Actually, death is not beautiful

This photograph packs such an emotional wallop, I decided to share it even though I find it very troubling:

apparently beautiful suicide

It’s a photo of a dead woman lying on top of a car. A few minutes earlier, she had leapt from the observation platform of the Empire State Building. The force of her landing caved in the roof of the car and smashed out its windows.

Jason Kottke, who has the full story, calls it the most beautiful suicide.

Actually, no. It’s a beautiful photograph, despite the subject matter.

Suicide is never beautiful. Death is never beautiful. I know:  there have been several suicides in my family, plus several unsuccessful suicide attempts. Suicide is always a tragedy.

I will always remember a conversation I had with one member of my immediate family. Whenever anything bad happened to her, she would immediately think, “I wish I was dead.” And I don’t mean whenever something really bad happened to her — any small setback would produce the same reflexive thought.

Somewhere in her mind, there lurked the idea that death was beautiful:  the solution to all of life’s manifold problems. I wonder whether other people have the same idea. People who themselves might be potential suicide candidates.

Death is ugly. You want beauty?

Glenn Gould(Glenn Gould)

Life is beautiful.
boys laughing(by Flickr user GDabir)

Life is beautiful.
backlit, pregnant(photo by Pascal Renoux)

Life is beautiful.


16 month timetable the right policy

The Prime Minister of Iraq agrees with Obama’s timetable for a U.S. withdrawal:

When asked in an interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, [Prime Minister] Maliki responded “as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned.” He then continued: “US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months.” …

Iraq, Maliki went on to say, “would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations.” He also emphasized though that the security agreement between the two countries should only “remain in effect in the short term.”

Democrats circulate an interview McCain gave in 2004:

QUESTION: Let me give you a hypothetical, senator. What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there? I understand it’s a hypothetical, but it’s at least possible.

McCAIN: Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because— if it was an elected government of Iraq—and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.

Marc Ambinder comments,

This could be one of those unexpected events that forever changes the way the world perceives an issue. Iraq’s Prime Minister agrees with Obama, and there’s no wiggle room or fudge factor. This puts John McCain in an extremely precarious spot: what’s left to argue? to argue against Maliki would be to predicate that Iraqi sovereignty at this point means nothing. …

(Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, “We’re fucked.”)

Meanwhile, President Bush is now open to “a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals — such as … the further reduction of U.S. combat forces in Iraq.”

Uh … that would be a “timetable for withdrawal” that dare not speak its name.

Big bucks for bunnies


Today at Sotheby’s London, Beatrix Potter’s original watercolour illustration for the final scene from “The Rabbits’ Christmas Party” sequence sold for the remarkable sum of £289,250 … setting a new record for any book illustration sold at auction.

Not just an illustration for a children’s book, but an honest-to-goodness work of art. Click to see the full sized version at

The Rabbits' Christmas Party

A sign of the times

“To think that someone would come and steal from a church, it’s hard to swallow,” church warden Rosalie Webb told CBC News.

What were the thieves after? Heating oil.

It’s a sign of the times, I suppose. Perhaps in more ways than one.

A Burden Too Great (Amos 8:4-9)

I was in Peterborough this weekend, preaching at St. Andrews United Church — my parents’ congregation. St. Andrews is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. That’s a very long time, by Canadian standards:  stretching back to a time before Confederation (in 1867, when four of the provinces united to form a nation).

I don’t know whether anyone will be interested, but I decided to upload my sermon to the blog. I’m speaking on an environmental theme, grounding the message in a text from the prophet Amos.

The sermon is 25 minutes long, which is a rather long time for modern people to sit still and listen. But I’m not apologizing. I think it’s possible to hold people’s attention for that long, but a sermon has to be well crafted for it to work — no meandering.

The first voice you’ll hear is my father, reading a few verses from the Gospel of John. I’ve broken the recording into three segments. The middle section is longer than the other two.


The land trembles:

Moral cause and effect:

Men will be boys

Men will be boys … sometimes with lethal consequences.

From eyewitness reports, police gave a detailed account of events leading up to the crash.

A 55-year-old man was heading to work from his Milton home. He was driving north on James Snow Parkway when, at 5:16 a.m., a maroon Pontiac Grand Prix pulled up beside him.

