Saturday, September 9, 2017

Out of the Wreckage Teaser

Monbiot's new book looks to be most similar to his Manifesto, which came out just over a decade ago. I love when he gets all revolutionary and inspirational. Here's an excerpt of his excerpt:
"Is it reasonable to hope for a better world? Study the cruelty and indifference of governments, the disarray of opposition parties, the apparently inexorable slide towards climate breakdown, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and the answer appears to be no....[But] political failure is, in essence, a failure of imagination....Those who tell the stories run the world....Although the stories told by social democracy and neoliberalism are starkly opposed to each other, they have the same narrative structure. We could call it the Restoration Story....the reason why, despite its multiple and manifest failures, we appear to be stuck with neoliberalism is that we have failed to produce a new narrative with which to replace it....[Humans] possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others....We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living....Where we find ourselves crushed between market and state, we will develop a new economics that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons....We know that if we can mobilise such silent majorities, there is nothing this small minority can do to stop us. But because we have failed to understand what is possible, and above all failed to replace our tired political stories with a compelling narrative of transformation and restoration, we have failed to realise this potential. As we rekindle our imagination, we discover our power to act. And that is the point at which we become unstoppable."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Antifa Methods

It's not just Tina Fey who's getting lambasted for promoting this position,
"I really want to say, to encourage all good sane Americans, to treat these rallies this weekend like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads: Don't show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air."
Now it's Chomsky and Hedges as well. We can pretty quickly write-off a comedian's suggestion, but it should give one pause when bigger thinkers repeat the idea. It should, I think. It's not for some, though, who insist Chomsky and Hedges are no longer on the left or are no longer liberal or are finally showing their true liberalism, and they toss them aside in favour of more agreeable opinions on the matter. I'm so confused about what 'left' and 'liberal' mean these days that I'm just going to leave that bit alone to look at their arguments.

Matt Sedillo argues,
"The threat is real, so must the resistance be. If we are to transform society more work than this need be done. If we are to prevent self deputizing death squads from roaming the street they must fear public gathering. There is no way around this and there is no reason to think of this work as mutually exclusive. Liberalism by definition is counterrevolutionary. In times of crisis it calls for the pacification of struggle and the return to normalcy. It posits that both right wing calls for ethnic cleansing and the resistance to that as equally menacing to the liberal order of society....Chris Hedges gave “many sides, many sides” presentation of much of the 20th century in order to attack the idea of revolution from below....False equivalencies spread confusion. Confusion strengthens the fascists. Liberalism is a death cult. Chris Hedges is a public menace."

On Memes and Theft

The Guardian has an article about memes, this one in particular, and I love their choice of cover photo:



Because it's not remotely important relative to everything else going on, yet it's still in the mix - one more thing to consider.

Belam writes,
"Guillem has a warning for people liberally spreading the picture across the net to put their copy of Photoshop down: “It’s not allowed to use any image without purchasing the proper licence in any possible way, so each one of the people that use the images without the licence are doing it illegally. What really worries us and we are not going to allow it, taking the appropriate legal measures, is the use of the images in a pejorative, offensive or any way that can harm the models or me." 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Freud and Einstein's Correspondence

Lately people have been talking more of the rise and fall of Freud's psychotherapy and his philosophies. Some write him off completely because many of his psychoanalytical claims have been discounted through a more rigorous scientific method than Freud employed, but it's not good philosophy to discount an entire person for some incorrect claims. If we did that, we'd lose many of the old guys to misogyny or worse. We have to consider the merits of each idea. It doesn't matter if Freud is a genius or a hack; it matters if there's a seed of an interesting concept in anything he wrote. Others claim that he shouldn't be considered because he wasn't the first to write about many of the ideas he discusses, but if that's our criterion for our reading list, shouldn't we toss all those "footnotes to Plato"?



Friday, August 18, 2017

On the Absurdist Victory: All is Well

A while back I wrote about a video comparing Stoicism and Existentialism. The video also touched on different psychology principles developed from each philosophy. Stoicism is easily seen in CBT and REBT, which all start with the premise that when we're upset it's because of our perception of things, not the things in themselves, and we often have an irrational view. Through reality testing and viewing the situation in a detached way we can be less emotionally affected by anxiety around events. It's been very effective in reducing anxiety levels in a good 70-80% of patients.

