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Adios

Just for kicks, I collected a sampling of headlines in which victims of COVID, largely vaccine deniers of the conservative persuasion, expressed “regrets” about not getting vaccinated. In some cases, the regrets were reported by family members after the victim croaked.

I know it would be charitable of me to feel sympathy and compassion for these folks. But, speaking as someone who is thrice vaccinated for COVID, and, as an intelligent adult, trusts science and medical authorities and other genuine experts, I feel sympathy and compassion only for the family members and other victims of the bonehead vaccine deniers.

To the multitudes of sick and deceased people represented by the headlines below, I simply say “adios, gente estupida.”

Here are the headlines I rounded up.

———

Hospitalized right-wing radio host in ‘very serious
condition’ regrets not being ‘vehemently pro-vaccine’

Alpharetta police officer recovering from
COVID-19 regrets not getting vaccine

Texas anti-mask organizer dies from COVID-19

‘I feel foolish’ — Florida mom shares regret
about not getting COVID-19 vaccine sooner

Alabama mother who lost son to COVID says
not getting the vaccine is her biggest regret

Man regrets snubbing vaccine
after ‘staring death in the eyes’

Anti-vaccine activist and QAnon
supporter, 64, dies from COVID

North Dakota man regretted not getting
vaccine before dying of COVID: family

Alabama man and wife who posted anti-vaccine
videos on YouTube are both dead from COVID

EMT stricken with COVID-19 and
pneumonia regrets declining vaccine

Infected Texas doctor regrets not getting vaccinated

Conservative U.S. radio host and
vaccine skeptic dies of COVID-19

Mom regrets not getting family vaccinated
after 13-year-old daughter is put on ventilator

Man who spent four months in hospital with COVID-19 and had
double lung transplant said he regrets not getting the vaccine

California woman, 40, who said she was ‘unmasked,
unmuzzled, unvaccinated, unafraid’ dies from COVID

Talk radio host hospitalized with COVID
regrets vaccine hesitancy, brother says

Israeli anti-vax leader dies from COVID-19

4-year-old girl dies of COVID after
unvaccinated mom contracts virus

Florida dad regrets not getting vaccine
after daughter, 15, dies of COVID-19

Family pleads for people to get vaccinated
after 45-year-old father dies from COVID-19

Unvaccinated high school coach dies of COVID

Anti-vax radio host who mocked AIDS
victims dies of COVID-19 complications

Husband of GOP state representative
declines vaccine, dies of COVID-19

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This post is about the nefarious practice of gerrymandering, a form of underhanded nastiness that politicians — mostly, but not exclusively, conservative politicians — have elevated to an art form.

Because I live in the Deep South, which is dominated by diehard “Christian conservatives,” I am saddled with a congressman who, by rational standards, is a deplorable jerk and a genuine threat to democracy.

More about the deplorable jerk directly, but first, as you undoubtedly know, gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one’s political party. The process is dirty, cynical and quite effective.

Gerrymandering is named for Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who in 1812 created a voting district that benefited his party, the Democratic-Republicans, and was mocked for resembling a salamander.


1812 Boston Globe editorial cartoon satirizing Gov. Gerry’s carefully created voting district.

Today, gerrymandering is so common across the country that it’s almost the norm. I am most familiar with what the GOP has done to the congressional districts of Georgia, so I’ll begin there.

Georgia’s cities are Democratic strongholds, so the Republicans have sabotaged them via strategic gerrymandering. Consider this map of Georgia’s congressional districts.

Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, and Columbus once stood as their own congressional districts, but were combined with enough surrounding rural counties to overcome the Democrats’ advantage.

Atlanta was broken into half a dozen different districts. Athens was sliced down the middle, the two halves being absorbed into, and neutered by, the sea of GOP voters in congressional districts 9 and 10.

The fate of Athens is especially galling because the city was, and still is, a liberal bastion. It was not only subjugated by the GOP, but is now represented by two especially wild-eyed and extremist nutjob Republicans.

One of them is my deplorable jerk of a congressman, the district 9 representative, Andrew Clyde.

