HIV Vaccine trial cancelled

Some rather disappointing vaccine news.
The trial of a vaccine for HIV was terminated early as results showed no difference in infection rates between the vaccinated group and the control group.
We always knew that making a vaccine against an illness that targets the immune system would be difficult, simply because of that. Just how difficult is very frustrating indeed.

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Breaking Star Wars Part 4 – From the Force to the Farce

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Last week, I finally saw The Rise of Skywalker. It was what the Disney Trilogy should have been from the beginning – a rollicking, entertaining romp. It also showed up The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi as the missed opportunities they were. Finally, it attempted to fix some of the problems raised by them, not entirely successfully.

Going forward, there are lessons to be learnt from the mistakes made, and some hope for the future of Star Wars.


For a series of films, have an overarching storyline

This is something that Marvel, also owned by Disney, does exceptionally well. Although each Marvel Comics film works as a standalone, they all have to fit together in the Marvel Universe. Normally, the director has close to absolute say about the film. Not in Marvel. Directors had to subordinate their vision to the Universe, or be replaced.
Contrast this with TFA and TLJ. Although the second picked up where the first ended, they may as well have been films from separate universes. As I said before, TLJ threw out a lot of what TFA set up, which led to ROS having to retcon a lot to salvage the situation.
Before the first line of the trilogy was written, a detailed storyline should have been devised. George Lucas had the outline for a trilogy ready, but surprisingly, his ideas were ignored.


Keep them wanting more

Both the Original and Prequel Trilogies had three years between films. By contrast, we saw one Star Wars film released every year from 2015 to 2019. The Force Awakens (2015), Rogue One (2016), The Last Jedi (2017) Solo (early 2018), and The Rise of Skywalker (2019). This saturated the market.


Don’t change plans last minute

When Solo: A Star Wars Story was 90% complete, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and Ron Howard was brought in to entirely redo it.
I never saw Solo and I don’t know why Lord and Miller were dismissed, but why so late in the production? Surely if there were disagreements, it would have been best to remove them at the beginning, or to just let them finish the job. Changing directors at that point was the worst possible option to take.
According to the rumours, reshoots on ROS went up to a few days before the film was first shown. If the rumour is true, it is very strange that this happened.


Create memorable characters

Although they were archetypes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa were all still memorable. So too was Darth Vader. By contrast, none of the three leads in the Disney Trilogy were memorable or distinct. Finn (John Boyega) is bland and generic, a surprising thing for a First Order stormtrooper turned Rebellion soldier to be. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a Mary Sue whose skill and abilities with the Force have no explanation until ROS. And that explanation is frankly not believable, even in the Star Wars Universe. Finally, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is sent careening from one extreme in TFA to another in TLJ. His character arc makes very little sense. As for Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), “meh” is what I feel.


“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to” No, don’t

This line is said in TLJ. It also accurately describes the mindset of the Disney Trilogy, and is a huge part of why it sucked.
The Disney Trilogy dishonoured Han, Luke and Leia. TFA regressed Han back to a two-bit smuggler on the run from crooks he betrayed. TLJ turned Luke into somebody that Mark Hamill didn’t recognise as Luke. And Leia, who became a Jedi in the Expanded Universe is not a Jedi. ROS attempts to explain why Leia isn’t a Jedi, but in an unsatisfactory and unconvincing way.
The Disney Trilogy should have taken from and built on the past, including the Expanded Universe.

Story is King

Throughout the Disney Trilogy, we have seen Identity Politics injected into the storyline. As I mentioned before, it is fine to make political statements in films. Heck, the Galactic Empire in the Original Trilogy was a reference to Fascist, Nazi, and Communist Dictatorships. But you never subordinate the storytelling to the message. Preaching is boring and irritating. And TLJ was boring and irritating.

The Fans are God

Many fans were disappointed and angry with TLJ, and with good reason. But instead of being apologetic, or maintaining a dignified silence, the egomaniacal Rian Johnson, backed by individuals in LucasFilms, responded with ad hominems and insults. This doubling down infuriated even the fans who liked TLJ, and they responded the one way Disney and LucasFilms could not ignore.
They took their money elsewhere. For the financial year September 30 2017 to September 29 2018, LucasFilms made a loss of $182 million. Sales of Star Wars toys, DVDs, novels and comic books tumbled. Many wound up in the bargain bins of shops.
The fans are the ones who pay for things. Disappointing them with a bad product and then insulting them for being unhappy is an excellent strategy to lose money.

So what’s the good news?

Apart from the fact that ROS largely, but not completely, salvages matters, there is another bright light on the horizon.
The Mandalorian, created by John Favreau. I haven’t seen it (Disney+ isn’t available in South Africa), but the buzz I have heard is excitement.
From what I have gleaned, Favreau is a huge Star Wars fan. That, I think, will be a key factor in the future success or failure of Star Wars. Get talented fans to make Star Wars. They know it, understand it and love it, and will make stuff that other fans will want to see.

If Disney learns from their mistakes and hires talented Star Wars fans to make Star Wars, they will make a fortune. If they drop the ball again, everyone will lose.

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ABA confirmed ineffective? Gee, what a surprise

In one of the most “water is wet” news items I’ve ever read, it turns out that Applied Behavioural Analysis is not only useless for training autistics, it is harmful. Article here.

