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August 20, 2016


I know some of this first hand.

When I was 4, my closest friend came down with leukemia. We lived way out in the country, and she was the only other kid my age that I actually knew at all. She died within months.

Perhaps (probably?) as a result, friends and family dying has never had the same impact that it seems to have for those around me. I miss them, of course. But it isn't traumatic the same way it apparently is even for those who were nowhere near as close to them. It just feels like an ordinary part of life.

But then, I suppose there might be something faulty in my emotional wiring for some other reason....

I think there was another large wave of "dying contemporaries" in the late 80's/early 90's, as a result of AIDS.

I vividly remember the death of my much loved grandmother when I was ten, and it was traumatic. Consciousness of mortality has been present ever since. I find it strange that anyone would imagine, deep down, that they are invulnerable (male teenagers possibly excepted).

And, apropos of nothing, I was rereading this Guardian article for some reason, and noticed something new:

Was Nabakov the person who originated the phrase "cannot unsee" ?

I was eight years old when my mortality came home to me, and I'm not sure why. I became aware that not only could I die, I could take my own life, which meant that I was in some control over whether my life continued. Life, at that point, became a choice.

It did hit me hard when my paternal grandfather died, because he was the closest thing to a saint I ever expect to meet, and I was devastated when my father died. I'm sure I'll be equally flattened when my mother dies.

But the ones that have really hit me are the people who have in some way grown to be a part of me, people who made me who I am. It's not a new awareness of my own mortality at issue, it's like a part of me dying. After all, we are to some extent made up of the people we've known, and all we've learned from them.

I suspect that's what's happening with your wife's grief on the death of her BFF. It's not a new awareness of her own mortality, it's the death of someone who became a part of who she is; in fact, the death of a part of herself.

IT's hard to conceptualize one's own death, since death is the absence of the ability to conceptualize.

I've always been worried about death. OR rather I've always had a fear of an unlived life. I can remember being fourteen, sitting out on the roof (I climbed out the window) and thinking about how someday I would look back at myself at fourteen as an old person and remember that exact moment. I didn't want to look back with regrets.

And I don't. But as superuser says, death, or at the least the end of life, has become a matter of urgency to me since my contemporaries are droppng like flies. I figure I have ten years left and I know that the years will whizz by in a mad rush. So I still think about not having regrets about an unlived life. I think about appreciating, experimenting, enjoying, noticing.

And I think that self-indulgence is a very modern thing, perhaps typical of my generation. Most peopel through out history and most people right now have more urgent maters to attend to than the self indulgences of enjoying one's life.

As a kid, my bedtime occurred just before Perry Mason, and the theme song and the opening credits conspired to have me afraid to go to sleep. I remember telling my mother at one point (or maybe multiple points) that I didn't want to go to sleep cause I didn't want to die. Also, I remember 'learning' as a kid that if you break your neck, you die, so despite the fact that I've done martial arts for roughly 30 of my 55 years on earth, anything that puts me up in the air with the chance to land on my head still terrifies me.

I think this is similar to wonkie's comment, and these sorts of things are 'childish', not in the perjorative sense of silly, but in the original sense of describing something that arises out of childhood.

Since I'm not where peers are passing on, I can only say that what wj says sounds right. My aunt is the last remaining sibling, and I always get a sense of grief that seems so much more palpable and profound than the grief that I've experienced.

An aunt on my mother's side relocated when my uncle needed more care and supervision, but after his passing, she moved back to her old hometown, but that intervening gap saw all her friends either pass away or relocate, and though she is not as grief stricken as my other aunt, her matter of factness about what has happened makes me think there is one more thing built in to this.

The traditional way of life was that one grows up, starts a family and 'settles down', creating a community in a new place. becoming part of that community means that when you get to the age that your peers are passing away, you had a network of people and relationships to let you know that the person who was lost wasn't forgotten, which makes it easier to deal with. But now, with people relocating and not able to be a long time member of a community, that network that supports and consoles is much weaker. It compels us to look towards the end and think of getting stuff done. I think this is a driver of that self-indulgence that wonkie notes, which I prefer to situate it outside of ourselves rather than some flaw that we have internally.

