Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Smoke Break: Coldplay, "Up&Up"

So I'm going to out myself as a total wuss here, but yes, I love Coldplay. And this new video from "Head Full of Dreams" is probably the trippiest thing I've seen in years. Plus, the song rawks (for Coldplay anyway). Enjoy.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thank You Big Pharma

Yes, you read that right, I actually wrote "Thank you Big Pharma," me, who has bashed the drug pushers for almost a decade on this blog. Why the sudden change? This:

Pfizer Blocks Use of Its Drugs in Lethal Injections:

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Friday that it had imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, a step that closes off the last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions.

More than 20 American and European drug companies have already adopted such restrictions, citing either moral or business reasons. Nonetheless, the decision from one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers is seen as a milestone.

“With Pfizer’s announcement, all F.D.A.-approved manufacturers of any potential execution drug have now blocked their sale for this purpose,” said Maya Foa, who tracks drug companies for Reprieve, a London-based human rights advocacy group. “Executing states must now go underground if they want to get hold of medicines for use in lethal injection.”
Kind of like Georgia did back a few years ago, buying drugs from the back of car in a parking lot in London for lethal injection, and subsequently getting busted for it by the DEA when they attempted to smuggle the drug back into the U.S. Or better, using the shady "compounding pharmacies" which have sprung up over the years, who mix the lethal doses of barbituates, unregulated of course.
Some states have used straw buyers or tried to import drugs from abroad that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, only to see them seized by federal agents. Some have covertly bought supplies from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies while others, including Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio, have delayed executions for months or longer because of drug shortages or legal issues tied to injection procedures.

A few states have adopted the electric chair, firing squad or gas chamber as an alternative if lethal drugs are not available. Since Utah chooses to have a death penalty, “we have to have a means of carrying it out,” said State Representative Paul Ray as he argued last year for authorization of the firing squad.
Snicker. Damn straight. Ain't gonna run outta bullets anytime soon. And compounding pharmacies, like mobile home meth labs, are springing up everywhere.

So to hide all this from the public, let's impose unconstitutional restrictions like "Lethal Injection Secrecy Acts" on the people.
A majority of the 32 states with the death penalty have imposed secrecy around their drug sources, saying that suppliers would face severe reprisals or even violence from death penalty opponents. In a court hearing this week, a Texas official argued that disclosing the identity of its pentobarbital source “creates a substantial threat of physical harm.”

But others, noting the evidence that states are making covert drug purchases, see a different motive. “The secrecy is not designed to protect the manufacturers, it is designed to keep the manufacturers in the dark about misuse of their products,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group in Washington.

Georgia, Missouri and Texas have obtained pentobarbital from compounding pharmacies, which operate without normal F.D.A. oversight and are intended to help patients meet needs for otherwise unavailable medications.
Meanwhile, some of the most sane statements on the efficacy of the death penalty have come from Big Pharma, who ironically just want to hook you to their drugs, without actually killing you (which is bad for business, natch).
Campaigns against the death penalty, and Europe’s strong prohibitions on the export of execution drugs, have raised the stakes for pharmaceutical companies. But many, including Pfizer, say medical principles and business concerns have guided their policies.

“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company said in Friday’s statement, and “strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”
Again, before you stand up and cheer too much, let's remember their main motivation is just getting you hooked on drugs, not actually killing you. Because once you're dead, well, y'know...they would rather you spiral into a long, drawn out addiction, from which they can make much more money, than instantly kill you.

Nonetheless, another step in the right direction regarding the anachronism the death penalty has become in the U.S. today. Well, except Georgia, which is on track to whack more people in one calendar year in 2016 than they have since the bad old days in the 70's. I mean, c'mon, Texas is only one ahead of them so far this year (6-5 Tx).

Don't mess with Georgia. Or whatever.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TODD Talks

John Oliver did a great bit on all the junk science out there and how, as I lecture my students every semester, it's up to you (us) to be skeptical about what you are hearing, who does these studies, and where the funding comes from. And just because it's "on t.v." or "on the interwebs" doesn't mean it's true.

