Monthly Archives: November 2012

Death of a Leader; Public Mourning

We talked in class about the death of a leader or powerful figure. I though immediately about the death of Vaclav Havel last December when I was in Prague. The Czech Republic was very affected by the death of its former leader and the world mourned him.

Havel was really important to the Czech people but I want to give you a little background on who he is and why he is important.

Vaclav Havel was born into a privileged family that lost its  wealth when the communists where installed in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Communist rule limited his education and he bounced around in various jobs until he landed in the Writers Union in the mid 60s where he was first active in politics and humanism. Havel wrote throughout his educated life and was even invited to visit America to see a production of his second play. Travel was limited under the Soviet rule but he was allowed to go.

Among Havel’s first political acts was his opposition to the Soviet tanks in Prague during August of 1968 suppressing reforms, and his organization of a petition repudiating the politics of normalization in the Soviet Union.  Multiple actions caused him to be in and our of prison for about five years.

A politically sanctioned student demonstration on November 17th, 1989 was broken up by the police where they brutally beat and arrested most of the demonstrators. The significance of November 17th for the Czechs is related to student martyrs and abuse over time, if you want to know more about the role of eth Czech students you acn read more at this website…

Vaclav Havel organized a meeting two days after the student beatings where he and other dissidents established the Civivc Forum. The Civic Forum requested the communist leaders to resign,  an investigation of police action, and release of political prisoners. The day after Havels’ meeting 200,000 people, mostly students again, participated in a demonstration that was the first of the series that ended the Communist rule, the Velvet Revolution. Vaclav Havel was installed as the president of Czechoslovakia and remained the President during the Velvet Divorce, the split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

During his presidency he was constantly addressing human rights and providing “moral leadership.” He constantly fought for equality and rights of the Roma and gypsy peoples as well as other minorities in the country. Havel was incredibly instrumental in the formation of the Czech Republic as the country that we see today. He was a major player in the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the European Union, which happened the year after his resignation.

Havel “stepped down” in 2003 but he was still instrumental in the future of the country. Many present leaders would seek his advice well after 2003.

The reaction of the Czech people after the death of Havel was very interesting to watch.

A mini memorial to Havel at the entrance to the public viewing at the Prague Castle

During Havel’s death I was able to witness first hand the reaction of the people. I was on the Charles Bridge during the procession of the body to the Prague Castle for the public viewing. The Bridge filled up with people and then a procession of police, citizens with flags of support for Havel as well as Czech flags. At the end of this procession was a car with the coffin inside.

The Charles Bridge just before sunrise, before the procession of the coffin

There was a writhe of red roses on the side of the car. All of the people on the bridge, civilians, photographers, and news reporters fallowed the car in silence all the way to the Prague Castle. It was a very curious procession. The people fallowed the coffin about two and a half miles to the Cathedral of St. Vitus in the Castle complex. Many of the followers held Czech Flags and banners with praise for the former leader.

The car containing the coffin as it slowly drives by our spot on the bridge

My view of the procession

The streets where lined with votive candles and flowers and national and solid black flags hung from buildings.

An alley in Prague

An interesting dedication

The week after his death all advertisement stands replaced ads with memorial posters of Havel.

Havel mourning poster

The Prague Castle is still the seat of government in the Czech Republic and business went on as usual as it did during Havel’s reign.

Officials leaving a non-public government building in the castle complex

For more information on Havel’s life you can read an article on him in the NY Times…

or from The Guardian …

If you want to know specifics about his funeral there are articles here…


Can I please have a look at the coffin with the hot chick black reaper?

The good people at Polish coffin manufacturer Lidner do not hold back when it comes to marketing their products. After all, funerals are a business, and to make it in a cut-throat world, you may have to find your niche. Lidner decided to spice things up. With a calendar. But not any old calendar – one with semi-naked ladies posing with the coffins. This is quite a leap from the way the company presents itself and its products on their restrained website emphasizing tradition, craftmanship and quality. How would you feel about buying a coffin from a company that markets their products with a well endowed Oktoberfest girl straddling the product, a black lingerie + military hat wearing vixen breaking into the coffin with a sledge hammer to retrieve booze, or simply with a classic make out shot (but on a coffin)? Classy!

