Tag Archives: Death

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Please Speak Ill of the Dead

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“Too soon!” That was a standard response to my criticisms of John McCain following his death.

My cartoon and social media posts reminded readers that McCain had volunteered to bomb innocent civilians in an illegal war of aggression to prop up a corrupt and reviled regime at the time of his capture. The real heroes of the Vietnam War were the tens of thousands of draft dodgers forced to give up their lives to flee to Canada and the many conscripted veterans who came home appalled by what they saw and did and spent the rest of their lives fighting for peace.

McCain, on the other hand, learned nothing from his experience. He never met a war — or a possible war — he didn’t like. McCain voted for war against Afghanistan and Iraq. He criticized Bill Clinton for limiting his war against Kosovo to airstrikes; he wanted ground troops too. He supported arming the Islamist jihadis in Syria and Libya, expanding the civil wars there. He threatened war against Iran. He sabre-rattled against Russia. North Korea and even China were in this deranged right winger’s sights.

These were not minor failings in an otherwise distinguished life. They were defining acts that erased the myths on which McCain built his career — his military service and his “maverick” persona. The war he fought in was disgusting and now widely considered a mistake. McCain was a run-of-the-mill right-wing Republican warmonger. His straight-talk shtick was fake as hell.

Media accounts sanitized the myriad of very bad things McCain did throughout his life. So I did my part to help counter the tsunami of BS.

“Do not speak ill of the dead.” This dictum, attributed to the 6th century BCE philosopher Chilon of Sparta, may be appropriate at your uncle’s funeral; who wants to hear that the dead man’s widow discovered foot-fetish websites in his browser history?

Public figures are different.

In cartoons and the written word I have attempted to counter the fulsome praise that followed the deaths of people like Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t trying to be mean to Nancy Reagan. Though I doubt she read my work.

Reagan hurt and killed a lot of people. As much as Reagan’s admirers didn’t enjoy my reminders that he (we believed at the time) murdered Moammar Gaddafi’s daughter or that he didn’t care about victims of HIV-AIDS, Americans who lost friends and relatives to the “gay plague” deserved to be acknowledged in assessments of Reagan’s life and legacy. The media pretended Reagan’s crimes never happened. I corrected the record.

The “too soon” and “can’t you wait until the body is cold?” arguments fall flat. What better time to point out and discuss a dead leader’s flaws than the time immediately following their death? That’s when obituaries appear, the eulogies are said and the nation is focused on the issues and policies they affected and effected. A few weeks later, no one cares.

Presumably referring to himself, former president Theodore Roosevelt argued in a 1910 speech that men of action — those “in the arena” — matter and their critics do not.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Roosevelt said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Soaring oratory! But self-serving and obsolete.

If effort and taking chances is all that matters when assessing a person’s life, the firefighter who enters a burning house to save a baby has no more worth than the serial killer who sneaks inside to kill it. Hitler and Stalin and Osama bin Laden all had grand visions they strove valiantly to turn into reality. They were daring. They achieved. They counted, but so what?

These days it’s the “timid souls” who stand aside, keeping mum while the mass media wallows in sordid orgies of mawkish praise for problematic figures like Reagan and McCain. Adding perspective and nuance to assessments of mass adulation requires courage. In this age of relentless propaganda and unmitigated BS, the critic is in the arena just as much as a dead senator.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sheryl Sandberg is the World’s Most Annoying Person

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It’s that time of the year again: Sheryl Sandberg is telling us how to live our lives.

Invariably promoted as launching a “movement” — as opposed to shilling books — the Facebook executive’s publicity blitzes are impossible to avoid. There’s the inevitable, inevitably self-involved New York Times op-ed. (The words “I,” “me” and “my” appear 15 times in the first 143 words.) She’s in Time and Fortune and USA Today and The Washington Post and HuffPo, which tells us “Why Sheryl Sandberg Decided To Speak Openly About Losing Her Husband (uh, to sell books?).

As far as I can tell, the only media outlet not to be shilling Sandberg’s pabulum is ISIS’ online magazine, proving that terrorists aren’t all bad.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience” is the bestselling sequel to her bestselling 2013 tome “Lean In,” which is a bestseller because every media outlet is pushing it and advises women in the workplace to get ahead the same way she did: be born the child of a well-off medical specialist in a rich enclave, go to Harvard without having to take out a student loan, suck up to a future U.S. Treasury Secretary (who thinks women are dumb) while you’re there, snag an MBA, and become best friends with Facebook megabillionaire Mark Zuckerberg.

“Option B” is about her rich tech giant husband’s “unexpected” death, how she’s been coping and how she’s helped their kids cope.

First, a couple points of clarification.

Dude fell off a treadmill at age 47, possibly due to cardiac arrhythmia. He was overweight. If you’re fat and male and in your late 40s, you’re at risk of a heart attack. Obviously it sucks for Sandberg and their kids and especially for Dave Goldberg that he’s dead. But his passing is not “unexpected” and therefore tragic and shocking in the way that the passing of an 8-year-old girl who gets blown up by a drone after a different drone blew up her brother, or a boy shot by some cop while he’s playing outside his house, is so unexpected and tragic and shocking that, all by itself, it justifies overthrowing the entire United States government.

Goldberg was one of two or three million Americans who croak every year. He was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. Unlike Prince or Bowie, he did not touch our lives or make a difference or make the world a better place. Goldberg was not any more special than your deceased friends and family members or mine.

Second, Goldberg died just two years ago. Sandberg’s children are preteens. Even setting aside the fact that this spectacularly wealthy and powerful woman has access to top-notch psychologists and other experts to help her kids navigate their grief, it’s too early for Sandberg to claim success as a parent. (Given publishers’ lead times, she probably started writing the book less than a year after he died.)

Get back to us in a few decades, Sheryl.

Judging from the flood of negative comments posted to articles about Sandberg and her books, I’m one of many people who find Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer pompous, pedantic, pretentious and generally insufferable. Like them, I can’t hate people without moral standing, credentials or unimpeachable experience who rise, Cicero-like, to share wisdom that turns out to be a series of “like, duhs:”

“And every kid faces challenges.”

“We can start by showing children that they matter.”

“Giving children undivided attention — something we all know is important but often fail to do — is another of the key steps toward building their resilience.”

Just.

Shut.

Up.

Coming the same week I’m reading about the inner workings of Hillary Clinton’s dysfunctional, out-of-touch campaign in the book “Shattered,” I had to ask myself if, as a middle-aged white male, my annoyance at Sandberg (and Hillary) owes something to misogyny.

Perhaps. I hope not.

What I keep coming back to is not Sandberg’s gender but her habit of individualizing experiences that ought to be universal.

“Lean In” addressed the serious economic and social problem of patriarchy by sidestepping its root causes with the Big Lie that if she could overcome, so could Jane Everywoman. “Option B” ignores how capitalism and employers make the passing of a loved one harder than it needs or ought to be in favor of vacuous declamations that boil down to “love them, time heals all wounds, it’ll all be fine.”

Times commenter “L.F.” articulates how our economic system brutalizes survivors: “The death of a breadwinner would plunge most American families with children into terrifying poverty. Dear God, the medical bills alone from a spouse’s final illness…and the loss of health insurance, which stops when the employed person takes their last breath or can’t keep working… I’ve literally known a family that landed in a homeless shelter after one parent passed away. The mortgage bank doesn’t give a damn about your need to teach the kids coping skills, and your boss might give you a week of bereavement leave, if you’re very, very, very lucky. Most American families don’t have $400 for an emergency. When people in my circles lose someone, they have to ask around for help from family, friends and church just to see them buried.”

Sheryl Sandberg helps run a company that makes America immeasurably worse off. Facebook prefers to hire cheap foreigners than hire un- and underemployed American tech workers. Though staggering rich, Facebook is cheap and thus intentionally understaffed to the point that the Facebook Killer’s snuff video stayed online for hours, as have pornographic photos of children, because there’s no way to reach them by phone.

Facebook is worth eight times as much as General Motors — yet employs fewer than one-tenth (17,000) as many full-time employees (207,000). That proportional shortfall of more than 1.5 million jobs could easily include the 272,000 journalists out of work in significant part due to Facebook.

If Sheryl Sandberg wants to help American parents, she should hire some.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No One Should Be Sad When George H.W. Bush Dies (Probably Soon)

            The curtain is about to fall on George Herbert Walker Bush, known colloquially as Bush 41, or simply 41. The patriarch is, if not exactly dying, no longer doing well enough to want to be seen much in public. The final taxi, as Wreckless Eric sang memorably though not famously, awaits.

Do not believe the soon-to-be-everywhere hype.

Dubya’s dad is and was a very bad man.

No one should forget that.

