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Parasites, Crashing, Coban, Fracture - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
February 23, 2017

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.


Parasites, Crashing, Coban, Fracture

From the beginning of the whole fooferaw about immigration from Latin America -- both legal and illegal -- one thing has been obvious to anyone who understands economics. We would not have illegal immigrants if our economy didn't need them.

If, when they got to America, nobody was willing to pay them to work, most immigrants would go back. They don't come here for our welfare system -- it's not that good. If they wanted to be humiliated by bureaucrats and more-prosperous citizens, they could get that in their home countries.

The reason why immigration from Mexico was such a flood over the decades prior to 2008 is that when they got here, we had work for them to do.

The opponents of immigration always claim that either they come for government freebies or they take jobs away from American workers.

Now, the obvious proof that the freebies charge is false comes from the fact that since our economic crash and stagnation began in 2008, illegal immigration has been at a standstill -- and, in fact, many immigrants, unable to find work, went home.

During that time, under Obama the American freebie mill boomed. If they were here for the freebies, they'd have stayed here. But they stayed away and went away, because there was so much less work for them.

As for the charge that they take jobs away from American workers, we now have a definitive answer.

According to a story a couple of years ago by Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post, Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development released a report that showed that Mexican migrant workers were doing jobs that Americans refused to do. Because home-grown Americans of working age would rather be on welfare than do the grueling work that Mexican immigrants do.

The study took place in North Carolina, with "the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA), which supplies manual laborers to North Carolina farms. The NCGA is the nation's largest user of the H-2A guest worker program, which is designed with agricultural workers in mind" (15 May 2013)

Under that government legal-immigrant program, the NCGA has to prove to the Department of Labor that it has actively tried to recruit native-born Americans. From 1998 to 2012, at least 130,000 North Carolinians were unemployed. Of those, only 268 US citizens applied for the NCGA to refer them for employment.

And that high of 268 occurred in 2011, a year when 489,095 North Carolinians were unemployed. And all this time, the NCGA was reaching out to the unemployed, offering them first crack at agricultural jobs.

In 2011, the NCGA was looking for about 6,500 workers, and 245 native-born applicants were hired. That left more than 95 percent of the open jobs to be filled by Mexican H-2A visa holders.

And of those 245 Americans hired, only 163 -- about two-thirds -- showed up for the first day of work. And of those 163, only seven stuck it out to the end of the growing season.

Mexican workers were far likelier to stick it out through the season. Ninety percent of those who began the season with H-2A jobs were still working five months into the growing year, compared to fewer than ten percent of the native-born workers.

Some people might argue that Americans won't do these jobs because the pay is so low -- that if the jobs paid, say, $100 an hour, Americans would flock to do them. So the migrant workers drive down the wages because they'll work for less.

But the law requires that H-2A workers be paid exactly the same amount as native-born workers in the same jobs. Now, if there were no Mexican immigrants willing to do those jobs, then obviously those 6500 jobs would not have been filled at all.

At that point, wages might have been raised in order to fill the jobs. But how high would the wages have gone? Well, remember that every rise in labor costs means a greater rise in prices in the grocery store. How high can those prices go, before consumers -- you know, people like us -- stop buying that particular product, or buy far less of it?

At that point, fewer workers are needed. Wages stop rising and start to fall. No matter where it ends up, though, the result is: higher prices for consumers and fewer jobs.

What the opponents of immigrant labor forget is that if you raise wages till Americans want the jobs, then you inflate prices so that everybody else's wages are worth less, because they buy less.

So sure, build the wall. Keep all those furrin-speaking workers out. Watch your real income plummet as you can no longer afford to pay the prices being charged in the stores because we can't get cheap immigrant labor.

Who pays for the wall? You do.

And if, as Trump threatens, the wall is "paid for" by abrogating NAFTA and charging a high tariff on imports from Mexico, then our prices go even higher, resulting in more inflation and a devastating salary cut for all Americans. Not to mention the terrible suffering caused in Mexico as trade between our two nations is sharply cut.

Who benefits? Well, nobody. Asian and African nations will get a temporary boost because the search for cheap labor will lead there, now that Mexico would be cut off. But that won't help them, either, because the resulting worldwide trade war would cut demand and raise prices for everything, everywhere.