Existential psychoanalysis took a different path:
"The basic thrust of existential psychoanalysis, if it aspires to be at all existential, must in turn be rooted in the sensibilities of existential philosophy. That sensibility may be characterized by two principal themes: a) all human knowledge is rooted in personal experience; b) the weight of experience is so exasperating that we seek to escape it through self-deception....Every one of us employs deceptions for the same reason. Whenever we're thwarted in our endeavors we feel disappointment and frustration. We may fear that we won't get our way by being honest and resort to guile and manipulation - the principal source of neurotic guilt....On a deeper level it entails the patient's willingness to plumb the depths of experience while accepting responsibility for whatever comes to light, for better or worse."
Instead of our view of externals provoking upset, tumults are from the struggle for people to accept the truth about themselves and recognize their various attempts to escape it. Instead of looking at individual daily triggers, existentialists look at that big one: We search for meaning and purpose in life, but the reality has to be faced - that there simply isn't any. We've been thrown here randomly, and it's up to each of us to make the best of things. The "curative power lay in the patient's capacity for honesty." Upsetting experiences are useful for taking us outside ourselves and possibly provoking a transformation of consciousness that leads to maturation. No pain, no gain. Suppression of experiences is the problem: not an inaccurate assessment, but a refusal to actually see what's there. We need to give voice to our darkest truths, no matter how ugly. From an early age, we devise pleasant fantasies to override potential traumas as slight as disappointment, and then we become anxious that there's something deep within that we don't really want to know. Self-deception and deception by others (as they might help us remain in denial) are part of every issue. We're all inherently devious and deceive one another as a matter of course. The solution is acknowledging our radical freedom, digging past the deceptions to find our authentic selves, and recognizing the absurdity of it all.

On Fascist Movements and Free Speech

Some people are upset because Ryerson cancelled a panel discussion featuring Faith Goldy, of Rebel Media, who openly expresses the belief that Muslims are a problem in our country. A Ryerson spokesperson said,
"After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward. In light of recent events, Ryerson University is prioritizing campus safety."
I don't blame them. I wouldn't give her the platform to speak in the first place. I think free speech is important, but it's particularly important because we need the right to criticize people in positions of power and to question legislation. It's not important that everyone can say everything they think to as many people as possible. Her right to free speech isn't eroded since she's still free to talk on the internet and in her own media venues. [ETA - Even Rebel Media doesn't want her anymore.] She just wasn't given the right to speak at that one location.

I'm a fan of our anti-hate speech here in Canada. I don't believe in free speech at any cost when we see how many people can be influenced by a charismatic speaker with a warped agenda. Intelligent debate is the ideal, of course, but the reality is that some of these speakers can make the worst atrocities sound necessary. Get enough people worried about the economy, and it's too easy to pick a group of people to blame and then run them out of town - or worse. (I say way more about free speech here.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inconceivable! His Dinner with Chomsky

Wallace Shawn sat down for a chat with Noam Chomsky (video link here), and here's what they talked about - slightly abridged and loosely quoted (for clarification purposes) with links. It's a great recharge for activists!


Shawn - Many people are shocked to see the president is now a cruel, brutal, greedy type of a man, and this is now the face of America, but I'm not shocked because this has been the face of the United States for decades. What do you think is not new, and what do you think actually IS new?  [For more on this, check out Cenk Uygur's interview with John Cusack. It's pre-election, and the president he's criticizing at the beginning is Obama.]

Chomsky - My wife is from Brazil, and she predicted the Trump win before the primaries. From the outside, there's much that is not new. Recently the U.S. demanded that Cambodia pay back a debt incurred when the U.S. was destroying their country. There was secret bombing. It seems probably hundreds of thousands were killed. The Khmer Rouge was a small group, but ended up become a mass army of peasants starving and driven off the land by American bombing. The U.S. offered aid to get them to purchase American agricultural produce, and now they want payback. The American ambassador to Cambodia couldn't understand why Cambodians often make anti-American comments, but that's the America plenty of people see all over the world.

