Tag Archives: John Oliver

With a Little Help from My Friends

The recent shameful departure of my country on the Paris Agreement on global climate change is the dominant story in the news and the most pressing issue on my mind, but I just don’t have the energy (and that is not a pun) to restate the same facts about how we humans, and especially me and mine in America, are responsible for rapidly heating up this one habitable planet we have always known, and until the ignorance of greed consumed too many of us, has been a world we loved as well. I love it still, and the billions of humans and wildlife that live upon it, which is why I worry so much. In the interests of not wishing to belabor a point that needs to be repeated, but not so much to my audience who already understands its severity, and for the sake of not wishing to deviate from my original plan for this post, I will not personally cover (at least for this week) the Paris Agreement tackbacksies that my poorly-led nation idiotically enacted, however, my favorite late night host and his team have put together another fantastic segment this time covering just that:

Thank you, John. You make it easier to endure this madness, and though I’ve never met you, I feel like you could be a friend, which is precisely what we all need through hardships and celebrations, and as it happens, it was 50 years ago last week The Beatles taught the world to cherish friends, as well as to embrace the nature of change for the better and the mixing of culture and art in one of the grandest musical contributions of all time.

On May 26,1967 in England, and June 2 in America, the greatest band to ever play music released one the greatest records ever cut. The Beatles were already at the top of the musical world as they had been for a few years thanks to their tremendous popularity with young pop rock and roll fans. Yet the group felt tired of playing music for screaming girls and wanted to make some “serious music”. They stopped touring concerts to ease their exhaustion and focus on their music. Some people were pissed about this, but regardless of those frustrations from fans and the members of the band itself, all were rewarded with a masterpiece set into motion with about 11 seconds of orchestral warm-up and ambient crowd chatter eagerly awaiting a show that strikes out of the theater noise with drums and guitar that instantly grab our attention so that we are all ears when Paul McCartney starts singing in the fabulously fictitious Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt. Pepper’s remains one of the most influential and unique albums of all time for a variety of reasons. It was pioneering, not just for rock and roll and pop music, but for all music, containing an assortment of instruments and musical styles that culminate in one of the most masterfully varied records, but one with a terrific flow, thanks in large part to the first time omission of the few seconds of silent space between songs. On Sgt. Pepper, Beatles producer George Martin was once again the man behind most of the technical effects that lend a certain feel to the album as a whole. The band had been experimenting with new sounds for their last few records, like Rubber Soul and Revolver, records that really allowed The Beatles to rise above the pure pop that many desired them to be. Sgt. Pepper’s was not the first instance of The Beatles breaking away from the mainstream – honestly, I’m not sure they ever were in the mainstream as much as they were paving the way for it – yet the discography of the band truly took off into an unforeseen level of the musical and cultural atmosphere with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were essentially the first band to walk on the musical Moon. They had been approaching their desired destination with their previous work, but Sgt. Pepper’s was their Apollo program, and led them and many, many others to a new world of musical production.

One fascinating example of this is in the lively album cover that depicts a wealth of celebrities from many walks of life and eras. The Nerdwriter declares it to the “Holy Grail of album covers”, and he is not wrong as the artwork is multi-layered with meaning and references to the essence of the band and its members. He explains this in one of his excellent video essays:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is revolutionary in many respects, but chief among its merits is the quality of its songs and their arrangement. Rolling Stone considers it to be the best album ever made, and while its influence is undeniable and a major reason for their favoring of it, the great music and lyrics that defined The Beatles better than anything else ever could are exceptional throughout the record.

Starting off with the opening I mentioned earlier, the titular “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” provides a terrific introduction both as a song and the theme of the journey we are about to take. It also provides a bookended finish with a short reprisal of “Sgt. Pepper’s” as the penultimate song of the record. It was Paul McCartney’s idea to make the album’s premise be a concert sang by a fictional band. This fit his and the band’s characteristic whimsy, but also allowed them to push the envelope a little further with the safety of being able to let any controversy fall back upon the fictitious group in place of the real one. Oh that wasn’t us; that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.

