February 20-25, 2001
When we were in Switzerland I read about how scientists have been able to "slow" the speed of light. Slowing down everything from flashlight beams to TV images ... .plunging it from a practically Biblical-given constant of 186,285 MPS to about as fast as a quick bicycle can move ... these clever men in white lab coats have offered new hope to the builders of such things as age defying mirrors. Like the laser (at one time just a 'solution' looking for a 'problem'), who knows what other doors 'slow light' will open. Anyway, yesterday's dictionary definition1 of 'gauss' contained a prescient insight that this might happen. This whole definition bears repeating:
Gauss [from Karl F. Gauss]: the cgs unit of magnetic induction equal to the magnetic flux density that will induce an electromotive force of one one-hundred millionth of a volt in each linear centimeter of a wire moving laterally with a speed of one centimeter per second at right angles to a magnetic flux.
Yes, dear reader, your eyes are not wrong! This 'force thing' is moving at one centimeter per second. That's just one meter every hundred seconds ... or, a kilometer in a hundred thousand. At that rate it will take 'it' more than half an hour to cover just over half a mile! Slow? Yes, but how and why? And, what does it all mean for the rest of us? Like the use of sheep's bladders in predicting the occurrence of earthquakes, making an innovative connection between two familiar things doesn't always come easily.
Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie, Fight Club) has redefined smoking. No one does it any better. Every woman who has ever considered giving up smoking should see this performance. So what if cigarettes knock a few years off your life ... remember, those years are definitely the lousy ones ... when you'd be either recovering from a painful artery strip or worrying about what the doctor will find growing in your bowels. Those pictures of grandma baking apple pies for the grandkids are just Kodak moments ... nothing more ... right up there with Tinker Bell, in real life terms. Light up! Look good!
1 Copyright 1979 by G. & C. Merriam Co. [my emphasis].
And, don't forget July 7th. [See 'above', somewhere]
"A Portable Apocalypse" seems to reinforce the importance of this date with a quote from Nostradamus:
"The year of the great Seventh number, accomplished; it will appear at the time of the games of slaughter. Not far from the age of the Great Millennium when the dead will come out of their graves." - Century X, quatrains 72 and 74, from The Final Prophesies of Nostradamus by Erika Cheetham.
As if Daimler-Chrysler didn't have enough to worry about ... yes, all that red ink at the bottom of its USA earnings report is more of a nightmare than any CEO should have to sleep with ... well, how's this for more bad stuff?
The newspaper's lead paragraph started off tepid enough:
"DETROIT – Violent decapitations and permanent paralysis due to severing of the spinal cord are among the reasons cited by the Chrysler Corporation for its decision to recall all '97 automobiles containing the 'neckbelts' safety feature."
But, for some strange reason (perhaps management had in mind the candid and highly successful recall of the poisoned Tylenol caplets some years ago) the carmaker went totally 'gratuitous' in detailing its problems with the 'safety feature':
" ... crushed trachea, severe spinal and/or brain damage and, in the most severe cases, sudden defenestration of the head area, as the entire region above the neck separates from the upper body, flying at tremendous speed through the windshield and rolling several yards into the street directly in front of the car."
Even more peculiar was the admission by the car builder that bystanders1 ... witnesses to the accident ... might suffer some pain by just watching this wretched scenario unfold. Clearly, house-counsel was not consulted before these words went out:
"Another negative side effect of the neckbelts is the psychological damage that may be suffered by eyewitnesses upon observing a convulsing, headless human body spontaneously spew fountains of blood as the adrenaline-maximized heart furiously pumps quart after quart from the neck wound, coating the car interior."
As if this was not damning enough, the press release appeared to give free ammunition to greedy plaintiff's lawyers by widely opening the door to compensation for 'post-death' damages:
"Neckbelt wearers are warned that a severed human head may remain alive for up to two minutes before blood loss, oxygen starvation and shock trauma cause it to lose consciousness. 'Brain death is something science still knows very little about,' said Chrysler safety engineer Tom Savini, 'but drivers should take note that law enforcement personnel have observed bouncing, rolling severed heads blinking their eyes and gasping for air as if attempting to speak minutes after decapitation on more than one occasion'."