Well I used the term self-indulgence and that is a negative way of looking at it. Another way is self-actualization. I think my generation, (born in 1953) is one of the very very few in human history that has had the option of pursuing self-actualization as a goal in life. Most people have spent their lives pursuing lower order Maslow needs, In fact the very idea that a person could even be in such a state as self-actualization is modern, at least in terms of Western civ. I'm pretty sure my grandmother never thought about it. Also there has been an increase in secularism. my grandmother was afraid of dying. She terrified me when I was about sixteen by suddenly hugging me and telling me that she was afraid of death. We were standing in the aisle at the grocery and I remember that I had been feeling bored and annoyed before the sudden hug and the sudden expression of fear of death. It was a reminder that spending one's time feeling bored and annoyed is a waste of life. On the other hand, it is kind of a privilege to have the option of feelign that way,rather than feeling desperate or disparing or frightened or defeated or many humans have been trapped either in outright suffering or "lives of quiet desperation". I feel kind of obliged to be appreciative and grateful.

Off topic, but open thread & all that... a poll which leaves me feeling a little better in the wake of Brexit (and is some vindication for my unwillingness to label the majority of the U.K. bigots):


I would disagree. The difference is that our current standard of life allows a normal person to pursue self-actualisation in secular sphere of life: sports, travel, handicrafts, gardening, fishing, hunting, studies, art, political or charitable work. Most people have enough free time and very many also the necessary resources to do some of these. Earlier, these were stuff for the very elite.

However, the need for some self-actualisation has always been fulfilled by religion. Almost everyone has, throughout ages, had the leisure necessary for religion, as the cultures usually designate certain holy times for religious festivals.

Religion promises, in most cases, at least some possibility of self-actualisation in life after death (not all religions, though. E.g. the ancient Roman state religion and Sadducean Judaism were pretty bleak on life after death, but they were tempered by mystery cults and Phariseanism respectively.) and usually also provides a route for such self-actualisation in this life, too. That route is, unlike self-actualisation in modern secular world, strictly regimented, but it does exist, and it has provided an impoetant outlet from silent suffering for countless people.

Hmm... When I was about 8 my godfather committed suicide; when I was 12 a friend died of leukaemia; when I was 19 my best friend from school fell off a mountain; etc. So it goes. So it has always gone. I find it hard to believe that those whose only exposure to mortality in their childhood is the loss of their grandparents form an overwhelming majority, even in "peacetime". It's an important myth of contemporary society that we are less surrounded by death than our ancestors were, but I don't believe that many people's lived experiences support it.

Lurker, I agree with you about religion beig a route for self-actualization. When I was writing that post I started out thinking about how religion was my grandmother's comfort, then I got distracted by the story about her fear of dying and left my thought about religion in complete.

I do wonder though if those who found self-actualization through religion were looking for self-actualization. It's a pretty common goal now for all kinds of people. "Be all you can be!" ins;t just an army recruiting slogan; its what every kid understands as the goal of life: to develop one's talents and abilities and interests. YOu don;t have to go back very far before that was not the message of child rearing at all. In fact the message in Western civ was something more along the lines of "fit into your assigned role, like it or not". People were not told that it was ok to find one's own route to self actualization. They were told that they were supposed to find satisfaction from conforming to whatever expectation were assigned to them, and if that was not satisfactory, then the problem was theirs, not society's. Anyway this is a digression and relates to death only in that it affects one's attitude: unfinished business being harder to leave than finished business. But I definatley feel that I am entering the time of life when I am much more exposed tothe death of others than anytime previously.

I don't think I fear dying, per se - being an atheist, more or less, I don't fear the afterlife - I worry about how I'll get there. Peacefully, in my sleep; or as a result of illness or mischance?

The friends I have from long ago, my age or older, are still alive; but I've lost friends much younger than me. Heart attack, in one case. End-stage alcoholism in another. Accidents, in others. Except for the alcoholism, each one could have happened to me, statistically speaking. I sometimes wonder if I have a winning cosmic lottery ticket, and what will happen when the luck runs out.

Something Bill Clinton said at the DNC about getting older really struck me, though (I've heard the phrase before, but don't know where it's originally from): When you reach the stage of life of having more yesterdays than tomorrows. I haven't been able to get that out of my head, since I'm in that category of persons.

A few years back I was looking through an astronomy book, and across a few pages was a graphic representation of a timeline for the Proton Death of the Universe. Suns went dim, planets froze, light faded... down to a dwindling cloud of subatomic particles floating into an infinite dark void.

It made me feel more melancholy than I can describe. An ache like homesickness. Not just my death, or yours, or of every lifeform on the planet... but the end of Everything. The end of possibility.

Strange to feel that way about the universe, and not about myself. Maybe it's displacement...?

But when I think of mortality, that graphic is what comes to mind. Mortality write very large.

Not just my death, or yours, or of every lifeform on the planet... but the end of Everything. The end of possibility.

