Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: 2019

Imus and Dad

Radio Personality Don Imus (Photo by Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images)

Controversial? Yes. An asshole, sometimes. An original? Undoubtedly. Don Imus died Friday at the age of 79. And with him, part of my childhood and a link to my father.

You see, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Imus was on WNBC in New York City. My father would drive my sister and me to school, and he would fiddle with the rotary knob on the car radio until a barely audible signal would emanate from the static din, and the caustic, witty sound of Imus’s voice could be heard. News of the thunderous approach of Moby Worm would alert us that he had found the correct station. Zeroing in on an NYC station from Middletown, RI was no easy feat with the radios of the early ’80s! The preaching from the Right Reverend Dr. Billy Sol Hargis always made me laugh before heading into school. The worst situation was when we would have to get out of the car and enter school before Imus’s bit was done. I was left trying to fill in the blanks and finish the skit on my own.

In the seventh grade, I was disciplined by my homeroom/social studies teacher for not knowing the difference between wit and sarcasm. Maybe that’s one reason I liked listening to Imus. The other was because it was a shared experience with my dad. We laughed together and shared a sense of humor.

I continued listening as Imus moved to WFAN and then MSNBC. His politics changed, as did mine. But he was always able to get the newsmakers of the day to let down their guard and show the humanity behind their polished, over-produced exteriors. I thought of my father every day I listened. I wondered what he thought of the interviews. What he thought of the skits. What he thought of me.

My dad died in 2014. And now Imus is gone. That link is gone. But as I’ve learned over the past few years, I don’t need the “thing” to have the memories. The car is gone. High school is (thankfully) over. My dad is gone. And now Imus is gone. But I’ll always have the memories of those morning rides. Good night, Imus. Say hi to Dad.

The Rise of the Lowest Common Denominator

Today, scientists will introduce a new vaccine through the World Health Organization to three African countries in a pilot program designed to prevent malaria. Three hundred sixty thousand children each year will receive the vaccine, which has a 40% success rate in preventing the disease. 40% may not sound impressive, however, when you consider 435,000 people die of malaria each year (a child dies every two minutes from the disease, 250,000 children alone in Africa) this “complementary malaria control tool” is better than nothing at all. This is a victory for humanity and a proud moment for science.

This news comes on the same day (April 24, 2019) when, in the United States, a record 681 cases of the once eradicated measles disease have been reported. Twenty-two states report instances. The previous record for an entire year was 667 in 2014. Again, it’s only April 24th. This is a loss for humanity and an embarrassing moment for rational thinkers.

Science, I believe, is in its infancy. We pose far more questions each year than we answer. But as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Knowing there are unknowns (both known and unknown!) keeps science humble and curious. Each step forward reveals new questions, new problems, but more knowns (even if they are known unknowns).

Research into the demographics of “anti-vaxxers” always identified them as living on the outskirts of both political parties, but recent analysis has identified a distinct skewing toward the far right. The same conspiracy believing, science ignoring (climate change, pollution, flat earth), demographic who consider education to be an elitist, global cabal and who embraced the plain-spoken crudeness of a New York billionaire as their savior, believing he tells the truth, is a victim of the deep state and the mainstream media and was fully exonerated by the Mueller report. The echo chamber from which they obtain their news meets their confirmation bias, and anyone disagreeing is ignored and scorned as unpatriotic.

Fortunately, some African children will benefit from scientific advancement, children not of privilege or means, but beneficiaries of scientific progress. At the same time, some children in the United States will suffer from an entirely preventable disease because first world freedoms afford even the ignorant the right to put them in jeopardy.

As Harlan Ellison wrote, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” Unfortunately, specific demographics of our society have all of the answers when the rest of us are convinced of less and less each year, embrace that limitation, and continue to seek wisdom.

Thomas Paine wrote, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” In a country where education should be celebrated, instead, we seem to elevate the lowest common denominator — shame on us.