[A]fter 1 year of ABA treatment 76% of [autistics] had no change in symptoms and 9% WORSENED by more than 1 standard deviation. This reaffirms Navy Capt. Edward Simmer, chief clinical officer of the Tricare Health Plan, statement in November 2018 that the effectiveness of applied behavioral techniques for autism remains unproven. Year after year, the data says the same thing.

A full PDF Report can be downloaded here.

Posted in Autism Awareness | Tagged , , , ,

Returning to an unwanted past – edited

There have been several Measles outbreaks this year.
One, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has already claimed 5,000 lives. The outbreak in Europe continues with no end in sight. And in Samoa, over 60 people, most of them children, have died. In addition to the above, Polio has now broken out in Malaysia.

This is the world that we will return to if antivaxxers succeed. Before mass vaccination programs, every year there were millions of cases of Measles, Mumps, Rubella (German Measles), Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Tetanus, Poliomyelitis, HIB, and Rotavirus, among other now vaccine preventable diseases. Every year hundreds of thousands died, and several times that number suffered deafness, blindness, paralysis, brain damage and other types of organ damage. Their quality of life was irreversibly harmed.

Antivaxxers are stubborn in their conviction that vaccines are worse than the diseases. Indeed, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written to the Samoan Prime Minister with all sorts of post hoc “justifications” about the outbreak there. Not only are they wrong, they refuse to even consider the possibility that they are.

When my parents were at school, every year pupils had to stay home with these illnesses. In areas where vaccinations are underused, this still happens. But when I attended school, nobody I knew had to stay home for any of the above diseases. Attendance at schools for those with disease sequelae (like blindness, deafness and paralysis) had fallen significantly. Vaccinations stopped all these issues, and drove smallpox into extinction.

It takes only a small drop in vaccination rates for herd immunity to fail. If enough people forego vaccination, we will return to a past of deaths, blindings, deafenings, maimings, and brain damage. An unwanted past that vaccines helped us leave behind.

Oops I almost forgot

What triggered this post was an article on the Comic Sands Website – Anti-Vaxxers Are Getting Dragged After Requesting To Be Called ‘Vaccine Risk Aware’. The antivaccine organisation “Crazy Mothers” (what an absolutely fitting name) asked the media to “Please retire the use of the term “Anti-vaxxer.”” And to instead use “the Vaccine Risk Aware.”
The Crazy Mothers were promptly dogpiled. Exaggerating the risks of getting vaccinated and downplaying the harms of the diseases is in no way “Vaccine Risk Aware” and they were rightly mocked.

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Vaccination News

Two big thing happened in vaccination last week.
A vaccine against Ebola has been approved and a second one is being trialled.

Secondly, Germany passed a law mandating measles vaccination for all children.
From the first article:

Parents who refuse to get their children inoculated face fines of up to €2,500 (£2,140) and a likely ban from nursery or school.

From the second article:

[Europe] has seen a dramatic resurgence in measles infections with almost 90,000 diagnosed between January and June this year, the World Health Organisation said in August.

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A few words on bullying

I’m a subscriber to George Takei’s Facebook Page.
Last week, there was a post about a woman who confronted her son’s bully. I commented in support of her, mentioning that I’d developed mild PTSD from being bullied. Most responses to my comment were positive. Unfortunately, some damn fool said that it should be left to the victim to sort the matter out.
Im sorry, what?
I would like to tell you my experiences with my bullies. Clayton was my bully in Primary School and a literal distemperate psychopath. Stephen bullied me in High School. And Keith and I attended the same dojo. All three were larger, stronger, and far more violent than I was. I would love to know how I was supposed to “handle things on my own”, short of using a deadly weapon. Bullies have a nose for targets, and being autistic I had a bullseye painted on me. It is cowardly to demand that victims manage their bullies unsupported.
Further to the above, the attitude that victims should be abandoned to their tormentors has its roots in the evil belief that bullying is beneficial. It is an idea that is as poisonous as it is wrong.
Ten years ago, Pene Kimber found out that her son, a pupil at Parktown Boys’ High, had been assaulted during an “initiation rite”. She approached the school. The Principal, Tom Clarke, conducted a desultory investigation and handed out token punishments to the offending boys. A furious Kimber took the matter further.
And then everything blew up.
Kimber’s son had not just been beaten. He’d been assaulted with a cricket bat. South Africa was horrified. As more and more emerged, it became clear that this abuse was widespread at Parktown Boys, and that Clarke was tacitly approving it. Charges were brought against the assailants, and Clarke was eventually forced to retire in disgrace.
It is fortunate that attitudes have changed. We now know that bullying damages both victims and bullies. We also know that bullies just get worse when not dealt with. The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were both bullies. Unfortunately, as I learnt, the mantra of “bullying good” still has its proponents.

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Autistics Speaking Day – A proposed syllabus for autistics

Happy 10th Autistics’ Speaking Day from South Africa!
I’ve been thinking about what a curriculum/syllabus focussed on autistic students would look like. So far, I have a vague outline.
First Session of every day: Tai Chi or Martial Arts for 30-45 minutes, to help students focus
Second Session of every day: Planning and training for Executive Function.
Executive Functioning is typically poor in autistics. This is to help them.

General items

Music (disproportionately beneficial for autistics and other non-neurotypical students)
Computer Science and coding
Quiet reading time (maybe more than one session a day)
Using e-learning for other subjects, especially hear-recite for languages
Let me know your ideas below.

Posted in Autism Awareness | Tagged , ,