Force-feeding us a narrative of “who won the debate” is an insult to our intelligence

We are a few days shy from being exactly one year away from voting for our next president, and somehow, we’ve already had three Republican debates. How is this possible.

Even the average American who has a significant interest in politics is not going to be watching all of these debates, let alone the uniformed people who don’t put any thought into it until they walk into the voting booth.

It’s amazing that people are so obsessed with polls. There’s still so much time to go that it does not matter who is winning now. So many issues are going to come to light over the next 12 months that aren’t even being discussed yet.

Republican debate3For example, it took a school shooting to bring gun control to the forefront of these debates. At least for a few minutes. In the months to come, there will be more current events that stir conversation that will have a significant impact on next year’s election. So who cares right now?

That being said, if these candidates want to verbally duke it out on stage, no matter how far in advance of the vote, then we as a general public could benefit from hearing what they have to say. Even just a short snippet of a response to a baited question will give us some indication of what type of politician these candidates are.

But it’s up to us to make up our own minds. One person may love Ted Cruz. Another may hate him. The same goes for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and all the other candidates who have been put before us.

And yet, minutes after these debates finish, the media takes it upon themselves to tell us who “won” and who “lost.” They decide who had the most defining moments, and who didn’t do a good job distinguishing themselves. And there’s no other room for interpretation.

To me, a successful debate includes people giving insightful, substantive responses to questions about important issues. I don’t care who “stole the spotlight” or who had the best quip. I don’t care if Chris Christie angrily dismissed the significance of fantasy football or if Ted Cruz ridiculed the debate moderators.

When the media declares a winner, it is demeaning and downright insulting, because it comes with the assumption that we as a collective can not make up our own minds. It also assumes that we didn’t watch the debate, and simply wanted to be told afterwards who was the most successful.

Simply knowing who was the winner means absolutely nothing if we don’t know what he or she actually said.

So my challenge to the media is to stop categorizing every debate candidate’s performance, and instead, give us some thoughtful analyses on what the candidates had to say on the important issues. And, for the love of god, refrain from using the words “winners” and “losers.”

In fact, instead of a televised debate, how about next time we have a candidate blog-off?

People would watch that, right?

C’mon World Health Organization, there’s no need to give vegetarians more ammo

A committee of 22 public health and cancer experts convened by the World Health Organization determined on Monday that eating processed meat and bacon increases the risk of cancer. And red meat, they said, will probably increase the risk, as well.

And ensue panic, because that is the only information that will register with people on this topic.

In fact, the increased likelihood of acquiring cancer from eating too much of these foods is slight. Let’s also not forget that everybody, whether an expert or not, knows that too much meat is a bad thing. We all know not to eat bacon every day.

The researchers placed processed meat into a Group 1 category for carcinogens, the same group that smoking lies in, and red meat into a Group 2. Although it doesn’t really quantify how much meat consumption truly is dangerous, and furthermore, anything that’s in Group 1 is there because it is a carcinogenic, but is not separated by degrees of carcinogenicity. 118 things are in Group 1. So this whole report is very misleading.

processed meatsRegardless, this study simply adds another notch on the belt for vegetarians. Trust me, I admire people who have principles, but when you give them any incentive to criticize meat, they will seize it.

And let’s face it, vegetarians are always right. Whether they make their arguments smugly or precociously — so much so that you want to punch them in the face — they are undoubtedly living a healthier lifestyle than carnivores. And usually it can be proven with one glance at their physical appearance, rather than having to compare blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

So when the World Health Organization drops a bombshell like this, it’s basically the equivalent of a microphone drop. Any last argument you may have had against vegetarianism is out the window.

Because when the WHO tells us something, people listen. Just days after their report, states are already debating whether to put warning labels on meat packaging.

Just to rub it all in, The WHO might as well let the actual band The Who sing the findings of this report to the tune of Baba O’Reilly. “Don’t cry, don’t raise your rib-eye, it’s only colon cancer. WE’RE ALL WASTED.”

What’s next? Is the World Health Organization going to determine that people who eat too much ice cream are more likely to struggle to get up and down a flight of stairs? Or that people who don’t play basketball as well as Lebron James are less likely to succeed in life?

Vegetarians, enjoy your salads. Bask in your soy and your quinoa. Laugh yourself all the way to the kale section of Trader Joe’s.

Because when the zombie apocalypse arrives, and we’re all forced to eat each other to survive, then we, the meat eaters, will be the ones who prevail in the end.

Yup, that’s really the best insult I can come up with.