But watch till the end, especially around 16 minutes or so when he says they have a new TED Talks channel for the scientifically impaired, called TODD Talks. Not exactly the way I envisioned my namesake channel (really, TODD Talks are every lecture I've ever given), but hilarious nonetheless.

I love the fact that he also disses the TED Talks phenomenon in general, which so many people fall all over themselves over swearing by, but which oftentimes are just unscientific snake oil salesmen pedaling pop psych, self-help crap.

Oh, and repeat after me ten times: correlation does not equal causation!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Guns Everywhere (Kinda)

As States Expand Gun Rights, Police Object:

Guns in bars. Guns in airports. Guns in day care centers and sports arenas. Conservative state lawmakers around the country are pressing to weaken an array of gun regulations, in some cases greatly expanding where owners can carry their weapons.

But the legislators are encountering stiff opposition from what has been a trusted ally: law enforcement.

In more than a dozen states with traditions of robust support for gun ownership rights, and where legislatures have moved to relax gun laws during the past year, the local police have become increasingly vocal in denouncing the measures. They say the new laws expose officers to greater danger and prevent them from doing their jobs effectively.

Mississippi’s measure, signed into law in April and pushed mainly as an effort to allow worshipers in church to arm themselves, is one of several that have passed in recent months. West Virginia and Idaho have approved laws allowing people to carry concealed handguns without a permit or firearm training — and, in many cases, without a background check. Texas has given residents the right to carry handguns openly. Oklahoma appears set to pass a similar measure in the next several weeks.

Several states, including Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, have enacted laws that prohibit the police from destroying firearms that have been used in crimes. Instead, the weapons must be sold to licensed dealers or to the public at auction.
I wasn't aware of that last loony provision: that guns used in the commission of crimes, including violent homicides, be resold at public auction and, in the more notorious cases, a chance to own a piece of infamy ("Live on Ebay, auction closes in 12 hours: your chance to own a piece of Columbine!").

In fact, for a real-life example, check out George Zimmerman selling the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin in 2012. Blood to the highest bidder.

And the biggest enemy law enforcement faces seems to be the NRA.
The N.R.A., which supports the new laws, said opponents of the measures sought to harm people’s ability to defend themselves.

“These laws simply protect and expand the ability of law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to self-protection,” said Jennifer Baker, an N.R.A. spokeswoman. “Gloom-and-doom predictions of Wild West scenarios in states with strong gun rights have proven time and again to be nothing more than scare tactics.”
Yeah, except when they aren't

Thankfully, law enforcement is experiencing some victories, including here in Georgia the other day.
On Tuesday, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia, a Republican, vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to allow gun owners 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun onto public college and university campuses with a permit.

The campus police chiefs of the University System of Georgia supported keeping the existing campus gun laws, according to Hank M. Huckaby, the system chancellor, who spoke before a State Senate committee in March.

Mr. Deal, in a statement Tuesday, said: “From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”
Because there isn't any. And it wasn't just the campus police chiefs, btw, but the entire university system, including vast majorities (2/3 and higher) of students, faculties and staff that opposed what was essentially red meat, election year gimmickry.

As this Chronicle of Higher Ed article notes, Deal's veto won't end the debate, and it won't end next year's session of the legislature from passing it again, perhaps this time with the right exclusions. 
The Georgia measure would have allowed anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a concealed gun anywhere on a public-college campus unless the area was specifically excluded. The areas lawmakers carved out for exclusions included dormitories, sporting-event venues, and fraternity and sorority houses.
Ironic, given that if sexual assault on campus statistics are accurate, and this law is really about self-defense, the last places you'd want to forbid college women from arming themselves would be drunken sporting events, frat parties, and after-hours dorms.

Regardless, one can certainly argue that those who support the bill, who say college professors and others who are against guns on campus (or guns everywhere) are just "collectively paranoid," certainly seem to be saying so ironically.

Meanwhile, more wonderful gun statistics from the preschool set: two toddlers shoot themselves to death each week in the U.S., yet the guns everywhere crowd opposes law enforcement and gun safety measures.
With shootings by preschoolers happening at a pace of about two per week, some of the victims were the youngsters’ parents or siblings, but in many cases the children ended up taking their own lives.

