Industrial Revolution made it possible to be harnessed in large scale, and the 20th century saw an acceleration of this process.
Soon, these machines were transforming even the most inhospitable areas into arable lands, and the age of massive, miles-wide crops was born. It was far from such a neat progression, but water turbines became as inexorable as the force of nature they were designed to harness.
With power, however, came great irresponsibility. Soon, they were large enough to divert the ancient course of rivers, and favor some land properties over others, richer states rather than needier ones (we’re looking at you, California).

THE GATES OF BLACK CANYON
The Hoover Dam, built to tame the Colorado River in 1935, is seen as one of the 20th century’s greatest architectural marvels, and still provides water and electricity to two million acres in three states. It also killed the town of St. Thomas, and drove some 500 souls away.
Drought conditions, which have worsen since 2002, have now rescued those ruins from the bottom of Lake Mead, and exposed a haunting landscape of half demolished buildings and silence. They’ve also (more)
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* The Third Rock
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Final Cut

Writing About the Departed With
Art (or Sending Them Off to Hell)

Writing one’s own obituary is almost as hard as accepting compliments. Or stopping self-congratulating. Some do it for fun, but writers have turned them into an art form. A tough editorial beat, they may actually outlast both newspapers and print journalists. For now, though, every media vehicle has a file stuffed with celebrity obituaries. Just in case.
summation of somebody’s life, they’re far from the niceties-ridden cliches of yesteryear – or when penned by family and friends. Still, some are not above using them to settle scores with the deceased, as it happened to Popeye, June, and Kathleen. Not that they’d care.
Many would be surprised that the written take on the classic eulogy, resembles an actual tombstone: title, brief vital info, and epitaph, all condensed between a few hundred to a thousand words, give or take the departed’s station in life. ‘A tight little coil of biography,’ as Marilyn Johnson put it to the NYTimes, when she published Dead Beat in 2006.
‘I try to get into the head of the person,’ says Economist’s Ann Wroe, about writing Prince‘s obituary. Her paper was a late comer to death notices, but for over a century, they’ve been a distinct feature of the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and the Times. The genre did experience a renaissance of sorts, though, in the early 80s, according to Johnson.

Jim Nicholson, of the Philadelphia Daily News, is often cited as making an imprint on obituary writing style. He did find ways to give a patina of relevance to the life of even the most obscure stiff, by adding unusual details, dug out of interviews, and without resorting to redundant figures of speech or phony superlatives.
But no one could’ve devised what’s now a trend: the final tirade, designed to highlight not virtues but cruel flaws and unforgivable slights that the now – good riddance! – dead supposedly imposed onto the writers. Truthful or spiteful, it’s catching on and there’s no telling when it’ll, well, die out. Thus, mind your ways, or it may happen to you too.

HURRAY, HORSE’S ASS POPEYE IS DEAD
Leslie Ray ‘Popeye’ Charping, 74, died Jan. 30, in Houston, Texas, after battling cancer for years. A regular, nice obituary will go on, mentioning his good deeds, and loved ones he left behind. But Shiela Smith and Leslie Roy Charping, his two children, would have none of that.
In their brutal eulogy, they wrote that ‘Popeye’ lived 29 years ‘more than he deserved,’ and listed ‘being abusive to his family, and expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets,’ among his hobbies. Not ones to find anything nice to say about him, his kin added a few more choice ‘qualities’ of his.
As ‘he did not contribute to society’ and ‘possessed no redeeming qualities,’ lovely Shiela and Roy chose neither to hold any service nor ‘prayers for his eternal peace,’ in lieu of the lack of apologies ‘to the family he tortured.’ ‘Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die.’

NO KIND WORDS OR DEEDS FROM JUNE
Cornelia June Rogers Miller, 86, died Feb. 23, in Gainesville, Fla, hardly knowing that her death was not going to be missed, at least for one of her daughters. Posted anonymously four months later, her obituary went viral, raising charges of plagio, and causing a bitter sibling ruckus.
‘Drugs were a major love in her life as June had no hobbies, made no contribution to society (see a pattern?) and rarely shared (more)
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* A Life, Abridged
* Before Afterlife
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Out to Get You

