Stagger to Maturity

Alfred CrosbyI discovered the quotation below from John Green on the most recent Crash Course World History video.

Alfred Crosby is a historian who wrote about how European settlers thrived in Neo-European countries. I don’t know much about him. He seems to have added a lot of information about biology to his study of history.

I’m mostly interested in him because he appears to be a lovable curmudgeon. The quote below comes from Crosby’s book The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. It is during a discussion of the difficulties in determining the quality rather than the quantity of food people have eaten. But what the hell, he argues, quantity at least gives us some idea:

The question implies a disregard for the vital role that proteins, vitamins, minerals, etc., play in man’s alimentation. However, it is crudely true that if man’s caloric intake is sufficient, he will somehow stagger to maturity, and he will reproduce.

Normally, you have to turn to Schopenhauer for such a gay assessment of life.

Fifth Time’s a Disaster

Breaking BadMost of my friends are women, and that means that I have very few friends who are fans of Breaking Bad. In fact, most of them make derisive comments about the show. So basically, I get to talk about the show with Will (who I disagree with much of the time) and read Matthew Yglesias (who I agree with most of the time). But I think I am diverging from most hardcore fans of the show: season 5 was probably a major mistake.

Let’s start with the fact that the ending of season 4 was perfect. The story had ended, we didn’t need any more: “I won.” Fade out. That’s a rap. Greatest television show ever. Kermit the Frog yells, “Yeeeea!”

Even though season 5 started right where season 4 ended, it seemed like we were starting all over again. But there were important and unhelpful changes. Skyler, instead of continuing on her arc was suddenly afraid of Walt. As the season has progressed, she is mostly there to have this very boring fight about whether the children should continue to live with them. I don’t buy any of it. If she cared about her children and feared Walt that much, she would have secretly ratted out Walt and gone into witness protection.

The bigger problem is the change of Walter from protagonist to antagonist. Over the course of the first four seasons, Walt had become much more morally ambiguous. But he wasn’t evil and he wasn’t megalomaniacal. In the most recent episode, he’s gone from evil to just plain stupid. He justifies not selling out the business because he’s lost his wife and children; the business is all he has left. Can he really be blind to the fact that he has lost his family because he is in the meth business?

This week we get a little more information on Gray Matter—the company Walt help start. Unfortunately, the information conflicts with the other information we’ve been given. The implication earlier was that the others at Gray Matter had screwed Walt, not that there was a lover’s triangle (implied in the recent episode) and he went of his own free will. But this brings up an important question. Walt is passing up five million dollars in order to be the meth king. But with five million dollars, Walt could start a reputable chemistry company. If he really wants to get back at the Gray Matter people, wouldn’t that be the way to go? If he really wants to be respected, isn’t that the way to go? Hasn’t it been clear for at least two seasons that it drives Walt crazy that he can’t go up to Hank and tell him that he’s been punking him?

Another problem is that in six episodes, Breaking Bad has featured two heists. This indicates a certain desperation on the part of the writers. I justified the first one as a necessary set up for the rest of the season. But in episode five we have another heist that is largely resolved in episode six. We are likely halfway through the current season. This no longer seems like set up.

Where is this show going? Chaos is not the same thing as dramatic momentum. I fear that Vince Gilligan may have forgotten this. Regardless, I am not hopeful about the rest of this season.

Afterword

My biggest argument with Will is over the character of Jesse. I think he is by far the most sympathetic of the major characters. At first, he was just a punk. But as time has gone on, he’s matured. For a man of his age, this makes sense. It certainly makes more sense than Walter’s devolution. Breaking Bad is filled with narcissistic characters. Jesse cares about other people and that’s a major step up from even Saul—the second more sympathetic character.

Update (20 August 2012 1:29 pm)

In the episode “Gray Matter,” it is clear that there was some kind of a lover’s triangle. In the episode “Peekaboo” it is expanded on where it is clear that at least Walt thinks he was screwed. The video is on this Facebook page. It ends badly:

Out of the Mouths of Romney and Fools

Dylan Matthews over at WonkBlog has a very good article looking at the current crop of Presidential campaign ads. One is the Americans for Prosperity “Has President Obama Earned Your Vote?” ad:

Matthews correctly notes:

The deficit critic in the ad continues, “I’ve seen zero interest in reducing spending. He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse.” Again, on both deficits and jobs there has been improvement. Not just that, but federal spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 25.2 percent in 2009 to 24.1 percent last year, and Obama released a plan to reduce spending still further, cutting the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years. Obama has certainly shown greater than zero interest in reducing spending.

While this is all true, what is most interesting is the line, “He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse.” This is an exact quote from Romney’s stump speech. You would think if Americans for Prosperity wanted to put together an ad showing former Obama supporters who have changed their minds, they would put words in their mouths that are different from the words in Romney’s mouth.

