Thursday, July 16, 2009


There was a sudden blow up last week in the Boston area over Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to cut funding for the Franklin Park (Boston) and Stone (Stoneham) Zoos. Like many states, Massachusetts is looking a financial abyss directly in the face and, clearly, something has to be sacrificed in order for the state to avoid the governmental form of foreclosure that so many state residents have had to endure.

The problem grew out of news reports on WBZ radio that the zoos would close and any animals that couldn't be placed with other zoos around the country would be euthanized. I couldn't believe this and put the word out on my Facebook page. There was a big response and all of it was solidly negative on the idea of putting the animals down. I found the governor's website and contact email address, put it on my Facebook for anyone who might want to submit a protest, and sent the following:

"Dear Governor Patrick:

"I was a Massachusetts resident for 47 years, 35 of them in Roslindale from which I visited the Franklin Park Zoo with some frequency. Yesterday I heard the reports on WBZ radio of the closing of the zoo, which is bad enough for the residents of the city and for those who come from surrounding cities and towns. But there was also an announcement that animals would be put down if they could not easily be placed elsewhere.

"I am writing to protest ANY killing of animals--they are totally at the mercy of the Commonwealth and never asked, or sought, to be placed in captivity. That the Commonwealth should kill a single animal that it finds financially inconvenient is to me completely repugnant behavior. I hope you won't make me rue the day I voted for you by proceeding with any killings. These innocent creatures deserve protection, not cruelty and death."

I gave my name and MIT position (retired) and thought, well that's that--I'll never hear from them again. In the meanwhile, news reports began to appear suggesting that there might be a way out of the zoo closings from private or corporate donations, and suggesting also that it was zoo officials who has placed the possibility of euthanizing animals with key media as a tool for forcing the governor to retract the funding cuts or the legislature to vote them down. There was also mention of the fact that the state house had been flooded with phone calls and emails protesting the entire business from closing the zoos at all to any thought of putting animals down.

I opened my email yesterday and found this:

Dear William,

On behalf of Governor Deval L. Patrick, thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos. The Governor appreciates your taking the time to share your thoughts with us on this issue.

As a supporter of the zoo and a parent who has visited often, the Governor wants to be absolutely clear about one thing: there has never been any talk in state government about euthanizing any animals.

In the midst of an economic crisis like this one, when families and businesses alike are making sacrifices, the administration is asking that the zoos learn to live within more limited means, for the time being, until times turn around. The Governor and his administration are working with the people at Zoo New England and the Legislature to find lasting solutions.

Please feel free to contact our office again in the future regarding other matters; your comments are always welcome in this administration.


Governor Patrick's Constituent Services Team

Phone: 617-725-4005


T-shirt seen on a very good looking young man in the parking lot of our local Ace/Ben franklin hardware:

"I may not be MR RIGHT, but I'd be happy to f--k you until he gets here!"

No indication whether his target audience was male or female but from the look of him, he'd be welcome in either camp.


I'm putting this item last as you may want to skip it entirely. It comes courtesy of Sandy at The Banal Chew and documents one more approach to living--well dying, actually--green.

Decomposting Bodies
What’s the greenest way to dispose of human remains?
by James Glave

Squirrels, it turns out, compost quite nicely. Small birds? Sure. Happens in the woods every day, after all. But stuff a human body into a backyard bin, and within a day or so the neighbours will start to complain.

Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist specializing in soil production, explains: “When you die, you start smelling, because the oxygen does not reach inside the body.” More specifically, an abundance of anaerobic bacteria quickly takes hold in such a large mass of tissue, resulting in the rank gases CSI techs use to sniff out “decomp.” But after a decade spent investigating green options for dealing with dead bodies, Wiigh- Mäsak has finally figured out how to discreetly turn our earthly remains back into, well, earth.

The technique is called promession, the facilities that will do the job are called promatoriums, and the first one will open early next year in a converted crematorium in Jönköping, Sweden. Think of the operation as a kind of corpse disassembly line. The dearly departed are first supercooled in liquid nitrogen to about minus 196°C, then shattered into very small pieces on a vibration table. “We wanted to make the body unrecognizable without using any kind of an instrument that you would see in a kitchen or garage,” she explains.

Next a vacuum is used to evaporate moisture while a metal separator, traditionally used by the food processing industry to remove stray foreign objects from meat products, shuffles aside fillings, crowns, titanium hips, and so on. (You can put that sandwich down now.) Finally, the vaguely pink crumbs are deposited in a large box made of corn or potato starch.

Surviving family members bury the box in shallow topsoil and plant a tree or shrub on top. With the exception of perhaps a few broken remnants of plastic pacemaker, in a matter of months nothing is left but memories and some lush greenery.

Assuming all goes well for Promessa in Jönköping, Wiigh-Mäsak expects partners will soon hang out their shingles in eleven countries, including Australia, South Africa, Germany, Korea, the UK, and even — pending regulatory hurdles and a still-in-the-works licensing agreement — Canada. But are we ready for this sort of thing?

Mortuary customs are among the most deeply entrenched in any culture, and in these parts the standard is deep burial. A mortician replaces the body’s blood with embalming chemicals, then arranges the preserved cadaver inside a casket made of metal or lumber — sometimes redwood or a tropical species like mahogany. Post-funeral, workers lower the casket into an underground vault six feet below ground level and backfill the grave. There, once microbes consume all available oxygen, the corpse putrefies into toxic skeletal sludge. Up top, constant mowing, fertilizing, and irrigation keep everything looking tidy.

Alternatively, the body is burned in a natural gas, propane, or oil-fired furnace, releasing a cloud of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, along with the aerosolized mercury from a lifetime’s accumulation of dental fillings. An operator then pulverizes the bones left behind in a cremulator and presents these “ashes” to the bereaved in an urn.

Despite the undertaker’s soothing assurances, neither option is especially respectful of either the body or the ecosystem, which is why “natural burial” groups have started popping up all over Canada and the world. These organizations advocate burying the dead in less intensively landscaped settings, closer to the surface, without benefit of embalmment, a casket, or even a headstone.

Mention promession to even this crowd, however, and you turn up the conservative take. “There may be a little bit of an ‘ick’ factor,” fears Janet McCausland, executive director of the Toronto-based Natural Burial Association. “Natural burial is what we have been doing for millennia. People may be leery of this new fandangled technology.”

Audio: Listen to James Glave talk about promession and decomposting on New Hampshire Public Radio.

It does sound like sci-fi, something out of "Dune"
Good for you for taking the time to voice your opinions/concerns, rather than just sitting by and complaining like most lazy Americans.
The zoo happenings sparked a fair bit of discussion at the Toledo Zoo workshop this week. Several folks (myself included) wondered if the euthanasia rumors were deliberately started to fuel outrage that would forestall the zoo closures.

Fascinating stuff on the promession.
What, no photo of the hot guy? :)

And thanks for the info. That explains a lot. I'll tell Marc to take that pesky neighbor we had to dispose of out of the compost pile. We couldn't figure out the problem! ;)
I had a feeling that the Zoo debacle would all work out.

As for promession, I would actually prefer something like that. For years I was all about cremation, but now with all the concerns about emissions from crematoria, I have been thinking about better alternatives.

This one works for me. (For the record I was eating Mexican food while reading the description. I found it much less disturbing than the idea of the corpse beetles.)
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