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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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The Questions…

1. According to power companies, what is the most frequent cause of power outages on the electrical grid?

2. Who was the first actor to portray James Bond? (Hint: it was not Sean Connery in “Dr. No” in 1962.)

3. What is a moonbow?

4. What’s the difference between apes and monkeys?

5. What neat trick does the State of Ohio use to identify motorists who have been cited more than once for DUI?

The Answers…

1. Squirrels — soon to be deceased squirrels — chewing through insulation.

2. American actor Barry Nelson played Bond in a live TV drama in 1954. The program was an adaptation of “Casino Real” in which Bond was an American spy, not British.

3. A rainbow that occurs at night, often around a waterfall and in the presence of mist. They are difficult to see unless the moon is bright.

4. Apes and monkeys are primates, like you, but apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and gibbons) are higher on the evolutionary scale and thus more intelligent. Whereas monkeys prefer the safety of the treetops, apes spend as much time on the ground as in trees. Apes are larger than monkeys. Monkeys have tails, and apes do not.

5. Repeat DUI offenders are issued a yellow license plate with red characters instead of the standard Ohio plate, which is red, white, and blue. The special plates are a way for police to identify the offenders and, of course, are a form of public shaming.

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In 1989, guns killed about 35,000 Americans, and the band Concrete Blonde releases a song that called out the plague of gun deaths in the United States.

Not much has changed. In 2020, guns killed 41,000 of us. We probably shouldn’t be considered a civilized country.

Concrete Blonde spoke up about problems in society regularly, and I admire them for it. Sad that “God is a Bullet” is still so topical and powerful.

God is a Bullet

By Concrete Blonde, 1989
Written by Johnette Napolitano and James Mankey

There’s a green plaid jacket on the back of the chair.
It’s like a moment frozen forever there.
Mom and Dad had a lot of big plans for their little man.
So proud.
Mama’s gone crazy ’cause her baby’s cut down
By some teenage car chase, war out of bounds.
It was the wrong place, wrong time, wrong end of a gun.
Sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill, yeah.
Blame each other. Well, blame yourself.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

They’re gonna call me sir. They’ll all stop picking on me.
Well, I’m a high school grad. I’m over five-foot-three.
I’ll get a badge and a gun, and I’ll join the P.D.
They’ll see.
He didn’t have to use the gun they put in his hand.
But when the guy came at him, well, he panicked and ran.
And it’s 30 long years ‘fore they’ll give him another chance.
And it’s sad, sad. Yes, sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
It’s all gone in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill.
You blame each other. Let’s blame ourselves.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
John Lennon.
Shoot.
Dr. King, yeah,
And Harvey Milk died, and all for goddamn nothing.
God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/god-is-a-bullet.mp3

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● James Madison, the fourth U.S. President, was 5’ 4” tall and weighed just shy of 100 pounds.

● In American English, the letter sequence “ough” can be pronounced eight different ways — namely, as in the words rough, cough, drought, dough, thought, through, thorough, and (even though this is not a common spelling) hiccough.

● The salivary glands in your mouth produce about three pints of saliva per day. The fluid serves as a lubricant and also contains enzymes that aid the process of digestion.

● Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears that may have evolved to mimic eyes. One theory is that the spots protect the animal from being attacked from behind; tigers are said to be vulnerable when they lower their heads to get a drink of water. That seems like a stretch to me, but what do I know?

● As a teenager, actor Christopher Walken (real name Ronald Walken) worked in a circus as an assistant lion tamer. He also trained at a Washington, DC dance studio and earned money dancing in local night clubs.

● All the letters of the alphabet have one-syllable names except W.

● In the early 1950s, before he began his music career, Johnny Cash wrote several short stories that were not published in his lifetime. One was “The Holografik Danser,” a science fiction story about life after a nuclear attack in which holographic entertainment is beamed into homes. His daughter Rosanne included the story in an anthology in 2001.

● Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith wanted to create a vigorous indoor sport to keep his students fit during the winter months. Initially, the game was played with a soccer ball, and the hoops were peach baskets.

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Hot Potato

The House of Windsor, the reigning royal family of the UK and the Commonwealth, dates back to 1901, when the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became King Edward VII, and the reign of the House of Hanover came to an end.

