Ghostgrrrl in the Machine

A place to share information and tools to survive in the 21st century.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pinch yourself to make sure you are awake

I remember when this would have been the top story, at the very least, for one evenings' news. Sometimes I think my childhood was spent in a parallel universe where people really tried to be responsible, America still garnered respect in the world and it was in the best interests of a news gathering organization to get the story first and report it, whatever it was. This is not a false memory and I intend to hold on to it to keep the standard from shifting more than it already has. Let me know if you think this story is less than <, equal to = or greater than > the runaway bride story. I really wanna know.

I heard you, Malachi

By Jennifer Diaz
November 9, 2006


On Friday, November 3, a man doused his body with gasoline and set himself afire to protest the war in Iraq . He died quietly in flames. His name was Malachi Ritscher.

Haven't seen it in the news? Me neither, which is kind of strange if you ask me, considering that it happened right here in downtown Chicago in front of hundreds of commuters during morning rush hour. The only conventional newspaper coverage to date was a tiny paragraph that appeared in the Saturday edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. Since then...nothing.

Should we concerned about the lack of coverage? This is serious, friends. You don't have to be a communication scholar to know that the news media go by the maxim, "When it bleeds, it leads." In a time of intense controversy over war, a man offers up his life and endures prolonged, excruciating pain to make a tangible statement of his belief in peace - are we to believe that this isn't newsworthy?


Malachi Ritscher had a home-made sign with him when he left the house Friday morning. Firefighters found it next to his charred remains. It read, "Thou shalt not kill."

A jazz aficionado who produced professional recordings of countless performers in local venues, Ritscher was well loved in the Chicago jazz community and has been described by members of that scene as being a warm, modest and selfless individual. A long-time music enthusiast, Ritscher was a fixture at several local jazz haunts. He was said to be very generous - band members tell that he would pay the admission fee for their gig, record their performance, and then offer them the recording he had made free of charge. Many of the recordings were later sold commercially. Others corroborate Ritscher's generous nature. "He gave me peppers from his garden!" cried bartender Janice W., tearing up when she heard what he had done.

Ritscher was deeply disturbed by the United States' waging of war in Iraq , which has led so far to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. In his mission statement, posted on his homepage along with a self-written obituary, he writes of his morbid actions:

"I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians...What is one more life thrown away in this sad and useless national tragedy? If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."


Some have suggested that Ritscher's actions can be explained by mental illness. It seems clear that the man was deeply troubled. But it is not clear how that negates his message. At a time when 10% of Americans are taking psychiatric medication, the marginalization of "the mentally ill" as an identifiable group of people radically different from ourselves is making less and less sense. Besides "disturbed," Ritscher is also described by those who knew him as being an animated, friendly person who talked enthusiastically of his many interests and travels in addition to his political beliefs.

Another description that people have applied to Ritscher's mind-boggling choice is "senseless." But his own mission statement offers an elegant response to that notion:

"My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good one. Wouldn't it be better to stand for something or make a statement, rather than a fiery collision with some drunk driver? Are not smokers choosing death by lung cancer? Where is the dignity there? Are not the people the people [sic] who disregard the environment killing themselves and future generations?"

Act by 'martyr' to protest war in Iraq a futile gesture
November 9, 2006

Malachi Ritscher, 1954-2006
Story by Nitsuh Abebe | Photo by
Joeff Davis


At 2:49 PM, Blogger Askinstoo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger shrimplate said...

It reminds me of the burning monks who would sit in meditation position while aflame to protest in the Vietnam war (also an album-cover photo on a great old Rage Against the Machine recording.)

In Vietnam there were enough devout monks to make this form of protest too astonishing and recurrent to ignore. It made a shocking statement many times over.

I fear that in our culture few of us will realize the importance of this man's sacrifice and then give him the honor he deserves.

If immolation is a crime or a symptom of mental disturbance, then the Bush cartel is vastly more culpable than this man could ever be in a thousand such lifetimes.


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