Our Favorite Christmas Classic Is Really a Study in American Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life Delivers a Haunting Treatise on the Religious, Legal, and Economic Implications of Taking One’s Life

Isn’t it a little odd that our most cherished Christmas film is about a man seeking to end his life by jumping off a bridge? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is full of traditional holiday themes like romance, friendship, and family. It’s unabashedly sentimental too—“Capra-corn” in its purest form. But it’s also a film about suicide—its causes, costs, and consequences.

The movie’s dramatic arc is built around 40-year-old George Bailey’s attempt to kill himself. The film opens with prayers offered up to heaven by townsfolk worried that George, who has …

Why Legislators and Doctors Don’t Always Agree on the Definition of Death

While Patients' Families Think Life Ends With Your Last Breath, 50 States Point to Brain Activity

How can you truly know when someone is dead? Historically, death was determined by holding a mirror up to a person’s mouth to see if they were breathing. But this …

My Modest Proposal to Make Property Tax Breaks Live Forever

Rich Old Homeowners Are California's Future, so Why Shouldn't We Take Our Subsidies to the Grave?

MEMO
To: California Association of Realtors
Re: Death and Taxes

Barring some wild technological advance, all Californians eventually will die.

But why can’t our property tax discounts live forever?

That’s the question …

The 1918 Flu Pandemic That Revolutionized Public Health

Mass Death Changed How We Think About Illness, and Government's Role in Treating It

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1918, the world experienced the greatest tidal wave of death since the Black Death, possibly in the whole of human history. We call that tidal …

When You Live Online, Will Anyone Know When You Die?

Public Grieving on Social Media Hides a Darker Private Reality

I suspected that something was wrong on the Sunday morning when I saw the beginning of a Facebook post in my newsfeed sidebar that said, in French, “Our dear AJ …

Goodbye to the Dirty Harry of Pruning

My Grandmother Knew That Things Grow So Fast in California, You Always Have to Be Cutting Back

She left us only recently, and already San Mateo has gotten way too leafy.

As I drove through that fine Peninsula city in the Bay Area on the way to my …