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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

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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My mother, Ann Horne Smith, was a great lady. She was whip-smart — probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. She was pretty, funny, vivacious, generous, and a person of great integrity.

And Mom gave her children a gift that is valuable beyond measure. Without fail, Mom judged others by their behavior and character, never — never, ever, ever — by their race, religion, or nationality. The example she set was profound.

This from a woman born in 1921 in rural south Georgia.

Mom cursed like a sailor, but racist and bigoted language was forbidden in our house. When we spoke about someone, she insisted we do it fairly and respectfully.

“Talk about people as if they were in the room,” she would say.

The same rules applied to the students in the Sunday School classes she taught. She scolded many a young girl for gossiping or being racially insensitive.

Mom addressed everyone in the same courteous manner — family, friends, neighbors, tradesmen, store clerks, strangers — regardless of their race or other factor. Mom believed that everyone is entitled to respect, unless and until they demonstrate it is undeserved.

I like to think I absorbed Mom’s lesson. I consider myself to be — I try to be — a fair and unbiased person. To the extent that’s true, I owe it to Mom’s example. I raised my own kids accordingly, and both boys, as well as their kids, show every sign that the lessons were learned.

How Mom turned out the way she did, considering when and where she was raised, I don’t know. My grandmother Leila is the likeliest influence, although she never seemed as outspoken and uncompromising about personal behavior as Mom was.

But maybe I’m not giving Leila enough credit. when Mom was just a few years old, my grandfather Bill Horne walked out, and Leila suddenly was on her own as a single mom. Still, she had the grit to open a beauty salon and operate it through the Great Depression.

Take it from me, folks, it’s crucial to talk to your elders. Have long conversations with them. Pick their brains.

You need to ask the important questions while people are still around to answer them.


Ann Smith (1921-2005)

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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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When Amanda Gorman stepped to the podium to read “The Hill We Climb” at Biden’s inauguration, I had no idea who she was. I was impressed enough to find out.

She is 22, born in Los Angeles, has a twin sister. She was raised by a single mother, a sixth grade English teacher. Amanda attended private school K-12. She went to Harvard College on scholarship and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society. She graduated cum laude in 2020 with a degree in sociology.

In kindergarten, Gorman was diagnosed with an auditory disorder in which the brain doesn’t properly interpret what is heard. She also has a condition that affects her pronunciation of certain words. With therapy and hard work, she was able to overcome both conditions.

Gorman began writing poetry in high school. In 2014, she was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. In 2015, she published her first book of poetry. In 2016, she founded a nonprofit to promote writing and leadership for young people.

In 2017, she was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate. In 2018, she was named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year. In 2019, The Root Magazine named her one of the 25 best and brightest young African-Americans.

When the Bidens asked her to read a poem at the inauguration, “The Hill We Climb” was already written. Gorman amended it after the riots at the Capitol on January 6.

Last month, she signed with IMG Models, an international modeling agency. She plans to run for President in 2036.

The Hill We Climb” has a few rough spots, but it is powerful, positive, uplifting stuff nonetheless.

This lady is smart, talented, focused, and aimed in the right direction. President Gorman sounds good to me.

The text of her poem is below.

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans, and the world…

When day comes, we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always “justice.”

And yet, the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time
where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished.
Far from pristine.
But that doesn’t mean we are striving
to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures,
colors, characters, and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
that even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade,
but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promised glade,
the hill we climb
if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into
and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption
we feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised, but whole.
Benevolent, but bold,
fierce, and free.

We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain:
if we merge mercy with might
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country
better than one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.

In every known nook of our nation,
in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge,
battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

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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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Militarized

I have ranted on this blog numerous times about Donald Trump, vile Republican politicians, empty-headed conservative voters, and the Fox News bubble. I have opined often that the Trump presidency would not end well, which was a safe and easy prediction.

Still, I didn’t expect it to end with the Kafkaesque spectacle of white supremacists, at Trump’s invitation, storming the Capitol while Congress was in session, with an eye toward maybe killing some politicians and derailing the certification of Joe Biden as President so the Republicans could somehow arrange for Trump to remain in office.

Nor did I expect law enforcement to leave the Capitol so vulnerable under the ominous circumstances in Washington on January 6. At best, it was a shocking intelligence failure. At worst, it means the insurrection was abetted by people on the inside; Frankly, I suspect both.

Clearly, the mob should have been kept well away from the Capitol from the beginning. The Capitol should have been ringed by heavily-armed forces ready to crack heads as necessary — like how they do when facing non-Caucasians.

At this stage, we don’t know with certainty how the riots went down or who, through action or inaction, was complicit in the events. All we know for sure is that Trump specifically told the crowd to march on the Capitol — for which he was slapped with Impeachment Number Two.

But this much is clear: the riots were not carried out by a Trump “MAGA crowd.” The attackers were hard-core, dedicated white supremacists and domestic terrorists who simply accepted Trump’s invitation to take action on his behalf. Trump gave them a window of opportunity, and they took it.

