Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Volunteering for the Death Penalty

source:wikipedia.org
The mechanisms of the so-called "right to die" movement -- as if a human being had any other choice -- has taken a bizarre turn in the peaceful country of Belgium.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian murderer and rapist serving a life sentence is to be allowed to have doctors end his life following a ground-breaking ruling under laws in Belgium permitting people to request euthanasia. 
Frank Van Den Bleeken had argued that he had no prospect of release since he could not overcome his violent sexual impulses and so he wanted to exercise his right to medically assisted suicide in order to end years of mental anguish. 
"Over recent years, he has been seen by several doctors and psychologists and their conclusion is that he is suffering, and suffering unbearably," his lawyer, Jos Vander Velpen, told state broadcaster VRT. 
The judicial ruling was the first involving a prisoner since the euthanasia law was introduced 12 years ago. 
It was not clear when the medical procedure, to be conducted in a hospital, would take place, the lawyer added.

Is there anything logical to be said about this process? The murder victim suffered the loss of her life, her future; she did not choose to die; but the murderer gets a chance to end his (supposed) suffering by choosing to die. 

Is Orwell rewriting Alice in Wonderland?

Of course, Belgium is the country that approved the voluntary euthanasia of twin brothers who were deaf and who were going blind. 

I am not God. I am one of those who would have surrounded the woman at the well, unworthy to throw a stone. However, I cannot see why the state should be involved when a person has the will and the means to end his or her life. What the state permits, it can demand. And personally, I fear a State that might has the power one day to kill -- euthanize -- those who need assistance to care from themselves. 



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Advocating for Irony

image from THE NEW YORK TIMES 
My disability activists friends have already seen this story, most of whom reacted with What the ... ? 

On the other hand, I have many friends who aren't in the movement, and so it's a story worth recirculating in the mainstream.

It boils down to this: The Disability Rights Legal Center has appointed a new executive director.

Hot news, huh? 

Well, there is this: the new director of the DRLC is an attorney who most recent position was with an organization called Compassion and Choice.

Why's that news? Compassion and Choice was formerly the Hemlock Society, perhaps one of the most notorious and extreme "right to die" organizations. There are several fundamental issues people with disabilities worry over—access to education and employment; access to home assistance rather than institutionalization; and the idea that right-to-die laws will evolve into compulsory obligation-to-terminate laws. 

We're not talking about the paranoid Palin death panels here. We're talking about a culture developing in the USA similar to that in the Netherlands where assisted euthanasia is now evolved into "let's look the other way" involuntary euthanasia. 

I am not naive. I know a technologically driven society will move toward "cure" of disability, and so disability, in spite of democratic, human-centric principles, society will evolve toward seeing disability as either fixable or intolerable. 

We see it already in abortion, which is a medical technical solution applied to certain types of disabilities. Look up the statistics on abortion numbers when the child carries the gene for Down Syndrome. 

This is nothing new. At nearly the same time, the DRLC made its appointment the New York Times  carried a report on a memorial for people with disabilities killed by the Nazis.

Do I believe you are a fascist if you advocate for assisted suicide laws? No. I can even visualize a circumstance where I might be willing to murder myself. I simply think there is no safe place for the government to tread on this swampy ground.

I also think those who hired the assisted suicide proponent to advocate for disability rights apparently have no sense of irony, let alone common sense.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Laissez le bon temps rouler

My grandmother once said she didn't like the hills where we live because she couldn't see anything. I thought that odd because even though she'd spent her adult life on the Great Plains she was born in the hills of Tennessee, territory very similar to the Ozarks here.

I feel the same way, albeit in reverse, about New Orleans. I feel at home in the Crescent City, at least down in the French Quarter, almost as much as I feel at home in the desert—and more than I feel at home here in the Ozarks. 

We've been down to the Quarter three times in recent years, and the last time we were there I saw multiple bumper stickers with Laissez le bon temps rouler. We'd gotten as far as toward home as Memphis on that trip before I thought, "That would make a good replacement for the bumper sticker I had on the battery case of my previous wheelchair." It was Live to Ride, Ride to Live.

When we journeyed down there earlier this month, I told the woman I sleep with, "Don't let me for get to buy a let the good times roll bumper sticker!"