Americans would then, thanks to Trump's anti-Mexican and anti-free-trade policy, spend far more on food and other necessities, leaving us less income to pay for cars, televisions, cable and satellite service, vacation trips, entertainment, restaurants, and ... oh, help me remember. What do we call that? Inflation along with a downturn in production?

Oh, yeah. Stagflation! Welcome to the 1970s again! Watch interest rates rise to try to control inflation, making it even harder to buy our way out of the downturn! What a nightmare.

If Americans wanted the jobs that Mexicans do, there wouldn't be any jobs for Mexican immigrants and so they wouldn't come.

My good friend Rusty Humphries, who lives in Phoenix, reports that his sixteen-year-old daughter can't find a job at a fast-food place, because all the jobs are already filled -- largely with people who speak Spanish. But this is not the problem normally blamed on Mexican immigrants -- because these are minimum-wage jobs that are not going begging.

It's quite possible -- indeed, likely -- that in a kitchen where everybody is speaking Spanish all the time, an Anglo might find it hard to get a job. But in many places in America, those entry-level jobs go begging -- because American citizens won't take them. That is the gap that immigration traditionally fills.

The fact that the gap doesn't exist in Phoenix doesn't change the facts nationwide. And over time, it will even out -- that is, immigrants who can't get entry-level jobs in Phoenix because of the labor glut will move to places where those jobs go begging.

Meanwhile, Rusty's daughter won't go hungry -- and she'll probably find some other kind of entry-level position or she'll acquire a skill like typing or hair-dressing or dog-walking or telephone-answering or septic-tank cleaning that moves her out of the entry-level swamp.

Look, on a case-by-case basis, there are always people who say they'd love to have any job they can get -- but this is true of nobody but the truly desperate. Even people who are willing to try any job will, like those native-born agricultural workers in North Carolina, drop out of the jobs either because they find better ones or they decide welfare is a more attractive alternative to hard labor under the hot sun.

*

I recently finished a fascinating book called This Is Your Brain on Parasites, by Kathleen McAuliffe (read by Nicol Zanzarella). McAuliffe surveys the most recent research on parasites that infest or prey on human beings, and what scientists are beginning to learn is how much the parasites have helped us over the generations.

Sometimes the "help" is calamitous at first. The horrible epidemics that swept through the Roman Empire led to its economic decline, and as plagues returned to Europe again and again, the death toll was devastating. But the surviving population was far more resistant to those diseases, and perhaps more resistant to most diseases.

It's like what happened with alcohol. Since the alcohol in beer and wine provided much safer sources of water in pre-sanitary times, it's arguable that beer and wine made civilization possible -- because large populations living together were far likelier to thrive if their drinking water was purified by small percentages of alcohol than if they were drinking from cholera-prone fresh-water wells.

The price we paid was drunkenness and alcoholism, with all the terrible costs paid by every society that depended on drinking alcohol. Yet the damage from alcohol was far lower than the cost of cholera epidemics, and over time the alcohol-drinking populations grew more resistant to alcohol, getting less drunk and suffering a lower incidence of alcohol dependency.

But when alcohol came to the Americas, where it had been unknown, it became -- and remains -- a terrible curse in populations where there is no resistance to alcohol. Drunkenness and alcoholism are far more damaging there. So over time, the cholera bacterium in Eurasia became indirectly responsible for devastating social damage on Indian reservations.

This kind of causal chain (or causal network) is interesting enough, but McAuliffe's most fascinating stories are about parasites that actually change the way we think and feel.

Without going into the science, let's just say that expressions like "my gut tells me" or "what's your gut response" may be literally true: It seems likely that a lot of our feelings and impulses are triggered by bacteria resident in our intestines.

People who don't have the bacteria need to replenish them, leading to experiments with poo transplants -- taking intestinal bacteria from a healthy person and placing it in the intestines of a person whose bacteria have been killed off.

There is even serious work going on with the possibility that certain types of bacteria lead to obesity -- while others help prevent it, and not just by eating the nutrients themselves, as tapeworms do. If the right bacteria were transplanted, would obese people find it easier to maintain a healthy weight? So far, no magic poo pill has been found, but we can hope, right?