Not content with giving the plaintiff's lawyers a bone, Savin tossed them the meat:
" ... such still-alive severed human heads probably live out their last moments in a state of unimaginable agony."
Dear reader, today I have asked my son-in-law, Dr. Sam, a well respected specialist in internal medicine from Portland, Oregon for his comments on 'life after decapitation'. These I shall share with you.
1 This is generally an extreme "No, No" in the normally tight-lipped law business! Product liability lawyers representing Chrysler's insurers still remember with genuine horror the earlier case of a recall involving the company's "shrapnelizing explosive dashboard" ... an ill conceived safety option on its 1995 models. With this unfortunate choice of words, the Chrysler safety engineering team practically funded an exaggerated lifestyle for countless mediocre lawyers: "By splintering into thousands of rapidly spinning jagged fragments, which ricochet around the car's interior at tremendous speeds, tearing any living tissue inside to shreds in seconds, these dashboards may represent a significant safety risk to motorists." To be fair, other automobile manufacturers have allowed their tongues to get them into trouble. In the case of the 1976 Ford Pinto, the recall notice needlessly waxed: "... the economy-model compact which, when rear-ended, ignited its fuel tanks and became doused in flaming gasoline, causing passengers to pound ineffectively on the windows and scream as they were burned alive at superheated temperatures within, before exploding like a bomb."
The honest robes of a carpenter suited Him well. Why this change?1 Is the market that fickle? If it's the NBA today, what will it be when our little great grandchildren come of age?
1 Come breakfast time on July 7th, I hope He remembers that 80% of the world has never heard of the Atlanta Hawks. Nor of Texas A&M, nor of His admittedly brilliant Junior-year lead of the Aggies to the NCAA's Sweet 16.
Is the Collectible-Plate industry2 pushing things too far? I think so. Just 'listen' to Franklin Mint president Jim Campion bemoaning the long dry spell between Princess Di's high speed plunge into a Paris motorway tunnel and now:
"For the ... Christmas season to be anywhere near as successful as last year's, we need a heartbreaking, untimely end to a wonderful life that we can commemorate with a series of limited-edition plates. The death of Barbara Streisand, with her upscale, intensely devoted following, would be ideal."
2 Ninety percent of the Collectible-Plate industry's world wide sales comes from three sources: the Franklin Mint, the Bradford Exchange and the Danbury Mint.
Are we critical enough of teen suicide notes? I think not. These two pages of pitifully written last words speak for themselves. Read them ... then look at what the experts say.3
3 "These teens are desperately trying to express themselves, but all they can manage are sloppy, barely coherent phrases like 'Im usles' and 'I hat myself,'" noted therapist Eli Wasserbaum said. "One Florida boy who recently shot himself in the head wrote, 'I cant talk to anyone about my problems.' 'Cant'? Is he referring to the noun defined as 'the whining, singsong speech of beggars and thieves'? Somehow I don't think so. We're talking about a serious inability to communicate here."
I asked for a doctor's opinion1 ... almost straight-away!2 The initial reply came from the doctor's wife.3
I think that losing your head in either an automobile accident ... or, through some horrible design4 ... and, being able to watch it all, albeit briefly, must be a terrible thing. But, what do I know? Here is what my son-in-law, the doctor, has to say:
Thank you for your kind patience as I sorted my memory banks for an answer to your question concerning the subject, "Did that head just wink at me?"; Neuron function in the decapitated state is an interesting subject. Most of your readers will recall their first fishing experience, which usually demonstrated the phenomenon, provided Grandpa let you clean the catch. You would take your little pocketknife and cut off the head of a fish and then start scaling away. Sooner or later your peripheral vision would pick up a fishhead sans body breathing and wagging about. Exciting stuff, right? Fish are fish and humans are not, so why should this happen to a Chrysler Town and Country driver who has been rear-ended and lost his head? Is this payback from our scaly brethren? Well, lots of work has been going into the human genome project and the total number of human genes is coming in a little lower than expected ... some headlines read a few weeks ago "Human gene pool shallower than expected." The worm and fruit fly are playing in our ballpark when we talk about total number of genes ... Does Alf's pressing question on why are bodiless heads so animated lie in the simple fact that it is all nerve release after decapitation and whether you're a fish, a bird, or a corporate executive the same structure is there and the same rules apply?
