Back to previous post: Oh lord, won’t you buy me …

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Open thread 11

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 20, 2003

One for the ages
Posted by Teresa at 10:57 AM *

Speaking of stuffing someone with shredded manuscripts (as we were), Jo Walton passes on the cheerful news that a long-lost play by Aeschylus has been partially reconstructed from fragments of the text found on papyri that had been used to stuff a mummy.

I find I like the idea of being buried amidst masses of text. This is mostly becaus I have a horror of being boring. Fifty years from now, the advertisements in our magazine will be more interesting than the articles. Five hundred years from now, the old newspapers we used to pack them will be much more interesting than our dishes. If someone in the far future disinters my remains, the least I can do is give them something to read.

Comments on One for the ages:
#1 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:16 AM:

Lo, and they may even make up a religion around those newspaper fragments of yours, even if they can't actually read them. Something about a star called Kolob, and worlds without number.

(Okay, I'll stop tying everything to Mormonism. Honestly. Aeschylus was probably more interesting anyway.)

#2 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:49 AM:

I always wanted to be buried in just a shroud, preferably in a wilderness area. I wouldn't be using this body anymore...why shouldn't the worms, bugs, and fungus have it?

It didn't even occur to me until I was in college that there are probably laws about burial sites and conditions...

#3 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 12:07 PM:

Strange, I just finished a longish poem the last bit of which reads:

I hoard my words
clutch them to my breast
crumple them in my grasping hands
I wrap my words around your image
swaddle and cocoon you
until you disappear
until all that remains
are my words.

Proving yet again that when you have a thought the world reaches out to reinforce it.

What words would you like to be buried with Teresa? Would they be shredded, or somehow sequential? (My husband who has never wanted a tatoo is now considering becoming one of Shelly Jackson's Words, perhaps that could become a part of the funerary ritual, tatooing words on the body...)

#4 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:09 PM:


I still have 3/4-inch Umatic videocassettes from the 1970s, tapings of movies off CBS and the local UHF station (movies like Robin Hood and the French Connection). The commercials from those tapes are more of a hoot than the movies now...but I'm glad I still have the tapes.

(There was something very comforting about seeing a news anchor with nothing but a patch of blueboard behind him--no pinwheeling fly-ins....)

#5 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:21 PM:

(My husband who has never wanted a tatoo is now considering becoming one of Shelly Jackson's Words,

perhaps that could become a part of the funerary ritual, tatooing words on the body...)

Well, not if you're Jewish. Otherwise I quite like this idea.


#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:36 PM:

That settles it. When I'm buried, there will be a complete Sunday New York Times tucked under my arm.

Plus the color Sunday funny pages from the SFChronicle.

And an American Science and Surplus catalog.

Hmmm. I wonder if "only suited to stuff a mummy" was the ancient Egyptian version of "only fit to wrap fish."

#7 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:59 PM:

You guys probably don't want to know this, but due to bioaccumulation, the adult human body at death contains enough toxic materials to make regulation of disposal of human remains necessary from an environment and public welfare standpoint...


#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:06 PM:

I'd be skeptical about that, Laura. Sounds like a claim from the medical tradition that prescribes frequent vigorous flushing of the nether portions of the alimentary tract.

If there are regulations about disposal of corpses, it's because they rot and smell and bloat and all that. Not because they've accumulated a whole bunch of BHT and monosodium glutamate.

#9 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:27 PM:

Shelley Jackson's "Skin" project: Every word of a 2,095-word text is tattooed on a different volunteer, sometimes with accompanying punctuation. The text will not be reproduced in any other form, which I guess means that nobody but the author ever gets to read the story in its entirety. As the participants die out, the meaning of the text gradually changes; when the last volunteer dies, so does the text.

It should be noted that the posthumous-tattoo idea, while cool, would be incompatible with the project. You have to be alive to participate.

#10 ::: sean ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:32 PM:

Pretty fancy stuffing a Greek play. Whatever happened to the whole time capsule thing? Do people still do that?

Laura, I hope you're wrong about the toxins. Blech!

Also, off topic, for the knitters, I found a pretty funny site with knitted skull and crossbones wristbands among other things:

#11 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:10 PM:

Well this ticks me off, now that complete works of Aeschylus I just invested in is worthless! This is one of the problems with collecting classical literature, the continual obsolence of older products and concomittant need to buy the new. I'm not made of money, y'know.

#12 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:32 PM:

Rachel, what a delicate poem.

Andrew: I thought that the participants in the "Skin" project would get a copy of the story?
A friend of mine is thinking of doing that and I think that's what she told me would happen.

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

- from The Joy of Writing, Wislawa Szymborska

#13 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:39 PM:

Thanks, Cassandra--you are correct. Participants do get a copy of the full text. It appears I let my (faulty) memory of the project trump my reading-comprehension subroutine. May I go home and take a nap now, please?

