In defense of Avatar

Normally on this blog we talk about science and skepticism, religion, science-fiction movies and zombies. We try to stay away from politics, unless it intersects science, such as creationism or climate change policies. Well, politics have once again crossed paths with our normal talking points and I have to respond. What is it this time? Creationism in the schools? Cutting of science funding? Lies about science to push through a political agenda? No!...well, probably, but that's not what I'm going to talk about. This time they are going after my sacred cow, science-fiction movies. Avatar in particular.

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has written a review of the James Cameron epic. Spoiler Alert: He didn't like it.

Phill Kline, for those of you who don't know, was Kansas's AG from 2003 to 2007. He is a very controversial figure, even by Kansas standards. Kline, a Republican with very conservative views, is probably most known for investigating abortion provider Dr. George Tiller and filing a lawsuit to get the medical records of 90 women and girls who receive abortions. Tiller was shot and killed in May, 2009 while ushering at his church.

Like I said, I don't want to talk about his politics and I really don't want to talk about abortion. This just isn't the forum for it. I want to talk about what he said about the movie. Roger Ebert has this to say about the movie:

"Avatar" is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings.... It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.

Kline, on the other hand, has a different view:

Avatar represents the left's first epic introduction of the new Darwin spiritualism. Since Darwin cannot survive in the West's spiritual culture, Darwin has now become god in the form of mother earth. Every living thing on planet Pandora is a god. And so, the new left has reached back in history to leap ahead of the scientific age. In the new religion, man is not god as in the age of reason and science. Rather, all is god and thereby nothing is god. But at least we're spiritual.

All this provided just in time for Christmas, oops, the Winter Solstice.

I can understand if some people didn't like the movie. Art is subjective and everyone has their own tastes. But holy fuck, what the hell is Kline talking about? Yes, the movie does have a message; that there is an intrinsic good to nature and we shouldn't exploit it just for profit. But like many other good movies, there are other messages in Avatar. Many of them are much more subtle. Messages that have to do with change, redemption, and the triumph of the human spirit. The story is written with archetypes that you can replace with almost any parallel that you like. It could be about the US invasion of Iraq. It could be about the Indian Wars of the 1800's. It could even be about the Revolutionary War and the founding of America. There is a lot you can get out of this movie.

Kline, however, went into Avatar with his ideology and hung it on the movie.

Nature prevails and evil capitalism and man is defeated. Eywa thereby expresses the only truth respected by the left, a truth worth choosing sides for — a truth worth killing for, mother earth. China's forced abortion policy as spiritual expression.

It is as if he views any opinion that he doesn't agree with as a personal attack on his values and his faith. I almost feel sorry for him. He lets his ideological views get in the way of enjoying a good movie. I'm sure he didn't like Happy Feet, Wall-E, The Abyss, Serenity, or even Star Wars with those freedom hating terrorist trying to bring down the government. Sometimes, a movie is just a movie and you should go along for the ride. I would say that Phill Kline should stop reviewing movies and go back to his day job, but I remember what a disaster that was. Wait! I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't talk about that. What I meant to say was, go review "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" and leave movies that I care about alone.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #14

It's the end of the year and decided to phone this one in. We did a seasonal beer review, bullshitted a lot, then edited in some out takes and called it a day.

Episode #14 Show Notes

It's our year end wrap up, lazy-ass bullshit edition! We really didn't talk about anything that was noteworthy, so we'll leave you with this.

Beer Bullshit + Brains Episode #13

We discuss Climategate with expert Mike Kaulbars. Is there a vast scientific conspiracy to fake the evidence for global warming? Find out now!

Episode #13 Show Notes

In this episode, we discuss climate change and the Climategate scandal with expert and activist Mike Kaulbars, who runs the blog Greenfyre. It was a very informative discussion that revolves around the climate change debate and those who seek to deny the science. And finally, Justin reads the Bullshit Question of the Week off of an Applebee's kid's meal menu.

A Secular Christmas Carol

The always wonderful Tim Minchin has released a secular Christmas single called "White Wine in the Sun" and I can't get it out of my head. It is a beautiful take on the true meaning of Christmas without all the trappings of consumerism or religion.

