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« Schiavo: We Report; You Decide | Main | Thom Mayne/Quinlan Terry »

March 21, 2005

Taranto x 2

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

Much of my anti-liberal animus, or at least my suspicion of liberal hypocrisies, comes from the fact that I am one, more or less. At least historically. I suppose I am harder on what I take to be "my own kind", thinking that they/we ought to know better. That stance, implying as it does that red staters are The Great Unwashed and don't know any better, is of course snobbish in its own way. But that's what I observe of my own hypocricies.

Problem is, as time has gone by I've grown quite fond of conservatism, or at least those aspects of it that I think of as principled. And as I have moved closer in terms of emotional and mental affiliation, I find myself snorting as loudly when I see conservative cant as I did when liberal cant was all-too-apparent.

The Schiavo kerfuffle, which I wrote about below, is a good case in point. And speaking of "kerfuffle", James Taranto's favorite word, Taranto has himself weighed in from the Right on Schiavo, and it ain't pretty.

Taranto's argument, like the Journal's editorial, doesn't bother with law or facts. Instead, he seems content smearing Michael Schiavo as an near-adulterer, incapable of making a decision as guardian relative to his wife's condition.

Taranto's conclusion is ridiculous:

If he (Michael) wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive.

This is an argument? There is a principle lurking somewhere in this tripe? No, it's a sickening play to the rafters.

Later in his column, Taranto writes about Middlebury College's inviatation to Rudy Giuliani to be its commencement speaker. He treats the issue in the usual fashion: silly lefty academics don't get it. In his zeal to propagandize, however, I think he misses a few salient points not in keeping with the standard spin. First, Middlebury College actually invited Giuliani to be commencement speaker. I think that's noteworthy in its own right.

Second, take a look at this unofficial poll of Middlebury students:

I’m excited. I think (Giuiliani's) great and embodies the spirit of 9/11

He’ll be fine. It’s not really that big of a deal anyway

I hate it. He is a prime example of what is wrong with Republicans

A majority really likes the idea; almost three-quarters endorse it. Less than 30% tows the party line. Conservatives are right about the liberal persuasion on campuses, at least as far as conventional wisdom is concerned. But the picture is getting more complicated, in part due to conservative action, and the story line keeps changing.



P.S. More on that shifting ground, here.

posted by Fenster at March 21, 2005


“If he (Michael) wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive.”


1. Incapacitated persons should have guardians to make their medical decisions.
2. Guardians, as far as possible, should be appointed according to a certain order of closeness to the incapacitated person.
3. We have establish the order as follows: Spouse, relative, friend….

1. Persons who violate their wedding vows are not eligible to maintain the status of spouse in relation to the violated spouse.
2. MS violated his wedding vows to TS.
3. Therefore, MS is not eligible to maintain the status of spouse/husband with regards to TS.

[Of course, II is false, but maybe not for reasons we could agree upon.]

Conclusions: MS should not be the guardian of TS. The family should. Further, since the family has made clear that if they were appointed guardian, the would maintain the feeding, then the feeding ought not stop.

Posted by: Chris on March 21, 2005 5:00 PM

Anyone who thinks that Terri Schiavo is not being fed because the decision has been left up to Michael Schiavo is simply uninformed. The court ordered Michael, as guardian, to remove nutrition and hydration. See for links to the actual court decisions. With first-hand information easily available on the web, it's hard to excuse such ignorance.

Posted by: Sporkadelic on March 21, 2005 11:04 PM

There is no way the government could order the guardian of a mentally incapacitated person to take away her food and water. That would be murder.

Posted by: mariza on March 21, 2005 11:40 PM

There are principles "lurking here" but they no longer rest with the "facts" of the case.

One would think a blowhard in good standing would have realized in but the reflection of a nanosecond that what's going on here now, as opposed to a year or so ago, or even a month or two, no longer has much to do with the "findings of fact" or the law as given by judges state and federal.

The case has transcended itself and is now occupying the realm of symbol, emblem, or -- if you will -- myth as a cutural battle that sees the tactics of emotion, media appeals, political maneuvers brought to bear and occupying the center of a national argument over life vs. death. The Schiavos are almost, but not quite, vestigial to the spectacle at this point.

In fact and in law, the case will have a final resolution -- within days. But anyone who has engaged the issue knows that it will echo far beyond the immediate future no matter what that resolution.

Posted by: vanderleun on March 22, 2005 11:30 AM

"There is no way the government could order the guardian of a mentally incapacitated person to take away her food and water. That would be murder."