#14 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:11 PM:

I was going to answer Mary Kay, but everyone else beat me to it.

Thank you Cassandra.

I saw a film once about a Japanese calligrapher who wrote on bodies...? It's all very soft focus in my mind, but I remember liking it. Does anyone remember what it was?

#15 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:18 PM:

I am discouraged from packing the dishes, because I have the tendency to linger on the pages of newsprint... which are usually months old, and from papers I didn't see the first time around.

But a new play... Yee-Ha!

Terry K.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:23 PM:

I've never had a tattoo, but there was a recent time when I considered not only getting one, but getting one on each section of my body (upper arm, forearm, hand (on each side), etc.). It added up to something like 30 tattoos. Each would have to be unique and distinctive.

This was in late 2001, of course. I'm sure I don't need to spell out why.

I didn't get them (I'm happy to say). But it started me thinking. What kind of tattoo would I want? It'd have to be something I'm sure I'd still approve of when I'm 64, which is a high bar. Also the rule No Text (no, not even in Hieroglyphs) seemed appropriate.

I think I'm going to get a recycling symbol on my shoulder. I think recycling's important, and after all, I AM recyclable.

When I die, I'll probably be cremated. This has the least environmental impact of any legal means of body disposal; most Witches choose it for that reason. But what I'd really like is for my long bones to be made into flutes, Tibetan Buddhist fashion, and given to my friends.

It would take a very conscious, or a very unconscious person to play those flutes. I'd have to choose the recipients very carefully. They'd have to be people who can play flute, for one trivial thing -- it would be sort of stupid if my bones were sitting on a shelf somewhere. I'd want them USED.

#17 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:25 PM:

Rachael--it sounds like you're thinking of Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book.

#18 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:28 PM:

Xopher -- I have long wanted a sky burial myself, but like you I'll probably have to settle for cremation. I love the flute idea. I have a close friend who plays shakuhachi and if I can find a way to do it I will definitely make provision in my will to provide him with a set of bone flutes (although the transplant techs get first dibs on everything).

#19 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:33 PM:

Xopher, despite your "no text" rule, shouldn't the recycling symbol have the appropriate number inside it, to ensure your remains don't get mixed with incompatible materials, thus contaminating the recyclable waste streams?

What is the appropriate number? I have this urge to pick one with sixes.

#20 ::: Jon ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 07:20 PM:

Well, it'd be hard on the paper (unless you had them laminated), but there's always the burial at sea option. EPA's stricter about that than I expected, but maybe they're just trying to prevent nautical types from washing up on shore and scaring the tourists.

#21 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 08:12 PM:

Xopher: I played the flute for 7 years, and -- but wait. You'll probably outlive me being, as I recall, somewhat younger. Oh well. It was a thought.


#22 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 10:28 PM:

As someone who is often Dumpster-diving for books, records. CDs, etc., it does my heart good to know about this latest discovery. I've found books from as long ago as 1839, but this beats me by a long shot...

#23 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:00 PM:

Hm. Digging around finds a lot of what look to be quickly rewritten press releases put out by the national theater company of Cyprus (THOC), not much on the actual find.

This site goes somewhat into what was known about the play pre-mummy (apparently):

Achilles sitting mute in a veil for half the play? Interesting.

C. -- an Onion, a grocery list, and revival instructions.

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:14 PM:

Jeremy, I assume you mean THREE sixes. I dunno, maybe pi. But no, the no text rule does apply. The possible recycling streams aren't easy to contaminate, if you think about it.

Mary Kay -- you never know. I could live 100 more years, or fall/jump/be pushed in fron of a bus tomorrow. You may play "Density 21.5" on my humerus yet.

Anybody know the title? It isn't Myrmidons is it? Nahh. From what I hear, if they found THAT they'd probably burn it. Or censor it.

#25 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:15 PM:

That was "in front" and "About the play, anybody..."

I'm going to bed now.

#26 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:30 PM:

Pillow book does ring a bell, I'll have to rent it and figure out whether I am remembering it right. Thanks.

#27 ::: Joy Ralph ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 12:08 AM:

Pillow Book made me realize other folk might find words/calligraphy erotic...

#28 ::: Joy Ralph ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 12:08 AM:

Pillow Book made me realize other folk might find words/calligraphy erotic...

#29 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 02:02 AM:

The idea of "burial forward" -- that is, the transplantation of every practical tissue (including blood, and certainly skin) has a distinctly personal appeal to me.

Meandering a bit: Not long ago I was involved in a long and uneven discussion of "cyberpsychosis" (the idea that having nerve-driven auxiliary bits will make one first "dehumanized" and then homicidal), and noted that people with wooden legs do not, to my knowledge, have delusions of being trees, or even furniture. There are downsides to prosthetic therapies, but "turning people into robots" seems to me a frankly dumb counterargument. "it will make you crazy if you keep doing it" has, well, a venerable history, inspiring the reply, "Can I do it until I can see normally?"