The title track segues perfectly into what is probably the most popular song on the album, and is certainly one of the band’s best songs. I mean, I did name this post after it. After his alter ego Billy Shears’ introduction at the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Ringo Starr begins to sing the classic “With a Little Help from My Friends”. This is one of my favorite songs for its joyful melody, harmonious vocals, and encouraging message that friendship is the key to enjoying life through the good and bad. Despite their differences and the trials each of them were going through at the time, it is clear that The Beatles worked so well, not just on this record, but throughout the years because they were friends. This song is the epitome of that love for one another. It’s all you need after all – wait, that’s the next record.

From the epitome of friendship we roll on to the epitome of psychedelia with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. There are many references to drug use on featured within the album, including an overt one in the previous song, but John Lennon always maintained that this song was based on a drawing his son made of a girl in his class named Lucy. As one radio host on the newly launched Sirius Beatles Channel said, Lennon never shied away from discussing drugs and did write “Cold Turkey” in his post-Beatles career, so even though the nouns in the title begin with the letters LSD, drugs did not inspire this song. However, that does not mean they did not influence this song, which they almost certainly did, although not just in the trippy description of Lucy’s land as the song (an album entire) serves as an allusion to the flower power movement that saw the cultures of East and West blending together like a tie-dye T-shirt. This is certainly apparent on the one song on the album John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not write, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” which is driven by Harrison’s sitar and other Indian instruments.

The highlight of the album for many is the closing orchestration that is “A Day in the Life”. I say orchestration because Martin and The Beatles brought in an actual orchestral arrangement to play the unnerving transitions between the two wildly distinctive tones of the song. The reason for these drastically different pieces from Lennon and McCartney is simple as they began as two different songs. Lennon needed something to connect his song that was inspired by stories in a newspaper, and McCartney offered a separate song he had been working on and they sandwiched it in and spread the orchestra to make it more cohesive. The final piano note was actual multiple pianos played simultaneously and then stretched out by Martin in the sound mixing booth. The end result is a slightly disturbing note of finality to a slightly disturbing song that perfectly punctuates the album.

The album has a perfect transition from song to song which is all the more impressive given its great variation of styles. This could have been a magnificent failure for a lesser group, but as I’ve said before and will say again, The Beatles are the greatest band of all time and they managed to make a clash of genres and technical trials (Paul McCartney is credited with playing a “comb and tissue paper”) into their defining work… until next year’s release of their best album, but we can talk about that next year. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a massive success from the start and continued to establish The Beatles as the master musicians they were and deserve to be recognized as. I encourage you to listen to this and all their other albums. It’s easy to call The Beatles great, and not hard to recommend such a well loved band, but these guys are in another league. Remember when I said Sgt. Pepper’s was like The Beatles landing on the Moon? Well, their continued career took them across the universe to places other musicians can only dream of. That pun was absolutely intended, but also absolutely true. The Beatles are not my favorite band – anyone who’s read my previous posts knows that honor belongs to another British rock band – but I will defend until my dying breath that they are the best band because they are. No one is more varied, talented, and has such an extensive body of work that is as high quality as The Beatles’ discography. Also, they are my second favorite band, so it’s not like it’s hard for me to admire them, but it helps that they’re really, really good.

Thanks for reading, watching, and listening! Be sure to check out anything you can from The Beatles even if you’ve heard it all before. They certainly are worth listening to more than once. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please send them to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to revolve back here next week for more hopefully good news or fun topics. Whatever I write about, I promise I’ll throw in a joke or two.

I hope you have enjoyed the show,

Alex

Never Forget Our Heroes

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. This holiday may be the unofficial start of summertime in America that allows us an opportunity to get together with friends and family for burgers and beer, as well as the harsh realization that no, it’s not warm enough to go swimming yet, but while it is good that we can observe this lighthearted enjoyment in the company of loved ones, Memorial Day has a somber reason for its existence. Memorial Day was created to recognize those who lost their lives in America’s military.

While the exact date that Memorial Day was first observed is not easy to pin down, it is apparent that it became nationally prominent in the late 1860s following the American Civil War. Since then, Americans of all ages have paid their respects to their fallen military men and women in a number of ways. Typically parades, visits to cemeteries, and the aforementioned cookout with friends are common occurrences, yet today I am turning my focus to a specific group of aides to the American armed forces who deserve our thanks and are still living, although their lives are in serious danger and we need to help them to survive as they helped our service members to survive.

