Saturday, July 24, 2010

sport of cheerleading?

one of the fairly minor stories in the news recently has been the rather odd question of whether cheerleading can be called a sport. A connecticut US district court has declared that it isn't. a small connecticut university says it is.

as a fan of neither of sports nor of cheerleading, i find it an interesting question, in a very disinteresting way. the only sport i have ever liked is figure skating, and i like it more for its artistic than its athletic qualities. adults running around playing with balls and bats and hockey pucks seem silly to me, grownups paid to do large-scale versions of children's games. living in boston, i view the red sox simply as infrequent obstructions to my subway travels, and am relieved when the season is over. it was funny when the soccer championships were suddenly all over the news, and i kept getting congratulatory or commiserating emails from friends who thought my love of the netherlands would extend to their sports teams. it doesn't.

for cheerleading, i have even less interest, and more dislike. it has always seemed to me an unsavory combination of camp following, standing-by-your-man, and the sanitized wholesome-porn of the beauty pageant.

the compacting of a form of publicly worshiping male athletes into an athletic form of its own seems like a bizarre notion, but it raises interesting questions. it arises out of a law that came into being out of a respect [grudgingly given, i surmise] for women: male high-school and college sports were being funded by their institutions; female sports teams were not funded, or at best less funded. now, women's football, women's baseball, women's volleyball must now be equally funded.

this was terrific for women on these teams. but it turned out to be only a partial answer to the discrimination question. though Title IX required universities to give equal opportunities to female athletics as to male athletics, or lose all government funding. at first the answer seemed relatively simple. give women their own basketball and football teams, and perhaps add a few more sports like volleyball for women. in some cases, however, this has been enough. but many schools have discovered over the years that "sports" as traditionally defined are less interesting overall to women than to men, and this meant that women's teams were being less funded than men's, however much the institutions tried to equalize it.

i remember reading a few years ago of one college that saved its funding when someone came up with the idea of creating a synchronized [figure] skating team. the ice as already there for the hockey team; why not use it for a more 'feminine' sport? at least as of the time i read the article, this worked perfectly, and the the new synchronized skating team gained modest fame as one of the best in the world, while the rest of the sports program remained unheralded outside the college.

the subject has been in the news lately, because quinnipiac university in connecticut dropped it women's volley ball team and substituted competitive cheerleading in a general overhaul of the sports depatment [golf and outdoor track, both treated as male sports, were also dropped].

the women's volley ball team sued the university and won their case. it creates a complicated situation though, since women in sports were suing against a program that involved MORE women being funded for sports--if indeed cheerleading was allowed to be called a sport. it's a controversy bound to pop up at other schools, with the country's lousy economy and fewer students being able to afford college.

what makes it so interesting to me, who wouldn't go near a volleyball game or a cheerleading competition, is that it will require a larger definition of sports, or a willingness on the part of the government and the universities to reconsider the privilege given to sports over other voluntary endeavors. why should sports in an academic institution be given government funding in the first place? shouldn't funding be reserved to the activities the universities are created for--intellectual activities, courses on a range of subjects? i raise the question, and in fact i would like to see this happen, but it won't. it is,however, worth hypothetical consideration.

since, for better or worse, it won't happen, another consideration is to add similar funding requirements to other extra-curricular activities. i've seen some terrific theatre, opera, and modern dance in colleges. i may be wrong, but i don't think these are government funded in any large way. if so, and if seems that as many female as male students are involved in them, could they not be included in a larger definition of what is funded? certainly they require as much skill as football does, so for that matter do traditional female skills like quilting, embroidering, etc--at least if they're done well.

more likely, and with precedent in the larger world, is to expand the definition of sports. the rise of cable tv, and with it 24-hour-a-day sports stations, has the interesting and sometimes bizarre result in the redefining of sports activities. championship poker seems to me an odd sport, since though it requires great mental skills, the only physical activity need is an ability to flip a card over. but it does offer an opportunity to expand other activities into 'sports.' if physical strength and dexterity are at all important, surely cheerleading requires a great deal more of those than poker does. competitive dance is also a sport now in the world of cable sports networks: perhaps this is a result of the fact that figure skating, and in particular its most controversial form , ice dance, is an olympic sport. if the colleges were permitted to follow suit, with the blessing and bucks of the department of education, the funding problems might be lessened.

and cheerleading? that offers yet another problem. can an activity whose function is to ceremonially worship a recognized sport be seen as a sport in itself? even with the occasional but real presence of some male cheerleaders, and with the fact that cheerleading is sometimes done for female teams it remains in its origins and in its execution secondary to the major sport for which it provides encouragement and inspiration.

one way or another, and in ways i doubt that many feminists of the second wave foresaw, the results of feminist activity seem to be creating a challenge to the world of sports. and that, at least, deserves to be cheered for.