On the other servomanipulator, if folks with pacemakers are robots, then I'm one of Victor Frankenstein's kids. Dissected dead bodies and everything, though if there was lightning and Ernest Thesiger I slept through them. I can, you'll pardon the expression, live with that.

#30 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 03:54 AM:

If you have yourself buried with pages that you wish to be readable in the future, I recommend laminating them or otherwise hermetically sealing them against moisture. My elementary school class buried a time capsule circa 1979, and we actually got together in 2000 to dig it up. The newspapers, letters, and other papers had not fared well, despite being wrapped in cellophane and buried in a concrete box; moisture had turned the outer layers completely black. (What we could read of the newspapers was pretty amusing, though. The Gators were having a lousy year -- plus ca change.)

The leg-bone-flute concept creeps me out, but I don't play, so I guess I'm safe.

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 03:58 AM:

Rachael, is your HD a reference to H.D.? Just curious. Poetry and all that.

It's quite possible that a biohazard symbol might be a good thing to have tattooed on oneself. Though I prefer the sentiment of Poi Dog Pondering's song on the subject (Bury Me Deep, IIRC -- it's about letting my nutrients go back to nourish the plants I might have eaten lines I remember include "Don't incinerate me or seal me from/the earth that bore me" but my copy is not accessible right now as it's in Seattle and I'm in Daly City), I'll probably get incinerated -- it's easier, these days.

Mike, I believe in donation first (hey, my mother's mother wanted to donate blood in WWII even though she'd had malaria -- thinking that the danger was to her rather than to others, she wondered about whether she'd had para-malaria ["well, they have paratyphoid, don't they?"], and am a multi-gallon blood donor -- I just hope they change some of the restrictions on who can donate, and develop better tests for what might be carried by the various organs (good actual tests for the HIV virus rather than antibodies, for example, or the Mad Cow prions). It's hard to know whether one should answer the question the blood banks ask ("Have you had sex, _even once_, with someone who has had sex with a homosexual or bisexual male?") versus the question they really want the answer to ("Have you had sex in any way with someone that makes it likely at a [pick your appropriate probability level] that you're infected with HIV?"). Given the cross between our litigious society and the number of lives that might be saved, this is not an easy question to answer.

Tom Whitmore

#32 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 03:59 AM:


It's Achilles in Cyprus.

And your idea about the flutes is beautiful.

#33 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 04:05 AM:

Oh yes, on the actual thread topic --

A fascinating thing I've found recently is various documents which relate to the concept of deterrence published by the US Naval Ordnance Test Station (ca. 1965). One of the most interesting things about it is that the volumes were published in about 300 copy editions and include the initial distribution list. At the level of names of individuals. Including, e.g., Daniel Ellsberg at the RAND Corporation. Not everyone is named, but more than half are. This is fascinating to me, and I'm sure to many others who are interested in exactly how history happens. But the distribution list was not the purpose of the publication.


#34 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 09:34 AM:

The HD is for Hoffman-Dachelet, I'm too lazy to type it all. My students all call me Mzz HD as well so I have begun to think of myself that way.

But I am wracking my brain trying to figure out what you meant by H.D. ...? Henry David? Hard Drive? The curiosity is killing me.

#35 ::: Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 09:58 AM:

John Farrell writes:

"I still have 3/4-inch Umatic videocassettes from the 1970s, tapings of movies off CBS and the local UHF station (movies like Robin Hood and the French Connection). The commercials from those tapes are more of a hoot than the movies now...but I'm glad I still have the tapes."

Source: Reuters. Dateline: The Future.

"A ancient play is to be staged for the first time in more than 2,050 years after shiny brown fragments of the text were found wrapped an American mummy.

"Drawing on references to the series by other ancient playwrights and the recently discovered mylar texts, researchers believe they have the closest possible adaptation of Aaron Spelling's masterpiece."

#36 ::: Nao ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:06 AM:

Rachael: Given the poetry context, I think the H.D. in question may be the poet mentioned here.

I will happily be corrected...

#37 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:12 AM:

My feeling on tatoos is that, if I'm not willing to use -1=e^iπ I'm not ready for writing on my skin in permanent ink.


#38 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 11:04 AM:

Tom: current testing for HIV is by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a very sensitive method for amplifying and detecting nucleic acid sequences specific to the virus. It's a lot better than serum antibody tests, and the risk of being infected by a blood transfusion or organ transplant is now virtually nil. (I used to do research in HIV biology.)

#39 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 11:47 AM:

As I see it, John, there is a risk that people _brought up_ in a completely physically invulnerable state will be at risk of an inability to empathize with others' pain, which is an important aspect of being human. That would be a sort of cyberpsychosis, I guess.


#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 12:19 PM:

Nao -- spot on.