Since the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq began, there have been translators who have served as the necessary communicative link between soldiers and engineers working for the military and the native people. These translators have helped to save countless lives and now deserve to be returned the favor, however, this is far from the case as you can learn from this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Translators, even if they were not born or even set foot in the United States, are American heroes and deserve the easy opportunity to become U.S. citizens. We should be fast-tracking these guys and their families on that course of action if they desire it, especially considering the imminent danger most of them are in. It is inexcusable, criminal really, to force them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to realistically attain the goal of citizenship. They deserve to be recognized for their service to America by being welcomed into America. We should be raising a toast of honor to these men and women on Veteran’s Day, not a toast of remembrance on Memorial Day because the United States government did not act as valiantly to serve and save them as they did to serve and save our soldiers and engineers.

The truly frustrating thing is that this episode aired in October of 2014 but things have not vastly improved in the application process. In fact, they have only become harder. Perhaps this is something your local representative should hear about.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please send them to monotremadness@gmail. com.

Alex

If You Give a Bigot a Cookie…

Last week, I reveled in the championship that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers delivered to their glory-starved hometown and smiled at the masses who came together to welcome their athletic heroes home to celebrate the historic occasion. This week, I am looking at another historic occasion, but one that is decidedly less unanimously revered by the residents it directly affects, as well as globally despised by everyone else. I am referring to the “In/Out Referendum” better known as the Brexit that citizens in the United Kingdom voted on last Thursday. The decision to leave the European Union was made in a close vote that saw a large turnout, yet few seem happy with the decision especially outside of Britain.

If you have not heard what the story behind the separation of the UK from the EU is all about, then consult this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

That aired prior to the vote that divided the citizens of the UK not just by area -Scotland and Northern Ireland were firmly in favor of staying – but by age and educational level as well. Most younger voters opted to stay while older generations chose to leave. Additionally, the number of people with at least a bachelor’s degree were more inclined to remain in the EU than those without one. And as you can probably guess from Oliver’s piece, folks who were born outside of the UK were much bigger fans of sticking with the Union than those who were locals. Thus, it seems that the pre-vote assumption that a growing nationalist movement was the primary group in favor of a British exit was correct. This was further explored by Oliver and his team in the latest episode of his show:

I’ve stayed fairly quiet about my political views in the past for a few simple reasons. Primarily, whom I cast my vote for is between myself and Uncle Sam, and no one else needs to be included in the process. Furthermore, I do not swing strongly one way or the other, and have voted for Democrat, Independent, and Republican candidates for a variety of political positions over the years. Party affiliation has little bearing upon my vote. Instead I base my decisions on the individual candidate and whether or not I think he or she is the best for the job. Sometimes that does boil down to picking the least of all evils, but that is the way it goes to ensure you cast your vote as wisely as possible. If I do not feel informed enough about a certain race or issue, then I simply so not cast a vote because I do not want to make an uneducated vote and mistakenly vote for someone or something that does not align with my views.

All that being said, today I am joining the chorus condemning Donald Trump as a world leader in any capacity. For years I have assumed that he would not survive the political process long enough to make it to the position he is in this year, much like this:

As the cartoon shows, operating with the assumption that something will weed Donald Trump out of the race for president (or any undesirable candidate for any position) is not the way to prevent him from winning that position. He is not going to go away, and a major reason why is the same as why the UK voted for the Brexit: the growing support for nationalism, a bigotry fearful of foreign affairs and immigration and generally what is different from the whitebread way of life. John Oliver attempted to ignore Trump as long as possible also, but a while back his show put together an excellent selection of pieces to point out why he is unfit for command of anything but store that sells bad hairpieces.

Regardless of your political views, be sure that you consider more than one issue or party loyalty before casting your vote for a candidate in any election. Even if you are a Trump supporter, choose based on how the candidate aligns with all of your views and not the views of your friends and family, or a specific party.

Thanks for reading/watching. Return here next week for more informative and entertaining somethings or others.

