Tastes Like Chicken

Thursday, February 20, 2003
_Self-control comes in limited quantities and must be replenished

Right now it is KILLING me to have a bag of chocolate covered pretzels (REAL CHOCOLATE, dammit) sitting in my home while I'm winnowing away a few pounds. KILLING ME, I say! Normally I'd just toss them, but I know I'll want to share them with friends next week.

It's going to be a loong week.

_Stripped for parts
Spending the night with a dead man kept breathing so that his organs can be better preserved for transplantation.
Rather than extracting this man's vitals right away, the hospital contacts the California Transplant Donor Network, which dispatches a procurement team to begin "donor maintenance": the process of artificially supporting a dead body until recipients are ready. When the parathyroid gland stops regulating calcium, key to keeping the heart pumping, the team sends the proper amount down an intravenous drip. When blood pressure drops, they add vasoconstrictors, which contract the blood vessels. Normally the brain would compensate for a decrease in blood pressure, but with it out of commission, the three-nurse procurement team must take over.

In this case, the eroding balance will have to be sustained for almost 24 hours. The goal is to fool the body into believing that it's alive and well,
even as everything is falling apart. As one crew member concedes, "It's unbelievable that all this stuff is being done to a dead person."

To me, he looks fine. His face is slack but flush, he breathes steadily, and his heart beats like a clock, despite the fact that his lungs have recently begun to leak fluid. The nurses roll the body from side to side periodically so that the liquid doesn't pool. At one point, a white plastic vest designed to clear the lungs inflates and begins to vibrate violently - as if some invisible person has seized the dead man by the shoulders and is trying to shake him awake. The rest of the time, the nurses consult monitors and watch for signs of cardiac arrest. When someone scratches the bottom of the dead man's foot, it twitches.

Although I don't admit it to the procurement team, I've grown attached to the dead man. There's something vulnerable about his rumpled hair and middle-aged body, naked save a waist-high sheet. Under the hospital lights, everything is exposed: the muscular arms gone flabby above the elbow; the legs, wiry and lean, foreshortened under a powerful torso. It's the body of a man in his fifties, simultaneously bullish and elfin. One foot, the right, peeps out from the sheet, and for a brief moment I want to hold it and rub the toes that must be cold - a hopeless gesture of consolation.

By the time we head into surgery, the patient has been dead for more than 24 hours, but he still looks pink and healthy. In the operating room, all the intravenous drips are still flowing, convincing the body that everything's fine even as it's cleaved in half. (Even brain-dead bodies require sedation, since spinal reflexes can make a corpse "buck" in surgery.) "You spend all this time monitoring the heartbeat, the blood pressure," the anesthesiologist explains. "To just turn everything off when you're done and walk out. It's bizarre."

The liver is enormous - it looks like a polished stone, flat and purplish - and with it gone, the body seems eerily empty, although the heart continues to beat. Watching this pumping vessel makes me oddly anxious. It's sped up slightly, as though sensing what will happen next. Below me, the man's face is still flushed. He's the one I wish would survive, I realize, even though there was never any chance of that. Meanwhile, the head surgeon has walked away. He's busy examining the liver and relaying a description over the phone to the doctor who will perform the attachment. Almost unnoticed, an aide clamps the arteries above and below the heart, and cuts. The patient's face doesn't move, but its pinkness drains to a waxy yellow. After 24 hours, the dead man finally looks dead.
The linked story is much more than the excerpts used above.

_High Definition TV has been successfully captured in its native data stream from an over the air broadcast by a software defined radio that is Free and open source from the GNU Software Defined Radio project.

Explanation: What that means is that there is now a free-of-charge and user modifiable software system that can, in combination with hardware built to a freely available specification, use a normal personal computer to recieve and save bit for bit copies of the high definition television signals already being beamed out by broadcasters. That means you can create perfect copies, with color, fidelity and detail that far outstrips what you are used to from standard television or even direct broadcast satellite (like DirecTV), and use them at your convenience and in the full range of uses allowed under fair use, the legal doctrine that gives you considerable freedom to save, copy and even distribute copyrighted materials.

This is huge. Deadly serious efforts by the Hollywood studios to keep fair use from carrying forward into the digital television era just got a thousand times harder.

Outdamnstanding! Go look at the purty pictures!

Sunday, February 16, 2003
_Hey man, nice shot.
Fascinating and moving, this is a "tribute" page devoted to R. Budd Dwyer, whos willfully spectacular flameout provided stomach churning news footage to go with my fifteenth birthday. Was he guilty? I dunno, but the account is moving nonetheless. And no, I'm not interested in seeing the video again. The subdued stills and transcript on the Final Moments page are plenty for me.

The intersection of this event with Filter's song is covered pretty well here.

Expect pop-ups on some of these links if you're still using Internet Explorer.