Duly Noted

Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013, 6:44 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Bad Science Reporting: The Birth-Control-Will-Make-You-Go-Blind Scare

Not a recipe for glaucoma. (Wikimedia Commons)  

By now, you may have heard that women who took birth control pills for at least three years were twice as likely to develop glaucoma later in life. The germ of this story was a press release by the American Academy of Ophthalmology touting a paper that was presented this week at the Academy’s annual meeting in New Orleans. The study made headlines on ABC News, TIME, CNN and other major outlets. Mainstream outlets ran with headlines like, “Long-Term Pill Use May Double Glaucoma Risk.” The headlines got more sensational as the news diffused outwards to less prestigious outlets. The SheKnows blog ran with the headline, “Could Birth Control Make You Go Blind?

As Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux explains in The American Prospect, the significance of this study has been wildly overblown. No single study ever settles a scientific question. You always have to look at how a study fits with the evidence as a whole. So far, other studies have not found a a strong link between birth control pills and glaucoma.

Remember that a press release represents the puffery of the salesperson, even when the source is a respected medical society. The AAO wants to make this research sound as newsworthy as possible, so the press release stresses the doubling of the risk, and the burden of glaucoma (60 million sufferers worldwide, a major cause of blindness). It’s the reporter’s responsibility to ask the tough questions that might make the study seem less newsworthy. Unfortunately, in this case, the media set aside the tough questions and played along.


Friday, Nov 8, 2013, 5:14 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Let’s Talk About Campus Shout-Downs

Brown University's campus is about as liberal a venue as it gets.  

Last week, Brown students shouted down outgoing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to oppose the racist stop-and-frisk policing that defined Kelly’s term in office. Since the university would not cancel Kelly’s talk, despite a student petition urging the school to disinvite him, the activists “decided to cancel it for them," according to organizer Jenny Li.

I was disappointed to hear about the shout-down, not because I have any sympathy for Kelly and his racist policing, but because I was dismayed to see such a dumb tactic used in an attempt to further the worthy cause of discrediting stop-and-frisk. College activists are perennially tempted to shout down campus speakers, and I’ve never seen it work.


Friday, Nov 1, 2013, 4:03 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

5th Circuit Shutters up to a Third of Texas Abortion Clinics

Sen. Wendy Davis at a Stand With Texas Women Rally on July 1. The organization suffered a big setback when Friday morning a circuit court enforced strict regulations on abortions (Stand With Texas Women Facebook)  

This morning, some Texas women with scheduled, legal abortions were told that their procedures could not take place because the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at hospitals with in 30 miles of their clinics. As many as 13 of 36 abortion clinics in Texas are unable to comply with the new law, and will have to stop performing abortions immediately. Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project testified that the hospital privileges provision would block over 20,000 women from accessing abortion care.


Monday, Sep 30, 2013, 10:04 am  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 16: Felina (FINALE)

The finale episode was fun to watch, but it fell short of the moral vision that Vince Gilligan promised. (Ursula Coyote / AMC)  

As far as I’m concerned, Breaking Bad ended in the wilds of To’hajilee, with Hank slipping the cuffs on Walt and Walt realizing that he had been beaten in a battle of wits with men he regarded as his inferiors. Walt’s humiliation is only matched by his horror as Hank is murdered by a force Walt set in motion but failed to control. The series should have ended there, with Walt suffering the full consequences of his actions.

The finale episode was great TV: brilliantly acted, well shot, and fun to watch, but it fell short of the moral vision that Vince Gilligan promised us. The ending felt like a sop to the Team Walt fanboys who tuned in each week to watch Heisenberg be a badass, morality be damned.

Sure, it felt good to watch Walt’s homemade machine gun turret mow down unsuspecting Nazis in Uncle Jack’s living room. But the final episode did not give us the moral clarity that Vince Gilligan had been promising. The last two episodes, “Ozymandias” and “Felina,” felt like rush jobs to rehabilitate Walt just enough so we could root for him as an avenging angel of justice.

