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Monday, 16 February 2015

Why I'm Sad that Jon Stewart is Leaving "The Daily Show"



Yes. And not just because he did a story about how silly it was that the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities wasn't ratified in the US the first time around ("It's official: Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs.")  I remember it well, because I posted on my Facebook page: "Jon Stewart is doing a disability advocacy story. This man is awesome." (The actual clip is here, but people outside the US may not be able to watch it. Sorry...clips from Comedy Network shows that everyone can see are hard to find these days.)

I'd already declared my admiration for Jon Stewart several times on Facebook, usually out of the blue and for no particular reason, so my friends weren't really surprised. But even I'd been a bit surprised that an issue that got next to no coverage in the mainstream media had merited a coveted spot in Jon Stewart's show, and I really was grateful to him.

After his announcement last Tuesday night that later on this year he'll be handing over the reins to someone else, I found myself much sadder about it than I felt like I should have been. Until I read a Facebook comment on one of the many, many articles that I read later in the week about his impending departure that said (paraphrasing) that this was the only time that the writer had heard about a TV personality leaving a show where he'd walked around feeling sad for the entire next day. And I realized that it's not just me that's already dreading the day that Jon Stewart leaves The Daily Show.

Discovering Jon Stewart


I started watching The Daily Show when I moved out on my own after my stroke, in 2004. I'd just missed George Bush being elected by a couple of months. Between watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, just in his sophomore year of his own show, a passing interest in American politics became a mild obsession. As the 2008 Election approached, I was dumbfounded. I'd never paid attention to this process before. For someone who was used to federal elections taking six weeks, from announcement to close of polls, it astonished me, and, frankly, sometimes disgusted me. I saw those emotions mirrored back at me every night from Jon Stewart behind his desk at The Daily Show.

Before I knew it, we were doing it again for 2012, and this time I felt knowledgeable enough (and passionate enough) to write about here. The Daily Show was no longer my only source of American news. I watched CNN in the mornings, commiserating with people over Twitter about how terrible...how absolutely terrible...the morning show format was. Unable to get MSNBC or Fox with my cable package, I listened carefully to what people said about them, watched clips, talked to people, formed opinions. I started to realize that I already knew about events that Jon Stewart talked about on the show, feeling a bit guilty that between my consumption of British news to keep up with what was going on with welfare benefit reform, and of American news simply because I was fascinated by it, I knew more more about what was going on in two other countries than I did my own. I try to balance that out now by catching the Canadian news at 6 pm.

What Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" Mean to Me


Rolling Stone Magazine put Jon Stewart's power over bleeding heart liberals like me nicely in this article:

"...his famous request to Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala of Crossfire — "Stop hurting America" — was a not-so-quiet refrain under everything the host did."

That "Crossfire" appearance is widely credited to be one of Jon Stewart's finest moments on television (and the moment that caused the cancellation of the show several months later).  Paul Begala had this to say about it when he heard about Jon Stewart's announcement last Tuesday.

Watch the "Crossfire" interview in question (where Jon Stewart does indeed call Tucker Carlson, now on Fox, a "dick"...I hadn't caught that until I read Paul Begala's comments):






But the real reason I'll miss Jon Stewart? I'm a TV person, as much as I don't want to be. I live alone. I keep the TV on for noise when I'm doing other things, and when I'm feeling sad/lonely/overwhelmed/anxious, I watch for distraction. Once I moved out on my own, I wasn't sure I'd ever find a job, but I did. I was a supply Educational Assistant - I was told that because of my disabilities, I wouldn't be called very often. I got another job. I spent 5 years helping some very brave disabled young people and their families some hard battles that took a lot out of all of us, lost the job because there wasn't any other work that I could do in the company with my disabilities when my position was cut, and couldn't find another job for over a year. The sitcoms to which I went for laughs and distraction came and went.

But most weren't very funny. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show consistently got a laugh - sometimes the first laugh in an otherwise dismal day - from me. When the day's been long and you're wondering how you're going to get through the next one, that's a lot, right there. Jon Stewart gave me a laugh, spoke right to my despairing liberal heart, and made me feel like, somehow, it was going to be okay.

I'll miss that.

But I understand that no one can do the same job forever.

So, best of luck, Jon Stewart. And thank you to readers for letting me meander a bit...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Revisiting The Measles Vaccine Debate, in Light of Disneyland

Apparently I need to blog about this measles vaccine business again.

It's over a year since I talked about this, when there were small outbreaks in Canada and the US. The CDC reported 102 cases of measles at the end of January, most stemming from an outbreak at Disneyland in December.

