Hard Cases Make Bad Blogs

To: Bloggernacle
From: Steve Evans

re:  Reaction to the Terry Schiavo case

Dear Bloggernacle,

You should be ashamed of yourself.

It’s rare to see a single issue so divide and humiliate so many people.  Responses thus far in the Bloggernacle have ranged from profound to simplistic, with comments swinging from confused to ridiculous.  Very few have demonstrated even an understanding of the situation, let alone a consistent position.

For example:

  • where are the federalists?  Have states’ rights vanished in the face of such an urgent case?
  • where are the constitutionalists?  Since when do federal courts take on such 14th Amendment cases?  Can someone (besides Nate) please show me how this isn’t a bill of attainder?
  • where are the democrats?  Aren’t there fundamental liberties at stake?
  • where are the republicans?  Doesn’t this whole situation show the degradation of the rule of law, and a fundamental mistrust of court decisions?

To the mormons, I say, shame on you, too.  Shame on you for not doing your homework before coming to conclusions.  Shame on you for rushing out to demonize or judge.  Shame on you for not knowing your own minds, let alone the Lord’s mind, before pronouncing.  May I recommend that you do some reading?  Read as much as you can from court records.  Read the scriptures a little more.  Read the awful law that was signed.  Read the constitution.



  1. Steve, I have read your responses over at T&S. Until this specific thread, I hate to admit, we really had almonst nothing in common save our religion.

    I agree with you. We need to unfortunately set emotion aside and look at this (which surprises me more at T&S) froma purely legal stand point. We have a constitution that is daily being eroded by special interests.

    I am a Republican and for the first time in 25 years actually agree with the democrats. Isaiah’s prophecy has come true – I now call good evil and evil good. (said tongue in cheek).

    Where are all those who profess to uphold our constitution?

  2. Steve, you rule. Not that anyone cares, but I’ve been pretty absent from the bloggernacle lately – from one popular blog in particular.

    Part of it is my new work schedule, that’s true. But mostly it comes from the fact that lately the bloggernacle reminds me of what I can’t stand in the Church. It does a remarkable job of making me feel bad about my own religion. All the patting on the back, the lamenting at the big bad evil world while we wallow in our own self-righteousness and enlightenment, the misogyny, the pretending to be above the fray while actually wandering right in the middle of it – it all got right on my last nerve.

    Thankfully BCC largely avoids much of this, though it (and I) aren’t wholly immune. I’d rather go to church and fellowship with the Saints and be reminded there of what’s great about Mormonism. Otherwise, I might be tempted to think that the posts I read (I’m looking in your direction, T&S) are indicative of how all Church members think, and if that were the case, I’d have a hard time not converting to just about any other faith.

    Maybe I’m just hypersensitive, but it didn’t seem to be this way. Their used to be thoughtful posts, reflections, and personal antecdotes. Where’d they all go? And please forgive the obsessively self-involved nature of my post.

  3. Cooper, I knew we’d see eye-to-eye sooner or later…

  4. Steve, as I read that, my blogger etiquette or lack thereof is showing. In no way am I trying to say that I previously thought less of you as a person. What I am trying to say, is that I have respected your side of an argument in the past without agreeing with you most of the time.

    Does that still sound condescending? Ugh it shouldn’t. Hopefully not.

    Now back to the real topic…

  5. Steve,

    You’re absolutely right that there are tricky Federalism issues here.

    But Bill of Attainder? There’s no criminal sanction, dude. It’s a cute theory, but it doesn’t fly.

  6. The weakness with the attainder theory in my mind is the crime being committed — there is none. But you could make the argument that someone who wants to die and has the feeding tube forcibly replaced is being punished for attempting suicide.

  7. I’m refrained from commenting since I have no idea how to respond. I don’t know my own thoughts on the matter. However, I have rarely been one to let ignorance stand in the way of loudly forming opinions…

    Just can’t do it here.

  8. For us non-lawyer types, could someone explain what a “Bill of Attainder” is and why it may have bearing on this case?