“You can’t call this a tragic accident,” said Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor of Jackson County, Mo., who is overseeing the criminal case in Sha’Quille’s death. Her office charged Mr. Block, 24, with second-degree murder and child endangerment. “These are really preventable, and we’re not willing to prevent them.”

Gun rights groups have long opposed these kinds of laws. They argue that trigger locks can fail, that mandatory storage can put a gun out of reach in an emergency, and that such measures infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“It’s clearly a tragedy, but it’s not something that’s widespread,” said Larry Pratt, a spokesman and former executive director of Gun Owners of America. “To base public policy on occasional mishaps would be a grave mistake.”
Emphasis on the word grave.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Silent Plague

Funny how worked up we get about things like Sika or Ebola or some other potential public health epidemic, but meanwhile, suicide, which is now killing north of 40,000 people every year in the U.S. goes largely unnoticed or discussed. The CDC (which stands for the Centers for DISEASE Control) itself released another troubling report showing massive increases in the suicide rates in virtually all age, racial and gender demographics (save those over 75, whose rates were already off the chain).

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups, with rates rising by 89 percent for women and 38 percent for men. White middle-aged women had an increase of 80 percent.

The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75.

The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans. Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.
Yeah duh. People don't kills themselves when they are not in pain. And once again, lost in all the demographic data, is that precise question: why so much pain?

Nonetheless, the report gives us fresh insight into things like methods and questions whether economic cycles truly have anything to do with suicide trends.
The new federal analysis noted that the methods of suicide were changing. About one in four suicides in 2014 involved suffocation, which includes hanging and strangulation, compared with fewer than one in five in 1999. Suffocation deaths are harder to prevent because nearly anyone has access to the means, Ms. Hempstead said. Death from guns fell for both men and women. Guns went from being involved in 37 percent of female suicides to 31 percent, and from 62 percent to 55 percent for men.

Dr. Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had studied the association between economic downturns and suicide going back to the 1920s and found that suicide was highest when the economy was weak. One of the highest rates in the country’s modern history, he said, was in 1932, during the Great Depression, when the rate was 22.1 per 100,000, about 70 percent higher than in 2014.

“There was a consistent pattern,” he said, which held for all ages between 25 and 64. “When the economy got worse, suicides went up, and when it got better, they went down.”

But other experts pointed out that the unemployment rate had been declining in the latter period of the study, and questioned how important the economy was to suicide.
That's not to say economic cycles have no bearing on suicide rates. We certainly noticed the rise coming out of the Great Recession, but it had already been increasing among many demographics prior to that (see also: the spike in military/veteran suicides going back to the post-Iraq War period, 2004+). 

It also makes us wonder whether the economy has truly healed the last several years for all aspects of society. Sure, unemployment is back down to where it was a decade ago, but the rates of suicide have continued to accelerate. Perhaps the economy is doing well for some, but clearly not for uneducated, working class/lower middle class white men and women over the age of 35. It's odd the report only mentions Baby Boomers, yet Generation X (ages 35-55) is clearly in the throes of the middle age portion of the epidemic as well.

Focusing just on economics, however, misses the larger multi-faceted nature of suicide in general. Social isolation is a big factor (caused increasingly by the ironically named "social media"), as is the breakdown of traditional controls against these kinds of suicidal ideations (such as marriage, family and extended family, religion, civic participation via volunteerism, etc.). Throw in loss of job and financial status, and suddenly you're looking at levels of anomie that would make Durkheim cringe.

We think we're so "connected" today with our gadgets and devices and social media outlets, yet this surge in suicide would suggest the opposite: we are becoming more socially atomized and isolated than at any point in modern history. You can sit there and talk to "the world" on your phone, while ignoring the family member/friend/person sitting right there next to you. And it's getting worse.

