Friday, May 06, 2016

Book 33: Who gets chosen, or, should Superman just stand around pushing a lever?

So much of life is random chance.

In Isle Of View, a character is introduced to Xanth: Jenny the Elf. She's one of the "Elfquest" elves who winds up in Xanth through a hole in the... something... that quickly gets plugged after two monsters briefly come through.

In the author's note, Piers Anthony explains that "Jenny The Elf" is based on Jenny Gildwarg, who in the late 80s was hit by a drunk driver and ended up in a coma when she was about 12. Her parents thought it might help if she got a note from Piers Anthony, since she was a Xanth fan. He wrote her and asked if she would like to be a character in his next book, and if so, would she prefer to be an elf or an ogre?  Jenny reacted and said Yes and then using her eyes said she wanted to be an elf.

So Anthony wrote her into the book, and later said he went to meet her at a convention.  He later published some of his letters to her into a book Letters To Jenny and is said to have donated 10% of her profits to her.

After I finished Isle Of View (which wraps up the Dolph-is-engaged-to-two-people storyline by having Dolph fall in love after all with the girl who would otherwise die if he didn't marry her) I googled around and tried to find out what ever happened to Jenny Gildwarg.  (Google, by the way, is terrible for stuff like that. Google returns the most popular results, and in a world where Piers Anthony has written hundreds of books and is famous, and two of those or so mentioned Jenny Gildwarg, you will get dozens of pages of results talking about the book and how it came to be written, but no follow ups (if they exist) on the girl herself because (presumably) those are not as popular.)

I wasn't able to determine whether she is still alive -- she'd be about 40 now -- but the book made me think about how some people get chosen and others do not.

It's a terrible thing that Jenny Gildwarg was hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed and in a coma.  But Jenny had a famous(ish) author visit her, write her into a book, and pay some of her expenses, which is more than the 24,999 other people injured or killed in drunk-driving accidents that year got.

In May, 1988, a drunk driver in a pickup truck smashed into a bus, causing a gas fire. 27 people died; 34 more were injured. I wasn't able to find any celebrity help for them.

In 2010, Teagan Marti, a 12-year-old, fell from a ride in the Wisconsin Dells and was paralyzed.  Charlie Sheen paid for a therapy dog for her (those cost about $25,000, depending on what training is needed.)  In Texas the other day, a 16-year old girl was killed when a carnival ride flung her off. As of yet, no celebrities have stepped forward to help her out.

A few years back, the "Ice Bucket Challenge" raised all kinds of money for ALS, which is still a disease that every few years makes the news with another possible cure, each of which has yet to pan out.  That 'challenge' raised $100,000,000 for ALS research.  That's a lot of money. Meanwhile, the United States uses a lottery system to determine who gets "Section 8" rental assistance vouchers (intended to help families who on average make $13,000 a year obtain housing.)

I'm not saying that these people did not deserve help; it's not that Teagan Marti was more or less deserving of assistance than the Texas girl (whose friend was injured, also, in the same accident.)  What is obvious though, is that we make poor choices about how best to help people.

I asked Middle Daughter this the other day on our commute from work.  Suppose, I said, that God told you you could pick out one charity in the world, any charity, and God would cure the thing that charity was trying to help. Which one would you pick to do the most good?

"Autism," she said.

To do the most good, I reminded her, and she said yeah but her brothers have autism.

When we think about what will do the most good, we often make decisions that are based on the wrong criteria.  50 Cent the other day posted a video making fun of a janitor with autism; he said the guy was drunk or high.  When he learned the man had autism, he apologized and donated $100,000 to autism research.  I said He should have given that guy $100,000, and then thought: but which would do the most good?

It's entirely possible that Superman's best use would be to generate clean power for people so that the pollution and costs of the way we generate power now would be used to solve other problems. (This, of course, assumes that we would use those resources to solve problems, when in reality we would simply allow them to be redirected to the 1%, making Superman the greatest wealth-generating machine in history.)

Leaving aside whether that would make for a good comic book, how many people, given superpowers, would think I should definitely use these to irrigate drought-ravaged regions? 

The way we decide to help people is based almost entirely on random chance, prejudices, who can afford better advertising budgets, and what is the most exciting.  That's a great way to generate sympathetic news articles and good publicity, and keep life interesting. But it's a pretty awful way to run society.

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