The old Skull and Bones man has skillfully set the stage for — not his rehabilitation exactly, for he was never shamed (though he much deserved it) — his rescue from the presidential footnotery familiar to schoolchildren, that of the Adamsian “oh yeah, there was also that Quincy” variety. The centerpiece of this so-far-going-splendidly historical legacy offensive is his authorized biography by Jon Meacham, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” a demi-hagiographic positioning of HW as a moderate last half of the 20th century Zelig.

This has been done before, compellingly and brilliantly, in Robert Caro’s soon-to-be five-volume (!) biography of LBJ. Caro uses LBJ as a window into his times; that’s what Meacham is up to too. But there’s a big whopping difference between the subjects. LBJ was a man of principle who was also a cynical SOB; Vietnam tarnished his amazing civil-rights legacy. He knew that and regretted it until he died. Dude was complicated.

There is, sadly, little evidence that Bush ever had a big ol’ destiny in mind, good or bad. He may be the first of that crop of presidents who followed them (excepting, perhaps, ironically, his son after 9/11) whose main goal in life was accomplished when he won a presidential election. Clinton and Obama and perhaps Hillary next, they all figured they’d figure out how and why to change America after they took office and some stuff to react to happened (OK, that includes W).

“Mr. Bush may never have achieved greatness. But he’s led a long and remarkable life, which has spanned the better part of the 20th century. He fought in World War II. He started a successful oil business. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives; he served as ambassador to the United Nations and as American liaison to China; he ran the Republican National Committee and, far more important, the C.I.A. He was vice president for eight years and president for four. At 90, he jumped out of an airplane,” Jennifer Senior writes in the New York Times Book Review.

Pardon my shrug. Dude’s a boy Hillary. Great résumé. What did you accomplish at all those gigs? Even at the CIA, he’s remembered for…

Yeah.

Where there’s a record starts with his 1988 run for president. Neither the advantages of incumbency as Reagan’s vice president nor his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’ awkwardness on the campaign trail were enough for him; he felt it necessary to deploy scorched-earth tactics to obliterate a good man, albeit a politician not prepared for the national stage against a GOP that had turned rabidly right under Reagan. Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” ad remains a colossus of scurrilous race-baiting, a dismal precedent that paved the way for Bush 43’s racist whispering campaign targeting John McCain’s adopted daughter in the South Carolina primary and Donald Trump’s glib desire to subject the nation’s Muslims to an Americanized Nuremberg Law.

We won’t hear about Willie Horton during “ain’t it sad HW died” week.

“His campaign tactics may have been ruthless, but in person he was unfailingly decent and courteous, commanding remarkable levels of loyalty. Character was his calling card, not ideas. To the extent that he had one at all, his governing philosophy was solid stewardship: leading calmly and prudently, making sure the ship was in good form, with the chairs properly arranged on the decks,” Senior writes.

Of course he was polite. He’s a WASP. But does it matter? A public figure isn’t notable for what he does behind closed doors.

And Hitler liked dogs and kids.

Bush deserves, as do we all, to be judged for what he set out to do.

It is by his own standards — his wish to leave the ship of state ship-shape when he left for Kennebunkport in 1993 — that he falls terribly short.

It was the economy, stupid…and he was the stupid one. After the stock market crashed in 1989, HW sat on his hands, waiting for the recession to magically go away. As the invisible hand of the marketplace dithered and dawdled, the housing market crashed too. Millions lost their jobs. Countless businesses went under. Lots of misery, much of it avoidable. Much of which could have been mitigated with a little action from the Fed and a Keynesian stimulus package. He did little.

By the time he left, everyone, not least Wall Street traders, breathed a sigh of relief that there was going to be someone at the wheel going forward.

There were, of course, the wars. There’s his good war against Iraq, for which he gets credit for merely slaughtering Saddam’s army as they retreated down the “highway of death” and not going on to kill everyone in Baghdad, as his stupid bloodthirsty son tried to do. Mainly, the Gulf War is a plus because few Americans died in combat (some “war” dead were killed in forklift accidents). Still, it was a war that needn’t have been fought in the first place.

In a now largely forgotten episode, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — then a U.S. buddy — asked permission to invade Kuwait, which was “slant drilling” into Iraqi oilfields and undercutting OPEC cartel prices. It being August, all the big names were away on vacation, so Saddam took the word of a low-level drone at the State Department that everything was cool.

It wasn’t.