I'll conclude with the CDC's conclusion:
Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the 10 leading causes of death overall and within each age group 10–64 (4). This report highlights increases in suicide mortality from 1999 through 2014 and shows that while the rate increased almost steadily over the period, the average annual percent increase was greater for the second half of this period (2006–2014) than for the first half (1999–2006). Increases in suicide rates occurred for both males and females in all but the oldest age group (75 and over). Percent increases in rates were greatest for females aged 10–14 and for males, those aged 45–64. The male-female disparity in suicide rates (as measured by rate ratios) narrowed slightly over the period. Poisoning was the most common suicide method for females in 2014, and firearms were the most frequent for males, but both sexes showed increases since 1999 in the percentage of suicides attributable to suffocation. Suicide numbers and rates for females and males by Hispanic origin and race for 1999 and 2014 are also available.
I've never thought of suicide as a democratizing force in society, but that's certainly the way it's shaping up as we move into the second decade of the 21st century. We are killing ourselves, literally, at virtually every demographic turn you can think of. As the report notes, suicide is now in the top 10 killers in the U.S., right up there with cancer, stroke and heart disease, greater even than car accidents.

And yet we still view it as an individual problem, a moral problem, a mental illness problem, a character weakness problem. And until that changes, nothing will ever change at the end of these posts I've been making for almost a decade (and have been writing about in other venues for two decades).

People will gasp for a moment, cluck their tongues, "isn't that terrible?" And then right back to checking in on social media, generating likes and follows and retweets, and trying not trip over the corpses as you pose for your next selfie.

UPDATE: Appropo to the mention of suicide among military veterans, this is a good NYT article on suicide prevention measures, ironically using social media, that occur on the 22nd of each month. While the data is still out regarding its effectiveness, hey, at least people are willing to talk about suicide preventative measures in a public forum.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Ghost of Incarcerations Past

Prison Rates, Crime Rates, and the 1990's:

“Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets,” President Bill Clinton said in 1994 as he signed a far-reaching anti-crime bill to bipartisan acclaim.

Defending the law at the time, a frightened era of crack cocaine wars and record murder rates, Hillary Clinton, as first lady, warned about an emerging generation of “super-predators” — a notion she later repudiated.

Confronted last week by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr. Clinton defended his tough crime stance, even though he, like Mrs. Clinton, has joined in recent calls for sweeping reforms in criminal sentencing.
Here's the video that caused the uproar. While the former president looks weak and kind of haggard (he never had the strongest voice, even 20 years ago), the "confrontation" doesn't seem as "epic" as pundits are claiming it to be.

Yeah, he gets pissed and riled up, but he should be, because the protesters are exactly right to point out the devastating effects of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (which I and others have been yammering about for years now) on particularly the black community.

His claim that "violent crime was peaking" in 1994 is wrong (crime peaked in 1991 and was coming down already). And while the article and some criminologists say the bill had only a modest increase on imprisonment rates, other data suggests this isn't true.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was a composite measure, with elements reflecting opposing impulses. It offered incentives to states to build more prisons if they toughened sentences, and it added some mandatory minimum sentences to those that already existed. But it also promoted the expansion of community policing and drug courts as alternatives to jail. It established a federal “three strikes” law and expanded the federal death penalty, but outlawed assault rifles.

Some critics portray the law as a critical turning point as the country rushed to put more low-level offenders in prison, ravaging low-income communities.

But in fact, the data shows, the startling rise in imprisonment was already well underway by 1994, with roots in a federal government war on drugs that was embraced by Democratic and Republican leaders alike.
Yes and no. Yes, imprisonment was on the rise, going back to the Rockefeller drugs laws of the 70's, but the era of mass incarceration began in earnest with the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986*. These two monster bills doubled the prison population from 330,000 in 1980 to 750,000 in 1991. 

So Clinton's Violent Crime Control and LE Act was like throwing gasoline on the fire and wondering why the fire didn't go out. The prison population doubled AGAIN in the 1990's, from 750,000 in 1991 to 1.5 million in 2000 when he left office. Not only did the Act put the much-vaunted 100,000 new police officers on the street (many of whom were untrained and ill-equipped), but the act earmarked more than $10 billion to the states specifically for prison construction only. 

Now I know, in this day and age of hundred billion dollar bank bailouts, etc., $10 billion sounds like chump change. But even adjusted for inflation, it was a staggering amount of money to dangle in front of the states and say "for prisons only."

That's where the whole Field of Dreams ethos in incarceration began: "if you build it, they will come." If you build $10 billion worth of new prison beds, we'll fill 'em, don't worry, whether the crime rates (which were in free fall by that point) justify it or not.