Look, it has been only a century since scientific advances made it so that medical care made your survival significantly more likely than simply letting nature take its course. That was mostly because of the discovery of antisepsis, anaesthesia, and penicillin. Medicine became helpful, in other words, long before we had any idea how anything in the body actually worked.

Since then, we've had enormous advances in understanding our own biochemical systems, and we keep finding out that what was widely believed for decades was actually completely false. Think of the treatments for ulcers that did absolutely no good until somebody finally realized that ulcers had a bacterial cause. Because modern medicine actually works, it's easy to believe that doctors know way more than they do -- and nobody believes this more than the doctors. So they often speak with far more certainty than is justified by the state of the science.

Good science, though, never accepts any answer as final (no, not even the doctrine of human-caused global warming), and so real scientists, constantly doubting and questioning, are able to break down old misconceptions and discover long-unsuspected causes and cures.

There are few "final answers" in This Is Your Brain on Parasites because most of the science it describes is still at the cutting edge. So be prepared for a book that shows you science at the hypothesis stage -- and describes the careful experiments designed to squeeze reliable answers out of nebulous indicators.

Yet what is known is already quite exciting, and it will certainly change your attitude about many aspects of our minds and bodies, as it changed mine. It makes me eager to see what comes up in years go come -- as long as somebody doesn't come up with some wacko theory that the religion of environmentalism declares to be doctrine, whereupon the Inquisition will prevent any further scientific research in that area.

Hard to believe that could happen -- but it already has happened in so much of science today that it's hard to see how science can ever survive its present crisis. When you stop practicing the endless questioning that has led to all our good results, science dies. The questioning is still alive in parasitology and the effects of parasites on human brain-and-body functions. So ... for now, at least, there is reason to be optimistic about present discoveries and future possibilities.

*

I really like comedian Pete Holmes. He looks and sounds like a youth minister -- which gives rise to a lot of the funny juxtapositions in his comedy. I really loved his stand-up special Pete Holmes: Nice Try, the Devil. And now he has an HBO comedy series called Crashing.

The premise is simple enough. Pete Holmes, playing struggling comedian "Pete Holmes" (i.e., a version of Pete Holmes that has not had previous TV specials and series, or tons of work writing comedy for other people's shows), is married to Jess (Lauren Lapkus), who is supporting him financially as he actually pays to do his comedy at open mike nights and free gigs in New York comedy clubs.

Suddenly, Jess starts wanting him to do sexual acts that seem unpleasant and weird to him, and he soon finds out why she has become so adventurous. He comes home early and finds her in bed with sexpert Leif, a new-agey stud whom Pete can't even hope to compete with.

Pete moves out -- but, having no money of his own and no job that is likely to get him any, he has no choice but to alternate between trying to sleep on the subway like any homeless person with clean-looking clothes, and begging the use of someone's couch for a few nights.

And "a few nights" is all he's likely to get, because the only people he knows are comedians, and they know how permanent such mooching relationships can become. Pete's a decent guy, though, and he takes no for an answer and treats good-bye like a court order.

This is an HBO show, which means that, as with the repulsive Girls, nudity is frequent (and, as with Girls, surprisingly unattractive) and foul language is the primary dialect. That bothers me, and makes me feel more than a little iffy about continuing to watch the show.

There is a lot of comedy -- but, because the premise is that "Pete Holmes" isn't a successful comedian, his own onstage routines are often quite lame. In an ironic way. Meaning that you can find it hilarious how not-funny Pete Holmes is in this show.

Fortunately, all the other comics are doing their best material. I think that guest spots on Crashing must be coveted among mid-range comedians, because it's a great showcase for them. I mean, think of it: A comedy where you're actually expected to get way more laughs than the star.

But this show will not be able to rely on standup comedy to be successful. Everything depends on how much we care about "Pete Holmes" the character and how much we like Pete Holmes the actor and comedian. If the writers never let him have a dynamite set at a comedy club, and if he is never able to earn any money, we'll eventually lose interest.

Because we know what nobody in the fictional show is allowed to know: That Pete Holmes is actually a terrific comedian with a very good career under way.