Schiavo isn't mentally incapacitated. She's brain dead.

Nice to see supposedly limited government "conservatives" trying to violate every principle of federalism and judicial/legislative separation of powers to score political points.

Posted by: Mstanley on March 22, 2005 11:38 AM

I usually enjoy and agree with Fenster, but in this instance -- no way. Schiavo's case touches viscerally, not "merely" intellectually. And I write "merely" because our minds only can take us as far as our hearts will consent. Beyond that, we squirm within, unable to ignore the quiet whisper of an engaged conscience.

Many women who have doubted the loyalty of their husbands, for instance, may also doubt that Mr. Schiavo has his "past" wife's interest at the forefront of his considerations. Its a gut-level response, not merely a rational one. That's what Taranto was getting at, don't you think? Isn't there a wee worry in your mind that Mr. S. would rather close this chapter of his past? Can you really trust him?

I didn't see this as "a sickening play to the rafters" but rather as a poor articulation of a visceral belief that Mr. S isn't trustworthy.

The core value debated here is trust.


Posted by: Kris on March 22, 2005 12:44 PM

Interesting rejoinders, thanks. As usual, the main issue is what the story is actually "about"--another way of saying what matters most to you.

I plead guilty to considering questions of law primary here. So sue me. vanderleun, by contrast, says it's *about* symbols. Kris says its *about* trust. Of course it's about all of these things. How we weight the various "abouts" tells us where we think the narrative thread is, and may even help reveal what we think and why we think it.


I hope my post keeps my blowhardism in good standing. Indeed I am aware that this escapade has morphed, like Bobbitt's Penis, into the land of morality-play-for-the-masses. I think my earlier post evidences a recognition that people, especially on the right side of the aisle, are dealing in symbols.

There's nothing wrong with that per se. I think public morality plays can be a sound means by which values are debated in confirmed in a mass society. My problem in this instance, however, is two-fold.

First, whatever side one ends up on in the morality debate, we do have something called the rule of law, and until values congeal and laws change, we ought to follow the law we have. Lawmakers in particular ought to be aware of the, duh, critical role they play here. If they want to change the law to exclude near-adulterers from questions of consent, they are free to do so. In the meantime, their hypcocrisy makes a mockery of the law, and ridicule is a proper response.

Second--beyond questions of law and dealing only with symbols for the moment--I just happen to think the right is plumb wrong on this in terms of the winning hand, morality play-wise. Michael's status with a new woman and with kids will doubtless get some folks exercised--it did on this blog. But--let's face facts--the leading edge on this issue is not his marital status, but the belief that some supernatural "culture of life" trumps all and that, worse, only us virtuous people get to define what that culture of life means.

From today's NY Times:

----"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. A recording of the event was provided by the advocacy organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," Mr. DeLay said.

Mr. DeLay complained that "the other side" had figured out how "to defeat the conservative movement," by waging personal attacks, linking with liberal organizations and persuading the national news media to report the story. He charged that "the whole syndicate" was "a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."----

Personal conclusion: Blue state sanctimony drives me crazy; ditto for red, and I doubt I am alone. This is Kumbayah from the other side.


Trust is always an important issue. And whether M. is trustworthy is, I agree, at least debatable (tho the record as I read it does not shock me. Even Taranto does not condemn M. for his actions--he merely thinks that his legal rights have somehow magically vanished without need for a change in law).

The point is: if this was *only* about trust, we could debate and, hey, maybe you'd win, and I'd agree he was a nasty piece of work. But it's not *only* about trust, it's also about who has the legal right to remove a feeding tube.

That's where I see the narrative action at any rate.


I may have gone a little too far in suggesting Taranto's clever riff was *completely* without principles. Of course, one can glean a pretty crude sense in what he wrote of your outline--i.e., that he has forfeited guardianship in some mysterious (i.e., non-legal) way. But no value stands alone, and complex issues require a good faith effort to grapple with all of the edges in play. There's a real debate going on, and Taranto owes his readers a little more than a cute, cavalier toss-off.

Posted by: fenster on March 22, 2005 2:16 PM

Perhaps so, but in the spirit of endless litigation in which all Americans now find justice, my representative, Herman Fensterblaster of Fensterblaster, Fensterblaster, Schmaltz and Gonif informs me that the filing will be this afternoon and you should receive service of the papers tomorrow. Prepare yourself for harvesting.

Posted by: Van der Leun on March 22, 2005 2:54 PM

Yeah, I can't stand Taranto either; haven't read him in years. But I wouldn't want the argument lost for the rhetoric.

