Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

I was working on my ambulance on Christmas Day when we got a call for an "unknown condition" in the projects.

An elderly woman sounded incoherent on the telephone to a family member. Then she dropped the phone. She didn't answer when neighbors, alerted by the family, pounded on her door.

The police emergency services unit, formerly known as SWAT, arrived to take the door. They went in with guns drawn, then told us the apartment was clear. My partner and I, assisting two paramedics, entered to find the patient unconscious on her bed.

I cut some plastic oxygen tubing which wrapped itself around her neck when she fell over, and gave her more concentrated oxygen via a mask, while my partner found her medications and interviewed the neighbors to get her medical history. The medics ran an IV line and gave her glucose in case she was having a diabetic reaction, and then Narcan, a drug which counteracts a wide variety of depressants. In the minutes that followed, the patient opened her eyes and became more alert, though she was still very dazed and sleepy.

We delivered her to a local emergency room, where the doctors would figure out what had happened to her--a diabetic crisis, overdose of prescription medicine, or a stroke. It was one of the vanishingly small number of ambulance jobs where what we do makes a difference, and stands out in memory from the usual run of Medicaid funded taxi rides to the hospital, like the recent job where the patient called because of an extremely painful pimple on the back of his head.

The primary reason that this lady was saved from a solitary death in her apartment was not the paramedics, EMT's and police, but the family members who stayed in close touch with her and the residents of the adjoining apartments who knew her intimately and cared enough to bang on her door and call us when she did not answer. I was amazed by these women, who knew the patient's complete medical history and everything else about her. I have never lived in a building in New York where anyone wanted to know their neighbors (but I have lived on the Upper East Side and in Brooklyn Heights apartments, and never in a project). I have also been on calls where we found decomposed bodies and the people on either side said, "Yeah, we last saw him three weeks ago." I thought of this, rather than the woman rescued by the people next door, as a typical New York City ambulance run.

I am not Christian and I try not to be sentimental, but it was a good call to have on Christmas Day.

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will also respect that. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with your name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Jonathan:

I read with interest your article The Election" about your perceived differences between Republicans and Democrats. You wrote that "Republicans stand for: war (conceived as a courageous and necessary enterprise)", which of course is true, but the Democrats are also the party of war. With a few notable exceptions, like the courageous opposition of Sen. Byrd of West Virginia, Democrats goose step in support of the various war crimes that President Bush presides over.

The language of the Democrats is different from Republicans, but as always you should watch what they do and not what they say. An overwhelming majority of Democrats supported and still support the US invasion of Iraq, so what's the difference?

Best regards, Matt Gaylor

Dear Mr. Wallace:

You said in your election piece:

Even if the Democrats had a more cohesive message, and fought harder, the Republicans would still have more money, and in these days, money is the first and last thing which counts; all else is talk.

In actuality, the Kerry campaign (including all the separate advocacy groups) far outspent the Bush campaign.

If you include the Democratic primaries, which consisted of "No, I hate Bush more than you" over and over, the Democrats spent hundreds of millions more than the Republicans. Not to mention an entire major motion picture against Bush, and the least number of negative statements in the media against Kerry of any candidate in history.

BTW, totally impartial contribution information is available at opensecrets.org - note that the advocacy groups are tallied separately from the direct contributions.

An eye opener is the fact that through 2002, Dick Gebhardt is the top recipient of big money donations. National Democrats are not hurting for money in our lobbyist-driven system.

PS Liberal or conservative advocacy can be "ethical". Democrat or Republican advocacy cannot be.


Name withheld

Dear Jonathan:

hope that you are well and that your life is going the way you wish it to go I was just reading some of the letters in your "the fuck me ? no, fuck you department" and though i wasn't surprised to see some really outrageous letters, it prompted me to ask myself once more why some people can be so ignorant that they don't even know that they have a brain they could use. could you explain to me why the USA appear to produce such idiocy, oh ! dont get me wrong i see idiotic behaviours everywhere but the American one (especially US governments) seems to be winning the cake ! This would not normally bother me, as I said I see pretty idiotic behaviour daily especially in my job (Mental Health Worker) but at least the people I work with have the "excuse" to have some kind of malfunction that forbids them to relate normally to the world in general and people in particular (I work with seriously mentally ill patients).

