Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Masochists Ought Not Live by the Golden Rule

                                          Things were better once, (yes, really.)

Whenever violence flares in Israel, each side has a plausible claim that the other "started it".  But "it" is here a relative term in this conflict, which which can only be understood from multiple scales of time, distance and culture.  I've organized this post chronologically, since it's the easiest way to try to understand what's going on there, at least for a history major like me.

1.  The Origin Story.

The most depressing view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the one rooted in theology.  Jerusalem is a sacred site in both the Old Testament and the Koran.  Jews believe that the Temple Mount is where "the divine presence" resides.  Sunni Muslims believe that this very same spot is where Mohammed ascended to heaven. Fundamentalist Christians agree with the Jews on the significance of this spot, with some believing that the site must be a Jewish temple in order for the second coming of Christ to happen.

Being a lapsed Catholic Atheist, none of these views have ever been persuasive to me.  And I think the religious dimension of the conflict is over stated.  (Yes, really.)  Of course people pay lip service to the theological importance of this site.  And some small percentage of people are willing to die for that idea. But most of the religious fervor is really the outgrowth of cynical political manipulation.  There is a lot of political grief to be avoided by pretending this fight is about God Almighty.  But really it's about real estate.

I'm old enough to remember when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were thought to be intractable because of the religious differences between Protestants and Catholics there.  But people got over it. I don't expect the Middle East to become as secular as a prosperous Ireland became in the 1990s, but I do take the point that these differences can be overcome, and it doesn't take a miracle to make it so.

2.  The Middle Part of the 20th Century.

Modern day Israel was created by the Western Powers in the aftermath of the near extermination of European Jewry during World War 2.  One popular view is that the allies felt guilty about not doing more to prevent or mitigate the Holocaust.  There is some truth in that.  Britain was certainly anxious to get out of the empire business and Israel seemed like a feel-good story in the immediate post-war years.  Eventually the Brits and the Americans, as is their wont, drew some lines on a map of what had been called Mandatory Palestine (yes, really) and carved the area into an Arab state and a Jewish state.

The Arab world never embraced this plan and soon enough, a war broke out. Israel eventually won that war.  The rest of the Arab world eventually gave up the fight, but refused to recognize Israel as a legitimate state.  Over the next few decades, the cause of the Palestinian people became a popular one in the Arab world.  By 1967, the Arab powers were planning an invasion of Israel.  Israel preemptively attacked those military forces in what became known as the Six Day War for the swiftness with which Israel destroyed the military forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  Israel occupied a large swath of land outside its original borders in order to prevent any future invasion attempts.

So, depending on your point of view, this conflict is the fault of:

a. The Brits in 1948 for cavalierly abandoning a region that it had been responsible for without much concern for what came in its wake.
b. The Arab powers for planning an invasion of Egypt.
c. The Israelis for preemptively starting that war and/or occupying more land in its aftermath.

There is some truth in all of these theories.  Together they add up to the truth.  But most folks only focus one one of them.  Which one they prefer to believe correlates very strongly with their ethnic and religious affiliations. Knowing this little bit of history will do little to resolve the current crisis.

3.  The Recent Past.

In 1979 Egypt became the first Arab power to formally recognize the right of Israel to exist.  In exchange for this, they got back the land  they had lost as a consequence of the Six Day War.  This did not exactly open the flood gates of Arab countries rushing to recognize Israel.  But by the 1990s the international community began to get both sides to talk to one another and Israel eventually agreed to grant autonomy to the portions of their country with majority Arab Muslim populations.  The goal was to eventually create a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians walked away from a deal negotiated with a left-wing Israeli government, and facilitated by the Clinton administration that would have given them almost all of the land they wanted.  The Palestinian Authority was afraid that if it made the concessions required by the deal, more radical elements, such as Hamas, would supplant their standing, and assume political power.  (Spoiler alert: this happened anyway, at least in Gaza, even though Arafat walked away from a very fair offer of a Palestinian state.)