Some of the groups have been around for years, some are new. Many of the leaders are known to the authorities and are on FBI terrorism watch lists. Essentially, they are Nazis and Fascists, and possibly a few anarchists.

In case you need a visual aid:

Simply put, the events of January 6, and whatever further turmoil is ahead of us, is a matter of politics being militarized. Fringe groups have escalated the left-right divide into violence aimed at the government.

And we got here solely and specifically because of the political right wing and its decades-long descent into madness.

Make no mistake, the Democrats are literally blameless. This mess is the fault of the Conservative Republicans, their wacko supporters, and right-wing media.

The descent began, you can argue, when Newt Gingrich got the idea of turning politics into warfare. As GOP House Speaker in the 1990s, Newt didn’t simply oppose the Democratic side, he demonized it. He actively blocked any bills the Democrats proposed because Democrats were made out to be sinister, dangerous, evil.

Gingrich also distributed two lists of specific “trigger” words Republicans should use, one list to promote themselves and the GOP, the other to scorn and belittle Democrats.

Among the words to apply to themselves: courage, liberty, pride, duty, vision, moral, pioneer, principled, and rights.

Among the words to label Democrats: pathetic, bizarre, corrupt, hypocrisy, incompetent, welfare, decay, and greed.

Republicans being Republicans, they embraced Newt’s ideas like hyenas at a fresh kill.

The GOP House Speaker after Gingrich, child-molester Dennis Hastert, contributed the “Hastert rule,” under which no bill was brought up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans supported it. In effect, this ended the concept of negotiating with the opposition and achieving bi-partisan cooperation.

From there, we entered the era in which Mitch McConnell controlled the Senate, and the concept of bi-partisanship was euthanized.

I can’t help it; when I hear Mitch McConnell, I always think Merrick Garland.

Trump has a few days left in his term. The Capitol in DC and most state capitols are on alert for more violence from domestic terrorists. Trump is said to be contemplating a self-pardon and possibly a blanket pardon for his white supremacist rioter friends.

He also plans to have Joint Base Andrews give him a rousing military send-off. I will think of it as a “goodbye and good riddance” party.

When Trump became the Republican nominee for President, I posted this indignant assertion:

Trump is a walking affront to civilized behavior. He continues to make outrageous, caustic statements that, in normal times, in a normal reality, would earn him the ire and scorn of the entire populace and send him slinking back to Trump Tower. But this is the era of the Fox News bubble. And Trump is the Frankenstein monster it created.

Given the insanity that has occurred since then, given the horrific death toll from a virus Trump allowed to spread, given the widespread damage inflicted on this poor country by Trump and his conservative enablers, calling the man a Frankenstein monster was a grave understatement.

Gingrich, Hastert, McConnell, and Trump, respectively.

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Dunces

In the 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces, the main character says the local rednecks (his term) reject modern technology because it represents unwanted change.

I’m reminded of that observation by the behavior of the MAGA crowd, our present-day confederacy of dunces (what a delightfully appropriate label), enabled by an especially appalling crop of Republican politicians.

The MAGA people object to all sorts of unwanted change — immigrants, gays, people who aren’t white, efficient healthcare — but their immediate gripe is that Trump lost the election.

The Republican politicians lay low and remain silent to avoid angering the dunces, but the dunces do the opposite: they throw fits, and sometimes pout, because they are displeased and frustrated. Lashing out makes them feel better. Apparently, threatening to tear down democracy is therapeutic for dunces.

What would be therapeutic for me is seeing these fools, especially the elected ones, face consequences for trying to subvert an election. That’s outright treason. Naked sedition.

People also need to face consequences for threatening violence against election officials. That should have led to immediate legal action.

These jerks are doing serious damage to a democracy that, despite its faults, has endured for almost 250 years. Now this generation of right-wing lunatics comes along, and, to the absolute horror of normal people, is willing to wreck it. Are they insane?

Staying on the topic of dunces, the title of the aforementioned novel came from Jonathon Swift, who wrote, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

No “true genius” has surfaced, as far as I can tell. That’s a shame, because the country could use one right now — someone clever enough to penetrate the right-wing propaganda bubble, get through to some of those dunces, and coax them back to the real world.

They would have a lot to relearn: how to think and act rationally, how to behave normally, how to accept science, evidence, and logic. Frankly, I don’t think most of them could do it.

And there’s the rub. The right-wingers have become steadily more loony over the decades, and nothing is likely to reverse that. The MAGA faithful aren’t going anywhere. Mental health treatment for 74 million people isn’t in the cards. Which means the dunce population probably will be around, making fools of themselves and causing trouble, until they die out.

Meanwhile, thank God, Democrats will control the House and the White House again. With the two runoffs in Georgia, we even have a chance — albeit slim — to take the Senate.

For now, that bit of hope is about as therapeutic as things are going to get.

I’m Rocky Smith, and I approve this message.

Dunces.

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