I’m the guy who bets on the Mets to win the World Series and then loses the ticket

Back in April, a coworker of mine made his annual trip to Las Vegas. At the time, the New York Mets had just completed an 11-game winning streak to hit the ground running right out of the gate at the start of the regular season.

I was riding high with excitement. The Mets had not experienced a winning season in seven years, and with the improvements they made to their team — led by an influx of young, powerful starting pitching — it looked like the 2015 season might break that trend.

But even the most optimistic fans still had tempered expectations. We’d simply be satisfied with a playoff berth — something that hasn’t happened since 2006. Meaningful baseball in October is all we wanted to see, even if it resulted in an early postseason exit.

New York Mets World SeriesSo with that in mind, I gave my coworker all of the money in my wallet ($25 — I’m poor) and told him to bet it on the Mets winning the World Series. He did, placing the wager with 15 to 1 odds, and returned the bet receipt to me upon arriving home.

Flash forward six months: the Mets are in the World Series, and I have no god damn clue where that bet receipt is.

I’ve searched far and wide for it — in my home, my car and my office. That thing is gone.

I’d be more upset about it, but I’m just too freaking happy that the team I have loved and cherished since I was 6 years old is in the World Series. As a sports fan, this is what it is all about.

With as many as 30 teams competing for the same goal — whether it be baseball, football, basketball or hockey (or cricket for my south Asian readers) — winning a championship is damn near impossible. So many things have to go right for your team throughout the course of a season.

It’s so difficult that I have yet to see one in my lifetime. The Mets last won in October 1986. I was born six months later. Yes, they got there in 2000, but I was only 13. I hadn’t experienced enough suffering to appreciate it.

Fifteen years and nine losing seasons later, I finally have come to appreciate the meaning of success. Here in New York, it’s Mets mania. And it’s all because nobody saw it coming.

The team shocked the world, and even more so, shocked Mets fans.

Unless that ticket somehow reappears, then that’s $375 that I will not be able to claim if the Mets win the World Series. Do I wish I could add that money to my checking account? Of course. That’s a lot of Jello pudding snack packs I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

But after 20-plus years of barely missing any Mets games, through all the pain and suffering, and all of the memories I’ve forged watching this team over that time with my friends and family, there’s no greater reward then to finally watch them achieve something you’ve waited for your entire life.

And you can’t put a price on that.

Memo to American voters: Do what Canada just did

Canadian voters ousted their conservative prime minister on Monday and put in a Liberal. The election wasn’t even close.

The victor is 43-year-old Justin Trudeau, son of popular Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and the loser was Stephen Harper — the guy John Oliver ran a brief but furious campaign against Sunday night — who was in office since 2006.

Harper pushed the typical conservative agenda: cutting taxes, shrinking government, toughening security, etc. Trudeau, who has worked as a snowboard instructor, high school teacher and nightclub bouncer, is the second youngest person to ever hold the post.

Canadians don’t directly vote for prime minister. Instead, they vote for hundreds of members of parliament, each of whom represent a party. The leader of the party with the most MPs gets the seat.

Justin TrodeauThink of it as the majority of U.S. Representatives we elect in Congress determining the president. Democratic majority equals Democratic president, and vise versa.

But anyway, the Liberal party romped in Canada. They jumped from 36 seats to 184, good for almost 40 percent and the majority. Conservative seats dropped from 159 to 99. And then there was a third party that no one cares about.

In a fun side note, one Conservative who twice ran for parliament and lost was caught pissing in a mug on camera in a home that he was supposed to be doing work in.

Canadians deserve to be applauded for recognizing a need and then acting on it. They tried out a Conservative, weren’t happy, and then went in the complete opposite direction. And this is coming from a country that doesn’t even have fixed term limits.

It shows that just because people tend to vote one way out of principle, it doesn’t mean they have to keep doing it.

If you don’t like what you’re hearing from the Republican side on the debate — then don’t freaking vote for them. It’s that simple. Learn from Canada.

Remember the South park song? Blame Canada? Well, let’s think the opposite. Let’s commend Canada!

Actually, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And it’s too good of a song to change.

But Trudeau actually cares about the environment and plans to legalize marijuana, which could have an enormous impact on not only the United States government’s actions on the drug, but the entire world’s.

America — elections are not black and white. You don’t have to preemptively choose a side. Just pick the candidate who is actually sane, and who has ideas and policies that actually make sense.

Because do we really want to say that Canadians are smarter than us?

I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I’m all aboot.

Playboy, undone by its own sexual glamorization

Playboy magazine burst on the scene in 1953 with a nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe. The 27-year-old starlet was just entering the peak of her career and helped propel the magazine into fame, and Hugh Hefner into immortality.