In recent years, Israel has been governed by right-wing coalitions led by the Likud Party. Gaza has been governed by Hamas since 2006.  Hamas and Likud both owe their political status to appearing tough on the other side.  Likud has been very aggressive about building settlements on land that belonged to Palestinians before 1967 and has imposed harsh  restrictions on the people of Gaza.   Hamas refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist and their political appeal is rooted in posturing as the real champions of Palestine, committed to the destruction of Israel.

4. The Current War.

So now we have two peoples governed by parties who owe their political viability to demonizing the other side.  Israel has accomplished great things.  Among these great things is its survival as a pluralistic democracy surrounded by a host of hostile, undemocratic countries.  But its survival has come at a price, not just in blood but to compromises with its own principals.  Israel agreed to let the Palestinian people have a kind of pseudo-sovereignty but has retained de facto military control over its territory and economy.  Worse still, it has continued to build illegal settlements on land acquired after the 1967 war.  Even before this war, the conditions in Gaza were dire and analogies to apartheid South Africa were not without merit.

The Palestinian people in Gaza have reacted to these deprivations by electing governments run by Hamas.  Hamas was born in the 1980s as a reaction to the decision by the PLO to seek a negotiated two-state solution with Israel.  Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the establishment in its place of an Islamic state.  It also dabbles in Holocaust denial and all sorts of unsavory behavior that you would expect from a bunch of religious fanatics raised to believe they are at war with Satan.

During the course of the first half of 2014, Hamas fired about 150 rockets into Israel.  Most of these rockets missed their targets or were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome defense system. Hamas even erected a statue of one such rocket to celebrate this futile campaign.  On June 12th, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped. Three days later, the Israeli government accused Hamas of committing the crime.  They denied it, but in a typical bit of insane political theater, the head of Hamas "blessed the hands that captured" the teenagers, explaining that such actions were a duty of Palestinian people.

So a few weeks later, Israel began to bomb Gaza.  A couple hundred Palestinians were killed.  Hamas increased its own bombing campaign, but to little effect.  Only one Israeli citizen was killed during the opening phase of the current war.  Early on in the conflict, Egypt offered to broker a ceasefire between the two sides.  Israel agreed and held its fire for six hours.  Hamas did not, and continued launching its futile, wasteful, ineffective weapons, which were either shot down by the Iron Dome or landed some place where little damage could be done.  Eventually Israel resumed its rocket campaign, and the body count in Gaza continued to grow, while no additional Israelis died.

Eventually Israel launched a ground offensive.  This of course has caused hundreds of more Palestinian deaths, and resulted in the death of a few Israeli soldiers. The latest estimates are that about 600 Palestinians have died and that 25 Israelis have died.  A majority of the dead Palestinians were civilians.  All but one of the dead Israelis was a soldier. (The three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were also killed, in the run up to the war, as well as one Palestinian teenager who was apparently kidnapped by Israelis to avenge their deaths.)

5.  What's Next: More of the Same.

The war will stretch on for another week or two, perhaps a bit longer.  Eventually Hamas will run out of rockets to fire.  Once the Netanyahu government is convinced that Hamas has been temporarily deprived of its ability to launch significant numbers of rockets into Israel, it will stop shooting.  Then, both sides will declare victory.  And both sides will be right.  Hamas will look "tough" for having refused the ceasefire and for having waged its foolish "resistance" against a far superior military power. Likud will look "tough" for having inflicted a lot of casualties and for temporarily removing an immediate security threat by destroying Hamas' tunnels and depleting its armory.

For awhile, both sides will go back to "normal".  Israel will keep building illegal settlements. Hamas will continue to posture as the one true force of opposition to Zionism.  And in six months, or a year, some other crime or atrocity or diplomatic slight will give one side an excuse to rsume trying to kill the other.

6.  What is to be done?

Israel is not a project of lines hastily drawn by a dying empire on its way out the door.  It is a country.  A rich and powerful one, whose citizens lead a very comfortable lifestyle and whose artists and musicians and scientists are the envy of the world.  It is here to stay.  Eventually I hope it elects a government that realizes that the policies of settlement construction and oppressive occupation are not helpful to its long term interests.