What is new, and dramatically new, is the U.S. withdrawal from the rest of the world on the issue of greatest significance for the prospect of human survival: climate change. The Washington Post had images of receding glaciers that will raise sea levels by many feet and pretty much drive tens of millions off land. A good part of organized life in coastal cities will be devastated. Every country in the world with the exception of the United States is committed to at least some actions on this issue. The US alone is not only refusing to participate, but is actually moving in a dedicated fashion in the opposite direction: trying to maximize the damage.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Slippery Arguments and Equity at Google

You can read most of the infamous Google memo here, and for the record, I don't think opening up this discussion should be a fireable offence, but I'm just concerned with this one piece of the puzzle right now:
"the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership."
David Brooks calls this "championing scientific research."

But consider this analogy. Walk into an art gallery full of art by Picasso, Monet, Dali, Van Gogh...  It is the case that men and women have some inherent differences on average; that claim has some validity. There are certainly more differences among the groups that between them, but there's still a difference however slight. BUT it doesn't follow that that's why we don't see equal representation in an art gallery. It's clearly not the case that women inherently, evolutionarily, don't prefer the arts and don't have any artistic talent. We can see that so clearly and easily because we are well aware that over the past centuries few women were allowed near a book much less a paintbrush.

We're far enough away from that museum scenario to really shake our head at the blatant injustices that produced such disparate results. However, as a society, we're apparently not quite able to step back and recognize the profound level of inequity that has created current gender distribution in the world of high tech.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On Community, Again

I just read local author Paul Born’s Deepening Community. In places, it’s very close to what I’ve written about in terms of ensuring that we’re kind to one another at the very end. He doesn’t skirt around the issue that we’re in dire straights and that we can choose how to behave when push comes to shove. (But I think he should have called the book, The Born Community.)













I've written about community before, and I'm going to say much of the same thing here but in many, many more words!  There are pictures and video clips to break it up. (I included headings for clarity and page numbers throughout - where I remembered.)   I aim to critique Born's book while trying to get to the bottom of what can be done to foster a cohesive sense of belonging and caring spanning the globe.  I'm using Born's book as as starting point, but I don't have all the solutions.  I'm ever in the process of seeking.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Prevention as an Ounce of Cure

Here's an update on what I've learned about lymphedema after an ALND. It's way less scary now that I know how to manage it, but it's still a drag. It takes about an hour away from me every day. I'm just in the earliest stages, and it possible to stay here forever, but not without a bit of effort - something breast cancer surgeons should make sure patients understand. It's all about retraining the lymph flow to take a different path through the body. Lymph nodes collect and clean out toxins (infection, etc.) from segments of the body. The body's divided into 'watersheds' which all get sucked to the closest lymph nodes, but, with some missing, some areas have to be redirected. Here's what's working for me right now, and what I wished I had known straight out of the hospital - just ten things!:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Having the Lowest Graduation Rates

This recent article in my local paper tells us that our region is lowest in the province for graduation rates.



ON FIFTH YEAR RATES

They worry that "Students who did graduate also took longer to do so than almost anywhere else." The graphic shows 68% finish after 4 years, and 81% after a fifth year (so, 13% stay for a victory lap). I share their concern that almost 20% aren't graduating, but not their concern about taking a fifth year. I commented there that I don't support that particular focus:
"I encouraged all my kids to do a fifth year of school - it's the last chance for a free education, and it gives them more time to take electives. I've always seen the drive to have kids finish in four years as just a cost-savings method at the expense of a well-rounded education. What's the educational benefit of pushing kids to finish faster?"
They claim,
"The board is reluctant to more strongly dissuade Grade 9 students from choosing academic studies over applied studies, even as students who start high school with unrealistic expectations fail to keep up and must later switch streams." 
They say that like it's a bad thing. Sure, it can be a challenge to work with students on material far outside their capabilities, but a public education is there for everyone to find, not just their talents, but also their limitations. Every student should have a right to try to stretch themselves to do work that's difficult because some actually make it after a few attempts at the higher levels. Nothing should dissuade them from trying all their options at this point in life.