Even though the article suggests it "may have" contributed to the explosion in incarceration rates, there is really no doubt that it did, in fact, double it. 

So what to make of this today? Did the politics of the time period necessitate his (and defacto Mrs. Clinton's) embrace of these draconian policies? One can certainly argue that, if by "necessitate" you mean "do whatever is necessary to get elected."

And that's what is it at the core of the debate on the Democratic side here: Secretary Clinton's embrace of political expediency over principle. The former president was the master of "triangulation" or third way politics, but all that was, or is, is code for "selling out" or compromising your principles. Embracing and pushing that bill, which doubled the prison population and wreaked havoc on a generation of young men, the majority of whom were disproportionately poor and black, is not "new" or "third way"...it's good old fashioned strong arm, brutal, class/race warfare politics. 

And lest you think this is simply an attack on the Clinton's: Bernie Sanders voted for this monstrosity of evil, as did the current vice president Joe Biden, and virtually every Democrat still around today. In fact the only two Democrats to vote against it were Paul Simon and and Russ Feingold.

So even though I hate to wade into partisan politics, particularly in an election year like this, there is simply no way for me to ignore or dismiss this issue as a non-starter. The bill (and its election-year cousins two years later**, the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act and 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effect Death Penalty Act) wiped out a generation of African-American men and women, and on their backs, got a lot of wealthy, white Democrats and Republicans re-elected over and over again.

Let me use an Arkansas metaphor the former president might appreciate: you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still just a pig. And 20 years +, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 remains a monster pig at that.

* Note the years on these massive crime bills: 1984, 1986, 1994, 1996. Viz. one only passes massive, monstrous get tough bills like these in an election year; not because crime only goes up in even numbered years, but because, well, duh: it's an election year, and every politician, left and right, needs to run for re-election on something.

** Ibid.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Political Correctness, Capitalism & Chalk

College Kids Aren't the Only Ones Demanding Safe Spaces:

The chalking story began at Emory University in Georgia. A group of students there reportedly went berserk after some anonymous person scrawled "Trump '16" on a sidewalk in the wee hours of March 21st.

A student coalition quickly coalesced in protest, and soon confronted university President James Wagner. A joint letter was then composed by protesting groups, explaining that the chalk messages had created "an environment in which many students no longer feel safe and welcome."

Reporters hot on the scent of lively copy (any "safe space" story is a guaranteed hit-generator) immediately descended on the campus, where they extracted quotes from students like, "I legitimately feared for my life," "Some of us expected shootings," and "We are in pain."
I was going to write about the "Emorrhoids" and this dust-up down the road, until Matt Taibbi beat me to the punch and, as usual, points out the larger problem with safe spaces, political correctness and capitalism.

First, how these stories all seem to follow a similar narrative.
These stories have the same arc every time. First there's the core news report, an often sarcastically told horror story of kids terrorized by chalk (or chat-room messages, or mascot costumes, or whatever) while living lives of enviable, sexually fulfilling leisure on gorgeous campuses.

Next comes the avalanche of op-ed pieces ridiculing the students. The response is usually brutal on both ends of the spectrum. When the Emory story spread to Kansas, Town Hall ran with the following headline: "Trump Chalkings Appear at University of Kansas: Delicate Snowflakes Complain."

Bill Maher's take was a big laugh line in-studio in L.A. "I so badly want to drop-kick these kids into a place where there is actual pain and suffering," he quipped.

Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show also did an extended routine about the Emory incident. Wilmore was careful to note that some campus controversies are more genuinely disturbing, like the like the time someone scrawled "No N----rs" in a Connecticut College bathroom (Wilmore joked this was the original title for Friends). But he chuckled about Emory students panicking over a campaign slogan, interviewing mock students on location.

"I had no idea I went to school with people who had different opinions than me," moaned one. "It is terrifying."

