If I Stay (review)

In the early months of the year I had just finished a massive Victorian novel by George Elliot. I needed something easy to chew through in a day, so I picked If I Stay by Gayle Forman. As most American novels marketed to teenage girls and (I suspect more so) their mothers, It is short, formulaic, and allows clichés to run wild. Much easier to communicate an idea to someone if you use the most well worn examples. Two exceptional musicians, one a future rock-star, the other a superb concert cellist, but falling in love… It could be nauseating, except that it isn’t.

I really enjoyed the book, so much so that I postponed writing this review until I had seen the movie. So this is in fact a review of both, how lucky you are! The book was written in 2009, the film was released in 2014 and starred Chloë Grace Moretz.

Both complement each other, and both are unrelenting tear jerkers. I apologise if the flow of this piece is a little strained, I don’t want to get particular about dividing evenly between the book and the film. I read the book in January, and saw the film last night. So I will concentrate more on the film.

Both focus on the critical point (mild spoiler alert); how do you live after your family has been killed and your own life hangs in the balance? When your will to live is the only thing keeping you alive, how do you stay when your world is gone? This is the purpose of the book and the film, and they both handled it with grace.

The difference between the two is merely the translation of the written word into visuals. Sometimes the movie is more natural in conveying things — like teen romance — and sometimes the events in the book have more raw power. When you are forced to imagine the broken body of a father with no reference beyond your own experience, the face you put to the body gives the scene more emotional depth than cinema could ever achieve.

Chloë Grace Moretz is the best actress of her age. I do not doubt that, and I am willing to debate those who think otherwise. She plays Mia, the talented cellist who has applied to Julliard, and who has to choose life without  her family, or death without everything else. A problem I had going into the film was that it was set amid the cloudy backdrop of the pacific north west. I feared a Twilight influence in the romance, and was ecstatic when I found this not to be true.

The romance is dealt with honestly, portraying the desperate intensity of young love without belittling it. It neither makes it so suffocatingly strong that the doey faces of the protagonists are burned into your mind. And, the relationship of the ex-rocker parents is a source of comic relief, and refreshing realism.

What really impressed me was the supporting cast. Apart from Moretz, no-one is familiar, although most are superb acting veterans. When Hollywood tones itself down, and lets the lights of the indie-film community shine without the A-list stars, the result is all the more triumphant.

The film is a tear jerker as I have said, and for me the scene (mild spoiler alert) in which Mia’s grandfather tells her how much she means to him, and that she has permission to go if she wants to, that scene had the tears rolling down my cheeks. How does America have such acting talent and not use it at every opportunity? I may have to rewatch several scenes as an emotional catharsis.Even Alfred Hitchcock said a reason to see some movies is to have a good cry.

Ultimately the book and the film are so complementary that images from the film on the new book covers seems absolutely right. I urge you to see or read either, and stop for a few hours to consider what is of value in your life. If you ever had to ask the question, would you stay?

Further thoughts on euthanasia

The dangers — rational and not — inherent in legalising euthanasia do not and should not prevent a thorough public debate on the matter.

The choice to end the suffering of a person objectively understood to be in the final stage of their life, is a human choice. Suffering repels us.
The suffering of our loved ones tortures us.

When it comes to individuals and their own bodies the law respects the right of a person to refuse medical treatment, invasive procedures,
the sexual advances of someone else, and unwanted pregnancies.

A woman may decide to terminate the potential life of another, but you can’t decide to be assisted in extremisto end your pointless suffering.

This issue will not go away. As long as medical advances afford us longer and longer lives, our ends will be all the more drawn out. Torture is
cruel and unusual. It shouldn’t be visited on people brimming with love for someone dear to them, whose death is neither speedy, not painless.

To legalise euthanasia is not to ‘play God’, it is to play human.

Autonomous till demented

The Lecretia Seales case in the High Court in Wellington is continuing with submissions made yesterday by the Care Alliance, which is against the legalisation of euthanasia.

The groups lawyer Victoria Casey, reportedly said that disabled people, including children were being euthanised in other countries. For example in 2013 97 people with dementia were euthanised in the Netherlands. Now I am not sure if Victoria Casey used that as evidence, all I have to go on is the NZ Herald account, since I am not a fly on that particular court room wall.

However, I do have at my disposal a mountain of research from around the world on anything to do with health, and I can perhaps help to clear the air on this particular matter.

First of all the Netherlands example makes it appear that there is some kind of conveyor belt of death upon which physicians can place the demented elderly. In fact the first case of a patient with advanced dementia being euthanised in the Netherlands was in 2011. The case was duly reported and assessed by a review committee which judged that in this case all legal criteria for due care was met. There is quite a stringent system in place to protect against abuse, and although dementia is very much a disability, it is misleading to say that people with disabilities face euthanasia. I believe my point is clear.