The Plight of the Millennials

Further explanation here. 
First, a bit about statistical norms and the normal distribution. In social sciences, for something to be considered a statistically significant characteristic of a group, it just needs to be present in about 68% of the population, or one standard deviation from the norm. There's tons of variation in the other 32%, so all the generalizations below might not apply to the people in your life. But, according to researchers, they apply to most people in each group, so we can still look at trends. I remember studies in my day showing a clear correlation between violent movie viewing and violent teens, yet I loved slasher flicks and still lean towards more gruesome films despite the stats. And, more to the point, nobody stopped making those movies. This recent article is unlikely to change a thing, but we're still wise to consider it.

The article in question is The Atlantic article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" which adds to a running list of problems with kids today caused by technology. It hits home from some of the trends I've noticed anecdotally in my classroom over the past 26 years: that phones are distracting, lead to unrealistic idealization and familial alienation, and affect sleep habits. But the writer misses any discussion that phones also drive constant change, consumerism, and cognizance of tragedies, and the significance of other factors affecting trends in this demographic. Here's a chart I sometimes use in class for an overview of demographics by year of birth. We've moved way beyond the boom, bust, and echo labels.

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Comparing Existentialism and Stoicism

This summer, I went on one camping trip with a book on Stoicism, then another camping trip with a book on Existentialism, and I was intrigued by the many similarities. Then I came across this video that has some overlap with what I had noticed. As they say in the video, Massimo Pigliucci (MP) on Stoicism and Skye Cleary (SC) on Existentialism, both are philosophies that offer a way to live instead of just a way to think about the world. I'm putting it all together here with quotes (names linked to sources) to sort it out for myself. I'm just thinking out loud here. This is too long for any normal person to want to read.

These are both philosophies that allow surveyors to pick and choose from variations on a theme as neither has one authoritative dude overriding all others, and, it would appear, few of the big guns cared to adopt either label anyway. For the Stoics, defining yourself as one is avoided because it's pretentious. In The Role Ethics of Epictetus, it's clarified that we are simultaneously different things, and how we play each role is more important than what our roles are. The roles are often not our choice, but how we do them are, i.e. whether or not we're a virtuous son, mother, teacher, or waiter (MP). For Existentialists, we can't be defined by the roles we take on because we're more than the mere facts about ourselves (SC), so labels become meaningless.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Arendt on Revolution and the Necessity of Eradicating Poverty

Hannah Arendt's essay, "Thoughts on Poverty, Misery, and the Great Revolutions of History," written in the 1960s, was apparently just recently published for the first time. It continues to be relevant in our increasingly weird times with a tyrant who would rather dominate than excel in case after case:
"For the will to power as such, regardless of any passion for distinction (in which power is not a means but an end), is characteristic of the tyrant and is no longer even a political vice. It is rather the quality that tends to destroy all political life, its vices no less than its virtues. It is precisely because the tyrant has no desire to excel and lacks all passion for distinction that he finds it so pleasant to dominate, thereby excluding himself from the company of others; conversely, it is the desire to excel which makes men love the company of their peers and spurs them on into the public realm." 
She explains that the goal of revolution from a tyrant isn't just that people are treated well, which any benevolent dictator would do, but that people have access to the decision-making process that determines how they will be treated:

Chest Tattoo with a Side of Lymphedema

As a means of healing and prettying up my mastectomy scars, I looked forward to a chest tattoo. I envisioned never wearing a bathing suit top again! After my mastectomy, I asked my surgeon about it. His only concern was that it wouldn't look good when I finally gave in and got reconstruction. But, if I'm absolutely sure I don't want recon work done, then I could get the tattoo as early as six weeks after surgery. That would have been done in December, but we were just about to go to Costa Rica, so I postponed it for after the trip. And then I found out I needed more surgery, so I postponed again. I asked the second surgeon if he had any concerns about a chest tattoo, and he said the same thing, just to wait six weeks post-op. He didn't even have concerns about me tattooing my arm if I were so inclined. He said women regularly get nipple tattoos after surgery, which are perfectly safe.