  9. Good question Pris. Here’s a good definition.

  10. Slate has a good explanation about Bills of Attainder and other relevant issues.

  11. In terms of bearing on the present case, I was initially bothered by Congress’ personalized legislation, but that’s nothing new to Congress, and it’s not unconstitutional. However, if you took the view that Schiavo had clearly manifested a desire to die, you could see this act of Congress as punishing her for the crime of suicide in effect by surgically keeping her alive.

    A weak theory, I know. But it’s fun to bat stuff like this around.

  12. “To the mormons, I say, shame on you, too. Shame on you for not doing your homework before coming to conclusions. Shame on you for rushing out to demonize or judge. Shame on you for not knowing your own minds, let alone the Lord’s mind, before pronouncing. May I recommend that you do some reading? Read as much as you can from court records. Read the scriptures a little more.”

    Steve – thanks for the chastisement. I agree. Seriously, though, I thought that these blogs were pretty much all opinion with a few interesting “facts” occasionally thrown in. It would be nice if people would provide reasoned, thoughtful analysis along with their opinions, but, since the bloggernacle is mostly a place for people to pronounce their opinion on a particular subject, I’m not too shocked when most opinions are grounded in emotional reaction with little basis in facts or actual context. That being said, thanks for reminding us to do our homework before we arrive at our opinions (and broadcast them on the internet).

  13. Steve,

    I have made constitutional and other legal arguments in several different places now. I don’t feel as though I have jumped to any conclusions, indeed I have stated my reticence to do so in light of such a complex situation. I have tried to analyze the situation from a legal, ethical, and religious standpoint.

    Where in that was an emotional reaction?

  14. Jordan, you have been one of the points of light in an otherwise dreary bloggernacle. Carry on, brave soldier.

  15. My federalist view was that the feds should have kept out of it. My human, emotional view is that my federalist view should be damned to allow Terry one more chance at life (though I did not really argue that one).

    Which makes all my views horribly inconsistent and subject to whatever wind is blowing. And I don’t care, because this is just a blog.

  16. Put my name in the “rarely agrees with Evans but right with him at the moment” column.

    Sure, these are interesting issues. But they are also complex, and nothing can be more boring than a discussion of an interesting issue that is not informed by the facts and legal and moral principles involved. The discussions on these two other blogs are a low point, in my mind.

    Also, when we all get bent out of shape on stuff like this, we cease to be the bloggernacle, and become another boring part of the blogosphere. I might as well be reading Wonkette.

    (please tell me you’re not going to miss the “spouses of permabloggers blogging on spouses who want to let their spouses die” trend in next week’s zeitgeist.)

  17. LOL! Ryan that parenthetical was hilarious. I think you should earn quote of the week, if there is one, in Zeitgeist, for that beauty. And if there isn’t a quote of the week award, then let’s play like Congress and hastily create one!

  18. Rosalynde Welch says:

    John H–

    Ouch, ouch, owie! What a stinging appraisal of my post on T&S. For what it’s worth, we though we *were* producing a “thoughtful post, reflection, and personal antecdote.”

    I’m sorry you read it so differently.

  19. Rosalynde, I think John is referring to the comments to the post rather than the post itself. His comments to your post reflect that sentiment, at least.

    Ryan: good parenthetical, but we need more spousal input. I’ll see what Sumer can drum up.

  20. Nate Oman says:

    “Not that anyone cares, but I’ve been pretty absent from the bloggernacle lately – from one popular blog in particular.”

    People care and notice. I assumed and hoped that you had simply been engaged in more productive things.

  21. Davis Bell says:

    “Shame on you for rushing out to demonize or judge.” The problem with castigating someone for being judgemental, of course, is that in doing so one is engaging in the very behavior for which one is condeming another.

    Other than that, I pretty much agree with you.

  22. Why is this discussion getting under so many people’s skin? It’s just a blog- blogging is all about uninformed opinions and vitriol.

  23. Davis Bell says:

    “All the patting on the back, the lamenting at the big bad evil world while we wallow in our own self-righteousness and enlightenment, the misogyny, the pretending to be above the fray while actually wandering right in the middle of it – it all got right on my last nerve.”

