Who Were They?

Re “But After All, He Was a Man” (“City Lights,” September 17).

I have been reading the Reader on and off for well over 20 years, and this is the first time I have written. I feel very much the same way the author does. I have not seen this exhibit, nor do I intend to. I’m not against it. I’m sure it would be interesting and fascinating, but ultimately sad. I do wonder who these people are: What are their names? Were they fathers, mothers, good, bad? Where are they from, etc. Without the personal stories, it reduces the impact this exhibit could have. It would enrich each person and enrich our own lives to have a more personal human connection. Otherwise, it dehumanizes them. It shows a lack of respect. I do feel they should have a proper place to rest after their current journey is over. I am not a religious person, but I do appreciate and understand the small gesture the author made to show she had been there and to acknowledge that he was more than a curiosity to her. I felt like doing so in my own mind. Miss Donaldson brought me there with her. I applaud the author’s humanity, because after all, he really was a man.

Mike Allen
via email

Where Have You Gone?

Your Janice Donaldson goes to the Natural History Museum, admitting her guilt after spying on Plastic Man’s genitals (“But After All, He Was a Man” “City Lights,” September 17), and then emits a pious reminder that this dead semimortal “was, before anything, from God.” Later, to make sure we get it, she says, “(T)hank God…because in my mind even a plastinate needs a funeral service.”

This prayer for political recognition of her god comes after the Reader’s cursing of those damned foreign pedicabbies (“Pedicab Wars,” Cover Story, September 10) and praise for lukewarm machos carrying empty political guns (“They Carry Guns,” Cover Story, July 16). Damn! If it weren’t for the regular appearances of Don Bauder, I’d have sworn y’all are working for the Republican National Committee. I want my Reader back!!!

Bob Dorn
via email

Authentic Q

We are flattered that Naomi Wise wrote about us in the barbecue portion of this article (Restaurant Review, September 17). I only wish she would come in and try our food right out of the smokers. Naomi says in the article that she was writing her article based on take-out food that was brought to her. How long was that food sitting in the car before it got to her? We do a very good job here, and we are doing it authentically, unlike most others in town. Reviews can make or break a restaurant. Please come back and give us a review that is fair. Come in and taste what we have to offer. You and the rest of this city will be quite impressed with what we are doing: barbecue, the way it is intended to be.

Brett Nicholson
Brett’s BBQ

They’re No Angels

I’m responding to the comments made about “Pedicab Wars,” (Cover Story, September 10). These J-1 visa students are not the angels that everyone thinks. They overcharge their customers $30, $40, $50 a person. They run red lights and stop signs and don’t obey any of the traffic laws — with customers on board. They steal from our stores. Case in point: three of the Russian kids that were here for the summer doing the pedicabs were arrested for stealing stereo equipment from Fry’s. That was on the news the other night. I’ve done the pedicab business for five years now. I’ve seen all the damage these kids have done.

Also, in reply to Mr. Schmidt from last week, I’ve never broken any laws in Mexico. Also, I’m not a racist, just a hardworking person who is frustrated about his business.

Guy Harinton
Downtown

Pedicrap

The article on pedicabs was a waste of words and paper (“Pedicab Wars,” Cover Story, September 10). Get rid of them.

Zondra Schmidt
via email

Evangelical Parallel

Re the article on the minister Aimee McPherson in the September 10 and 17 editions (“When Sister Aimee Came to Town,” Feature Story). Having read Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, which was later made into a motion picture back in 1960, there is such a parallel to the whole evangelical movement in his book consistent with the article that appeared in the Reader. I mean, it’s just phenomenal, and Lewis was, of course, an extraordinary, gifted writer.

Thank you so much for such a beautiful publication.

James Willis
Chula Vista

A Table For None

I’m the epitome of open-minded thought. Voted for Obama, loved Cash for Clunkers, supported the stimulus package, voted no on Prop. 8, think the Demos should ram an uncompromising health-care reform plan down the throat of the Limbaugh/ Beck/Joe Wilson crowd, and am a proud resident of the 92101.

But try as I might, my efforts in trying to be “down” with the pompous, self-important, condescending, supercilious, arrogant, hipper-than-thou, self-aggrandizing gasbag that is Naomi Wise are failing miserably.

And after her review of Truluck’s (September 3), I’m tossing in the proverbial towel. It’s pretty obvious (at least to me) that since this establishment was one of those heathen suburban-style chains, she was going to trash it, no matter what, and had made up her mind from the time she emerged from bed that morning. If Truluck’s had offered the same menu, had the same ambiance, had the same patrons, but the place had been in a part of town overridden with the urban-come-lately sect (North Park, Hillcrest, East Village, Kensington), she would have been raving about the joint for three issues. Hey, there was no need to repeat you’re not a fan of chains — we heard you the first time! Of course, her chain-hatred doesn’t preclude her from shopping at Whole Foods, I’ll bet.

Worse yet, what was the point of mentioning that many of the diners were, uh, corpulent? Never mind that making fun of someone’s physical appearance is a capital crime in my book; would she have penned a review of a University Avenue restaurant and said, “All the men here appeared to be gay”? Yeah, right.

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Comments

SDaniels Sept. 23, 2009 @ 5:46 p.m.