While police don’t know what precipitated it, they allege the two drivers began a duel of sorts, jockeying to be the first on the Highway 401 ramp ahead. They accelerated “at a high rate of speed” toward the on-ramp, said Staff Sergeant Dennis Mahoney-Bruer of the Ontario Provincial Police Port Credit division.

The man driving the SUV managed to surge ahead and merge into the centre lane, but the Pontiac driver wasn’t conceding defeat: He accelerated and cut in front of the SUV, then slammed on the brakes — a classic road-rage manoeuvre, police say.

smashed up SUVDavid Ritchie, Globe and Mail

To avoid rear-ending the Pontiac, the SUV driver swerved to the left and lost control, smashing into the cement median and rolling at least three times, police said. The SUV bounced about 300 metres until it landed upright. The driver, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the vehicle ….

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Police have not released his name at the request of the family.

I don’t like to pile onto people who have already suffered a tragedy but, in this case, maybe it’s a kind of public service announcement. Maybe someone else will think twice before yielding to road rage.

The victim was 55 years old. The other guy, who is now charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death, is 39 years old.

Both of them were old enough to know better than this. And the victim wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is why he was thrown out of his SUV to his death.

It’s a senseless tragedy from beginning to end. “It could have been avoided,” his brother says.

The quote is from the Toronto Star, which also quotes OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley:

He said drivers who get involved in road rage incidents are generally men with above average incomes and education.

“We’ve literally had soccer moms in minivans ramming each other, but usually it’s men,” he said.

“They are generally people who have had no previous contact with the police and have good reputations in the community.”

How sad:  to live a good life only to die violently — or kill someone — because of a childish tantrum in an automobile. May the rest of us consider well, and not make the same mistake.

Holy craps!

John McCain has a gambling problem, according to Norm Scheiber. That’s Scheiber’s interpretation of an article by Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf in Time:

In the past decade, [McCain] has played on Mississippi riverboats, on Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the length of the Las Vegas Strip. … “Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John’s life,” says John Weaver, McCain’s former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. “Taking a chance, playing against the odds.”

Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. “He never, ever plays on the house,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. The goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial. He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.

Only recently have McCain’s aides urged him to pull back from the pastime. In the heat of the G.O.P. primary fight last spring, he announced on a visit to the Vegas Strip that he was going to the casino floor. When his aides stopped him, fearing a public relations disaster, McCain suggested that they ask the casino to take a craps table to a private room, a high-roller privilege McCain had indulged in before. His aides, with alarm bells ringing, refused again, according to two accounts of the discussion.

“He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing,” says a Republican who has watched McCain play. “And he just sort of revels in it.”

(emphasis added)

McCain can afford to lose thousands of dollars on a roll of the dice. His wife, Cindy, is a very wealthy woman:  heiress to the Budweiser fortune, the chair of Hensley & Co. (one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the USA), she reported $6 million in income for 2006.

Now put McCain’s gambling habits together with his credit card debts:

The presidential candidate and his wife Cindy reported piling up debt on a charge card between $10,000 and $15,000. His wife’s solo charge card has between $100,000 and $250,000 in debt to American Express.

McCain’s wife also has a second American Express charge card listed on the senator’s financial disclosure that was carrying $100,000 to $250,000 in debt.

Another charge card with American Express, this one for a “dependent child,” is carrying debt in the range of $15,000 and $50,000.

So the McCain family has a total credit card debt of at least $225,000.

On the other hand, “Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), reported no liabilities in his annual financial disclosures.” Likewise, with respect to gambling, Obama’s style is to wager only $1 on a hand of poker.

The information about McCain ought to worry Americans:  particularly American conservatives.

The Bush Administration has already added an enormous amount to the US debt. Now McCain has proposed more than $650 billion per year in tax cuts, which is equivalent to a third of domestic spending.

McCain claims that he’s still going to balance the budget. Simultaneously, he is preparing the ground to blame Congress for any deficits that occur during a McCain administration. His tax cuts wouldn’t be to blame — nuh-uh!

Given his personal habits (gambling and credit card debt), the massive tax cuts he proposes (which will primarily benefit wealthy people like Cindy McCain’s business associates), and his willingness to pour billions of dollars into perpetual military adventures in the Middle East —

Americans will be taking a huge gamble themselves, if they elect this guy President.

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