Chrysler could have looked at the 1978 research that Datsun conducted under some secrecy but has since been written down in the novel "Fish Detail" by a lower level whistleblower who exposed his company's research on the very same neck restraint Chrysler developed. Apparently Datsun was looking for a new gimmick and they tested these restraints on fish. If you don't believe this, Detroit uses pigs in their crash tests. The fish would be riding shotgun with a crash-test dummy at the helm. At first the engineers had some difficulty making neck restraints small enough to fit over the perch and sea bass "necks" and being slimy and scaly they would slip out easily in the crash and end up on the passenger side floor mat. So bigger fish like groupers and tuna were tried. Some of these fish were large enough to "imitate" a small European female -- but Datsun wanted to sell to North America and not the small bodies of Europe so, and this is a little known fact about the whole whaling issue, they decided to use small whales to simulate American drivers.
Well, this is probably more than you wanted to know on the subject. The true answer may not be known, but the fish are not far behind us. Wink. Wink.
1 We lawyers know very little about these things ... unless, of course [through someone else's disaster], there is an opportunity to profit from finding out more about it.
2 Obliquely, though. Going through his wife (my daughter, Patty), the chance of a well thought out response looked much better than if I had just bothered the doctor at his office. So, I wrote directly to her:
"Patty, I hope that Sam will be able to give us a doctor's opinion on this chopped off head business."
But not convinced that she ever read my journal or would even know what I was talking about, I 'read' her my promise to you, dear reader ... the one I made at the close of business on Wednesday:
"Dear reader, today I have asked my son-in-law, Dr. Sam, a well respected specialist in internal medicine from Portland, Oregon for his comments on 'life after decapitation'. These I shall share with you."
And, to point her even more accurately into my inquiry, I closed with, "from my Feb. 20 journal."
3 "Dear Dad, once again you have come to the right source. A thoughtful and informed reply to your query is soon to follow. Sam went to medical school just so he could answer these types of questions that baffle the rest of us.
4 Unfortunately, people didn't ask about this in the days when the guillotine was widely used in executions. Such wonderfully controlled decapitations would have provided the ideal research environment to look at 'life after decapitation'. Sadly for science, the French totally wasted this chance. Though by far the largest commercial users of the guillotine, Gallic executioners never concerned themselves with what happened in the brain after the head left its moorings. In the late '40s and early '50s a particularly rich vein of executions was allowed to go un-mined in French Indochina. Whether it was French unwillingness to read the lips on rolling Vietnamese heads or something else, we'll probably never know. Today, in both Saigon and in Hanoi, pensioned guillotines still stand around in museums ... in mute testimony to their wasted role as research instruments. The black head shrouds, the wicker baskets ... further evidence that the head ... once gone ... was 'gone'.
It's much too long to reprint here; but, if you jump back just one day in my journal you can read (or, reread) Dr. Sam's reply to my question as to why decapitated heads appear to 'live'. Up until the day I read about this crazy Chrysler-recall thing in The Onion1 ... yes, everything I've ever been taught in school ... all the 'grade-B' movies I've ever seen ... even those little 'experiments' that I conducted on backyard critters ... hey, they all 'said': it's over when the head goes. Then came the Chrysler evidence ...
Well, our good doctor Sam did not go out on a limb on this one, did he? No speculation from him ... right? Just stick to the stuff found in all those stuffy trade journals: "No guffaws from the gang at the office if I just quote the New England Journal of Medicine or Lancet?" Is that what he thought?
Ha! If he thinks this old father-in-law is going to accept some wishy-washy half-baked denial that a free roaming head can't think for itself. Well, by jiminy, he'd better think again!
This is what I wrote:
Thank you for:
"Does Alf's pressing question on why are bodiless heads so animated lie in the simple fact that it is all nerve release after decapitation and whether you're a fish, a bird, or a corporate executive the same structure is there and the same rules apply?"
