Tag Archives: death

Suicide Up Close in São Paulo

I’ve never seen a jumper up close. Suicide where someone leaps off a tall building is always what you see in movies and usually a hero comes and talks the jumper out of leaping to their death.

However, after I had finished my sandwich in a snack bar on Rua Augusta in São Paulo this evening I stepped outside and saw cops all around the street. It was not clear what was going on, but then I saw two fire trucks arriving and I looked up and saw a young woman standing on the edge of the building.

She was not ridiculously high up – maybe just 4 floors above the ground – but even so I guess a 20 metre fall can go either way. She just stood there right on the edge of the building with no shoes on, just her bare feet inching slowly over the edge.

I started watching the spectacle because I wanted to see how the police would handle it. The cops in São Paulo are not known for their subtlety so I just wanted to see if they could talk her out of jumping.

One police negotiator was on the edge of the building close to her. He kept approaching with a phone. I guess he was encouraging her to speak to a friend or family member. From the way the phone kept lighting up, I guess he kept on trying to get a number from her.

But what was important was that this guy kept her focused on the safe zone. He never let her look back or look down, she was always looking at him or the phone with her back to the edge. While she was focused on him, two firemen raised a platform behind her and one suddenly grabbed her and pulled her into the safety of the platform.

She was kicking and screaming, but she had two big firemen pressing her down until they could lower the platform to the road. She was saved, for today.

I carried on watching because I wanted to see how the fire and police service handled this emergency and they did a good job. They diverted her attention enough to be able to get a platform behind her so she could be carried to safety, but as I walked away from this unusual street theatre I was left pondering a few thoughts.

Why would hundreds of people rush to take her photograph as she was released on the ground? Nobody on the street knows her story and why she felt that suicide was the only option. Why take her photo? Do people really want to get a portrait of an “almost-suicide” for their Instagram page that desperately?

She was so young. Perhaps 21 or 22 and pretty – not that beauty matters essentially, but it contrasts starkly with such a grim situation. What could have gone so disastrously wrong in her life by this age to cause her to want to just end everything? Perhaps if she can recover now and enjoy another 60 years of life with a family she might one day remember when two firemen made it all possible?

It’s disturbing to watch someone on the edge of taking their own life. For around 20 minutes I stood there wondering if the police could save her. When a second negotiator moved in and scared her I thought it was all over, but in the end both the police and fire service did a good job. They understood how to distract her and saved her life.

I walked home and still felt disturbed. Sometimes we all forget just how close we all are to not existing. When I read about the death of Jim Carrey’s girlfriend, Cathriona White, in the news today it was made even stranger by the fact that her Instagram and Twitter were all updated almost until the moment of her death. The actual switch from life to death takes place in an instant and to look at social networks anyone might believe a person is still here.

I’m glad that the cops saved that woman tonight, but saddened that in our modern smartphone culture a suicide is just seen as entertainment. And the taxi driver who got upset about the road diversion when I told him it was because of a suicide needs to learn about empathy for other people – I wouldn’t want to be his partner!

tentativa de suicídio na rua Augusta 😁😩 #suicidio #suicide #augusta #baixoaugusta #saopaulo

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Could the New York Marathon still help the Sandy relief effort?

So the New York City marathon has been cancelled by Mayor Bloomberg. Of course it’s the right decision, but it should have been made earlier. If there are still bodies being pulled from wreckage then a major sporting event is just a distraction from the relief effort.

If the relief operation was a little further along the track then this could have been a great opportunity to see the city pull together around a major sporting event – to show the world that New Yorkers really can pull together and recover from any adverse situation. But the situation is obvious – while some TV cameras would be following runners along the streets, others in the media would be pointing out the ongoing relief effort and suggesting that 40,000 fit people with an entire Sunday free might want to do something more useful than just jogging around the city.

So the decision is right, but in all the debate I have seen so far, nobody has mentioned that the marathon itself is an enormous fundraiser for many charities. It’s not 40,000 middle-class folk just taking a stroll – many of those people have trained all year, setting the marathon as an enormous personal challenge that has allowed them to raise sponsorship and support for a chosen charity.

In the London marathon over 80% of the runners are doing it just to raise cash for good causes. New York is not quite at that level of charity runners yet, but let’s just do some sums.

Most charities will ask a runner to get a minimum amount… $2,500 to $3,000 is common for New York. So if 80% of the 40,000 New York runners are raising at least $3,000 then that is almost $100m being raised for charity from a single race. It could even be more if you assume that most runners will be raising more than the minimum expected.