Sennoma -- indeed, PCR is an excellent test, and all that -- so why the restrictions on people giving blood or donating organs which are still in effect? Is PCR used regularly on all donations? I don't _know_ whether I've had sex with people who've had sex with homosexual or bisexual men; I know I haven't engaged in sexual behaviors believed (by the best experts I know of) to spread the HIV virus (though I might have kissed people who could spread hepatitis!). I only know my own behavior. If PCR is used regularly, the blood banks are limiting their supply needlessly; what are the economics of this? I haven't done huge amounts of research, and what I did was several years ago, but I'm still curious and would love explication. Thanks in advance.


#41 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 02:04 PM:

Tom, blood banks in the US have been screening blood donations by PCR since 1999 (usually in pools of 8-24 samples; if a pool tests positive, they retest the individual samples to identify the source). A quick search turned up a new assay (Am J Clin Pathol 2003 120:268-70) capable of consistently detecting 12-25 copies of viral RNA per ml of blood; at that level, the window of opportunity for donation of infectious blood is miniscule (though not zero). Koehler et al. point out (Transfusion 2003 43:830-1) that laboratory and operational errors are probably higher risk factors now than the low viraemia window. Recent estimates put the risk of HIV transmission at 1 per 2-4 million transfusions throughout the US and EU (Transfus Clin Biol 2003 10:1-5), 1 per 10 millon in Canada (CMAJ 2003 169:767-73) and 1 per 8 million in England (Vox Sang 2003 84:274-86). The American Red Cross is somewhat more conservative, and estimates the risk at 1 in 1.2 million (Curr Opin Hematol 2003 10:412-8). Some of those numbers do not even include the impact on risk of nucleic acid testing, which has been shown (sorry, closed the page with citations on it) to be on the order of a 30-50% improvement over antibody-based testing alone.

In my opinion, the questions and rules in their current form are a sop to the continual demand for zero risk (a worthwhile goal but a ridiculous demand), since they could be considerably less intrusive and strict without diminishing their actual contribution to transfusion safety. Indentally, as a measure of the strength of that demand, the cost-effectiveness of nucleic acid testing has been estimated (Transfusion 2003 43:721-9) at well in excess of 4 million dollars per quality adjusted life year saved. As far as I know, most procedures are rated cost-effective only if they come in under $50K/QALY.

#42 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 02:14 PM:

Oops, forgot to add: since nucleic acid testing has been widely adopted despite its cost, and since the questions asked of prospective donors remain unduly intrusive and the rules about who can donate unduly strict, I think the administrative bodies in question (e.g. the Red Cross) have included in their analyses the sad facts of human nature and the likely impact of public loss of trust on blood supplies. It seems they have opted to be as reassuring as possible, having decided that the needless limitations will have a lower impact on supply than would limitations which more closely reflect actual risk.

#43 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 02:55 PM:

Henh? American mummy?

I presume this means a mummy which was in the States, not a mummy which origninated in the Americas.

Terry K.

#44 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 04:11 PM:

"Robin Hood and the French Connection." I can't imagine how I missed that one.

Oh, I'm sure that the French guy (Frank Morgan?) has a ridiculous accent ("Zut le alors, in my countree our tights c'est more fabulous than yours"), but the idea of James Cagney as O'Doyle, the tough Irish exciseman, would make up for a lot. And the wagon chase through central Nottingham could be terrific.

Terry: I can't locate the post/comment you were referring to, and may be about to say something very silly, but the Americas are crowded with mummies of various types, both natural and deliberately packaged. The Mummies of Guanajuato (Mexico) have been the subjects of more cheap horror movies, usually involving masked wrestlers, as all the Egyptians put together.

#45 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 04:38 PM:

It was from Bill Higgins, and read,

"Source: Reuters. Dateline: The Future.

"A ancient play is to be staged for the first time in more than 2,050 years after shiny brown fragments of the text were found wrapped an American mummy."

Now, I know there are lots (tons even) of mummified remains in the Americas, many of them purposeful, but if one of them was stuffed with a copy of an ancient Greek play, otherwise unknown...

Terry K.

#46 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 06:21 PM:

Wow, now I like being called HD even better. Feminist, Imagist, it's all good. Thanks for turning me on to a new interesting poet.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:19 PM:

The leg-bone-flute concept creeps me out, but I don't play, so I guess I'm safe.

That seems to be most people's reaction. Rest assured, I will select no one for the gift without talking it over with them and being sure they are OK with it. (I must admit, though, that if I can't find someone who plays, I WILL settle for someone who doesn't.) And if I can't find anyone, I just won't do it.

Vassilissa - Thanks and thanks.

Tom - I've resented these restrictions for years. I gave blood twice in earlier years. The first time was before HIV was best-guess in the country. I became ill and vomited. The second time was after they knew about AIDS but before they'd figured out that it was caused by a virus. That time, my BP crashed and I collapsed. An hour later they let me go back to work; my BP had gotten all the way up to HALF what it was before giving.