I was ALSO hoping for some encouraging words from you about what the newly released head might be thinking. Even...if they were words of fringe speculation ... bleeding edge guesses, if you will ... My journal does not insist on rigorous back up evidence. If you care to use a 'nom de plume', that's fine. Or, you can attribute the ideas to Patty.
Anyway, I'd like something about the eyes seeing 'nothing' below the chin, save for perhaps a hinged flap ... the reaction ... then allow them to focus on the headless torso ... more reaction. Then a gradual fade out ... not just some slamming shut of the eyes.
My readers expect that sort of thing.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Perhaps this is just a 'straw' ... but, if it brings even a tiny sliver of hope to the ones left behind, it is worth pursuing. Though The Onion reported in November of 1996 that all aboard TWA Flight 800 missed 'seeing' the end of Dragonheart,2 this might not be the case for everyone. Let's give Doctor Sam one more chance to put that little bit of hope into the hearts of those who were left waiting in the airport chapel.
1 "Neckbelt wearers are warned that a severed human head may remain alive for up to two minutes before blood loss, oxygen starvation and shock trauma cause it to lose consciousness. 'Brain death is something science still knows very little about,' said Chrysler safety engineer Tom Savini, 'but drivers should take note that law enforcement personnel have observed bouncing, rolling severed heads blinking their eyes and gasping for air as if attempting to speak minutes after decapitation on more than one occasion'."
2 A Universal Pictures release starring Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery. Though a less than gripping plot about an idealistic armored knight's attempt to kill the world's last remaining dragon ... the passengers aboard the ill fated TWA flight had little else to do ... especially those traveling in economy class where the viewer options were limited.
Dearest reader, this little fillip arrived too late to catch my typesetter before he packed up for the day. [I'll 'hunt 'n peck' this one in myself, but bear with me.] Discovered by my friend (and film buff), Paul Fjelstad, it's pretty convincing proof that the minds employed by Hollywood are not the same that come out of our medical schools:
"Herb Evers stars as Dr. Bill Cortner, a surgeon and
reserach research scientist. ... THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE also stars Virginia Leith as Cortner's fiancée, Jan Compton, who is depacit decapitated in an automobile accident, while the doctor is at the wheel. With Jan's head tucked inside his jacket, Corknt Cortner makes a mad dash to his laboratory, which just happens to be in the basement of his country home. Using a new serum he perfected, Cortner re-animates Jan's head and then goes off in search of a new body for the woman he loves. Being ht the forthright medical man that he is, Dr. Cortner's search leads him to a strip club, as well as a 'Body BeuatifBeautiful' contest. However, while the doctor is out trying to procure a body, Jan's head develops a telephathic telepathic link with the horrifying failed experiment lurking in the laboratory closet. Jan also turns out to be the chattiest talking head on record, finding plenty of time to torment Dr. Cortner's assist entant Kurt (Leslie Daniels)."
The film is available on DVD from amazon.com.
You might want to check on this one! I saw it myself a few years ago and found it to be very
The caulkers have finished their job ... it's all dark again ... the last omnibus to Clapham has gone; more precisely, 'the man on the Clapham omnibus'1 has left the place. Only the wind and the worms are now supposed to be about.
No one's lingering at the tomb anymore ... save for one swarthy type: not very English looking at all. According to my friend, Andy Page, the fellow works for the government.2 But, let Andy tell it:
Well, I thought The Victoria thing was over but I had not counted on the Royal Mail, or Consignia as the post office like to style themselves these days!
I purchased a book of postage stamps so I could post my snail-mail missives to my true love and Shock ... horror!
[A] There is the long dead Empress making an encore appearance.
[B] The stamps were the new self-adhesive ones. One can no longer Ass [or Arse] lick long dead or living monarchs!
Moving adroitly to the smoker in Fight Club, Andy continues:
I presume my comment of a few days ago about Helena Bonham-Carter was too much for the WWW.corkscrew-balloon.com Censor!3 BTW did you know she is descended from Liberal Prime minister Herbert Asquith!
Shifting gears one notch higher, Andy swipes at both our leaders:
I see Tony is over there seeing Geo W!