This is the same Andrew Clyde who famously described the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 as a “normal tourist visit.”

This is the same Andrew Clyde who was photographed in obvious panic as Trump’s white supremacist goons tried to break into the House chamber while chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Clyde is (sigh) the owner of the Clyde Armory, a giant Athens gun store. He got into politics because, well, the opportunity presented itself.

He is a typical bellicose right-winger who toes the party line and has no need to give the issues any thought. He is a textbook example of a conservative whose brain rarely functions at a higher level than reptilian mode.

In March 2020, before Clyde was elected to Congress, the accelerating spread of COVID prompted Athens-Clarke County to issue an emergency order requiring non-essential businesses, including the Clyde Armory, to close temporarily.

Clyde went insane. He flooded the media with hysterical rants, and he sued Athens-Clarke County, claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional and would injure his business irreparably. As if anything known to man could hurt the bottom line of a gun store.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and he warned Clyde and his lawyers not to come back to court unless they could demonstrate a better understanding of the issues and the law.

Clyde was elected to Congress handily and took office in January 2021. He won because he is a hidebound conservative and a gun nut, traits that resonate with the local rednecks.

It is ironically fitting, then, that the GOP representative from district 10, Jody Hice, is a long-time “Christian right” preacher and a right-wing radio talk show host.

Hice quit preaching when he ran for Congress, but he still hosts a daily radio program for Let Freedom Ring Ministries, Inc. That worthy organization is “dedicated to keeping America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and values in the mainstream.”

I’m not sure why they included “Judeo” in the motto. “White” would have been more descriptive.

Not long ago, Hice introduced a bill that would allow members of Congress to carry firearms, which probably earned him a donation from the Clyde Armory.

Hice, incidentally, won’t be in Congress much longer. He is running to replace Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State who refused to overturn the 2020 election results. As you recall, Georgia not only went for Biden, but also elected two Democratic senators.

Raffensperger, of course, is now persona non grata with the GOP and probably will lose in the primaries. Hice may well get the job, and will be in charge of Georgia’s electoral system, unless the Democrats can pull off another miracle.

These are scary times for democracy, people.

Two noxious byproducts of gerrymandering: Andrew Clyde and Jody Hice.

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Note: political rant to follow. I have harsh thoughts to express about the lunatic behavior of the conservatives. Proceed at your own risk.

———

In a post back in July, I laid into the right-wingers regarding their decline from pesky, petulant whiners into rabid totalitarian nutjobs — in many cases, full-on Nazis — and I questioned whether enough normal people are left in the country to hold back the tide of right-wing lunacy.

It seems to me that, while the numbers are on our side, the capacity of the Republicans to lie and cheat is boundless. They almost certainly will taint the voting systems enough to tilt future election results in their favor to some degree.

The courts have shown a refreshing willingness to slap down the GOP cheating. But the Supreme Court has the final say, and it is now hopelessly conservative and partisan. The odds are poor that the Court will stop the GOP from gaming the voting systems. They will find a way to justify the GOP cheating on a technicality.

What this means is that American democracy is in deep trouble, probably the most serious in our history. In fact, democracy could easily end its run before much longer.

Goodbye to liberal democracy, hello to whatever Dark Side we lurch into in the future.

The conservative mindset was always selfish and mean; that is what defines them. But I think of the Reagan years as when the right wing decided that reality is an unnecessary annoyance.

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a mere figurehead. In reality, he was a doddering old fool rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Team Reagan, consisting of Nancy and the boys, was in control, and the team decided the federal government would make an ideal whipping boy. It was brilliant. Reaganism captured the heart and soul of the GOP effortlessly.

You remember the Reagan crowd, which secretly and illegally sold missiles to Iran and secretly and illegally used the money to bankroll right-wing rebels trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

FYI, 11 federal officials were convicted of perjury and fraud related to the Iran-Contra scandal. President Bush the elder pardoned them.

The Reagan era gave us still more.

In 1984, the Reagan team rewarded the already rich and comfortable by cutting the maximum tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent. The loss of revenue was crippling, but the GOP replaced it by imposing the first-ever tax on social security benefits. Rich people 1, working class 0.