Friday, July 23, 2010

shirley sharrod and "black racism"

it really is unbelievable. not the malicious attack on a righteous and innocent woman. that's slimy, evil, disgusting--but believable. this comes from the same crowd that gave us obama as leftwing terrorist-foreigner-muslim-wanna-be-killer-of-the-elderly and generally everything they perceive as evil. if this crew ever embraced truth, they have long since abandoned it. nor have their lies ever been subtle.

so, no, there's nothing surprising about Fox News getting an edited tape from one of their own that appears to show a black liberal woman admitting to discriminating against poor white farmers.

what is shocking is the way in which the white house and the NAACP--the NAACP!--rushed to act on this Rreport," and demand that shirley sharrod, white-hating black racist, instantly resign her position as the president's Director of Rural Development. there's no room in our government, no room in our civil rights movement, for this dangerous woman. so dangerous, in fact, that we can't even wait to fire her in person. make her pull over in her car, and instantly 'resign.' she can't be permitted to drive home or to the supermarket or wherever she was going, until she resigns. did they think she was driving off to commit another act of brutal racism? i'm surprised they stopped at that. why didn't they just arrest her?

or lynch her?

yeah, i know that sounds melodramatic. she wasn't killed, she wasn't beaten, there was no threat of physical violence. i shouldn't exaggerate.

but nothing exists in a vacuum. history creates context. and the history that informs this whole incident is the history of the lynch mob, the slave ships, the very real racism that permeates our society as it always has. fox news is right about one thing: this story is absolutely about racism. racism so engrained that, when a black woman is accused of an offense against white people, then even white liberals--even some black liberals--will jump to the conclusion that she is guilty, and guilty of something very evil indeed. in the old days, when bigots knew they would get away with it, they would have branded her an uppity negro. now they are shrewd enough to use the language of anti-bigotry against her instead.

how could obama, his white house appointees, or the naacp not have known that, or at least suspected it, right away? this wasn't a report coming from bill moyers, or cnn news, or even some local newscast. it came from fox news, famous for distorted 'news' reports. how could they fail to at least do what any Journalism 101 student would have learned, what is built into our basic legal system? check the facts, make sure that what you're told really happened. innocent until proven guilty. how in this high tech era could it not occur to them that maybe there was more on the original tape, that she could not have simply walked into this naacp meeting, announced that she didn't care about poor white farmers, and then left? the woman was giving a speech. and somewhere the rest of the tape would exist, and would either have proved her accusers right or exonerated her.

i would like to see at least one good thing to come out of this, and that is the refusal to allow the right to take over the language of oppression. remember back in primaries, when the hitherto unknown alaskan governor hit the scene? remember her use of her children to further her career? and remember her pride in announcing that when she had learned the child she was bearing would have Down's Syndrome, she "chose" (heavily stressed) to continue her pregnancy? wild applause all around her, while she triumphantly smiled as though she had won a point over those liberal feminists--as if a gang of NARAL members were going to march in screaming 'kill the fetus.' and suddenly we all had to make sure that the world knows that we really beleived she made a wonderful choice, a choice that honored all womanhood. Thus she the facts that she opposed choice and that anyone who described themselves as 'pro choice' would of course support the choice she had made were virtually erased.

this distortion, as far as i can tell, had no lasting effects. the co-optation of the word 'racism' has had a different history. a dictionary definition might define 'racism' as any dislike of another person because of their race. but 'racism' is not an old word; it was a word that came out of the civil rights movement--out of the specific history of white oppressing blacks. it's a word that implicitly addresses power and the ability to use that power against others. a black person who dislikes whites generically may be wrong, rude, bigoted, and may act this out in ways dangerous enough to require restraint. but s/he does not have a history of the ability to legally and socially impose the effects of that dislike on the disliked group. black people in america did not own white people; they did not force white people into specific toilets or the back of the bus. white men were not dragged to trees and lynched because they were suspected of having sex with black women, or because they owned too much property. this isn't a simple reversal; i don't like tall people and you don't like short people. well, gee, let's just both fight against our foolish prejudices. maybe in some far-off future, it will become that. it hasn't yet.