It will be as though nothing ever happened at all. It's the height of absurdity.


you forget the even more disturbing idea: all matter collapsing into black holes as a result of quantum fluctuation, then Hawking-radiating itself to emptiness.

Not just my death, or yours, or of every lifeform on the planet... but the end of Everything. The end of possibility.

We've (or our successors have) several billion years to find a loophole, so I'm fairly confident in predicting....

This is the perfect post for one of my favorite anecdotes. There is a 97 year old lady I sometimes play bridge with. She once told me:

Sebastian, honey. I'm not sure if there is an afterlife. But if there is, I have millions of years to figure out all about it. So I don't see any reason to rush things or worry about it now.

Which may be one of the most profound things I've heard about the afterlife.

I came out of the closet just at the end of the massive AIDS death cohort. So I didn't have all of my friends die, but I did have many of my friends scarred by having all of their friends die off.

My first non-routine death was a mentor who died of pancreatic cancer. He was a wonderful man. His death at 42 (when I was 32) ended up being very hard. But he taught me a lot about life before he died. He was one of those people I cn honestly say drastically changed my life.

Hmmm Nicolai, I still miss you.

On the subject of the fear of death, I think it's worth mentioning, in case some of you don't know it, a poem by Philip Larkin called Aubade. I'm on my accursed phone, and don't know how to do a link, but if you don't know it I strongly recommend it; I think it's one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

My Mom, a saint who bore more crosses than she deserved (though, yeah, life was once much more lethal not too awfully long ago), passed away last December.

This was among the music we played at her service, and I wouldn't have thought of it if it hadn't been for seeing Girl from the North Country's handle around that time.

We ended the service in the little country church near her home in western PA with a sing-along to this, which speaks to the height of absurdity hairshirt identifies.

There will nothing left but the echo of a cosmic giggle:

I lost a sibling at a young age. My brother, passed age 17, from an obscure congenital auto-immune disorder. He didn't even really have a diagnosis until he was in his early teens - he spent a lot of time in the research medicine wing of Children's Hospital in Boston. He appeared, anonymously, in a number of JAMA articles in the early 80's.

It was, really, a cruel, brutal, heart-breaking thing. Among other things, it contributed to my parent's separation and divorce, and ultimately drove my mother into psychosis for a while after he finally passed.

To which, when I told my wife about it many years later, she replied, "how could it not?"


Of all of the things good or bad that I've lived through, it's the one thing that can, almost 40 years later, still pop up from nowhere and totally crush me. If I see someone who looks like my brother when he was young, or if I see pictures of him. Or even just think of him, like now.

I dream of him now and then, and I'm always happy and grateful to see him again in my dreams.

He was a remarkable person, intelligent and brave, never lost his sense of humor. Which was, frankly, given the cards he drew, freaking amazing.

It messed me up for a while, where "a while" is measured in some number of years. It was, and remains, the cruelest and most unfair thing that has ever happened to anyone I knew personally. Cruel, unfair, and sad.

And when I say "unfair", I mean it rendered any idea of "fairness" irrelevant. There really isn't a philosophical or moral calculus that makes any kind of sense of things like that. It's just a giant, inescapable, horrible fact, not amenable to anything like "understanding".

It would be hard for me to say how profoundly it affected me, because the whole long fact of it - he was ill from when he was born - is so woven into my own early life.

The sense I make of it, now, at the age of almost 60, almost 40 years after he passed, is simply that we're all here more or less for a minute, and our deepest and most urgent responsibility, at all times and in all ways, is to be kind to each other.

Be kind. Always, to everyone, no matter what. I don't really think there's anything else. That is the whole enchilada.

I'm not really good at it, but it is my goal.


The whole Proton death thing is sobering, but for some reason it doesn't really bother me all that much. It seems so remote, the scope of it is so broad, that it just seems like the normal human existential responses to decay and endings just aren't commensurate.

The stars are going to be around for, what, billions more years? It's just too large of a thing for me to engage with, emotionally or personally.

I like Sebastian's bridge partner's perspective.

Maybe there's an afterlife, maybe not, if there is maybe we'll be some recognizable version of "ourselves" when we get there or maybe we'll just be some tiny grain of sand on a great big beach of consciousness.

People believe a lot of things about it, but nobody really knows, in the sense of direct personal knowledge.

I really think it's about finding a way to be kind. Be kind, to everyone, all the time. When you fail, which you will, and probably within the next ten minutes, apologize if possible, and try harder next time.

The rest will sort itself out.

I do miss my brother.