Meanwhile, the conservative masses responded to all this with mindless enthusiasm. They were happy to make government a scapegoat and a target of their prejudices while the GOP stabbed them in the back.

It was Morning in America, starring Ronald Reagan and his famous sunny disposition.

The Reagan era gave us even more.

In 1987, Reagan’s FCC scrapped the Fairness Doctrine, which for decades had kept American news organizations from telling lies and pretending they were facts. Disseminate BS, lose your license.

With the Fairness Doctrine eliminated, Fox “News” was born, created to spin the news — to weave a tapestry of propaganda, lies, and BS — in favor of Republican and conservative causes.

Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes probably never dreamed how successful Fox would become. In no time, the network had captured and brainwashed virtually every conservative bonehead in America.

Here was the amazing spectacle of a disingenuous, openly biased right-wing operation convincing its audience that all other news outlets were lying to them, and only Fox was telling the truth. Does the word gullible come to mind?

Two decades later, thanks to that same Fox News audience, we had the equally amazing spectacle of Donald Trump, a human fecal stain, being elected President of the United States.

Make no mistake, supporting Trump, then and now, is an unforgivable failure of morality and decency. Siding with Trump shows that your judgment and character are in question.

Oops, sorry. I meant to say that it shows your judgment and character are in the toilet.

On October 7, 2016, the Access Hollywood tape went public, on which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the private parts. In a sane world, Trump would have been driven into exile in disgrace. But, one month later, half the country — half the country — voted to elect the man President.

If you can look at a person like Trump and say, “Yep, that’s my guy,” you are terribly, deeply sick.

The options to explain how you got that way are limited. Perhaps you are an especially low-wattage bulb. Perhaps you are an evil and twisted human being. Perhaps you have lost touch with reality and need professional help. Perhaps all of the above.

Dozens of times while President, Trump revealed himself to be a literal traitor. He sought and obtained the assistance of Putin and Russia to get elected. He spent four years stealing from us. His term as President was marked by graft and corruption on a mind-boggling scale. Because of his incompetence, 400,000 people died of COVID while he was in office.

Still, on November 8, 2020, half the country — half the country — voted to give him another term as President. Incredible.

On January 6, Trump sent an army of white supremacist thugs to storm the Capitol Building and prevent Congress from certifying Biden as the winner of the November presidential election. This was a naked attempt at a coup, but you can count on one hand how many GOP elected officials objected, or even acknowledged it.

Unfortunately for them, the insurrection was presented on live television and thoroughly documented for posterity. I saw it unfold. You probably did, too.

Consider this for the record:

The conservatives among us, plus virtually all Republican elected officials, want to pretend that January 6 did not happen. These people are deplorable and irredeemable.

Naturally, most also are anti-mask and anti-vax. Will COVID cull the herd by natural selection, or will enough of them survive long enough to steamroll us?

Place your bets.

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A Controlled Panic

It’s a fact that Donald Trump set an impressive number of records as President.

It’s also a fact that, so as not to alienate all those MAGA voters, the Republican Party embraced the Big Lie — the bone-headed claim that Trump actually won, even though, like, he lost.

A few addled Trump fans might truly believe that Biden stole the election, but only a few. Most of them, as well as virtually all of the GOP politicians, know full well that Biden legitimately won.

Trump simply got beat, honestly and soundly. Democrats went to the polls in great numbers, reacting to the increasingly fascistic behavior of the conservatives and the disaster that was the Trump presidency.

For the GOP, the handwriting is on the wall: their base is shrinking, and the Democrats are thriving. The Republicans thus have concluded that to avoid going extinct, they will have to rig the voting system in their favor.

No problem. Cheating is nothing new to the GOP. Starting just after the election, in Republican-controlled legislatures nationwide, more than 800 bills were introduced to make voting harder in various ways, usually targeting black and brown people. Some legislation already has been passed and enacted.

The right-wing politicians are in a panic. But it’s a controlled panic, tempered by their belief that they are clever enough and sneaky enough to cheat and win. That’s probably true.