So, I can't give anyway. But it still pisses me off that the ICRC wouldn't take my blood because I've definitely had sex with someone who's had sex with bisexual or homosexual men. It makes me angry when they whine about the blood supply being short. Damned hypocrites!

PLUS they let all sorts of people give blood after 9/11, even after they KNEW they were oversupplied beyond storage capacity; hundreds (thousands?) of pints spoiled, and those people couldn't give again for some time. Most people give once a year at best. Grrr.

Another argument in favor of cloning: single-organ cloning would be easiest with blood. Imagine being able to grow O-neg in emergencies, and later as a matter of routine?

John M. Ford, I look forward to the posthuman era myself. I have this pesky little death-and-rebirth thing to go through before then, unfortunately.

#48 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:31 PM:

Xopher -- not to worry. Once you get fitted for your Lens, it's all rods, cones, helices, and food processors of ravening gravy.

#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 11:45 PM:

Sennoma -- thanks for the info, very much appreciated. Agreed about the "sad facts of human nature." It still gripes me to at least partially lie when I donate (and I'm CMV negative which means my whole donations often go to infants, and my platelet donations can go many places). Sigh.

Rachael -- glad to turn you on to a new interpretation of your name (not the easiest thing to do -- my favorite was when I told Mary Jane Brogan that her name was a pair of shoes, which nobody had ever said before).

Xopher -- yes and yes. I've been blessed with not noticing much when I give blood or platelets(though I had a negative reaction the one time I gave white blood cells for a cytomatch who was dying of Hodgkins' lymphoma -- I described the feeling afterward as like being drunk without any of the good parts). Am I serving the world better by lying about my partners, or by not donating? sennoma's comments indicate the former, but I'm still not comfortable with it. I don't expect I'd really notice any problem from posthumous organ donation.

One more thing, sennoma, completely off topic -- it's minuscule, not miniscule. Took me years to figure that out, and I couldn't believe it the first time I actually Looked It Up. The opposite (capital letters) is majuscule, though it's seldom used metaphorically. I point this out only because I assume it's a conscious spelling, rather than unconscious, and I made the mistake for too many years myself.


#50 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 01:11 AM:

I want to be dressed in impeccable 10th century Viking garb and tossed into a Newfoundland Bog.

Nobody ever considers the needs of archaeolgists, so I try to.

Failing that, sure, cover me in newspapier mache and put me somewhere fairly conspicuous.

I find the bone flute notion entrancing, but have no friends who play.

#51 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 01:21 AM:

I remember reading an article some years back which described what could happen to bodies "donated to science". One body was used in some experiment involving an automatic baseball pitching machine. The article was meant to evoke outrage, but I thought about it, and I wouldn't mind my remains being used in a mundane, somewhat absurd manner after my death. Actually, the more absurd, the more it appeals to me.

I would also not mind being disposed of on a body farm, or being utilized in a series of exploitive and surreal photographs by Joel Peter Witkin.

The bone-flute thing would be cool, so long as I could be tuned in the mixolidian mode. My femur should be better at utilizing music theory in death than I ever was in life.

#52 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 01:41 AM:

Hm. Twenty-eight fingerbones, that's seven fiddles per maiden . . . hm.

Of course, it's nine balalaikas. This cannot be a coincidence.

#53 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 01:46 AM:

nerdychellist writes: The bone-flute thing would be cool, so long as I could be tuned in the mixolidian mode.

But of course. And it make sense that you'd use a femur for mixolidian -- you get all those power cords, well, at least you would on a guitar. A bit hard to get the 5th chords (or any other) out of a flute. I guess we could make a marimba out of your ribcage. Tuning is left as an exercise for the student.

If you wanted aeiloian, I'd suggest the tibia. Anything shorter, and you're really talking pentatonics.

And, to be honest, I have *no idea* why I know this.

Personally, I don't really care about my body -- it's given me enough grief. My funeral plans are simple. Cremation, scatter my ashes on the Chicago Shore, purchase one keg of fine beer for every year I lived, and invite everyone I cared about who's still around -- and nobody leaves until the last keg's finished. Or launched -- knowing some of my friends, we'll see interlakemichiganal ballistic kegs. Heck, they might even hit Canada.

And what more could you ask?

#54 ::: Michelle Brose ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 02:12 AM:

I hope the discoverers plan to release the text of the play into the public domain. Surely the copyright is expired by now.

#55 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Michelle, the text is, but the edition won't be. It will take a significant amount of work to establish the text, and I would be very surprised indeed if the scholars involved give it away for free. (For one thing, it wouldn't count toward tenure.)

#56 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 03:35 PM:

Eric: If you wanted aeiloian, I'd suggest the tibia. Anything shorter, and you're really talking pentatonics.

Why? I'm average size (5'10") and estimate my tibiae are significantly larger than a sopranino recorder, which is chromatic like its 5 (at least) siblings. A smaller instrument might be hard to finger for adults with average-size fingers, but nobody said art was easy....

