Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Eugene Krantz woke up. This was a surprise.

He was lucky. Most people didn't get the chance to think about the possibility of waking up, but he had the luxury of one last this and that. Goodbyes, mostly. A fruit cup with a foil lid. One last kind word from his estranged brother.

There wasn't supposed to be a "now" anymore. Not for him. But here he was, in what seemed like his bed, in what looked like his bedroom, inside of what he assumed must be his apartment.

He searched himself for logic. "Have I tripped recently?"

He remembered mushroom experiences from years past, and noted how logic didn't quite work in that realm. But it HAD been years. He didn't even have friends with access anymore. Besides, this was too real for a trip. He wasn't high in the clouds, he was just in bed. Like normal.

"Not a trip. Something else."

Then the confusion settled on him hard. He was sick. He'd been ill, desperately so, for months. Then there was the stroke, and then the hospital stay. That was months again.

Janie, his ex, had finally come to see him. She seemed horrified at how miserable he was.

He didn't know much about medicine, but she did. And in a private moment, she asked if he wanted to keep living like this.

"No", he whispered now, remembering the moment.

She knew what to do. There were machines all around him in that hospital room. Even if he had the strength, the machines were all in so close that he could barely move on a good day.

"Listen", Janie said. "You can stop this if you want. The doctors tell you how you're responding to treatment and what they want to try next, but they'll never tell you how to off yourself. It's this one."

She pointed to a machine that managed his IV drip. "Here's the power button, which only turns it on, here are the dosage and timing buttons, and here's the menu button."

Janie's eyes darted around, and she stood up and left.

She'd shown him the buttons, but nothing else. He still didn't know how to do it if he made up his mind.

Just a minute later, Janie was back. "If the staff get the idea that you want to turn off your IV machine, they'll come up with all kinds of ways to stop you. I bought the nurse a bag of chips from the machine in the hall so I know where she'll be for a few more minutes." It was after 2:00am. They'd talked most of that day and all night.

"If you really want to turn this thing off and fade away, you'll have to turn off its alarm. It automatically beeps, loudly, if for some reason you stop getting the IV liquids."

She showed him the Menu tree on the machine, and selected Alarm Off. "Then, you'd hit OK. I'm not going to, because I don't want to get tried for your murder, but I'm fine with telling you how to do it yourself."

It was that simple. He'd have to wait for a day he had strength enough to make the dozen button presses it would take, and he'd also have to do it at a time when the staff wouldn't randomly check on him and ruin it. But he could do it.

He planned.

His family visited the next week, and in spite of his doctors telling them that he could hold on for months more, he told them that he didn't think he had long left. If they had goodbyes, this could be it.

The tears poured along with the goodbyes. They stayed longer than they had the time before. He had them all in his room one at a time. There were waves of important things to say and great waves of dominating silence. His mom and dad and brother all had loose ends, little things they wanted said before he was gone. Eugene even laughed once or twice. It had been a long time.

It was hard work for him, and he could tell that his family saw how tired he was. They didn't want to leave, but they also didn't want to take a heavier toll on him. More goodbyes. More tears. And they left.

Eugene went to sleep.

When he woke it was the early hours again, like when Janie had been to visit last. He thought hard about what she had told him. He could keep suffering like this, or he could take control.

By now he was mostly recovered from the strain of his family's visit. Should he try? Could he even manage a dozen button presses?

Normally the entire room buzzed with all the devices it took to keep him alive, but now, staring at the IV machine, he heard mostly the hum it made. He steeled himself and reached for the machine.

One button press. Two.

The sound of the nurse's station alarm jolted him. Maybe Janie hadn't told him everything.

He heard the nurse getting up from the desk and running. Eugene waited.

The code blue alarm was from a different room, two doors from his. Hospital staff were rushing onto the wing and converging on that room. They ran by his door, ID badges swinging from necks and belts.

He realized that this time--when the medical staff were responding to a code blue--was the only time that his own code blue might get past them.

The IV machine was still two steps into the menu where he'd left it. He mustered all the strength he had and recited the presses Janie had showed him.

The alarm was off. Now the IV push was stopped. It wouldn't take long.

Eugene felt sleepy. He sunk his head into the pillow and tried hard to breathe, but he couldn't. He heard another alarm, but he knew now that sleep was coming. And then there was silence.