What’s also true is that, by the simple act of remaining Republicans, they reveal themselves to be vile, dishonest, and morally bankrupt. To which their reply is, “So what?”

Look at everything the conservatives have said and done lately: the election of Trump, the systematic voter suppression, refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated for COVID. Not to mention, for God’s sake, the storming of the Capitol by a mob of Trump-supporting white supremacists. No decent, self-respecting person can remain a part of the GOP.

And by the way, it strikes me that this clause from the 14th Amendment should be getting more attention.

I am no longer mystified at how right-wing politicians can be so shameless. They are what they are. I am no longer shocked at how the mental health of half the population has deteriorated to such a startling degree. It simply has.

But, wow — the right-wing lies, the loony conspiracies, the vitriol, the hate. It borders on the surreal.

You could argue that good people outnumber the crazies in this country, and with the right motivation, can outvote the GOP nutjobs.

But the GOP is in the process of putting a thumb on the scales, to make voting harder for our side and, where possible, easier for theirs. To a degree that remains to be seen, they will succeed.

Their efforts to suppress the Democratic vote will be aided, of course, by the Supreme Court, which the right wing now dominates 6-3, and which is unashamedly, openly partisan.

The Court consists of three sensible progressive members (Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor), three wild-eyed conservatives (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch), two laughably unqualified conservatives (Kavanaugh and Barrett), and Chief Justice Roberts, who occasionally reveals that he has a conscience, but is still a conservative.

That Court will never, ever, ever stop the GOP voter suppression schemes.

So, in short, we are in real trouble. I honestly can’t see a positive outcome. For the first time in my life, I can visualize how American society could collapse.

And make no mistake: if we implode, it’s all over. At best, we would end up like Russia under Putin, or Turkey under Erdogan, or Brazil under Bolsonaro.

Or Germany under Hitler.

If America is subjected to another round of something like this…

… we are history.

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The subject of presidential succession isn’t something people spend much time contemplating, but, God help me, I find it interesting.

Yes, I intend to elaborate, so if you need to be somewhere else right now, I fully understand.

You may recall that, when Biden won the 2020 election, former President Grab ‘em and the GOP promptly began to cry foul and act the fool — engaging in a series of jerk moves of the tantrum variety. You know, the type of petty and spiteful behavior they now embrace routinely. More about that directly.

Most people know that if a U.S. President dies, resigns, is removed from office, or becomes incapacitated, the powers and duties of the office pass to the Vice President.

Further, if the Vice President is unable to serve, the Speaker of the House is next in line.

But there’s more. Third in line is the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Cabinet secretaries, in the order their offices were created.

Currently, Biden’s Cabinet consists of 15 secretaries. All those folks are eligible to ascend to the presidency if they meet the qualifications required by the Constitution.

The details of presidential succession were set down in Article II of the Constitution, then tweaked in the 12th amendment (1804), the 20th Amendment (1933), and the 25th Amendment (1967). The 25th Amendment, in fact, deals solely with presidential succession and disability.

As for eligibility, Article II establishes three requirements to become President: a person must be a natural-born citizen, must be at least 35 years of age, and must have been a U.S. resident for 14 years.

Currently, two members of Biden’s Cabinet are ineligible to serve as President because they are not natural-born citizens. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was born in Canada, and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas was born in Cuba.

Everyone else in the line of succession is eligible, as unlikely an event as that may be.

Thus, if some terrible calamity occurred, the above-mentioned officeholders would be sworn in as President in this order:

1. Vice President Kamala Harris
2. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
3. President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy
4. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
5. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen
6. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
7. Attorney General Merrick Garland
8. Secretary of the Interior Deb Halland
9. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
10. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo
11. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh
12. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra
13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge
14. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
— Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm
15. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona
16. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough
— Secretary of Labor Alejandro Mayorkas

The truth is, I couldn’t pick most of those folks out of a lineup. But Team Biden chose them, which speaks to their competence and qualifications. I’m confident any of them could serve ably. After all, they aren’t Republicans.

Speaking of Neanderthals, the succession list during the Trump Administration was so depressing, so populated by villains, fools, and ne’er-do-wells, that I choose not to display it.

