Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Sixth Wish

Realistic secularists who desire to plan for a likely mismatch between the duration of somatic and mental life urgently need a more elastic legal understanding of “death”.

Death with Dignity laws of any sort are exceptional in this country. Such as they are, they do not help [im-]patients who cannot be medically certified as both ill and terminal. The norms of the legal and medical professions classify rationally life-weary persons as depressed. The most that they can do is to spritz a bit of psychotropic fog (talking or pharmaceutical, makes no matter) to muddle a patient’s welcoming gestures (= suicidal thoughts) toward the Reaper. To such sufferers, he is not Grim, but Dilatory. The ancients died younger and thought harder about these issues, before ethical philosophy became entwined with theological dogma as deeply as it is today. 

Until the law accommodates the wishes of today’s Stoics or Epicureans, Five Wishes provide the best control we can exercise in advance of life’s end. This readily available checklist has been vetted by lawyers and doctors. If you download and fill it out as directed, the form is believed to have legal force in about 43 of the 50 United States of America. Now, let us challenge our lawmakers and parsons to make a Sixth Wish enforceable in all 50 jurisdictions. Recognition of the Sixth Wish as a civil right would expand the range of individual autonomy, and vex the seminars of ethicists for a few more decades. Because it departs radically from mainstream funerary rituals, we must expect a fight before we realize a right to round out our brief span according to our own personal values. If we could, many of us might pre-commit to the following directive to cover the worst of final contingencies:

6. If my cognition has deteriorated so far that I cannot name two of my closest family members or friends within two minutes after being asked, and medical intervention has been ineffectual to reverse my dementia (regardless of my diagnosis) after two therapeutic attempts (of no more than [90] days duration), my designee is directed to organize a Memorial Service, and announce my death. Thereafter, I wish to be regarded as brain dead. My surviving spouse has my encouragement to remarry and to take any necessary steps to ensure recognition of the marriage. I wish my estate to be distributed as provided by my Will or the laws of intestacy. I request  the State of ____ to issue Death Certificates, and direct my discharge from any institution in which I am receiving care chargeable to my estate. I demand and consent to judicial determination that this is my governing and last competent expression of my wishes on these points.

After my death as defined above, my representative may donate my tissues and organs for transplant or investigative purposes, even if the donation [causes or] accelerates my body’s [legal/physical] demise, provided that  the standard of care for surgical or other forms of harvesting is followed as prescribed for mentally competent donors to the greatest possible extent.

In conformity with his cohort, Parthian has already executed health care proxies, advance directives, and the admirable “Five Wishes” document. Until recently, he thought that his affairs were in reasonable order. However, he has seen too many relatives and friends outlive their minds and memories. Their surrogates and intimates, stymied and nonplussed, are helpless spectators as physical remains slowly arrive at an expensive and medically protracted end. The survivors have already mourned privately. The moment of legal death is valued as a license to go public, to mark liberation from a fantasy: “where there’s life, there’s hope.” Reality teaches that sometimes “life” is only “existence”, worthless to its possessor, who has given up the ghost at some indeterminate and unmarked incremental moment long before the grave opens.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another Specimen for the Bestiary

Contributed by an ESL instructor, as a drill for her German pupils...


Behold the baleful basilisk!
Whose googly and gimlet eyes transfix
His sandy-footed random picks:
His palsied prey keep business brisk! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sandwich Generation update

A reader of this blog has sent the Arrow an exemplary illustration of the issues raised in yesterday's post. She writes–

A few days ago, my 101 year-old mother fell in her apartment at her assisted living facility.  She fractured her dominant arm just above her elbow.  Her doctors decided that it was too risky to fix the fracture under general anesthesia (covered by Medicare). They sent her home with a cast which is less effective, but less dangerous.

She is now quite comfortable. But she requires constant companion care, because she cannot use her walker nor perform routine daily tasks. Minimum non-nursing care costs around $5000 a week– $15,000 until she sees the orthopedic surgeon again. This cost is not covered by Medicare nor included in “assisted” living.  

The calculation of risks to the patient was humane and reasonable; the savings to the health care system, impressive.  However, the burden of costs suddenly shifted from the institution to the family. My husband and I must shoulder those bills, in addition to the $55,000 we already pay annually for her assisted living. We have been retired for thirteen years, after educating our two children and assembling a tidy nest-egg for our golden years. It now appears that our calculations were completely inadequate.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Triple Decker Sandwich Generation

Recent experience suggests a further refinement of the valuable demographic researches published by the Pew Charitable Trust (‘discoverers’ of the sandwich generation.) For the first time, the 21st Century finds significant numbers of Americans in Parthian’s cohort squeezed in a multi-layered parfait (or trifecta), as the debilities of age compel them to consider enrollment in a retirement facility while they continue to support an even more elderly parent who is already in a nursing home– just as their later-marrying children face daunting economic challenges to fund an adequate education for their descendants. 

A confluence of budgetary pressures challenge the otherwise enviable position of the highest decile of affluence, the inhabitants of our widespread ‘superzip’ communities. On one hand, inflation of private tuition costs, along with the shrinking worth of public schooling, pushes parents and grandparents to place youngsters in costly private schools long before they reach prep school age, much less college age. On the other end (or hand), the fast-growing ranks of centenarians include many who have outlived their prudently-planned retirement resources. 

Filial and grand-filial duty towards the most elderly family members competes for resources needed for tuition, and for funding the existing or impending retirement of the generation that is at its income peak– even in the short span when two working parents (and grandparents) may be earning quite decent incomes. As Thomas Piketty showed, very few families can satisfy these calls of domestic economic duty from wages (broadly defined) alone. The privileged few require a very high reserve of capital to live as well as previous bourgeois elites managed to do. We are a well-endowed nation. But in the echelons below the fabled 001% who ride the crest of a more-than-linear capital accretion wave, the Yankee maxim, never live off capital is no longer cogent. Inherited capital must be invaded to sustain ‘family values’: honor, love, and gratitude. 