And now this. Waking up in seemingly his own bedroom. He hadn't seen that room in over six months. Somehow it was emptier. His chair and dresser were there, but the TV was gone. He wasn't sure, but it seemed like other things were gone too.

There was a knock on the door. "Come in."

The door opened and a man stepped in. "Eugene! How do you feel?"

He didn't know. For a year he'd been in so much pain that it was a silly question. Only doctors probed when the answer was so obvious.

"Don't worry, I know it's a silly question," the man said. "Hey it's been a long time. I'm Joey."

The words hung in the air and Eugene tried to process. There was no pain. He turned under the covers to face Joey. It felt new to have control over his body again.


"You do remember! Hey that's great. Listen Eugene, we need to talk for a minute, so get up, get dressed and I'll see you in here." His words faded as he shut the door behind him.

"I'm in trouble," thought Eugene. When he'd been a devout Mormon, he had wondered what the afterlife would be like. This was not how he'd imagined it. And after his skepticism took religion away, he was sure there simply wouldn't be an afterlife. He'd expected permanent sleep, no more consciousness ever again.

He pushed off the covers and swung his feet out of bed. He couldn't even think about doing that for the last year. He went to his dresser and found clothes where he expected them to be. They were his clothes. He dressed, opened the door, and walked into the living room.

Joey was waiting on a sofa. He smiled as Eugene came in and sat down.

"So what's the score, Joey?"

"I'm here to welcome you. Pretty much anyone here could have taken the job, but I spoke first. So, welcome."

"Are you really Elder Joey Stills from my mission, or do you just look like him?"

"It's really me, and we really served together then in North Dakota. I died a few years ago, and now you have, too. Next you'll ask if this is heaven. I'll tell you now that it's not quite what you probably imagined heaven to be like, but yes. You're in a good place."

"Listen, Joey, I'm glad to see you, but I left the church years ago. Don't I have to repent or something before I can be here?"

"You didn't just leave the church, Eugene. You became an atheist." Eugene waited.

"This was hard for me to understand at first. All the people here? They're adults. There are no children. And all of these people lived the best they could. The world was set up to fool us all, and the only real standard of worthiness here is how you handled being fooled."

"So it doesn't matter that I was an atheist?"

"No it matters," continued Joey, "but it only shows how you interpreted what was in front of you. Do you feel like doing some good satisfying work?"

He did. If this was his new life, he wanted to start living it. His body was healthy again, and he knew he could enjoy work like he once had.

"What kind of work?"

"Your atheism before showed that you have a gift for a certain kind of critical thinking. I don't get to make the assignments here, but you'll be glad for your atheism, even if you can't stick to it anymore."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Homer Simpson's Birthdate

It's not on Wikipedia (yet), but Homer Simpson's birthdate is May 12 1956, according to Simpsons Season 4, episode 16, called "Duffless."

Now you know.

UPDATE/This Just In:

In the same episode, Homer sings about his first beer, and using a fake ID to buy it. The name on the ID was Brian McGee and Brian's birthdate was August 2 1948, boosting Homer's purported age almost eight years.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dear PBS Nova: Details Matter

My screen cap of this image is dated April of 2012, and I did in fact send an email to correct the Nova team. Never got a reply.

The image you see is from an episode of PBS' series Nova, and this show was about elements.

The problem is that they use a 1943 United States Cent to illustrate the use of copper. In 1943, the United States was at war, and copper was considered too valuable to the war effort to use in cents. So they made them out of steel. They even stick to a magnet.

People collected the unusual cents in huge quantities, and you can still get a steel cent in pretty good condition at any coin shop for less than a dollar. Steel in 1943, guys. Not copper. Better luck next time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Well, if it's a crime to love one's country then I'm guilty..."

In reading news stories, I sometimes encounter stories where a bad thing happened, someone is charged with a crime, but (at least from the facts that are presented) the guilt of that person is far from clear.  Recent examples include the Georgia father whose son died after being left in a hot car all day (and the mother) and the teenage companion of a violent man who killed a police officer before being killed himself.  (Also once Josh Powell, but at this point he's clearly guilty of murdering his children regardless of what happened to his wife.)

I could spend some time discussing why these people may not be guilty of the crimes that they're charged with (or may soon be charged with), but that's not really my point.  My point is to criticize the common reaction that people have to these stories.  They look at the situations that these people were in and say, "I would never do that.  Therefore these people are clearly guilty."  People who say this are wrong.  In particular, the first part of that statement is wrong.