“We wanted to show that a coffin isn’t a religious symbol. Its a product” says Zbigniew Lindner, the firm’s owner in an interview published by the Daily Mail. That sex sells is not news for most of us, but it is very forward in the coffin business. And while Lidner’s choice of marketing has caused outrage in the Catholic Church, it may actually be good for business.

This is one of the most fascinating and tasteless products I have seen in years. Yet – and maybe because of it – it raises very interesting questions. We agree that while funerals are important rituals, they are also a business. Every step of the way the people who make a living burying our dead must make some kind of profit. So while we prefer not to think about that aspect of the service, we all know about it and agree to accept it. So why does this upset us? Feminist critique aside (and while I have plenty of it, I will hold my fire this time), is it worse to market a coffin with sex than it is to sell any other product that way?

We expect the business of dealing with our dead to be dignified, respectful…and definitively asexual. But if you want to market a product, sex may actually appeal to customers. The associations of death and sex are well documented in art and literature since at least the 17th century, and in folk tales that are even older (think Snow White). Marquis de Sade may be the most notorious of writers exploring this field, but as intentionally provocative as his writing was, his work found a readership in a cultural context that accepted the exploration of these connections we today find so repulsive. Our culture no longer dwells on intercourse with the dead, but sex and marketing may never have been more explicitly connected. In a sexualized capitalist society, can we really expect death to be protected from eroticized marketing strategies?

Liv Nilsson Stutz

Mass Death

We talked today about the effects of mass death and the changes that we have to make when we deal with it.

I just wanted to share my family’s experice with this,

My parents visited Auschwitz last year and my family has a travel blog where they documented their experience. Here is a link to the blog page about their visit.

The writing and photos are mostly done by my Dad.

I hope this is informative.


Cats and Death

For centuries, cats have been associated with death, and how they are perceived varies between cultures. In Western cultures, black cats are associated with bad luck, disease, and witches. This not only led to the mass killing of black cats, but also the “witches” who care for them. But in Ancient Egypt, cats are deified and mummified. (Here is a short list of how cats are linked to the dead, dying, and the ill, and another short summary of black cat myths.) Throughout history people linked cats with death or bad luck, and some of these beliefs still hold true today. But what is it about our beloved cats that makes them so notorious through history? Is it their powerful, stealthy ways that makes them so mysterious? Cats can also be creepy, but creepiness isn’t enough to feed the strong connection people feel between cats and death. Cats may have characteristics that link them to death, but perhaps our perception of these strange creatures derive from our experiences with them rather than their traits alone.

Cats, like other animals, are very intuitive and can sense things that humans cannot. For example, their eyesight and sense of smell are more acute than ours. Because cats rely primarily on body language to communicate to one another, they must be attuned to biological and behavioral changes in the other animals around them. This includes detecting weakness or changes in body temperature and odor. They are also intuitive in that they often know when they are about to die. I have heard stories where cats hide or “run away” from home to find a place to pass away peacefully. Therefore, cats are attuned to their bodies and their environment to the point where they can detect signs associated with death.

My kitty.

One extreme example is a cat in Rhode Island named Oscar, who lives in a nursing home. Oscar is known for predicting a patient’s death, and will climb onto the dying patient’s bed and stay with them until they die. Sometimes, Oscar will stay with the patient the day before death, or even a few hours beforehand. Oscar’s behavior sometimes helped notify the staff of a dying patient, and even proved the staff’s predictions to be wrong at times.

How Oscar “knows” when a patient is dying is still a mystery, but experts have their theories. First, Oscar may be smelling chemicals expelled by the dying body that we are not able to detect. The second theory is that Oscar has been imitating the behavior of hospital staff. When the staff predict that someone is dying, their behaviors change and Oscar learned to copy their behavior when a person is dying. Rather than finding this occurrence creepy, family members of the dying find Oscar’s presence comforting and the staff find Oscar’s ability helpful.

Have cats earned their reputation partially due to their uncanny ability to detect illness and imminent death? Or is it still because of their characteristics? Is it still mainly due to the eccentric cat ladies of the Salem Witch Trials? Much of Western culture today associate cats with the comfort of home and the warmth of company, but some of these old beliefs still exist. Like death, cats have a certain mystique that we find intriguing, powerful, and sometimes threatening.


I really enjoyed the Oakland Cemetery tour that we took today. I noticed that the Jewish sections of the cemetery had the graves placed very close together and they where able to fit more people into the grave plot.

