Saturday, April 2

The Death Of Terri Schiavo

And: Lileks Turns Lewis Black And Blue

"The trouble with being a martyr is that you have to die." —

In my previous post on Terri Schiavo, I lamented that so much of the drama surrounding Terri had absolutely nothing to do with her, instead focusing on a smattering of broad implications.

On Thursday, Terri Schiavo died. The argument about her did not.

Whether or not you believe Terri Schiavo actually died in March 2005 or February 1990, it's worth remembering that her life, up until very recently, was nowhere near this complicated. The St. Petersburg Times published a very moving obituary which notes this duality:
Before the prayer warriors massed outside her window, before gavels pounded in six courts, before the Vatican issued a statement, before the president signed a midnight law and the Supreme Court turned its head, Terri Schiavo was just an ordinary girl, with two overweight cats, an unglamorous job and a typical American life.

The life she led, the one she chose, never warranted media coverage. When she collapsed on Feb. 25, 1990, and stopped breathing, she had a few close friends, a family who loved her fiercely, and a name no stranger would recognize. She was 26. When she died Thursday (March 31, 2005), she was an international icon, a vessel into which people poured their need for miracles, their convictions about personal liberty, their ideas of democracy and justice and heroes and villains, and their terror of letting go.

The real tragedy of Terri Schiavo is that despite her death, she will continue to live on as a name invoked and batted around to score political points. Her life, such as it was, will be forgotten. Whether or not she was an "empty vessel" of a human life, in her final days she served as one to the shallow and base tug-of-war epicentered in Pinellas Park but reverberated throughout the world. That's a shame.

The noxious rhetoric emanating from the less courteous on both sides was enough to depress just about anybody, but one of the people who took it the hardest was James Lileks. Shortly before announcing a two-week hiatus from his blog, The Bleat, he said:
[I]f nothing else, this entire affair has made me heartily sick of the very act of reading the Internet. Pardon my language, but I am simply goddamn sick of opinions, period. Right or wrong, well-reasoned or poorly expressed, snarky or solemn, I am tired of the lot of them, my own included. I'm tired of reading blogs and bulletin boards and noting that it's OK to joke about one dead person, perfectly fine to kick the Pope when he's about to give up the ghost, but a breach of human decency to be less than reverential about the passing of a comic who specialized in dope humor. That sort of thing is expected on the internet, but what makes me weary is the blogligation to have an opinion about it and bang it out so the whole world knows I stand four-square against bashing near-dead Popes . . . This isn't meant as a slam at those who write about these things; it's my problem. It began right after the election and it's just gotten worse.
It's not the opinions I have a problem with. I'm perfectly fine having a civil discussion about the role of faith in government or the limits of judicial activism. It's the mad rush to drag Terri Schiavo into it and make her the lead role in a horror show named THEOCONS RUNNING AMOK or KILLER JUDGES ON THE RAMPAGE that's so nauseating. RCP's Tom Bevan grouped these and other hysterical exasperations in a post titled "Our Civil Society".

But have we really gone so far that all that's left is to shake our heads and tsk-tsk-tsk at the demise of reasoned discourse? Lileks was really set off by seeing comedian Lewis Black's book, Nothing's Sacred, or more specifically just the cover, in a Barnes & Noble, and he let Black have it with both barrels:
Oh, you brave fellow, you. Okay, Lewis; nothing's sacred. I expect you to dress up as Mohammed on your next book, grabbing your crotch with one hand and making heavy-metal horns with the other. Nothing's sacred? If you say so. Because America turns its eyes to our comedians to find out whether there might be a jot of a tittle of a scrap of something meaningful in the world aside from the mechanistic process of consumption and excretion. Nothing's sacred? Granted. Enjoy.

. . . I drove to the mall and got my hair cut, then drove Gnat to Target so she could buy a My Little Pony . . . And later as I put Gnat in her carseat and she giggled over her toy, I realized I was still pissed at Lewis Black; if he was there, right there in the parking lot, I would drag him over by his nipples and show him a little kid delighting in the simple fact of a new pink toy on a spring day, and then I'd go all Lewis on him: if nothing's sacred then this is no more important than a bug burrowing into dung.
Well, it's not "going all Lewis," since there's not nearly enough cursing (though when he posted an image of Black's book cover on his website, he named the file jackass.jpg), but the nipple-dragging is a bold choice.

I love Lewis Black's comedy if not his politics, so in fairness to him, there's nothing wrong with irreverence. The quote at the top of this post is from Dogma, committed Catholic Kevin Smith's stinging satire of the Church. It's also hilarious. And the Barnes & Noble review of Nothing's Sacred says that it's an "occasionally lewd 'n' crude but surprisingly heartfelt memoir." That partially belies the title.

But nothing being sacred? A little too far, and I don't even think Black himself believes it, truly. Even if you don't accept the Catholic belief that all human life is sacred, surely people should be able to treat someone like Terri Schiavo as more than a rhetorical crutch. Now that she's passed on, let's all pray both for her eternal soul and that these animals won't now dredge her up so they can add ten exclamation points to their argument.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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July 2006
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August 8, 2005: High Gas Prices
August 1, 2005: Judge Roberts' Hearings
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April 25, 2005: Lebanon
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marchand chronicles has such massive readership and influence that it makes me weep.
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Damn right.


What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

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Psst, it's "Mike."

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