Don’t be the glass of milk,

Alex

State of the Season 3: Twisted Traditions to Out of this World Optics – Clearly, I Just Write About Whatever I Feel Like Each Week

May the Fourth be with you! Happy Star Wars Day everyone!  Star Wars Day of course officially started all the way back in 2011 in Toronto, Canada, but we all know it is the continued May the Fourth be with You and Revenge of the Fifth celebrations by the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team that really keeps it going (I love that kid in the Ewok costume!). There’s nothing minor about them. I hope that the First Order doesn’t see fit to continue constructing Death Stars as the third time most certainly won’t be the charm and I am a strong advocate against planetary destruction (but more on that later). I celebrate this year’s day of dedication to that galaxy far, far away in eager anticipation of revisiting it in 228 days when my most anticipated movie of 2015 is finally released along with my burgeoning sexual tension.

I am excited now though, especially after a weekend of temperatures in the 70s and 80s F. Such nice weather makes me hopeful that winter might end soon here. Honestly, we’ll have more to contend with from higher temps than I enjoyed this weekend soon, but I am still looking forward to summer for the chance to wear less clothing, enjoy a few beers outside, and watch superheroes, robots, and dinosaurs leave chaos in their wake until the leaves start changing colors.

The past three months featured an eclectic assortment of writing from me, so this third installment in my seasonal review series will be all across the board.

Back in the beginning of February – the true cruelest month no matter what T.S. Eliot says – I offered my opinion on the tradition of Black History Month in “Why Black History Month Is Bullshit”. You can probably guess my general feeling toward it all, but I hope that my reasoning is logical. As anticipated, I got responses from people with views on both sides of the issue, but all of them took it too far one way or the other for my liking. I had to disallow another blog from featuring this post because they felt I was saying something completely different from what I was trying to construe. I assume they only read the title. I encourage you to read the whole thing before you pass judgment on me, yet once you do read it please send me your thoughts.


The next post, “All About Oscar: A Highly Opinionated and Occasionally Entertaining Guide to Films Revered by a Naked Golden Statuette”, generated less controversy. It served as my “It’s my birthday and I’ll write what I want to” post and allowed me to have fun scrutinizing films of all eras, classic and obscure alike, in order to generate three top 10 lists: The Best Best Picture Winners; Best Picture Nominees That Didn’t Win That Should Have; and Best Pictures That Weren’t Even Nominated For Best Picture That Should Have Won Best Picture. I churned it out in time for this year’s Oscar Ceremony which saw Birdman win the top prize, but I stand by this list still today, so if you’re looking for just what the title says then this is the list for you.


I vented my frustrations over the Disneyland measles outbreak and the anti-vaccination community in “An Apple A Day Won’t Do Shit Against Smallpox”. This was an instance where I looked back at some notes from my school days to shed light on the situation. I hope I presented it in simple enough terms for everyone to understand that they need to get vaccinated for the sake of themselves and everyone else.


I next wanted to write an appraisal of my favorite record in the week of its 40th anniversary, but the best laid plans got set aside in the wake of the death of two of my childhood heroes: marine biologist Eugenie Clark and actor/artist Leonard Nimoy. In “Shark Lady and Spock: In Memoriam” I presented my own eulogies for the pair and reflected on the impact they had and continue to have on my life. Rereading today shortly after hearing blues legend B.B. King entered into hospice care made me realize how brief our time here really is, as well as how little I’ve done comparatively. Damn it! Why wasn’t I blessed better focus for scientific study, acting ability, or mad blues guitar skills?! Perhaps I’ll find my calling in mediocre writing once a week.


I got around to revering my favorite band and my favorite album in “Let’s Get Physical: A Celebration of the Highest Flight of Led Zeppelin”. I went along the double LP song for song as I made the case for Physical Graffiti not only as the best album from the gods of rock (yes, even better than Zeppelin IV), but the best from anyone. Sure, it helps that it’s a double album, but the best is the best. I’m sure you’ll find it at the very least pretty damn good.

A few months back I looked through a stack of vinyl records my parents had accrued over the years, many of which were unopened. One that I found that was battle worn was Physical Graffiti and I’m proud to say that when you play it at full volume you can’t even hear the scratches. Ironically, the album I’m most excited to have found in the same collection is a still wrapped in plastic copy of Zeppelin IV that still bears the sticker declaring that it “Contains ‘Stairway to Heaven'”.