This reminded me of my visits to Prague and the Old Jewish Cemetery there. The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague was the only cemetery used for the Jewish population in the city from 1439 to 1787. The site consists of multiple layers of burials, the community actually brought in more earth from other locations to be able to have these multiple layers. I wanted to share some of my photos form my trip that shows just how many graves are in the two and a half acres of this cemetery.

Old Jewish Cemetery Prague, Czech Republic

If you want to know more about the Jewish Cemetery and the Jewish Quarter in Prague you can find more information at this website…

Here is another website that gives some information on the Old Jewish Cemetery as well as other Cemeteries around the world… 

I hope that you find this place as interesting as I do.


The Extreme Funeral Planning

A part of the process of death is preparing for death.  On an episode of  “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, 56-year old Kris Jenner introduces the serious topic of death and burial to the Kardashian/Jenner/Odom/Disick families.  In the unfortunate event that one of their family members dies, Kris believes it’s important and essential to be prepared.  A mother of six, her inspiration on this topic arose from shortly after visiting her ill mother.  The entire family didn’t take her seriously, and started laughing hysterically!

Kris goes to many measures to make sure everything is set in stone for her family’s burial. We may not realize this at first, but funerals are a business. There are a myriad of options of how to treat bodies post-death, many of which are culturally constructed. These options seem normal to us, because that is how our culture makes them seem.  After the death of a loved one, we are to decide what kind of casket to get, based on the dead’s wishes and preferences. Thus, some people like to be prepared and have specific preferences on what they want, while other’s don’t mind.

Since Kris Jenner noticed that her family wasn’t really as passionate about this as she was, she decided to take this responsibility upon herself.  She proceeded to lay down in a casket and test it out, so she could decide on what kind she wanted to have for herself after death. Kris Jenner took a picture of herself with her eyes closed acting as if she was a dead, embalmed body and sent it to her children via text message.  There is a lot of importance placed on “the viewing” and the appearance of the body after death. Her motive was to hopefully shake her children up, and make them realize how she would look if death came upon her.  Kris also wanted to prove a point, that this was a serious this topic and also that she’s really worried no one will be there for her to take care of her.  Kris even posed in a deluxe model coffin, and although shaken, her daughter Kim was not bothered by the image of her mother’s death.

(Image from The Daily Mail)

Even though her family is discouraged and uninterested, nothing stops Kris Jenner from taking a tour at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Funeral Home in Los Angeles, dragging her husband along.  Jokingly, Khloe Kardashian says the burial site should have a mausoleum and a moat.  The event planner and celebrity Kim Kardashian seems to be interested on just having a “fab” location to be buried in. Kris goes as far as ordering which flowers she would like best at their funeral as well.  As a business manager, its in Kris’ blood to be such a big planner.  For some, these burial rituals aren’t important, but for others give it a lot of thought and importance.

Kris took her entire family to a potential burial site and planned where everyone’s coffins would be placed on the celebrity-filled Hollywood plot, just for her family.  Since the Kardashian/Jenner/Odom/Disick family have all been so close and connected due to the show that is aired on E!, it only makes sense to Kris  to be buried together.  Funeral homes symbolize the removal from one home to another home.  It’s comforting to think that even when dead, the family is close in proximity and stays together.

The idea of planning one’s death may seem morbid and outrageous.  However, the ultimate concern of Kris was legitimate.  The idea of death may seem scary, due to the fear of the unknown.  Also, as a mother, she is worried that her children will not take care of her or care for her when she’s older or dead.   Kris is independent right now, but there are a lot of elderly who are suffering due to their children’s lack of attention.  Many people laugh it off jokingly, and make it seem like death and burial isn’t an important topic to discuss about since it’s in the future.  However, sometimes comedy and satire are ways of dealing with not wanting to talk about this sensitive and emotional subject. Granted it is good to plan for the future, but Kris planning her and her family’s funeral and burial to the T is slightly discomforting.

In the end, I found it slightly weird how her son, Rob Kardashian, tattooed a picture of Kris on his forearm, as a symbol that she will never be forgotten and to let go of the funeral discussion in total.  Many times people get pictures, dates, and phrases, or any symbol of memorabilia permanently tattooed to their body when someone close to them passes away.  This was Rob’s gesture to show his mother he cared for her.  Who knows, maybe this extreme gesture was necessary to finally put Kris to peace?