Update (20 August 2012 4:48 pm)

WonkBlog is really good today. Ezra Klein has an excellent article, The worst case against the Obama administration. It discusses Niall Ferguson’s Newsweek article that by all appearances (I’m willing to suffer for this blog, but I’m not willing to read any more Niall Ferguson) repugnant hatchet job on the Obama administration. It is well worth reading. And if you just can’t get enough, Matthew O’Brien wrote A Full Fact-Check of Niall Ferguson’s Very Bad Argument Against Obama over at The Atlantic.

The main thing is this: if Ezra Klein is angry, then you’ve really gone off the rails.

Update (20 August 2012 5:14 pm)

Noah Smith has a great article on Ferguson too.

I have been known to tease a fellow blogger or two, but there is really only one writer who makes me truly mad, and that is British historian Niall Ferguson. I will explain exactly why he makes me so mad at the end of this post. First, though, I want to say a few words about Mr. Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek magazine, entitled “Hit the Road, Barack”. I should note that it imposes a heavy psychic cost for me to do so, since it requires that I actually read Niall Ferguson. But the public duty to expose BS and promote truth and intellectual honesty overrides such selfish concerns.

Update (20 August 2012 8:36 pm)

Alex Pareene writes over at Salon, Niall Ferguson trolls everyone in Newsweek:

Niall Ferguson is an intellectual fraud whose job, for years, has been to impress dumb rich Americans with his accent and flatter them with his writings. It’s a pretty easy con, honestly, if you’re born shameless and British (or French). His main argument is that Western Civilization as embodied by the British Empire is awesome and wonderful even though it traditionally involved quite a bit of killing and enslaving of non-Westerners. Since becoming an insufferable American political commentator he’s decided that America needs to cut Medicare and spend the savings on fighting neo-imperialist wars with an army made up of “the illegal immigrants, the jobless and the convicts.” (Also he sued the London Review of Books for publishing this devastating review of his career.)

Rape and Ha Cha Cha

Todd AkinLadies (or as I like to think of you, baby vessels), Representative Todd Akin wants you to know that he’s got your back. Or your vagina, he didn’t get into specifics. By being against the right to abortion even in cases of rape, he isn’t saying that you should have to give birth to the rapist’s child. In secret discussions with doctors, Akin has learned that in “legitimate” cases of rape, women rarely become pregnant. There’s a lot to break down in this bit of news, so let me take it point by point.

First, I wonder if these doctors that Akin talked to aren’t doctors of theology. That would make sense. Let’s face it, most people are anti-choice because they are Christians. That’s really where all this stuff comes from. And note that nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about abortion. As a medical guide, the Bible sucks. I think it might have something to do with the scientific ignorance of the people who wrote it. The book has some doozies; the flat earth is my favorite. But the main thing is that the Bible is silent on the question of abortion and it was only through the efforts of lots of theologians over the years that they decided that abortion was wrong. It was the same reasoning they used to determine if Adam and Eve had belly buttons and how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. (What kind of dance do you suppose they were doing? I’m thinking the Bachata!)

Second, I’m real interested in what a legitimate rape is. Is it one that occurs when a woman’s skirt reaches to her knees? When she isn’t wearing make-up? Or perhaps when she’s not menstruating and putting out those mysterious ha cha cha chemicals that drive men mad? I’m sure that Akin isn’t suggesting that some women are just asking for it. And he couldn’t be saying that women pretend to be raped after a nice man helps them to lower their ha cha cha levels. One thing is clear, if we make abortion only available to women who have been raped, I’m sure we will see a lot of women pretending that they’ve been raped—ha cha cha or no.

Third, Akin is correct in saying that women rarely become pregnant as a result of a rape. Between 3% and 6% of rape victims become pregnant as a result. This is indeed rare. But still, researchers at the University of South Carolina calculated that over 30,000 rape induced pregnancies occur each year. This is what we call math: small percentages of large numbers are large numbers. It’s like the death penalty for innocent people: even if the percentage is small, it still sucks if you are in it.

I know that Akin and his ilk believe that women have mysterious anti-ha cha cha chemicals that determine that the lady parts are having No Fun and go out and surround the egg with bayonet wielding defenders. “Stand back you unwanted sperm!” But there are, in fact, no such chemicals. Many studies have found that rape victims are just as likely to get pregnant as are ha cha cha women. In addition, one study by two researchers at St. Lawrence University found that rape victims were roughly twice as likely to get pregnant. They concluded this was because women often choose not to have consensual (ha cha cha) sex when they were fertile. Rape victims have no such control. What’s more, the rapists may be more driven to their acts of violence when women are fertile.

Finally: remember ladies, Todd Akin doesn’t hate you. He’s looking out for you. He is thinking about you all the time. All the time. That’s right. He can just imagine the horror of a legitimate rape. He can see it! That man holding you down. Pushing your skirt up revealing your soft skin. Yeah. He can just see it. Ha cha cha!