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April 3, 2005 - Thinking of toasters in Rochester...

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I have a friend in upstate New York who might actually know Steven Landsburg. Landsburg seems to be an “Adjunct Associate Professor” of economics at the University of Rochester - and I used to live in Rochester. Landsburg writes a monthly column for SLATE.COM and calls himself a libertarian economist – whatever that means.

Here he suggests one could look at the still living body of that woman with no brain waves as one looks at a used toaster. It’s a curious argument.


… the same argument that applies to the disposal of a dead body applies as well to the disposition of a living but permanently unconscious one. Thomas Jefferson (one of those dead wise men who we sometimes go to for advice) admonished us that the Earth belongs to the living. Once Terri Schiavo essentially stopped living, it became frivolous to care about what she might prefer.

Now on to the preferences of her husband and parents. This is essentially a fight about what to do with her body: He wants to dispose of it; they want to feed it. And the question arises: Once someone has decided to dispose of a resource, why would we want to stop someone else from retrieving it? If I throw out a toaster, and you want to retrieve it from my trash, there's a net economic gain. If Michael Schiavo essentially throws out his wife's body and her parents want to retrieve it, it seems pointless to prevent them.


Perhaps you should read the whole thing. It actually makes sense, in a very odd way.

Imagine Terri Were a Toaster …
An economist considers the Schiavo case.
Steven E. Landsburg - Posted Monday, March 28, 2005, at 12:27 PM PT – SLATE.COM

Since Swift, one knows the essence of irony is keeping one’s readers guessing as to whether you are serious, or you are not. Here? You decide.

Then go read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Same sort of thing.


Bob Patterson, columnist for this publication, comments –


Used toaster?

I recently bought a used copy of "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain" (from 2000) by Michael Paterniti. (The Dial Press.) It seems they may make a movie based on this non-fiction book.

The guy who did the autopsy of Albert Einstein took the brain for scientific study? (Wistar Institute is a University of Pennsylvania "facility once famous for its vast collection of brains and bones.") Michael Paterniti was an editor who wound up with the opportunity to drive Thomas Harvey and (honest!) Einstein's brain across America. "On the Road" for Goth geeks?

This is an amazing book. It's like "On The Road" for science nerds. I will do a Book Wrangler column about it soon.

Does any one remember a movie titled "Hitler's Brain"?

There may be some good reasons to cremate Terri Schiavo, but I sincerely hope they do an autopsy before the cremate her.


Why? What’s the point?

One might consider this - Schiavo: case closed (Keith Olbermann)


… Through his attorney, Mr. Schiavo announced that after his wife’s life ends, he will delay the planned cremation of her body, and ask the Chief Medical Examiner of Pinellas County, Florida, to conduct a full autopsy on the cause of her now impending death.

If he, as some blood relatives of his wife now suggest after a decade of suggesting otherwise, somehow abused her, or he led to the heart stoppage that put her in her present state, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

If he, as his in-laws and all of his critics now suggest after nearly a decade of suggesting otherwise, had an ulterior motive in seeking to end her treatment, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

And if the part of her brain that makes her her was not irreparably damaged (in fact, turned to liquid)— as examination after examination and court after court has found— it is certain not to be missed by the autopsy.

In short, Mr. Schiavo has just given his critics three opportunities to prosecute him by authorizing, in fact requesting, the autopsy. If he’s been lying, or the doctors have been wrong, or any of the hysteria stirred up by those operating both in good faith and bad in this case, is true— then he is a complete idiot.

This case should now be considered closed. Obviously it will not be. It will be perpetuated by a few good, sad people who do not want the woman they know as daughter, sister, or friend, to die. It will be perpetuated by others who cannot come to grips with the incongruity of part of her brain still acting automatically, like a stoplight in the middle of a desert. But mostly it will be perpetuated by people who do not and have not given a damn about Terri Schiavo, or her parents, or anyone but themselves and the opportunities to exploit this situation for their own personal or political beliefs.

Michael Schiavo’s insistence on an autopsy will resolve more than just how hopeless his wife’s situation really has been. It will also be an autopsy on the credibility of those who have tried to manipulate her insentient condition. For, unless Michael Schiavo is a battering spouse or murderer, and a complete idiot, his public critics will be revealed as snake-oil salesmen who have not only exploited his wife, but also thousands of Americans who— just like me, and no doubt just like you— would love nothing more than to see Terri Schiavo rise from her bed and go home, happy, healthy, and fully restored.


I suppose it’s the not-yet-really-retired newsman in Bob than wants a scoop – the husband wants her dead and cremated to cover a murder he committed in cold blood, or some such thing – but it seems to be just a sad story of unhinged people.

And our friend Vince comments – “And by unhinged people - of course - you refer to Karl Rove and fellow persecutors?



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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