Palestine is still a wish.  It has many friends and world opinion is increasingly sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people.  Perhaps this fight will eventually be remembered as the time that Israel went too far and changed the diplomatic sympathies of its fellow wealthy democracies.  But an even better outcome would be if it became the fight that finally made the people of Gaza realize that Hamas does not have their best interest at heart.  Hamas can not win a military campaign against Israel.  And the Palestinian people can't expect the world's sympathy for very long if they continue to elect leaders that would rather bite the ankles of the enemy than build something positive for its people.

There is no reason that the land of Israel can't be divided into two sovereign nations.  But the current conflict benefits those who are in power there.  It makes it easy for them to stay in power. They don't have to solve the problem for as long as the enemy behaves so inhumanely.

I am not optimistic about this situation being resolved.  Such a resolution will require a degree of foresight and political patience that is not commonly found and is unlikely to be bred by the current cycle of violence.  Eventually someone will have to be the good guy and walk away from a useless, never ending fight in favor of an uncertain future. For Israel this would mean electing a government that recognizes that the construction of settlements on Arab land is counterproductive to long term security and that renounces the harsh restrictions it imposes on the economy and movement of Palestinian people.  For Gaza it would mean electing a government that accepts the permanent existence of Israel and the futility of the military resistance that now serves as a poor, unsatisfying substitute for a realistic vision of its future. In the mean time, Israel will continue to compromise its democratic principles for a false sense of security.  And the people of Hamas will accept a persistent, futile struggle rather than accept the reality of their situation.

The leftist tendency to root for the under dog and to empathize with the oppressed may make Hamas' "resistance" to Israel seem noble. I'll admit that it's hard to accept defeat, particularly when you are so certain that justice is on your side.  The price of this stubborn resistance to reality is being paid by hundreds of unarmed civilians.  They deserve better than that.  They deserve a nation of their own. Spitting into the wind will not get them there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

As I Live and Breathe, It's Philadelphia Freedom

Dark blue states have marriage equality. Green states allow same-sex civil unions. Light blue states were carried by Obama but do not recognize gay relationships.  All of the red states were carried by Romney. At this moment, none have marriage equality or civil unions.

Yesterday I finally got around to updating my marriage equality map.  I did this primarily because Oregon had decided not to appeal a federal court decision to overturn that state's constitutional prohibition of gay marriages.  I fully expected the opposite outcome in Pennsylvania but today was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong.  The Republican governor of Pennsylvania announced  that he would not appeal the decision because such an appeal would be "extremely unlikely to succeed."

So that moves Pennsylvania to the dark blue on our chart. It is the nineteenth state to adopt full marriage equality.  At this moment, the nineteen states with full marriage equality have a total of  231 electoral votes.  If you add in the three states with other forms of legal recognition, those states have 256 electoral votes.  But there are nearly a dozen other states where the ban on gay marriages have been overturned by a judge. One such state is Michigan, the only state where Barack Obama got greater than 51% of the vote in 2012 that doesn't have at least some legal recognition of gay relationships.  Add just Michigan to the mix, and we will have a majority of states that recognize gay couples.  Add the other swing states like Virginia and Ohio and we sail past 300.  

The court battles will rattle around for several months at a minimum.  But the path is clear and we are beyond the point of no return.  Marriage equality is coming.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Oregon Trail

Getting complicated, for now.
Last year saw a rapid expansion of marriage equality, often by state legislative action.  This year little has been achieved by legislatures because most of the remaining states have some kind of state constitutional limit on marriage equality and many of those states are run by Republicans.  So the action has turned to the courts with same-sex couples suing on the grounds that these state bans deny them their federal right to equal protection under the law.

The results have been unanimous.  Judges in states from across the political spectrum have ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.  In most of these states the governor or attorney general has promptly stepped into to appeal the ruling and to ask for a stay of the opinion pending that appeal.  These appeals will take several months and when they begin to get decided, we could see different results form different courts.  Arkansas' ban was actually struck down in state court.  But their state supreme court may reverse it.  I suspect that most federal circuits will uphold the rulings of the district courts and strike the law down.

For this, we can thank Anthony Kennedy.  Last year he could have ruled to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act for a number of narrow reasons.  But his opinion was broad. He said that the law violated the freedom of a person under the Fifth Amendment.  Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissent that while the opinion only applied to the federal legislation, it would inevitably apply to state laws as well.  For once, Nino was right.  More than a dozen federal judges have looked at the issue in the past year and they all agree that state bans on marriage equality are impermissible.