In a Mad World, There Are
Jobs Only Psychopaths Can Do

They mesmerize you just like a spider would. And just as well, haunt your nightmares. There may be one among your dearest friends. The thought of you knowing a predator who may consider you no more than prey, is as scary as wondering whether you may be one.
But now we know more than ever about psychopaths, through books, movies, and real stories. There’s a new understanding about their evolutionary role and they, gasp, may not be as fearful as society thinks they are. Or at least, not without purpose.
Whole sections of bookstores, or rather, on your favorite online seller, are about their pathology, traits, even theories as to why some of us have no empathy to peoples’ feelings, or pain, while others are just glad to marry them out of sheer awe of their personal power.
Of course, every one of these treatises starts by defining what a psychopath is, what it is not, and most important, what the hell is the difference between them and sociopaths. By now, we’re all cognizant to such variances and mostly have a pretty good idea about what kind of compulsion drives them to do what they do best.
And what’s that, again? If you’ve said that it’s murder, you may not know as much about them as you thought you did. For, according to modern psychology, psychopaths come in a myriad of varieties and, even if you’re not particularly inclined to know the gory details of their mindset, you may at least educate yourself, just enough to, you know, get out of their way.
For despite all contemporary reassessment about what a predator is and what it does, there’s not much change in one basic reality: no one should get on their bad side. Just like sharks, you don’t want them to be extinct, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump in the water and swim alongside them.

THE BLURRY WISDOM OF POP CULTURE
There are now studies purporting to justify the valuable role psychopaths may play in society, what we can learn observing one, how successful some have become as captains of industry, about how some online games make you act just like one, and, yes, whether you are a closet murderer, but that you already knew about it.
Other research supposes what a psychopath would do – you see, just like Jesus – in any number of situations. Or how badly the movies have portrayed them, even though you may kind of miss them when, and if, they finally meet their comeuppance in your favorite series. In fact, they’re ever present in popular culture.
And in real life too, of course, although it’s relatively rare when someone like Bernie Madoff gets caught. Behind the much patting in the back, there’s the shame of realizing that none of his victims anticipated what he was up to. And some of them genuinely thought they were best friends, up to the very, bankrupted end.
After all, remorse is not something that’s usually part of the palette of positive attributions behavior psychologists believe psychopaths could teach us. But (more)
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Slippery & Walkable

The Banana Comic Hour
& a Cabbage Walking Tour

Only bananas to elicit such an immediate, jocose reaction from us. From shape to content, it’s not even a fruit, but a berry that comes with its own signature visual gag: someone slipping on a peel. A soul that hasn’t laughed at a butt being splashed on the floor is yet to be born.
The cabbage, on the other, still odorous side, is about foods not fit for dessert. Dieting, intestinal functions, and the sober, stark Irish and Eastern European cuisines are its realm, and it has thrived for centuries as a tool for parental torture of their crying, spoiled-rot tots.
And yet, for all its sensual pleasures, banana was central to colonial wars, even if slaves and marauders wouldn’t recognize it today: we now favor Cavendish, a seedless, sterile clone. But all is forgiven if that cream pie lives up to its billing.
As for the hardy cabbage, it may be bitter like a prescription, but its color palette is unmatched. Sure, it’s resilient, and it’ll remain fibrous after hours of boiling. It won’t apologize when others veggies wilt, and yet, some would take it for a walk, but we’ll get there before soup.
It may seem in bad taste to talk about food in a week like that. At least insensitive, some would say, to write about edibles and not mention Belgium waffles. But both bananas and cabbages beat any coward massacre, as the one we’re unfortunately forced to endure and grieve.
But what’s better than a hearty meal and a succulent shake? Cooking with compassion will always beat terror, let alone hunger. Rather than war, we’d serve bananas and cabbage to those suffering in Brussels. Here’s to your honor; may this meal lift your spirits.

TROPICAL RACE & THE PEEL SPIEL
The world eats more mangoes, but bananas have a more nuanced if brutal history: the rampage of Europeans and Americans to ransack Latin American nations, and the few politically-charged, and blatantly racist expressions to match: monkey business, banana republic, etc. And never forget those excessive plantains.
Its popularity growing, bananas may have climate change as a formidable adversary, and all sorts of fungi remain a constant threat. Some fear extinction, but while that doesn’t happen, we’re surely the big banana here, so don’t ever call us Berry.
Celebrity came with Andy Warhol, public demand brought it to Iceland, but monkeys were always the ones to better peel a banana. By the way, (more)
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* Fostering Clones
* The Whole Spiel

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