#57 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 03:57 PM:

Xopher -- Another argument in favor of cloning: single-organ cloning would be easiest with blood.

I don't think I agree. We already have workable plasma-volume replacement fluids; the cells are another matter entirely. Anything involved in immunity would require some way to replicate both positive *and* negative selection for MHC and TCR/Fv -- artificial thymus and bone marrow, essentially. I don't say it's impossible, but it's certainly complicated. Something more homogeneous, like muscle, might be easiest IMO (meat vats, anyone?).

Tom -- thanks for the spelling correction, I'd have gone on with that one for years if you hadn't pointed it out. (Indentally, I meant "inCIdentally" above, but I've decided I like "indentally"; it gives a typographic boost to the idea of separating a side issue from the body of one's comment.)

#58 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 06:08 PM:

Blood donation on 9/11 was disorganized at best - they were turning away people with RH negative blood all day at the Citicorp Center office in favor of people with O blood, although according to the appeals I get (I'm B-) New Yorkers are disproportionately RH-. I was one of the last people in the door, and I'd been there for over six hours.

I'll never forget the woman who screened me - she'd been there for ten hours without a break, and her cousin was on the hundred-and-somethingth floor.

A lot of the day is a big blur - although I cherish the memory of the group takedown the room gave to the guy who came in with sandwiches and blatted about bombing the palestinians who were obviously responsible - but at the time, everyone, including the staff, seemed to just want to do something, and it was the only something we had. I think we were all still in shock.

Most of the organizing was done by two lawyers from one of the firms in the building who just climbed up on the corner above the subway stairs and started directing traffic because no-one else was.

#59 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 11:05 PM:

A smaller instrument might be hard to finger for adults with average-size fingers, but nobody said art was easy.

Tonality, of course. You can pack the hole tight, but they won't sound as nice as large holes spaced further apart. The other issue is the nature of long bones -- a thin bore won't be possible, since the bore needs to be larger than the marrow.

And, if you have a wierd flute, it ought to be in a wierd tuning, right?

On the other topic, I used to give blood quite frequently, then I caught a blood donor's version of a Game Misconduct: Fever of Unknown Origin, with Jaundice. Every test I've taken since has been very negative for exposure to any Hepatitis strain, but there you go.

#60 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2003, 05:11 PM:

I can't donate blood for the next year or so (since I was taking malarial prophylactics) but even so I stopped after my first gallon.

I just don't weigh enough and it wipes me out, every time.

With O- I should, but apart from donations for people whom I know, I just can't make myself go though the light-headedness, the fatigue etc..

Terry K.

#61 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 01:07 AM:

For those who have found themselves with a text-stuffed mummy in the cupboard, help is at hand:
News Archives: Latest
Subject: Stasi
Posted By: Editor
Date Posted: June 18, 2003, 8:57 PM

The Times (London)
June 17, 2003, Tuesday
SECTION: Overseas news; 15
HEADLINE: Swift solution to Stasi's jigsaw puzzle of secrets
BYLINE: Roger Boyes in Berlin
THE remaining secrets of the East German Stasi, torn into shreds and stored in 16,000 sacks, may soon be pieced together by a new computer software program.

Designed to solve the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle, the program could shed light on love affairs between agents and Nato secretaries, contract murders and even the recruitment of foreign academics by one of the most thorough of the Communist secret police forces.

In the dying days of the East German state, agents at the Magdeburg archives were ordered by Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi, to destroy tens of thousands of personal files. But the East German shredding machines were not up to the job and local officials could not organise the transport needed to create a huge bonfire of secrets on the outskirts of town.

Instead they tore each page into neat quarters and stuffed them into 16,000 brown paper sacks. After the Berlin Wall fell, Stasi headquarters were stormed by East Germans and the sacks were taken to a former refugee centre in Zirndorf in Bavaria. There, with painstaking thoroughness, about 50 civil servants have taken eight years to put together the destroyed files from 300 sacks. Fragments of paper are spread across large desks, much as one would solve a jigsaw puzzle: names, handwriting and signatures are matched. At the present rate, the authorities say, it will take another 450 years to process the remaining sacks.

The Berlin Frauenhofer Institute of Production Facilities and Construction Technology, however, has worked out a software program that will match the paper fragments and order them correctly according to the various secret police operations.

The files stretch back several decades. The advantage of the new program is clear: if the documents can be reconstructed in months rather than decades, outstanding murder or treason cases can be solved and the guilty brought to trial. Victims of the Stasi will also be able to lodge compensation claims and seek rehabilitation.

The pieces of paper are scanned electronically, then fed into the system. The program is being refined and a prototype should be ready for use by October. Then the German parliament has to decide whether to pay for it.

That could prove troublesome. When the German parliament first initiated the search for an appropriate software program 2 years ago, members of the former Communist Party of Democratic Socialism opposed it. The party no longer plays a significant role in parliament, but political analysts say that mainstream parties might also try to block the computer plan.