If Bush had been a decent manager — the kind of guy who arranges the deck chairs — he would have had better people handling his pet tyrants.

Then there’s the truly sorry invasion of Panama. No one remembers now, but this was Bush’s first personnel dispute with a dictator. General Manuel Noriega was getting uppity, HW decided to put him in his place, the Marines slaughtered thousands of Panamanians. Really, for no reason.

Certainly without justification. Noriega was sent to a US prison, having spent more than two decades on trumped-up cocaine charges. Which you might care about. Noriega wasn’t a nice guy, right?

The trouble is, treating a sovereign head of state like a common criminal scumbag sets some bad precedents.

Now, when the US approaches guys like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to suggest that he leave office, he digs in his heels for fear of winding up in prison or worse. Back in the pre-Panama days, you could convince a guy like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to fly to Hawaii with a duffel bag full of bullion, so everyone could move on.

There’s the goose-gander thing. Why shouldn’t Assad be able to argue that Obama ought to be imprisoned for breaking Syrian law, like those against funding terrorist groups like ISIS?

Bush’s biggest boner may have been his hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than help Russia and the other former Soviet republics come in for a soft post-socialist landing, as in China after Mao, Bush’s guys quietly rejoiced in the mayhem.

Clinton gave us “shock economics,” Yeltsin, mass starvation, the destruction of Grozny and the oligarchs — but Bush set the stage for a mess with which we, and more importantly the Russians, are dealing today.

Any way you look at it, George Bush Senior left the world worse off than it was.

The possibility that he may have been courteous to his minions and henchmen doesn’t change that.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Portraits of the Candidates with Their Favorite Deities

Ben Carson has a portrait of himself hanging out with Jesus at his house. What if the other candidates had similar images of themselves with those most important to them?

The Enemy of My Enemy Is Me

Until a few weeks ago, the United States was sending weapons and money to the Islamic State in Syria, and providing covert training both directly through the CIA and indirectly through the Gulf Arab states. Now the US is seriously considering bombing ISIS not only in Iraq, but in Syria, where we supported them in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. At some point, this gets confusing, no?

Death Benefit

No expense is spared to retrieve dead bodies, whether it’s the victims of the Malaysian Flight 370 victims at the bottom of the Indian Ocean or the mudslide victims buried by sludge in coastal Washington State or the soldiers who cannot be left behind on the field of battle. Yet when we’re ALIVE, we can’t get help when, for example, we lose our jobs.

The Death of Jar Jar Binks

Jar Jar Binks is one of the most despised movie characters in history. For a zine titled The Death of Jar Jar Binks, numerous cartoonists were asked to depict the demise of the Star Wars character anyway way they chose, with the execution being reminiscent of a shitty 1980s black-and-white zine.

I love doing these weird non-political cartoons (though this has a political angle, of course). I used to do them a lot during the 1980s and 1990s, but the market for strictly humorous cartoons has dried up.

The Death of Jar Jar Binks

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Isn’t Organ Donation Mandatory?

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America’s Weird, Enduring Respect for Corpses

This week America’s news media obsessed over the shooting deaths of 12 people in Washington. The usual arguments over gun control seem irrelevant since there isn’t much that could have been done to prevent those particular killings. It was a navy base. Even in England, members of the military have access to automatic weapons. And even if we were inclined to start locking people up for hearing voices or feeling strange vibrations, we can’t build enough mental asylums to hold all of them.

On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.

Don’t worry: this is not one of Those pieces calling for you to consider signing the donor section on the back of your driver’s license.

My solution is more radical. When you die, the government should take your organs.

The transplant shortage is acute. Some patients are so desperate that they travel on ethically-dubious “medical tourism” junkets to China, which implants organs from executed prisoners. Others accept D-rate organs. Patients at the University of Maryland recently accepted kidneys that had recently been operated upon for benign or malignant tumors. Better bad kidneys than none at all.

The waiting list system is widely viewed as arbitrary and unfair. In June 2013 a federal judge made news by issuing an order suspending rules that effectively blocked children under the age of 12 from receiving organs from adult donors. Several children who might have died without the procedure benefited. Unfortunately, the court’s ruling probably killed a similar number of adult patients. Like cash, life is a zero-sum game.

It is widely believed that celebrities and wealthy people, most notably Billy Martin in 1995 and Steve Jobs in 2009, are able to cut the line, moving themselves up the waiting list. Technically, this isn’t true. But practically, it is.