Posted by: Chris on March 22, 2005 2:59 PM

Mstanley, she's not brain dead. If she were brain dead, she wouldn't be able to breathe on her own. She's severely brain damaged.

Posted by: mariza on March 22, 2005 5:31 PM

Also, Mstanley, at least one conlaw lawyer says the law they passed is constitutional though not wise.

Posted by: mariza on March 22, 2005 5:33 PM

This case drives me nuts. Withdrawing life support in cases like this is not at all unusual. This case is an issue only because the parents have chosen to fight the husband.

Terri S. can breathe but not swallow on her own. She is not brain dead, but her condition is more severe than a coma. Much of her brain has been physically destroyed, possibly all of her cortex. she will never recover.

Michael S. waited several years before deciding to withdraw life support, and was pretty cautious about fulfilling legal requirements. He also has not profited at all from the insurance settlement. Some make it seem that he hopped into bed with some slut the day after his wife became comatose, sort of like Scott Peterson.

Rivka at "Respectful of Otters" is a handicapped anti-assisted-suicide MD with some neurology training. Her site is well worth Googling.

Posted by: John Emerson on March 22, 2005 6:19 PM

For me, I guess what the case is *about* comes down to who suffers. And the parents are the ones who will suffer severe emotional damage that will probably never heal if what they delusionally see as their daughter is killed. It doesn't make any difference to me that their POV is delusional, the suffering is still just as real. Thus, the gentlemanlly thing for Michael to do would be to take the higher road of mercy and step out. That he doesn't makes me dislike him intensly as an insensitive jerk who puts his stubborn ideology over the feelings of parents for a child.

However, even the suffering of the parents wouldn't be worth preventing if it was done by violating the rule of law. That the right hasn't approached the issue from that angle makes me suspicious that they just want to draw this issue out and play it for all it's worth, and in fact may rather that Terri die, becoming a martyr and inflaming the feelings of the right against the left. If they really were serious about saving her, Florida would have long ago passed a law allowing the family of a comaee sue for divorce if their spouse takes up living with another partner. That they haven't suggests to me that their making this into a rallying cry for the right. Part of me is impressed by how succesful they are, while the other is disgusted by the hypocrisy.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on March 22, 2005 8:46 PM

"Much of her brain has been physically destroyed, possibly all of her cortex. she will never recover."

Except it's not like they could really know that. They've never done an MRI. No, really. The husband has prevented basic care such as hygeine as well as any sort of therapy.

"The court battle has gone largely against the Schindlers. Last week, Pinellas County Circuit Court judge George Greer issued a steady stream of rulings denying almost every motion the Schindlers raised. He denied some of them summarily, without hearing arguments or evidence. Among the motions Judge Greer denied was a request for new testing and examination of Terri by independent and qualified specialists. David Gibbs, attorney for the Schindlers, submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals contending that Terri’s condition should be reevaluated. About 15 of these affidavits are from board-certified neurologists. Some of these doctors also say that Terri could benefit from therapy. Judge Greer was unmoved.

Many people believe that Terri Schiavo has had “the best of care,” and that everything has been tried by way of rehabilitation. This belief is false. In fact, Terri has had no attempts at therapy or rehabilitation since 1992, and very little had been done up to that point. Terri has not even had the physical therapy most doctors would regard as normative for someone in her condition. The result is that Terri suffers from severe muscle contractures, which have caused her body to become contorted. Physical therapy could remedy this, but husband Michael has refused to provide it.

Terri has also suffered from what many professionals would regard as neglect. She had to have several teeth extracted last year because of severe decay. This decay was caused by a lack of basic dental hygiene, such as tooth-brushing. She also developed decubitus (skin) ulcers on her buttocks and thighs. These ulcers can be prevented by a simple regimen of regular turning: a basic nursing task that any certified nurse’s aide can perform. The presence of these easily preventable ulcers is a classic sign of neglect. Bob and Mary Schindler have repeatedly complained of Terri’s neglect, and have sought to remove Michael as guardian on that basis. Judge Greer was unmoved by those complaints as well."


"In the course of my conversation with Dr. Morin, he made reference to the standard use of MRI and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to diagnose the extent of brain injuries. He seemed to assume that these had been done for Terri. I stopped him and told him that these tests have never been done for her; that Michael had refused them.

There was a moment of dead silence."

You have to read the whole thing to believe it. After learning about her wonderful husband, the issue to me is no longer euthanasia so much as this man has no business being her legal guardian.

