The Take Nobody Has Been Waiting For

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By Bill Maher

If you read as many news sites as I do, it doesn’t matter what the subject is, eventually someone will write a think piece with a take that is 90 degrees, 180 degrees, and 270 degrees from what you think the take is. Saving Private Ryan’s battle scenes are real, but not in the way you think. Or What if Paul Manafort just really likes rugs? That’s the nature of internet journalism — forced originality. Here’s something I only kind of believe, but will argue anyway because it wins me points for counterintuitive thumbsucking.

But rarely have we seen it applied to actual policy. Thankfully, with the Trump administration, there’s a first for everything. Take air pollution, as we who live in the Los Angeles basin do every day. The fact that you can see the air in Los Angeles means it’s full of particulates, not exactly clean, and therefore not good for you, right? Well, maybe you’re not not thinking about it hard enough.

Enter Robert Phalen, of the University of California, Irvine. Phalen is one of the new members of Trump’s science board, and prides himself on holding unpopular opinions, much in the way your annoying libertarian friend does - because it’s the only way he knows how to be different. He's the guy in a bar with the parrot on his shoulder. 

In a 2012 interview, Phalen said, “My most important role in science is causing trouble and controversy.” Um, I thought it was to do important work that moves society forward, but okay. Well, in 2004, Phalen authored a study that says air pollution isn’t that big a deal. And how’s this for a take: He’s also argued that current air quality in the United States is too clean for “optimum health.” And that children need to inhale air pollution to build up a defense against more air pollution. Wow. You must be so interesting at parties with all that counter-intuitiveness! 

Point being, this is – as I’ve said before – an administration of trolls. I’m not talking about people who fight against conformity to elucidate larger truths. I’m talking about dicks, who find the take nobody is arguing, revel in the hatred that comes, and then argue it all the way into the good graces of the White House. Now Phalen, who thinks our air is too clean, can meet up with other troll scientists who think acid rain tastes yummy and global warming is good for polar bears, and give industry the intellectual cover to do whatever the hell it wants.