Another matter related to presidential succession originated in the 1950s during the Cold War era: the practice of naming a designated successor or designated survivor when the above officials gather for an event.

Accordingly, at all large official gatherings — inaugurations, State of the Union addresses, Presidential addresses to Congress — one person in the line of succession is whisked away to a secure, undisclosed location in case some awful mass-casualty event wiped out all the other would-be presidents.

Before the 2020 election, as you recall, the Orange Vulgarian predicted that the Democrats would try to rig the election. Then, when he lost on November 3, he alleged widespread voter fraud and other nefarious misconduct (providing no specifics or evidence, of course; he simply was lying as usual), and he insisted he was the actual winner.

So, instead of having a normal period of transition to the new administration, we had the sorry spectacle of Trump blocking Biden’s transition team from doing its work.

Specifically, a Trump flunky refused to sign certain official paperwork, and for several weeks, the Biden team was not given access to the normal funding and office space. A typical jerk move by the Republicans.

The flunky was Emily Murphy, Trump’s Administrator of the General Services Administration. Before her gig at the GSA, Murphy was an attorney for the Republican National Committee, which explains a lot.

On November 23, she finally relented and signed the authorizing documents. Two weeks later, she resigned and left the administration. Buh-bye, Emily.

It’s an interesting fact that when Biden was inaugurated as President on January 20, the Trump White House did not announce a designated successor for the event. When pressed, a Trump spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny that one had been appointed.

Which probably means that Trump, class act that he is, declined to name one; doing so would seem like acknowledging the Biden victory.

One final fact on this subject: in April, when Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, no designated successor was appointed.

Why not? Because naming a successor wasn’t necessary. Attendance was limited due to COVID restrictions, and most of the Cabinet would not attend anyway.

Emily Murphy, who orchestrated a parting jerk move on behalf of the abominable, deplorable, twice-impeached outgoing president.

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Boogeyman

A boogeyman is a fictional being, sometimes male, sometimes female, used by adults to frighten children into behaving. The entity is known by a variety of names in cultures around the world.

In Spain, if little Diego doesn’t go to sleep, he is told that El Coco will come in the night and carry him away in a sack. Little Diego’s blood runs cold, and he tries valiantly to fall asleep.

In the US, conservative politicians use the same shtick to frighten right-wing voters. They warn of a vaguely-defined thing called “socialism,” an abomination that will take away Uncle Fred’s rights, freedoms, and way of life. Uncle Fred’s blood runs cold, and he donates money to the GOP.

You, being a level-headed person, no doubt are aware that socialism is not evil per se. Socialism is a point of view — a range of political and economic concepts. I struggle to explain the idea accurately because I haven’t studied economics since my sophomore year in college.

But I’ll try. The crux of socialism is that society itself should be in charge and control things for the common good. To a socialist, the degree of private ownership we have under capitalism is a definite no-no because capitalism is, well, ruthless, selfish, and totally unconcerned about the common good. Capitalism is an I’m for me first concept.

Beyond that, devotees of socialism disagree on the controls and regulations needed, the form of government that works best, etc.

It’s also a fact that the US government freely practices socialism in all sorts of ways. Society is social, so that’s inevitable.

Those socialist programs are quite familiar: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, NPR, PBS, NASA, highways, bridges, dams, garbage collection, health care, food stamps, farm subsidies.

Not to mention public schools, public beaches, public housing, public zoos, public museums, public buses, public landfills, state and national monuments, prisons, the court system.

Plus the VA, the National Weather Service, FEMA, the IRS, the Peace Corps, farm subsidies, Amtrak, student loans, fire and police departments, street lighting, public defenders, the Amber Alert system.

Some of the biggest federal departments are socialistic to the bone: the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Energy, the US military, the FDA, the Postal Service.

You get the picture.

My political beliefs are decidedly liberal, and I believe that the purpose of government should be to share the wealth — to use the public’s money to help the public, leaving nobody behind. To that extent, I reckon I’m pretty much a socialist.

But I’m not a firebrand about it. I’m at the moderate end of the spectrum. In general, I think America has genuine potential, although it needs serious work.