I guess I also want to add that self-actualization seems like a really weird idea to me.

It just seems almost solipsistic. To me.

We all want to, and should, do our best. But we are all subject to ten million historical, social, and every other kind of contingencies.

We are all born into contexts that make demands - legitimate demands - on us that are, it seems to me, more urgent than any one of us bringing our own personal "talents and abilities" into the fullest possible expression.

We all should do our best at whatever things we do, and we all should pursue the things that are meaningful and interesting and important to us, personally. And, we all should be respectful of the demands that are made on us by the rest of the world in which we live.

None of us are the only, or the most important, catfish in the sea.

My opinion and my opinion only, of course.

Russell - what a heartbreaking story, elegiacally told. A cousin of mine also died young, of brain cancer. It had nearly the same effect on his parents and brother. The brother has an exceedingly bleak outlook on life, shaped by the futility of everything medical science could do at the time.

And, yes, everyone: I do realize Proton Death is countless billions of years away. Still makes me melancholy - but, you know, I still cry sometimes over the dinosaurs :) I take the weirdest things personally.

What Russell,said - "our almost-instinct, almost true".

Count, thank you for the Aubade link. I haven't had a chance to reread it yet, but Nigel's link from the same site (which I have also often used) to another of his poems has several annoying typos, so I hope Aubade did not suffer a similar fate. I'll check later. As for the Dylan/Cash Girl from the North Country duet, that is of course exactly where I got my handle. I always loved it on Nashville Skyline, and when I started spending so much time in the North Country, I couldn't resist. I loved something Dylan said about Johnny Cash in a documentary I saw after he died "Johnny Cash was like the North Star, you could steer your boat by him."

Russell. As the flood of What Russell Saids over the years testifies, you are always the most reasonable, reasoned and humane commenter here. I can't help thinking your terrible early experience of grief and loss, and determination to be kind, are something to do with it. But I guess you would rather be a cantankerous bastard, and have your brother back. Since that's not possible, I just want to say, for what it's worth, we are lucky to have you.

The link was completely broken for some reason, so faute de mieux.

And what GFTNC said.

russell, I can't imagine.

Much of my experience has been with friends and family dying suddwnly, sometimes brutally, but quickly. My parents died slowly and were glad to go, intellectually.

There was still fear in my fathers eyes when he knew he was going but couldn't speak, it faded as he accepted the end.

Bookends of my experience, my grandfather died in a car wreck, killed by a drunk driver on his way to work when I was 8. I can still remember evry detail of his casket. And my father, who was in the car with him, fifty years later.

I want to have left nothing unsaid, kindness undone, peevish insult unapologized for. I believe the most we can give to those we lose or leave behind is the certainty they are loved.

For all of that, death provides an alluring endpoint for me. Expressed simply:

I just want to break even.

Richard Manuel

This is some heavy sh*t. Anybody know any good jokes?

what's brown and sticky?

a stick

What has four legs, is green, and will kill you if it drops out of a tree on you?

A pool table.

What's a pirate's favorite restaurant?


Never mind.

what's blue and smells like red paint?

blue paint.

Sorry hsh, this made me laugh out loud too...

Casey L. "but, you know, I still cry sometimes over the dinosaurs :)"

In a recent New Yorker, there was a cartoon depicting a hominid of the time is remarking to a buddy: "I thought it would be cool to have one, but now I just use it for storage".

He is referring to a live Triceratops, the motor home of the era, he has stowed away along the side of his house. The beast stands there moldering and looking forlorn weighed down by all of the owner's discarded crap piled on top and leaning against it ... old tires, a ladder, some weathered lumber, etc.

What's green, has wheels, and grows around the house?

I don't know, what?


Grass doesn't have wheels!

Oh, I lied about the wheels.

I have been charged with designing an MP3 player for the school bus my daughter is converting to a camper, that can be controlled from her iPhone regardless of whether the bus is sitting outside her house where there's wifi, in storage where there's no wifi but is a phone signal, or out in the woods where there's no wifi or phone signal. I remarked that yes, there's an obvious way to do the data communications, but it requires having real computers that will let you lie to them. iPhones aren't real computers and don't give you access to the lower level stuff where the lying has to occur.

Michael Cain: oh, that's an easy one, for suitable values of "controlled with iPhone"

Cassette tape deck, inside a metal box, with suitably sized slots above the deck's buttons (play, stop, etc)

To control the music, insert the iPhone into the appropriate slot until the magic device inside the box goes *click*.