The way it works is that the charities buy a guaranteed place in the race – they have to pay up front for a place and many charities will buy dozens or even hundreds of places. Then by ensuring runners get a minimum amount, the charity can ensure they raise a lot more than the places cost. Everyone wins.

If the race is now cancelled then what happens to all the money pledged by people who were supporting the runners?

One obvious answer here is to refund the charities all the money they invested in buying places in the race and to then ask runners to divert all the funds they would have raised from the race into the relief effort instead of their chosen charity.

That could put $100m on tap almost overnight and would ensure that cancelling the marathon still created something worthwhile for the city. It’s difficult though – many choose a charity to support for very personal reasons and some might feel that if they have gone to the effort of raising the cash then they should have some say in where it goes.

Will it happen?

I don’t know if the Mayor and the marathon organisers can get organised fast enough to make it work, but they need to make some fast decisions, because after the dust settles, hundreds of charities will be asking about their missing millions if nothing is done.

New York City Marathon

Photo by Young Yun licensed under Creative Commons

Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

The US military has killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Despite the fact that I am not a hand-wringing liberal staging the occasional ‘bed-in for peace’, I am quite shocked and disgusted by the popular reaction in the US – or at least the popular reaction being shown by the media.

Yes, he was a callous, heartless leader who created a network of terror and sheltered behind Islam as a supposed means of justification for his acts. He was responsible for the death of thousands, so he is hardly a person to be missed, but to throw parties on the street because of his death seems like irrational exuberance.

There is of course the sense of revenge. The American public feeling relief that they finally “got” the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the USA a decade ago.

But the numerous deaths, both military and civilians, on both sides of this war don’t deserve this reaction – running into the street and cracking open a Budweiser “because we won the war…”

Ask any of those people, what have you won today? Tough to answer isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those drinking in the street, al-Qaeda is not a traditional enemy in the form of a nation state, organised with a single leader and obeying the strategy and ruling of a government. This is not World War II all over again.

This is a war of ideology. And the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the “war” is over at all, in fact it may even serve to generate more intense hatred of the American values that led us to this place.

It’s too simple to argue that this is about the Muslim v Christian world, or the consumerist society of the west v a more traditional emerging society, or an oil-dependent America v oil-producing states. All these are factors, but at the end of the day when the actions of a nation state (or small group of allies) produce a situation where a group of nations are at war with an ideology, it is a dire place to be – almost an Orwellian cliché.

President Bush created the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and yet how can it ever be won? Should Islam be banned and dismantled because the terrorists all appear to be Muslim? Should nations harbouring terrorists be considered to be at war with the allies? Should every critic of American society be ‘taken out’ because they don’t have the same values in their society as in the US – and their small group of supporting nations?

All these descriptions of Muslim terrorists could equally apply to white supremacists – who happen to be already in the US, and are US citizens, and can arm themselves quite legally utilising the second amendment to the constitution. The war on terror and the demonisation of Islam are quite convenient ways to make this ideological battle simple enough for the evening news bulletin.

I don’t feel sympathy for Bin Laden. He was a killer. But I wish the leaders of the democratic states that profess their desire to fight a “war on terror” could find a better way to do it than through bombing places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden turned up in the capital of Pakistan – allegedly a friend in the war on terror – so where does this leave the bombing campaigns of the past decade?

How about spending a few billion on encouraging enforced student exchange programmes? Every US graduate should spend a year at a university far from home, preferably somewhere they can learn about how a different society works just from being engaged with the people. And this would work best if it was reciprocated, so the US welcomed, and funded, foreign students at their own universities.

It may take a decade or more to see some more enlightened attitudes, but then we have just had a decade of bombing the Middle East and what has been the result? Only greater instability and a wider fear of terrorism.

The liberals echo John Lennon by chanting ‘Give peace a chance’ and are mocked by the hawks who feel that the western ideals of democracy and personal freedom need to be spread – almost as a crusade. But regardless of whether hawks or doves are right, the present approach has only created a situation far worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

We are now two decades on from the Cold war, but attitudes don’t seem to have thawed. Isn’t it time for some radical thinking on foreign policy – particularly from the USA? Or will we just keep on engaging in decades more of ‘regime-change’?
Central Mosque, Abuja

Where does my digital footprint go when I die?

My account on Youtube has been suspended suddenly because of a term of use violation.

I’m really not sure what I’ve done.