A major factor determining whether or not you will receive a new organ is whether you can afford the $500,000-plus cost of the procedure and its maintenance, or whether your insurance coverage is sufficiently expensive to cover it. Rich people can pay, poor people can’t. “There’s a huge triage involved in getting in,” Arthur Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. “If you’re a homeless alcoholic sleeping on the streets of L.A., and you’re going toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs, you’re going to lose.”

Where resources are scarce, politics get ugly. In 2012 the University of California at San Francisco kidney exchange was accused of denying a kidney to a man because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. A petition campaign changed UC officials’ minds.

This being America and anything more progressive than the collected works of Ronald Reagan being off the table, the mainstream media turns to free-market solutions: paying prospective donors, either while they are alive or after they die, for their kidneys, livers and other body parts that could be used to enhance or save someone’s life. In 2010 The Wall Street Journal published an essay urging that we adopt Iran’s approach, which guarantees a year of health care and a cash payment to donors. A June 2013 Slate piece by Sally Satel, “How to Fix the Organ Transplant Shortage,” called for “providing in-kind rewards — such as a down payment on a house, a contribution to a retirement fund, or lifetime health insurance” to donors.

These merchantilist suggestions have gotten traction. A 2012 poll found that 55% of Americans now believe that selling your organs ought to be legal.

And maybe they’re right. But it’s easy to imagine how the commodification of body parts could corrupt an already flawed system. Do we want to live in a nation where the unemployed resort to auctioning off pieces of themselves to stave off foreclosure?

There’s not much we can do to reduce demand for organs. So let’s focus on the supply side of the equation.

Efforts to guilt Americans into donating voluntarily are failing those 18 Americans a day. But not every healthy person who refuses to sign a donor card is heartless. I know because I’m one of them. I refuse to endorse a system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor. If the system were more transparent, and treated everyone equally, there’d be more donors.

However, the system being what it is, that’s not going to happen.

Which brings us to the government’s role. I don’t understand why organ donation isn’t mandatory. Why isn’t every corpse harvested for all of its usable organs?

It isn’t a property-rights issue. You don’t own your corpse. Neither does your family. If it did, they could leave your body to rot in the backyard. Laws dictate how to properly dispose of a dead person.

There have been baby steps toward mandatory donation. In 2010 a New York assemblyman introduced a “presumed consent” bill that would have automatically enrolled all New Yorkers as organ donors unless they opted out (analogous to the federal “do not call” list for people who don’t want to get telephone solicitations). Two dozen other nations have similar laws. The bill failed.

If the government can save 18 people a day by harvesting every available organ, why doesn’t it pass a law making it so?

The blogger Stewart Lindsey expresses the most passionate, coherent and logical argument I can find against mandatory organ donation: “If I OPT to donate my liver, kidneys, heart or any other worthwhile organ at the time of my death, I will make that decision known. Don’t we have enough intrusion from the government into our personal lives already? If they can dictate whether or not you should be an organ donor, how much longer before they will be making the choices of where you can live, where you can work, go to church or school, who you can marry, what stores you can shop in and ultimately, how long should you be allowed to live, before your organs are no longer a viable option for harvesting!”

As a student of history, I am sympathetic to slippery slope arguments. And as I wrote above, I despise the way that the current health care system prioritizes wealthy Americans over the less fortunate. But when you boil it down, Lindsey’s argument is purely emotional. It’s my liver, and you can pry it out of my cold, dead carcass…or not.

Anyway, our top government officials don’t care about those concerns.

In the end, it comes down to the power of superstition.

When we die, we cease to exist in every way. Our bodies decompose. Only idiots believe in God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, an afterlife. Whether your body is harvested for organs, eaten by cannibals, or minced to fertilize topsoil, you will never know the difference. Anyway, no major American religion teaches that what happens to your corpse affects your destiny in the hereafter.

Between our smart phones and amazing technology that allows our government to spy on our every digital moment, citizens of the United States of America feel that they live in an incredibly modern society. But not in our hearts, not in our souls, and certainly not in our brains.

About 2.5 million Americans die every year. Most are burned or planted in the ground, completely wasted. Vast numbers of them rot away, their bodies containing potentially life-saving organs, left intact — or embalmed — for only one reason: politicians are too cowardly to challenge the ancient idea that there is something sacred in a hunk of flesh.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Death by Skype

A soldier serving in Afghanistan was killed while Skyping with his wife. (We don’t know whether he was shot or died of some other cause.) How will your death be live-streamed?