I have not updated my marriage equality chart since December.  Back then only Utah's state ban had been struck down.  I turned Utah blue that proved premature as the state stopped issuing wedding licenses to gay couples after a few days.  The new map reflects four categories of states:

1. Eighteen blue states (plus DC) where Marriage Equality is a legal finality.  I have colored Oregon blue because the state has announced that they will not appeal the decision of the federal district court and an outside group was told they lack standing to pursue that appeal.  Gay marriage is alive and well in Portlandia, for good.

2.  Nineteen red states where marriage is still limited to heterosexual couples.  In the following months several of these states will probably flip to grey or blue because a number of cases are being litigated in these states.

3.  Ten grey states where the ban on gay marriages have been stuck down but the ruling is being appealed.  Some of these rulings are more narrow than a complete removal of the law from the books.  (For instance a judge has ruled that while Ohio has the right to only issue wedding licenses to straight couples, it must recognize gay marriages performed in other states.)

4. Three green states where gay relationships are offered some legal protection through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

A plurality of Americans now live in the states with full marriage equality.  To put it in presidential election terms, these blue states have 211 votes in the electoral college.  The red states have 175 and the grey 127.  The three green states have 25.  A year from now, the various federal circuits will probably tip enough of the grey states into the blue category that a an outright majority of Americans will live in states that have full marriage equality.  Some of those appeals will go onto the Supreme Court.  If there is a substantial split among those circuit rulings, the court will have to take one of the cases.

The most likely outcome is that that case will be heard during the 2015/2016 court calendar. If the court is still constituted as it presently is, the court will most likely rule that no state has the right to deprive gay people of the right to marry.  And then I will celebrate by posting a sea to shining sea map of 50 blue states.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Letter to the Editor that Almost Was.

Last Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a lengthy article about the success of the polio vaccine.  For reasons known only to their confessors, they decided to also run an op-ed by Jenny McCarthy, the face of ignorance on the subject of vaccines.  In what may be an encouraging sign of where the public discourse is going, Ms. McCarthy (falsely) claims that she is not anti-vaccine.  She even had the temerity to title her article "The Greay Area on Vaccines."  You can read her article here, but you won't learn much of anything if you do.

I dutifully wrote a letter to the editor.  Yesterday I was pleased to receive a call from the Sun-Times informing me that my letter had been chosen for publication in today's (April 16th) paper. This morning I bought a copy of the paper and saw that my letter had not been published.  I called the aforementioned employee, hoping to hear that my letter would appear the next day.  I was told that it would not.  Apparently this employee had been out for a couple days and didn't realize that they had already run letters responding to McCarthy. (These letters must have appeared in Monday's edition, which is the only edition since Sunday that I did not read.  But they are not preserved on the Sun-Times web site.)  

So my 15 seconds of print edition fame were not to be.  That is personally disappointing of course.  I was excited to have my letter printed because I think it makes some very salient points.  I reproduce it here, where it will reach a much smaller and more sympathetic audience than the readership of the Chicago Sun-Times.  Enjoy.

"Jenny McCarthy's attempt to recast her position on vaccines as moderate is dishonest. First she carefully avoids mentioning that she championed the false claim that vaccines cause autism. That claim has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community. Her new position is that children should receive only one shot per visit to the doctor. But she offers no evidence as to why the vaccine schedules should be changed. She just has a gut suspicion that this would be better for children. That is not how medical science works. There is no "gray area" when it comes to vaccines. There is science and there is superstition. Ms. McCarthy continues to peddle ignorance on this subject and she should not be taken seriously."

 Well, I'm sure that letter would have resolved the issue forever.  But it was not to be.  But don't cry for me. There are plenty of people who had worse days than me.  This guy, for example, is about to ruin the next five or six years of his life.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Be sure to watch the video from 3:55 on to see Oprah Winfrey learn about her Oscar Nomination for The Color Purple. 

As of last night, I have seen every movie nominated for this year's Best Picture Oscar.  My general impression is that there were a number of good and very good movies this year, but no clear front runner in terms of deserving this award.  My thoughts on each, in rough order of how much I liked them.