I kicked off the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with “I’m As Mad As March and I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore!” where I described the tradition my friends and I have to choose who has the best mascot of the tourney teams and see how our mascot bracket finishes compared to the rest of ours and our other friends and family. This year we picked the UC Irvine mascot, Peter the Anteater, who unfortunately was knocked out in the first round. Our Mascot Bracket also finished in last place in both groups we entered it into… again. Maybe going by mascots isn’t the best way to win, but it is the most fun.


Remember when I said I didn’t care for global destruction? Well, I elaborated a bit more upon this in “The Climate It Is a-Changin'”. In it I described how FEMA is holding states accountable to take a scientific stance on climate change, else they won’t receive emergency preparedness aid if they refuse to devote a chunk of it to prepping for a warming climate.

When I first learned of global climate change I questioned it’s plausibility, but even before I understood the science that evidences how we’ve caused this rock of ours to heat up, I reasoned that it was worth it to change our ways to live greener lifestyles for the sake of conservation and long-term health of ourselves and the planet. Regardless of whether or not the world is getting hotter, it’s not a bad plan of action to try to clean the place up a bit and cut down on pollution. Now of course I know that we’re turning up the temp and we need to not only cut down on our fossil fuel spending, but counteract it with carbon sequestration and continued preservation of what natural lands remain.


I continued to discuss controversial topical issues with “Hoosier Homophobia: The Latest Chapter in the Book of Intolerance”. Definitely a pretentious title, but not an incorrect one. I discussed what I hope is firmly a lesson learned with Indiana’s bigoted “religious freedom” law that was thankfully quickly rescinded. Such legislation and sentiments still exist throughout the United States, and other worse “laws” are enforced to persecute LGBTQ people in other places. We’ve got a long way to go in welcoming everyone to the party of harmonious living, but taking back this Indiana legislation was a step in the right direction.


Keeping up with the theme of topical, immediately important news, I prattled on about how funny I find John Oliver and his sit down with Edward Snowden in my mature, professional manner with “Can They See My Dick?” It’s actually a quote made numerous times by Oliver in the interview which I included for your viewing pleasure. Take the time to watch it and you’ll not be disappointed.


I revisited my secondary hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where I went to college in pursuit of a Biology degree and came away with an increased interest in the development of rock and roll over the decades from its early influences to its current breeds of new subgenres, and also of lesser importance, a Biology degree. During the summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I discovered a great deal more artists of rock and roll that I never before knew existed and delved deeper into the works of those I did. I carried this on in my ensuing five years living in Cleveland and grew to love some rockers that I hardly knew in my teenage years. Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of these and he quickly became the most heinous exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in my eyes. Thankfully this year’s Rock Hall class finally included SRV and all was set right in the world for a time. I wrote about him and his band Double Trouble and all the other inductees in the 2015 class in “This Guy Is Crying…No More!”, a mondegreen of SRV’s song “The Sky Is Crying” and one of my prouder titles.

I also mentioned some bands and artists who are eligible that I was surprised to learn were not in the Rock Hall yet, and unsurprisingly a closer inspection revealed another major oversight by the Rock Hall. By some strange twist of fate, Journey are not in the Rock Hall. I have to think that someday they’ll get there, but even still, Don’t Stop Believin’. Also Don’t Start Unbelieving.


I stayed on the subject of rock and roll for another week, but this time with an emphasis on drug based songs in “Don’t Forget To Bring a Towel”. I put together of my favorite songs whose subject matter is the illicit and illegal substances of all sorts. I crowned The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” as the best song definitively about drugs (because Jimi Hendrix said Purple Haze wasn’t about tripping balls, while Lou Reed made it pretty clear what he was singing about).

Somehow I forgot about one of my favorite songs as a kid in the 90s, Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” which I definitely didn’t know was about crystal meth back then. This one will be featured again in a future post on a list of songs I’ve been putting together for a while.


Finally, we come to the edge of space, or at least our atmosphere with my celebration of the now 25 year old orbiting Hubble telescope and the man who served as its namesake in “Edwin, His Hooker, and Hubble Trouble”. If you want to ooh and aah all day, then take a look at the images it has captured over the years and awe at our magnificent universe.

