Saturday, February 9, 2013

HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher #271 Drones, Bones, and Orange Tones

by Catherine Giordano

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” episode #271 aired a very interesting show on February 8, 2013 discussing a wide range of topics. When you have a theoretical physicist on the panel as Bill did this week—Lawrence Krauss, the author of A Universe from Nothing-- you can expect, at the very least, intelligent conversation.  

Bill might be tacking a new tack with his show. This is the second week in a row that he did not have bombastic political types on the panel—just intelligent people who know what they are talking about and who can express different opinions on the topics under discussion in a rational manner. Maybe this change harks back to what Bill said a few episodes ago about how it is impossible to have a conversation with someone who won’t accept facts.

The downside to this new tack, (if, indeed, it is a new tack) is that the show is calmer and that makes it harder for me to write about it. Outrageousness allows me to write with righteous indignation. Slamming someone for something stupid he or she said is more fun than just reporting on what was said. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to write an interesting review.

This week’s  interview was with Julian Assange, the founder and editor of WikiLeaks.  The interview was done remotely because Assange can’t leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London where is being given sanctuary from arrest. England wants to extradite him to Switzerland to face trial for sexual incidents (a “he said/she said situation” and most likely trumped up). The Swiss, if they get their hands on him, will most likely extradite him to the United States. It seems he published some classified documents and the United States doesn’t like that type of thing one little bit. (I’m not sure how I feel about what Assange does, but I do feel a little bit sorry for him about the mess he has gotten himself into.)

Assange seemed dour throughout most of the interview. Bill remarked on it attributing his mood to being cooped up in the embassy for months. I did learn two interesting things from the interview.  One, Assange does not know who his sources are. Documents are transmitted to WikiLeaks in such a way that no one knows the identity of the sender. (One small question, how does WikiLeaks prevent fraud if they don’t know who sent the documents?)  And two, WikiLeaks does not publish everything that they receive. They only publish information of significant historical importance or to aid whistle-blowers who want to reveal wrong-doing. They will not publish, or they will delay publishing, if they feel that there is a good reason to let something remain secret.    

In addition to Lawrence Krauss, the other two panelists were Martin Bashir, from MSNBC News, and Josh Barro, a reporter for Bloomberg News. Both of these men are serious about news and worthy of our respect.

Drone attacks is an important issue in the news right now and the panel began with that.  Bill said, “In a world where there are nuts and nukes, there are no good choices.” Fighting Al Qaeda is like a game of Wac-A-Mole. Bashir was concerned about a permanent war. “When does it end?” he asked. Barro thought drone attacks were a better alternative than invading countries. Klauss was concerned about giving the government the power to kill. All good points--some pro, some con.

I personally favor drone attacks as necessary to disrupt Al Qaeda and prevent an attack on U.S. soil. But, I also feel that there must be some checks and balances. There has to be some kind of trial in absentia to determine if the attack is necessary. I think that the people who are going around saying one man can decide who lives and who dies are just trying to score political points; I think it is a group decision made by the military, the CIA, and the president.

All this stuff about killing American citizens is just more political rant. If someone leaves this country and joins up with a group that wants to attack the United States, he has effectively renounced his American citizenship. We don’t have the ability to go into middle Eastern and African countries to arrest these people. We can’t be doing an Osama bin Laden type of foray every week. However, Al Queda members (citizen or non-citizen) in this country should be arrested and should receive due process. I don’t think there have been assassinations in the U.S., and that is how it should be.  

In summation, I do feel a little uneasy about the drone attacks, but as Bill said, “Sometimes all you have are bad choices, and you have to choose the least bad.”

Another event in the news this week is the discovery of the bones of Richard III, a former king of England who reigned for two years, and was the last Plantagenet king before the current Tudor dynasty began. His bones were found beneath a parking lot. Richard III’s reign was so short that Bill called him a “speed bump in history.” However, Bill also admired him for “hunchback courage.”  He rode his horse into battle which must have been very painful given the deformity of his spine.

Bill is an avowed atheist so he veered off into a comment about Jesus. If the bones of Jesus were found would this change anyone’s mind about the divinity of Jesus.  Bill also said that 27% of people in the United States thought that God played a role in the outcome of the Super Bowl.  (Was he the One who cast the stadium into darkness, and if so, why? Beyonce?) Krauss added that more people believe in angels than evolution and that nonsense can substitute for fact with impunity.

There was some discussion of the picture of Obama skeet shooting. Bill thought that the release of the picture was just pandering, and served only to give the right-wing crazies a new conspiracy theory. Rollo thought that the president wants to encourage conspiracy theories. It makes the Republicans look crazy and it keeps the attention off other things, things the administration would rather not talk about. (Like drone attacks?)

Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast was the special mid-show guest. She talked about her admiration for Malaya, the Pakistani girl who was shot for speaking up about education for women.  Bill said, “The Taliban is more afraid of educating women than of drones.”

Bill took Brown to task for a cover story in Newsweek, “Heaven is Real,” about a neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience. (However, The neurosurgeon thought he had actually died, been to heaven, and  then returned to life.) Brown looked a little put upon as she tried to defend the story, but the rest of the panel scoffed. (I, for one, thought that Brown was smarter than that.) Krauss said that the man had a spiritual experience, but he thinks science is more spiritual because it is real. The man’s experience may have been-life changing for him, but it was just a hallucination.  Bill remarked, “We like to say that there are two sides to every story, what we forget is that one side is wrong.

There was talk about taxes, and Chris Christie’s health (and weight), and government failings and other things, but I’m now going to go straight to the “New Rules” segment about Donald Trump. It was Bill at his best.

Here’s the set up. Last year, Trump offered to donate five million dollars to charity if Obama would release his college transcripts. Bill did a bit on his show where he offered to donate five million dollars to charity if Trump could prove that he wasn’t the love child of a human woman and an orangutan.  He was making fun of Trump’s “birther” nonsense. Recently, he got a letter from Trump’s lawyers suing him for $5 million. Bill thought the letter was a joke; turns out, Trump is serious.

Bill’s response last night was to pile on the insults. He said that Trump didn’t know the difference between a joke and a contract—he thinks a joke is a legally binding agreement.  He said that Trump should have sucked it up like other celebrities who become the butt of a joke. Instead, Trump got so angry that he couldn’t stop throwing his feces. He said Trump really did look like he had orangutan heritage because the orange color of his hair is matched no where on earth except in the color of the hair on an orangutan.

Trump had sent Bill a copy of his birth certificate to prove that his father was not an orangutan. This launched a bunch more jokes. It was a short form birth certificate just like Obama’s. Bill demanded to see the long form. Bill said that Trump’s birth certificate was obviously false because it had a bar code on it—bar codes were not available in 1946, the year shown as the year of Trump’s birth. Bill demanded more proof that Trump does not go to family reunions at the zoo. Ouch!  This was the “I-almost-feel-sorry-for-the-man” moment of the week. But I don’t feel sorry for Trump because he so richly deserves the ridicule that he has brought upon himself.

And I’ll conclude with a riddle—what do drones, bones, and orange tones have in common?  Bill Maher makes jokes about all of them.  

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