Namely, we need to wrest control of the country from the billionaires. We need to develop better ways to rein in the crooks, cheats, and parasites and focus, honestly and truly, on the common good.

We could start by abolishing the Senate filibuster; taxing the rich with great vigor; cutting the living hell out of military spending; and creating a new “Medicare for all” health care system that cuts out the for-profit corporations and provides full medical care to everyone, period.

That last suggestion is how the health care systems function in half the countries of Europe, so we know it works. We have the template.

As for Uncle Fred, the MAGA crowd, the GOP politicians, and the rest of the conservative world, I say it’s time they put up or shut up.

Some of them may quietly agree that many aspects of socialism are positive. But if they truly believe that socialism is evil incarnate, they need to stick to their principles.

They should refuse to accept Medicare and Social Security. They should resolve never to call 911, because fire and police departments are socialistic by definition.

They shouldn’t use public parks, libraries, or beaches or send their children to public school. And they should drive only on toll roads.

Put up or shut up.

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Superheroes

Is it un-American of me that I have no use for — that I avoid watching — superhero movies?

To me, the concept of having supernatural powers, wearing a natty costume, and fighting for truth and justice or whatever, worked fine for Superman when he surfaced in 1938. But all these decades later, why are we still recycling the same idea, over and over, using different characters and costumes?

Excuse me, but that is the very definition of clichéd. It’s unoriginal, juvenile, and tacky.

Even as a kid, I considered the genre to be silly. As I got older, and more and more cookie-cutter superheroes appeared, it became both embarrassing and annoying.

Oddly enough, I’m a big fan of science fiction. I adore the “what if” factor that sci-fi represents. I have no problem with spaceships, or aliens, or Terminators, or Yoda levitating an X-Wing fighter.

That being so, you’d think I could tolerate the likes of Iron Man and Spiderman and Wonder Woman — and Ant-Man and Hulk and ad infinitum— and cut them some slack. But I just can’t. It’s all so banal.

I realize this puts me in a definite minority. The public loves superhero movies, comics, TV programs, and games. The market for superheroes has been booming for a long time and clearly is a huge money-maker. Were it not, the genre would have been discarded long ago.

One consequence of being an anti-superhero person is that I haven’t seen most of the superhero movies made in the last few decades. Which means I’m not familiar with all the heroes, villains, and arch-enemies. I don’t know their backstories or to which superhero “universe” they belong.

Over time, unavoidably, I’ve picked up random bits of information about the various characters through advertising, social media, and elsewhere. But I can’t identify the Marvel superheroes, or differentiate them from the DC Comics types. I don’t know the X-Men from the Fantastic Four.

I know that Iron Man is a rich guy named Tony Stark, and he wears a special suit and flies around. But I have no idea why, or even why he is called Iron Man.

Another example: in Norse mythology, Thor was the god of thunder who resided in Asgard, the equivalent of the ancient Greeks’ Mount Olympus. Thor was bad-tempered, and he carried a magic hammer only he could lift.

As for Thor the superhero, I know he carries a big hammer, and he hangs out with other superheroes for… reasons, but that’s all I know.

One Sunday recently, I noticed that a big-name superhero movie, something made about 10 years ago, was about to begin on TV. I decided I would watch it in the name of fairness. Sort of an experiment.

I don’t remember the title of the movie, but it featured Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and a bunch of others. An Avengers movie, maybe?

Anyway, I watched the entire film (taking advantage of the frightfully long commercial breaks to take out the trash, feed the dog, and so on). The movie was wild and furious — scene after scene of mayhem, destruction, and over-the-top CGI. But I tried to lighten up and give it a chance.

My conclusion: clearly, it had a huge budget to cover the special effects and pay all those big-name actors. But my negative opinion of superhero movies is unchanged; I found the film clichéd, unoriginal, juvenile, and tacky.

Having said that — having declared my scorn for superheroes because the very idea is tiresome and dopey — I now make a small confession.

When Guardians of the Galaxy was released, I heard that it was clever and highly entertaining — much better than most movies of that ilk. Having no idea who the Guardians were or what was going on, I took a chance and went to see it.

