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Bodies Revealed

Moody Gardens, Galveston, Texas

This past Saturday my daughter’s school choir performed on the steps of Moody Gardens in Galveston. Moody Gardens is part amusement park, part museum, part nature conservatory. Its attractions include a rainforest pyramid, an aquarium and a paddleboat ride in Galveston Bay.

After the concert, we were free to visit the exhibits. One of particular interest to me–albeit not of much interest to the 4 girls I was with–was a temporary exhibit called Bodies Revealed:

FASCINATING + REAL. BODIES REVEALED is a must-see during its limited engagement on Galveston Island. This striking Exhibition showcases real human bodies, dissected and preserved through a revolutionary process which allows visitors to see themselves in a fascinating way, like never before. BODIES REVEALED will enlighten, empower, fascinate and inspire.

BODIES REVEALED, made possible through the process of Polymer Preservation, is an attempt to remedy that lack of knowledge by presenting to the lay public material that was previously only available to the medical profession: a three-dimensional tour of the human body. The specimens have been dissected to specifically illustrate each body system and function. Male and female reproductive organs are visible in some of the full body specimens.

Countless visitors have remarked that the knowledge gained from the experience has provided them with a new connection to their own bodies. Others claim a new reverence for life and a desire to take a more preventative approach to their health care. To quote writer and philosopher John Conger whose words are displayed in the Exhibition, “Without the body, the wisdom of the larger self cannot be known.”

image from the

I should have been fascinated–and to the extent that the exhibits revealed the complexities of the human body and how they systems worked I was fascinated. But I also came away from that exhibit with a feeling which was unexpected: unease.

Photography of any kind was strictly prohibited. You weren’t even allowed to bring your phone into the exhibit if it had a camera. But even if photos were allowed, I don’t think I would have taken any. Even the act of viewing these bodies–as educational as it was–seemed to be a violation of their privacy. These were, after all, living human beings at one time. Someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, significant other. And while I pass no judgement on those who see this exhibit for what it is intended to be: an educational, enlightening experience, I simply can’t get past my personal unease at viewing what was once a living, breathing human being.

I think it’s an important exhibition. An educational one which helps to explain the mystery of the human machine.

But as for me, I just as soon let some things remain mysterious.

What do you think? Would you be comfortable with allowing your body to be displayed after your death? What about a loved one?

Update: Prompted by Glynn Young’s comment, I did a little online research. I was disturbed to find that indeed the bodies are from China, and that the promoters of this exhibit and others like it cannot with certainty independently confirm that all the bodies were donated to science with the consent of the decedents or their families.

From a NY Times article:

“Inside a series of unmarked buildings, hundreds of Chinese workers, some seated in assembly line formations, are cleaning, cutting, dissecting, preserving and re-engineering human corpses, preparing them for the international museum exhibition market.

“Pull the cover off; pull it off,” one Chinese manager says as a team of workers begin to lift a blanket from the head of a cadaver stored in a stainless steel container filled with formalin, a chemical preservative. “Let’s see the face; show the face.”

The mastermind behind this operation is Gunther von Hagens, a 61-year-old German scientist whose show, “Body Worlds,” has attracted 20 million people worldwide over the past decade and has taken in over $200 million by displaying preserved, skinless human corpses with their well-defined muscles and sinewy tissues.

But now with millions of people flocking to see “Body Worlds” and similar exhibitions, a ghastly new underground mini-industry has emerged in China.

With little government oversight, an abundance of cheap medical school labor and easy access to cadavers and organs — which appear to come mostly from China and Europe — at least 10 other Chinese body factories have opened in the last few years. These companies are regularly filling exhibition orders, shipping preserved cadavers to Japan, South Korea and the United States.”

Personally, I regret viewing this exhibit because by doing so, I’ve contributed to a ghastly industry.

Declaration of Independence (repost)

image courtesy of

It’s been awhile since I’ve read the Declaration of Independence, but I think it is an amazing document. As I read it last night on my iPhone, head propped up on several pillows from the comfort of my very comfortable bed in my very comfortable, air conditioned house while sipping on an iced cold Diet Coke that I was able to purchase by getting into my late model Jeep and driving 5 minutes to the grocery store, something occurred to me. Something that has been come to my attention more and more as of late. I take a lot of things for granted. Things that people left their homelands to seek; that men and women have fought and died for.

No, not my bed, or house, or Diet Coke, or car. Sure, I take those for granted, too. No, what I take for granted is the right to pursue the desire for all these creature comforts. Nothing on the aforementioned list is of great importance to me, but if I were to be denied the right to choose any of those things, or if I was told someone else with more authority would chose them for me, I wouldn’t like it. Not one bit.

