Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Dangerous Duggars: How Fundamentalism Begets Abuse

I hope that very few of my readers have been following this sex scandal about the Duggars, the bloated, backwards family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. I hope you haven't followed it because you don't have the time or inclination to gawk at their purposefully-antiquated beliefs or their shameless self-exploitation. But the scandal crime that has rocked and and shocked their fans is so endemic and has been so widely mishandled that I wanted to take a minute and talk to you guys about it.

First, in case you don't know, the Duggars are extreme evangelical "Independent Baptists" who eschew birth control (hence the 19 kids), revealing clothing, sexual contact before marriage, equality, etc. They believe in traditional gender roles, home-schooling, dressing like Laura Ingles Wilder, etc. And their oldest son, married, 27 year-old Josh Duggar, molested a bunch of little girls --his younger sisters among them -- when he was a teenager.

The family knew about it. Their church knew about it. A state trooper knew about it. And nothing happened. In fact, none of them seem to really understand what he did wrong.

I've written before about how hard it is to change people's minds. And, I'll admit, I definitely disagree with everything the Duggars stand for. They campaign against tolerance, against homosexuality, against feminism, against abortion, against stem cell research; they don't believe in science education, in sex education, in higher education for women at all. They're self-righteous, uneducated zealots who make gobs of money on a reality show and have single-handedly overpopulated Arkansas. I'll admit it: I don't like them.

So, to someone like me, wouldn't it seem like delicious comeuppance to find out that they are not, in fact holier than us? Of course. So, I spent some time thinking about the fact that I was already inclined to dislike them and how that might impact the schadenfreude-type satisfaction I get out of their misfortunes.

Because we all love a story about the uptight, sanctimonious family man being exposed as a cheater, a sleazeball, a sinner, right? A "family-values" Republican's sex-scandal is always going to be bigger and better than a liberal Democrat's; the hypocrisy is just so deep and dirty and succulent. But, as I read more and thought more and became more outraged, I think we've been wrong about how we view these scandals. I don't think they're a few aberrant pockmarks on the smooth face of extreme moral conservatism; I think these scandals are the products of it. Our disgust and indignation is much bigger than schadenfreude: its actual fear at the truly disturbing, damaging ideas people like the Duggars are peddling.

Josh Duggar provides a perfect test case. Unlike the other fundamentalists huddled in small clusters throughout this country, the Duggars are perfectly segregated specimens. They don't have the influence of moderation or outsiders or mainstream education seeping in; they don't have classroom friends from different backgrounds or the mind-expanding teachers or the interloper spouses. They don't have the benefit of other ideas, other opinions. They are purebreds.

They are, of course, a cult.

And they're televised.

Duggar was just forced to resign from his position as the Executive Director of the Family Research Counsel, an organization labeled as a "hate group" in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Because of this, we all get to see what happens when you cultivate the Duggar's reactionary ideas in an isolated, antiquated Petri dish. And what this test case reveals is that this scandal isn't the unfortunate, hypocritical undoing of the Duggars, it is the inescapable outcome of their belief system. Is it really shocking that a group of misogynistic fundamentalists who devalue women and refuse to teach their kids about sex would raise a teenage boy who molested little girls and then gloss over his crime as if it were a mere youthful transgression? If all women are chattel and all men are victims of lustful temptations, wasn't this bound to happen? This isn't an ironic scandal; it's an inevitable one.

Screenshot from the ATI Texbooks.
And how could it be avoidable? You see, the Duggars home school all of their kids. The curriculum they use for the homeschooling is called the "Advanced Training Institute, a Bible-based homeschooling program run by alleged cult figurehead Bill Gothard." These textbooks emphasize male dominance, creationism, subservience, etc. Gothard, as it so happens, just resigned from his post amid allegations that he sexually assaulted as many as 34 women. I would love to be more shocked by this.

What's unbelievably sad is that Josh Duggar is sick and he needs the kind of help that his anti-science, male-exonerating cult is incapable of giving him. What's pathetic is the way his family stepped up to conceal and acquit these crimes, even when the victims included their other, younger, more vulnerable children. What's alarming, what's disturbing, what makes the back of my throat throb with anger, is the fact that their public fan base is rallying around the Duggars and their multifaceted abuse. 