In an interview with the New York Post in 2010, Hefner said his magazine helped create a sexual revolution. He pointed to a cultural acceptance of sex and domestic partnerships outside of marriage, and the legality of birth control and abortion as innovations that Playboy had a role in.

It’s hard to deny. Reading Playboy was once deemed a cultural rite. For most of its existence, it was the introduction for many young men to the sight of naked women.

Playboy’s brand has now exceeded its magazine. Its name and logo are known worldwide.

PlayboyBut times are changing. Pornography is accessible with a single click of the mouse. No one needs Playboy to get their fix. And the social media platforms that deliver the most traffic for websites — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — do not allow pornography.

As a result, its circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000.

The origins of its undoing can possibly be traced back to 1985, when President Ronald Reagan commissioned a study pornography, led by Attorney General Edward Meese. A committee off 11 members produced a 1,960 page document — now known as the Meese Report — declaring that pornography has a harmful effect on public health. It also labeled Playboy as pornography, according to Hefner, which he said was a label the magazine was never able to shake.

Last week, Playboy finally conceded it had lost the battle that it helped create. Its chief content officer, Cory Jones, received the blessing of Hefner for Playboy to stop showing nude women beginning next spring. It will still feature women in “provocative poses.”

The move also mirrors the change they made on their website last year to no longer show naked women, which reportedly quadrupled its traffic, and dropped the average age of its reader from 47 to 30.

And think about it — when is the last time you saw somebody reading Playboy on the subway? Or the magazine featured on the stack at Walmart? It’s a move aimed at bringing the magazine into the 21st century.

Lost in Playboy’s main purpose of showing women in the nude is its history of investigative journalism, interviews with cultural icons, and guest pieces. It published stories by Margaret Atwood and Jack Kerouac, and its interviews have included Malcolm X,  Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter.

It’ll be interesting to see how Playboy’s readership changes from this point forward.

If it’s in a positive direction, perhaps it’ll start a trend. Sports Illustrated will stop writing about sports, Good Housekeeping won’t be about interior design, and TV Guide will ditch television.

And then maybe, the Weinblog will quit posting blogs, and simply just entertain everyone by posting a single emoji every day.

shrug emoji

Is a no-fly zone the way to go in Syria?

Those who watched the Democratic debate last Tuesday may recall a conversation that took place about the merits of implementing a no-fly zone in northern Syria, near its border with Turkey.

It’s a divisive issue in the political spectrum, with presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle offering varying opinions. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton voiced her support for it, and Bernie Sanders was adamant against it.

The immediate goal of a no-fly zone would be to save Syrian lives. The Syrian government, led by Basher al-Assad, is dropping barrel bombs — canisters filled with explosives and metal fragments — on civilians in areas that have been taken over by opposition forces (the same forces the U.S. supports), killing some 200 people per week.

Turkey is strongly pushing for a no-fly zone to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into its borders.

So that makes it sound pretty clear-cut, right? Institute a no-fly zone, and it stops Syria from killing its own people.

The problem is enforcement. Think of a turnpike with speed limit signs but no state troopers. Why would you bother slowing down?

If the U.S. and other world powers implement a no-fly zone, they must enforce it, meaning shooting down planes that disobey. Which would further entangle our nation into what has already been an ugly and violent civil war.

Further muddying the situation is Russia, which is currently flying over Syria to attack the forces that oppose Assad’s regime.

If a no-fly zone is administered, and Putin ignores is, that leaves the U.S. with the harrowing decision of whether to shoot down Russian aircrafts.

We pretty much spent the better part of five decades trying to avoid armed conflict with the Soviet Union. At the time, many speculated the world was on the brink of World War III.

So the point is that this is pretty much an impossible decision to make. At best, it furthers U.S. involvement in a brutal war, and at worst, sets off a global crisis.

It’s easy for a presidential candidate to say what they would do without having to deal with the consequences. From what I’ve heard from those who favor it, when questioned what they’d do if Russia disobeyed and flew through it anyway, respond with the ambiguous cop-out: ‘We’ll deal with it if it happens.”

At least for his part, Marco Rubio came out and said that he would retaliate against Russia if they violated a no-fly zone. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.

Simply put, it’s decisions like these that make me glad that the toughest choice I had to make today was whether to have a piece of leftover chocolate cake or a Mallomar for dessert this evening.

I ate both.

Criminals and their right — or lackthereof — to vote

This summer, President Obama called on Congress to make sweeping changes to America’s criminal justice system. Specifically, to limit the amount of people in jail.