The difficulty with dementia is that the patient who has it is no longer competent. Therefore they cannot voluntarily request that a doctor help them die even if that is precisely what they would want if they were competent. It is an old fashioned catch-22, and such a paradox may well befuddle the legal system here, but the Dutch have carefully come up with a solution. The advanced euthanasia directive (AED) may be used in lieu of a voluntary request for euthanasia if the patient is not competent. It must be in writing, and all the legal criteria for due care still applies.

A qualitative study was published earlier this year that found that members of the general public understand dementia to be a debilitating and degrading disease. Such a disease poses a problem for assessing the wishes of patients, and the AED manages to solve the problem of direct communication in those cases. Still, physicians are reluctant to replace direct communication with the patient, and on these grounds the study concludes that the use of AEDs is limited.

On the matter of child euthanasia, which sounds more like a grenade lobbed into the courtroom by the anti-euthanasia brigade, the reality is far more sensible. Belgium and the Netherlands both legalised euthanasia with strict measures in place in 2002. Both countries view ‘legal age’ as less important than whether a child is able to make decisions concerning themselves, and their welfare. This is not the slaughter of undesirable children in Nazi Germany. If anyone doubts the value the health system places on disabled young people, I invite them to come and see  me at my place of work.

In Belgium you have to be either over 18, or an emancipated minor to be granted euthanasia. In the Netherlands the age is 16, or 12 provided one is terminally ill and has parental consent. The issue is whether or not one is competent to make decisions, and in the current era personal autonomy has so replaced doctor paternalism that if a patient ignores a doctors recommendation for treatment and goes to some spook with an elongated title, the patient is treated as some kind of hero.

How often stories appear in the newspaper about people who ignored doctors orders. Some old Granny diagnosed with cancer of the g-spot with only weeks to live, but that was years ago and only last week she was base jumping in the Andes… You cannot uphold personal autonomy with one hand while drowning the decision of how and when to die with the other. This is an issue that needs to be discussed. It needs to be debated. And just as I am hostile to the idea that society as a whole should decide whether I marry a woman or a man (or both), I am disgusted by the notion that some hysterical group will prevent me from one day dying with dignity.

Finally, to return to the case of Lecretia Seales, she is not a child, she is not demented, and yet she is terminally ill. Her legal career has been brought to a close, as has her ability to walk, and easily swallow. She is competent, and we all know what her wishes are. All her doctor requires is the assurance that they will not face prosecution for murder if they help Seales die peacefully at a time of her choosing. Failing a proper rethink of euthanasia practice in New Zealand, we can at least do that much.

Set in stone

The United States formal constitution put in place a model for democratic government for which
there was no contemporary example, save the burgeoning British system which was then tyrannised
by George III.

The resulting supreme law of the land contains formidable safeguards to prevent tyranny, but is very much a product
of 1789. Many parts of it are anachronistic, but resist reform because of the rigidity of codified constitutions.

By contrast the British Constitution has continued to evolve organically for the last two centuries. The UK has
become more and more democratic while the US is stuck in a tyranny left behind by the founders.
A tyranny by the system itself.

Biology tells us that adaptability is the key to survival. The one eyed man may be king in the land of the blind,
but the one who develops their other senses best will be better off than the rest. America is blind and has it’s fingers firmly
jammed in its ears. Thus the American system is mortally sick due to its intransigence — its chronic inability to adapt.

The circle has been squared for many years by the attitudes within the American people; their optimism, their deeply rooted altruism,
and their drive to succeed at all costs. But what happens when that isn’t enough anymore? When the rise of China and India outstrip
American knack for floating on a paradox? Like a bather in the dead sea. These are questions deserving answers, but with no
obvious champion to lead the cause.

When the British Empire disappeared and the UK went into decline it did not have a culture of exceptionalism to fall back on.
Eventually Margaret Thatcher arouse as its champion who gave it a prolonged slapping for eleven and a half years until it was
ready for the Blair revolution to take it into 21st century modernity.

With pride and the exceptionalism that we outside America find so nauseating and yet so unbelievably powerful, the USA could
hold another constitutional convention, and address their dusty founding texts, moth-eaten and opaque as they are. Leaving the
more magnificent ideals intact they could look at everything from gun control to electoral reform (the electoral college is a nonsense
from when snail mail was the pinnacle of connectivity) and guided by the principles of liberty and enlightenment values that shepherded
the original revolution — then we shall watch in awe the ascent of the great bald eagle. 

A state built in this image is worth repeating. But the American paradox doesn’t work elsewhere, and it is now failing at home.
Should the status quo remain then no matter who comes to leaf it — Elizabeth Warren, Rand Paul — with the audacity to hope,
the system will first bring doubt, then despair.

Unemotional Laws

Hear ye! That insatiable ego, that mouth full of feet, that moralizer bereft of a moral centre, the man who wears more foundation than the former Bruce Jenner; the one and only Michael Laws has called our attention to his latest Facebook snarl.