You see, if you go on the Duggar's Facebook page, there's a lukewarm apology from the family. You can read the statements by the parents and Mrs. Josh Duggar (standing eternally by his side, of course) for yourslf, but I wanted to excerpt Josh's "apology" in full:
 Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.
How hollow, how self-centered, how utterly void of concern for the well-being of the young women -- his young sisters -- whom he terrorized! These little girls who are raised to believe that all physical contact with men before marriage is verboten, disgusting, sinful, that holding hands with a boy makes you "unmarriageable" and unworthy. These little girls, who at four or five years old had a trusted family member violate the laws of family and man and God and make them dirty forever? Where is the concern for that?

Josh ultimately found contrition because he "understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life." "I," "me," and "my." His life would be ruined, he would give anything. This is the public statement not of someone who is unrepentant, but someone who is so indoctrinated in his own power that he does not even grasp what he did wrong.

And what's worse that Josh Duggar's selfish, deluded statement? There are literally thousands upon thousands of Facebook comments from supporters and fans. Here's a small but ominously representative sampling of the types of comments on the page:

Now you feel sick, too, right? And what you guys can't tell (because I kindly though perhaps undeservedly concealed the names of these posters) is that every one of these commenters are women.

I'm not saying Christian fundamentalism breeds child molesters. I am saying that Christian fundamentalism breeds a culture that is more inclined to dismiss, underestimate, absolve, and obscure these acts, more inclined to disregard, belittle, and ignore the victims, and more inclined to blur the lines between "sin" and "crime." Evangelicals like Josh Duggar substitute the imagined forgiveness of God for real-world consequences for their actions.

What I'm saying is, where a demeaning view of women is sown with a demonizing view of sex, incest and abuse will grow. And the Duggars might be a joke, a gimmick, a sideshow, but the 16,000 people who questioned "why this story had to be told" is not. And that, my dear friends, is terrifying.

Related on the Blog:
What Do We Do About Woody Allen?
Woody Allen Redux: The Blame Game
Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church

Monday, May 18, 2015

Scrotal Recall: Netflix's Bad Pun is its Next Great Show

I blogged recently about how I adore a good pun. Then I discovered an exception:

Yes, you read that right. There I was, innocently delighting in the pre-9/11 optimism and shamelessly-pedantic dialogue of some early episodes of The West Wing, and I saw an advertisement for a new Netflix series. Netflix, the game-changing viewing portal that created two of the best new shows of the last few years: Orange is the New Black and House of Cards; Netflix, the great binge-enabler; Netflix, my best friend...suggested this shit.

Scrotal Recall.

Et tu Netflix?

So, I took this screen shot and was going to write a See You Next Tuesday about the dumbing down of 'Merica and the runaway over-saturation of the television environment and the fact that The Newsroom got cancelled but Scrotal Recall has a place in the canon and all. But then I realized I could make fun of it more thoroughly if I actually took a looksie -- social research, anthropology style -- and then I watched it and, y'all.

This show is great.

Seriously! And don't take it from me (never listen to me. I wrote a whole post about David Bowie's butt, pretty much). Take it from Vivian Kane ("Netflix's New Original 'Scrotal Recall' Is So Much Better Than Its Attention-Grabby Title,") and Chandler Dutton, ("'Scrotal Recall' is the Best Show You May Never Watch,") and Torie Bosch ("Don't Be Turned Off by Scrotal Recall's Awful Name. The New Netflix Comedy Is Delightful").

Admittedly, the plot's a little uncouth: the pilot opens with the main character, Dylan, getting diagnosed with chylamydia.  It's curable, we hear, but dangerous if not treated, so Dylan needs to go inform all of his sexual partners that they're at risk. He decides to work through his fornications alphabetically, and we're off with a bang. The show's crass description, combined with its cheesy, dad-joke of a title, doesn't sound like it would beget a smart, delightful little indie show. But it does!

Why? Well, first, it gets major charmer points for being English -- the Brits can just pull off tawdry better than we can. See, Exhibit A:

NSFW if your boss missed the 80s. 

Second -- and more importantly -- the show works because the main character is a hopeless romantic. Dylan, who looks like Jimmy Darmody mated with one of the Culkins, is this lovely, dreamy, sincere guy who tries to date girls, not bed them. His sweetness mitigates the fact that he has transmitted an STD to a comparatively large number of women with whom he's intercoursed. 

But right though?