I loved it. I loved both Guardians movies. I’m anxious for Vol. 3 to get here.

In my defense, the Guardians are not garden-variety superheroes. All but one are aliens, and they are endowed not so much with superpowers as with special abilities.

That, and the writing and acting were good, and nobody involved took themselves too seriously.

I’m vaguely aware that the Guardians characters originated years ago in a comic book. But other than what I learned about them from the films, that’s all I know.

Or care to know, actually.

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Armchair Psychology

Various observations related to brain function and dysfunction…

Emotional Intelligence

In 1995, author and journalist Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence, an international best-seller that was printed in, like, 40 languages.

The term “emotional intelligence” means learning to understand your own emotions and those of others so you can act effectively and positively. Currently, Goleman works at Rutgers University and specializes in how the concept applies to organizations.

Empathy

In his 1995 book, Goleman said that empathy is not a single trait, but three — namely, cognitive empathy, social empathy, and empathic concern.

Cognitive empathy is understanding someone else’s perspective so you can communicate with the person more constructively.

Social empathy is sensing what the other person feels so you can establish rapport.

Empathic concern is going beyond understanding the other person’s situation and having a genuine desire to help them. Goleman says we do this by tapping into the “ancient mammalian system for parenting.”

Master all three, he says, and you can build healthy relationships, personally and professionally.

Empathy, it’s fair to say, is a complicated and important commodity. Because humans are such social animals, empathy helps the group function cooperatively and peacefully.

Empathy among all parties greases the skids; a deficiency of empathy, on the part of anyone in the group, introduces problems.

An Abnormal Deficiency

Years ago, I concluded that a root cause of the typical behavior of political conservatives — one of the fundamental reasons Republicans think the way they think, behave the way they behave, and are the way they are — is an abnormal deficiency of empathy.

(This deficiency is one of three common characteristics of present-day right-wingers. The others are an affinity for authoritarianism and being a white person.)

Empathy varies with the individual, of course, regardless of politics, but the conservative brain seems to be wired in such a way that it lacks a normal ability to feel a sense of charity, compassion, mercy, or sympathy for others.

This is why Republicans can justify separating children from their parents at the border as a scare tactic. And why they fear, distrust, and often demonize outsiders.

This is why the most evil boogieman they can imagine is socialism. And why they want to reduce the amount of your COVID relief check.

This is why they fall so easily for conspiracy theories. And why they turn so readily to racism and misogyny.

The Fiction Factor

The degree of empathy in you has an alleged connection to reading fiction.

In 2006, a study found that the more authors of fiction you know (which presumes that you read a lot), the higher you score on empathy tests.

One possible explanation is that empathetic people simply read more. But research indicates that the information you absorb from reading fiction acts to strengthen your empathy.

That’s because reading fiction exposes you to lives, thoughts, and motivations outside of your own. Even though it is fictional, the more you read, the more you are exposed to the experiences of others, which improves your ability to empathize.

Read more fiction, become a better person.

The Shopping Cart Theory

The Shopping Cart Theory is the concept that your willingness to return a shopping cart to the corral reveals whether you are the kind of person who will do the right thing without being forced to.

This theory asserts that returning the cart is universally seen as a proper act. You gain nothing by returning it. You return it because it’s the right thing to do, and you’re a nice guy.

If you don’t return the cart, you face no consequences. You are not punished, and very rarely berated, for failing to return a cart. Thus, abandoning the cart instead of returning it to the corral is evidence that you are inclined to do what is right only when it’s convenient or you face negative consequences.

I’ve read that the Shopping Cart Theory is too judgmental, and legitimate reasons may exist for not returning a cart. The weather is bad. You can’t leave children unattended. You have a disability. The corral is too far away. You think a store employee will collect the carts.

I say the theory is a legitimate test of whether or not you’re a jerk.

The Matter of Face Masks

Speaking of a test to identify jerks, the willingness to wear a face mask when and where you should, as medical experts plead with you to do, zooms to the top of the list.