Best Picture Nominees
1.  Nebraska.  I have enjoyed all of Alexander Payne's films.  This is every bit as good as Citizen Ruth and Sideways.  Will Forte and Bruce Dern really carry a movie that manages to be both funny and poignant in the same proportion as most of Payne's films.

2.  Her.  Spike Jonze has a real knack for making movies with stupid premises that turn out really fun and oddly believable.  I think he's a special talent and this movie captivated me throughout.

3.  Gravity.  This movie was an amazing experience in the theater.  I literally ducked out of the way of space debris twice.  (It missed.)  The story is serviceable and Sandra Bullock is fine.  I think the director deserves some specific praise for how he showcased Bullock's body.  She is lithe and athletic.  Beautiful in a way, but not at all objectified.  And while many people have legitimate quibbles with the details of the science faux-pas, I for one am happy that a movie about the space program did so well at the box office.  I think it's inspiring and I won't be upset if it wins this category.

4. Dallas Buyers Club.  Great story with great acting.  (See below.)

5. Philomena.  Wonderful story with two great performances.  I think it avoided some of the obvious traps related to a story of this kind.  

6.  American Hustle.  Fine but predictable and not all of the acting performances keep up with the pace.  My favorite part of this movie was Louis CK, who I thought was way out of place in Blue Jasmine, but who showed some real potential as a comedic character actor here.

7. 12 Years a Slave.  It's impossible to talk about this movie without first talking about what it has to say about our history.  There is no more important topic in American history than slavery and I think Hollywood has done a dreadful job of portraying the real life of slaves. Last year two of the nominees were about slavery, but neither Lincoln nor Django Unchained really told us much about what the real life of slaves was like.  This film attempts to do that, and it's a very difficult job.  This film deserves credit for tackling the barbarity of slavery while trying to show how it lasted for so long in this country.  The movie has some dramatic flaws, but some of the directing choices I liked, like when he lets the camera linger on a characters face for a few seconds at the open of a scene.  

It seems that this movie has become the front runner.  I don't think it's quote on that level, but I do think this is a film that people should see.  And I am very interested in reading the book on which it is based, a memoir by the title character, Solomon Northup.

8. Captain Phillips.  Good, but a bit longer than it needed to be and I found Tom Hank's New England accent unnecessary.

9.  The Wolf of Wall Street.  One of the most boring, pedantic, obnoxious movies I have ever seen.  It is ambitious and attempts to maintain for three hours the kind of pace that makes the last 40 minutes of Goodfellas so great.  But this movie is without any redeeming quality.  It is best thought of as being stuck in a crappy diner seated next to a table of douche bags who have too much liquor and about 1/100th of the charm they think they have.

Best Director.
About 80% of the time the Best Picture winner also takes home this prize.  But last year Argo won the big prize even though Ben Aflleck wasn't even nominated for best director.  I think this might be another year with a split in the big prizes.  Above I listed Gravity as the 3rd best film, but Alfonso Cuaron should be the favorite in this category for all the technical mastery.  This is a film that will be remembered for advancing the art of cinema special effects.  

Best Actor.
1.  Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer's Club).  This will be the first half of an Oscars-Emmy year that I never would have predicted even five years ago.
2.  Christian Bale (American Hustle) does a pretty good Bronx accent but he was a little dull.
3.  Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)  to call this a challenging role would be an under statement.
4.  Bruce Dern (Nebraska)  A fine performance, but I think he belonged in the supporting category.  Will Forte deserved the nomination in this category.
5.  Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street).  He was fine but the part was one note for 3 hours of 
complete drivel.  It would be a shame if DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for a movie this good.