But, it works: as each episode chronicles Dylan's bumbling attempts to notify these long-lost women, he is appropriately shamed and embarrassed. It turns out that most of these encounters were disastrous or short-lived or both, often preceded by Dylan's sincere but misguided romantic gestures,  and ended in a moment of rejection, or awkwardness or...well, always...both.

The whole thing would collapse into a pile of Entourage-fueled vulgarity if Dylan were flippant or brash. But he's not, and his sexual "conquests" are shrouded in charmingly-amateurish misfortunes, which makes him consistently pitiable and likeable. He's tempered by his man-whore-best-friend-foil and has a great when-are-they-gonna-get-together romance with his female roommate. And it's got this nice little soundtrack and this sort of Igby Goes Down color palate, and yes I watched the whole first season in about a week so I know what I'm talking about.

So, don't be dissuaded like I was by the show's bad name, and don't only watch it because you want to make fun of it on your blog. I mean, do, if you have a blog, but be warned you'll probably change your mind. And it's only six episodes, so get back to me when you've finished your Scrotal binge. That didn't sound right.

I'm leaving it. Goodnight.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

U Suck @ Grammer: Thatz Not a Word

When I started this post, it was literally just going to be a snarky list of words that people frequently use that are technically not dictionary-sanctioned English "words." I was going to write this list because when people use words that are not words, it irritates me and makes me feel all judgy and desperate and eager to point out their misusage.* But, my husband, who is much nicer than I am, has taught me that people do not like it when you tell them the word they have just used is not in fact a word, or is not the correct use of a word, or is not the correct pronunciation of a word. People do not enjoy it or learn a valuable lesson from it or appreciate the future embarrassment from which you have saved them, largely because they are too busy thinking of subtle ways to poison you.
Don't be this girl.

This -- and here's the hard part -- is true even when you are totally right and they are totally wrong. Your rightness does not vindicate you; your correctness does not make you likeable. I know, I know, this is crazy and backwards and extremely hard to comprehend, my brothers and sisters in formal literacy! But I have tested this hypothesis in the field and trust me: pointing out vocabulary usage errors is not as cute as you think it is.

So, I was going to just write a list of words that are not words that people use as words and put it up here so that people could see it here without me saying anything and then people could stop using these "words" and I could stop shoving one thousand olives in my mouth at cocktail parties to avoid having to "conversate" with you for "all intensive purposes."


After doing a little digging on the subject, I've actually reversed my position. Yes, there are plain usage errors and misunderstandings (see, e.g., "all intents and purposes" above). Those are mistakes and mishearings that can be funny and bad and irritating. But those mistakes are different than inventing and repeating and using words that "are not words." And to define what makes a word not a word, I had to ask the question: what makes a word a word?**

Part of what changed my mind is that I found this great, helpful article called "'Not a Word' is Not an Argument" by Stan Carey, a language blogger. He writes,
If you see or hear someone reject a word by saying it’s “not a word”, you can reasonably assume that they mean it’s not a word they like, not a word they would use, not a word in standard usage, not a word in a certain dictionary, not a suitable word for the context, and so on. There’s a difference, and it matters.
He goes on to discuss the fact that a word is not rendered "not a word" by the fact that we don't like it. Words gain their wordness by our using them as words; "irregardless" is a non-standard and non-preferred word, but it is -- notwithstanding the cringing of English majors everywhere -- a word. Carey denounces the denial of "word" status to less-standard diction, and questions our self-anointed ability to erase and invalidate any "word."
Word aversion and word hatred are an aesthetic indulgence; word denial is a different beast. Why do the cranky resolve to outlaw disliked words? From what imaginary realm do people conjure the authority to decide what’s acceptable? And how do peevers cope with the Nadsat in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, the Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984, or the idiosyncratic hyperinvention of Joyce’s later novels, to name just a few well-known literary examples?
I write what I want, betch.
I wrote a piece previously about the misguided snobbery and privilege inherent in "good grammar," and that post touched on the fact that there are two competing theories about language: one, that English is a mutating, living, evolving vernacular, subject to constant change and interpretation, versus two, the notion that there are important, immovable rules of good writing, and mastering these rules is an art form of its own. I think there's merit to both viewpoints, and I agree that there are certain usage rules that are helpful and necessary and black and white. We need sentence structure and punctuation and subject-verb-object agreement to be coherent and understandable.