Posted by: lindenen on March 22, 2005 11:26 PM

"They've never done an MRI". They did the CT scan, which showed that most of her cortex had been replaced with CSF. The MRI and PET was unnecessary since the brain tissue was not there, and there were medical reasons against the MRI. You've been rolled.

This has been going on for 15 year. During the first several years, Michael did everything he could for several years, long after the case was medically hopeless. I think that people are confusing him with Scott Peterson.

Here's a link to Rivka, a handicapped anti-euthanasia MD with some neurological training (not her specialty, though):


She's put up three posts; this goes to the first.

I really hate this issue, but that's the world we live in. And yes, it's partisan because that's why we're hearing about it.

Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 1:06 PM


Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 1:08 PM

The husband was awarded one million dollars of which 700K was put into a bank fund for Terry's rehabilitation costs. None of that money has been spent on her, or at all.

When she dies, the money goes to the husband. This explains commonlaw wife and kids -- he wants the money so he won't divorce Terry.

Its just sickening.

Posted by: Kris on March 23, 2005 4:39 PM

"Dr. Morin explained that he would feel obligated to obtain the information in these tests before making a diagnosis with life and death consequences. I told him that CT (Computer-Aided Tomography) scans had been done, and were partly the basis for the finding of PVS. The doctor retorted, “Spare no expense, eh?” I asked him to explain the comment; he said that a CT scan is a much less expensive test than an MRI, but it “only gives you a tenth of the information an MRI does.” He added, “A CT scan is useful only in pretty severe cases, such as trauma, and also during the few days after an anoxic (lack of oxygen) brain injury. It’s useful in an emergency-room setting. But if the question is ischemic injury [brain damage caused by lack of blood/oxygen to part of the brain] you want an MRI and PET. For subsequent evaluation of brain injury, the CT is pretty useless unless there has been a massive stroke.”

Other neurologists have concurred with Dr. Morin’s opinion. Dr. Thomas Zabiega, who trained at the University of Chicago, said, “Any neurologist who is objective would say ‘Yes’” to the question, “Should Terri be given an MRI?”

But in spite of the lack of advanced testing, such as an MRI, attorney George Felos has claimed that Terri’s cerebral cortex has “liquefied,” and doctors for Michael Schiavo have claimed, on the basis of the CT scans, that parts of Terri’s cerebral cortex “have been replaced by fluid.” The problem with such contentions is that the available evidence can’t support them. Dr. Zabiega explained that “a CT scan can’t resolve the kind of detail needed” to make such a pronouncement: “A CT scan is like a blurry photograph.” Dr. William Bell, a professor of neurology at Wake Forest University Medical School, agrees: “A CT scan doesn’t give much detail. In order to see it on a CT, you have to have massive damage.” Is it possible that Terri has that sort of “massive” brain damage? According to Dr. Bell, that isn’t likely. Sometimes, he said, even patients who are PVS have a “normal or near normal” MRI."

OOps. That was from my link. Since we're using that retarded phrase, I guess you've been rolled.

Posted by: lindenen on March 23, 2005 5:16 PM

Obviously somebody's lying. From about a week ago:

George Felos, Schiavo's lawyer, said his client never received or had any control over a $1 million medical malpractice award. Felos said the money is gone, used for her medical and guardianship expenses. A hospice program is caring for her now.

"It's not about the money," said Schiavo, who said he will not receive any life insurance money upon Terri's death. "This is about Terry. It's not about the Schindlers, it's not about the legislators, it's not about me, it's about what Terry Schiavo wanted."

Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 5:17 PM

I was not able to find anything but rumors about the money in ten minutes of Googling. It was mostly highly-partisan sites cutting-and-pasting each others stories. Schiavo says the money's almost all gone and I saw no evidence that he wasn't telling the truth.

Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 5:29 PM

"A CT scan is useful only in pretty severe cases"

This is a very severe case. That's the point. If it were not, they'd continue testing.

Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 5:32 PM

Another case of never say never.
I found myself reluctantly agreeing with Mr. Emerson (yes, John, time to pour some)

More than any emotionally charged rantings, I was sort of convinced by this thread. Rational thinking can always count on my attention.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 23, 2005 5:37 PM

Can't believe it, Tatyana. But it's a good thing.

Posted by: John Emerson on March 23, 2005 5:44 PM

NEAR adulterer? I think it's pretty clear that he was an adulterer. PVS doesn't release you from your wedding vows.

Posted by: James Kabala on April 2, 2005 11:35 AM

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