Those pictures almost weren’t as clear, though. My friend Dan, the aerospace engineer, told me that the Hubble Space Telescope had issues right out of the space shuttle as its primary mirror had been ground to the incorrect specifications and caused it to be unable to look into deep space and carry out most of what it was built for! Because it was near-sighted, NASA planned to patch the telescope up so that it could fulfill its full mission. Fortunately, the space shuttle Endeavor went up to HST for a servicing mission in December of 1993 and added a corrective lens. As Dan put it, the Hubble has glasses! Or at least the world’s coolest monocle. And now it sees just fine and has been giving us unbelievable images for years.

Thanks for reading, or re-reading, or perusing as usual. Next week will begin the fourth season of my posts and it’ll be about… uh, eh, what-whatever I feel like writing about next Monday, naturally! Direct comments, questions, and all that jazz to monotrememadness@gmail.com and keep on keeping on!

May the Fourth be with Us All,

Alex

Can They See My Dick?

Baseball’s back baby! Earlier today I gleefully watched the Detroit Tigers defeat the Minnesota Twins in their opening game of this 2015 Major League Baseball season. Also in sports, tonight at the oddly specific starting time of 9:18PM is the Men’s College Basketball National Championship between the Badgers and Blue Devils from Wisconsin and Duke respectively. Yet as much as I would like to go on about the impressive offensive and defensive day for Yoenis Cespedes, David Price’s pitching performance, or how Frank Kaminsky’s future NBA success may be directly correlated to his ugliness, there are more important issues to discuss.

Loyal readers of this blog (all one of you, including myself) know that I frequently draw upon the oeuvre of John Oliver. I’ve long been a fan of the Daily Show style of humorously delivered news and their comical correspondents, and Oliver is my favorite right now. After filling in for Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last summer while Stewart worked on the film Rosewater, Oliver showed his hosting chops and has impressed and amused many with his infectious smile, exaggerated hand motions, conversations with himself, and all around British charm. However, like his colleagues Stewart and Stephen Colbert before him, under all that lovable goofiness is a highly intelligent man looking to cut through the bullshit to deliver the news, albeit with funny pictures and dumb jokes about his penis. Now that he has his own show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, Oliver is at the forefront of what news he wishes to delve into each week. You can see why I’m a fan.

Today I am once again looking to Mr. Oliver for inspiration, and his most recent discussion is one that is very important to the current state of the States and the rest of the world: global surveillance, specifically the spying done by the National Security Agency, better known as the NSA. This has been a hot topic since June 2013 thanks to a 29 year old American computer technician named Edward Snowden. Now 31, Snowden once worked for the CIA and NSA before fleeing the United States for Hong Kong where he leaked US government documents to reporters to reveal the extent of global surveillance conducted by America on enemies and allies alike, as well as on American citizens living in the US and abroad. He currently lives somewhere in Russia, presumably in or around Moscow where he occasionally meets with journalists.

Depending on whom you ask, you will hear Snowden referred to as “hero”, “traitor”, and “Who?” alike. It seems that the jury’s still out on Snowden across this country of mine and everywhere else; I myself am still not sure what to make of him and am certain the story is far from over. Nevertheless, whatever kind of whistleblower he is, Snowden has served a critical role in getting people to question their privacy rights and how much they are willing to give up for supposed safety measures. This is a very important question to ponder at any time, yet especially so now as key elements of the Patriot Act – the controversial law that allows wiretaps and monitoring of suspected terrorists that was quickly signed into effect after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 – are due for dismissal or reauthorization on June 1.

I have included John Oliver’s latest major segment from his show’s YouTube channel. It is just over 30 minutes, but trust me, it’s worth spending a half hour and three minutes of your time on. Oliver actually met with Snowden in Russia last week and interviewed him in his typical, unconventional style. In the interview, he does a good job of not only working in joking quips, but gets at the primary issue of confusion for most people regarding this topic and Snowden’s involvement in it. Oliver correctly identifies that it is difficult for most people to understand how the government acquisition of information occurs and does his best to have Snowden discuss it in terms that we laypeople can more easily comprehend. Enjoy.

Gives new meaning to the term “junk mail”, eh?