But words themselves are much more undulating, much sexier, much juicier, much more prone to change.  Words can be molded, crafted, re-worked in wonderful ways. Words evolve through the deliberate meddling of good writers and the accidental meddling of bad writers and through their everyday use by all of us. More than just the art of lining them up neatly, good writing can be the very creation of language.

I, for one, delight in a good portmanteau, the elegant smushing of similar-sounding words to create a new, joint word. I delight in these word combinations to the point of frantic insistence -- I will not abide you discussing your friend the "Gay Asian" when he should rightfully be your favorite "Gaysian;" and don't tell me you were attacked by sharks during a tornado when it was clearly a sharknado, and if you're taking a photograph of your new car I will be the first one to accuse you of being a cartographer.  Okay, that last one is just a pun.  But whether it's a graceful French "portmanteau" or a vulgar, middle-class pun, or something in between, I do love these Frankenword creations. Are they words? Maybe. Are they a fun product of understanding and enjoying and manipulating language? Absolutely.

I heard this fabulous, accidental portmanteau this weekend. Over too much wine, a very smart friend of mine stated that someone was looking to "validify" his opinions. And it made so much sense! Validate + ratify. Or maybe validate + solidify. Either way, the appended suffix made it clear, maybe even clearer than it was before: this guy wanted support, he wanted encouragement, he wanted to be validified. It sounded so good and so real and I so completely got what my friend meant and I had no desire to correct her. Her use of language was colorful and charming and had made me understand her story even more, and isn't that the whole point of communicating? So, evolving language has its place, and I'm all for accepting and contributing to its evolution in smart, thoughtful ways.

But y'all fuckers gotta stop saying "supposably." 

*Neither judgy nor misusage are words. Or are they???

**Detour for my stoned readers: what makes the sky the sky? What makes your toe your toe? What makes a camel and camel? What makes a camel toe? Your underwear is too tight. Oh my gosh. You're welcome.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Flicky Friday: ft. Music-less David Bowie and Mick Jagger

Today is Friday the 13th, and so it warranted a really spooky, freaky, crazy stuff. And I dare you to find anything more utterly bizarre than this:

This guy does other "musicless music videos," but this one is definitely the best. Maybe because the original video is the weirdest/best/most amazing thing ever on its own:

See? It doesn't make that much more sense with the music. My favorite part is how the whole song is about convincing people to come dance in the street. . . but no one ever shows up. And if Mick Jagger and David Bowie can't mobilize some people to come dance, well, maybe they should've tried asking somewhere other than an abandoned rail yard. Or maybe they need louder pants.

My other favorite part is their pants.  And by that I mean Jagger's pants and Bowie's one-piece jumper.

My other favorite part is how this is like pretty much an 80s version of a Vine video where Bowie and Jagger were hanging out in their favorite abandoned crack house doing drugs and decided to record this video of them dancing. I am like 80% sure that there's no one operating the camera. I did this exact same thing with all my friends in my basement as a kid except with fewer drugs but with exactly the same dance moves.

But like, did they lose a bet?

My other favorite part is how the whole thing fades to white on an image of their butts.

(Related: this more in-depth analysis of the video here; my tribute to David Bowie on his birthday many years ago.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

WTF Wednesday: Jawbones

WTF Wednesday is a much-beloved but long-neglected part of this blog. Today, a random Google search led to its reinstatement, because where else do you share such a wonderful and inexplicable juxtaposition of stock photo and headline as this:

Does it matter what I was searching to find this? No. Do I want a hotdog now? Absolutely.
What? How did a crowded bunch of hotdogs get to be the image accompanying three news stories about the discovery of ancient human fossil remains? Chewing a hotdog is the possibly WORST example of what you might need a jawbone for! Our ancestors had jawbones strong enough to stand the test of time because they tore meat from flesh and ate bark and rocks and bears -- not because they let these little gas station meat amalgams tucked in soft, springy blankets of baked flour melt in their delicate little mouths! 

But then I thought about it a little further because that's the point of this blog: for me to spend too much time thinking about dumb things that a normal busy person would shrug off. And I'm you're glad I did, because I started to realize this is a brilliant little bit of social satire for exactly that reason. Look at you, sloppy obese American Googling "jawbone" because you need a new hands-free headset so that you don't risk burning even one single calorie while you drive and eat and text and listen to the hip hop musics! Look at your mustard-stained shirt, your doughy soft body rivaling that of your limp meat's shell! What would your forefathers think? What would the hunter-gather think, in that last moment of his life before he bit into the hard, rippling neck of a saber-toothed tiger in order to save his primitive village, if he saw you in your Nissan Altima eating your QT hotdog with those powerful jaws he fought so hard to evolve for you?