So I had an artist friend draw up this amazing sketch for me based on a pile of random ideas I threw at her:


Friday, July 28, 2017

On Regret

I've taken many questionable risks in my life. I lean toward leading a life that's lived fully over a safe and secure existence. Most I bounced back from easily from typical childhood falling from trees when I've climbed too high to dropping out of high school and somehow ending up with a Masters. Sometimes it's gone extraordinarily well for me. When an elderly woman next door to me died, I went deep into debt to buy and flip her crumbling house only to find it packed with cash. People thought I was crazy for my efforts to save my school from the chopping block until it all worked, and I'm still there. People were adamant that I can't possibly hold my head high as a teacher and unwed mother back a few decades when premarital sex was shameful, but I ignored them all with the most delightful results. And when my third pregnancy was fraught with complications, and doctors strongly advised me to terminate because of a high risk of Edwards syndrome, I, still single, took a chance and have another healthy daughter to show for it. I've been very very lucky over the years.


But then there are the times that didn't go as well. That time I was convinced I was overinsured and cancelled the insurance on a property, then it promptly went up in flames. That time I got scared of my debt load and hastily sold the slightly charred land - 24 acres with 2000' of waterfront, then soon realized there's nothing else like it out there in my price range. And that time I was convinced by a couple doctors, in opposition to others doctors, equally educated, to get an auxiliary lymph node dissection (ALND), and only afterwards found out about, and succumbed to, the risks of lymphedema.

Like most people, I imagine, I have an easy time ignoring my luck and a really hard time coping when my decisions don't pan out as well. Regret is a bugger.

So I wrote to Stoic advice columnist, Massimo Pigliucci, explaining my surgery situation in very general terms so it could be applied to and/or understood by more people, and I made it sound worse than it is to get a response to the worst case scenario. In general I asked "How were the Stoics so able to get on top of these types of thoughts so well?"

On Wasting Time

I had a brief Facebook conversation with Massimo Pigliucci about my decision to fritter away a morning watching the rain and petting my cat. He said, "It's up to you to determine whether your morning was wasted or not. But from a Stoic perspective the good use of time comes when one is doing something virtuous." And I started wondering further about what specifically counts as wasted time. So I turned to a thorough re-reading of Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. Here are the bits that stood out to me with chapters noted after each quotation:

Seneca points out that people complain about the cruelty of nature because life is short, even Aristotle did, but it's not short, it's just that we waste much of it (1). Then he lists many examples of what a waste of time looks like:
"soft and careless living...no worthwhile pursuit....held in the grip of voracious avarice....diligence that busies itself with pointless enterprises....sodden with wine....slack with idleness....tired out by political ambition, which always hangs on the judgment of others....desire for trading...in hope of profit....passion for soldiering....striving after other people's wealth....thrown...by a fickleness that is shifting" (2).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Paradigm Shift in Climate Change Policy

In the news, Caroline Lucas, in The Guardian says one good policy isn't enough; we need a paradigm shift:
"Rather than simply looking for one headline-grabbing policy, the government should be embarking on a paradigm shift when it comes to how we get about in this country. ...Ultimately we need a green transport revolution, not another tinker with a transport system that’s creaking. Let’s aim for towns and cities that are easily navigable by foot and bike, a fully electric and publicly owned train system that covers the country, and local public transport that’s a joy to use – rather than the overpriced, unreliable service that’s currently on offer in so many places."
And Brad Plumer, in the NYTimes, says California is making that shift:
"The state plans to rethink every corner of its economy, from urban planning to dairy farms....If California prevails, it could provide a model for other policy makers, even as President Trump scales back the federal government’s efforts on climate change. The state may also develop new technologies that the rest of the world can use to cut emissions....The state’s emissions are nearly back to 1990 levels... and it has installed as many solar panels as the rest of the country combined....The board envisioned the number of electric cars and other zero-emissions vehicles on California’s roads rising to 4.2 million by 2030 from 250,000 today. Freight trucks would have to become more efficient or electrified, while cities would need to adopt far-reaching strategies to promote mass transit, biking and walking."
I love that they both mention cycling. I'm not convinced cap and trade will save us, as Plumer suggests, but it's all a start. We're not at that paradigm moment yet, but at least our heads are turned in the right direction:
"There may well be an art whose aim would be to effect this very thing, the conversion of the soul, in the readiest way; not to put the power of sight into the soul's eye, which already has it, but to ensure that, instead of looking in the wrong direction, it is turned the way it ought to be." - Plato's Republic, book 7
 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Climate Comedies