Best Actress.
1. Judi Dench (Philomena).  I adore her, and she nailed this performance.  
2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine).  She acts the hell out of this part but it is a bit broad.  And I don't think it helps when a woman very publicly calls you out by name for working with the man she says molested her as a child.  She also pretty much plays a fictional version of Mia Farrow, directed by the man who hates her.  She could win but I think the Academy will politely pass.
3. Sandra Bullock (Gravity).  She was good but here character's back story was pretty much a pastiche of cliches.  
4. Meryl Streep (Osange County).  I didn't see it, but I guarantee she was better than...
5. Amy Adams (American Hustle.)  She has one hell of an agent.  She's not yet 40 and this is her 5th nomination in less than 10 years.  I only thought she was good in one of those roles (The Master).  But this year her nomination may set a record of sorts. (Spoiler alerts ahead.)  In this film she plays an American who is pretending to be British. This is supposed to be a big reveal in the third act.  But her British accent was so terrible that I didn't buy for a minute that anyone would fall for this con. By the time we learn this about her character, I forgot that we were supposed to actually think she was British. Or had been to Britain.  Or had seen A Hard' Day's Night.  So the record I referred to is this-has anyone ever been nominated for a movie when their performance gave away a major plot point?  I know Jaye Davidson's nomination in the best supporting Actor category for the Crying Game gave away a major point but that wasn't because his acting sucked.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).  Absolutely disappeared into the role.  This is close to a cinch.  The other performances are all fine, but clearly not as good as Leto.

Best Supporting Actress:  This is the toughest category to handicap.  Jennifer Lawrence was good in American Hustle but I don't think she's going to win 2 years in a row.  Sally Hawkins was excellent in Blue Jasmine but she's got to be hurt by the Woody Allen controversy.  I didn't see Augst: Osage County but I doubt that Julia Roberts will win.  That leaves June Squibb for Nebraska and Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave.  I loved Nebraska but I thought Squibb's part was a little too broadly written.  And Nyong'o played by far the most challenging part in a movie that's likely to win a lot of trophies.  But I don't think it was a truly great performance.  My guess is Hawkins, but none of these names would surprise me.

Best Writing-Original Screenplay.
Woody Allen's nomination for Blue Jasmine is the residue of voters' habits.  To be blunt, his age is showing.  The characters feel like they are from another time.  And it say something when the most believable character is played by Andrew Dice Clay.  Most of the other nominees are pretty good but it would be something of an injustice for anyone other than Spike Jonze (Her) to win.  This is a great story made even better by the plausible execution of an absurd premise.  

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay.
I didn't see Before Midnight, so I'll resist the temptation to make an Ethan Hawke joke. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope should win this for Philomena, but I think John Ridley is more likely to win, for 12 Years a Slave.

Official Predictions:  So here is my office pool (of one) predictions. 
Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen (12 years a Slave)
Actor: McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Actress: Dench (Philomena)
Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers' Club)
Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)
Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Rule, Bill Maher has to be for science, or against it.

I enjoy Bill Maher's show.  On specific issues, I agree with him more often than not.  But one of the hallmarks of his shtick is making fun of conservatives for being anti-science.  If the subject is climate change or evolution, he can be absolutely cutting when it comes to making fun of Republicans.  In his movie Religilous, he visited the Creation Musem in Petersburg, Kentucky and made fun of them for showing a Stegosaurus with a saddle on it.  An easy target for sure, but well executed.

More interestingly, he interviews the director of that museum and they talk about the scientific consensus behind Evolution.  Maher points out that if evolution wasn't true, than there must be a vast conspiracy among all of the scientists around the world to promulgate it.

That's a pretty convincing point.  But Mr. Maher simply does not apply this logic to those areas of science that he disagrees with.  The above YouTube Clip is from 2009.  In it, former Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), a physician, takes him to the wood shed about vaccines.  Maher simply ignores the scientific arguments put before him by a prominent Republican and clings to his vague superstitions about the "dangers" or vaccines, using a 50 year old quote from Jonas Salk.  It's every bit as pathetic as grown men saddling stegosauruses.

Two years ago Bill Maher repeatedly and passionately argued for passage of a law that would have required food makers to put labels on food containing Genetically Modified Organisms.  He did this despite the fact that there is NO scientific evidence that GMOs pose any increased health risk to humans.  None.

Last night Mr. Maher had on Christopher Leonard, a journalist who just wrote a book about the industrial farming practices of American meat manufacturers.  During the interview, Mr. Maher brought up a recent story about Azodicarbonamide, a chemical that is used to preserve bread, and is also used in non-food items such as yoga mats.  Maher said "I'm sure they have 'statistics' that say this stuff is safe in small doses but what about those of us who don't want any poison in our food?"

