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Mar 19, 2005

Gag Reflex


Back in graduate school, I had a professor who liked to talk about "Bubbe logic." 

If your not familiar with the term, it refers to a simple method to tell if something is logical or not.  In my instructor's case, he would take anything he wasn't sure made sense and try to explain it to his 93 year old grandmother.  If he could make it understandable to her, it made sense.  If not, there was something wrong with it.

When I saw this shot in Thursday's NYT, my first thought was about Bubbe.

It's my feeling that, since the election, the radical right has been overreaching.  I say this because they seem to have forgotten how to put a good metaphor together.  Just look at the semantic problems they've been having with Social Security, for example.  This protest suffers along the same lines. 

I guess what these people are trying to say is, if you don't feed Terry Schiavo (the brain dead women in Florida whose husband has been allowed to have her feeding tube removed) you are taking her life.  The problem with the picture, however, is that it would leave poor Bubbe scratching her head.

If my professor had sat down and explained all the facts of this case to his dear grandmother, I could just imagine some of her questions:

In taping over their mouths, are these protesters suggesting that they are being denied the right to give life to their views? 

If Mrs. Schiavo's brain has essentially been reduced to spinal fluid, and any life-like behavior on her part is simply the result of involuntary reflexes, what do these folks mean by "life?"

If credible courts have repeatedly heard this case, and have consistently ruled that it was Mrs. Schiavo's intent not to be kept alive in this manner, than who exactly is being silenced?

What's with the placement of the tape if Mrs. Schiavo's subsistence has no oral aspect to it, and her nutrition is provided solely through a gastric tube?

Considering that the heart attack which led to Mrs. Schaivo's brain damage was caused by bulimia, couldn't these protester be seen as attacking her?  (In other words, what would prevent Bubbe from reading this picture as saying: "If you had just kept your food down, you'd still have a life today"?)

Finally, Bubbe might ask if the protesters believe life lasts forever ...just as long as nobody breaths a word otherwise.

(background on the Schiavo case here)
(image: Chris O'Meara/AP in YahooNews)

Random notes:
>>This post re-edited 3/20/05 to reflect proper Yiddish.  As kindly pointed out to me,
Bubba is a pejorative for rural folk.  My instructor's Bubbe, however, was a Jewish immigrant living in the San Fernando Valley.


I agree. This is one of the strangest pictures I've ever seen. Funny, despite the tape over the mouth, I do not associate it with eating, but rather talking. If I didn't know it was related to the Schiavo case, I would think it was a protest somehow associated with freedom of speech.

These people should have tape on thier ears as well.

The US Senate getting involved in this emotional case is one of the most disturbing political events of the year. With everything going on in the world and our country right now, this case and the baseball hearings this past week are just smoke and mirror, hey why don't they call up the Jackson 5 to perform on the Capitol steps? Janet could join in and show her breast ... It's the Republican's country now and dialy events are making less and less sense to this Bubba.

Compare the color image—more effective, imo— here or here.

Our lives (and the lives of others) depend upon not only what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of them as well.

The comments on a Fark thread yesterday were .... shall we say .... unkind to the people in a similar picture with the LIFE-taped mouths. Bubba logic for sure. The trucks with the billboards on them with more clear messages are very scary, however.


Only having seen the image in the Times, I missed the color version. It seems the protesters get away with a little more personality, but that tape is even more perverse in red and black.

It is indeed perserve. However, there is a voice that rarely gets heard in the roar betweem the left and the right. It is those with disablilities and their quality of life. See

When all it takes is just someone's word that they heard someone say they wanted to die..without any written statement, then it is a scary day indeed. Who needs proof? Life is not a gift to be taken for granted.

My interpretation was the opposite of what I think they were trying to communicate: Right-to-lifers are silencing women.

It reminds me of the "Seinfeld" episode in which Kramer was protesting the U.S. Postal Service.

"Why is there a bucket on the postman's head?"

"Because we are blind to the tyranny of the Post Office."

"Then shouldn't the bucket be on your head?"

It takes someone's word. And a trial convened solely to deterimine, in great detail, on the public record, whether that word was spoken.

Help stamp out necrophilia: draft your living will today.

The Republican senators' cynical exploitation of this issue is what used to be called plainly and simply SICK.

Might want to spell it "bubbe," not "bubba." I had to read the post twice before I realized you weren't talking about a pejorative for rural folk...


As BAGnewsNotes so frequently points out, there is much more to an image than meets the eye. Words are usually necessary to give further context and meaning, which is why I am puzzled by your statement that red tape makes this image "more perverse". Are you saying that protesting the probable end of someone's life is "perverse"?

If color elicits a stronger response from you, the protestors have made an effective visual statement by using colored tape. We also perceive their natural skin color—due to the flow of red blood—which makes them appear more alive, more present, than a black and white image (which is essentially an abstraction of reality). In this case, color photography gives us a more accurate picture of the event and the emotions around it, and reinforces the contrast between life and death. Yet, the colors on our screen are not as startling as if we witnessed the protest in person: the screen still lets us keep our distance.