Some of the reconstituted files are likely to contain records of conversations between Western politicians and the East German authorities from the detente years of the late 1960s to the 1980s. Neither the Social Democrats nor the Christian Democrats (who ruled Germany between 1982 and 1998) have a strong interest in such revelations.

But the sacks should provide remarkable insights for historians, who are still trying to unravel the precise relationship between the East and West German states.

Old East German spymasters, in need of cash, are increasingly offering up the names of their foreign recruits; the name of one Scottish woman, hired as a spy in West Berlin in 1980, was disclosed at the weekend.

Helen Anderson was a secretary working at the American military headquarters in Berlin who was persuaded by her secret agent boyfriend to reveal Allied secrets in the name of peace for 12 years. Ms Anderson, who now lives in Arbroath, has since said that she has no regrets about her activities.

But these piecemeal revelations often mask more than they reveal. Despite a number of new books about key events in East German history, the facts are still opaque.

Fifty years ago today, for example, East Berlin workers held a protest march that was crushed violently by Soviet troops. A road that led to the Brandenburg Gate, at the Berlin Wall, was renamed June 17 Street in defiance of the Communist state.

Memorial services, wreath-laying and historical tours are planned. However, there is still no agreement on whether the march was the beginning of a genuine rebellion against Communist rule.

Still many details are unclear: the number of deaths was estimated at between 25 and 300 and the fate of many of the prisoners is still murky, as is the relationship between the Soviet and East German security forces. The torn Stasi files could provide a clue to this and to many other supposedly defining historical moments.


By 1989 the Stasi employed 91,000 staff and 174,000 informers, one spy for every 60 citizens. They kept files on four million East Germans, 25 per cent of the population Under a law passed in 1992, people can inspect the files held on them by the Stasi. More than 1.7 million have done so Stasi archives house 123km (76 miles) of files, dating from 1949 Public organisations have the right to check whether people were informers before employing them. There have been 1.5 million such applications since 1992

#62 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 11:56 AM:

In the future I want to live in, everything that can be usefully transplanted when this body becomes non-viable will do so, and what's left will be dropped from a suitable altitude to burn up brightly on re-entry. Sometimes I like to think of children making wishes on my remains.

#63 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 02:57 PM:

Tom - On "miniscule" vs. "minuscule", the OED claims both spellings; it also notes (in the etymology section for "miniscule") a quote from 1977 saying that the variant spelling has essentially become accepted English, and a 1980 quote from Wm. Safire saying "The old-fashioned spelling is 'minuscule', but trendy people are pronouncing it 'mi-NIS-kyool', so what the hell." The etymology section on "minuscule" also goes into some detail about pronunciation with stress on first or second syllable, and blames the moving of stress to the first syllable for the "quite early emergence of the variant 'miniscule'".

Ah, the weird bits of stuff one finds in the back corners of a language....

#64 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 05:01 PM:

(CHip) A smaller instrument might be hard to finger for adults with average-size fingers, but nobody said art was easy.

(Eric) Tonality, of course. You can pack the hole tight, but they won't sound as nice as large holes spaced further apart. The other issue is the nature of long bones -- a thin bore won't be possible, since the bore needs to be larger than the marrow.

References? The largest holes I can think of are on a saxophone, which sounds many ways but "nice" isn't one of them. And there's room for assorted bore sizes -- wind instruments range from thin metal walls to walls about as thick as the bore.

And, if you have a wierd flute, it ought to be in a wierd tuning, right?

But, but, ... pentatonic isn't weird; that's just a story fostered by music teachers who know "Sakura" is pentatonic and don't realize "Loch Lomond" is too (modulo one accidental). If you want weird, try scala enigmatica. (I forget the exact form, but it starts with a halftone and ends with two a Verdi "Ave Maria" may be the only piece written in it.)

#65 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 08:29 PM:

I was a regular blood donor for years until they told me that the needles they use had completely deflated the vein in my right arm, and the vein in my left arm was obviously going to go fairly soon if I carried on donating. Well, I thought I might need that left vein at some point in the future, and so gave up.

I carry an organ donor card: I like the idea of bits of me going on after I'm dead.

We scattered my great-aunt's ashes in the Botanical Gardens that she'd loved: one handful for each of her family. It was a very beautiful thing, her white ashes falling against the background of the trees and rhododendrons. Opening the cannister and taking a handful of the gritty dust, I finally understood the weight of the phrase "mortal remains": this was all that was left physically of her, all that could ever die.

#66 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 11:34 PM:

One of my brothers and I scattered our mother's ashes in a place that she loved (illegally, so I won't say where it was, though part was water and part was land). It was a good and solemn thing to do. I drove home the long way (making it about 8 hours instead of 4) and thought about her a lot. And today I'm housesitting for a friend whose mother just died -- not entirely unexpected, but still wearing (and in another city, which is why the house-sit).

