The City of Disney Book X

Terri Schiavo -- Bride of 'Compassionate Conservatism'

Augustine of Epcot and his Scribe

quondam hi cornicines et municipalis harenae
perpetui comites notaeque per oppida buccae
munera nunc edunt et, verso pollice vulgus
quem iubet, occidunt populariter; unde reversi
conducunt foricas, et cur non omnia, cum sint
quales ex humili magna ad fastigia rerum
extollit quotiens voluit Fortuna iocari?

Quid Romae faciam? mentiri nescio ...

Juvenal, Satire 3, lines 34-41.

Once these men were horn-blowers and perpetual attendants at the local theaters, their bulging cheeks known through the towns; now they produce their own shows, and, with popularity, they kill whomever the crowd requests with turned-down thumb; when they've turned away from these diversions they contract privies for profit, and why not everything, since they are the sort of people whom Fortune raises up from the dirt to the world's vast pediments whenever she is in the mood to jest.

What should I do for Rome? I don't know how to lie ... [1]

DATELINE St. Petersburg, Florida -- Pinellas Park: The attorney representing Terri Schiavo's parents acknowledged late Saturday that the legal battle to keep Schiavo alive is essentially over and -- pending a miracle from God -- she will die soon. [2]

As I travel the Sea of Information a vox angelae, an Angel's voice, seems to strike the bell of my inner ear, to resound through the platinum hull and pulse the digital ports of my craft with rhythmic silver light.

VOX ANGELAE: "I" am cortically dead. "I" speak virtually through the aperture of the media. "I" am a virtual woman. My body is the property of medicine, of my spouse, of my parents, of the courts, of the legislatures, of the society of spectacle. I am a death parade. I am a life without consciousness, fed by tubes and fiber-optic cables, a hybrid of biology and technology, a cyborg whose consciousness is no longer 'mine' but the noosphere's. I am an icon of right-wing dreams of the perfect woman, brain dead and passive, perfect bride of the 'compassionate conservative,' no back-talk from me, only passive acceptance of nurture offered, a child in need of authority, a biological inkblot for masculinist power fantasies, morality dreams, projections of war-on-terror networks committed to patriotic ecocide in pursuit of salvation, gutting the poor, exsanguinating the medically needy, forcing children into birth to go hungry, forcing their mothers to become the vessels of proletarian production, herd animals of empire, good daughters of the American plutocratic 'Revolution,' imperial cattle, mindless, but loved, after all. I am a daughter of War, of napalm and bouncing explosives, the little balls of fire and shrapnel that turn children to hamburger and their mothers to broken dolls leaking blood for tears on their progeny, like Michelangelo's Mary mourning the Jesus of the Poor, dead like me, Woman Vessel of Power Dreams, Bride of Messianic Torturers whose Prayers yield Shock and Awe, twisting the guts of the poor for oil and the wombs of their wives for children, Devotees offering the Sacrament of Others' Blood on the Altar of Capital, I am the Meat Puppet of Imperial Christendom whose post-transubstantiation is not wine for blood but, after all, blood for oil, that Texas Black Gold, Miraculous Viscosity of Capital Triumphant, I am the 'living' projection of your Morality, one who never Talks Back, as I slobber your praises, Father in Washington, and celebrate the humanity -- without mind, without judgment, without power, without hope -- that YOU represent, icon of the new American Millennium, our Hegemon, Technician of Morality-As-Anti-Life, or, as Sylvia Plath used to say "Daddy" Divine Right Ruler of the United Herd, one of whom now 'enters' my room with handgun drawn, [3] just as Daddy has 'entered' Iraq, to 'liberate' me, Insensate as I am, in a kind of trans-substantiation of my poor flesh into an Emblem of Righteousness, a Willing Executioner of Righteousness, Unconscious Protoplasmic Followers of the New New 'Deal' for America, of 'Social Security' 'liberated' of its funds, 'of Medicaid' patients 'freed' to take care of themselves and wander the streets without the encumbrances of home or even the burden of food, the truly Faithful Devotees of Mindless Life with Rented Body, Children of Capital, my Countrymen, listen to your own Voices!

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I love my Daddy. [4]

KEN GOODMAN [Director of Bioethics, University of Miami]: 15 years ago last month, actually, in February, she [Terri Schiavo] had a heart attack as a result of a potassium imbalance caused by an eating disorder. That's pretty well established. She was, unfortunately, like many people, not able to be resuscitated in time, and as a result, suffered hypoxic or anoxic brain injury. Large portions of her cerebral cortex were damaged, severely damaged by that heart attack. In fact, she's been described as being neurologically devastated. Since then she's been taken to various forms of rehabilitation. They haven't worked.

VIRTUE: All of this furor stems from an eating disorder?

VOX ANGELAE: In life I tried desperately, self-destructively, to fit into the mould cast for me by the media stream of PERFECT women, but I couldn't seem to starve myself enough, and now, in Limbo, I am once again fit to Procrustus' Bed of Images and edited as the Spin Doctors see fit!

REP TRENT FRANKS [Republican, Arizona]: Mr. Speaker, Terri Schiavo represents the mortality and helplessness of us all as human beings. And whether we realize it or not, we're at this moment lying down beside her -- VIRTUE -- "What?" -- listening for that song of hope. And if we as a nation subject her to the torture and agony of starving and thirsting to death, while her brother, her mother and her father are forced to watch, we will scar our own souls. And we will be allowing those judges who have lost their way to drag us all one more ominous step into a darkness where the light of human compassion has gone out, and the predatory survival of the fittest prevails over humanity. If the song of hope is to be silenced, Mr. Speaker, let it not be tonight. Thank you. [5]

VIRTUE: But isn't 'predatory survival of the fittest' the keynote of the President's economic policy?

JOHN POWERS: Thanks to the Christian right, none of our politicians dare mention Darwin, except to say he shouldn't be taught in schools. ("Religion has been around a lot longer than Darwin," our president has noted helpfully.) Beyond that, the Winners' agenda is now far harsher than it ever was under Nixon, whose social policies would strike today's Republicans as downright socialist. The Bush administration has given the rich hundreds of billions in tax "relief," while excluding millions of less favored Americans (including U.S. troops) from other forms of tax relief. Even as it gave $80,000 write-offs to businessmen who buy Humvees, it sought to change the Fair Labor Standards Act in a way that would cost countless hourly workers their overtime. Just redefine their work as administrative and the extra hours are free. Underlying such behavior is the President's embrace of a philosophy (or, more accurately, an outlook) I call Populist Social Darwinism. Bush boasts about returning power to ordinary people -- "We want to give you back your money" -- then pursues policies that produce a class of highly visible Winners while unraveling the social safety net. Anytime you so much as mention this, you're accused of waging class warfare. [6]

KEN GOODMAN: Terri Schiavo is not in a minimally conscious state.... I think that the people who have done the diagnosis, who have done the CT scans, who have done the EEGs are unambiguous in their diagnosis. The fact of the matter is research on people who are in a PVS shows they never, ever recover the way the Congressman suggested Terri Schiavo might. It's a tragedy, and it's a tragedy that unfortunately is being exploited for purposes that I'm troubled by deeply. [7]

GEORGE W. BUSH: "Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together last night to give Terri Schiavo's parents another opportunity to save their daughter's life.... This is a complex case with serious issues, but in extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life." [8]

Virtue: But I thought, given your Presidency of Inspiration, you didn't make ...

CHARLES GIBSON: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.

BUSH: I have made a lot of decisions, and some of them little, like appointments to boards you never heard of, and some of them big.

And in a war, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of tactical decisions that historians will look back and say: He shouldn't have done that. He shouldn't have made that decision. And I'll take responsibility for them. I'm human.

VIRTUE: I didn't know!

BUSH: But on the big questions, about whether or not we should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we should have removed somebody in Iraq, I'll stand by those decisions, because I think they're right. [9]

TRENT FRANKS: 'There were some pictures [of Abu Ghraib] where it looked like a prisoner was sodomizing himself' with an object... blood was visible in the photograph. [10]

HEATHER WAKUSH: Abu Ghraib has left administration officials falling over themselves with protestations of compassion, but it's worth remembering that the Bush White House has fought hard against the International Convention Against Torture. [11]

JANE MAYER: On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush's statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that "you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother." [12]

VIRTUE: I wonder if Jesus forgot his mother's milk when he was tortured? I wonder if they use crosses in those SECRET torture camps BEYOND Abu-Ghraib?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Milan authorities [are] investigat [ing] whether CIA agents broke Italian law in an act of "extraordinary rendition." The term refers to U.S. agents abducting suspected terrorists abroad and transporting them to third countries, sometimes to be tortured. The case centers on the alleged abduction of an Egyptian-born man near his home in Italy. [13]

JANE MAYER: President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales all made similar statements last month, asserting that not only does the United States condemn torture, it also does not send U.S.-held suspects to other countries for torture. In reality, the record appears to be quite different. Beginning around 1995, the Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated a form of extradition sometimes referred to as "extraordinary rendition," in which captured foreign terrorism suspects have been transported by the U.S. to third countries for interrogation and prosecution. [14]

VIRTUE: Is that how the President defines 'compassion'?