This is only partly relevant but when you find a photo called
"Richard Nixon Fighting a Saber-toothed Tiger" you fucking use it.

It's like the whole thing is subtext for: yeah, go ahead, read this article about ancient jawbones. But not before you take a good hard look in the rear-view mirror of your life! Subtle, Google, but effective.

And also WTF.

And if you want more in the way of well-done stock photos (who doesn't?!?), look no further than here, where Vince Vaughn and the cast of Unfinished Business took a whole bunch of free stock photos for you to use in your office while you're busy not being a movie actor. (Honestly, they're disappointingly just real stock photos, except with Vince Vaughn in them.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Dangerous Anti-Vaccine Movement (and Why We Still Can't Talk People Out of It)

Look, I was really hesitating to jump into the fire on this issue. I've hesitated posting this for a while because I didn't want to weather the hailstorm of fiery internet criticism. I couldn't decide if this was cowardly -- failing to stand up for truth and science and fact -- or if it was prudent and restrained not to add my uneducated voice to the noisy fray. Then I realized I've never made a decision that was prudent and restrained in my whole life, so, I guess, weeeeeee!

Steven Levitt made a great point on the Freakonomics podcast a while back that stuck in my brain.  An interviewer asked him how to best go about persuading someone with statistics and data and he answered something like, "I think the first thing you have to do is decide why you want to persuade them so badly. Take a deep breath and decide if it's worth it to try."

Levitt expounded on this point on Brian Leher's show, saying of persuasion:
"We'd like to think we're all open minded people who assess the available logic and data and information we can and then kind of weigh it and decide how we want to think about it. But as a matter of fact, our biases are pretty strong and our preconceptions are pretty strong and we use a lot of shortcuts and we like to think the way other people in our circle think. So most people have an ingrained take on a particular topic and to try to budge them on that can be close to impossible."

This makes sense when he lays it out, right? Maybe we, the internet collective, pretend that we pen these thoughtful editorials designed to persuade, but we really just excel at rephrasing and packaging opinions that our readers already have? So, is it futile to try to convince people who strongly, innately disagree with you, who have absolutely, unshakably decided on their truths, who are not open to new evidence, whose friends all agree with them, and whose fingers are in their ears?

But I kept reading about this growing anti-vaccine movement and it kept making me feel queasy and impotent. And then I saw this wonderful satirical piece on The Daily Show which deftly handled the politics of it, so I decided go ahead and post about this because, for once, the consequences of not trying to persuade people about this are actually life-threatening.

The Daily Show clip explores a unique angle of this issue that's been a little under-discussed: the idea that the anti-vaccination movement was borne of the extreme Left. Usually, the people who are denounced as enemies of science are those on the extreme Right; generally, the conflict is between conservative religious priorities and "liberal" scientific ones.  But this particular anti-science movement is unique in that it's rooted in leftism -- you know, Eastern medicine, anti-conformism, homeopathic remedies, ridding the body of toxins, distrust of Big Pharma, etc., etc. The conspiracy theories that birthed anti-vaxxers are wholly different than those that oppose stem cell research or global warming or teaching Evolution in schools. And the demographics of this movement make it unique in how mainstream science has to combat it.

To me, this movement is a prime example of the notion that both sides of the ideological spectrum can fall victim to extremism, and that extremism of any brand -- far Left or far Right -- tends to be sensational, unrealistic, divorced from fact. I was certain that logic and reason always hovered closest to the middle. But Levitt tells us that everyone thinks they are reasonable and unbiased; no one says "I am an extremist fundamentalism and that's why I don't believe in vaccines." They say "I have done the research and weighed the options and that's why I don't believe in vaccines." But how can that be true? Put otherwise: how do we persuade people who aren't relying on their "gut" or their "faith," but are relying, so they claim, on science itself?

Fortunately, in this case, there happens to be real, quantifiable data -- controlled studies performed by reputable scientists who test and record and duplicate each other's work. And the data that's out there resoundingly, unanimously does not support this anti-vaccine movement. So where is this coming from? Who are these otherwise intelligent, educated, socially-conscious, well-meaning people who think they have done unbiased research, but could not possibly have done research?  I'm not sure, but the only way I know how to respond is by pointing to the actual research and the actual numbers.