if anything proves that america has not outlived its racist history, it is this: in the name of fighting racism, a group of white people co-opt a black president and a civil rights organization into punishing a black woman without benefit of trial, or even of basic investigation. if glen beck calls it racism, it must be racist. well, he certainly does know about racism; he's practiced it long enough. it would appear that he's in good company.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

the arizona tea party

i hadn't planned to write about the immigration stuff, and have several other topics on my blog-list, but yesterday i made a comment on facebook about arizona's law and a friend posted back with a relevant question: do i think we should open the borders and simply let anyone come in? when i tried to answer, i realized it was too complex to confine to a facebook 'news' comment, so here it is.....

there's just so much to this question, and much of it rooted in history--in multiple histories. so i'm trying to discuss it in several different parts.

1. since history is so crucial, i need to start on the most practical premise. whatever the govt does -- and i'm trying to avoid here the 'we' that implies all of us make these decisions. 'we' don't. the government, the rich, the corporations, they make the functional decisions. they make the laws. 'we' get to vote on some of the things they do, or which of them represents and enforces the laws. so whatever the government does, this is 2010, and the US is a rich superpower, which will make laws, many of which must be made and all of which will be obeyed by most of us, out of belief in the righteousness of 'law' or out of 'patriotism' or out of belief in a specific law or, i suspect most commonly, out of lethargy and/or cowardice. but laws will exist, and to whatever extent 'we the people' can affect them, we need to consider them in any practical effort to deal with situation they involve. thus the question becomes not whether there should be laws against illegal immigration, but what laws might be the most helpful to the people they impact on. what then makes the arizona law the best, the worst, or whatever?

2]the arizona law stinks. as most progressives have noted, it is racist. giving the governor the benefit of the doubt, let's say she truly doesn't mean it to be racist. okay, it's a large benefit of a large doubt, but i'm willing to let her have it.
but that doesn't make it any the less racist. the fact is that the particular illegal immigrants involved in this question are not flying in from denmark. i would be willing to bet that if this law passes, not a single blue-eyed blond will be stopped by the police, unless she's traveling with a dark-skinned friend. they will be looking for mexicans, who tend to be darker skinned than euro-americans. they will be dark skinned regardless of their immigration status, which means that legal immigrants and their offspring will be harrassed and will be forced to carry documentation with them at all times. this is only a step or 2 removed from 'colored' toilets and water fountains. it inherently applies only to people who look like they might be mexican. this will involve not only hispanic people, whatever their status is, but pakistanis, indians, people from the near- or mid-eastern countries, native americans, and [ironically] lighter skinned african americans. since the police have nothing else to go on , they will have only their own visual judgement t determine who looks like they might be illegal. whatever their individual beleifs, the police will either have to enforce racism or risk losing their jobs.

3]whatever ends up being done legally, it will have to be hypocrical. the history of the US is a history of illegal immigrants--or of immigrants that would have been illegal if the Native Americans had anticipated what would happen to them. europeans came to the americas to escape poverty, imprisonment, the rigid class systems of their homelands. they were the 'tired, the poor,' the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free.' they were the equivalent of the mexicans trying to cross our borders. that alone should highlight the built-in hypocracy of any current anti-immigration policies.

then consider what these tired/poor/freedom-yearning invaders did; they took over the land, expelled and/or massacred the people already there, destroying in the process the social organizations that had existed on this land for centuries.

4] finally, as each new wave of immigrants came here, the descendants of those early disenfranchised europeans used them for cheap labor, persecuted them, eventually more or less absorbed them into the dominant culture [i'm leaving out here that vast company of unwilling 'immigrants,' the african slaves, who as we know were treated even worse than the desperately willing arrivals.] i'm not suggesting our history is worse than other countries' in that sense. historically, you come to a new country either as an immigrant, in which case you'll be treated as a second class citizen or worse, or as an invader, in which case you get to do the oppressing. there aren't many pretty pictures here.