There is a push to get the single in to the UK top 40. He only needs about 10,000 more downloads to do it. The song is £0.79 at iTunes and the proceeds are going to a charity. Here is the link to the official single, please go download it.

Here is the YouTube video of the song so you can get a taste of it.

An Influenza Recap

I've had a lot of conversations and annoyed a lot of people talking about H1N1 and its vaccine. The argument that I hear most often from people is that the swine flu really isn't that bad, and since the H1N1 vaccine hasn't been tested throughly and might have serious side-effects, they are better off taking their chances with the flu. Joseph Albietz at Science Based Medicine has
completely destroyed that argument. He didn't use scare tactics or logical fallacies, he just let the science speak for itself.


The Real Vaccine Conspiracy

As the flu season has dragged on, so has the controversy about H1N1 and its vaccine. On TV, on the blogs, and especially on Facebook, people are saying that they don't trust the safety of the vaccine, that it hasn't been tested enough, that it's worse than the swine flu, that they would never give it to their children, that it is all part of a vast conspiracy to keep the people sick. I've spent a lot of time researching the subject and talking to both skeptics, anti-vaxxers, and people who believe everything they hear on the television. Because of this, I've come to two conclusions. First, everybody is an expert about the H1N1 vaccine. Regardless of their medical knowledge or their research on the topic, everybody has an opinion about the vaccine that they are willing to defend, even if it's based on an anonymous forwarded email that showed up one day in their in-box. Second, I've come to believe there is actually a vaccine conspiracy.

A conspiracy, by definition, is a plan by multiple people to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act. It only takes a quick Google search of "vaccination conspiracy" to find hundreds of sites dedicated to the various flavors of this vast conspiracy. Some border on the crazy, claiming chemtrails and sprayable microchips are causing the swine flu in order to either control the minds of the population or to kill us all. The ultimate motive varies from site to site. The more believable conspiracy, and the one that I'm hanging my hat on, is that there is a group of people who stand to make a lot of money off of sick people. This group of people is spreading lies and misinformation to the public, in order to sell them a "cure" that has had little to no testing, can be cheaply manufactured then sold for a huge profit, and has no medical value, but has people coming back for more because they can never truly be cured of what ails them with this medicine. Am I talking about the medical establishment with their Big Pharma overlords? No, I am referring to complimentary and alternative medicine movement.

Complimentary and alternative medicine, or CAM, is a modern-day snake oil. They have a cure for whatever ails you. Some will give you herbs, some will try to align your chi, some will give you magic water, some will even believe in what they are trying to sell you. None of this is part of modern medicine because none of this works. The thing about today's medicine is that it has to proven to work before it goes on the market. Sometimes this takes years of studies. CAM treatments, on the other hand, either haven't been studied or have been shown to have no effect at all. Some are actually harmful. The proponents of these treatments simply ignore this data. Either they are knowingly committing fraud, or they are deluding themselves. Either way, the results are the same. They want your money.

The best way to get your money is to first spread fear about the treatments that actually work. In the case of vaccines, which have one of the best benefit-to-risk ratios in all of medicine, they do one of two things. One, publicize the very rare, sometimes one-in-a-million, side effects to make them seem much more common and frightening, or, two, just make crap up. Both of these tactics have been used very well in regards to the H1N1 vaccine. Up to 50% of the population believe that the vaccine is worse for you than the swine flu. I'm not going to debunk all those fear-mongering claims in this post, but you can go here to find out the truth about them.

After these frauds have eroded your faith in modern medicine, they then step up to fill that hole with their own "natural cure". This can be anything from echinacea and vitamin C, to homeopathy, which is really nothing more than water and sugar pills, to acupuncture. All of these "treatments" are designed to separate you from your money and that's all. None of these treatments have been shown to work and almost none of their proponents have medical licenses. These people want you to believe that because they have taken a few night courses that taught them that, despite all known laws of nature, water can have cure-all properties, that you should trust your health and sometimes your life to them.

Not only is this immoral, but it is criminal. But somehow CAM found away around it. But that doesn't make it any less vile or evil. Yes, I believe there is a conspiracy to keep people sick and to rob them of their money and we should do everything we can to bring this conspiracy to the light of day.