Thursday, March 5, 2015

Measles & the Idiots / Nuclear Negotiations & Bibi / The Tireless Mr. Chamberlain

Measles and the Idiots – To Mr. Gripes, it seems the Rationalists have taken it on the chin for years. Rationalism, of which Mr. Gripes is a devoted advocate, respects scientific evidence – anything else is a lie.

Yet, the fabulists seem to always dominate the public debate. The media, of course, plays a part: it’s always looking for conflict, not necessarily truth. The press pushes for ‘balanced’ debate, and consequently incredibly imbecilic theory is often given far more attention than warranted.

Creationism versus Darwinism is a perfect paradigm of this conflict. To a Creationist, a crucial tenet of the dogma is that man existed and walked on earth at the same time the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Human beings, no doubt already clad in Brooks Brothers suits, were fully formed when they arrived on Earth. The Darwinists, of course, adhere to the theory that all forms of life evolved from simple to complex: mankind came upon the earth millions of years after the dinosaurs. Or, put another way, mankind came to exist only after billions of mutated life forms pushed life to its present complexity. That’s, essentially, evolution.

The Creationists are simply incorrect. Nothing, of course, will convince them otherwise – there’s even a Creationism theme park for children in Ohio – but they’re dead wrong. And, yet, Creationism, in essence a fairy tale, is taught right alongside Evolution in some states, mandated so by state educational entities. Why is this country so enraptured by so many irrational ideas, and whose believers can never be swayed? Can you imagine, say, the Netherlands advocating, with state backing, a fraudulent theory like Creationism in biology classes for their children? Never, ever would happen.

But, all is not lost: for once, and probably for only a brief period, science has triumphed – emphatically – over bogus theory. For the first time in 25 years, there’s been a measles outbreak across the country. Concurrently, and not coincidentally, the percentage of children being vaccinated for diseases like measles and mumps is at its lowest point in decades.

It turns out that some individuals – Deidre Imus, Don’s wife, is probably the most well known – have pushed, quite vociferously, the theory that autism, a brain disorder that appears in childhood, has been caused by vaccination. Parents, naturally, decided that keeping their child out of school for two weeks with measles is a far more benign risk than autism, and the vaccinations were ignored.

Ms. Imus’ proof? A study by some clinician which said mercurial residue that shows up in the vaccinating fluid causes autism. It turns out the study was thoroughly discredited, and in fact, the doctor running the study eventually lost his medical license, a very harsh sentence indeed. But, evidence be damned, Ms. Imus, utilizing loudly the far-flung platform of her husband’s radio show and, incidentally, selling a lot of books, managed to scare the daylights out of parents, and the myth has held. Legislatures, in fact, started passing laws that did not mandate the vaccinations of children in school, and even permitted unvaccinated children to attend school, an incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible decision.

It takes about 85% vaccination ‘coverage’ of a school population to prevent a measles outbreak. When the percentage of vaccinated children failed to reach 85% in some places, the current outbreak happened.

The ignoramuses were exposed. It’s simple: when a given population is inoculated, measles is essentially non-existent. When that given population is exposed to the virus without inoculation, outbreaks happen. Imus and her true believers are wrong: so simple and so obvious. For once, the Rationalists won.

Israel-Iran-America – Every red corpuscle in Mr. Gripes’ body cries out: ‘Don’t write about Israel or the Middle East.’ Each time I have done that, I received some very vicious replies, the mildest of which spoke of my being a ‘traitor’ to the state of Israel. [To the ‘gentleman’ who accuses me of being a traitor to Israel, the last time I looked I am an American citizen, solely, and a proud one at that, and my loyalties or disloyalties are toward this country alone; any charges of sedition against a country not my own are a bit misplaced, overheated and ignorant.] I make it a policy, for the most part, of not responding to mindless vituperation, vowing at one point never to write about Israel, and, by extension, the Middle East again.

But, assuming the posture of the intrepid truth-seeker that Mr. Gripes pretends to be in his column, I cannot ignore the ongoing Iran-United States [and other powers including Russia, by the way] negotiations regarding Iranian nuclear arms capability, and an attempt by the major powers now to thwart that push.

First, though, I have to comment on Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Congress yesterday: what kind of stunt was that? At this critical juncture in the ongoing Iran-American negotiations to suspend, hopefully for a long time, Iranian nuclear-arms attainment, a foreign leader ignores an American President and makes a rip-roaring anti-negotiations speech in front of the clapping seals we call our elected representatives. It’s totally outrageous. The Congress should be ashamed of themselves. President Obama responds to the speech by simply noting that the negotiations haven’t been concluded yet, and everyone should wait to take a look at the completed deal. A perfectly reasonable request absent any hysterics, that only highlights the utter lack of class from Bibi Netanyahu.