5] so back to point 1. immigrants from poorer countries have come to the US, and will continue to do so. Laws will be made to make sure this is done legally and in limited numbers. such laws are necessary if the majority of us, or at least of the non-poor among us, are to go on living our more comfortable lives. how can these laws be the least unethical laws possible? [a moment to pray to whatever being created me: thank you for not making me a politician or law enforcer. this makes it much easier to worry about ethical laws.] i would suggest looking at who has benefited from large numbers of illegal, and thus desperate, inhabitants. the well to do will need to hire legal workers at minimum wage, so their interests shouldn't be considered. on a purely practical level, they benefit from controlled illegal immigration. if the 'girl' who cleans your house is here illegally, she isn't going demand decent wages. that needs to be factored in to whatever laws happen. somehow, the country's history needs to be acknowledged in considering how to do to illegal immigrants what was not done to the country's earliest settlers. that should function at least as a curb to the more cruel or rigid legislations.

Given how many of our legislators are christian, as they are constantly telling the rest of us, i would like to see them read their own new testament before they make immigration legislation. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. whatsoever you have done to the least of my brethren you have done also unto me. if you really believe that, then keep in mind that whatever laws you make against illegal immigrants, you are making against your own messiah. while i don't want to see any legislation being made on theological grounds, it's not a bad idea for all legislators to examine their consciences, as the catholics say, before supporting any laws. religion does not belong in the laws of a free country, but compassion, under any inspiration, does.

Friday, July 16, 2010

and in the news...

lately i've been noticing stories in the news that aren't necessarily headlines but strike a chord with me.

the vatican has come up with program for finding and dealing with sex-abusing priests. You'd think that the church's obsession with sex might have caused them to act on this phenomenon long ago, but presumably child rape isn't as serious an offense as consenting sex between adults.
it is, however, as bad as some other things. it's even as bad as...well, i hate to bring up something really nasty-- but, presumably to emphasize how terrible raping children is, they compared it to an equally horrible sin: ordaining women bishops. this is very bad, because all 12 of jesus's apostles were men, which means he didn't want women getting in on the act. i admire their theological purity, but i do wonder why it doesn't go further: it seems clear to me that since jesus chose only 12 apostles, the church should have only 12 priests--preferably fishermen. anyway, i'm glad they have finally decided that child rape is at least as bad as female ordination, and next time i'm walking down the street and see some woman being ordained, i'm calling the cops.

next in my little pile of clippings is mel gibson. and here i'm actually reacting to earlier gibson news. he's a batterer and should be imprisoned like any other batterer would be. but the earlier news was about his crumbling marriage and his adultery. and that is none of the public's business. the combination of salaciousness and naivete around the sex lives of celebraties has gotten way out of hand i felt lucky being in europe last winter, when i was able to escape most of the fuss about tiger woods. but even there, cnn international kept me up to date on the mistress-list. clearly, along with global warming, the international economy slump, and various international wars, a golf player's sex life was a major global concern.

i always find these things embarrassing--like i'd inadvertently walked in on someone's bedroom at a particularly awkward moment. it's so very much none of my business. if tiger woods is interesting, it's because of his tennis skills. if mel gibson is interesting, it's because of his acting skills [he was a surprisingly good hamlet]. i really hated all the fuss about bill clinton: he was voted on for his poliitics, not his sex life. why were we all barraged by the details of an ordinary and fairly tawdry affair? that was hilary's concern, not the public's. my life has been singularly unenriched by the fact that i've seen my president's semen on tv. and if i wanted him impeached, it would have been for nafta, not monica. his forced apology to the american people made me cringe.there's much to be said for the privacy of the confessional.

the only exceptions are the obvious ones. i do delight in the public humiliation of someone who's made a career of telling the rest of us how to conduct our love lives, and then run off to their mistresses or try to pick up men in public toilets. they DO owe us apologies, not for their affairs but for their hypocracy. and i remain angry at john edwards. again, not because of his escapades. not even for the shabbiness of using his image of stalwart husband to a cancer-stricken wife. but with the lewinsky mess, he must have seen that the 'gentlemen's agreement' between the press and major politicians, which for years had made such personal details taboo topics, was gone. he had to have known that the press was bound find out and exploit every aspect of a politician's life. the american public was very lucky that the edwards affair came out only after the presidential elections. many of us wanted him to be the democratic candidate. suppose he had been, and his affair came to light before the election? he was willing to take the chance that he'd be found out sooner rather than later, and we'd have ended up with mccain and palin in the white house. that his ambition and libido together mattered more to him than his political beliefs IS the legitimate concern of the people who might as a result be deeply affected.

