Sunday, February 1, 2015

Science is Awesome and Meales is Bad

It seems really disturbing to me that there are people in this day and age who have caught the terrifying bug that is liable to cause thousands of deaths--called anti-vaccination hysteria. It's appalling, and stupid, that enough people are so flagrantly scientifically illiterate that a disease that was declared virtually eliminated in the US as of 2000, has come roaring back due to people who have swallowed some kind of nonsense "purity of our precious bodily fluids" codswallop. 

For a little bit of a primer on what vaccinations are--your body has a splendid disease-fighting mechanism called "anti-bodies". You make them if you've been infected with a disease and survive it. A vaccine provokes your body to have the antibodies that fight certain diseases to keep you safe from that particular infection. People have known how this basic principle of immunization works for over two centuries. That's a really long time in medical science-terms. We're getting good at it by now, and the MMR vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella is incredibly effective. And is in no way proven to be associated with autism.

Measles, on the other hand, is a pretty awful disease, which is why science developed vaccination against it in the first place. Measles is associated with blindness, secondary pneumonia, encephalitis, and there have been cases of peripheral gangrene. Yes, that means really sick patients can lose limbs. Skin doesn't necessarily get just a nice, neat little rash and you pour on the calamine and so on, like with chickenpox, which everyone my age got. It's a dense rash and skin can split, like with the poor little guy in the picture above.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Scared Mittless?

I can't help but start this post by considering how very nearly it was entitled "You People are Making Romney Run Again, You Know". It looked for all the world like he was planning on running again. The very insider-y Mark Halperin had been persuaded by the knowledge that Romney still believed he would be the best candidate in the field. It was a strong, plausible argument, and a lot of media outlets bit on it before former MA Gov. Romney announced that he would not be seeking the nomination.

Can't blame them though--it's way more likely that someone is going to notify the press that they are planning to be doing something than that they aren't. But by making the announcement this way, Romney ends speculation and I suspect makes room for other candidates, like Christie and Walker, to start doing their serious preliminary calculus. (This announcement likely has no impact at all on the decisions of Huckabee, Santorum, Jindal, Perry--you know. The guys Romney knew he was a better candidate than, already.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

How Women Can Be Seen, or Not

A little bit of a furor came about over First Lady Michelle Obama's decision not to cover her head in Saudi Arabia when meeting the new Saudi king. I don't know why.The way I see it, the decision to cover one's head is very personal. If a woman chooses to wear a hijab or a tichel, it should be her choice, based on her convictions. I would fight for a woman's right to wear what she prefers.  Michelle Obama doesn't wear a head covering in the US or in most countries. We have many pictures documenting her not wearing any kind of head covering. It would be a weird kind of deference to start just because she's in Saudi Arabia--and where do you draw the line? She dressed moderately and appropriately, and like a modern western woman. This is what she is.

I have some reservations about the custom of head covering or veiling. It can be seen as being about modesty--but in some respects I see the argument that it can be about enforcing conformity and erasing certain aspects of individuality in women in order to "disappear" them. There's this amazing picture of former First Lady Laura Bush amid such similarly-dressed women:


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fired/Not Fired

Reports that Bryan Fischer was "fired" from the American Family Association, as such, seem to have been a bit overblown. He's been dropped as "spokesman", but retains membership and his radio show. It's more like a shuffle of positions, really. And in the meanwhile, by not having the responsibilities of "spokesperson" per se, Fischer is freed up to really, really speak his mind as radio host.

I do kind of shudder to think he might have been holding back on us before being relieved of the onerous burden of speaking for the integrity and good will of the AFA, which, as has been pointed out numerous times by numerous outlets particularly in the run-up and reviews of The Response event held this past weekend in Louisiana and hosted by possible presidential hopeful Governor Bobby Jindal, has been designated by the SPLC as a hate group. This designation is probably not in the least because of the views of its former spokesman, who has vented variously about his belief that all the Nazis were gay, that Native Americans are cursed, that Scott Lively is a swell fellow--especially because of his missionary work in Uganda, that orcas and bears should die already, that Muslims and Jews never were meant to have First Amendment rights,  and that saving lives instead of killing people the way Jesus intended is a little bit gay. (Yes, PFAW linked to all that stuff so I didn't have to. Edifying stuff, really.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Political Correctness and its Discontents