DOUGLAS KELLNER [with intensity]: Critics claim that the "defining trait" of the Bush administration and major force in determining its hardright policies is "corporate payback." Abrogation of the Kyoto Treaty and the Bush energy policy was payback for the more than $50 million contributed by the oil and energy industries. The former Director of the Star Wars program under Reagan, Dr. Robert W. Bowman makes a similar argument in terms of Bush's military policy. Star Wars II, Bowman argues, will "line the pockets of weapons manufacturers for decades" at the expense of "optional" programs like health, education, the environment and welfare. Moreover, it provides "the multinational corporations and banks absolute military superiority for their 'gunboat diplomacy around the world.'" [15]

AMY GOODMAN: Bush's [federal budget] plan would slash aid to cities by one-third, eliminate health insurance for thousands of low-income families, reduce veterans' medical benefits, cut funding for city cops and county sheriffs, wipe out child care subsidies for 300,000 families, trim funding for clean water and soil conservation and shutter dozens of programs for preschool children and at-risk youth. The budget also targets public housing, Medicaid and farmers. [16]

VIRTUE: At least we have full jails!

HEATHER WAKUSH: Conditions inside Texan prisons during Bush's reign were so notorious that federal Judge William Wayne Justice wrote, "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions."

VOX ANGELAE: With a Savior like that ...

MIKE ALLEN and MANUELl ROIG-FRANZIA [shuffling through documents]:An unsigned one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators, said the debate over Schiavo would appeal to the party's base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is up for re-election next year and is potentially vulnerable in a state President Bush won last year: "This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, which was reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. "This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats." [17]

CHRISTIAN PROTESTER [jeering at police arresting an activist attempting to 'save' Schiavo]: "Shame on you police. Shame on you, Pontius Pilate." [18]

VIRTUE: If the Nation were a play, and President Bush played Tiberius Caesar, would that make Donald Rumsfeld Pontius Pilate, and, let's see, Jesus the leader of some 'terrorist' cult hell bent, so to speak, on thwarting the Empire?

HEATHER WAKUSH: Funding of mental health programs during Bush's reign was so poor that Texan prisons had a sizeable number of mentally-impaired inmates; defying international human rights standards, these inmates ended up on death row. A prisoner named Emile Duhamel, for example, with severe psychological disabilities and an IQ of 56, died in his Texan death-row jail cell in July 1998. Authorities blamed "natural causes" but a lack of air conditioning in cells that topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a summer heat wave may have killed Duhamel instead.

VOX ANGELAE: Do Cyborgs have IQ's? Maybe even souls?

KILGORE TROUT: Did you watch the State of the Union address?

KURT VONNEGUT: Yes, and it certainly helped to remember what the late British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell called this planet.

TROUT: Which was?

VONNEGUT: "The lunatic asylum of the Universe." He said the inmates had taken over and were trashing the joint. And he wasn't talking about the germs or the elephants. He meant we the people. [19]

AMY GOODMAN: In addition Bush is proposing to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by $450 million; to cut $100 million from a Bureau of Indian Affairs program that helps build schools and to cut $200 million for home-heating aid for the poor. [20]

GREGORY BATESON: When you narrow down your epistemology and act on the premise "What interests me is me, or my organization, or my species," you chop off consideration of other loops [of the ecosystem]. You decide that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is part of your eco-mental system -- and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated into the larger system of your thought and experience. [21]

AMY GOODMAN: But Bush isn't cutting back on all federal programs. The budget calls for a $19 billion increase in Pentagon spending. [22]

GEORGE W. BUSH: Stepping off Airforce One, recalling his 'moral vision' for the USA: Because a society is judged by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must build a culture of life.