No matter what your opinion of Snowden is, it is always important to ensure that your freedoms are both being protected and continued to be granted to you. It is hard to determine where the line is on some issues, and we definitely don’t want anyone to be able to commit any more atrocities, large or small, in America (or anywhere, but especially here!), yet we cannot allow fear to dictate how we behave or what we do. When you do let a group of people scare you into acting a certain way, well, the terrorists win. That’s what a terrorist is: someone who uses fear, usually of things like, oh, I dunno, death, to force you to cease living the way you were (or at all) to fit within the confines of their own agenda. I’m not saying that the United States government is a collection of terrorists bullying its citizens and the world into behaving the way it wants, but I don’t want it to become such and it is more likely to do that by continuing to monitor everyone’s every action. I’m okay with Kim Kardashian’s butt breaking the Internet, as long as it’s not crashed by government servers.

Thanks for reading/watching! My special thanks to John Oliver and his HBO crew for making their show segments so readily available and for once again giving me something smarter to talk about than sparkly multicolored koosh balls (but admit it, you want me to write about that now, don’t you?). If you have anything to add or ask about, or a request for something you’d like me to write about (KOOSH BALLS!) hit me up via email at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Enjoy the final men’s college hoops game of this season tonight, and the remaining 161 regular season MLB games for each club throughout October. Be sure to swoosh back here next week for an in-depth discussion of the latest class of recognized legends of the greatest genre of music.

Go Tigers,

Alex

An Apple a Day Won’t Do Shit Against Smallpox

Greetings one and all! As the fan(s) of this blog know, last night was the 87th Oscars Ceremony, and I watched it and want to talk about it real bad. However, I have blabbered about Oscar stars and snubs more than enough in the past weeks, so I’m going to do my best to return to my scientific and social roots for the sake of educating and bringing awareness to the masses (although I will say that I’m glad a film as creative and crazy as Birdman won Best Picture). Today’s first topic is one that’s been bandied about on the news a lot recently, and I think it’s got a pretty clear cut solution, so I’m going to explain my position as simply and politely as I can then springboard to another issue of concern in the same field. Without further ado, here is the first of two humorous videos starring Brian Huskey (you’ll be like, “Oh! That’s that guy’s name,” when you see him) to kick off the discussion.

First, If Google Was A Guy (Part 3). As you can see, Google Guy’s (Huskey) frustration is mounting because of the stupid things people request him to search for. By the time this third installment in the College Humor series kicks off, he’s kind of losing it. There are many ridiculous queries presented to him, but the one that stands out above (or maybe below?) all the others is this one regarding a connection between vaccines and autism.

[Deep sigh] Ugh. God fucking damn it. My greatest frustrations from people turning a blind eye to science, empirical evidence, and common sense are regarding the denials of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection and anthropogenic climate change, yet nothing makes me roll my eyes like the ridiculous, unfounded, and disproved notion that vaccines somehow inflict autism. You know what happens when you get a vaccine? Your immune system gets a stronger resistance to the disease the vaccine is made for, or rather from. A vaccine is produced from the weakened form of the thing that causes a disease or something closely related to it. For example, a smallpox vaccine is crafted from a related “pox” virus called vaccinia that does not cause smallpox. When given, this smallpox vaccine helps your body build an immunity to the smallpox virus. The vaccinia acts as an antigen (short for antibody generator) that your antibodies target and eventually adapt an immunity to so that if the body encounters the actual pathogen (in this case the smallpox virus) in the future it can send specific antibodies to destroy it and keep you disease-free.

Smallpox in cows (called Variolae vaccinae which is where the term vaccine originated; vacca is Latin for cow) was the first disease a vaccine was made for back in 1798 by Dr. Edward Jenner. Thanks to the widespread administration of the smallpox vaccine decades ago, smallpox has been eradicated throughout the world. Like Stan and Randy Marsh’s money in their bank accounts during the American bank bailouts a few years ago, thanks to the vaccine taken to prevent it we can safely declare that there once was a global presence of smallpox aaaaaand it’s gone.

We don’t need to get smallpox vaccines anymore because we got rid of it through the effective use of smallpox vaccines. Sadly, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) which are related and prevented by the same vaccine commonly given when you are one year old, are not only still around, but they are still spreading more than Disney magic in the United States because of people ignorantly and staunchly against the vaccine (and other vaccines) who refuse to let their children be given it. These people are called anti-vaxxers, though I have some other terms I use to identify them that I will not list here (the word “stupid” is common among them, as are choicer words). The anti-vaccination movement against vaccines stems from a 1998 paper by former medical researcher Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield contended that the MMR vaccine could cause autism and gastrointestinal disease in those who received it. This was later discovered to be totally bogus when other medical researchers could not reproduce Wakefield’s results. Furthermore, Wakefield’s co-authors jumped ship and denounced the study, especially when investigative journalist Brian Deer discovered Wakefield had performed unethical tests on autistic children and also had “undisclosed financial conflicts of interest”. Such an interest does not mix with objective scientific research (we’ll get back to this in a bit), nor does casting ethics to the wind, so Wakefield’s claim was deemed fraudulent and his medical practice and research were shut down by the United Kingdom Medical Registry.