not surprisingly, i've gone on more than i expected on these two stories, and the next two are a little more complex and interesting. but i'll have to wait. it's time to get dressed and go out looking for sinners. if i'm lucky, i might catch a woman in the act of ordination.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

'a gentile and no jew"--jessica in Merchant of Venice

The question of antisemitism in 'merchant of venice' has always seemed pretty silly to me. then again, so has the question of sexism in 'taming of shrew.' [more of that in a later post]. shylock is a stereotypical bad jew, as any audience would expect him to be. no professed jew had lived in england since the jews were expelled in 1290. there were conversos; one famous in queen elizabeth's court, her personal physicin dr. lopez. elizabeth herself had no interest in discovering whether conversos secretly held jewish beliefs or not: early in her reign she had declared that she refused to look for 'windows into men's souls.' if you said you were christian, if you went to church, fasted on official fast days, fine, you were a christian. that others in power disagreed with her was clear, as witnessed by trumped up charges of treason that eventually got dr.lopez executed. conversos lived in constant fear of their enemies, and few would 'act like jews,' whatever their beleifs. neither shakespeare nor his audiences had ever seen an actual jew. this didn't challenge antisemitism; if anything it probably intensified it. there was no normal human being to confront the image of the eternal christ killer.

in 'merchant' shakespeare is much kinder to both proclaimed jews and conversos than most of his contemporaries would have been. much of his greatness i think, lies in his near-inability to ignore human complexity, and there are relatively few absolute monsters in his plays [iago in 'othello' being one of them]. shylock gets one of the greatest and most famous lines in any of the plays, a classic cry against antisemitism: "hath not a jew eyes?...if you prick us do we not bleed? if you poison us, do we not die?" further, when he learns that his daughter jessica has not only stolen all his money and precious jewels, she has traded the ring shylock had long ago given to his long dead wife, he cries out in piercing grief, for once thinking not of his money but of a relic from a beloved wife.

they are wonderful lines; i like to think they moved some of the play's viewers to reconsider their own bigotry. but i doubt it. overall shylock gives the audience pretty much what they wanted---a greedy, evil jew who gets his comeuppance in the end.

but for me, the most appalling antisemitic portrayal in the play is not shylock. it is the jew we're not asked to hate, Shylock's daughter, jessica.

jessica is a good girl--we are expected to admire her, even as we are expected to admire the play's heroine, Portia. indeed by the play's end she and her new husband, are actually living in portia's house. a comparision between her and portia will in fact tell us much about the play. jessica is much milder than the strong-minded portia. even jessica's decision to dress like a man is controlled by lorenzo, though in both cases, the choice is made to help her man. but look at the actions that show their virtue. when we first meet portia, various men are courting her. she herself knows which man she wants, but she is constrained by her late father's command that any suitor must first choose the 'right' one of three closed caskets. portia doesn't like this, and is terrified that she'll have to marry one of the ones she dislikes. she prays that bassanio will be the one to pick correctly. he does--father apparently knows best, and daughter is wise enough to obey his will, even when his death has released her from it. for this, she is shown an admirable character, and perhaps this is why the audience is able to accept her brilliant, lawyerly trick at the play's climax.

but if obedience to a father is wise, why are we not supposed to be angry, when the blushing, modest jessica not only countermands her father's orders [and his implicit will, since we must assume his hatred of christians would include lorenzo], she steals all his money and valuable possessions? these include the ring shylock had given her dead mother. but she not only steals it; we are later told that she has traded it for a pet monkey. that she would leave her father, with whom she has had a difficult life, is one thing; but the trade of the ring shows a fairly ugly contempt for her mother as well. in betraying her father, she also betrays her religion. this point is emphasized in several lines. her father's servant decides she's really not jewish, even before her flight withh lorenzo :"Most beautiful pagan, most sweet jew: if a christian did not play the knave and get thee, i am much deceived." Specifically because she steals her father's money, one of lorenzo's friends exultantly cries, 'now by my hood, a gentile and no jew!' it is clear that her flight with a christian makes her a de facto converso, her act of daughterly betrayal as praiseworthy as portia's act of daughterly obedience. she is the play's 'good jew' precisely because she is such a bad jew, and finally, no jew at all.