KELLNER [petting a media-sleuthing cybernetic Baskervillean hound]: In 1983, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA, responsible for development of the Internet, published a document outlining a "Strategic Computing Program".... The SCP was a five year, $600,000,000 plan to produce a new generation of military applications for computers. The proposal included a thousand-fold increase in computing power and an emphasis on artificial intelligence. It envisioned "completely autonomous land, sea and air vehicles capable of complex, far-ranging reconnaissance and attack missions." These vehicles would have human abilities, such as sight, speech, understanding natural language, and automated reasoning. The SCP promoted the view that the human element in many critical decision-making instances could be largely or totally taken over by machines .... In this momentous process, just as humans are becoming like machines, machines are ever-more taking on human qualities. [23]

VOX ANGELAE: So I am valuable as a cyborg, but only if I fit into the 'culture of life'? I feel just like Mel Gibson's cinematic Jesus!

VIRTUE: Maybe you serve to show that the megatechnical apparatus of planetary biocide is not only profitable but also the Tree of Life bearing its fruit?

VOX ANGELAE: I thought we weren't supposed to eat fruit.

MissAnneThrope: While the entire nation seems to be up-in-arms over Terry Schiavo's unfortunate story, what about Houston's own Spiro Nikolouzos? Locked in a life or death battle of their own, Nikolouzos' family doesn't have the publicity afforded political footballs, and a very different Governor Bush worked on his case...working to find a way to pull the plug, rather than reinsert the tube. On March 9, a judge ruled that the hospital had the right to disconnect life support, despite his family's wishes. Right now, an emergency injunction is the only thing standing between them taking this action... . A nursing home has agreed to take Nikolouzos provided his family can show that he will receive Medicaid after his Medicare runs out. [24]

VIRTUE: But why would George W. Bush want to "pull the plug" on Medicaid for millions of poor people when GOD, speaking through the President, says 'err on the side of life'?

VOX ANGELAE: Maybe there is some problem with routing Divine signals through the Presidential Neural Network!

DAN FROOMKIN: David Gregory [video link including inevitable ad] NBC Nightly News: Bush's surprise return to the White House is "being seen as either an attempt to defend innocent life or a crass act of political theater...." [25]

KURT VONNEGUT: I only want to say about our president, our armed forces' Commander-in-Chief: He believes whatever he says. He might be the sincerest person in the whole wide world. He should be in a movie. Correction: He is in a movie, a made-for-TV movie, which is now our form of government. [26]

GOD [played by a nameless Republican]: My First Commandment in the New Contract for (on) America: 'Thou must love Capital with all thy heart and all thy mind, and have no other Goods before it.'

KURT VONNEGUT [before the last US Presidential election]: We are killing this planet as a life-support system with the poisons from all the thermodynamic whoopee we're making with atomic energy and fossil fuels, and everybody knows it, and practically nobody cares. This is how crazy we are. I think the planet's immune system is trying to get rid of us with AIDS and new strains of flu and tuberculosis, and so on, but I think it's too late. I don't think even it can keep George W. Bush from getting elected to a second term.

KILGORE TROUT: Peace. [27]

HUNTER S. THOMPSON: [Risen from the Dead just to recall some electoral advice]: If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today -- and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd [2004]. [28]

VIRTUE: But Bush won!

KELLNER: To get away with this banditry, Bush and Cheney needed a compliant populace.... Many believe the United States is devolving into fascism under Bush and Cheney, but it is not the sort of "friendly fascism" that Bertram Gross described in 1982, [29] for never has a more vicious bunch occupied the higher levels of government. Like Hitler and German fascists, the Bush-Cheney clique use the Big Lie to promote its policies, promote aggressive militarism in the quest for world hegemony, and relentlessly promote the economic interests of the corporations and groups that finance it.... Expanding significantly since the 1980s, the Republican propaganda machine has cultivated a group of ideological storm troopers who loudly support Bush-Cheney policies and attack those who criticize them. [30]

VIRTUE: Then Terri Schiavo is, to 'Compassionate Politicians,' a piece in the media puzzle of the Great Lie? I feel the temperature rising in here!

RAY BRADBURY: Let me know when it reaches Fahrenheit 451.



VOX ANGELAE: As I drift among the spheres turning like turbines in the Sea of Information, haunted by my own images projected in the schizogenic mind of Empire, I am reminded of the final words of "Scipio's Dream" (Somnium Scipionis), at the close of Cicero's Republic: Ego somno solutus sum. May I soon too, like that planet-surfing old Roman, finally have been released by sleep from poisoned waters of the American Dream. May they at least put out the fires! [32]


[1] Juvenal, Satire 3, lines 35-41, my translation. Latin and English versions of Juvenal are available at The Ancient History Sourcebook,

[2] William Levesque, et al., "Legal Battle Over, Parents Seek Miracle" St. Petersburg Times, 27 March 2005.

