Monday, November 23, 2009

2nd Place- Bill Maher *Hearts* Woo

The problem is that I like Bill Maher and I think that (most of the time) he’s hilarious. That said, his recent comments have struck some, myself among them, as more than a little kooky.
I am specifically referring to his rather bizarre blog post in response to his response to Michael Shermer’s open letter (HuffPo open letter).
The post starts of congenial enough- “While America is still in the grips of swine flu mania, let me use this opportunity to clear up a few things about my beliefs concerning the flu shot, vaccines, and health in general.” Bill Maher's Blog Response

(Great Bill. We’d love nothing better.)

He then goes on to say that many people are expressing private “skepticism” regarding vaccines and that he feels responsible for representing these peoples views.

(Privately? Isn’t that convenient? I mean about how no one can disapprove Maher claims because no ethical person would dare reveal the name of private supporter.)

Then he informs us of how put upon he is and attempts some sort of wacky conciliatory argument “But I don't want the job. I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me -- its just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view.”

One might be inclined to say “Don’t take the job then Bill.”

No one drug Maher from his home and tortured him until he admitted his unconventional views on vaccinations. He had ample opportunity to simply shut his mouth. Yet he didn’t. The moment he decided to open his mouth and exercise his free speech he became culpable for what he said. Hence, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that he got the job. After all, he applied for it when he expressed his views on national television. Presenting himself as a martyr in order to elicit sympathy from his critics should be beneath him. Ah, but there more. Maher tells us there’s a movement to silence those who would object to the horrid tyranny of vaccines.

For one moment Maher sounds exactly like the senseless individuals he routinely skewers. There’s a movement, though the only people who seem to see this movement are Maher and his get. Why would that be? Well, a movement that’s hidden from everyone else sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy, doesn’t it?

And once again Maher plays the sympathy card. Here he is, just a humble comedian, who is out there fighting those who would silence people who are asking vital questions concerning OUR health! Those bastards! How dare you immunize me!

(He’s Super Maher, mild mannered comedian by day- but by night he battles his archenemy The Man to save us all from HEALTH CARE! It’s a bird… it’s a plane…it‘s a jackass!)
In case that fails to impress you Maher tries ad populum to woo us: “The British Medical Journal from August 25 says half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot -- are they all crazy too? Sixty-five percent of French people don't want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.”

I’m not going to bother trying to deflate the statistics- instead I’m going to point out the contradiction in using them. Maher concludes his sentence with saying “Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.” Which medical establishment? In the sentence before, Maher asked “half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot -- are they all crazy too?” Why is the medical establishment in the U.S, simplifying the issue, but the UK medical professionals are beyond scrutiny? If one set of doctors and specialists are too dense to comprehend the complexity issue, how can we trust another set of doctors just because they happen to be across the pond?

And what do the French have to do with anything? Being French doesn’t equate being reasonable.

Maher further clarifies his position by saying “The point I am representing is: Is getting frequent vaccinations for any and all viruses consequence-free?” But then Maher finally touches on what’s really bothering him. Michael Shermer and his open letter.

He feels that Shermer was trying to “silence” him with condescension (really? Awww, poor baby…). He then feels the need to tell everyone he read Microbe Hunters when he was eight so he has “a basic idea how vaccines work”.

(Why is it comedy when Maher uses condescension to deflate an opponent, but it’s arrogance when Shermer does the same? It’s a little hypocritical to chastise someone for being condescending when you’ve turned it into a career. BTW… it’s also very hard to solicit sympathy by whining about it…but I digress.)

Does he know how vaccines work? We have no one but Bill Maher to confirm the idea that Bill Maher knows how vaccines work, in spite of the fact that he acknowledges he has only a “basic” idea of how they work and he is not an “expert”. I think that goes far to say he probably doesn’t know how they work as well as he think he might.

He goes off on a confusing tangent about taking bits of what he said and extrapolating things that he didn’t say- blah blah blah.

(It goes on like that.)

The next statement is even more baffling. “But rather than responding to every absurd thing said-” I get the feeling that what Maher is actually saying is “rather than responding to ever absurd thing I’VE said… respond to all the absurd things I’m about to say now.” He devotes several sentences to trying to justify why he has said these absurd things: “But rather than responding to every absurd thing said, let me just tell you want I do think -- because I will admit, I have gone off half cocked on this issue sometimes, and often only had time on my show to explain a fraction of what needed to be explained, and for that I am sorry. Some of it can't be helped, some of that is the nature of the show we do: live, off the cuff, lots of interruptions.”

(And at the end of that, he still hasn’t told us what he does think-)

Further down in the post he tells that he regrets some of the thing that he says, but it STILL really isn’t his fault. He complains that he was misquoted… sort of… saying “Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services what she thought about the fact that "Bill Maher told his viewers anyone who gets a flu shot is an idiot."“

Turns out it was Twittered! Oh! Damn! 60 Minutes was DISTORTING what he had said.
(Maybe it’s part of the secret conspiracy that involves everyone, perpetrated by the mainstream media, to shut up Bill Maher. Hold me, I’m frightened!)

The revelation of that fact is approximately followed by another statement of how silly it is to take anything Maher says seriously: “But, come on -- it was a twitter from a comedian, not a treatise in the New England Journal of Medicine, that's not what I do.”

Well I’ve got a zany idea! Maybe if Maher stopped presently himself as someone in possession of credible information regarding vaccines- information that’s being suppressed nonetheless- then people would stop treating what his statements as if they came from a person in possession of credible information regarding vaccines.

He seems to want us to know he’s a comedian- but a comedian who can be taken seriously too- so long as you agree with him. If you disagree, well you can’t hold him accountable, because he’s just a comedian.

A while after Bill reminds us what a joker he is he says “and if your immune system is already compromised by, for example, eating a typical American diet, then a flu shot can make sense. But someone needs to be representing the point of view that says the preferred way to handle flus is to have a strong immune system to begin with, and getting lots of vaccines might not be the best way to accomplish that over the long haul.”

But he only has a basic idea of that. He isn’t an expert. He’s only a comedian… but he deems himself qualified to represent a view of how best to handle the flu? Shouldn’t a physician, not a comedian, be representing that view? If there is a decided lack of physicians to support the view, shouldn’t that tell you something?

(Yes- they’re in on the secret conspiracy.)

Maher then says that sometimes its’ okay to “correct” nature, and other times it’s not, but he doesn’t really prescribe any formula to determine the difference between these times.
“This is the flu, and there's always a flu. I've said it before, America is a panicky country.”

But once again, the irony of the statement is completely lost on Maher. At the same time he’s chastising panicky Americans for getting flu shots over a regular flu, and yet Maher is directing panic in a different. So I suppose panic that agree with Maher’s agenda is just fine?

Maher returns to his half-hearted conciliatory argument, saying how some vaccines may have done some great things in the past. He points out that we have figured out how to trick our bodies, and maybe sometimes that was great, or was it? Maher says, “But maybe the immune system doesn't like being tricked so many times. Maybe we should be studying that instead of shouting down debate.”

Study what? The immune system doesn’t like or dislike anything. And even if it did- what is it like ‘sorry Joe, this is the seventh time you’ve tricked us with that old vaccine bit. Fool me once shame on you! Fool me seven times shame on me!“

If Maher was referring to studying adverse effects in vaccines- they have and do. Any logical coherence to the piece goes out the window when Maher starts talking about antibiotics (which are not vaccines) and in the end, we’re left with a more convoluted picture of what Maher believes then ever before. The only person who is more confused about what Maher is saying than his readers is Maher himself. I’m glad Maher read the microbe hunters book- I just wish it wasn’t the only book he read.


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