    John H., I agree with you that there is much self-righteousness and hypocrisy in the Church; I doubt anyone would disagree. Isn’t that what makes the Church a perfecting institution? Crashing up against people who are different and annoying and in the process becoming more like Christ? Finally, I think your denunciation of others smacks just as much of wallowing in “self-righteousness and enlightment” as those who are on your last nerve.

  24. Davis, why don’t you tell us what you REALLY think?

  25. Davis Bell says:

    Lol, Jordan.

  26. Davis, you’ve hit on something pretty serious — we’re all hypocrites. Sheesh, just today someone dredged up a months-old comment of mine at T&S to ridicule me. Does that bar us from participating in the discussion at hand?

    Maybe it just means we need to be humble. It doesn’t, IMHO, mean that we need to be silent.

  27. Davis Belld says:


    My comment wasn’t meant to assert that given our imperfections and hypocrisy that we all need to be silent. (Except for HL; he needs to be silent.) Rather, it means all of our interactions should be suffused with charity, patience, assumptions of good faith on the part of our interlocutor, and moderation. On the more specific matter of accusing someone of being judgemental, I simply can’t see how one can do so without being judgemental as well, unless one is the accused’s duly appointed steward or judge in Israel. (And yes, I am aware that in pointing out that you are being judgmental for accusing others of being judgemental I am also being judgemental. It starts to get a little ridiculous, and serves to further demonstrate my point: When we accuse someone of being judgemental we’re automatically tainted with the same sin. Big time tar-baby.)

  28. Steve,

    I don’t know — I kinda think that _more_ people should dredge up your months-old comments to mock you.

  29. A good point, DB, but I wonder if maybe we’re talking about different forms of being judgmental. I think we can distinguish between the “judgmental” that makes us prejudiced, evil people, and the “judgmental” that simply makes our arguments weak and ill-researched. The two categories overlap, it’s true. But I think we can start to tell someone that they’re being judgmental (referring to their arguments) without necessarily branding them as evil.


  30. Bob Caswell says:

    Basically Steve is saying his judgment is of the appropriate flavor whereas the other judgments he was pointing out weren’t merited.

    I feel the same way when I point out other people being judgmental. Don’t we all? It is quite the catch-22, Davis.

  31. LOL Bob! Right on!

    Actually, I was aiming a little more for the distinction between argumentative structure vs. personal attack. Sure, that can translate to a stylistic distinction, but I suspect there’s something more to it.

  32. Bob Caswell says:

    Ah, a subtle difference, but I see the distinction.

  33. John H –

    “the pretending to be above the fray while actually wandering right in the middle of it. . .”

    This is far from being a uniquely “Mormon” trait. I just witnessed all the things you “can’t stand” with 5 individuals here at work discussing the Schiavo case, none of whom are LDS.

    In other words, everyone is pretty good at self- deception. Don’t be so hard on your fellow saints.

  34. I actually think you can tell someone they’re being judgmental without judging them. First, I agree with Steve’s distinction between judging the argument and judging the person. Second, unrighteous judgment usually involves making assessments of what a person should and shouldn’t do, based on assumptions of what “light” they have. I don’t know that that assumption is necessarily present when you are noting that someone else is being judgmental. Your observation doesn’t depend on your ability to know their background and weaknesses and temptations. It depends only on your empirical observation of what they have said. As long as you don’t go farther and say they’re a bad person for it, I think it’s proper to say that one’s statement is judgmental.

  35. Davis Bell says:

    Stop judging me, Ryan.

  36. HL Rogers says:

    Can’t you two just get along!!

    And Davis maybe if you judged a little less you’d have time to date a little more! (I may be the only person laughing but I’m laughing pretty hard, so it’s toally worth it).

  37. Interesting that the JST says “judge not, but judge righteous judgment.” I’ve wondered what that means. I think it refers not only to the accuracy of the judgment, but to our motivations in providing it and our personal standing before the Lord. In other words, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Which brings us back to where we started, not judging, which is hardly satisfying at all.

  38. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: Perhaps the passage simply means that judgement is a virtue in the first person but a vice in the third person, ie “My judgements (which are righteous) are just find; it is his judgements (which are not) that present the problem.”