No Wifi or phone signal required. You could probably make it work without any electrical power too, but first you have to crank up the Victrola, and the controls are twitchy.


Will she not be in the bus?

There are worse jokes.

No.7, for example....

She could use the iPhone as an MP3 player. Certainly, it can control itself.

won't be much help here....I had to look up what an "MP3 player" is. Perhaps my time has come.

Well, it's been a bit less than 20 years that they've been in widespread use, bobbyp. That's a mere instant in geological terms.

Nigel, but even worse was the worst groaner that they reported:
In France, J-Lo is known as "I have water."

I was insufficiently shameless to post that one.

Obama's has a knack for timing, showing up to encourage and sustain efforts just when focus might begin to wane. Perfect!

Who judges these things? To me, the medal order would have been:
Gold -- #10
Silver- #14
Bronze- #7
Which reminds me of another joke that forms part of my world-view:

Sitting at the bar, a man is puzzled by the conversation among the half-dozen old guys at a nearby table. By turns, one of them calls out a number and the rest of them laugh. The man asks the bartender what it's all about.
"They're long-time regulars," says the bartender. "They know each other's jokes by heart, so they gave'em numbers to save time."
Still puzzled, the man asks why they barely chuckled when one guy said "26".
"That was Ed," replies the bartender. "Everybody knows he can't tell a joke."

The inability to tell a joke -- or perhaps the recognition that nobody thinks your jokes are funny -- goes some way to reconciling you to death. So does poetry:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be:
That no man lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
And even the weariest river
Flows somewhere safe to the sea.

I will ask for that one on my tombstone someday.

Incidentally, it's not the proton death of the universe that annoys me so much. It's the knowledge that I'll never know who won the 2076 presidential race.


Now there is a good joke!

I rather like this bit, from the Bengali poet/savant Ram Mohun Roy:

"Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be.
Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back."

I'm obviously in a state of transformation into an appalling, pedantic nitpicker, so forgive me please everyone, but Tony P: poetry (more than other works of art) depends completely on every word being correct, and the metre being as the poet intended. I was worried by the metre of the last line, so looked it up. The version I found, on, and others is:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

I hope this version is correct; the last line's metre sounds much better, and the gender-neutrality of "no life lives for ever" versus "no man lives for ever" is surprisingly satisfying in a Victorian poet. I only hope this doesn't make it less satisfying to you, Tony P!

"Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back."

this is how i feel about NPR getting rid of their comments. how else am i supposed to tell them they're doing a shitty job?!?!? i already refuse to donate.


Nitpickery being my favorite indoor sport, how could I possibly object to your observation that "poetry ... depends completely on every word being correct"? The ellipsis here is meant to avoid argument over whether it's poems or jokes that depend more completely on precise wording:)

Just so you know, I was quoting Swinburne from memory -- Horace Rumpole's memory. That is, I encountered the verse in one of the Rumpole stories many years ago, and never looked up "The Garden of Proserpine" until now. (Pre-Google, it would have been much harder, is my excuse.) Curiously, it's Rumpole's memory at fault for "no man" instead of "no life", and mine for "flows" instead of "winds".

I am annoyed with myself for the flows/winds mix-up. "Winds" is more appropriate because it is more specific: it evokes a lazy, somewhat aimless meandering which, let's face it, is a better simile for the average life than "flows". But I confess that to my ear "Winds somewhere safe to the sea" scans better as a concluding line -- to the passage standing alone, that is. Rumpole (okay, John Mortimer and his editors) had "safe to sea" in the story, so the "the" is again my fault.

The man/life mix-up is interesting. Mortimer may have been quoting from memory himself and his editors missed it. Or maybe -- fantasizing here -- they caught it and Mortimer said, "Let it stand. 'Man' is definite, 'life' is nebulous." I trust The Poetry Foundation version, of course, though I note that Swinburne is not squeamish about using "man" and "men" all over the rest of the poem.

Oh, well: it is these clashings of personal taste that make up what we call Life:) Kidding aside, I sincerely thank you for prompting me to look up the poem. And to repeat: I love nitpicking when it comes to poetry -- or humor.


The ellipsis here is meant to avoid argument over whether it's poems or jokes that depend more completely on precise wording:)

Some jokes only work when written:

"There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't."

So not only the right words, but the right symbols are necessary.

Hsh, excellent joke.

Tony P, thanks for this most generous response. Your preference for "winds somewhere safe to the sea" reminds me of the similar, extremely common preference in Robert Louis Stevenson's own epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave, and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

I'm sure you know that almost everyone in the world thinks it is "Home is the sailor, home from the sea" in the penultimate line. Most curious, and it seems to me connected to your own preference.

