Thursday, May 10, 2007

Maher and Hitchens: Twin "Ed Renner" Award Winners!!!

I Tivoed a recent episode of Charlie Rose where he had on Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens (in separate interviews). Both interviews were very frustrating because both men went from being perfectly rational to going off the rails of sanity and saying things that were just batshit crazy.

Maher made a lot of good points about the irrationality of trusting Bush's and Cheney's predictions about what would happen if the US pulled out of Iraq, given that they have been 100% wrong in every other prediction they've made about what would happen there. And about how Bush is a "uniter, not a divider" only in the sense that he is uniting people who normally hate each other in hatred of the US.

But then he went on a screed about modern medicine, how 90% of all medications prescribed aren't necessary, how Western medicine ignores the "holistic" (ie, non-evidence based) approach to its detriment, how surgery (apparently in general) is a Bad Thing, that Western medicine has made no progress in the fight against cancer, and that most medical problems are caused by lifestyle and eating habits.

But the most nutty thing he said was something to the effect of, "Lack of aspirin isn't the cause of a headache," by way of argument (I can only assume) that you shouldn't take aspirin for headaches. That's pretty close to the stupidest I've ever heard. Lack of morphine isn't the cause of pain in gunshot wound victims either, but it sure helps. Drugs aren't just replacements for the "lack of" something in the body... they do lots of other things, like stimulating the body to produce things it needs, like preventing the body from producing things it doesn't, and regulating bodily processes that the body is failing to regulate itself.

As someone who has frequent headaches, sure, I wish I knew what was causing them so it could be corrected. But, in the meantime, when either the cause of someone's headaches is unclear or curing the headaches would involve too great a risk, pain relievers are not a completely irrational way of dealing with the problem. And lifestyle and bad eating habits are not, in fact, the cause of many ailments, despite what Maher would have us believe, though they are certainly the cause of many. Cancer appears to be endemic to our species moreso than others, for instance, even factoring for lifestyle, eating habits, and whatever carcinogenic effect the modern environment has. Most people who get cancer get it because humans appear to be particularly susceptible to cancer. End of story.

The fact is that doctors and medical schools, at least in the US, are more and more embracing holistic and homeopathic remedies, despite what Maher is claiming. Too much so, in fact, and the reason that Western medicine is skeptical about those things is because there's no evidence that most of it works. If most homeopathic or holistic remedies worked, trust me, doctors would be on them in a New York minute. And we know most of them don't work because researchers are studying them to find out. Researchers working on grants to do these studies who get no more benefit from showing that these remedies don't work than showing that they do and have no particular reason to lie.

Most of these remedies just don't work. When herbs and such have some therapeutic effect, however, Western medicine admits it. Studies have shown that echinacea has some immune system benefit and that St. John's Word does act as a mild antidepressant. It wasn't covered up or ignored by Western medicine the way Maher claims. Though, I am sure, there are lots of Western doctors who do dismiss holistic medicine and homeopathy out of hand, regardless of the evidence, but if those things worked, Western medicine would eventually embrace them.

So, to you, Bill Maher, I reluctantly bestow the not-so-covered Ed Renner Award.

Then, there was Christopher Hitchens. Oh so rational with respect to why religion is bunk and why no one should believe in it. Oh so irrational with respect to the Bush regime and the war in Iraq.

Hitchens still, despite all evidence to the contrary, believes that we were justified in invading Iraq, that the invasion was a good idea, and that the US can somehow still salvage the situation if it doesn't pull out. I just can't imagine by what logical process he could possibly arrive at these conclusions. I mean, they're all just so wrong that I don't even feel I need to repeat the myriad of reasons why at this point.

I did agree with him that the Iraqis who have supported the US and democracy in Iraq are going to be ass-fucked when the US pulls out. But where Hitchens is nuts is that he actually thinks there's something the US can do to help them at this point. We can't. Those Iraqis were fucked the moment we deposed Saddam and there's no way we can set things right now. He's right that the US will be at fault for what happens to them to its eternal shame. But he's wrong that this can be avoided at this point. We can't.

So, for his steadfast idiocy in continuing to support a war that is obviously one of the biggest disasters in modern history, I also have to reluctantly award Christopher Hitchens with the Ed Renner Award as well.

Maher and Hitchens: So close to being great minds, and yet so far.


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