1 "the ordinary reasonable man, 'the man on the Clapham omnibus,' as Lord Bowen phrased it". McQuire v. Western Morning News Co. Ltd.  2 K.B. 100 at 109, per Collins M.R.; and see Hall v. Brooklands Auto Racing Club  1 K.B. 205 at 224, per Greer L.J.
3 Unless the British Post Office has been privatized over to Richard Branson.
3 Using my editorial power, I ignored his earlier pejorative reference to smokers.
While searching for the cite that spoke of 'the man on the Clapham omnibus', my reading took me past this wonderful bit from A.P. Herbert's MISLEADING CASES IN THE COMMON LAW (1930), 12–16.
The Common Law of England has been laboriously built around a mythical figure – the figure of "The Reasonable Man." In the field of jurisprudence this legendary individual occupies the place which in another science is held by the Economic Man, and in social and political discussions by the Average or Plain Man. He is an ideal, a standard, the embodiment of those qualities which we demand of a good citizen. No matter what may be the particular department of human life which falls to be considered in these Courts, sooner or later we have to face the question: Was this or was it not the conduct of a reasonable man? Did the defendant take such care to avoid shooting the plaintiff in the stomach as might reasonably be expected of a reasonable man? Did the plaintiff take such precautions to inform himself of the circumstances as any reasonable man would expect of an ordinary person having the ordinary knowledge of an ordinary person of the habits of wild bulls when goaded with garden forks and the persistent agitation of red flags?
I need not multiply examples. It is impossible to travel anywhere or to travel for long in that confusing forest of learned judgments which constitutes the Common Law of England without encountering the Reasonable Man. He is at every turn, an ever-present help in time of trouble, and his apparitions mark the road to equity and right. There never has been a problem, however difficult, which His Majesty's judges have not in the end been able to resolve by asking themselves the simple question, "Was this or was it not the conduct of a reasonable man?" and leaving that question to be answered by the jury.
This noble creature stands in singular contrast to his kinsman the Economic Man, whose every action is prompted by the single spur of selfish advantage, and directed to the single end of monetary gain. The Reasonable Man is always thinking of others; prudence is his guide, and "Safety First," if I may borrow a contemporary catchword, is his rule of life. All solid virtues are his, save only that peculiar quality by which the affection of other men is won. For it will not be pretended that socially he is much less objectionable than the Economic Man. While any given example of his behavior must command our admiration, when taken in the mass his acts create a very different set of impressions.
He is one who invariably looks where he is going, and is careful to examine the immediate foreground before he executes a leap or a bound; who neither star-gazes nor is lost in meditation when approaching trapdoors or the margin of a dock; who records in every case upon the counterfoils of cheques such ample details as are desirable, scrupulously substituting the word "Order" for the word "Bearer", crosses the instrument "a/c Payee only," and registers the package in which it is dispatched; who never mounts a moving omnibus and does not alight from any car while the train is in motion; who investigates exhaustively the bona fides of every mendicant before distributing alms, and will inform himself of the history and habits of a dog before administering a caress; who believes no gossip, nor repeats it, without firm basis for believing it to be true; who never drives his ball till those in front of him have definitely vacated the putting-green which is his own objective; who never from one year's end to another makes an excessive demand upon his wife, his neighbors, his servants, his ox, or his ass; who in the way of business looks only for the narrow margin of profit which twelve men such as himself would reckon to be "fair," and contemplates his fellow merchants, their agents, and their goods, with that degree of suspicion and distrust that the law deems admirable; who never swears, gambles, or loses his temper, who uses nothing except in moderation, and even while he flogs his child is meditating only on the golden mean. Devoid, in short, of any human weakness, with not one single saving vice, sans prejudice, procrastination, ill-nature, avarice and absence of mind, as careful for his own safety as he is for that of others, this excellent but odious creature stands like a monument in our Courts of Justice, vainly appealing to his fellow-citizens to order their lives after his own example.
To return, however, as every judge must ultimately return, to the case which is before us – it has been urged for the appellant, and my own researches incline me to agree, that in that mass of authorities which bears upon this branch of the law there is no single mention of a reasonable woman.
Next: Part IV