For now, though, the not-good-yet shtick is working -- like when he gets thrust onstage the very day he caught his wife sleeping with another guy. He tells the audience about it, but of course they think it's just comedy -- and because it isn't funny, his "set" collapses and he's heckled off the stage. And for the episode, that works.

But I expect to see in later episodes that this cuckold routine will actually become funny, as we watch him develop gags out of his personal disaster. Because pain is where some of the best comedy comes from.

*

We all remember the days when a twisted ankle meant that you'd wrap and rewrap the swollen ankle with long strips of flexible tan tape. Then we'd take that metal butterfly clasp with two prongs at each end, and jab it into the wrapping to hold the end in place so it didn't unwind.

After a few uses, the tape would lose its flexibility; and practically everyone has felt the pain when the prongs on the butterfly clasp pushed all the way through to the skin.

We've come a long way since then. For one thing, most of us use semi-flexible ankle and knee braces instead of wrapping long bandages around and around. No clasp, no unwinding.

But the premade braces don't always work. For instance, I found recently that the sore I kept developing on one of my toes was caused by the fact that the adjacent toe had become a hammer-toe.

This is not a medical school text, so instead of describing what hammer-toe is, I'll simply describe what happened. The hammering from my next-to-smallest toe (the little piggy that "had none") kept raising a blister on the smallest toe (the piggy that went "wee wee wee" all the way home). The blister would burst (painfully) and scab over. Then the scab itself would raise a blister on the hammer-toe. The result was constant foot pain whenever I walked.

My foot doctor suggested that since there was no worthwhile procedure to eliminate the problem, the best solution was to cushion the toes so they no longer rubbed against each other.

There are plastic spacers you can buy, but I immediately discovered that I would have to buy new shoes to make them work, and they weren't comfortable anyway. What's the point of curing one blister by using a device that causes blisters in other places?

Then I bought and tried to use the preformed toe-wraps. I don't have particularly large toes, and so nothing fit securely enough to stay in place. I just ended up with the same pain, only I also had little round bandages in the toes of my socks, making my shoes fit uncomfortably.

What I have settled on is one-inch-wide Coban wrapping tape. The great virtue of Coban (made by 3M) is that because it sticks to itself more firmly than a Post-It Note, you don't have to use any kind of clasp to keep it from unwinding.

Coban is licensed to and sold by many different companies, but if you do a computer search on "Coban" you'll get a lot of choices. Because if you do need to wrap an area larger than a single toe, you have a lot of widths and lengths to choose from. They all work.

But there is an oddity I have to report. The first Coban tape I bought and used was Coban LF. I didn't notice this fact, so the next time I bought a roll of Coban tape, I didn't look for that LF in the name, and so the next roll was just Coban.

It looked the same, and it felt the same; I only realized there was a difference when I tried to tear off the length I wanted. Instead of tearing straight across, about halfway through the tear it went sideways and started splitting the tape in half lengthwise, so I had two half-inch strips instead of a one-inch strip.

I needed the full inch. So I had to grab a pair of sewing scissors I have long kept on my dresser to allow me to cut painfully-placed labels off of new clothing. Now I use it daily to cut off a length of Coban tape for my toe -- because I expect to be wrapping that toe for the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, though, I was curious about why the first tape always ripped straight across, and the second tape wouldn't. That's when a close examination of the inside of the roll revealed those letter LF.

LF means "latex-free." Apparently, there are people with latex allergies, and regular Coban doesn't work for them because it probably causes a rash (or worse).

I knew I didn't have a latex allergy, because I have worked with latex in theatrical makeup for years. When you're making a false beard or mustache, latex is an essential part of the process. You paint liquid latex onto the space where you're going to build the beard, and then stick the fake hair into the wet latex and hold it there till it dries.

Every time you add a new layer of latex, it strengthens the false beard. When you're done, and the latex has dried, you peel it (gently) off and voila: You have a beard with a base that is contoured exactly to fit the actor's face. And as long as your show doesn't have a long run (in which case you make the beard on netting-plus-latex, so it lasts for weeks instead of days), you simply reapply the beard each night.

