An Inclusive Litany


Ann Karpf in the Guardian, once more with feeling, November 28, 2001:
They say death is a great leveller. They're wrong. Inequality pursues us after life too. Consider Ground Zero. While international attention has shifted to Afghanistan, the vast project of body-part retrieval in Lower Manhattan is probably the most exorbitant expenditure on the dead in our lifetime, and yet remains almost entirely exempt from criticism or debate. Ground Zero has been cordoned off, not only physically, but also politically and financially, though it's a provocative message to the rest of the world, where death comes cheaper.

This is the largest attempt to identify the dead through DNA sampling. In the application of technology to grief, up to a million tissue samples will be examined by forensic pathologists, radiologists, anthropologists and dentists trying to match DNA material from victims' toothbrushes or relatives' mouths with fragments recovered from the twin towers. It's as if the scale of the operation has had to mirror the heft and girth of those buildings. Since this folly is in its early stages (projected time-scale: two years), it's impossible to say what it will cost. At some point a courageous person may call a halt, but there may be further costs, as the many professionals involved will need post-traumatic stress counselling....

Here's a consumer's guide to our hierarchy of death. If you want yours to signify in the media and public debate, and your relatives to be decently compensated, make sure you a) are white, and b) a westerner, c) die quickly, dramatically, and spectacularly (not slowly of a disease of poverty or occupational illness), and that d) your death is witnessed by millions, preferably on television; e) if possible, own a mobile [phone].

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