  39. Ah Steve, if I explain the answer, will you link to my blog?

    You’re absolutely right that there are tricky Federalism issues here.

    But Bill of Attainder? There’s no criminal sanction, dude. It’s a cute theory, but it doesn’t fly.

    That is right. A Bill of Attainder is when the congress holds a trial and imposes a criminal penalty — it is the legislature trying criminal cases.

    This isn’t a criminal case (more of a “domestic law” issue really).

    I’m unhappy with the federalism elements, but this is similar to when a death penalty appeal fails and the party then appeals for a pardon or for the legislature to change the law and thereby commute the sentence. Or private bills for compensation or immigration.

    This is a good example of where apparently compelling facts drive results, together with the envolvement of the wrong people. If the judge in the case had leaned on a different (noninfamous) expert … if the random elements of the meme were not so infectious … if the popular culture did not understand PVS to mean “in a coma” (rather than able to get up, wander around, and sometimes swallow on one’s own, while smiling and responding to visitors — a brain function lower than a chicken or a fish) … it would be a different case.

    Interesting stuff. But not a Bill of Attainder.


    If it were my child I wouldn’t want the decision made the way it has been.

    And do you really think all of the people posting on the topic should be ashamed?

  40. Steve — I’ve been reading the T&S thread and noticed that I’m supposed to tell you that you are a crazy Canadian — Thank God.

  41. Kris, I love having another Canadian at BCC. Thank heavens. I can talk about John A. MacDonald and Pierre Burton and the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

    Crazy Canadian = redundant terms?

  42. I’m all over the map on this one, because there are so many “facts” flying around that I don’t know for sure which, if any, are true.

    First, there’s the “sanctity of marriage” angle that makes me wonder what in the heck the Congress is doing sticking its nose into this situation. Does the husband have the ultimate say when the wife is unable to communicate her wishes or not? Seems to me that he ought to, and that Congress has no business in this matter at all.

    On the other hand, if her parents are willing to assume the burden of taking on the costs of the desired therapy and continued life support, why in the heck is the husband so dead set against letting them do this? Some of the “facts” floating around in this case involve spousal abuse on his part, and that the reason he wants the feeding tube removed may be that should she actually improve, she may finger him for some of the supposed injuries that she has received. Is he attempting to coverup a crime by hastening her death? I don’t know.

    Also, I’m hearing different facts about whether or not brain scans and/or MRIs have ever been performed on Mrs. Schiavo: some say yes, they’ve been done, and they prove that she has nothing but liquid mush between her ears. Others say no, no MRIs have been performed because the husband won’t allow anyone to do them.

    So, I don’t know what to think. Everybody seems to have their own agenda on this thing, and I don’t know how much of the scuttlebutt floating around on this is true or false. I’m not sure I can come up with an informed opinion.

  43. Well, this sparked a conversation at my house about GOMERS. (Terminal patients with no one home, the phrase comes from Get Out of My ER). They consume about 30% of the public health dollar, about 10% or more of your taxes. People on the long decline, no longer aware of their surroundings.

    I’m just saddened at present.

  44. Steve, I think you should get over yourself. This is what blogging is. We must participate in two different ‘nacles if you think unfounded opinions and rush judgments are anything but the usual way of doing things. In fact, I think one beautiful part of blogging is that people can express themselves without the intellectual police coming around and telling them their thoughts are worthless if they don’t measure up to certain standards. People blog to express themselves, and they’re free to do so. Fortunately, the same applies to you: if you want a better post on the issue, why don’t you write one yourself?

    And it might be possible to separate jundgment into a “argumentative structure vs. personal attack” distinction. However, repeating the phrase “shame on you” several times makes your post sound much closer to the personal attack category than the rhetorical analysis one.

    By the way, I still like you as a person. But I think your argumentative structure is a little weak in this case (and not only because Ryan agrees with you ;)).

  45. “if you want a better post on the issue, why don’t you write one yourself?”

    I think I did!

    And I only said in the comments that one could distinguish between argumentative structure and personal attack, I didn’t say that my post did that. I think everyone here has done a fairly good job at pointing that out.

    I still like you too, only a little less *sniff*.