I learned long ago, however, that you can't reappy it with liquid latex because (a) once you get makeup on the backing of the beard, new layers of latex don't bind well with it and (b) under hot stage lights, actors sweat, and the sweat separates the latex from the skin, causing embarrassing beard-loss or beard-flapping in mid-scene.

So you build the beard or mustache with liquid latex, but reattach it with spirit gum -- a powerful adhesive that is devilishly hard to remove after the show, but is far less likely to fail during the show.

All this is to say that I knew I did not have a latex allergy. But I did have an aversion to wasting my time trying to rip regular Coban and having it not tear properly.

So I've stocked up on multi-roll packages of one-inch-wide Coban LF. And now you know that, if you should ever need a toe-wrap or any body-part wrap, Coban LF is easier to work with, and, on my body at least, holds every bit as well as Coban with latex.

And as long as I'm touting various products, I'm happy to report -- without telling you anything at all about where and why I needed them -- that when you're putting a gauze pad on a wound or blister or broken skin, make sure you use a non-stick or non-adhering gauze pad.

These pads don't have the comfortable softness of regular gauze, which is so pillowy; but what they do have is painless removability. Regular gauze will stick to a healing surface -- scabs form with the gauze fibers well inside them. So when you pull off the gauze, either the gauze pad tears apart, leaving cotton in the wound, or the gauze pulls the scab right off, leaving you with pain -- and a fresh wound that needs disinfectant and bandaging.

Non-stick or non-adhering. I've tried several different brands, because different drugstores carry different manufacturers' pads, and every one of them work exactly as you expect. I have detected no difference that would cause me to prefer one over another. Band-Aid, Curad, Kendall, Dynarex, Covidien, Telfa -- go for it.

But Telfa Kendal "ouchless adherent" I've never tried. You're on your own as soon as it's adherent instead of non-adherent. As for Curad's super-absorbent pads, or pads with adhesive tabs, I haven't used them so I can't say anything useful about them.

Yes, I'm quite aware that I often say many things that are not useful -- but you're always free to review my reviews in order to indicate my uselessness. Just because I experience something in a certain way doesn't mean anybody else will.

*

Back in 2007,when Ryan Gosling was still a fledgling star, he and Anthony Hopkins (quite possibly the best actor ever) appeared together in a legal thriller called Fracture. Written by experienced screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, it's a story about a man (Hopkins) who confessed to killing his wife.

It looks like a slam-dunk conviction, an easy last case for Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), who is about to leave the prosecutor's office for a high-paying job in corporate law, for which he was recruited by a drop-dead-gorgeous lawyer (Rosamund Pike). Naturally, a lot of people in the prosecutor's office are resentful of Willy's decision to go for the money (the kind of thing that's called "selling out" by envious people who haven't yet been offered a chance to do the same), including his boss, played by David Strathairn.

This is a high-powered cast, with a first-rank writing and directing team, and I'm surprised I never heard of Fracture when it was in theaters. But in those days Gosling wasn't a big star and this movie didn't make him one. (That came later, with Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive.)

It should have made him a star, though, because it's a great part and a strong script. Gosling's case falls apart almost immediately, because even though Anthony Hopkins is defending himself, he gets his confessions thrown out by the judge because the detective who extracted those confessions was having an affair with his wife.

This means that Gosling has the choice of walking away and taking his money-making job, leaving Strathairn to clean up his botched case, or stay and try to undo the damage caused by his failure to find out anything about how the confessions had been obtained.

He stays; there wouldn't be a movie if he didn't stay. It becomes a personal duel between the two characters, and the case comes to a devastating conclusion when Hopkins is acquitted of attempted murder and thus becomes the sole person who has authority to decide when to pull the plug on his comatose wife. Guess what he decides.

And yet the movie isn't over, and even though nothing can bring back the dead wife, justice is still quite possibly within reach. Good stuff.

It's worth the download or the rental to watch Fracture. Gosling has acting chops that he isn't given many chances to show in his current run of big-star parts, and he holds his own on the screen with a flawless Anthony Hopkins, who has the unique ability to match his performance level with the actors he's sharing the screen with. Thus Hopkins is always brilliant -- yet never blows his co-stars off the screen, though he easily could.

In other words, Anthony Hopkins plays well with others. And Fracture is one more example of this.

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