Tucker C. Exploits Damar Hamlin, DeSantis Steals Florida’s Money (Again) While His Surgeon General Gets Scolded, Black Contractor Removes Confederate Statues, Movies Sued Over Trailers, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Health: Social Vampires Bleed Their Followers
Tucker Carlson, social media and Damar Hamlin’s horror injury combine to create a vaccine misinformation field day (Fortune)
SUMMARY: “Unfounded claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines proliferated in the hours and days after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during Monday’s game, revealing how pervasive vaccine misinformation remains three years after the pandemic began.
“Even before Hamlin was carried off the field in Cincinnati, posts amassing thousands of shares and millions of views began circulating online claiming without evidence that complications from COVID-19 vaccines caused his health emergency.
“While cardiac specialists say it’s too soon to know what caused Hamlin’s heart to stop, they’ve offered a rare type of trauma called commotio cordis as among the possible culprits. Physicians interviewed by The Associated Press say there’s no indication Hamlin’s vaccine status played a role, and said there’s no evidence to support claims that a number of young athletes have died as a result of COVID vaccinations.”
MY TAKE: A sad and dangerous trend has set in the last few years in which conservative commentators wishing to grab headlines that translate into followers and viewers (which translates into money) will make outrageous and unsubstantiated claims that fuel medical mistrust. Even though such mistrust can result in people not getting vaccines and therefore becoming seriously ill or dying or infecting others who get sick or die, they don’t care. To them, the people who actually listen to them are just faceless marks to be exploited—in fact, they think these people deserve to be exploited for believing their nonsense.
What is disturbing is the use of what they would bill as a “scientific expert” to make their case, but then the dismissal of the overwhelming number of legitimate scientists and medical experts who reject their lone and discredited source.
For example, Tucker Carlson featured on his show a Dallas cardiologist who has spoken out against COVID-19 vaccines. The doctor suggested, without examining Hamlin, that he might have “vaccine-induced myocarditis.” Carlson cited research that showed “more than 1,500 total cardiac arrests” have occurred among European athletes “since the vax campaign began.” However, Carlson was “citing a letter in which the authors’ evidence was a dubious blog that lists news reports of people all over the world, of all ages, dying or experiencing medical emergencies. The blog proves no relationship between the incidents and COVID-19 vaccines; it also includes in its count reported deaths from cancer and emergencies of unknown causes.”
Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in Morristown Medical Center, dismissed this: “It’s not real research, but he quotes it as if it’s real research. Anybody can write a letter to the editor and then quote an article that has no academic rigor.”
Videos have been posted on social media claiming to show athletes collapsing—but several have been proven to be from other causes. In fact, cardiologists have indicated that there has been no upturn in athletes collapsing on the field since the implementation of COVID-19 vaccines. The reason some people think there are more now is because they are looking for them in order to confirm their bias.
Charlie Kirk, whose absurd logic I’ve pointed out before, is an influential conservative in charge of Turning Point USA. Kirk tweeted to his 1.9 followers that athletes dropping suddenly had become an “all too familiar sight.” Seventeen hours later he reported: “For committing the crime of noticing that athletes are tragically collapsing on the playing field, I have been labeled ‘human garbage’... Paying attention yet?”
Again, the logic here is so middle school that I’m surprised he’s not too embarrassed to make it public. First, how many athletes were collapsing before COVID-19 vaccines? Second, what are all the potential causes for them collapsing. You know, SCIENCE. Also, he isn’t really asking a question—that’s a grifter trick to pretend you’re being objective—because his intent is to imply a conclusion that leaps over all logic and science: vaccine bad. The “human garbage” label is not for his bold journalistic investigation, but for his smarmy, unsupported implication to pander to his followers’ prejudices. At a time when the country is facing an epidemic of flu, COVID-19, and respiratory illness filling our hospitals, especially children’s hospitals, what should you call someone who encourages vaccine hesitancy with no legitimate medical support? How many hospitalizations and deaths might he be responsible for?
For the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Kirk and Carlson, exploiting human misery for personal gain is just good business.
Education: The Art of Sacrificing Children for Political Gain
DeSantis asks state colleges for data on critical race theory, diversity courses amid 'Stop WOKE' legal battles (ABC News)
SUMMARY: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office has requested data on courses and programs that include ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ and ‘critical race theory’ despite legal challenges to his law restricting such content.
“…In the memo, Office of Policy and Budget Director Chris Spencer asked State University System and Florida College System administrators to document ‘the expenditure of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory within our state colleges and universities.’
“These public institutions are required to describe which programs and campus related activities are connected to these topics, and send how much these programs cost, how much state-funding is directed toward them, and how many employee positions are dedicated to them, according to the memo.”
MY TAKE: Everything about this memo should send alarm bells clanging in our heads because this is a political arsonist trying to torch the education system.