I don’t talk politics on this blog. But as I read this document written and signed 235 years ago, it occurred to me that many have forgotten (if they ever knew) the reasons the founding fathers felt compelled to write it in the first place. If it’s been awhile since you’ve read it, I invite you to read it with a fresh perspective in light of the political climate of this country. Our United States of America. And remember that We the People are we, the people.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. — The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free system of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislature, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


John Hancock

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
Geo. Walton

Wm. Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
Edward Rutledge
Thos. Heyward, Junr.
Thomas Lynch, Junr.
Arthur Middleton

Samuel Chase
Wm. Paca
Thos. Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Th. Jefferson
Benja. Harrison
Thos. Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Robt. Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benja. Franklin
John Morton
Geo. Clymer
Jas. Smith
Geo. Taylor
James Wilson
Geo. Ross
Caesar Rodney
Geo. Read
Tho. Mckean

Wm. Floyd
Phil. Livingston
Frans. Lewis
Lewis Morris
Richd. Stockton
Jno. Witherspoon
Fras. Hopkinson
John Hart
Abra. Clark

Josiah Bartlett
Wm. Whipple
Saml. Adams
John Adams
Robt. Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Step. Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
Wm. Williams
Oliver Wolcott
Matthew Thornton

And for those of you in need of a short history, here’s one courtesy of Schoolhouse Rock –for my money, still the best educational children’s programming available.

Classes in Life (by Billy Coffey)

Classes have begun in earnest at the college where I work. The serenity that was summer is now long forgotten, replaced by the franticness of fall. Hundreds of fresh and not-so-fresh faces are about, crowding classrooms and sidewalks in a symphony of chaos. Some of these faces are cool and collected, veterans of higher education. Others have the look of a lost child in a busy shopping mall—freshmen.

College is getting to be a more and more important part of life. Whereas folks my age could make a decent living with nothing more than a high school diploma, that’s not the case now. The world is changing. It’s bigger and more complex then when I was a teenager, and it’s easy to get turned around and never find your way.

Which is why all of these students are here—to find their way.

And I can think of fewer places better suited for such an endeavor. The college here offers dozens of majors and minors and three graduate programs. The professors are brilliant and products of some of the finest universities in the world. The administration is dedicated and professional. Both work together to ensure that each student receives the necessary knowledge in his or her declared discipline to find success in the world.

Last week I spoke with Emily, a young lady who had done just that—found success. It wasn’t long ago when she walked across the lawn just down from where I’m sitting now, fetched her diploma from the President of the college, and said hello to the real world. It was an easy introduction. She’d already fielded several job offers and one marriage proposal.

Life was good. No, better than good. Easy.

Now, two years later, Emily knows better. Her job is steady, but also stressful and demanding. And the marriage proposal she accepted was rescinded one year and one child later, leaving her a single mom.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “Life is still good. It’s just not that easy.”

I understood. College can’t get you ready for everything.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it could, though? If college could not only give you theories and laws, but training for life’s hiccups as well? Yes. Now then we’d have something.

I’m not privy to decisions concerning curriculum and how much of what must be taught. I’m simply an underling, paid not to form policy but to make sure the day-to-day runs smoothly. I have no fancy initials under my name, no suit and tie, and the only piece of paper framed on my wall is a movie poster from Tombstone.

But what I lack in formal education I more than make up for in experience, which just so happens to be a fine instructor as well. And while the students I see throughout the day are getting much in the way of preparation for the workplace, I think improvements could be made in the way of preparation for life.

Classes like Applied Mathematics, General Physics II, and Mass Media Law and Ethics are fine in themselves. They do seem to be pretty specific, though. How about some classes that offer both a broader appeal and a more practical application?

Maybe something like Bearing Hardship 101, for instance. Because sooner or later every student here will have to do that.

Developing Patience would be another good one. Also a class I would gladly pay to attend.

Holding Onto Hope should be a requirement for all graduating seniors, if only because hope seems to be so easily snatched away nowadays.

Cleaning Child Vomit 350? A must for the future parent. Being Thankful 400 would be just what people need to keep a little perspective. And let’s not forget Living Well and Dying Better 750.

Like all the other classes offered here, there would be lectures and papers and finals. But I’m thinking the class attendance would be greater. And I’m thinking the grades would matter more, too.

Of course, it’s doubtful any of this would ever happen. On most college campuses knowledge will always trump experience. But maybe that’s just as well. Classes like those probably wouldn’t work anyway. Most of what happens in life you just can’t be prepared for, no matter how much studying you do. Just ask Emily, who now knows that the world might indeed be a classroom, but it’s the sort of classroom where often the tests come first and the lessons come later.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.