By far the main reason cited by parents for refusing to vaccinate their children is a concern that certain vaccines may be linked to Autism. This claim has never been substantiated in the scientific or medical communities. Never. (The one scientific study positing a causal relationship between vaccinations and Autism was not only widely discredited, but in fact retracted by the scientific journal that published it. Furthermore, during an ethics investigation, the study's author was found to have conducted his research "dishonestly and irresponsibly." )  Arbiters of science and medicine have been falling all over themselves to test and retest and publish and republish this medical fact: there is no scientific link between vaccinations and autism. 

Statements explaining the fact that science has found no link between vaccines and Autism -- and genuinely begging parents to vaccinate their children -- have been issued by such heavyweights as the Center for Disease Control,  American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the Institute of Medicine, in addition to thousands of other reputable rallying cries. There are no shortage of independent scientific studies on the subject, like this study and this one. The Autism Science Foundation shares links to more than 20 such studies on its website and advises parents, "[t]he results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism." Even Autism Speaks, "the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization," formally states that "studies have not found a link between vaccines and autism," and "strongly encourage[s] parents to have their children vaccinated for protection against serious disease." This fact, this science, is not in dispute.

And yet, the medical community has been shockingly unsuccessful in persuading parents with these facts. So, what of it? As someone who is generally rather libertarian about personal health choices (well, maybe not?), I understand the inclination to let these anti-vaxxing parents make their own bad decisions: okay guys, "you do you" and all, feel free to lie in your own dirty, virus-y bed.  But the egalitarian approach collapses when our freedom from outbreaks of contagious diseases depends largely on this thing called "herd immunity" to actually work.

Herd immunity: the idea that if a certain threshold of people (approximately 95%) are immune to a contagious disease, they will act to protect the disease-susceptible in the population from contracting it. It's a very careful balance and small dips in immunization rates can dramatically endanger the population at large. So, what happens if the balance tilts away from an immunized herd? Well, the anti-vaxxers are giving us a chance to see it in real time:

First, measles are back. Measles, a highly contagious and potentially deadly respiratory disease, was declared officially eradicated in the United States in 2000, meaning that the continuous spread of the diseased had been effectively stopped. This was a major public health victory that was accomplished through the use of vaccines.  However, "between January 1 and November 29, 2014, there were 610 cases of measles nationwide — the highest number of cases since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000." As of the CDC's April 2014 numbers, 68% of the unvaccinated measles cases had a 'personal belief' exemption from school vaccination requirements.

For those of you who've been watching the news, this includes a major outbreak at Disneyland just this week.  As a result of one unvaccinated Disneyland-goer, 52 people have been diagnosed with measles after coming into contact with the virus at the park. Fifty-two, from one exposure! That's because "for every person infected with measles who enters a completely susceptible, unimmunized population, 12 to 18 people are infected." To put that in perspective, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, aka "SARS," the epidemic that dominated the news in the early 2000s, when introduced to an unimmunized population, will only affect only 2-4 people.  Ebola in the same population? Only 1.5 to 2.5 people.  And we thought that was the public health crisis of the decade.

Second, the U.S. is on track to have the most severe whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak in a half-century. This graph scares the crap out of me:

In a real-life controlled test group study, a major outbreak of whooping cough has struck a Michigan county which has the highest rates of parents choosing not have their children vaccinated. One single school in this unvaccinated county has reported 151 cases of pertussis.  It's the worst kind of "I told you so."

Look, I know I'm not a scientist or a medical provider or a parent, so I am woefully ill-equipped with either personal authority or anecdotes. But, these are raw numbers. This is the entire medical and scientific community imploring parents to vaccinate their children. The problem is, this information is only disseminated to people who look for it, like me -- that is, people who don't need to be convinced by it. The anti-vaccine rumors and gossip and hearsay, though, are transmitted rapidly, organically, person-to-person, unsubstantiated Facebook link by unsubstantiated Facebook link. Hysteria spreads like -- well, a virus -- and once the idea and the pseudo-science that supports it gets implanted, it's extraordinarily, terrifyingly difficult to persuade people of the truth.