These campus safe space controversies have a lot of older people freaked out. They're often covered in the style of the classic Time/Newsweek "What's Up With Your Inscrutable Messed-Up Teenager?" stories that used to work as cover features for nervous parents sitting in doctors' waiting rooms. (Time's spooky "Secrets of the Teen Brain" cover remains a favorite of this genre.) The usual subtext is, "What's wrong with teenagers these days, and why are they such wusses?"
Ha ha...and then he notes, it's not just the liberals who freak out at the slightest transgressions to doctrinaire or lock-step thinking.
There's plenty of it on the liberal side. But conservatives who get hysterical about the "delicate snowflakes" on campus should take a look at their own media-consumption habits. It's hard to imagine anything funnier than a 70-year-old who watches 90 hours of Fox News a week and then rails against college kids who are afraid of new ideas.

But it's not just Fox viewers. Most of the cable TV news industry is just a series of safe spaces. There are conservative channels and liberal channels, all of them huge seas of more or less unanimous opinion. Viewers tune in, suckle their thumbs, and wait to have their own opinions vomited back at them.

The commercial formula at the all-liberals-suck channel is the same as the one at the all-Republicans-are-boneheads channel. People in this country tend to follow politics in the same way they follow sports teams. They don't think, they root. 
Which is because we like things boiled down to our atomized version of the world, where whatever we're watching/reading only confirms our existing opinions.
Democratic politics is the same minefield of litmus tests and taboos that Republican politics is, with the caveat that we're supposed to pretend it isn't. Even people who've dedicated their lives to liberal causes quickly learn that any blemish in their belief systems can be costly.
See also: the recent unapologetic and ageist Twitter attack on the writer Gay Talese for comments he made which were taken completely out of context. Nothing whips up follows, likes, shares, retweets and stupid like a good ol' fashioned outrageathon on social media...be it left wing or right wing.
So those that have non-conforming beliefs, like free-speech icon Nat Hentoff (who somewhat reluctantly came out as pro-life in the Nineties), tend not to be very loud about their idiosyncrasies, hoping it doesn't hurt them professionally too much.

The few exceptions are people like Bill Maher, who have big enough and secure enough audiences that they can afford to openly challenge a few blue-team bugaboos and keep working.

Still, when Maher came out with off-color jokes and comments about Islam, blue-team America went nuts, organizing campaigns to keep him off campuses and devolving at times into humorously genuine despair over his continued existence. It was very nearly an existential crisis. He's liberal, but I don't agree with absolutely everything that he says! How will I cope? A plaintive Huffington Post piece asking how to "solve a problem like Bill Maher" is typical of the phenomenon.
And in America the more black and white, the better. Nuance is not something Americans get regularly, if at all, and it doesn't matter if it's the left or the right.
One would think the solution to a Bill Maher problem, if you think you have one, is to not watch him, but that doesn't work. The modern American media consumer has a genuine mania for orthodoxy. We've habituated readers and viewers not just to expect content that caters to all their opinions down the line, but also to expect and demand a completely binary representation of the political landscape: blue and red, Us and Them.
Consumers on both sides don't like pundits whose views are all over the place. They want white hats and black hats, allies and enemies, even though in real life most people are not wholly one thing or another. And when one of the performers steps off-script, it's a "problem."
And so but of course, at the end of the day, what drives Big Media (and social media) is Big Money.
To me this is consumerism, not political correctness. Capitalism in this country has become so awesomely efficient at target-scratching every conceivable consumer itch that it's raised a generation of people with no tolerance for discomfort, particularly the intellectual kind.

There are so many products available now that customers have learned to demand that every single purchase choice they make be perfectly satisfying. People want nacho chips that taste awesome every time, and they want pundits who agree with them every time. They don't want to fork over time or money to be told they're wrong or uninformed any more than they want to eat a salad.

The ultimate irony is in Donald Trump being cast as some kind of strong, heroic invader of safe spaces. Trump is exactly the thin-skinned bundle of nerves that most media consumers are (and Trump is nothing if not a media addict). If there's ever been a person who couldn't handle a challenge and demanded that reality be bent to his worldview, it's Trump. His whole campaign is a demand for a safe space. What a joke this story is, all around.
Truly. And the more I continue to write about and engage on this topic of Big/Social media, the more I want to unplug like permanently from the whole echo chamber.

I think I'm experiencing the true theory of inverse proportionality for the first time in my life. Viz. the more outraged and pissed you get on social media, the less I care about you or your opinions.