I wonder how many anti-vaxxers would refuse an Ebola vaccine or an HIV vaccine if they existed (some exciting research going on right now). Perhaps if smallpox was as prevalent today as it once was and people were dying from it at an alarming rate, then maybe more than a few anti-vaxxers would change their tune. I don’t want to have some medical epidemic be the death of the anti-vaccination movement because that means it will be accompanied with the actual deaths of far too many people – deaths that could have been prevented. I want anti-vaxxers to actually do their research and study up on what they clearly do not understand before condemning vaccines and getting swept up in the fearful words of other medically unqualified people who have come to an ignorant and harmful conclusion. If you want to learn more about preventable diseases and their vaccines check out these WHO and CDC pages.

I’m no doctor, but if you honestly believe that vaccinations cause autism, then you aren’t either (unless you’re a doctor in the sense that Dr. Phil is a doctor). Correlation does not imply causation, and vaccines do not cause autism – end of story.

It’s also important to note that it’s necessary for you and your children to still get vaccinated against MMR and other infectious diseases even though other people have already received the vaccine. Unlike smallpox, diseases like measles are still around, and they can still infect people who have received a vaccination against them if the disease mutates inside an unvaccinated human host. So forgoing the vaccination puts more than just yourself at risk – just ask those people at Disneyland who had received the MMR vaccine.

If you’re still confused why so many people refuse vaccines, then check out SciShow’s Science of Anti-Vaccination. Hank and the gang present a better, less angry explanation than I can.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical of doctors and what they prescribe for you, which leads us to our second major point made via video: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Marketing to Doctors. Hey, that doctor in the ending skit was played by what’s-his-name! Also, that doctor was prescribing medication to patients not because they needed it but because the company that produced it paid him to push their product. Pretty eye-opening stuff, especially seeing that marketing from drug companies accounts for a staggering amount of money – approximately $4 billion on us the consumers and $24 billion on our doctors and health care providers – not to mention that these companies’ marketing budgets are often larger than their research and development budgets!

If you want to look up your doctor(s) and see what they’ve potentially been paid for in the past you can check out the Open Payments Data page Oliver talked about in the video. Apparently my primary physician is a $10 lunch man at best to a few drug companies, but that’s probably for the better for me and his other patients.

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the Oscars, but there is an Oscar-winning movie that actually has a surprising amount of relevance to this issue. The film is The Fugitive (1993) starring Harrison Ford as a desperate man (it is a specialty of his) wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and Tommy Lee Jones (the man responsible for the lone Oscar the movie won) being awesome. It’s based on the popular 1960s television show of the same name and draws upon the same basic setup, but the movie adds in an expose` of the pharmaceutical drug industry’s desire to make money more than to protect people as a critical plot point. It’s more entertaining to me than a serious investigative documentary on the same subject (the drug industry thing, not the framed doctor chased by a relentless marshal thing), but no matter how you come to realize the incredible effect that money and marketing play in the United States health care system, be sure that you verify that you have qualified and honest people looking after your health needs and that you do everything you can for your well-being and the well-being of the rest of us too. Long story short: you may not need that multicolored pill with the pretty people and cute cartoon characters advertising it during your favorite show, but you should get your MMR vaccine.

Thanks for reading! I hope you will be willing to ask questions and do your homework about what is best regarding your health and the health of others. If you have questions about today’s post or suggestions for what I should write about in the future, comment below or email me at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Flee back here next week for more enthralling and educational words of wisdom. Or whatever I produce next Monday. Oh, and call your parents or J.K. Simmons will slap you.

Bum badumbum bumbumbum,

Alex

P.S. Fuck Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, as well as all those pharmaceutical company pill pushers who want your cha-ching more than your good health.