Cute line, Bill.  But you can not speak so derisively of "statistics" and misuse a term like "poison" and still claim to be a champion of science.  Azodicarbonamide may be difficult to pronounce, but it is not dangerous.  The fears about it being in food originate from a blog written by someone with no background in science.  She found a scary factoid- this chemical in my bread is also used in yoga mats, and got a major company to change the way they make their bread.  That sounds like a major accomplishment, but it's not one that will improve the public safety one scintilla.

Please read Dr. Steven Novella's blog entry on this subject to better understand the science behind the use of azodicarbonamide in food..  And the next time you hear Bill Maher makes fun of some back bench congressman from Georgia for saying something dumb about the origins of life on earth, feel free to laugh.  But remember that the joke is being told by someone who spreads fear of vaccinations out of pure superstition.  Mr. Maher needs to understand that some kinds of stupid are worse than others.  Creationism may be dumb, but it's not contagious.  Whooping Cough on the other hand, is.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Walking Diaspora (B Squad)

Note: Spoilers for the February 16th episode of The Walking Dead abound.

Last week I wrote a hurried post about the premiere episode for the second half of season four of the Walking Dead.  I put forth my general theory about the season-that the group was divided in four smaller groups and that each of these little groups had one person that had heard the mysterious radio signal while on the supply and medicines run at the veterinary college.  I further speculated that Rick and Karl would meet up with Michonne, perhaps when they head to the town where Morgan was holed up last season.

The only characters seen last week were Michonne, Rick and Karl.  And they did indeed meet up at the end, although much closer to the prison than Morgan's hideout.  The previews for this week suggest that we will be brought up to speed on the rest of the survivors.  Or as I call them, The B Squad.  (And yes Darryl, much like Willem Dafoe's character in the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you're on the B Squad, but you're the B Squad Leader.)

A little bit of internet sleuthing has revealed some spoilers.  I do believe there is conclusive evidence that Tyrese saved Judith during the war with the Governor's parade of imbeciles.  The embedded video makes that case pretty strongly.  There are also rumors that the preview for the Latin American audience showed Tyrese cradling a baby.  So it's safe to say, Judith lives.

This creates perhaps the most interesting story line in the history of the Walking Dead.  There might be a genuine moment of happiness.  Wouldn't that be something?

I don't expect that will happen tonight.  I expect tonight to be a series of catch-ups with the various unaccounted for people, specifically.

  • Tyrese is alone with Judith, it seems.  The first question I have is, why did he take her out of the baby carrier? It would have been much easier and faster to just grab that thing and run with it. It is, after all, a baby carrier.  He's going to need formula, stat.  There are also online rumors that a picture leaked showing Tyrese with Carol.  This would backup my earlier prediction that they would rendezvous before the rest of the group.  And of course Judith would help them make a natural family unit. Tyrese may or may not also be with the little girls that Carol had been taking care of.  A lot of pipe was laid between those girls and Carol earlier this season, so I expect them to meet up sooner than later.
  • Beth and Darryl.  There's only one question about these two being alone in the woods.
  • Glenn and the Bus Passengers.  Rumors abound that the bus runs into walkers.  I expect a lot of dead Red Shirts but I think Glenn will make it out okay.  And now that the virus is behind him, I think he'll become one of the main focal points of the rest of this season.
  • Maggie, Sasha and Bob.  Obviously Maggie's focus is going to be reconnecting with Glenn and with finding Beth.  I think she's one of the smartest characters left on the show. So she's probably doomed.  Sasha and Bob seem likely to have their own sub story, although there's really nothing in their characters so far to explain what they have in common.  Any port in a zombie apocylpse, I guess.
  • The final Internet reveal was that Tara (the lesbian sister of the governor's girlfriend Lilly) is still alive.  I'm not sure if Lilly is also alive, but the last time we saw her she was putting a bullet into the governor.  It would seem strange to waste the most important kill of this season on a glorified Red Shirt.  So I expect Lilly and Tara to both be alive, although I have no idea where they will fit in the grand scheme of things.