Virtual Life after Death

Hi from Munich,

A recent spam email from a dead colleague has caused me to reflect again on the awkwardness of our Internet existence (email addresses, Facebook and Linkedin profiles etc.) after our flesh and blood, biological one has ended. It is spooky when Linkedin suggests that I might want to connect to someone I know is dead. But the continuing messages to deceased friends on their Facebook page are a touching and sometimes disturbing feature of our evolving modern lives.

A long time but still young (early 40s) friend died well over a year ago at the end of what he had reported as so far very successful chemotherapy. I did not know his family and we did not share other friends who might have notified me of his death. So when he did not return my email and phone messages I eventually checked his Facebook page. As I read through the recent posts from friends it became clear that they were saying good-bye.

I checked it again today over a year later. He still lives there. Friends continue to post messages, one on Thanksgiving and several on his Birthday and one frequent poster for no particular reason at all. For most of them it is clearly a dialog with the dead and quite touching. But I am not sure about the frequent poster. Does he know that J is dead and just keeps talking to him, or does he not know and must wonder why J never replies. I could tell him, though I do not know him, but perhaps (if he doesn’t already know) he doesn’t want to know. I am not yet fully adjusted to the Internet world.

A Nation of Riches

America is a rich nation, despite its many problems and challenges, many, such as war adventurism, the product of hubris born of our success. Many elements contribute to our riches, but overwhelmingly toping the list are the people who have come here to live in freedom and with the opportunity to achieve their ambitions with hard work and a bit of luck.  “Eternal vigilantes” is the price we must pay to preserve the institutions and attitudes that help defend our way of life from those who want to run them for us.

We are rich in many ways. We are rich in our neighborliness toward our fellow man (we are the largest charity givers in the world), born in part by our gratitude for the respect for our persons and property shown to us by our neighbors. We are rich in the diversity with which we are able to live and conduct our lives, within the domain of mutual self-respect.

Our fellow citizens have come from all over the world. They are self-selected by their desire to be free and to work hard. And they bring with them those elements of their cultures that have enriched their lives in their home countries.

I shared in and enjoyed some of that richness last night at a concert by the Washington Balalaika Society featuring Olga Orlovskaya (soprano) at a local Presbyterian Church. The WBS ( is dedicated to performing traditional Russian music with Russian folk instruments (Balalaika, dombra, bayan). Olga Orlovskaya is a great granddaughter of Fyodor Chaliapin, the greatest Russian opera singer of the 20th century. Of the dozens and dozens of concerts and plays to choice from in the Washington area last night (or most any night) my Russian friend Andrei Makarov convinced me to attend this one and what a treat it was. America is indeed a rich country.

Fund raisers and passive resistance

Political fundraisers have it in their heads (on the basis of evidence no doubt) that sending long letters with stamped return envelopes improves donations. It doesn’t work with me. I resent long fundraising letters, especially with stamped return envelopes, and have established a rule to throw out unread any such letter longer than three pages (most are 7 to 12 pages!!!), including the stamped envelope, though that hurts a bit (as the bastards know full well).

More recently many fundraisers have taken to the telephone. I guess the “don’t call list” doesn’t apply to fundraising. At the end of their spiel, when they ask if I would be willing to contribute X or Y, I invoke another of my self-protective rules and inform them that I never commit to donations on the phone no matter what the cause and I make no exceptions, but I will be happy to review their letter when I receive it (if it is less than three pages). To a man (and occasionally a woman) they then inform me that for the computer they are required to indicate some amount, no matter how small, before a letter can be sent. There must be a marketing study and book that advises this or they have all studied at the same school, because the routine is exactly the same whatever the cause. My innate politeness has led me to waste much of their and my time before the conversation reaches this impasse and I hang up in anger sometimes shouting at them.

I am now pondering whether to simply hang up as soon as their purpose becomes clear or to interrupt with, “I never make or consider donations on the phone” and then hang up before they can explain their required minimum pledge no matter how small.  I welcome your advice or alternative suggestions.