Decompose or Recompose?

Perhaps you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s death – imminent or far in the future – and what its impact will be, whether environmental or financial. The state of Washington has addressed your concern. Senate Bill 5001, pithily titled “Concerning Human Remains,” is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature. (Governor Inslee is quite busy these days running for President, you know.) If signed, the new law allowing the “natural organic reduction” of dead human bodies will take effect May 1, 2020.

A simpler term is “composting.” Rather than putting a body filled with formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals into a non-biodegradable casket and burying it in a crowded cemetery, or releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by incinerating it, the new law will allow after-life remains to decompose on their own and become part of the earth.

The new word is “recomposition.” A new organization is ready. Katrina Spade is founder and CEO of the firm Recompose, whose main purpose is the natural returning of human bodies to the earth after death. She is an advocate of human composting and has worked with scientists studying natural decomposition, including real-death testing in North Carolina.

Of course, some find this appalling. Conservative Catholics ask What about the human soul? and condemn recomposition as another example of disrespect for human life, equating it with abortion and euthanasia.

Serving on Recompose’s board is Caitlin Doughty, owner of Undertaking LA, a non-traditional mortuary in southern California whose declared mission is “to allow families to reclaim their rightful control over the death and dying process, as well as care of the dead body.” She has also gained YouTube fame with her series “Ask a Mortician,” using humor and plain talk to address myriad death issues, from the cost of funeral services to death denial.

Throughout the history of humankind, one wonders what are the relative numbers of deceased who were naturally composted, whether left lying on a battlefield or bulldozed into a mass grave or swept away by a natural disaster.

Ask a Mortician

How Mar-a-Lago Staves Off Bankruptcy

The Trump Organization multiple times has made use of a time-honored business strategy: bleed the business for personal enrichment and then stiff the investors, contractors, suppliers and any other entity owed money by employing bankruptcy proceedings. Although the Organization has had multiple business failures – Airlines, University, Steaks, to name only a few – bankruptcy seems to be the preferred tactic for dying entertainment businesses. The Plaza Hotel and multiple casino operations have ended in bankruptcy courts.

Your tax dollars at work.

Other hospitality properties manage to appear solvent: the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC (that caused many of us to learn what the “emoluments clause” in the Constitution is) and the Westchester Golf Club (where they are shocked, shocked! at accusations that undocumented employees were forced to work off the clock).

ProPublica recently reported on a paid-by-taxpayers $1,000 charge at the the soon-to-be literally underwater Mar-a-Lago resort, a tiny example of the business strategy keeping the operation metaphorically afloat. $1,000? No big deal; it’s a nearly insignificant amount. But it illustrates the overall symbiosis between government expenditures and the personal enrichment of the current occupant of the White House.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mar-a-Lago in April 2017 for a two-day summit. Later in the evening after the lavish state dinner, a group, including Steve Bannon who says he doesn’t drink and doesn’t remember anything about it, found its way to the resort’s Library Bar – presided over by a portrait on the wall titled “The Visionary.” (You-know-who dressed in tennis whites.) The group dismissed the bartender; the Secret Service guarded the door.

Six days later, Mar-a-Lago presented a bill for $1,006 – $838 for liquor plus 20% gratuity – with no documentation of who was there and what was the nature of the meeting. The State Department declined to pay and forwarded it to the White House, which of course did pay.

Click here for more about how to bill the government.

Why the French Don’t Celebrate Cinquième de Mai

Mexico’s independence day is September 16, not May 5.

In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War (the aftermath of the United States’ decision that they would take Texas, thank you very much) and the Reform (Mexican Civil) War, Mexico’s dire financial resulted the country suspending debt payments to foreign lenders. Britain, Spain and France responded by sending naval forces to Veracruz to demand their money. Britain and Spain negotiated a settlement and left. France executed a different strategy.

French forces conquered Veracruz in 1861 and, with President Juarez and the government in retreat, marched toward Mexico City. Beleaguered and greatly outnumbered, Mexican forces decisively defeated the French at Puebla. Although France came back a year later with quadruple the troops to retake the country, the battle at Puebla instilled pride and patriotism among the Mexican populace.

