Evening at a Death Cafe

On the second floor of Midtown’s Hunan Manor…

Panisa Khunprasert and Mike Ma, two strangers who had just met for the first time through Death Café NYC, were talking about the big sleep. Ma imitated his late grandparents and described the emotional burden of being their caregiver during their time in hospice; Khunprasert disclosed the death of her brother and sister in a car crash almost 13 years ago, along with her family’s refusal to acknowledge the tragedy.

“My parents are super practical; they’re not emotional,” said Khunprasert, a 25-year-old graduate student attending her first Death Café NYC meetup. Her interest in the socially tabooed subject, which she could not share with her friends or family, brought her to the restaurant. “Everything is about moving forward.”

Although it’s common knowledge everyone eventually ends up six feet under, psychologists note that people continue to dread death and refrain from discussing it. Death cafes, conceived in 2004 by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz as “café mortels,” aim to wrest this topic from its status in conversational etiquette as verboten. Death cafe attendees congregate at venues to mull over the subject of death—typically over food or drink, and without any loss of appetite…

When Audrey Pellicano founded Death Café NYC, she followed the Underwood-Crettaz model: no speakers or lecturers to dominate the conversations, just like-minded social heretics gathering to talk about abstract philosophy and their personal experiences…

“We really just wanted this to be ‘talk about what’s on your mind that you can’t talk to anybody else around the subject of death,’” Pellicano told Motherboard…

After vetting death for almost two hours at Hunan Manor, attendees professed having a slightly greater acceptance of the inevitable, and even cheery outlook. This is unsurprising to funerary consultant Todd Van Beck, who claims a mature attitude towards death—meaning accepting instead of avoiding the subject—does improve people’s quality of life.

“I’ve seen people that stop drinking,” Van Beck said in a telephone interview, later adding,I’ve seen people feel an urgency to live their life; I’ve seen people that become kinder… That’s death awareness.”

Pellicano hosted her first meetup in 2013…Six people attended: she and her two children in their twenties, along with three strangers who stumbled upon Pellicano’s advertisement on Meetup.com…The group has grown since then, averaging between 12 and 15 attendees at monthly meetups…tops was 75.

I can see the need, certainly. Death is, after all, a topic I address here ranging from the horrors of war to the social craptastic laws that get in the way of choosing your own death with dignity.

I’m fortunate in that my closest partner in life – my wife – handles questions like these with all the scholarly interest and humanist reflection she brings to all questions. And over time, friends and followers of this blog have proven to be another thoughtful bunch of human beings, too.

Israeli politicians attack dissident soldiers who expose crimes against Palestinians

Yehuda Shaul was an infantryman in the Israeli army in Hebron during the second intifada. But in recent weeks, he and his group of veterans have been vilified by right-wing organizations and mainstream politicians in a public campaign against Israeli groups critical of their country’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon forbade serving Israeli military personnel from cooperating or meeting with representatives of Shaul’s group, Breaking the Silence (BTS). Education Minister Naftali Bennet issued a similar order to all public schools. And right-wing advocacy group Im Tirzu published a report accusing most Israeli human rights groups of being “foreign agents” because of the funding they receive from friendly states. That report was accompanied by a video and an advertising campaign accusing specific human rights activists of “defending terrorists” and “representing foreign interests.” Those named all received death threats after the ads.

A poll conducted by Channel 10 this weekend found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis surveyed said they support outlawing BTS, with only 22 opposing such a move. Politicians of the right are not the only ones calling for action against Israeli human rights organizations. On Sunday, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, dedicated an entire press conference to attacking BTS, which he said has “crossed the line between [legitimate] criticism and subversion against the state of Israel…”

The silence that BTS has set out to break, according to Shaul, is Israeli society’s lack of awareness of the actions taken in its name by conscript soldiers serving in the West Bank and Gaza. The group has attempted to change that by collecting and disseminating firsthand accounts from soldiers about the actions taken by their units in the occupation…

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has worked to disrupt BTS’ activities abroad. Israel’s embassy in Germany managed to force cancellation of a scheduled exhibition by the group in Cologne; Israel failed to prevent a similar event in Switzerland…

BTS follows a long-standing tradition, dating back to the aftermath of Israel’s war of independence and the Palestinian Nakba, of Israeli military personnel publicizing accounts of their actions in uniform that have challenged official narratives. That testimony has always produced backlash, but an across-the-board attempt to silence them would traditionally have been deemed contrary to Israel’s democratic traditions.

Those democratic traditions disappeared alongside assumption of apartheid policies, racist and bigoted characterization of any Palestinian resistance to Israel’s colonial policies.

RTFA for details of the harassment of dissident Israeli soldiers. This may not be a surprise to some; but, regardless, it’s worth bringing the truth of “democratic” Israel’s undemocratic policies against Israelis as well as Palestinians into the light.

The stupidity, the harm of abstinence-only sex education

Lacey Kennedy, who graduated from a high school in northern Alabama in 2010, remembered students being told to sign an abstinence pledge and to fold the pledge down to the size of a condom wrapper and keep it in their wallet.

“The idea was when you open your wallet to reach for a condom, instead you find this conveniently condom-wrapper-size abstinence pledge,” she said, “and that was supposed to be useful to us.”

According to the most recent National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of high school students in Alabama have had sex, and nearly half have had sex without condoms. Over the past few years, according to the Alabama Department of Health, people ages 13 to 24 are the only cohort in the state to see an increase in new HIV diagnoses. In 2013 people 13 to 24 accounted for almost half of new HIV infections in the state.

Alabama has high rates of STD infections. Data from the CDC in 2013 show that the state capital, Montgomery, had the highest STD rate in the nation. That year the state ranked third in the U.S. in numbers of chlamydial and gonorrheal infections, and the infection rate skyrockets in young adults 15 to 24 years old.

The CDC issued a report in December of last year criticizing middle school and high school sex education programs across the U.S. for not teaching all the recommended sexual health topics. The least covered topic, the report noted, was how to get and use condoms…

In Alabama, public schools have to teach health — includes topics like bullying, hygiene, substance abuse and HIV — but Alabama and 38 other states do not require schools to teach sexual education

The article wanders around through the rationales still offered by education officials challenged by state legislators elected to represent folks even more ignorant than they are. They do that job well enough to get re-elected. Isn’t that what American politics is all about?

The high school I attended in New England added sex education to the curriculum in the early 1950’s. I presume it’s still happening.

Meanwhile, you can figure out in your own mind how much of this policy is “stupid” and how much is “ignorance-based”.

30% of Republicans polled are ready to bomb a country existing only in Disney movies


According to Public Policy Polling, a recent poll of 532 Republican primary voters found that 30 percent supported bombing Agrabah. The only problem is that Agrabah is the fictional country from the Disney movie Aladdin…

…Of the Democratic primary voters who were asked the same question…19 percent…supported the action.

Once again, Republicans win the ignoranus arms race.

In this same poll, 26 percent of Republican voters thought that Islam should be illegal in the United States, and 46 percent supported a Muslim national database, an idea proposed by Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

But, then, who supported the concept of a Bill of Rights in the first place? It certainly wasn’t Tories and other conservatives too busy kissing Royal British butt.