As far as the status of the ongoing negotiations, the issue is very complicated, of course, so let’s just go back three or four years: at that time, Iran obtaining nuclear status was the most pressing issue of the day: columns in newspapers spoke of the ‘existential’ threat of Iran possessing nuclear capability. If my readers can recall that time, it was very scary.

Then, quickly, the immediate threat dissipated. Mr. Gripes seems to recall that U.S. intelligence determined that Iran was a few years, at least, away from that capability. Then, Iran and the United States signed on in 2013 to an interim agreement suspending Iranian nuclear progress while talks proceeded on a permanent deal. And, the world exhaled. [Mr. Netanyahu, incidentally, opposed this earlier, successful deal as well.]

Alas, if the present negotiations fail, it’s back to being an existential threat once again, and the future could be very, very scary.

There is a glimmer of hope, though: the deal being worked up right now, with an end-of-March deadline, would push back Iranian nuclear-capability attainment at least 10 years in exchange for Iranian economic sanctions being lifted and Iran joining the world financial markets once again. That lifting of sanctions is the carrot, obviously.

Israel is opposed to any negotiations at this point, or at the minimum, Iran must dismantle its nuclear program in total. Netanyahu says the Iranians are totally untrustworthy, so international safeguards and vigilance are useless.  Israel knows damn well that Iran will never agree to a total cessation of its nuclear program.  Israel knows that under their non-negotiable demand, there will never be a deal. It’s off the table.

And that’s exactly Netanyahu’s intention: he wants the negotiations to collapse because that would mean there’s only one option for America: the nuclear facilities in Iran will be taken out, bombed. And, guess who will end up doing that dirty work? America. If Israel bombs Iran, the Middle East, and probably the world, will be thrown into utter chaos: there’ll be surely a total Middle East oil embargo, among other actions, and financial markets across the world will plummet. A world depression is not out of the question. America will have to take the lead in taking out Iran.  The U.S. is going to be Israel’s stalking horse.

War should always be absolutely the last option, so Mr. Gripes takes a more nuanced position: if in fact negotiations are successful and we extract from Iran a suspension of their nuclear program for at least 10 years, let’s take the deal. This country and Israel will of course have in place very stringent oversight standards regarding Iranian compliance, and if violations are discovered, we can always bomb later. Iran, a country with much stronger people-to-people ties to America than any other Middle East country [Israel, excepted], can hopefully be brought back into the world’s good graces. It’s worth 10 years to see if that’s possible.

Netanyahu, and Israel, don’t want to take that chance. I say, let’s go for it.

Wilt: His Dominance Shines – A decade ago – it’s been 10 years since ‘Mr. Gripes’ was launched as a human-interest column on an employer’s website, desperate for copy one weekend– I wrote of the unsurpassed, extraordinary career of Wilt Chamberlain, professional basketball player.

I bring his Eminence up again, after reading last week of the death of Norm Drucker, a referee who worked NBA games as a contemporary of Mr. Chamberlain. In his obituary, it’s mentioned Mr. Drucker threw Wilt out of a game after three successive technical fouls, the last of which involved Wilt yelling at the ref that he must have money on the game. Keep in mind that technical fouls are not particularly rare events, occurring once or twice a game, and are not particularly noteworthy.

Yet, that expulsion is still remembered 53 years after the fact, as it illuminated one incredible fact about Wilt Chamberlain: his indefatigability. Mr. Chamberlain, back then, never took a rest on the bench – never. 

Consider this: An NBA season in those days consisted of 80 games, 48 minutes a game. The particular season I’m talking about, 1961-62, was Wilt’s most productive, and arguably the most brilliant season ever: he averaged 50.7 [!] points a game, and collected 25 rebounds a game as well. Absolutely astonishing, and probably the greatest season ever in professional sports.

But the scoring achievement is not my focus here.

Wilt Chamberlain, in those 80 games that season, played every minute of every game, except for one blemish: when Norm Drucker threw Wilt out of the game, there were 8 minutes and change left in the game. Those little-over-8-minutes were the only time in that entire season that Wilt rested. That was it.

Just consider the expenditure of energy during a professional basketball game: Chamberlain was a center, the guy in the middle, down under the basket; that position, with elbows in the back, knees to the legs, arms being pulled on, and all the banging and punching absorbed from the oppositional center, is the most physical taxing of any position on the court – It takes a tremendous toll on a person.

Yet… only 8+ minutes the entire season did Wilt sit.

There’s one gloriously terse eulogy that was applied to Chamberlain the day he died: New York Knick Walt Frazier, one of his more heralded foes, said simply, “Wilt was NBA’s Superman; there’ll never be another one.’’

Hey, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem and all you greats, yeah, go ahead and take a breather. ‘Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest of them all, is still out on the floor.’

Jim Israel
‘Mr. Gripes’ 
March 3, 2015