I caught Al Franken and David Letterman's Funny or Die series on climate change: Boiling the Frog. It's vaguely informative and not particularly funny, but fans of either guy might be willing to check it out. They focus on what their children and grandchildren will have to live with, and how they'll answer when asked what they did about it all, which I think is a fairly relatable tactic. And at about three minutes each, it's easy to watch an episode while you're waiting for the kids to get their shoes on. It's great for a populous with short attention spans, but it's hard to find a funny angle to talk about the dangers we're facing.

One episode referred to the show Years of Living Dangerously, which I hadn't heard about despite being three years old. It's a star-studded series (including Letterman in one episode) exploring climate change with lots of dramatic shots and music, but, based on the premiere only, it's not walking the walk. The very first scene has Harrison Ford excited to be flying a jet to visit with climate scientists. In one of the Boiling the Frog episodes, Franken asked Letterman, couldn't he just read about India's coal problem without travelling there? It's an important question. We have lots and lots of movies about climate change already. I'd put DiCaprio's film at the top of the list for clarity and persuasiveness. So it's been done. We need to stop flying film crews all over the world so Ford can say, ominously, "I'm going there to find out more!". I'm all about this stuff, and it got excellent reviews, but I won't be watching past the dramatic premiere.

The information is all out there in multiple genres and media already. Maybe it's got to move out of the documentary arena and into the HBO dramas for people to start paying attention. We need a risk-taking coming-out show like Ellen had when her character admitted to being gay. It's a similar risk to start talking about environmental destruction on a popular show in that sponsors might pull their ads, but, if it's done well, it could raise ratings enough that sponsors will come back. Then all other shows will scramble for a token environmentalist on their show! Right?

Somehow, of course, even despite religious protests at the time, two women kissing has a bigger draw than people choosing bikes over cars or overtly recycling or refusing to fly anywhere for ethical reasons. And it has a way bigger draw than famous people flying place to place to look at desolate and destroyed areas of the world.

Friday, July 14, 2017

On Hedges' Veganism Claims

Chris Hedges' recent article, "Eating Our Way to Disease," largely just advertises the new doc What the Health:
"Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn—whose documentary Cowspiracy, about the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry, led me to become a vegan—recently released a new film, What the Health, which looks at how highly processed animal products are largely responsible for the increase of chronic and lethal diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the United States and many other countries."
Eating vegan is more ethical from an animal rights point of view. I believe it's healthier for the body to eat way more vegetables than meat and that it's much more efficient for people to eat grains than to feed grains to cattle and then eat the cows. From a moral, nutritional, and environmental perspective, I support the shift to veganism or at least vegetarianism, or, at the very least, reducetarianism. Absolutely.

BUT...

I wrote about some concerns with Hedges' praise of Cowpiracy before:
"The documentary Cowspiracy claims that 51% of GHG emissions are from agriculture (scrutinized here). Every other report on emissions has much lower numbers, including the IPCC, which puts it at 24%.... It's still up there, and it's definitely something we should act on by eating way less meat, but that 51% number seems to be seriously questionable. Documentaries need fact-checking too....But then Chris Hedges started praising the documentary and citing that number as fact. Yes, even the great Chris Hedges doesn't have time to fact-check everything he sees, and his bullshit meter must have been subdued from all the footage of suffering animals. When facts are reported inaccurately, but they help the cause, it's harder to be motivated to correct them. But it doesn't make them any less inaccurate."
Those last two lines linger.

First of all, we need to acknowledge the three-dimensional nature of all of us, neither demonizing nor glorifying anyone. I tend to think of Hedges as a bit of a hero, and he's clearly intelligent, but it appears that that doesn't stop him from being a little sloppy around some facts. Others have raised concerns around plagiarism, and his response there is perplexing. Well, it's only perplexing if we think of him as better than the rest of us fallible souls.

