Posts tagged with death

I loved being a rifle company commander. Having the responsibility for 211 men. Being totally in charge of their welfare and their training. That was the happiest period of my life, professionally, looking back on things.

24 Hrs. To Live by Mase feat. The Lox, Black Rob, & DMX

(Source: Spotify)

I argued that CVaR (expected shortfall) of personal income is a better indicator of a society’s success than is GDP.


CVaR combines the basic statistical operations of

  • subsetting and
  • averaging.

In statistical analysis of the middle it’s useful to winsorise—trim off the upper and lower X% and look at those separately. With CVaR it’s almost the opposite: look at the upper or lower edge only. (Although you could also look at only the bottom 50% which is not really an edge.)

You could also use the same technique to look at the “top” rather than the “bottom”. Think about, for example, the apparent puzzle of

  • rising life expectancy, with
  • stagnant longevity.

Average lifespans rise as early causes of death (dysentery, childbirth, violence) decline.


But death by “natural causes” (getting old and all your body systems start to fail | telomere cutoffs | whatever “natural causes” means; it’s sort of vague) doesn’t get postponed by as much.

I can think of three ways to even go about defining what arithmetic we’re going to perform on the data to answer “Is longevity higher or lower?”.

  1. Perform a lot of subset operations on cause-of-death. Remove the violent ones, the childbirth ones, the cancer ones that also coincide with old age but not middle-age but maybe middle-old-age should count…, the narcotic ones (but not narcotics that are used for euthanasia in old people), the driving accidents, the young suicides, the wild animal attacks, the malaria, the starvation, the tuberculosis, the ebola, ….
  2. Perform just one subset operation on age. Pick some age like 70 over which you will consider all deaths to be “of old age”, even if they got hit by a car. Average all those ages together and the number you’re using now cuts out—roughly, not surgically—a lot of the deaths you aren’t interested in.

    Just like subsetting to age at death WHERE age > 5 will pull out childhood illness deaths.
  3. Consider the upper 10% or 20% or 50% of ages at death. Average that together and now the number you’re comparing reasonable numbers across countries.

This last one is the CVaR approach. Clearly all three have flaws. But the third one needs the least data and the least data janitorship (imagine languages or different fields/columns or different coding choices).

Just like using lower CVaR to compare only poor people’s incomes, if we used upper CVaR to compare only old people’s death ages, we’d get better numbers and talk more sense with only a bit more effort.


The reporter’s voice singing the prosody of her profession, we are notified of several facts: millionaire, Wall Street, financial ruin, arson, scuba suit, Mount Everest.

  • Noun (phrase) used to identify victim of suicide: outdoor enthusiast.
  • Method of execution: cyanide pills.
  • Number of eyewitnesses to Marin’s death throes: more than five.
  • Ashamed that I watched such a private moment on camera?: Maybe.
  • Disgusted that I want to watch it again?: Not really.
  • Reasons for interest: [1] fascination with death [2] examining my own empathy / sympathy / lack thereof [3] the media made me watch it [4] the expression on the face of a man who has just decided to take his own life [5] videotape of physical act which begins the process of self-murder.
  • First comment by a G+ acquaintance: “Justice served? or averted?” Anti-Wall Street sentiment.
  • My feeling: Who cares? I hate to see someone at that level of suffering.

(Source: Los Angeles Times)

A few weeks ago a relation of mine (in his early 50’s) met up with a far-flung friend from high school. The friend is apparently a multimillionaire from making some computer game company. Multiple houses in beautiful parts of the country. But also has a terminal illness. I think something M.S.-related. It is at least debilitative as well as terminal. I keep thinking about their meeting. The friend I’ve never met nor spoken to so it’s just imagination on my part.

What would I want to say at the end of my life? How do you look at someone who is going to continue on—perhaps in not so rico a fashion as one would dream of for oneself—but carry on forward past the end of me. What do you talk about? What really mattered—or what matters to you at that point?

I can’t exactly express what I feel about it. I just keep thinking about this person looking back on his life. One last meeting with an old friend.





  • "I wanted to be pissed about my breast cancer"
  • "They wanted to be angry about being laid off"
  • "It’s untrue that a positive attitude boosting the immune system increases the odds of withstanding cancer" "I have a Ph.D in cellular immunology"
  • Quantum physics become an excuse to mock all of science
  • "I didn’t come out of cancer more spiritual or a better person. If anything I’m a little meaner and more cynical"
  • There is no “real world”, there’s the real world through my positive mood and the real world through my bad mood.

Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich

I remember as a child, walking in New York City. Of course I had no idea where we were going or why we were doing anything, I just knew I had to walk somewhere. I was tossing my stuffed animal in the air as we walked, for fun. It was a stuffed stegosaurus my mum had sewed for me. He was awesome. We crossed a street. I threw Steggy the stegosaurus up in the air. He went straight up instead of up-and-in-front-of-me. My mum was holding my hand, making me cross straight to the other kerb. We went forward and he went straight up and straight down onto the pavement behind me. I tried to turn around and pick him up. I saw a car coming and wanted to run back and pick Steggy up from the ground. I was afraid he would be run over.

The Wound That Never Heals by Jim White