At the end of the day, I bet I elicited a rousing cheer out of those of you who already agreed with me, and alienated those who didn't. If any passionate anti-vaxxers got past the title of this blog, I bet they spent the post teeming with comebacks and refutations. If not, I'd love to hear from you. That's because the problem with vaccines isn't the science; it isn't untested or unproved or up in the air. The problem with vaccines is persuasion.  How do we get people to listen to something they don't want to hear? How do we get people who think they've made a rational, medically-sound choice to weigh the science on the other side? How do you talk somebody out of what they want to believe? I don't know, but we'd better figure it out.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Genius of Mallory Ortberg

"Mallory Ortberg" isn't a household name, but it should be because she's a damn genius. She's what I want to be when I grow up. (In that she's a paid writer and part of that salary compensates her for writing ridiculously funny comments on Renaissance paintings. That's, like, pretty much the definition of my dream job. It could only be better if they were Renaissance paintings of dinosaurs.)

This is not by Mallory Ortberg. I'm not great at staying on task.
I stumbled on her Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History and laughed SO HARD that I decided to blog about it. She's so dry and understated and contemporary and perfect. It's so simple...and yet it's totally humor that your mom wouldn't get, you know what I mean? (Sorry mom, but read it and tell me if you get it. Was I right? Don't answer me in public unless you agree.) You can check out the whole collection at her home, The Toast, but here are just a couple of appetite whetters*:

  you found us
  you found us with your guitar
  hey guys he found us and he brought his guitar with him
if she plays another fucking organist recital i will literally and actually die right fucking here
twenty more minutes and i’ll have made it through this entire night without talking to any–
fuck, fuck, the dog sees me
She also wrote one called Dirtbag Dionysus, which is the same conceit but with fat, slutty babies, so there's nothing wrong there.

no let’s
shut up
no shut up lets go over there
take me over there there’s a bunch of girls over there
youre my best friend
they look like sluts lets go over there
I would've sung her praises just for that, but then I learned these captions were just the beginning. She's also the ladybrains behind "Texts From," a series of fictional texts from famous (sometimes also fictional) people (and sometimes things).  There are texts from Cormac McCarthy, texts from William Blake, texts from Edgar Allen Poe, texts from The Lorax. They're all amazing, but my favorite favorite is definitely Texts From the Outsiders:
Just a bunch of beautiful guys who read poetry and get in knife fights.
hey how do you pronounce “Soc”
i mean is it like “sock”
because it looks like that’s how you’d say it
but in my head I think of it as being pronounced “soash”
like rhymes with cloche
I guess that makes sense
why do I even know what a cloche is
what kind of a gang is this
what do you mean
i mean i feel like we’re different from other gangs 
different how
i don’t know i guess
we’re just a bunch of regular beautiful guys who like to read poetry and get in knife fights
nothing like putting your hair in place
stabbing a rich guy
then talking about Robert Frost in an attic with another guy
if that’s different, then i guess i’m different
no you’re right

Her humor milieu is something I didn't quite know existed and am still not quite sure how to describe.  It's like genuine social commentary wrapped in high-brow humor disguised as low-brow humor. Sometimes affectionate, sometimes scathing, it's super esoteric-literary-bluestocking stuff for sure, but it's also raw and current and explosive and bloggy-texty-short-attention-spanny.  It's kind of like "Drunk History," but for language arts kids instead of soc (pronounced "sock") studs. (That's what we called social studies kids back when I was a virgin.)  She has a book called Texts from Jane Eyre and y'all should buy it because let's keep this lady in business, right?

AND THEN there's even more! She writes the elaborate Ann Rand's Sweet Valley High, the long-overdue Notes On Other Household Appliances From William Carlos Williams, and the darkly surrealist I’d Love To Help My Wife Do The Dishes, But I’m Trapped Under Something Heavy. 

I shared this stuff with a few favorite friends but then I remembered I had a blog where I could share the genius with all of you, so here you go. A little hump-day*** happiness for my peeps.**** Enjoy some well-deserved humor, my smart, lovely readers.

*Whetters is a gross word remind me not to make up words like that anymore. It's sounds like something a pervy** pirate would have.

**Not to be confused with a scurvy pirate.

***I also hate the word "hump-day."

****This blog post is out of control.

(Remember that time I promised to write more and censor less? THIS IS WHAT YOU GET. I'M FULFILLING PROMISES HERE.)