"That you may ruminate"

Archive for August, 2009

…On Celebrity Endorsements.

Posted by Steve on August 29, 2009

My previous post was about Blackwell v. Wyeth, a case arising out of the recent fad of having autistic children and blaming it on vaccinations*. Apparently, a driving force for this fad is the efforts of some celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy.

This mystifies me. Setting aside the root question of “Does there exist – and if so, what is it – a valid reason for allowing a non-expert celebrity’s opinion to sway your judgment on anything?”**, I have to wonder: what reason is there to give more credence to Jenny McCarthy’s belief that vaccination is good than to give credence to Salma Hayek‘s belief that vaccination is good, or Amanda Peet‘s belief not merely that vaccination is good, but that the refusal to vaccinate your kid is destructive anti-social behavior worthy of public censure. Sure, if you look into the available research (which Peet clearly did), you’ll find out that Peet and Hayek are right and McCarthy’s wrong, but before then… what is it that makes people say “My kid’s doctor, Salma Hayek, and Amanda Peet all say I should have my kid vaccinated, but Jenny McCarthy says I shouldn’t, so I just don’t know what to do.”

Really, in a field where neither has any expertise by dint of professional experience, rigorous education, or performing original research… what is it that gives one person more credibility than another?

*I’m really not sure whether I think the fad is having autistic children or blaming your kid’s autism on vaccination. You know the theme in Rain Man where nobody, not even the nurse at the doctor’s office, knows what “autism” is? That’s because until Rain Man, nobody who wasn’t directly connected to autism or an autistic person had ever heard of it – which was because it was rare. Kinda makes me wonder if it’s been overdiagnosed of late.

**As the memorable scene goes:
Kid #3: My Mommy says smoking kills.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: Well, then she’s hardly a credible expert, is she?

Posted in Our World | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On Some Damn Fine Judging.

Posted by Steve on August 27, 2009

I have often been critical, here on this blog, of the American legal system, the judiciary of multiple countries, and multiple tenets of American common law. So, I feel like I ought to try and balance that by giving props when I can. So, this is by no means news since it’s about a case that was decided back in May, but Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, totally hit one out of the park when it unanimously upheld Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Stuart R. Berger’s ruling on the inadmissibility of junk pseudoscience in Blackwell v. Wyeth. They ruled that in Maryland, in order to be an expert witness you have to actually 1) be an expert 2) who used legitimate methods 3) in a legitimate field 4) that’s relevant to the testimony you’ll offer. If there’s a court ruling that more strongly and explicitly establishes adherence to the scientific method as a prerequisite for testimony on scientific matters, I’m not aware of it. So Maryland Judiciary, a tip of the hat to you.

Posted in The Law | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On the Appendix to Brave New World.

Posted by Steve on August 24, 2009

So, Yahoo has posted a news article about appendices. Frankly, calling it “news” is a bit inaccurate, I think, as the hypothesis that the appendix is a gut flora reservoir is a couple of years old. Anyway, the quote at page bottom, about artificially stimulating the immune system to keep it from getting sullen and cranky and causing appendicitis or autoimmune disease… reminds me of Brave New World’s “pregnancy substitutes”. And you know, speaking of Brave New World… I recall reading it and not thinking it was so terrible, since it seems to me it’s a utopia-and-dystopia swirl, not the straight uncut dystopia it’s so often labeled. Without a doubt, the creation of the gammas, deltas, and epsilons is an atrocity – hands down, unequivocally evil and an atrocity. Also, the profligate waste of the materialism-for-the-sake-of-consuming-resources is really damned stupid, and I can’t say soma’s an appealing idea. On the other hand, take those elements out and you have… the alphas living lives of uninterrupted hedonistic pleasure. Perfect people living perfect lives – isn’t that what utopia is? And I don’t think the book makes a compelling case for the argument that the good can only be obtained by the bad – the whole point of the book, after all, was that everything’s predestined through conditioned behavior and mechanistic control over the world. So, given such an ability to craft reality (yeah, an utter impossibility, but work with me here), what reason is there for producing the horrendous along with the wondrous? Seems to me the smart thing to do is only produce the wondrous.

Anyway, seems the 5-second-rule isn’t unhygienic unhygenic, it’s prophylactic!

Posted in Books, From the News | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On District 9.

Posted by Steve on August 17, 2009

I’m very glad I went to see District 9 Friday night. And I’m glad I went to see it again yesterday. I wanted more after the first time, and yesterday I gave myself more – and at the same time, got to notice all sorts of little things I’d missed the first time. The sorts of rich backgrounds of a truly well-made film. Which, this most certainly is. It’s the most imaginative sci-fi movie I’ve seen in years – as far as I can remember, at least since Dark City. It’s intelligent, it’s a thrilling action movie, it’s emotionally gripping, and in the best traditions of the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits, it is honest in portraying the deep and rudimentary flaws in human nature – in a way, like Children of Men. And indeed, I predict that like Children of Men, it will be horribly snubbed come the Academy Awards: I doubt it will be nominated for the Best Picture it will deserve to win, and I doubt Sharlto Copley will be considered for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

So be it. All I can say before we go to happy-cut-tag-land to prevent spoilers, is: Go see this movie. It is amazing. And remember, “A smile is cheaper than a bullet!”.

Actually, before the cut, I’ll add something else. The woman “E” who wrote this review displays a lamentable ignorance of human history. I agree that the movie contains a level of gore that will disgust many people (though going to a movie with Peter Jackson’s name so prominently associated with it, you should expect gore. Being surprised by gore in a movie associated with Peter Jackson is like being surprised by fart and Jew jokes in a movie associated with Mel Brooks), and there is horrific barbarism (though in my opinion, there is justice meted out and redemption had), which was unsettling even to me the first time. But to watch the movie and say “[I] was insulted that they tried to make that comparison” is equivalent to watching Children of Men and saying “I was insulted that the movie suggested prison guards would put a prisoner in a black hood and garbage-bag cloak, stick him on a box, and string him up with wires“. Considering that the movie pulled the details straight out of real events – as I will explain in spoilering form below the cut – you should not be insulted. If anything, you should be ashamed of your limited knowledge of actual human history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On Senatorial Illness.

Posted by Steve on August 8, 2009

I was going to post a review of the Mayhem Festival concert I went to Thursday night (long post short: Slayer live is fucking awesome, Marilyn Manson is pathetic, I still love The Black Dahlia Murder, no matter how ugly you feel you are nobody at a metal concert cares, and Rockstar’s “energy shot” tastes like a cherry crapped out some coffee). Then I was going to post my thoughts on the questions eHarmony asks when you sign up (some of them are flat-out bizarre), since I’m currently carrying out that lengthy process. My mom’s been pushing me to do it for awhile – I think she wants grandkids or something.

But, at the moment, what really interests me is this: how often are U.S. Senators hospitalized? I noticed Sotomayor got confirmed with 99 total votes, and several other justices, like Scalia and Stevens, were confirmed on 97-0 or 98-0 votes. So… there’s supposed to be 100. And the only reason I can think of for the not-voting thing is can’t vote, which means hospitalized or dead. So how routine is it that a senator’s in the hospital? I don’t really keep track of these things.

Posted in From the News, Metal | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On A Little Bit of Context

Posted by Steve on August 4, 2009

Overall population of the world: ±6,000,000,000 people.
Population of the United States: ±300,000,000 people.
Annual traffic fatalities in the US: ±40,000 people.
Traffic death impact on US population: -.013% per year.
Annual change in US population despite that: Increases.
Annual change in world population: Increases.

Not going to go into more details, but I attended a conference where I thought that was some badly needed missing context.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »