Tag Archives: death

Sense of Perspective

I remember back a few years ago reading a headline that said men who took a certain over-the-counter drug were 50% more likely to get cancer. I don’t remember what the product was, but it was something that I took from time to time, so I paused to read the article before moving ahead to the comic pages.

Towards the end of the article I learned that the study involved a cancer that was found in one in 100,000 men, and that taking this medication in significant amounts would lead to one and a half men out of 100,000 getting this cancer. An increase of one-half of a man.

The fault was with the headline writer, though the person who wrote the article took his or her good natured time in getting to the actual risks, which were really nil.

We often lose a sense of perspective on things. If I said that 10,228 people died in 2010 from something preventable, it would seem outrageous not to, well, prevent it. And, in a way that is happening. The number of preventable deaths from this was 7,152 higher ten years before. Of course, I’m talking about alcohol related traffic deaths.

In 2011, 38,364 people died from suicide. Drugs and alcohol may have been involved in many of those deaths, but a sense of hopelessness or self-loathing was likely at the root of those people’s problems.

In 2010, over 11,000 people were murdered with firearms, but over 5,000 were murdered without the help of a gun. That year there were more than 40,000 drug-induced deaths. And, to be honest, I’d bet that many, if not most, of the gun deaths were related to the buying and selling of drugs.

I’m not very comfortable around guns, but it is interesting, in terms of perspective, to see that alcohol related traffic deaths are about the same as the number of murders with firearms. And, neither is close to drug-induced deaths.

And yet there is growing interest in making drugs legal, and any suggestion that alcohol be outlawed brings hoots of laughter, since “we tried that already.” And indeed, we did.

The death of more than 38,000 people due to suicide suggests a big problem in people’s mental health, which, when paired with drugs and firearms, gives us a very dangerous formula, as we’ve seen too many times in the past few years.

It is a mistake to over-simplify. Since the mid-1960’s people have been trying to ban guns, and other people have fought against banning them. The iconic bumper sticker, “If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” is an over-simplification, but also worthy of some consideration.

It is true that society would be better off if zero people were killed by guns, or drugs, or cars, or alcohol, or by their own despair. It is unrealistic to expect such an outcome, but a reasonable discussion of how to solve these problems is a good thing, as long as we keep our sense of perspective.


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People Who Are No More

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve provided a recap of famous or semi-famous people who had expired in the year just ended.  Before February gets here, I guess it’s time to review the 2011 cohort.  There are too many to include, so as always, I’ll pick and choose from the list, starting with last January.

Gerry Rafferty was a rock musician who performed the iconic “Baker’s Street,” and “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  Don Kirshner was also a rock music icon, but as a record publisher and producer.  He hosted “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” on TV, and helped form The Monkees.

Dick King-Smith was a writer/farmer who wrote the book “The Sheep Pig” which became the movie “Babe.”  For those ancient ones among us, David Nelson, Ricky’s brother on “Ozzie and Harriett” died this year.  His brother died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985.

Pete Postlethwaite was an actor, appearing in “Inception” and “The Town” in 2011. I include him because it’s the most interesting name of the year.   Susannah York was in “Superman” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”  Charlie Callas was a frenetic comedian who made funny faces and noises for a living.

In February Maria Schneider died.  I had an enormous crush on her from her role in the movie “The Passenger” with Jack Nicholson.  She appeared nude in sex scenes with Marlon Brando in the infamous “Last Tango in Paris” which I’ve never seen.   Jane Russell was also an actress, but sadly best known for advertising Playtex bras.

George Shearing was a great easy-listening jazz pianist and composer.  Three interesting things about George: He was blind, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and my dad had several of his records.

William Christopher was Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.  I don’t often quote Bill Clinton, but I liked what he said about Christopher: “He has the lowest ego-to-accomplishment ratio of any public servant I’ve ever worked with.”  Christopher died last March.

Michael Gough was Alfred in some of the “Batman” movies.  Elizabeth Taylor was probably the only person ever to have spent time with Richard Burton, Eddie Fisher, and Michael Jackson.

Hugh Martin wrote “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  Thanks to him for that.

In April Sidney Lumet the director passed away.  He directed “Twelve Angry Men” and “The Verdict.”  He was once married to Gloria Vanderbilt.  Michael Sarrazin acted in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” with Susannah York.  Bad year for that cast!

Phoebe Snow was a great talent.  “Poetry Man” was her best known song, but there were many others.  She died in April after having suffered from the results of a stroke for more than a year.  Something I hadn’t known about her: She gave birth to a severely disabled child in 1975, and cared for her until her death in 2007.  She chose not to institutionalize her daughter, and her career was greatly limited because of that decision.  I am in awe of that level of devotion.

Jackie Cooper died in May.  He had been a child star, and ultimately a director, including 14 M.A.S.H. episodes.  Jeff Conaway of “Taxi,” “Grease,” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” fame was also a child star on stage, and succumbed to pneumonia after struggling with drug abuse for over 40 years.

Golfer Seve (not Steve) Ballesteros of Spain passed away in May, having won many major championships in his career.  Clarice Taylor probably didn’t win any golf titles, but had the distinction of playing Cliff Huxtable’s mother on “The Cosby Show.”

“Now, let me see if I have this straight.”  Peter Falk, as Columbo” seemed to say that in every episode.  He died last June.  So did Marshall Dillon, played by Peter Arness.  Jack Kevorkian, a vilified advocate for assisted suicide, needed no help in dying.  Clarence Clemons played sax for Bruce Springsteen for many years.  He was 69 when he was taken down by a stroke.

Hey; do you mind if I finish this next week?  Good.  See you then.

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