But there weren't any for sale. In fact, the only Cajun anthem, Laissez le bon temps rouler we saw was on a shot glass, or maybe it was a coffee cup. I wanted neither. I did finally discover a refrigerator magnet with C'est la vie on it, only to discover there are not many metal places on my wheelchair where it can be attached and still be visible. The girls are off to a craft store tomorrow, and I'm adding velcro to their list.

I really would like to have a Laissez le bon temps rouler bumper sticker, though. Live to Ride, Ride to Live was appropriate to my outlook those many years ago, but now—although still entranced with irony—my philosophy is evolving from stoicism to hedonism.

But of course, C'est la vie fits either, doesn't it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Paying It Foward

No one can return from vacation without getting nails done and hair trimmed, at least according to the woman I sleep with, and so since we'd only driven five hours from Jonesboro to Springfield, she decided to stop there in the big city to accomplish those tasks.

I declined to enter the mall, it being kept at a temperature in the 60s and stocked with temptations, and so I took a book and stationed myself on the edge of the parking lot in the shade of a tree. It was a 90'ish day, but there was a breeze, and I was comfortable.

I'd been there about a half-an-hour when a woman in a Subaru pulled up near me, rolled down here window, and said, "Are you all right, hon?"

I knew she'd stopped because I wasn't moving and because I was in a wheelchair, and so I replied, "I'm fine. Thank you."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you when I pulled in, and when I came out, you hadn't moved."

"Oh, okay. My wife's inside. She'll be there for a while. I don't like the cold air-conditioning in there, and so ... "

She drove off, but it was only a few minutes before a mall security guy drove up on a Segway. The same conversation, more or less, with him saying, "I had to rescue a guy the other day whose power chair quit on him in the middle of the parking lot," and me adding, "I have a cell phone, and I can call for help, but I do appreciate your concern."

That was his first trip. Then he swung buy to make sure everything was still okay. And then he made a third trip because "My supervisor said people are reporting there's a man in a wheelchair stranded on the southwest lot."

I gave up, deciding that the best course of action would be to keep moving from one shady patch to another, a tactic that kept me from being targeted by well-meaning passers-by and reduced calls to the mall security office. And then my wife returned.

I don't resent the well-meaning people concerned about my welfare. It's the sort of individual action that makes for a humane society. People with disabilities often achieve full independence, but I've been in more than one situation in which I needed help because of a problem with my wheelchair. In fact, before cell phones, I would always tell someone where I was going and when I expected to arrive before setting out on a wheelchair-journey.

Conversely, how many times that day did one of those people who worried over my situation pass someone on a busy corner holding a piece of cardboard on which was written "Homeless," Or "Need Work," Or "Will Work for Food?"

I counted three on our way home that afternoon, and each time—no, we didn't stop—I couldn't help put compare my situation with their own.

The woman I sleep with plays the pay it forward game, most often at gas stations when she seems a young mother alone with a car-full of children, especially if the car is older and the woman seems frazzled and overwhelmed. Both of us talk about the Cardboard Sign Tribe, though, without ever doing much about it. There've been exceptions. We gave five dollars to a guy on the New Orleans River Walk, and recently she, being far more generous and compassionate than I, bought a meal from a fast-food restaurant for an older fellow on a street corner.

"He looked so sad," she said. "Everything he owned in a cart, a dog on a rope, and more days without a bath than I'd care to think about." This was at the first intersection off the interstate in north Springfield. "I drove around the block," she said, "found a Burger King, and bought him a five dollar lunch and took it back to him. He said thanks when I handed it to him and said he was really hungry."

I don't know what I learned that afternoon, at least anything different than what I already know: fate and circumstance make for funny bedfellows.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Going Places, Seeing Things

A quick snap with an iPhone
This is the third time I've been to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana—well, fourth if you count the time my father picked up my mother and me in New Orleans and drove us down into Florida to see the mermaids swim in a place called, I thought, Crystal Springs. But that's wrong, the place, that is. He did pick us up; we did drive to Florida; we did see a show put on by women dressed as mermaids.