[3] Like those earlier this week, none of Friday's arrests resulted in violence. The protesters told police what they were going to do, made a symbolic offering of help and went to jail, charged with trespassing.

Authorities were far more concerned about a man who did not make it to the hospice.

Thursday night, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrested a 20- year-old Illinois man on charges of entering a Seminole gun shop and, armed with a box cutter, demanded the owner fill a backpack with weapons.

"He told me he would take any guns he could and go rescue Terri Schiavo," said Randall McKenzie, owner of Randall's Firearms Inc. "At that point I knew he was a little bit whacked."

McKenzie said the man, identified as Michael W. Mitchell, put his knee into a glass display and removed a .454-caliber handgun, the most powerful in the store. McKenzie drew his semiautomatic and ordered Mitchell to the floor. (Alex Leary and Tom Zucco, "Schiavo Protesters Line up for Arrest," St. Petersburg Times, 26 March 2005,

[4] "Sometimes the president seems to think that vagueness, non sequiturs, and tautology are enough to explain away his political problems. How long will there be an American presence in Iraq? 'As long as necessary but not a day longer.' Did you get where you are because of your famous father? 'I love my Dad.' Drugs as a youth? 'When I was young and reckless, I was young and reckless.' Is war with Iraq really a last resort? 'When I say I'm a patient man, I mean I'm a patient man.' It is sad to say about our democracy, but this nonsense often works." Eric Alterman and Mark Green, The Book on Bush: How George Bush (Mis)leads America (New York: Penguin, 2004, introduction; excerpt online,,,0_0143034421,00.html?sym=EXC

[5] "The Case of Terri Schiavo," Democracy Now, 22 March 2005.

[6] Sore Winners (and the Rest of Us) in Bush's America. (NY: Doubleday, 2004), excerpt published in LA Weekly, July 30-August 5, 2004.

[7] Amy Goodman, "The Case of Terri Schiavo: A Debate Between a Bioethicist and a Disability Rights Activist," Democracy Now, 22 March 2005,

[8] Associated Press, 21 March, 2005, cited "The Case of Terri Schiavo."

[9] Debate Transcript, Second Presidential Debate, Commission on Presidential Debates, 8 October 2004,

[10] Associated Press, quotation and paraphrase.

[11] "From Texas to Abu Ghraib: The Bush Legacy of Prisoner Abuse," May 10, 2004,

[12] "Outsourcing Torture," The New Yorker, 2 February 2005,

[13] NPR Morning Edition, 28 March 2005,

[14] "Torture by Proxy," an Interview with Jayne Mayer, The New Yorker, 2 February 2005,

[15] "The Politics and Costs of Postmodern War in the Age of Bush II,"

[16] "Bush's New $2.5 Trillion Budget Boosts Pentagon Spending, Slashes Domestic Programs," Democracy Now, 8 February 2005,

[17] "Congress Steps In on Schiavo Case," Washington Post, 20 March 2005.

[18] "Diary of a Vigil," St. Petersburg Times, 27 March 2005,

[19] "State of the Asylum," In These Times, 5 February 2004,

[20] "Bush's New $2.5 Trillion Budget."

[21] "Pathologies of Epistemology," Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1987, pp. 486-495, p. 492.

[22] "Bush's New $2.5 Trillion Budget."

[23] "The Politics and Costs of Postmodern War,"

[24] "Where's the 'life support' for Spiro Nikolouzos? Houston hospital tried to pull plug," Daily Kos, 21 March 2005,

[25] "For Bush, High Drama and Mixed Reviews," Washington Post, 21 March 2005, NBC Nightly News Video link at, 20 March 2005.

[26] "State of the Asylum," loc cit.

[27] "Sate of the Asylum," loc. cit.

[28] "Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004," Rolling Stone, 20 October 2004,

[29] Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1982).

[30] "Election 2004: The War for the White House and Media Spectacle" (2005), Introduction,

[31] For further comment from Michael Moore, see

[32] For a good English translation of this text see Cicero, Republic & Laws, Niall Rudd trans., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Daniel White is Professor of Philosophy and Classics in the Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University He is author of Postmodern Ecology and coauthor of Labyrinths of the Mind (both published at Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998).