How To Tilt An Election

Get Taylor Swift’s endorsement. Or follow Alison Byrnes’s lead and get on a bus.

Or write a funny, substantive, and convincing story about one voter’s decision making in the broader context of the state of Montana.

Sometimes I come across writers who I immediately want to know and count among my friends. Like Sarah Vowell.

Check out her story of her Republican dad deciding to vote for a Democrat.

Did Hell Freeze Over? My Republican Dad is Voting for a Democrat

Fav phrase:

“. . . those hippies in Missoula will occasionally waste an entire afternoon outdoors without killing any food.”

On Robin Williams and the End of Life

In reading people’s reflections on Robin Williams, I’m amazed at how many people met him in “real life”. Nearly everyone has a story. Case in point. In the summer of 1997, our family was walking across the UNC Chapel Hill campus when I saw a crowd gathering. It was Williams on a break from filming Patch Adams. It didn’t matter that there were only twenty of us, he was “on”. My infant daughters were unimpressed until I told them he was Aladdin. In a few years, Mrs. Doubtfire would loop in our house for months on end.

I propose we make t-shirts for the minority of people ripping Williams for being selfish. The shirts could say, “I’m clueless about mental illness in general and severe depression in particular.” Or “I struggle to listen and learn.” Or “I lack understanding and empathy.” That way we could side step them altogether. When you don’t understand something like suicide, it’s okay to admit it. In fact, it’s admirable. We’d all be better off if we demonstrated more curiosity and humility.

I’m far from a mental health expert, but I’m indebted to some of my first year college writing students for teaching me about depression. Other people, like Molly Pohlig, continue to teach me about it. I’ve learned, as sad as it is, some people get so depressed they think they’re doing their family and friends a favor by ending their life.

Journalists writing about Williams often reference recent suicide statistics which I find staggering. Especially for my peers, white men, 50-54, who have the highest rate of suicide. We have to get better at identifying and helping the most susceptible among us.

A positive thought. In part, Williams will live on through his incessant television and film work. That’s a cool aspect of being a successful artist. An easily accessible legacy. Today, in the U.S., I’m struck by how we ignore the elderly and quickly forget the deceased.

In thinking about Williams’s legacy, I’ve thought some about my own. Initially I thought, if anyone wanted to remember me, all they’d have is lots of academic publications including a lengthy doctoral dissertation. And no one loves me enough to revisit those! In all likelihood, not even the occasional newspaper or magazine essay, or this blog’s archive, will live on.

If I’m lucky, I suppose, some aspects of my kind and caring Mrs. Doubtfire loving daughters will remind people of me on occasion. Somewhere in Florida or Indiana my sister is saying to herself, “It’s not all about you.” Since she’s right, more than likely then, like most people, I’ll be forgotten in relatively short order.

Recommended.

The True Costs of War

Sorry if you were wanting to ease into the weekend with a new girl scout cookie review.

In a chapter titled “Economics Confronts the Earth,” Juliet Schor, the author of True Wealth, writes about a group of economists, natural scientists, engineers, systems dynamic researchers, and other who came together twenty-five years ago around the view that ecosystems should be at the core of economic analysis.

“They were especially interested in what conventional economics wasn’t measuring or studying,” Schor explains. “These dissenters recognized a fundamental point about how our system has been operating. If the market economy gets large, and nature remains external to it, threats to basic ecosystem functioning will arise.” “Ecological economics,” she notes, “has mostly been ignored by the mainstream.” 

And she adds, “Environmental economics has also been closely intertwined with energy economics, which in turn has ties to energy companies and interests. And in the last few decades, special interests acting against environmental protection, often from the energy sector, have enlisted economics to water down regulations and forestall action.”

Put most simply, mainstream economists, by ignoring ecosystems, underestimate the true costs of production and consumption. Similarly, we grossly underestimate the true costs of war by slighting the devastation inflicted both upon civilians in the war zone and upon our surviving soldiers and their families following their return from combat. This MIT-based “The Human Cost of the War” website touches upon unaccounted for domestic costs, but is an especially good place to start to learn about the war’s devastating impact on Iraqis.

When economists total up the costs of the Iraqi war, they calculate the costs of the planes, artillery, food, energy, equipment, training, salaries, and Veteran Administration hospital costs. But they don’t factor in a litany of qualitative, post traumatic stress-related costs including substance abuse, depression, conflict-filled marriages, separated families, violent crimes including murder, and suicides.

More specifically, they don’t factor in Benjamin Colton Barnes and vets like him who can’t shake the violence of their war experience. They don’t factor in the loss of Margaret Anderson, the Mount Rainier park ranger that Barnes recently shot to death before fleeing and dying himself. They don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s life is like, Margaret’s husband, also a Rainier ranger. And they don’t factor in what Eric Anderson’s 1 and 3 year old daughters lives are like now without their mother.

Just as many special interests that don’t want environmental economists to highlight economic costs to ecosystems, many others don’t want a full accounting of war’s costs. The tragedy of this failed accounting is aptly described on the MIT “The True Cost of War” website—”. . . if there is no accountability for the human toll of war, the urge to deploy military assets will remain powerful.”

Choosing When to Die

I suppose it’s human nature to avoid thinking about death. I strive not to take my health, my loved ones, and all of the numerous things I enjoy for granted, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit to slipping in and out of “life is fragile, don’t take it for granted, make the most of the present” consciousness. I turned 48 a few weeks ago which means I’m almost certainly on the back nine.

Tuesday’s Frontline Film was titled “The Suicide Tourist“. I found it engaging and provocative. This paragraph is from an interview with Mary Ewert, the wife of Craig Ewert who has A.L.S. and in the film travels from Chicago to Switzerland to end his life. Mr. Minelli is the founder of Digitas, the Swiss organization that has helped 1,000 people end their life.

“Mr. Minelli and Craig take a matter-of-fact view of death — we all will die some day. They are able to reflect on how people, including themselves, die. In contrast, our society places an inordinate emphasis on the emotional aspect of dying, urging patients to fight death, to be brave warriors in the face of death. The decision to quietly, gracefully accept and welcome death is at odds with the emotional battle against death. Both are ways of dealing with death, one is not better than the other. However, both approaches should be respected. I fear that acceptance of death is still viewed as somehow bizarre and frightening, something to be forbidden.”

I went into the film without having given much thought to the website’s follow up discussion question: Is Craig Ewert’s decision to end his life a choice that everyone should have? Having watched the film, I’m inclined to answer in the affirmative. Now I think I’ll skim the online discussion and see what others think. How about you?