Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dark Matter Probably Won't Lower Funeral Costs

I've often wondered why people get so excited about organic food. It's still basically food. Is it really worth spending extra money to guarantee that instead of chemicals your food is going to be grown in a mixture of corpses and shit? After all corpses and shit have chemicals in them too. Pretty much everything does except possibly for dark matter. Nobody quite knows what comprises dark matter. Personally I suspect it was invented by physicists so they didn't have to admit they got their sums wrong. Still they are putting quite a bit of energy (of the non dark variety) into finding it. The latest effort consists of a monitoring station at the bottom of a disused coal mine. I have to admit if you're looking for dark matter a coal mine is probably a good place to start. The damn stuff is all over the place down there.

Apparently being able to definitely identify dark matter would contribute materially to our understanding of the universe. Personally, I doubt it. As with every other major scientific discovery of the last fifty years or so it will probably contribute to our lack of understanding of the universe. A century ago the universe consisted of stars, planets, moons, the occasional asteroid and comet and gravity. Even I could understand that. A hundred years of unremitting research has brought us to the point where nobody knows what the hell is going on. Dark matter is unlikely to help much. The most understanding dark matter will do is to free up resources so that we can look at all of the questions that the existence of dark matter doesn't answer. I don't know what these questions are but I'm confident they exist. You can consider them my own personal dark matter if you like.

It is unlikely that a detailed explanation of dark matter will help us resolve the "why do people buy organic food?" question or the "why is food grown in a mixture of rotting cadavers and bodily waste so much better than that grown in chemicals specifically designed to promote growth?".

On a related topic I see from the newspaper that there is a clash between two interest groups over a patch of open land in Sydney. Part of this land is occupied by Chinese market gardeners who grow culturally appropriate Chinese vegetables. The other part is occupied by a cemetery. Guess which bit is trying to expand at the expense of the other? The opinion columnist in the paper was thoroughly on the side of the gardeners and made all of the predictable jokes about fertilizer and the foolishness of planting something that won't actually grow. Although to be fair I think if we buried granny and next year there was a granny tree in the same location there would be a fair few kiddies freaking out.

Funerals (and the burials that frequently go with them) are big business so I think we can all guess who is going to win this particular argument. What I don't understand is why death is such a big business. Normally an oversupply of something leads to a reduction in price but we have death all over the place and funeral costs just keep going up. The other thing I don't get is why is there such a big deal about death anyway. It isn't exclusive in any respect; it frequently gets handed out in job lots at car accidents and other social gatherings.

Nevertheless the death industry is making a mint. I think people place too great an emphasis on death. The coffin, the service, the eulogy its all lovely but none of it is going to make the main character feel any better. Robbing the dead is considered particularly heinous as well. Why? They don't have any use for the stuff. In my opinion it is far better to rob the dead than rob the living. At least you can be pretty certain that the dead are finished with it. Incidentally exactly what is the statute of limitations before grave robbing becomes archaeology? And if I am found filing the gold teeth out of a freshly buried corpse could I legitimately explain that I am a potential archaeologist?

Of course the answer to the question of why death is a big business is simple. The death industry is about exploiting the living. Some emotionally shattered person turns up on a funeral parlour doorstep and sobs through the terrible story of how beloved Larry got caught in his own ride on mower and the funeral director thinks "I can make a few bucks out of this person". The customer themselves isn't blameless. They know in their soul that it doesn't really matter whether Larry gets interred in a pyramid with a collection of artifacts and ritually disemboweled ride on mowers or tossed onto a landfill but they eagerly grasp at the mink lined, mahogany coffin to "show respect" despite the fact that Larry's most significant achievement was remembering to wear pants before getting on the mower. The bereaved also knows that a bunch of relatives and in laws who mostly hate them will be turning up looking for an excuse to bitch about the funeral.

Like most things in life funerals are all about the living. The dead person may as well not be there and, if you believe some of the stories about funeral homes, quite possibly isn't. Funerals are about living human beings coming together ostensibly for the purpose of mutual comfort and grieving. The corpse is entirely optional. Which brings me to my plan. We keep the funeral homes, after all it is useful to have somebody to blame when the funeral goes pear-shaped but we get rid of the body. Speeches can be given, tears shed, ride on mowers burnt in effigy and everybody can move on to the real business of the day which is getting drunk at the wake and hitting on someone while they're emotionally vulnerable.

The funeral home can "take care" of the body. I don't think I need to go into details but they have a lot of land and organic vegetables are really hot right now.


  1. My, I've enjoyed this!

    The law around dead bodies is interesting. No one can own one (only possess it), which is why they had to do grave robbers for theft of the clothing and other peripheral felonies. In the US there are 'abuse of a corpse' laws; in the UK none. It is difficult, therefore, to determine what you can and can't do to a dead body (you can't sexually penetrate one in the UK, but can you eat the brains? I've not been able to find out. When does grave-robbing become archaeology? Very good point. In your case, you'd certainly be done for illegal exhumation. Is the theft of the gold theft? I don't know.

    As to funerals without bodies, this is actually becoming quite popular on the west coast of the US. I think there's a lot to be said for it. If a dead body is nothing but insensate carcass then yes, it makes perfect sense not to cart it about fruitlessly in a box.

  2. Love the stuff on dark matter. Having just finished 'Just Six Numbers' I warm to the idea that all they are doing is finding more and more elaborate ways of covering up the fact they they haven't a clue what's going on