This time he has chosen Hillary Barry as his target, with the accusation that she was unprofessional for breaking down during 3 News after it broadcast a tribute video to her long time friend and colleague John Campbell. Apparently Campbell’s leaving Mediaworks is purely because of his ego being tarnished — on this I have to grant Laws his point on the grounds that his knowledge of the ego is unmatched. The man would complain that God has a nicer seat than him.

Where I must take issue with him is on the point about Hillary Barry’s priorities being wrong, and the prowling misogynism underlying the critique (Laws referred to her as “girl”). Over the years the evening news has used a variety of techniques to provoke the emotions of the viewers. A tribute video is supposed to illicit the kind of reaction we saw from Barry. She was momentarily caught in the trap set by her own medium — an occupational hazard that has plenty of examples on YouTube.

That Michael Laws misses this point is unsurprising, but also unseemly. It is disheartening to be reminded that some individuals lack elementary emotional knowledge. I don’t mean that one has to empathize with Hillary Barry, even the sociopath grasps emotional theory in an  academic way. I mean that other people have no real existence to Laws. He is completely solipsistic, and that’s why his radio times and Facebook tirades are so hollow. There’s nothing there for us.

John Campbell leaves a show with which he has tried every day to give us substance, and for that I mourn. I hope he isn’t confined to a Sunday program, where substantial journalism holds out through its death throes.

One last point on priorities. I think crying over a close friend is evidence of a human being who has come to terms with what matters most, and with that I say Hillary Barry’s priorities are dead right.

Where did that paltry surplus go?

In about a week the government delivers its annual budget — its seventh straight deficit budget. Just for the folk who voted National because they promised to get the books back in black. At some stage. The cut in ACC levies are the final nail in the coffin of Bill English’s predicted anaemic surplus, and they prove a basic point (that Labour still fails to grasp). You can promise a strong economy and come up short, you can even promise not to raise taxes and then hike up GST. But you can’t go to the voters promising to tax more. Even to get out of the bog of serial deficits.

Labour went in to the last election pledging to raise the top rate of income tax, and introduce a capital gains tax. Aside from the good they would do — lift revenue to produce surpluses, shrink the wealth gap by allowing for tax cuts to the middle class, and de-pressurise the Auckland property market by taxing developers — and it was rewarded with its worst election result in eighty years.

The public simply doesn’t care about budget deficits. They have no direct affect on anyone’s pockets, and are therefore a theoretical negative to an experience based electorate. Michael Cullen ran surpluses every year Labour was in power (but would have run his first deficit had Labour won the  2008 election), and sure enough his economic genius was well regarded, but it couldn’t trump the push for change John Key was playing.

Taxes matter because everyone earning money and spending money pays them. Taxes on the rich matter to the poor matter because the poor aspire to be rich. This is irrefutable, an I would say self-evident. A deficit of $348 million (as is forecast) is manageable and comes at no cost to public opinion. Taxes on the wealthy do have a cost, and this is the epicentre of the electoral quake that keeps Labour shaken and stirred. The highest tax rate is 33% for income over $70k (unless you’re a numpty who fails to declare your income to IRD). Under Helen Clark it was 39%. I doubt hitching it up to that level will be a vote winner, and going over 40% would be a suicidal lurch towards political oblivion.

The pertinent question is how can we afford the great things Labour and the Greens want to do with a revenue base that may or may not return the books to a minuscule surplus next year? Once they figure that out the Beehive will be theirs.

David Cameron; the winning loser.

The Tories have won the most slender majority in the House of Commons since Harold Wilson received a majority of four in October 1974.

This is the worst result for a majority Conservative government ever — and let that be remembered. Prime Minister David Cameron may fancy himself as the Tory version of Tony Blair; a youthful moderniser deeply in touch with public opinion, who has shaken the triteness out of being Tory. But Tony Blair won a 66 seat majority at his worst — after Iraq had soured and those on the hard pacifist left were calling him ‘war criminal’. In May 1997 Blair’s landslide was truly titanic, 179 seats, so many in fact that the party leadership had to do an emergency survey of their new MPs to find out just who the hell they all were.

David Cameron is the most defeated victor in more than forty years. He now has to deal with a renegade Scotland, and the Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon who is the only politician in the UK that can claim a mandate. Most pundits believe that a second referendum on Scottish independence is imminent, and if Cameron follows through on his promise to hold a referendum on the EU he may find the fractured Britain isolated from both within and without.

Let it not be forgotten that the Labour party saved the union with the passionate campaigning of ex-PM Gordon Brown, and the Labour party is now out in the cold. The Eton and Oxford educated David Cameron may find his voice lost in the din of common displeasure. The only solace to be found is in the election of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the only Tory to have mass appeal, and so made of slease that such scandals boost his popularity. Cameron cannot control Boris by giving him a cabinet post because Johnson is continuing to be London’s Mayor until next year, so he is now poised to be a wrecking ball within the commons without any oversight by the Prime Minister.

I am betting on David Cameron lasting two to three years at the most in number 10 before the blonde bombshell on a bike rides into Downing Street to take the Prime Minister’s crown. Then we may see a real Tory majority, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Margaret Thatcher.