  46. I really think that this thread could use a discussion of GOMERs, end of life care, euthenasia (really, if you are going to just let someone starve to death shouldn’t you, perhaps, allow them anesthesia too? Once you start down that slope, what about just a little more?) and so forth.

    Terri’s real problem is endemic to the medical field. She is a well preserved GR (I’m going to shorten GOMER, even though it is a well used medical term, it seems too harsh). Her limbs have not contracted, so someone has been providing her therapy. She isn’t really vegatative, not in the classic sense, so some neurologists look at the scans and go “hey, she isn’t SVS,” but she is operating below the mental level of a fish.

    Nursing homes are filled with people in her position. As I noted, probably 30% of the public health dollar, probably around 10% or more of your tax dollar, goes to the care of GRs in the last six months or so of their lives.

    Most are receiving drugs for a numerous host of problems, have bed sores (Terry S. does not — she was getting good care in the SNIF [skilled nursing institutional facility] unit), are contracted, and have random emotional states. There is a huge question of just what should we do “to” these patients vs. “for” these patients.

    It is a topic that also gets raised a great deal in grief support groups for people who have lost children.

    Generally, there comes a point when the technology can still keep things going, but there isn’t any hope. Because Jessica was poisoned so badly by the doctors who screwed up, she was in such terminal failure that by the time they told my wife, if she had not already called me and told me to turn around and come back to Dallas, Jessica would have died before I got there.

    With Courtney, she ruptured down to the brainstem, which means that they had real trouble keeping her stable which is why when they ran all the tests on her a second time (something often done to bulk up revenue in transplants), they lost most of her organs.

    Robin died in her sleep and CPR failed. Obviously no way to keep her going there.

    But I listened to a lot of parents. The first gamma knife in Texas. Too late, too harsh, went mets. At that point they realized that they could make their daughter’s life more painful, but they couldn’t make it last much longer.

    All of these issues come together more strongly with non-children.

    Children we preserve for their futures. Others we are, for the most part, delaying their entry into the past — and doing it not ourselves, but by proxies.

    TS is in the position we wish to see them all in. She gets physical therapy. She has no bedsores and room and light. By reports, unlike most facilities, hers does not stink of urine (and I’ve been in expensive facilities that stunk of urine and poor ones that did not. Some of the best nursing homes in this country are run in what used to be segregated facilities in the poor parts of towns).

    But what are we doing for those whose minds have failed and whose families can not bear the burden of them? What does it say about us that we do what we do. What would it say if we did not?

    I have no solutions, but I think that just going “shame, shame, shame” may not be one — and resent it a bit since it is applied with a broad brush to everyone — which includes me.

    Not to mention, I’m a “Steve” too, and so I read those harsh comments about Canuck Steve and wince.

  47. Steve said: Interesting that the JST says “judge not, but judge righteous judgment.” I’ve wondered what that means.

    JST Matt. 7: 1-2:”Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.”

    If we have this much trouble getting the facts right on what the JST says, no wonder we have trouble sorting through the facts of the Schiavo mess! :-p

  48. …especially when we’re total hardasses about the scriptures…

  49. Let’s all raise a glass to Sir John Eh?!

  50. Echoing a conversation I had with Matt Jacobsen last night: I wonder what we should take as authoritative: The JST’s “judge righteous judgment” or the Book of Mormon’s “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”?

  51. J.,

    Exactly. Everyone is quick to point out that the JST trumps the KJV, but I think the BofM trumps it all.

  52. I find this post of yours to be unfortunate, Steve Evans. The post at M* was quite good. On the contrary, I find this post at By Common Consent to be preachy, condescending, and fraught with straw men. Not only that, but when was the last time that you read the Constitution. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to determine the jurisdiction of federal courts. I don’t believe that this was a wise use of this constitutional power, but it certainly wasn’t an illegal one.

  53. Thanks for the comment, DKL. Good to have you around.


  1. Ex Post says:

    Schiavo Anyone? Or Another Plea About the Charge

    I want to weigh in on the biggest legal matter since…Michael Jackson? I basically know as much as the next person on this, but I have read the statute that Congress passed and I have views on the federalism implications that hysterics at the Times …