The dynamic of shrinking legacies and growing income inequality, so deftly demonstrated by Piketty, goes far to account for the uncharitable greed of today’s wealthy Republicans, and their refusal to tax themselves to fund even the least controversial categories of public investment, like infrastructure and schools. Better to eat the seed-corn in the public silo, than to impair the vanishing upward prospects of one's own!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Goya at the MFA

On a recent descent to the crypt of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (to view a Goya exhibit), a friend stopped at the first landing to use the restroom. A visitor with a magic marker had left the following lines in one of the stalls, after seeing the Goya display:

Vampires, chiggers, ticks & leeches
Instill an itch that no scratch reaches,
Succubi the sharpest quill can’t quell.
        Traced in steel, Goya’s nightmare Hell!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Clerihew

The Cliometrician, Piketty!
His trends fill your screen
Then regress to the mean:
For a Sherpa, he makes a slick Yeti!

The lines above were inscribed in a heavily discounted copy given to the Arrow by a friend, who said he obtained it from Amazon. He said the world needed to deal with the tectonic plates of history (as it were), and this book was the closest description and the best methodology he had so far found.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Scurrilous Clerihews

Precluded from participation in the engagement, Parthian was privileged recently to witness a skirmish among alumni at a class reunion for Yale School.  Points of honor, endorsements, deference bestowed or received, and similar issues were given a thorough airing. So the Arrow looked for graffiti in the Men's Room stalls of Harvard’s Ames Hall (and similar nearby venues) where he found these clerihews. Others came from a commonplace book left by a humanities student on the Red Line T. Parthian disdains them all, but offers them in evidence for the deplorable decay of decency.

George Bush I and Clarence Thomas,
Ignoramus and ignoramus!
Yale must answer for either fool:
What a place to go to school!

Samuel Alito
Delights in his judicial veto.
For him no law is fine
If it might hurt a bottom line.

John Roberts, U.S.C.J.
Embodies the concept, harm's way.
His typical opinion
Shows the spleen of a corporate minion.

For Justice Anthony Kennedy
Let's sing a premature threnody.
It's time he retired
Before he gets fired.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Shame on Blue Crass

Parthian has reaped a bountiful return lately from the coin of privacy he invested inadvertently when he downloaded “free” apps or donated to political (or worthy) causes. His inbox overfloweth; his telephone ringeth– most often at mealtimes. These everyday annoyances can be managed with a fast finger on the delete key, or by unplugging the phone. But why should the consuming public be obliged to cope with cybergarbage at all? We need an effective “do not spam” list to supplement other very low bars to intrusive marketing. Unsubscribing simply promotes the naive user to a higher level of harassment, since any response indicates that the “unsubscriber” opened the junk that provoked a sucker’s effort to escape. 

Come the revolution, oligopolies will be regulated or dismembered in the public interest, and then we will have a button that enables a user to decline further solicitations, push-messages, and spam, and impose an immediate cost, debited to a bond posted to ensure respect for the privacy rights of the public. Pending the revolution, our providers will persist with their robo-calls. How can the ordinary user of existing technology fight back? Where would a striker picket? How else can we impose costs upon those who waste our time and clog our systems with dross and impertinence? 

The latest expression of our rulers’ contempt for the dignity of their serfs is exemplified by a call the Arrow receives from his health care insurer, daily. The caller is a robot, endowed with infinite persistence and zero empathy. The script is short (before the Arrow hangs up): “Hello, this is ___, your insurer, calling about an important matter. Is this the Arrow? Say YES or NO.” 

Feeling no obligation to respond at all to interrogation machines, the Arrow replies, “If you want to transact business at this number, have a human call.” The response is “Is this the Arrow? Say YES or NO.” The Arrow responds with “F__ You, Robot!”. 

If he doesn’t hang up at this point, the robot demands to leave a message for the Arrow to call back. “Will you take the message? YES or NO?” NO!! “Okay, we will try again at a later time, until we reach theArrow.” Thus, a stalemate is reached between a vexed humanoid and an invective-proof automaton. No mechanized appeal to the Arrow’s curiosity will ever elicit a reply that the robot can appreciate. No business will be done. The Arrow risks “losing” whatever opportunity, warning, notice, or advice that his insurer wishes to communicate in an unsolicited, entirely one-way ‘transaction’. The offending caller loses nothing. 

Corporate harassers operate in a very unfree marketplace. They stand to gain if the ‘missed’ call counts as legal notice enough to trigger a forfeiture, or constitutes compliance with the nominal privacy requirements of HIPAA. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

James Joyce Manuscript Discovery

Dear Schmitz,

For our next session, memorize (and be prepared to recite) the following terms. I will use Georgio’s metronome to measure the accuracy of your accent and delivery. This exercise will provide you with rudimentary understanding of English vowel quantities (poets say ‘numbers’), and I hope that it will improve your atrocious accent.

Learn the idioms below in pairs. I will mix and rearrange their sequence when you recite them aloud from memory. As a mnemonic aid I include abbreviated definitions:

Professional mourner service tear hire
Time to repair punctures tire hour

Label on armored wrappings tear here
Advance man for group guides tour hare

Escalation unit for ziggurats tier higher
Rental Rapunzel tower whore

User of weeding implement tare hoer
Repairman of spilt paving oil tar hayer

Woodsman shredded by a bear tore hewer
…… [torn, illegible]

I will provide drinks if your accent does not defeat you.