First, any campaign by a politician to investigate courses that include “diversity, equity and inclusion” as if they were bad things is troublesome. There is no evidence that teaching these issues is harmful, but plenty of evidence that it is not only good for society, but in keeping with the philosophy of our Constitution (and, for those keeping score, the Bible).
Second, inserting himself into the academic freedom of colleges and universities is an anti-education precedent. If he had any awareness of how higher education works, he would realize that it doesn’t matter what topics are taught as much as what the context is and how the topic serves the purposes of the course. For example, there could be a course about dictators. That doesn’t mean the class is training people to be Hitlers.
Third, this transparent attempt to put a price tag of resources to justify his political agenda makes no sense to anyone who knows how to count. It is impossible to quantify how much of a course is dedicated to “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Is a history class about the Civil War also about these topics? Is a literature class with any writer of color automatically about inclusion? He’s literally spending government money to gather useless information for the sole purpose of promoting his own career. That’s the real crime here.
Fourth, this memo is mostly about intimidating educators so they remain silent during the forthcoming election or face cuts and job loss. It’s a preemptive strike against potential critics who would question the logic of his policies.
We’re seeing a politician flexing for his presidential run. He announces his political philosophy by attacking education and the concepts of “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Basically, it’s a punch to the throat of “elitism” of the educated, and a kick to the groin of all marginalized people from his coalition of conservatives protecting their elitist notions of race, gender, religion. Those ideals of “diversity, equity and inclusion” are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and he’s against them? That pretty much sums up the kind of president he would be.
Once again, he’s stealing Floridian money—as he did with his blustery shipping of immigrants from TEXAS (!) to Martha’s Vineyard—to garner headlines for his campaign to become president. His theft continues in his headline-grabbing pursuit of “voter fraud” by prosecuting 20 people (“Florida's effort to charge 20 people with voter fraud has hit some roadblocks”). Except for one plea bargain, the other cases are falling apart and it’s doubtful most will ever be prosecuted. Even if all were guilty (and they will be most likely be proven not guilty), how much money did he spend chasing after 20 votes that decided nothing? Doesn’t matter, because it’s not his money he’s spending, it’s Florida’s. Florida is funding his campaign. I wonder if all the millions of dollars he’s spent on useless persecutions will add up to more than is being spent on diversity, equity and inclusion.
IN RELATED FLORIDA NEWS:
Fla. surgeon general used ‘flawed’ vaccine science, faculty peers say (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: Joseph A. Ladapo, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida and the state’s surgeon general, relied upon a flawed analysis and may have violated university research integrity rules when he issued guidance last fall discouraging young men from receiving common coronavirus vaccines, according to a report from a medical school faculty task force. But the university says it has no plans to investigate the matter.
Ladapo recommended in October that men younger than 40 not take mRNA vaccinations for covid, pointing to an “abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death.” Doctors and public health officials swiftly pounced, dismissing the underlying research for its small sample size, lack of detail and shaky methodology.
In its new report, a task force of the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Faculty Council cites numerous deficiencies in the analysis Ladapo used to justify his vaccine recommendation. A summary said the work was “seriously flawed.” The report’s authors say Ladapo engaged in “careless, irregular, or contentious research practices.”
MY TAKE: No surprise here. While Florida’s governor is sticking his nose in higher education where he has no expertise, his own surgeon general is misusing standard scientific practices to promote a bogus agenda that has no medical support. It shocks e that Ladapo made it through medical school without understanding how studies work. First do no harm? Not him.
My guess is that DeSantis would not let his own surgeon general operate on him. Perhaps the money DeSantis is spending to investigate colleges for teaching inclusivity (whatever that vague terms means), he should put that money into schools to teach the scientific method. Will he? Nope. Because that would only better educate Florida’s children, not get him votes from science-denying constituents.
Kareem’s Video Break
This is how I felt every time I missed a shot.
Race: Unsung Hero
White contractors wouldn’t remove Confederate statues. So a Black man did it. (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “…Over the past three years, as the former capital of the Confederacy has taken down more than a dozen monuments to the Lost Cause, [DEVON] Henry — who is Black — has overseen all the work.
“He didn’t seek the job. He had never paid much attention to Civil War history. City and state officials said they turned to Team Henry Enterprises after a long list of bigger contractors — all White-owned — said they wanted no part of taking down Confederate statues.
“For a Black man to step in carried enormous risk. Henry concealed the name of his company for a time and long shunned media interviews. He has endured death threats, seen employees walk away and been told by others in the industry that his future is ruined. He started wearing a bulletproof vest on job sites and got a permit to carry a concealed firearm for protection.
“…Over and over, history-minded friends directed Henry to the words of John Mitchell Jr., the civil rights pioneer and editor of the Richmond Planet, a groundbreaking African American newspaper. In 1890, the year the state erected an enormous statue of Robert E. Lee on what would become Monument Avenue, Mitchell wrote about the resilience of the Black person in society. ‘The Negro … put up the Lee monument,” Mitchell wrote, “and should the time come, will be there to take it down.’”
