Thursday, October 16, 2014

People Don't Change

Listening to Morning Edition today, I heard a clip about the preview, at Harvard, of a new film entitled Dear White People.  Film sounds pretty good, if it gets to California I might go see it. But what blew me away started with this quote, from Shereen Marisol Meraji, of the NPR Code Switch team (emphasis mine):
The character who emerges as the film's unlikely hero? Lionel Higgins. He's a gay sci-fi nerd with an Afro who seems uncomfortable with his blackness. But when he gets word of a party where white students in blackface are eating watermelon and mocking hip-hop culture, he goes to the Black Student Union.
A little later in the interview, the director, Justin Simien, said that he put that party in, and then removed it from the next version of the script, thinking it was "over the top."  A few months later, there was a string of actual blackface parties, at campuses all over the country - to which Simien said, "Got it, Universe."

Why does this crack me up?  My undergraduate major at Cal was - English.  In my senior year I took an honors course in 18th century English literature.  I specialized in Jonathon Swift, but you can't study that period without dealing with Alexander Pope.  What does Alexander Pope have to do with blackface parties in a movie?  This:

In 1738, Pope published an anonymous (but everyone knew who wrote it) dialog called Epilogue to the Satires, or, Satires, Epistles, and Odes of Horace Imitated.  The full text is available at Bartleby if you're interested, but this is the quote:
Vice with such giant strides comes on amain,
Invention strives to be before in vain;
Feign what I will, and paint it e’er so strong,
Some rising genius sins up to my song.
In the 21st century we say, "You can't make this stuff up."  Satirists beware:  in the 18th century, Pope knew:  you can't make something up so stupid that someone, somewhere, won't try it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Don't Let Them Talk You Out of It

That's my reaction to the current case of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who plans to commit assisted suicide in a few weeks, under the Oregon "Death with Dignity" laws.  In case you've been living in a cave and missed this, here's the latest CNN article.

The case has stirred up a great deal of discussion on both sides.  The arguments on both sides are well known.  The dangers of allowing assisted suicide to become more available are unquestionable; it should be "assisted" unless someone really wants it.  Oregon, from the numbers I've seen, seems to be handling it pretty well - not many ask for the drugs, even fewer use them.  Al Jazeera English has an article that summarizes the current position.

Here's why I encourage her to carry through, though God knows I don't wish her ill.  I've seen the other side. I had a cousin who developed an inoperable brain tumor in her, I think, late 30s, maybe early 40s.  At that time assisted suicide wasn't possible anywhere, and in any case, she was a devout Catholic.

It took my cousin almost 15 years to die.  I don't think her tumor was a glioblastoma.  But she lost the ability to work, then the ability to walk, she had to have constant attendance.  Toward the end, she barely knew people.  And she had a pre-teen daughter, whom her sister had to raise.  Her family made sure she had the best care she could get.  But, oh, my God.  What an end.  What a terrible end.

I'm not suggesting we should immediately do anything.  This needs thought and care.  The last thing I want to see is people forced to "commit suicide" for someone else's convenience, like the 2008 case of Barbara Wagner, where an insurance company refused to pay for a drug that would extend her life, but offered to pay for her assisted suicide.  The case is summarized in Marilyn Golden's opinion piece on CNN.  That is so immoral I can hardly believe it.  Whatever the right answer may be, that's the wrong answer.  But Brittany Maynard's decision, given the fact that our vaunted modern medicine offers her absolutely no hope, seems rational and reasonable.

We have to rethink our approach to death.  I've noticed over the years that Americans, as a group, don't deal well with death - which doesn't mean there are no individuals who do.  But there seem so many who are hypnotized with the idea of being young forever; they talk about extending life, and living past a century, as if they think they will never die.  Nobody wants to die.  But there have to be better ways of doing it than in a hospital, surrounded by strangers - as my father died, although I did spend one night in his hospital room with him before he was gone.  He actually refused medical help - he told the doctor the Lord had called him, and it was his time to go.  So they made him as comfortable as they could, and he was gone in about 3 days.

Go in peace, Brittany Maynard.