At the time, no “House of Windsor” existed. Albert and Edward were of the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” a German family (or clan, or tribe, or whatever best describes it).

Anyway, starting in 1901, the British royal family was the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1917, due to the understandable anti-German sentiment resulting from WWI, the royal family dropped the House of S-C & G name like a hot potato and renamed itself the House of Windsor.

The name Windsor was chosen because of family ties to the City of Windsor and, of course, to Windsor Castle, the royal residence.

Plus, Windsor is easier to remember and spell than Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.


Coat of Arms of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Problem, Solution

Last year, my little town of Jefferson declared that we have a speeding problem in school zones. Consequently, speed cameras were installed to catch the culprits.

The new automatic system is impressive. It calculates a vehicle’s speed, snaps a photo of the license plate if the vehicle is speeding, looks up the owner, and mails out a ticket.

I was skeptical, frankly, that the speeding problem is real, inasmuch as a speed camera company, Blue Line Solutions, sold the idea to the City Council. (Jefferson has a history of getting involved in hare-brained schemes in hopes of making money.) Blue Line built and operates the system, collects the money, and splits the take 50-50 with the city. A sweet deal, right?

To be fair, the system is quite generous. It won’t ticket you unless your speed is 10 MPH above the posted limit.

For example, in the school zone in front of the high school, which is a mere six blocks from the town square, the speed limit is 45 MPH. You’d have to be rocketing along at 55 MPH to get fined. People don’t drive that fast in town, right?

Au contraire, mes amis. Blue Line is ticketing some 200 speeders a day — 85 percent of them in front of the high school.

If Blue Line were fudging the numbers, people would be in an uproar, furiously protesting their innocence and suing the city. That hasn’t happened. The perps just pay the fines.

I am skeptical no longer.

The Bodélé Depression

Nothing is simple.

The Bodélé Depression in Chad is a bone-dry region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, created over the last several thousand years as Lake Chad has slowly dried up. The depression consists of silt and sand that, about 100 days per year, is carried aloft and blown west across the continent in massive dust storms.

Because of the dust, the infant mortality rate in West Africa is especially high. In 2020, a study concluded that a 25 percent decrease in the dust would lower the infant mortality rate by 18 percent. Specifically, if irrigation were used to dampen the dust (as is done to Owens Lake in California), Africa would have 37,000 fewer infant deaths annually.

But there’s a catch. Over the eons, Lake Chad teemed with all kinds of plant and animal life — algae, diatoms, fish, and whatnot — and the Bodélé is rich in their remains. The dust that causes such harm in Africa also blows across the Atlantic Ocean, where it is a major source of nutrients for the Amazon rain forest.

Nothing is simple.

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The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Alexandre Dumas fils*

###

A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

David Hume

###

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of members are poor and miserable.

Adam Smith

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I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Oscar Wilde

Dumas fils

Wilde

* ‘Fils’ is French for ‘son’ and is the equivalent of ‘Jr.’ in English. ‘Père’ is French for ‘father,’ so Alexandre Dumas, Sr. was known as ‘Alexander Dumas père.’

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The Questions…

1. What breed of dog is the speediest?

2. Which state is the flattest, and which is the most mountainous?

3. The three angles in a triangle always add up to how many degrees?

4. When filmmaker George Lucas was in high school, what career did he plan to pursue?

5. What’s the difference between herbs and spices?

The Answers…

1. The Greyhound. In competitive racing, Greyhounds run at up to 45 mph. From a standing start, they can attain top speed in six strides.

2. Florida is the flattest, followed by Illinois, North Dakota, and Louisiana. West Virginia is, on average, the most mountainous. The mountains of Alaska, California, and Colorado are higher, but the valleys and plains in those states lower the average.

3. 180.

4. Young George was obsessed with motorcycles and fast cars, and he wanted to be a professional race car driver. His mind got changed three days before graduation when he barely survived a car wreck and spent months in a hospital. He went to film school instead.

5. Both come from plants, but herbs are from the fleshy, leafy parts, and spices are from dried, woody parts — root, stalk, seed, etc.

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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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