No, it's not a national emergency, although measles is "one of the leading cause of death in young children globally" (Read more here). The chances of a healthy person dying of measles in the US are fairly slim, as the majority of severe complications and deaths due to complications occur in developing countries with weak health infrastructure and children who are chronically malnourished. (Read more here). However, the chances are still a little too high for my liking: 1 or 2 infected children in 1000 will die, and up to 1 in 20 will experience measles-related complications. I know that a lot of people aren't with me on this, but I consider measles a serious disease. Read more here.

I'm fully aware that many, many Americans got measles before the vaccine was routinely administered, as the disease is extremely contagious,  and survived it with minimal discomfort and downtime. Measles just used to be a part of life.

But it hasn't been for a long time. The measles vaccine almost eradicated a disease that, for some that come in contact with it, is very dangerous. It can cause ear and chest infections, brain damage, deafness, blindness, pneumonia, and  encephalitis. Author Roald Dahl wrote about how his daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis:
"Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything. 'Are you feeling all right?' I asked her. 'I feel all sleepy,' she said. In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead."

I know a mother whose son can't have the measles vaccine because of a rare blood disorder, and she explained to me very carefully about how while the lack of a measles vaccine is always a concern, herd immunity protects people like her son. However, as fewer people vaccinate, herd immunity weakens, and puts even vaccinated people at risk, as the measles vaccination is only 95% effective.

Here's a video about herd immunity, featuring some Gummi Bears...



Herd immunity is important, And this is why, blogging about the measles vaccine this time, I'm calling the crowd out that refuses to give it to their children.

The Decision Not to Give the Measles Vaccine Doesn't Just Affect That Child


If a parent's decision not to give a child the measles vaccine affected only that child, I'd be truly more than happy to let parents decide what they want. But that's not the reality. A child who hasn't had the measles vaccination is potentially dangerous to infants, the immunosuppressed, and other people who can't have the measles vaccine for good reasons, including people undergoing cancer treatment...people who didn't ask to be affected by the actions of those who refuse to to give their children the measles vaccine, and shouldn't have to be. For people who refuse to vaccinate to insist that their right to go against the dictates of public health policy based on solid science should trump the rights of everyone else to to be in an environment that's free of the potential to catch a disease with potentially serious health consequences is just selfish.

Yes, you parents who aren't vaccinating your children against measles. You're selfish. And if no one's told you that yet, it's about time that you heard it.

"But Autism"


I've read the reasons why parents aren't choosing to get their children the measles vaccination. I've yet to hear a substantially-supported argument in favour of refusing to vaccinate, and this includes "Big pharma" and "toxins" and especially the "But autism" thing. In fact,  I'm flabbergasted at how often I'm hearing about people still refusing to vaccinate against measles because of the fear of their child getting autism.

In recent discussions on this, I've challenged on this ableist, "but autism" angle whenever I can, pointing out (as I did in my last blog post on this topic) that the studies that "linked" autism and vaccines were thoroughly debunked. I've pointed out that several times this week in discussions that making autism a "boogeyman" is a tactic of so-called "advocacy groups" with questionable ethics, such as "Autism Speaks", and that many people autistic people would tell you that they're perfectly fine with being autistic - it's society that has the problem.

A friend did on Twitter said the other day, "As an autistic, the fact that so many people would rather have a child that's dead than autistic child scares the shit out me."

"Fucking Furious"


I didn't realize until I read that, and started typing in response, "It makes me fucking furious, which is why I'm never going to stop fighting against this ableist 'I'd vacccinate, but autism' bullshit," how angry about all this I really am (and I'm not autistic, so I can only imagine how autistic people must feel). Even if there was a remote chance that the measles vaccine could cause autism (which there isn't), I'd rather take that remote chance, vaccinate, and know  that there was a 95% chance that my child would avoid the terribly contagious measles and anything more more serious that it might turn into.  I'm not a parent, but if I was, in this hypothetical world where vaccines once in a blue moon caused autism, I would without hesitation choose to do everything that I could to ensure my child stayed warm and alive in my arms, including vaccinate, rather than, God forbid, end up one of the few with a body that just cannot take the strain of fighting measles.

The Measles Vaccine - The Bottom Line


Forgive me if I cannot understand why a fear of autism prevents parents from giving children the measles vaccine, especially since it's been proven that the two. Aren't. Linked. Any children that I have will get the measles vaccine, to protect them and to protect others.

It's as simple as that.

I'm sorry that I can't be as diplomatic as I was last time. Discussions this past week have shown me that subtlety doesn't get the point across with this particular issue.