Some 2.2 million people are incarcerated in our country right now, with another 4.7 million under parole or on probation. While the U.S. represents just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Though Obama’s impassioned plea for change was duly noted, the truth is Congress had already been working on legislation to fix this issue. It’s one of the rare instances these days in Congress of bipartisan support, as it’s undeniable how much federal tax dollars our exploding prison population is draining.

A problem is that Congress can only introduce reform for federal prisons, which holds just 200,000 of the nation’s prisoners. The rest are locked up in state and local penitentiaries. But the thought process is that federal reform could have a catalytic effect on those bodies.

Prisoners and votingThe main points emphasis include reducing mandatory minimums, radical sentencing laws that mostly came about in the ’80s amid the country’s tough-on-crime mentality; reclassifying offenses; and instituting polices to decrease the likelihood of recidivism, or better ensuring that rehabilitated prisoners don’t end up locked up again.

But upon looking into this topic, something interesting caught my eye that I don’t think many people are aware of — the disenfranchisement of convicts. Studies show that 2.5 percent of America’s voting age population (or one in 40 adult Americans) cannot vote because they are convicted felons.

Prisoners can’t vote in 48 states. In 35 states, felons don’t regain their voting rights until they’ve been released and completed parole. In 30 states, you can not vote until you’re off probation. And in 11 states, felons never regain the right to vote.

Thirteen states, and Washington, D.C., let you vote as soon as you leave jail.

And two states, Maine and Vermont, lack restrictions for prisoners, meaning they can vote from jail by absentee ballot.

It’s one of those things that makes sense when you think about it, but the problem is that you don’t really think about it. Prisoners and their right to vote.

I just can’t help but find it hypocritical that our nation, which touts itself in its Democratic roots and the freedom it provides its citizens in choosing their own representatives, denies that right to a significant portion of our population.

That being said, I can absolutely understand why some people might have no problem with convicts losing their right to vote. It is, after all, their own undoing.

Critics may also argue that a prisoner is too uninformed to vote anyway, lacking awareness of politics and current events while in incarceration.

However, when you consider that the average non-incarcerated American is more likely to keep up with the Kardashians than current events, is there really much of a difference?

One restaurateur’s brave stance in eliminating tipping

You’ve reached the end of your meal. It’s already been a long night of waiting, socializing and eating. You’re beginning to become a little sleepy, and already thinking about the commute home.

Then you’re handed a check, and so begins the night’s biggest conundrum.

Tipping should be easy. A simple math problem. And if you’re too lazy to figure it out yourself, your phone will do it for you. But anybody who’s eaten out knows how aggravating it can be.

Do I tip extra because service was good? Do I short-change because my meal tasted lackluster — something that’s completely out of the waiter’s control? A lot of questions arise.

And this isn’t even considering the number of your party. When you’re dining in a group, with everybody ordering different meals of varying prices, then this simple task suddenly becomes a nightmare.

TippingFrom what I understand, in no country in the world is tipping more greatly entrenched in culture than in America. We’re expected to tip almost everyone that conducts a service for us. And tipping low — or God forbid, not at all — is considered among one of society’s greatest taboos.

I appreciate what waiters do for me. They’re on their feet all night while waiting on my beckoning call. It’s their job to make sure I have an enjoyable evening, and most of the time they do.

But why is it that we have a system in place in which there income relies so heavily on a customer’s mood? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Not only that, but tipping makes menu prices misleading. Many people order their food based on price. They see a dish for $16.99, but then, after tip and tax, pay almost $30. Tipping inconveniences both the customer and worker.

Enter Danny Meyer, a restaurateur who owns 13 high-end establishments in New York City, who is fazing out tipping beginning next month. In its place, Meyer will hike prices a bit, and have a notice on his menu informing that costs include charges for “hospitality.” There will be no line on checks to fill out a tip.

His first restaurant to implement this policy will be The Modern, located inside the Modern Museum of Art.

I applaud this. Not only with my hands, but I’m clapping my feet too because I appreciate it so much. While prices will be increasing, they’ll at least more accurately reflect the actual net cost of what you will pay for the night when your check comes.

One of the reasons for the change is because while waiters get to divvy up tips, the law does not allow it to also be disseminated to jobs that normally aren’t tipped, like chefs, dishwashers and reservationists, whose salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of living in a city as expensive as New York. Taking away tips allows Meyer to not only raise those jobs’ salaries, but his waiters’, too, to compensate for loss in tips. Essentially, everyone wins.