The French victory was short-lived. With Napoleon III’s attention turned to more imminent threats, like the impending Franco-Prussian War, France withdrew three years later and Benito Juárez established a new government.

Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in California since 1863 and has since become a significant date across the U.S. Here in Portland Cinco de Mayo begins on the 3rd and takes over Waterfront Park downtown for three days of music, dancing, food and general merriment.

Beach Blanket Babylon: Final Finale

The 17,216th – and last – performance of “Beach Blanket Babylon” is scheduled for December 31. Claiming to be the longest-running musical revue anywhere, the show began in the back room of a San Francisco bar in 1974. It quickly became popular and moved to its current location, the Club Fugazi at 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard (formerly Green Street). The show became a Bay-area institution, lampooning an ever-changing cast of celebrities and politicians, local, national and world. This year’s production features House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Russian President Vladimir Putin, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the current occupant of the White House.

“Beach Blanket Babylon” attracts locals and tourists, and locals with their out-of-town guests. If you saw last year’s show, that doesn’t mean you’ve seen this year’s. It changes regularly, keeping current with the world’s buffoonery.
The show’s plot, such as it is, follows Snow White on her quest for Prince Charming. She treks around the world, encountering a variety of characters, such as Elvis or Michelle and Barack or Stormy Daniels. The 1981 show even featured in the cast Annette Funicello – star of the movie that inspired the title.

The spectacle is a frenetic series of costume changes and outrageous headgear, culminating in a musical finale that features a fourteen-feet-tall, nine-feet-wide hat displaying the San Francisco skyline, which has also changed dramatically over the course of the show’s run.

Beach Blanket Babylon” is still popular says its producer Schuman Silver, widow of Steve Silver who started the whole thing. “I thought I’d be dead, or something. I never thought I would close the show, ever, in my whole life. But I felt it was time.”

Looming French-Fry Shortage

Late-winter storms blessed the Pacific Northwest with record snowpack this past winter after years of mostly below-normal snow. Everyone from skiers to gardeners is pleased; everyone, that is, except potato farmers in Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. The lingering winter weather has delayed the planting of this year’s crop. In normal years planting starts by the end of February; in 2019 the ground was not ready until April. Farmers are trying to get planting done in a month, a process normally taking two-and-a-half months.

Seventy percent of the nation’s French fries and hash browns and tater tots come from Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Northwest potato farmers did well last year, shipping much of a record crop to the rest of the U.S. as well as Canada and Europe where the harvests were poor.

Farmers have contracts with potato processors that give leverage to the processors. To keep up with French-fry demand, they can require the tubers be harvested before fully mature, thus reducing the yield – and the growers’ income – by thirty to forty percent.

Nothing like the Irish potato blight of the mid-nineteenth century when diseased crops – abetted by the United Kingdom’s refusal to interfere with God’s free-enterprise plan by providing aid – resulted in the deaths of more than a million Irish and the emigration of two-and-a-half-million more. So, if later this year, you’re paying more for your favorite pommes frite, remind yourself that it could be worse.

Jesus and the Easter Bunny

How did we go from the Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to a bunny hiding eggs – chocolate or decorated – for the delight of children? You may not not recall any mention of it in the Gospels.

The two major Christian holidays coincidentally are observed on the change of seasons, times of celebration for much of humankind: Christmas at the winter solstice when the sun starts its return and Easter at the spring equinox, recognized from antiquity as a time of fertility. What follows may or may not be true.

Whence came the name “Easter?” It is thought to derive from a pagan figure known as Eostre who was celebrated as the goddess of fertility by the Saxons of Northern Europe. She was represented by that symbol of prolific breeding: a rabbit. There is, however no historical evidence for this.

Or maybe it’s because rabbits were thought to be hermaphrodites, able to reproduce without sex. Hence a connection with the Virgin Mary.

Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and have been part of spring festivals for millennia.

Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’s emergence from the tomb.

Eggs were considered forbidden during Lent. Christians decorated them to celebrate the end of fasting and ate them on Easter.

What is probably true is German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century brought with them stories of egg-laying(!) hares. Children made nests for the “Osterhase” to lay colored eggs. The Easter Bunny story expanded from there.

So honor the holiday that is the basis for Christianity but whose symbols have few documented origins and only the most tangential relation to Jesus Christ’s resurrection.