For the benefit of anybody who has never read Philip Larkin's poem "This Be The Verse" (a title incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't know the Stevenson epitaph above), with its extremely famous opening line, I give you:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Admittedly, not exactly a sunny or light-hearted note on which to end!

Just to be a pain in the ass, in pushing back on russell's plea for kindness, and a little more nitpicky, Swinburne's verse form contains indented lines.

Form is important, people! (says the authoritarian)

The first stanza:

Here, where the world is quiet;
        Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
        In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
        A sleepy world of streams.

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad."

The best double entendre in literature.

" By turns, one of them calls out a number and the rest of them laugh."

That joke is so old, it used to be in Roman numerals.

As for poetry, I cannot claim to have sophisticated taste. My favorite two are both limericks, one of them starts with

"On a bridge sat the Bishop of Buckingham..."

But less objectionably:

There was a young man from Dundee
who was stung on the arm by a wasp.
When asked "does it hurt?",
he replied "no it doesn't",
"I'm so glad it wasn't a hornet."

This last is generally attributed to W.S. Gilbert (as in "and Sullivan"):

There was an Old Man of St. Bees
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp.
When asked, “Does it hurt?”
He replied, “No, it doesn’t,
But I thought all the while ’twas a hornet.”

My father, who was raised in Montreal, was particularly fond of this one (attributed to Rudyard Kipling, of all people!):

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When asked, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is;
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

Unintentional humour ?
“Pokemon Go" is a conspiracy between Japan and the U.S. to undermine the BeiDou system, Chinese national security officials say in earnest. Using GPS, the game makes it possible to draw maps and take photos of restricted areas and identify the locations of missiles by positioning game characters in various places across China, they say…

Sapient, interesting point about the indented lines. I guess, because they were in almost all poetry pre-"modern" poetry, I had assumed it was just a typesetters' protocol, now obsolete in the same way as indenting the first line of paragraphs in letters, but maybe not.

But I'm curious about the double-entendre in Larkin's famous first line. I may be exceptionally dimwitted about double entendres (I am actually, Mr GftNC and camp friends of mine confirm) but I cannot see a double entendre here. I know that it's common to say "get fucked up" when you mean get high or stoned, but I cannot see this fitting here. Perhaps you mean that they "fuck you up" in the sense of conjure you into being? Again, multiple apologies to anybody not into close textual analysis!

Perhaps you mean that they "fuck you up" in the sense of conjure you into being?

I think so. Don't know for sure whether Larkin did, of course.

I grew up in a very small town where going to funerals was one of the few forms of amusement - at least until the baby brother of a classmate died when I was 8 or 9. Then death became very scary and continued so for a long time. When my business partner died (at 66), it was close enough for me to say, "Time to start taking life very seriously." I think that's just the routine progression of thinking about, preparing for, death.

Perhaps you mean that they "fuck you up" in the sense of conjure you into being?

Conjure, huh? Conjoin, consort, conceive, conduct, conjugate(?), consummate, contort(??), convive(???) - take your pick.

Yup, all better than conjure. I told you I was lousy at double entendres....

No way. "conjure" is far more poetic.

Like f*ck?

"Just to be a pain in the ass, in pushing back on russell's plea for kindness"

sadly, my experience has been that its possible approach the the world with kind intent, and still be a pain in the ass.

not just possible, but dead easy.

to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, i hasten to add that i am speaking of myself.

I love Larkin's poem, and yes, your parents do f&ck you up, but I think much of it is unintentional (if you live long enough and your parents do to, you reach a kind of equilibrium about that fact that we just pretty make it up as we go along) but then I believe at some point we take over and f*ck ourselves up, like a fumbled handoff, sometimes good and hard.

I did not f*ck up my son, but I don't claim any responsibility for not f*cking him up; he was born somehow unf*ckupable, though my experience is that that there is some latency period in this, so maybe he'll relapse, but I doubt it.

I tell him I love him every time we speak, because life is short, which he will know when I'm gone and thinks to himself that I loved him every moment of his existence, despite my lacks, and thought it reasonable to remind him.

He knows.

As to general kindness, I was once on board, but I've come to realize that there has been an outbreak of virulent unkindness in this country, kindness is now politically correct, apparently, so I believe we require a period of kicking in the nuts and breaking the bones in the unkind faces of the unkind, of whom now make up 40% of the electorate, and then we can get back to some semblance of kindness.

Perhaps corrupt kindness, but I'll take that over righteous bullying unkindness.