Today, Jonathan Chait was in the tumbrils for a bit over a column critical of the apparent resurgence of "political correctness", which could loosely be defined as dissent against certain speech deemed to be derogatory towards protected classes, generally of gender, gender ID, sexual orientation or affection, race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, or lack thereof.
I won't lie. There are times when I do suspect that there is an "itchy trigger finger", if you will, behind certain storms of internet-based outrage. Sometimes I really feel like there is a need for a "Devil's Advocate" on behalf of some otherwise well-intentioned ally who has bumbled over this or that rail and is getting raked over. And yeah, I have certain people whose writing or work I follow and find or have found serious disagreements with, whom I nonetheless wouldn't write off because of those disagreements. I make no secret of my issues with Bill Maher, Naomi Wolf, Andrew Sullivan, or the late Christopher Hitchens, but I still keep up with the former and retain a kind of admiration for the latter on the basis of not only the bits I agree with, but the way I am challenged to reform, restate, or review my understanding of my own position when I do disagree. To me, the arena of ideas is where our shit gets thrashed out, and some ideas get discredited, and for me--it's not really any skin off my nose when I don't see eye-to-eye with someone.
But then again, I have a lot of white, cis, straight (appearing), middle-class, able-bodied privilege. This is why I recognize that while I can take a lot of things impersonally--this isn't really the option for everyone. It's one thing to scoff at the concept of "microaggressions". It's another to really grasp that those microaggressions take place on top of or alongside the actual systemized macroaggressions of racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, disablism, or some intersection of the same. The sentiments, and the life experiences that they arise from, are real. They shouldn't be dismissed.
Now, I think some things aren't at least, for me, practical or practicable. At one stage in my blogging, around 2010, I tried trigger warnings and the application of more gender-inclusive language to "break out of the binary". It felt forced.  The former I found to be condescending, because I credit people interested in my content with being able realize within a paragraph or two whether that content is something they prefer to engage with, and the latter simply felt awkward and distracting. But the overall goal of not being rude and not stereotyping whole groups of people because of my learned cultural biases is necessary and actually liberating and honest. People are just people. Shedding assumptions and trying to speak from a place of authentic observation and genuine criticism of lazy "proofs" that some marginalized group "really is" lesser than is not "political correctness" so much as being on the right side of a battle against bullshit.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Climate Sunday: Something in the Water

Former Governor Mike Huckabee, who I don't heart, believes that "most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.”

That's statistically disprovable, I am pretty damn sure. I myself have had +/- 100 sunburns over the course of my red-headed, freckled life, and exactly zero beheadings. A poll of all the people I have ever known personally would result in several sunburns for them and zero beheadings. All the people I know have some kind of SPF product in their medicine cabinets, and exactly zero things to prevent beheadings.

I am calling bullshit.

While it is true that Islamic extremism is very bad I will go out on a limb and say that the way we impact the environment and the way that the environment can impact us is way, way...badder.  Take a look at this pretty picture:

This algal bloom is potentially toxic. It's the result of dumping phosphate-laden fertilizers in the water. This would kill fish. It affects an ecosystem and a way of life.

Oil is spilling into the Yellowstone River. Into the Black Sea.  Fracking wastewater is spilling in North Dakota. We are poisoning water we could use. We are spoiling our ocean ecosystems.  We need to find better ways to do things. If Huckabee doesn't notice all the ways we're doing it wrong, sorry--he simply isn't right for president.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

That Political Thing in Iowa

You know what the Democratic Party seems to be missing? Shindigs. We do not seem to have neat gatherings like CPAC and traditions like the Ames straw poll, and hosting religious groups like The Response, or doing that very interesting "Freedom Summit" in Iowa--you know, shindigs. I watch them as a political observer, but have to admit--not my team, looks like fun. I mean, there's Netroots Nation. It's blogger-oriented so I should be able to really get behind that. But that's a wonkfest. Where's our uncovered nekkid id triumphialization? Where's our scattering of red meat for reubens? (Why is Blogger's spellcheck so madly unaware of the correct spelling of the perfectly jake 1930's slang for gape-jawed hayseed? Or even the perfectly cromulent term "jake"?)

Anyway, I digress. Dave Weigel over at Bloomberg notes what "serious" 2016 candidates Mitt, Jeb, Bobby, Marco and Rand have missed.  What I believe they missed was associating too broadly with Rep. Steve King, whose blue eyes always seem to carry the faraway milkseed pollen drift of a person whose thoughts take him back again and again to the border and the constant battle against the cantaloupe-calved drug-runners whose backpacks full of Acapulco's finest hops have once again consigned a generation to jazz music, sloth, and backtalk. There are people who think he might be a little bit too racialist to actually be an appropriate association.

And yet there are so many who do not!

Left bloggers have noted that Sarah Palin's speech seems to have defaulted to Whargarble after her Teleprompter fail--but I listened and frankly think that although her sentence structure resembles nothing so much as an attempt at cut-up poetry using all the Republican memes, I tend to think that a sympathetic audience could have tracked what she was saying very well.

All in all--not really any surprises or over the top signifying that got my leftist goat--oh except Carly Fiorina.  She actually got my Irish up. She said:

“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe,” she said. “But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity not an accomplishment.”