But secondly, if these shocking claims encourage people to eat less meat, which will have a positive effect on the environment (not quite as much as claimed, though), then should we just let it go? A Lund University study shows that eating a plant-based diet is one of the four most important activities individuals should do to affect climate change. The amount of meat we eat is definitely a problem. Should we let people think meat-eating is as bad as these films suggest? I think not. I fear it runs the risk of a Reefer Madness backlash. Once teens realize that their health teacher's tales of people jumping off a building after one toke from a marijuana cigarette are total bullshit, then they stop believing anything else from them. They need to know the real problems with smoking pot, and there are some, in order to make an informed choice. If Hedges supports claims that are a little bullshitty, then people might stop listening to any of it and continue to eat meat several times a day despite some real problems with that.

And then he boasts that the companion book to the new movie was written by his wife.

Her book's reviews on Amazon are mostly glowing, some reviewers suggesting they're using the book in their high-school classrooms (which feels more like a pitch than a review), but the criticisms there addresses specific concerns, many with solid backing:
"This is nothing but fear mongering at its best. You simply cannot say that processed meats cause as many deaths as tobacco, it's factually impossible! There are 34,000 deaths per year on average (W.H.O estimates) from processed AND red meats. There are over 8,000,000 deaths from tobacco every year. This is no way, shape, or form comparable to processed meats."
Here and elsewhere people are taking to task another claim from the book and film that beef is toxic because pollution gets in the cows when they eat grass, since it's obvious that the same pollution would get into vegetables and grains that we eat. Denise Minger does a thorough take-down of claims from Dr. Garth Davis, one of the experts from the film. And the Skeptical Cardiologist questions some claims from another expert, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, as does Minger.

I don't have any interest in seeing the film or reading the book, but I skimmed the Amazon "look inside" pages, and this bit caught my attention (page 75):
"People who ate 68 grams (about a cup) of broccoli sprouts significantly inhibited the bloodstream levels of an enzyme linked to cancerous tumor development (24), only three hours after eating the sprouts. The broccoli sprout snack was just as effective, or even more so, than the chemotherapy agent specifically concocted to lower that enzyme (25). Broccoli sprouts or chemo? Hard decision." 
Hold the phone - so broccoli can replace chemo?? I linked the studies cited to show the problem with this claim. The second study (25) found that the spouts briefly inhibited the epigenetic markers for cancer. But it makes it very clear that the study was  an attempt to prevent one specific provocation, not a therapy for cancer that exists. The three (three!) participants tested were all perfectly healthy at the time. And, as Wong says elsewhere, genetic markers cause only a small percentages of cancerous tumours anyway. The first study cited (24) explains the idea, but doesn't actually discuss the broccoli sprout study specifically as one would expect given the location of the citation in the passage. If it were a student's essay, I'd call that padding. Regardless, the original study's finding is in its initial stages and, more importantly, doesn't remotely suggest broccoli sprouts could replace chemotherapy in the least. Wong conflated concepts in a very misleading way.

I'm not going to fact check the many claims in the book, but one error of this type and magnitude is enough to throw into question other claims. And this passage is particularly dangerous if people take Wong, a classically trained actor, as a medical expert because the claim is published in a book about health and nutrition. I questioned the qualifications of the publisher and, lo and behold, it's a self-publishing company, Xlibris, so it's possible that nobody's fact-checked the material. Unfortunately, because it's in a paper form, it feels that much more legit. Caveat emptor and all, but this is troubling.

It's more important than ever that people understand how publishing works, what a peer-reviewed journal entails, and what is and is not peer-reviewed. But it's also important that we all understand some basics of the scientific method if we're expected to understand any of these studies. Or, at least, it would be nice if authors of nutritional books and films were able to use a basic scientific knowledge to understand their research more thoroughly. You don't have to have a medical degree to assimilate studies and form a conclusion, but you do have to read past the abstract.

ETA: Time Magazine also criticized the film.