When I read those stories, I don't see the actions of monsters.  I see people who made little mistakes that got out of hand and led to huge consequences (or people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time).  As a less controversial example, let me refer to a somewhat older case.

In 2002, a Springville family had an adopted daughter who, because of her background prior to adoption, was stealing things like food.  The family had sought the advice of a psychologist who suggested that when this daughter steals something they give her lots of it so that she could learn that she doesn't need to steal.  Then, one day she stole a drink, so they had her drink a lot of water.

The daughter died, and the parents were tried with murder.  In writing the last paragraph, the whole explanation felt rather lame, and jurors agreed, finding the mother guilty of murder (and acquitting the father so as to not leave their other children effectively orphans).  But the problem with that analysis is that we're looking at it with hindsight.  These were well-meaning, generally good people who had opened their home to a difficult child and were trying to help her overcome the challenges of her childhood.  While the parents had definitely taken the actions that led to the girl's death, the death was by many accounts an accident.  These aren't hardened criminals, they're people who made a mistake that had terrible consequences.

This is what people don't realize about crime.  They think, "I'm not a criminal," but they don't realize that a) they commit crimes every day (speeding, anyone?) and b) they're just one unfortunate accident away from looking just like Mark Hacking (a man who was all kinds of terrible, capping it off by killing his wife and disposing of her in a dumpster).

So, the next time you see someone who accidentally left their child in a car (if you've ever left something like a drink on top of your car, then you too could have left a child in the car), even if they've recently read some puzzling things on the internet (think of the story that your browsing history from the last week would tell) and spent the day sexting their underage girlfriends (seriously, this guy hit the jackpot in terms of having dirt for police to dig up), consider that maybe this is just a terrible accident buried under a lot of unfortunate coincidences.

And the next time you read about someone who looks like they deserve whatever the law can throw at them, take a moment and be grateful that you didn't get accused of a terrible crime today.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Antisocial Attitudes and Misanthropy

Today I went to a parade.  I was not happy about it.

I started off being really upset at all the people who had, starting more than 36 hours before the parade, blocked off space with chairs, canopies, and ropes, and left them sitting there.  Even at the start of the parade, an astonishing number of these "reserved" spaces were completely unoccupied and most of them had empty seats.  (My family sat next to the largest canopy I saw all day--I believe that one woman and her infant child came and sat under it, using one of the six camp chairs that had been left to hold the spot.)

So I was angry about the greed and waste and inconsiderateness of the whole thing, and I realized that I was projecting that on everyone I met.  At one point I was carrying an umbrella (to provide my family with some shade, since we aren't supposed to use the enormous, empty canopy that we're sitting next to) and I realized that I was hoping it would hit everyone and everything I passed.  In short, I was being misanthropic.

I also realized that this is similar to how I feel about other large gatherings of people.  In October I went to an SEC college football game.  I was really cranky about that too, and ultimately left at half time.  (Incidentally, the home team came back from a significant deficit to lose in overtime.  By all measures it was a fantastic game, as college football games go.)

But during the tailgate party I went to and the part of the game that I did attend, I saw that this was more than a chance to stand in the hot sun on a humid day and possibly watch a few minutes of actual playing take place.  It was a chance to interact with 100,000 other people who were all sharing this same experience of watching the game.  I wasn't enjoying that aspect of the event, but I could tell that most of the people around me were.

It turns out that, while I do okay at times and have generally been getting "better" (just last week I spent 3 solid workdays talking to a room full of people), I'm an introvert.  I don't get all excited about sharing my life and the various events in it with huge masses of people.

This is something I've encountered in a couple of articles written by what I think are some very introspective, neurotic people.  They both noted that some people just prefer to not be in a huge crowd, nor to be the center of attention.  We aren't sad being alone, and we don't need to be "saved" (as happens in so many movies).

(On the other hand, I went to only one football game while I was in college (the first time) at the prompting of a well-meaning friend who wanted to save me from my reclusive ways.  He met a girl at a tailgate party and made me sit next to her, and now I'm married to her.  So what do I know?)

(On the gripping hand, I only enjoyed that football game because I spent it talking to her instead of paying attention to the game, which my school's team won by a large margin.)