To Mike Allen:

...in response to his and author of the original article, Donaldson, in the claim that preserved human bodies in the exhibit "Bodyworlds," for purposes of medical education and display--"plastinates"-- are somehow 'dehumanized.' Of Donaldson's gesture of leaving a wrapped piece of candy before an exhibited plastinate as a religiously motivated gesture to stand in for a ritual of burial, Allen writes: "I applaud the author’s humanity, because after all, he really was a man." Yes, the plastinate in question was a man; a man who chose to donate his body for medicine and education, and who likely belonged to a burgeoning club of people who have put their names on a list waiting to be plastinated and displayed, or dissected for the benefit of medical study. Why not respect this man's final wish, rather than push your religious or knee-jerk humanist values on him, now that he can no longer speak for himself?

Mr. Allen, and Ms. Donaldson have clearly not taken any time to research anything about this exhibit, or they'd be raising a hue and cry about a different matter altogether: Gunther von Hagens used to have a lab in China, where he was accused of accepting or purchasing, knowingly or unknowingly, the bodies of Chinese dissidents for plastination. I do not know for certain if this was not the case, but have found no evidence to support it whatsoever, besides a few suggestive articles written for sensational value, and a brief skirmish in the press with his former student, who started his own exhibit, called "Bodies: The Exhibition." I do know, again, that there is a very enthusiastic following of would-be donors who are more than willing bequeath their bodies to von Hagens’ students; in light of this fact, that remains might be accepted under dishonorable or criminal circumstances makes little sense.

Should those rumors be completely untrue, then there are many more complex social and ethical issues we should be exploring here, including how exhibits of plastinated bodies mark a fascinating shift in social conceptions of the meaning of death, the ritual of burial, and the rights of the individual to dispose of him or herself in a safe, and even educational manner. Unfortunately, Ms. Donaldson’s article will be of use only as a reactionary opinion, rather than a thoughtful journalistic treatment of this subject, and Mr. Allen’s response adds nothing to it at all.

Let's be curious and question social phenomena with some intelligence, rather than immediately push our religious values or personal, unquestioned humanist ideas on others' very personal decisions about what to do with their own remains. At the least, honor the final wish of these dead, and learn--or at least allow others to learn--from their generous gifts to society.

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PistolPete Sept. 23, 2009 @ 11:38 p.m.

Very well spoken SD. I too thought about the very act of placing the wrapped piece of candy. I'm on the fence on that one and most likely always will. I see it from both sides.

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SDaniels Sept. 24, 2009 @ 11:39 a.m.

I should add that the gesture of placing the candy in front of the plastinate is a very effectively emotional one; most people, including myself, feel an instinctive connection with such a gesture. We are (hopefully) used to not having to question the fact that besides the obvious hygienic necessity of burial, death is quickly made to transform (cremation, embalming) and disappear, so that we may immediately abstract it, and transform it in our minds to memory of a life lived. Something like plastination is conceptually not that different from embalming, or any ancient ritual of preservation--it is the reason that it is done, and that the fact that death in this case does not disappear and remains visible.

We might think we are used to this kind of concept only in horror fictions, which strive to violate any and every psychological boundary possible for a cynical public surfeited with images of horror. But instead of the automatic run with the feeling that "it must be wrong," and then proceed to auto-filter the experience through one's particular religious or humanist lens, why don't we consider this phenomenon, and the process of polymerizing human remains for the purposes of study? If ethical boundaries are violated, it is much more interesting, and intellectually profitable, to bracket the personal for a moment, and look at this phenom qua phenom. (Btw, for a great study of a uniquely American fascination with and compulsion to preserve the signifiers of life, see Tony Richards' film "The Loved One").

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SDaniels Sept. 24, 2009 @ 11:40 a.m.

(cont).

Von Hagens' exhibit does another thing: It is "info-tainment" or "edu-tainment" in a way that crosses a line that makes people nervous and/or ambivalent. Is it really necessary to display these remains in the poses of the living? von Hagens has a macabre sense of humor, to be sure, and you'll find plenty of playful touches in the exhibit, such as the plastinate with a black lung holding a cigarette, or the horseman of the apocalypse-style display, with the horseback rider holding his own, and the horse's heart in his hands. Here is where we need to discuss the ethics of a line crossed somewhere between exploitation and education, and we need to look at it honestly. Boundary-blurring is a big market. We enjoy “reality” television, and the suspension of disbelief that contestants are really paid (and crappy) actors, not ‘authentic’ starry-eyed lovers looking for soulmates. We are increasingly accepting of the crossing or questioning of boundaries of race, gender, and religious practice—these are arguably good things. The blurring of lines between news and entertainment on CNN, “Faux News,” and “MisinformationBC,” not so great, perhaps. Plastinated bodies as “edu-tainment?” If we open earnest dialogue on the subtextual, symbolic significance of cultural events such as these, we may find some not so flattering conclusions about our abilities or inclinations to learn without the added effect of the shock value--but we might also become more open to understanding how we allow ourselves to be conditioned by it, how we create and react to cultural subtext, and how ultimately, we ask to be taught about the world around us.

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drudolph Oct. 1, 2009 @ 3:49 a.m.

Re: Brett’s BBQ

Considering how many different reviews on yelp.com said the same negative things about meat (dry, tough...), I doubt that this case had anything to do with "How long was that food sitting in the car before it got to her".

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