MY TAKE: The public debate has always been about whether or not these monuments to treasonous slaveholders should exist, but little has been discussed about what happens next. Devon Henry is a savvy businessman doing a job he’s getting paid for, but he’s also a remarkable hero for doing it under such dangerous circumstances. He was aware that a White contractor had withdrawn from removing Confederate monuments after receiving death threats and having his car torched. Once Henry received the support of his wife and children, he agreed to do the job.
Henry deserves all our praise and support. And, yes, there is nice closure for the Black community for a Black company to be removing the heinous monuments. Yet, I can’t help but thinking that there would have been an even greater symbolic impact for a White company to have had the same courage as Henry and, acknowledging the sins of the past, removed the monuments as an act of contrition and renewed unity. A demonstration of the New South that embraces, cherishes, and defends all its people. Even better, a coalition of several companies, White and Black, all working together in defiance of ignorance and against intimidation. That would have been a message as powerful as removing the monuments.
For the price of one McDonald’s lunch, you support this newsletter for a month. For the price of a dinner for two, you support us for a year. Seems like a good deal.
Entertainment: Promise Made, Promise Not Kept
SUMMARY: “Movie studios can be sued under false advertising laws if they release deceptive movie trailers, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
“U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson issued a ruling in a case involving “Yesterday,” the 2019 film about a world without the Beatles.
“Universal sought to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that movie trailers are entitled to broad protection under the First Amendment. The studio’s lawyers argued that a trailer is an “artistic, expressive work” that tells a three-minute story conveying the theme of the movie, and should thus be considered ‘non-commercial’ speech.
“But Wilson rejected that argument, finding that a trailer is commercial speech and is subject to the California False Adverting Law and the state’s Unfair Competition Law.
“‘Universal is correct that trailers involve some creativity and editorial discretion, but this creativity does not outweigh the commercial nature of a trailer,’ Wilson wrote. ‘At its core, a trailer is an advertisement designed to sell a movie by providing consumers with a preview of the movie.’”
MY TAKE: The judge is right. We’ve all come out of a movie on occasion asking with some disappointment, “What happened to that cool scene in the trailer?” While trailers are creative works (sometimes better than the movie they’re promoting), they exist only to sell us on spending our money on the movie being advertised. That’s no different than a commercial on TV asking us to buy their product. As such, the commercial cannot be misleading or offer false claims, like saying, “If you use this toilet cleanser, your hair will grow back.” (Cuz you know I’d buy that.) Even if the plaintiffs don’t win the lawsuit, they are certainly right in wanting to hold studios accountable for misleading advertising.
Equally, we’ve come out of the theater after seeing a trailer saying, “I think they showed me the whole movie.” That includes revealing important details that are meant to be secrets in the actual movie. This seriously diminishes our enjoyment of the film, which the studios seem less concerned with than getting us into the theater seat. Who do I sue about that?
I’m actually more concerned about this statement from the article: “Richard Curtis, the screenwriter [of Yesterday], explained that de Armas was cut because audiences didn’t like the idea of Patel’s character straying from his primary love interest, played by Lily James.” [Quick note: Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love, Actually) is one of my favorite writers and directors.] I know that test screenings have been used for decades to fine-tune movies or, in some cases, to cancel them altogether (“11 Famous Films That Were Dramatically Changed After Disastrous Test Screenings”).
I’m not a fan of this. I’d rather see the filmmakers’ creative vision rather than the patchwork result of pandering to what a few people in test screenings think. I get that movies are expensive to make and studios want to get a return on their investment. But editing and reshooting with the goal of pleasing more people rather than creating a work based on the artists’ ideas reduces the work to cotton candy.
The initial reactions of audiences in screen tests is probably based on not seeing what they expected rather than a more nuanced and insightful choice. Some choices have to be thought about in order to appreciate. I’ve seen many films that made choices I didn’t like at first but upon reflection fully embraced. Art often has to fight its way past our expectations of and comfort with the familiar in order to give us something that makes us see the world differently.
Music: Flashback to Jazz Great
Dinah Washington: What a Difference a Day Makes
It’s been raining a lot the past couple weeks here in California and that made me think of one of my favorite blues singers. Dinah Washington called herself the “Queen of the Blues,” a title she more than earned with her heart-shattering renditions of “Sunday Kind of Love” and “This Heart of Mine.”
Despite her many career achievements, her personal life was the stuff of blues: married six times and dying of a lethal combination of prescription drugs for her insomnia and diet.
What a Difference a Day Makes came out in 1959 and was followed the next year by September in the Rain, two albums perfect for listening to on rainy days when thoughts drift to love, loss, and hope. “What a Difference a Day Makes,” featured in the video above, was Washington’s first top ten pop hit and won her the Grammy for Best R&B Performance.