Interestingly, I did ask my colleague Psychiatrists what was their assessment of Tony Blair (I'm French and live in England, though I must say I have also some serious complaints about my fellow french citizens behaviour as well as french governments) and George W Bush junior and I felt that there was a certain hesitation but most importantly, no professional assessments, not even an informal one. Right, it is difficult to assess someone without talking to them I admit but they (my more professionally educated colleagues) didn't seem to see any pathology which I thought uncanny from colleagues whom I normally value greatly, I do have outstanding colleagues and I am lucky enough to do a job that i really enjoy though most of the time it poses me a serious ethical problem indeed. I have to tell my patients that their paranoid attitude (amongst other dire mental health symptoms) to life in general isn't rational and that they'd be better off joining in. So when they see "evil", it isn't right and it is an hallucination (to put it bluntly) and that they're wrong.

Could we be the ones that actually don't see how mentally disturbed the actions of our governments are and perhaps how terminally unresponsive we are to not challenge any idiocy that they (world wide governments) stand for Ok, I am a little strong here since your E-paper is doing just that, reacting. Still, I am profoundly upset that Idiocy is so apt to gain power whether in institutions or in the collective unconscious (it can only be unconscious). Why don't people like you whom I believe are fair and truthful (right, I am doing another swift judgement here and under your fair ethic you might be a complete asshole but I doubt it, without any proof whatsoever I could be bloody wrong, as your Homer Simpson so judiciously says in this kind of situations: Doh!). Right, where was I, oh yes, why don't people like you (or even me perhaps, no, no, perish the thought) have access to power, shouldn't people with some integrity be the ones that make world changing decisions (a good one to start with would be with educating your ignorant fellow citizens, the ones with the idiotic anti-commies-semitic letters). Indeed I hear quite a lot of good people making a lot of sense when they assess why the world is so badly led, ironically the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation for those who don't know) was making some extraordinarily well documented documentaries as to why as well, and that at the same time that Tony was trying to sell us his illegal war to Iraq, but then again can wars ever be legal ?. I feel that this is probably the biggest irony but at least the BBC had a chance, I seriously doubt that they would have let that happen in the "land of freedom" so i got to consider myself lucky, it could be worse off, I could be living over there with you lot... Anyway, this was just a reacting letter and I think that I will prepare something perhaps a little better constructed next time as I feel I should raise the theory of "a thoroughly globally mentally ill world". I'll work on it, promised, I might even have some of my medically educated colleagues to participate...

Christophe Migne

Jonathan, I wish to publicly thank Dom Stasi for A Confederacy of Dunces. I believe this editorial articulates the feelings and beliefs of a very large number of Americans and citizens of most of the free world; feelings that we are afraid to face directly, preferring to believe that somehow all will turn out for the best in the end. I have been an optimist all my life but I now fear that the America in which I was born is no longer, and that America has begun an unstoppable spiral into history as just another doomed society. My only hope is that the international community of free nations, which seems to be more on the right track philosophically, will unite in some way to oppose the Bush administrations attempt to subvert our nation's founding principles; to lead the world out of the ominous future that George W. Bush is determined to precipitate. I don't see any way the same American public that somehow managed to re-elect the scariest president in our history, can rectify our collective mistake until the devastation is so great that it will be impossible to salvage internally.

Thom Riddle

Dear Mr. Wallace:

In your review of Schindler's List you criticize Speilberg's use of color in one scene to highlight the fate of a child victim of the Holocaust.

The use of color to follow the little girl in her red coat has by now achieved the stature of legendary. However, most people do not know that this image is based upon a true story, told at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most feared and hated Nazi leaders of World War II, responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews.

In the PBS documentary, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, this image loses none of its impact when the actual story is told by Assistant Prosecutor, later Supreme Court Judge, Gavriel Bach in an interview which appears in the program. When asked if there was any moment in the trial that affected him more than any other, this is the moment hedescribes. Bach was questioning Dr. Martin Földi, a survivor of Auschwitz, about the selection process at the train station in the shadows of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at Auschwitz. Földi described how he and a son went to the right while a daughter and his wife went to the left. His little daughter wore the red coat. When an SS officer sent the son to join the mother and daughter, Földi describes his panic. How would the boy, only twelve, find them among the thousands of people there? But then he realized the red coat would be like a beacon for the boy to join his mother and sister.

Michael Powell