Hopefully restaurateurs across the city — and maybe the country — will keep a close eye on this, and follow Meyer’s lead. One restaurant in Pittsburgh, Bar Marco, actually did this earlier in the year, and the results have been positive.

Side note — is there a more obnoxious title than “restaurateur?” I refuse to call anybody that. It’s like calling somebody a maestro.

What’s next? Am I going to start asking people to call me a blogauteur?

Ooh, I like that. Do that.

Why it would be a big mistake to do away with fetal tissue research

Planned Parenthood on Tuesday said they were going to stop accepting reimbursement for the cost of donating fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research.

The health care agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for its practice in donating such tissue that is derived from legal abortions with their mother’s permission.

The practice has been happening since the 1930s, and in fact led scientists to create the vaccine that eradicated the polio virus, which earned a Nobel Prize and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Its use in medical science is legal in all but a handful of states, and it’s been granted federal funding for decades, with the exception being when Ronald Reagan passed a law restricting funding in 1988, only to have it reversed by Bill Clinton five years later. While George W. Bush lessened support for embryonic stem cell research in 2001 (which Obama overturned eight years later), he did not do the same for fetal tissue.

Fetal tissue researchWhile agencies like Planned Parenthood are not allowed to sell fetal tissue for profit, they are allowed to collect money to offset the cost of getting, storing and processing it. There’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood has asked for more money than the appropriate cost of reimbursement, but the agency is clearly making the policy change to avoid any continued political distraction.

But the debate about whether fetal tissue research should continue rages on. Some states, like Wisconsin, are pushing bills to defund Planned Parenthood, and to outlaw the sale, transfer or experimentation of fetal body parts.

To understand the significance of this, we first must understand what diseases fetal tissue research is aimed at. It’s already contributed to vaccines for rubella (German measles) and chicken pox. Presently, it’s being used to study AIDS, muscular dystrophy, treatments for spinal cord injury, and the causes of birth defects.

It’s useful because the fetal cells’ youth and adaptability could potentially replace people’s own cells that are compromised and not responding to their own body. Which makes them highly useful in studying degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS, or that thing you poured ice all over yourself for last summer.

Using fetal tissue to study these diseases surely doesn’t guarantee any type of treatment, let alone a cure. But the key to any scientific discovery is experimentation. Learning what doesn’t work is an important method towards finding out what does.

In short, studying fetal tissue provides progress. And because so many conservative lawmakers are so short-sided and stubborn with their opposition of abortion, they are completely overlooking and disregarding this important component of medical research.

Scientists of the world need to unite and put a stop to this nonsense. When the smartest people in the world get together for a common cause, amazing things happen.

Like the Manhattan project. Which was a monumental scientific achievement that led to the development of the first nuclear weapons, which … were used to kill more than a quarter of a million people.

On second thought, maybe they should just stick to their labs.

We should all probably start caring about the drought in California

Most of us are lucky to not have to think about water too often.

It’s something that’s always been there when we need it. And that prevalence enables us to take it for granted. No one ever stops for a minute and thinks how much life would suck if we didn’t have access to fresh water.

But we need to start thinking about water a little more. And not just some of us — all of us.

California’s drought affects us all. The state’s farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. By virtue of that, the average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water per week.

Ninety-nine percent of the nation’s artichokes come from California. So do 94 percent of broccoli, 99 percent of almonds, 97 percent of apricots, 90 percent of grapes, and so on. Basically, everything that you had in your salad for lunch at work yesterday as a ruse to convince your coworkers you’re on a diet.

In short, we are all contributing to the drought.

And that’s obviously a problem when you consider that agriculture in California, a $46 billion industry, uses 80 percent of all water consumed in the state.

It still would not matter if water in California was at a surplus. But drought in the Colorado River, which supplies water to California and six other states — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — and Mexico, plus record low snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, another critical water source, is putting the state’s overall water supply in peril. Indeed, 98 percent of California is currently experiencing somewhere between a moderate to exceptional drought.

Global warming also may or may not be a factor.

The state is doing everything it can to reserve its supply, including an increase in water-efficient drip irrigation for farming, mandatory restrictions for water use, and across-the-board regulations.

The drought has also made the state prone to major wildfires and disease.

Still, if you live far away from California, this is probably not a problem that’s going to cause you too much distress. At least not right now. But it’s always good to remember that problems in one part of the country have far-reaching consequences.

And if you’re reading this from California, then besides limiting your water consumption, you should also probably stray from fun-but-unnecessary water-related activities, such as water balloon fights, slip n’ slides, bobbing for apples, ice bucket challenges and wet T-shirt contests.

Actually, scratch that last one. It’s worth a drought.