It was mere months before my seventh birthday that my father died very suddenly and unexpectedly. I learned exactly what death meant in what I can only assume is one of the worst ways possible. Thankfully, mom was smart enough to know I'd need to be in counseling for a long, long time.

What's more, my dad and I were both born on the same day of the same month, so it was not difficult to figure out at what point in my life, down to the day, I had officially outlived him. Maybe not such a big deal if you're talking about someone in their sixties or seventies, but one should never hit that point two months before turning thirty-one.

Now on the cusp of 40, I can honestly say the pain of that knowledge and experience has dulled sufficiently that it doesn't completely define my life any longer. But it never fades away either.

Years ago I was religious. Around 2012 I realized I was religious for all the wrong reasons and vowed only to join back up with some organized religion if I found one that had actual evidence to back up its claims instead of just insisting I take it on faith, and thus "fake it 'til you make it". My assumption is I'll retain my agnostic atheism for however long I have left on this planet. But it's also liberating to know the only meaning and purpose my life has are those which I choose to give it, that my contributions to the world and the lives of others are not the result of some divine 'god' character manipulating me into typing the words or singing the notes, but rather the result of thousands of hours and millions of words' worth of practice. I am who I made myself, I was not molded like someone else's clay. I can live free: free of guilt, free of superstition, and free to be who I am.

In my experience, death makes others cling closer to religions. Maybe I'm the outlier, feeling that living one's life in obedience and supplication to a deity that is unlikely to exist doesn't feel much like 'living'.

On the other hand, maybe I'll wind up in hell with the rest of the heretics. There's only one way to find out, and like the rest of us, I'm in no hurry to take that final off-ramp. I think there's still a few good miles left in my tank. :)

When my wife died aged 49, of cancer, it changed my feelings about my own mortality, towards acceptance. Because when she was dying, I contemplated killing us both with a drug overdose. Not as something I was ever really going to do, but as a comforting thought.

"[I] vowed only to join back up with some organized religion if I found one that had actual evidence to back up its claims instead of just insisting I take it on faith"

Look, I've been telling you people that Loki is running the GOP this year, from behind the scenes. What more evidence do you need?1??

As for afterlife plans, it's hard to do much better than Valhalla, and no fancy "beliefs" or crap like that needed: just make sure you have a weapon in hand (doesn't have to be big) when you kick off, and you're good to go.

There was a young man of Milan
Whose poems, they never would scan
When asked why it was
He said "It's because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as I possibly can."

A haiku by John Cooper Clarke

To convey one's mood
In seventeen syllables
Is very diffic

From She Who Has Not Yet Got Over Brexit (or Trump):

A lady born under a curse,
Used to drive forth each day in a hearse.
From the back she would wail
Through a thickness of veil:
"Things do not get better, but worse."

Edward Gorey

There was a young man of Bangkok
Who had mandolin strings for a jock.
When he got an erection
He played a selection
From Johan Sebastian Bach.

(That one I did NOT learn from my father.)

Said a smooth-talking young man from Linz,
"Time was when your money I'd rinse.
But I've found a new way
Of making crime pay:
Now I'm a Nigerian Prince!"

Apparently the only people making money out of Nigerian Prince scams were the people selling the "Nigerian Prince" scam kits to unwitting scammers.

Great fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
And so ad infinitum

"Apparently the only people making money out of Nigerian Prince scams were the people selling the "Nigerian Prince" scam kits to unwitting scammers."

Post your email address, and I'll send you a NEW and EXCITING way to recycle junk email.

hey, remember when that former high-level pol started a charity just before becoming Secretary of State, at which time said pol's spouse took over the charity, and it was the biggest scandal of all time?


me neither

Yeah, but did that Sec.State have a big terrorist attack during their watch? Did they keep their email off of the official servers? Were they pushing lies, not little inconsequential ones, but HUGE life and death, war and peace lies, out in public, in front of important deliberative bodies?


If it's possible to threadjack an open thread, may I ask what people think about the EU's Apple tax ruling ?

(Explained in some detail in their admirably clear press release - not something one always expects from the EU...)

Look, look at those guys, They did stuff kind of like this. No one objected to THAT. See, here's another example of something not at all like it except the headline.

nothing to see here. Move on.

indeed. moving on.

If it's possible to threadjack an open thread, may I ask what people think about the EU's Apple tax ruling ?

It's either a massive victory in the "war" against corporate tax avoidance or a naked lawless revenue grab, depending on which side of the Atlantic you sit.