(Image from The Daily Mail)

To watch another clip from the episode, please visit


-S. Gillani

Good Death in Modern Society


         In our society, death is thought of as something that needs to be overcome.  If someone dies, others ask what they could have done to prevent it.  If someone commits suicide, they say “I should have helped before it was too late”, if someone dies in a car wreck: “I shouldn’t have let them go out that night”, if someone dies of lung cancer: “they shouldn’t have smoked so much” or “if only they had gotten a new lung in time”.  Because of all these wishes and beliefs towards death, it becomes difficult to see what constitutes as a “good” death in our current society.  One would think that with all the prevention techniques, or aspirations for cures, that a good death can no longer occur; all death is now considered bad.  This becomes a problem for the sick and dying, which can no longer aspire to die with dignity.

In seeing and hearing ads, I notice that this concept is everywhere.

As an organ donor, I was initially proud to make the decision to “donate life” to others after my own death.  I saw people who chose not to get the red heart on their license as unnecessarily greedy and as people who didn’t care about the needs of strangers.  But after talking about the position on organ transplants in other countries, I realized valid reasons to not donate.  Who are we to say who should get new, life-saving organs and who shouldn’t? Should young mother receive an organ before an old man? Should a smoker be refused lungs before a non-smoker? Who has the right to answer these questions in order to make life-changing choices? The organization Donate Life supports the donations of skin, eye, blood, and organs.  I commonly hear their commercials on the radio, with inspiring stories such as mothers who wouldn’t have had children without a new heart.  They encourage you to help this person who needs a new organ in order to live.  At which point are we helping someone at the sake of another?

 Click here to explore a video about the need for organ donations. 

Another common theme I see in ads all the time is the idea of working together in some way to discover cures to many types of cancers.  People walk to end breast cancer and donate money for all kinds of other terminal conditions.  Everyone wants to live in a world in which they don’t have to worry about their parents and grandparents getting Alzheimer’s.  But deaths caused by cancer are very common.  Without these, how will people die?

All of these hopeful preventions want to create a world in which there is no death caused by “bad” or “unfortunate” means.  But without them, how will we die? How do we want to die? Will we become like the elderly in The Giver and have programmed deaths before we become too old and lose our place in society? Although this is an interesting perspective and does provide for a “good death” in which every person gets a happy and proper send off, it is hard to imagine this being accepted in a culture that will not accept physician assisted suicide.

-Victoria G.

To heal or kill…

As described in M. C. Kearl’s journal, How We Die: The Social Stratification of Death, whether it is due to understaffing or the desire to save money, nursing homes often hire caretakers or nurses that are incompetent and end up socially isolating, abusing, or abandoning their patients. This also occurs in hospitals; however, in the case of nurse Beverley Allitt, it proved to be even more detrimental to the patients with which she came in contact.

In the early 1990’s, Allitt who had repeatedly failed her nursing exams was hired for a temporary position in the Children’s ward of an understaffed hospital in Nottingham. Many children came into the hospital, with their parents by their side hoping for the best. They brought their children there to be healed and viewed Beverly Allitt as an “angel of mercy,” a nurse that was always by the child’s side and the comforting shoulder for the parents.

However, under her care, many kids that were admitted with a minor condition, such as a cold, simply to be monitored, would have a respiratory crisis, be revived, then have another respiratory crisis and turn pale. Red blotches would appear, and he or she would completely stop breathing. Cardiac arrest followed, and doctors would try repeatedly to get the patient to start breathing again. The children were placed on life-support machines, but had suffered from severe brain damage. After being taken off life support, the children, without history ofheart disease, would die from heart failure. Others had induced paralysis, cerebral palsy, and damage to their hearing or site before passing away. She did not create these tragedies in order to gain money or fame; after the patients died, Allitt would go home and continue about her day/week as if nothing had happened. Within the first four months, she attacked nine children and killed four. She was the “angel of death.” Overall, after she was caught, detectives uncovered 25 suspicious episodes with 13 victims, ranging from the age of 5 months to 11 years old.

The symbols of health, healing and survival: the hospital, the white coat, the smiling nurses, became signs of death, dying, suffering, and loss. The place that people come in order to prevent death and prolong life was the cause of many innocent people’s deaths.

Read more about the details of this story at:

Xavier Charde