I'm lucky -- I still have quite large veins in my arms. My mother didn't -- they finally asked her not to come back because they always had trouble finding her vein and really hated bruising her that way.

Hey, I just like the word majuscule and would like to see it used more often. Neither "capital letter" nor "upper-case" seems quite as much fun to me.

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 01:13 AM:

I was taught that there's an imaginary space called the minim; that ascenders and descenders go outside the minim; and that scripts with few to no ascenders or descenders are majuscules, whereas those with lots of both are minuscules.

The minim tends to be wider with fully majuscule scripts, of course.

Majuscules are intrinsically harder to read than minuscules. The ascenders and descenders help the eye differentiate one letter from another. This is part of the reason it's so obnoxious to type in all caps, and why printed Russian is relatively slow going (both the "upper case" and "lower case" of Cyrillic are majuscules, in printing; but the cursive writing is minuscule).

And after saying all that, I have to admit that I think the most beautiful script of all is the Irish Majuscule (that's the one the Book of Kells is written in). It's not that easy to read, but it sure is pretty!

#68 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 08:39 PM:

Hey, I just like the word majuscule

In a vain attempt to weave threads, I'll just say that Majuscule sounds exactly like an organ stop.

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 09:44 PM:

Or like the title of the King of Dictionopolis: Your Majuscule, may I present Milo?

#70 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 09:58 AM:

Linking threads, I do believe the Deseret script looks like a majuscule.

#71 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 07:20 AM:

I was taught that there's an imaginary space called the minim; that ascenders and descenders go outside the minim

Nowadays I usually hear that called the "x-height" of the typeface in question.

#72 ::: Elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 02:22 PM:

Someday I will find out where to find out whether I can be beads after I die. Well, whether my bones can, anyhow. I should very much like to be beads, either the carved ones, or the translucent glass ones that someone told me were done by adding bone meal to the glass. Then I could do a different sort of Artists' Challenge bead project. Had I still long hair,the weavers could have had it.("And the deaf can take/both of my ears/if they don't mind the size" a la John Prine is not an option, alas.)

And thank you, Andrew, for posting about Shelley Jackson's "Skin" project. I shall go sign up.

HD, the essential Imagist, fascinates me, as does the notion of being buried in words, though it brings up images (not Imagists) of the Emperor Heliogabalus writing poems on flower petals. As for plays inside a mummy, two thoughts have collided inside my mind, and neither can make it through the gate to outside until the other shifts; one is something Septimus Hodge says in "Arcadia" about all the material lost along the march, and the other is singing tunelessly about how inside of a mummy it is too dark to read. What was the question again?

#73 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:34 PM:

I've only been a blood donor once, which I do feel guilty about -- though I've also never had to have blood. The problem is I hyperventilate even when just having blood for blood tests taken.

Though I made an interesting discovery last time I had blood samples taken. After a long and agonizing period of trying and failing to find a usuable vein in the elbow, she used the back of my hand. And no nausea, no hyperventilating. So I wonder a bit if it's not my dislike of needles, but an actual physical reaction -- even having the inside of my elbows patted to bring up the veins makes me nauseous.

#74 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:51 PM:

tavella, I'd wonder about a psychological reaction with physical implications -- reminds me Too Much of working with someone who got reactions relating to their history of physical (sexual) abuse when I worked on the forearms....

People too often forget there is a real physical component to psychosomatic reactions (various fear hormones, for example) and try to deal only with the mental side. As with most problems, if you only look at one component there's often some difficulty in finding resolution.


#75 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 08:27 PM:

I can't think of anything particularly traumatic in regards to it, though. Needles in general, yes, there was the Really Traumatic IV in sixth grade (blood kept backing up it and once it slipped right out of the vein and puffed my arm up like a balloon), but I was already not having a very good reaction to having my blood taken before that. I remember my mom commenting about how gray I was coming out after having blood taken a few months before that. It was the year of Much Illness.

#76 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:28 PM:

When I was busy not dying in the hospital last August (deathly, and I wish that was rhetorical overstatement, allergic to sulfa drugs) I got more than a little familiar with needles.

The 0500 wake-up call when the folks from the lab came for the daily draws, the special draws when my temp spiked over 103F (every 12 hours or so) the stuff for infectious disease, the IV fluids (I didn't eat for five days) IV drugs, the potassium drips (very painful, avoid if at all possible), etc..

I can't say as I got to like needles (I was, after all, as leery as I ever was when my last set of labs was done in Nov.) but familiar with them.

I also had a vein blow, and got about 30ml of saline in my forearm, but the worst was trying to get a new vein. Must have been too close to the bone (we were near the wrist) and I must have been agony to listen to, as I was screaming bloody murder.

When we got the IV in, I guarded it like my life depended on it. Kept it in for nine-days without letting them move it.

Terry K.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.