I did find it amusing that the U.S. Treasury issued a "White Paper" purporting to explain how the Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and her team misapplied the competition laws they are charged with enforcing.

There did seem to be quite a bit of genuine surprise in the tax practitioner community that the EC was taking this approach, which in my mind lends credence to the view that what they're doing is rather novel, although I guess we'll see if the ECJ (eventually) agrees.

Here is one reaction:

“This is not even a tax body,” ... said, “but a competition body saying all of this is state aid and all of this is selective state aid and it is an advantage and it is not in line with European law because we just created a new standard of arm's length—we won't tell you what it is, but we just created a new standard of arm's length. We will hold you accountable to the standard, but we won't tell you what it is. But on a case-by-case basis, we will tell you that your ruling did not comply with our secret arm's-length standard.”

I did find it amusing that the U.S. Treasury issued a "White Paper" purporting to explain how the Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and her team misapplied the competition laws

Well, the US Treasury does have an enormous vested interest in the ruling. Because all those EU taxes are tax deductions for Apple here. Which means, I believe, that Apple may file amended returns and get a huge refund. Ouch!

My own view, FWIW, is that many of the arguments put forward by the commission have a great deal of merit. The problem is the retrospective and apparently arbitrary application of the illegal state aid rules.
It's not that they have created a new standard on state aid (the regulation has been in force for quite some time); rather that it has been patchily applied to state aid in the past, and its use in this particular tax context is somewhat novel.

Of more concern to me is that international co-operation is an absolute pre-requisite for dealing with the kind of large scale tax avoidance practised here (transfer pricing and paper operations set up outside of any tax jurisdiction to which all profits are remitted, etc). A massive fallout between the EU and the US, which current rhetoric suggests, is not going to be helpful.

(Similarly, I'm no fan of the TTIP and would not be sad to see it abandoned, but the impending bad-tempered breakdown of negotiations between the US and EU might have very damaging consequences.)

The novelty and retroactive effect of applying the state aid rules in the way the commission has in this case, and in the Starbucks and Fiat cases before it, is what has everyone up in arms of course. If the Commission had said "you can't do this and similar thing going forward" then there wouldn't really have been much of an outcry. Apple et. al. would restructure and/or just pay the 12.5% Irish rate going forward.

you got it, nigel. just another argument for one world government if you ask me. Let transnational corps try to avoid that.


If the Commission had said "you can't do this and similar thing going forward" ...

That is supposedly already the case, though it's not just the EU:
From 2018 (I think) new OECD agreed rules are to come into place internationally..

Hopefully this little spat won't throw a spanner in the works.

Ironically, it's the US relatively high corporate tax headline rate compared to rates in Europe and elsewhere which incentivises the Apple type of tax fiddle. Were the rates closer, a fair amount of the overseas cash might possibly have been repatriated to the US, and tax paid on it.
Not that I'd bet on that.

The US "check the box" rules and certain "look-through" rules make it very easy for US based companies to move money around outside the US via interest/royalty and other deductible payments with no residual US tax (this was not always the case).

Thus, even if the US rate was 12.5% as it is in Ireland, there would still be an incentive to do this - indeed, Apple's case shows that 12.5% wasn't low enough. Another example was the 2004 repatriation "holiday" in the US which allowed companies to move $$ back to the US at only a 5.25% effective rate. But not a lot of companies did as I heard a company executive remark on why they didn't take advantage of it, "5.25% is still greater than zero."

The OECD BEPS project that you link to was (is) an attempt to stop this sort of thing by bringing the OECD and certain other nations (e.g., G20 members that are not also OECD members) together and agree on a common set of rules (as an aside, critics/cynics also labeled this effort as an attack on US multinationals). It's still up in the air whether the project will have any real impact on multinational tax planning.

Back to State Aid - I've already read comments from tax advisors that what's going to happen is that a lot of what companies are doing now in Ireland will migrate to Singapore, where their tax rulings received from purported sovereign nations will not be subject to second guessing by a supranational authority.

My favorite solution in the US is to have the State Department name any nation acting as a tax haven (assuming we can agree on what that means) a state sponsor of terrorism, thus subjecting any income earned in those countries to immediate US taxation at the 35% rate (there's actually Internal Revenue Code provisions for this - Sections 952(a)(5) and 901(j)(2)(A)(iv)).

My favorite solution in the US is to have the State Department name any nation acting as a tax haven (assuming we can agree on what that means) a state sponsor of terrorism

The problem with that is would be precisely the kind of unilateral and arbitrary action that the US is complaining about here....

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