'merchant' is the only play about jews in shakespeare's works, but his willingness to express antisemitism is reflected in casual dialogue elsewhere. in one of the most gloriously comic scenes in the canon, Much Ado's benedick, tricked into thinking beatrice loves him, realizes his own love for her.'if i do not take pity on her, i am a villain, he reasons; 'if i do not love her, i am a jew.' no other mention of jews is made in the play; it is simply a gratuitous allusion to something we all know is bad, as a villain is bad. in henryIV part 1, falstaff, cheerfully lying about his courage, swears that he fought off 16 armed attackers, and that if that isn't true, 'i am a jew else, an 'ebrew jew.' in Macbeth, one of the things the evil witches are throwing into their disgusting brew is 'liver of blaspheming jew.'

the point of all this is not that we should deprive ourselves of the greatest literature in the english language, nor is it to condemn shakespeare as an anti-semite. True, the lines and the whole Merchant play show us that he was complicit with anti-semitism, whatever he himself might have felt. my own guess is that if asked, he would have shrugged and said 'sure, they're bad; they killed christ.' it certainly would have made it easier for him to write such lines. but he was a human being, living in a specific culture in a specific era. to dislike him for his use of antisemitism seems to me as pointless as thinking he was stupid because he rode a horse into london instead of taking the train. his genius doesnt consist in undermining the assumptions he grew up with.

we ourselves, in our culture, seem to have some difficulty with the difference between noting bigotry and condemning the person who expresses it, without looking at the surrounding culture. it is important to recognized aspects of anything we study or enjoy, but also to understand why those aspects exist. context matters in moral judgement. a shakespeare living today would indeed be worthy of anger, because today he would be making a choice to embrace his own bigotry, or to cynically sell bigotry to pander to an audience. as it is, we can regret the prejudices he reflected, and be grateful for all the wonders of his writing and his deep understanding of the human soul. those are not contradictory feelings.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

'he did not die in vain'

these are the last words in a touching new york times online article by a soldier who fought in afghanistan, and had recently learned of the death of a comrade in battle. they are common words, and they clearly offer some comfort to loved ones in the face of the greatest of human losses. and maybe that justifies them.

but conceptually, outside of its immediate and personal helpfulness, i find the phrase disturbing. what does it mean to 'die in vain'? do we die in vain if our death isn't part of some presumed good cause? a dear young man who was a student where i teach died a couple of years ago of leukemia. as far as i know, he didn't contract the illness through participation in any righteous activity. does that mean he died in vain? he died tragically, as does anyone who doesn't live to old age.

but what about those who do die in old age? do they die in vain because they die of common illnesses and because they live as long as can be expected?

and how can the in-vainness [ i can hardly say 'vanity] of a death be proven? [is there a word encompassing the phrase 'not in vain'?]

my brother died in 1981 at the age of 33. he had lymphoma, and he had been in vietnam in an area sprayed with agent orange. he believed the two were connected, but of course there was no way to prove it. he was pleased that i spoke of his death at anti-war rallies. it helped him to feel his dying might be of use, might keep some other young man from going to the next war, or keep the government from using deadly poisons in the next war. maybe the fact that i could bring his experience to the antiwar movement made him die 'not in vain.' maybe that was true even if his cancer wasn't caused by agent orange, since it still functioned as an antiwar tool.

but how can we judge that? others strongly beleived the war was right; from that perspective, keith's death itself might not have been in vain, but my use of it to undermine the war might be seen to lessen the not-vainness of his death.

what about that soldier from today's war? his comrade clealry beleived he had died not-in-vain, because he had died in fighting a just and necessary war. to antiwar people, he perhaps died not-in-vain because his death illustrates what our government does to its own expendible citizens. as victim or hero, his life can be seen as not-in-vain; but the reasons are mutually exclusive.

if there is life after death, then presumably none of us dies in vain; we move from this realm to the next, as god meant us to. if there's nothing after, perhaps we all die in vain.

but to go beyond that, to attrbute vainness or nonvainness to a specific death or groups of death, seems to evade the one fact basic to death: we all die. i think in the long run, that whatever meanings attach to specific death, no death is either in vain or not in vain; it simply IS. there is larger space in defining one's life--heroic, cowardly, admirable, contemptible, or some combination of all of these. for me, that is the comfort, or such comfort as exists. but death? if it has a transcendent meaning, we'll maybe get to figure that out in the next life........or maybe not.