Here we sit, deep into a deadly pandemic. The infection rate in the US is the world’s worst, and under Trump, the governmental response was feeble, scattershot, and ineffective to a criminal degree.

Until recently, the only protections we had were wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, and washing your hands.

Yet, vast numbers of people refuse to wear a mask, decline to remain six feet apart, and defiantly gather in crowded places. Whether they wash their hands is anyone’s guess.

The fact that mask-wearing became a left vs. right political issue isn’t surprising. Of course conservatives staked out the anti-mask position. Their nature compelled it when they saw that most liberals believe in wearing a mask.

Refusing to wear a mask is foolish and illogical, but they don’t care. Nor do they care, apparently, about the health consequences to themselves and their families. The behavior of these people is stupid, ignorant tribalism.

Why do so many people boldly go maskless in public places, dine shoulder to shoulder in restaurants, attend large gatherings, and pack the bars?

Some, I suppose, think the risks of COVID are non-existent or exaggerated. Others are weary of all the precautions and restrictions after a year of living with the pandemic. In some cases, malice, stupidity, or arrogance explain the behavior.

Beyond those motivations, I couldn’t identify a single valid, sensible reason for so much risky behavior.

It appears that consequences are needed in order to change the behavior of people who risk public health when the posted rules require a face mask.

My suggestion: for the first offense, one night in jail and a fine of $250. The punishment would double for each subsequent offense.

I’ll bet that would flatten the curve.

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Lessons o’ the Day

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Day One

Being a political liberal, a Georgian, and a life-long Democrat, I am on quite a high these days.

Biden won Georgia and the presidency; both Ossoff and Warnoch won in Georgia, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats; and the unprincipled, lying, cheating, treasonous, twice-impeached orange gasbag is out of office.

It’s true that the country still has an ugly infestation of toxic conservatism, from the elected GOP weasels to the scared/gullible/addled MAGA voters to Fox “News” and the rest of the right-wing disinformation machine, which makes money by telling lies and fleecing the yokels.

But, with the Democrats in charge, we’re seeing an immediate resurgence of competence, compassion, and common decency. By God, it’s like morning in America.

President Biden — President Biden! — had an especially busy first day in office. He signed a flurry of executive orders aimed at, well, making America great again.

The highlights of Biden’s Day One executive orders:

———

We rejoined the World Health Organization.

We rejoined the Paris climate accords.

We now have a functioning national COVID-19 response team.

Face masks must be worn on federal property.

Construction was halted on Trump’s stupid wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States was reversed.

Discrimination against LGBT employees in the workplace is now banned.

A Trump order that expanded the categories of who should be detained and deported was abolished.

The moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was extended.

Payments and interest on federal student loans were frozen.

The Keystone Pipeline project was stopped.

Trump’s 1776 Commission, which promoted a right-wing history curriculum in schools, was killed.

Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the U.S. census was reversed.

Legal protections for the DACA program to shield young immigrants from deportation were strengthened.

An ethics pledge for Executive Branch appointees was established.

All other Trump regulations were frozen until the Biden Administration can assess them.

———

In all, Biden’s first day was a fine example of how liberals and progressives have a heart and a brain, and the conservative mindset leans more toward the mean and the selfish.

When Republicans control government — whenever and wherever Republicans control government — ordinary people suffer, and the rich get richer. Federal, state, and local, that’s been our story for decades.

Each time a swing of the pendulum gives the Democrats the majority again, they dutifully step in and make an effort to use the resources of government for the common good. At which point the right-wingers begin the hand-wringing about excessive spending and the lurking menace of socialism.

The conservatives will never change, so screw ‘em and show some spine. Namely:

● Change the Senate rules to kill the filibuster so bills can be passed with 51 votes instead of 60.

● Institute an immediate wealth tax that will fund Medicare for All and assist the millions who desperately need financial help because of COVID-19. Taxing the rich will not harm a single rich person in any way whatsoever.

● Censure, fine, and end the committee assignments of the six GOP senators and 121 House Republicans who voted not to certify the presidential election results.

● Prosecute with gusto as many of the Capitol rioters as we can find.

Compassion, spine, accountability.

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