I got into trouble with Youtube a couple of years ago because I uploaded clips of songs from a Jean-Michel Jarre concert. The funny thing was that JMJ’s record company was deleting the clips off Youtube as JMJ himself was writing on his website that he loves to see his music shared using online forums. That never killed my entire account though – just the clips that were disputed. And even then, I can still view the clips privately when logged into my own account, it’s just that they can’t be broadcast to the wider online community.

But this is different.

Without any contact, I’ve suddenly lost access to my Youtube account. And while that might sound trivial to some, my account has over 900 of my personal videos since 2006. I don’t keep copies of that stuff. It’s filed away there on Youtube. So what happens to all my digital content now? Have they deleted it or just blocked access to my account?

I sincerely hope that this is a mistake and they will renew my access tomorrow. Perhaps an artist has complained about something I’ve uploaded, but my concern is that if that were really the case then why am I not receiving information about *why* I am locked out and *what* the complaint is about? How can I have violated the terms of use agreement when nobody at Youtube is informing me what I have done?

And there is a wider issue regarding the digital footprint of an individual. If those videos, and my blogs, and my photos on Flickr, and my tweet record on Twitter are all owned by those companies then what do I do if they withdraw the service without notice. That could mean all my personal photographs are suddenly lost. It would never happen if I had them stored in a shoe-box.

And what happens when I die? Is it possible to “inherit” a Flickr account so the thousands of pictures I have taken over many years are not lost… through some automated account clearance because it has not been logged into for a period of time.

Is anyone addressing these issues of digital ownership? And by the way, to the guys at Youtube… please get in touch. I’m not sure what button I have pushed to upset you, but how about letting me have my videos back thanks?

Hate Mail

I was never much of a Boyzone fan. Even so, the recent, and very sudden, death of Boyzone star Stephen Gately came as a shock. I vividly recall the time he came out as being gay 10 years ago. Perhaps he was the first ‘boy band’ or pop star to actually admit he was gay. Admittedly, the newspapers were going to out him anyway, but he chose to fight them by giving his side of the story, rather than desperately trying to cling on to the façade of boy-band normality – toned bodies and screaming teenage girls.

He could have tried going to the courts for a gagging order, but he took the right path and became even more of a hero to his fans – some of them probably struggling with their own sexuality – for doing so.

The nature of his death was certainly unusual. It’s not all that normal for a 33-year-old to just go to bed one evening and die. However, the initial results from the post mortem don’t indicate anything more unusual than a big night out and a joint or two being smoked. He had liquid on the lungs. That could easily have been from vomit during his sleep, possibly as a result of drinking too much, but none of us really know what happened until further information is released. It’s clear that there was no drugs binge or suicide though – it looks like a tragic accident.

Yet, take a look at what Jan Moir has been writing about Gately in the Daily Mail. What a filthy, disgusting, degraded piece of pond life she must be to write such an article in a national newspaper that just spills over with hatred and intolerance. She talks of ‘Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney’ as stars we should expect to go next – what kind of journalism is that?

Why does she make the assumption that people who live a different life to her all end up suffering an early death?

Why does she not accept that even stars can sometimes suffer fatal accidents or mishaps?

Why does she allude to Gately’s homosexuality as a fatal flaw that caused his death?

Why does she openly question the validity of civil unions, just because of Gately’s death and the recent suicide of Kevin McGee?

The Daily Mail is generally known as the Hate Mail where I come from. It’s a nasty paper read by nasty people who despise freedom, liberty, equality, and the values of the majority of people who live in the UK. Jan Moir once again demonstrates how the paper has earned this reputation, but it appears to me that she has gone too far this time. If the financial supporters of the paper – the advertisers like Marks and Spencer – are now asking for their adverts to be moved away from her page then surely it’s time for the editor to do something?

Sack her. Let her enjoy a holiday from hate.

Death of the podcast

I always used to enjoy listening to the ‘Window on Westminster’ podcast. The veteran Westminster reporter Brian Shallcross would meet the movers and shakers in power and interview them, releasing an interesting podcast once a week. Then it stopped being updated.

I was wondering yesterday – what happened to it? Why has he stopped updating it?

I thought I would drop him an email to ask why, so I googled his name, only to find his obituary in the Daily Telegraph. I missed the news that he had died so it came as quite a shock. I went off looking for his email address and not only found his personal email, but I found his obituary too…

What happens to all the material we create online after we die? I have published thousands and thousands of photos… will they live on once I am gone?