Walter White got so much better than he deserved, including the death he’d wanted from the moment he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Walt wanted people to remember him as vital and powerful, not sick and diminished. He got his wish. When he realized he was fatally wounded, Walt went to die in the bikers’ lab, with a serene expression on his face and his trademark respirator by his side. His last act was to reach out and caress one of the gleaming tanks, literally leaving his fingerprints on the operation that he designed, as if to say, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Walt never cooked in the bikers’ lab, but his final gesture guaranteed that he would be remembered as Heisenberg, the man behind the blue meth


Tuesday, Sep 24, 2013, 1:09 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 15: Granite State

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) wastes away in an isolated cabin out in rural New Hampshire. (Ursula Coyote/AMC)  

In “Granite State” we finally learn what Walt was doing in New Hampshire. The vacuum salesman/rehoming specialist sends Walt to live like a hermit in rural N.H. because his case is too hot to put him anywhere else. The state is synonymous with stoic masculine independence, so it’s a great setting to make a point about the limits of Emersonian self-reliance. Secreted away in a remote cabin with no human contact, Walt belatedly discovers that he really needs other people. Emerson claimed that every man is a genius when he rejects conformity and trusts in his own thoughts. Walt discovers that being alone with his thoughts is torture. There’s no point in being a genius if you have no one to talk to. Money can insulate you from others to a point, but if you have no one to exchange it with, it’s just so much paper.


Monday, Sep 16, 2013, 3:52 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 14: Ozymandias

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) begs Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) not to kill Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). (Ursula Coyote/AMC)  

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

“Ozymandias,” the poem about a long-forgotten ruler of Egypt, a cruel tyrant whose colossus lies in ruins, is a metaphor for the transience of worldly power. The monarch taunted posterity with the inscription: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” It so happens that “Remember My Name,” is the tagline for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. By the end of the episode, the last vestiges of Walt’s empire lie in ruins, but Walt will keep trying to control how people remember him. 


Monday, Sep 9, 2013, 11:28 am  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 13: To’hajiilee

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) phones Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen). (Ursula Coyote/AMC)  

In a dusty corner of the To’hajiilee Indian reservation, Walt loses his battle of wits with Hank and Jesse. This is the clearing where they first started cooking together, the clearing where Hank and Gomey first started poking around in the dust. They’ve come full circle. 


Wednesday, Sep 4, 2013, 5:30 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 12: Rabid Dog

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) discuss the Jesse situation, which Skyler compares to the half-empty vodka glass she's holding.   (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

When Skyler learns that Jesse doused the White family home with gasoline, Walt tries to keep his wife focused on the bright side: At least Jesse didn’t follow through with his plan to burn the house down. As usual, Skyler sees the vodka glass as half-empty: A drug-crazed maniac is stalking her family and she’s in no position to go to the police. She demands that Walt kill Jesse. Surprisingly, he resists. Walt is so cocksure of his ability to manipulate Jesse that, instead of calling in a hit, he invites Jesse to meet him in a crowded plaza to talk things over.


Monday, Aug 26, 2013, 2:20 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 11: Confessions

In yesterday's episode, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) hug. (Ursula Coyote/AMC)  

In this episode, the writers elegantly orchestrate a decisive break between Walt and Jesse. A split in their deeply dysfunctional relationship seemed imminent when Jesse figured out that Walt killed Mike, but the writers have been steadily ratcheting up the suspense by having Jesse repeatedly stick by Walt under duress. The money-throwing tantrum was what Jesse did instead of what he really wanted to do, namely, breaking up with Walt for killing Mike. The suspense builds because we’re wracking our brains to figure what it’s going to take to make Jesse see the light.

In this episode, Jesse holds up under Hank’s interrogation, even when Hank hints at a very attractive plea deal.

Jesse knows that Walt is using him, and even tells him so during their parley in the desert, but Jesse’s resolve proves no match for Walt’s bear hug. At first, Jesse stands stiff and unwilling, but he eventually relaxes into Walt’s hold, sobbing.


Monday, Aug 19, 2013, 2:30 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 10: Buried

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) listens to her brother-in-law's appeal for her to turn in her husband.   Ursula Coyote/AMC

Jesse Pinkman is found lying catatonic on a merry-go-round, spent from hurling bundles of cash onto the lawns and stoops of a blue collar neighborhood. As we saw in the scene with the homeless man in the previous episode, Jesse doesn’t just want to throw the tainted money away, he’s trying to redeem himself by giving the cash to people who need it.

Jesse’s breakdown is an indictment of Walt’s cold, pseudo-rational approach to life. Walt thought he could placate Jesse with money. What Walt didn’t realize that was that by taking away everything that really mattered to Jesse, he lost control of him. Jesse’s decisive break with rational thought came when he realized that Walt murdered his mentor, Mike. Since the beginning of Breaking Bad, Jesse’s character arc has been one loss after another. His aunt is dead, his parents have written him off, his soul-mate Jane died of an overdose (thanks to Walt, though Jesse doesn’t know that yet), he broke up with Brock’s mom, and he stopped cooking with Walt. Mike was Jesse’s last important relationship.

Inevitably, Jesse’s largesse attracts the attention of the DEA, who bring him in and demand an explanation for his suspiciously large cache of cash.