Perhaps living color makes Terry Schiavo's plight more personal by reminding us that there, but for the grace of God, go we. If someone we loved was in her situation, I hope the feelings of our heart would outweigh our logic (which might be a bigger hurdle than Bubba's).

Thanks, Rick. That had me going for a while, too: I thought BAGnN had been hijacked...

From the Jewish Outreach Institute:

    &nbspGrandmother, in Yiddish. The Hebrew term is Savta.

Make that Grandma's logic, then.

Thanks for the correction on "bubbe." If mine was still around, I'd be in big trouble.

Now really, they ought to put tubes down their damn throats and lay on their backs on the sidewalk... for about 15 years.....

The faces on the people seem to me to be quite telling: the woman on left w/ jean jacket, seems to be saying "Look at me, I'm so morally superior, ain't it cool to be here", the girl front and center in buttoned shirt seems to be lost in euphoria and like she's using all her strength to remain there by focusing on her chosen god, and the girl closest to the camera on right, seems pained and uncomfortable, almost like she's uncertain about her choice and angry about the situation she finds herself in. The young man between on left in background seems to be in distress (it makes me wonder if he had much of an educated choice to be there in the first place, it almost seems as if he can't breathe, or like he's silently screaming). The man on right background seems very angry,overpowering and adamant (he's also the tallest person there), I wonder if he had a lot to do with the others being there, like he might be a church-elder or something) Very disturbing picture. I'm glad to see these people standing up for what they believe in, though. This is what America is all about. Under ideal situations one gets to see all sides.I just wish we would see more liberal protests that happen and their views. (plaintive sigh)

(Since I don't have a gag on me, I can't shut up...)
Even though they're saying that life is being denied them, what kind of life are they protraying that is being denied? A bloody and black life! Who wants that? Terry Schiavo's husband already won in court many, many times the right to act in his wife's best interest to give her peace and rest from an unwanted condition. They only reason the republican polictians are fighting for Terry Schiavo's life is for political (read: selfish) reasons. They don't give a flying fish about her or anyone else's life but their own and (I give them the benefit of the doubt here:) their immediate "friends" (cronies?)and families. They can't fool me, and most likely, not many other people. Where were they when mentally handicapped kids were put to death? Where were they when black people were executed more than white people (and still are?), where were they when juveniles where put to death? Where were they when children, babies, where ripped from their mothers so the mothers could spend 15 years in prison for selling dope? Where were they when 100,000 Iraqis where senselessly massacred for one man's sins? Where are they know? They're most liking laughing it up with "the good 'ole boys", banging their secretaries, beating their kids, playing golf, sleeping like angels with not a care or worry and devising ways to destroy every god-forsaken good thing we got going in this country just so they can drive that new Cadillac and tell their pop and ma on Social Security that they're no longer beer-guzzling, idiot in a hazin' frat-house loser, but they really have grown up and they can be proud? What the hell has frickin' happened to morals, ethics and knowing right from wrong and paying for it when you do do wrong? What the hell??????????


I'm so dense that I can't understand what you mean. You write:

'If someone we loved was in her situation, I hope the feelings of our heart would outweigh our logic (which might be a bigger hurdle than Bubba's).'

Does the 'we' mean 'I' or do you think everyone needs to think / would think the same? If you mean 'I', why don't you just say so then?

And could you translate into boring, commonplace language: would letting the feelings of the heart outweigh logic result in the prolongation or in the termination of this woman's existence? Why do you suppose that the heart and the mind (logic) might even be at odds.

As you see, I have a hard time coming down to earth after reading your post.


All I'm saying is that, IMHO, intellectual logic is not enough to answer a situation like Terri Schiavo's. It becomes less useful the closer we (as emotional beings) are to the person involved.

If our daughter, wife, companion, sister, or mother was in her place, I think it's fair to say that we could not base their fate solely upon clinical logic. At least I couldn't: your decisions are your own, but don't your emotions affect them also?

Logic, whoever's mind it comes from, may not be enough. Our heart, our emotions, should not be (and I would argue, cannot be) set aside in a case like this.

Excellent, let's make a call on the worth of this woman's life, against that of her parents, then let's find a nice quiet cul-de-sac some place near the Everglades were we can leave her to die quietly. Then let's save our angst for real victims like cop killers and mass murders facing the cruel and unusual punishment of being anesthesized with sodium penathol, then euthanized with potassium chloride, all within 4 minute's time.

This woman's life really isn't worth living, in my estimation, so let's let her starve slow over the course of the next few days. Sounds humane to me. Especially since I don't have kids and can't imagine what that would be like, but what the hey? She won't feel it, will she?

I wonder what Susan Sarandon would say. She's an expert on these matters, no? Don't you think she'd want to cork Terri as well? (oh, sorry, we're not to refer to the woman directly - only metaphorically - like this was some ethics class.)