What I saw in Mississippi, though, was a first for me this time. I saw a dolphin. A wild dolphin. In the ocean, perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 feet from shore. There he is in the picture. There were actually two, and of course, I have no idea whether they were male or female. But I was amazed. A dolphin, near shore in Long Beach, Mississippi—and it was the day after we'd been to the marine mammal rescue facility and glimpsed dolphins up close and personal, two of which were retired U.S. Navy dolphins, whose purposes in the service of our navy are classified. One was 34-years-of-age; the other was 37-years-old. The life span of a dolphin in the wild is about 20-years, and so whatever ethical problems you or I might have with training dolphins for military service, we cannot complain about the treatment and environment that apparently extended their lives. If dolphins enjoy (in dolphin-terms) life, the navy gave them more time to do so.

They seemed happy, the pair, if "happy" can be judged by appearance and demeanor. They did their flips and tail-walks in response to whistles and got their fish reward. I suppose that's a better outcome than being strapped with explosives and sent to sink an enemy warship. Why not re-release them into the wild? Never a good practice, I suspect, with any animal who no longer fears humans (even those intending to turn them into torpedos), and additionally, one of them had cataracts sufficient to render it blind. I forgot to ask why the cataracts hadn't been removed.

Back to the wild dolphins: Long Beach has a fishing dock that extends perhaps a hundred yards out into the bay, and as we went out to its tip, there were two fellows netting bait (mainly mullet) to fish. That's when I saw them, and one of the fishermen said, "Yeah, there around here almost every day, coming in at about 9am and 2pm."

The bay isn't pristine tropical water, but there are plenty of fishermen-and-women (Did you know there are two species of catfish that live in ocean saltwater?) and perhaps the dolphins find prey stirred up or perhaps they like to glimpse human activity and have yet to realize we are an invasive specie. 

I'm older than I want to be. I've seen coyotes, bear, deer, elk, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, an eagle, and probably more wildlife running, sailing, flying free, but this was a first for me.

And I'm happy too I think I remember reading somewhere that the navy has given up its dolphin program. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Perks, Kindnesses, and Privileges



My Facebook friend, Ben Mattlin, has a gently humorous, and yet serious, take on life in a wheelchair running in the New York Times.

Although he makes a larger point, he alludes to something I've tried to employ since I smartened up -- humor attracts more bees than anger and self-pity and a sense of entitlement. Humor also ameliorates the unwanted attention sometimes focused on people with visible disabilities. Back when I had hair, I would always ask for a discount when going to a new barbershop, insisting I deserved it because I had brought my own chair.



When Wheelchairs Are Cool 
By BEN MATTLIN
JULY 31, 2014

LOS ANGELES — LAST week, the celebrity gossip site TMZ posted pictures of Justin Bieber in a wheelchair. He was not at a hospital. He was at Disneyland. As everyone knows, Disney patrons in wheelchairs get to cut to the front of the lines. But as a dispute flared over whether this was Mr. Bieber’s intent, becoming a trending topic on Twitter, one fact remained unassailable: I was there first.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawkins Is No Descartes

This seems a troll. It isn't. I'm a believer. 

I am also interested in how people rationalize their belief in God, or in fact, their absence of belief. I know the subject is controversial. (The article I reference below has about 6,000 comments.) I know also I lack the capacity to change anyone's mind.

I've read Hitchens. And Dawkins. And even everyone's super-crip, Mr. Stephen Hawking, who is either an agnostic or an atheist.

I'm still a believer, having modified that position through reading science to comprehend an omnipotent creator would certainly be able to construct, as an example, something so mind-boggling as a multi-verse.

That's why I found this piece, "Know Nothing," in Slate so interesting, particularly these words, which speak to the foundation of my own belief in God:
Quantum fluctuations, the uncertainty principle, the laws of quantum physics themselves—these are something. Nothing is not quantum anything. It is nothing. Nonbeing. This, not empty space, is what “nothing” signifies for Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger, no matter what Krauss believes. No particles, no fluctuation, no laws, no principles, no potentialities, no states, no space, no time. No thing at all.
The article is actually a book review that moves into literary criticism, while also addressing the issue of belief in the divine as a foundation of morals.

If you are interested in these existential questions and have slightly more than a few minutes, Robbins' piece -- referencing everyone from Dawkins to Nietzsche, Augustine to Spinoza -- is worth the time devoted.