"If our daughter, wife, companion, sister, or mother was in her place, I think it's fair to say that we could not base their fate solely upon clinical logic."

That's nice, but the decision is not based on either emotion or logic, but on what a number of hearings have consistently found to have been Mrs Schiavo's wishes. And it is indeed perverse to imply that people who disagree with your view of what should be done in these cases are basing their judgments solely on coldly inhuman logic. Stuff like this is presumptuous in the extreme: "Logic, whoever's mind it comes from, may not be enough. Our heart, our emotions, should not be (and I would argue, cannot be) set aside in a case like this." You really think that everyone who thinks this woman should not be forced to live as long as medicine can make her, against her own wishes, has shut their ears to their hearts? Every adult knows that both reason and feeling have a place in any thought & judgment.

Torpedo--The burden rests entirely on right-to-lifers that Terri Schiavo's only option to die is by starvation. You need to know that. If you do know it, you're just muddling the truth by not mentioning it. It's people like you who have made death by starvation the only option to end a miserable existence. (Miserable existence, by the way, is HER personal belief, proven again and again in the courts of law). Then you think her parents should make the decision for her? Who did Terri chose to spend her life with? Oh, yeah, her husband, not her parents. Forgot that, eh? You put no faith in the sanctity of marriage, no faith in the joy of life (just life--who cares if it's miserable, right?), no faith in the courts (you probably believe courts are just filled with liberal judges and lawyers, right?) Where exactlly does your faith lay? Does it, by any chance, lay with the conservative right's opinion that life is life, as long as it looks and sounds good, but who cares other than that? Hypocrites, muddlers, non-thinkers. Maybe you should focus on giving money to the poor more than your crusade to tell others what to do.


No, I don't think that at all. I'm merely expressing my opinion, and am certainly not assuming, saying, demanding, or accusing anyone that this must come down to emotion or logic, only that both must be considered. And in the case of someone close to us, emotion may have more influence than reason, even over judicial decisions. YMMV, of course.

It's interesting how emotional this discussion about logic has become, but perhaps I'm getting too far off-topic. Back to the introductory post about this picture:

I guess what these people are trying to say is, if you don't feed Terry Schiavo (the brain dead women in Florida whose husband has been allowed to have her feeding tube removed) you are taking her life. The problem with the picture, however, is that it would leave poor Bubbe scratching her head.

The possibility is then offered that Grandmother might question these protestors as selfish, ill-informed, misguided, mean-spirited, confused, and ignorant about life and death issues. Some previous statements leading up to this proposed standard of Bubbe-logic also pre-paint the protesters as wrong, radical, overreaching, forgetful, and metaphorically and semantically challenged.

Hardly objective, this. Is it not also possible that Grandmother—and a long-lived Jewish one at that—might just see the protestors as doing something positive? Can we reasonably pull all of these negative assumptions out of this picture?

My contention is that, by looking at the protestors' photo alone, neither we or Grandmother can know exactly what they're trying to express. Tape over the mouth is a common symbolic act, but it usually needs additional words to understand what's going on (the protesters can't speak, after all). If images have little or no explanatory text, Grandmother could easily scratch her head about other silent protests like these: America's Problems; Media; Parade; Tape.

Some images are easier to understand because of additional context within the frame, or because we recognize the subject: Ashcroft; Looter; Peace; but other in-frame captions give too few clues: Refugees; Sitting.

Logically speaking, pictures alone are not always enough to know what someone is trying to say, or to determine if they are right or wrong.

merchanna - I've talked to a couple of people and we've decided you're living a miserable life too. When can we pull your tube?

Let's review that line again: "...for richer or for poor, in sickness and health, unless I determine your life is miserable, then I can cork you." Damn, you're right, it is in there!

"Hypocrites, muddlers, non-thinkers. Maybe you should focus on giving money to the poor more than your crusade to tell others what to do." - merchanna

Let me get this straight, you're telling me what to do as, in the same breath, you're accusing me of telling others what to do? Do hypocrites own mirrors?

"let's find a nice quiet cul-de-sac some place near the Everglades were we can leave her to die quietly."

Straw men are generally not welcome in these quarters.

PS to aethorian, thanks for your thoughtful reply. Re: tape-over-the-mouth, I have to say it's in any case one of the dumbest possible tropes in this context - if you've got the right to protest, it seems, as a symbolic act, beside the point.

notice the word "maybe" when I addressed you? It was a suggestion, not an order.

ok, ok, I think my wording was a little too pissy to you. Sorry, I just get so frustrated. Please don't take it personally. I'm arguing with the ideas not really you. I still hold my beliefs, tho, as I'm sure you do.

I say give these people what they ask for. Give the parents what they ask for.
They can have Terry immediately, and take her home and go for it. Feed her and water her 24/7/365.
Ah ha, what's that they're saying now? What's that about life?

Just like many right to lifers when it comes to putting your money where the tape over their mouth is, the story somehow gets changed around to being someone elses responsibilty.

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