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Posts Tagged ‘Society’

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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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest governing assembly in the world. It dates back to 930 AD, when Viking chieftains gathered in an open field to discuss mutual issues. The field was the site of Icelandic government meetings until 1798, when it was moved to Reykjavik and, finally, indoors.

● In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage won an auction for a dinosaur skull, bidding against, among others, Leonardo DiCaprio. Cage paid $276,000 for the skull. A few years later, evidence surfaced that the skull had been stolen from Mongolia, and Cage had to return it. He didn’t get his $276,000 back.

● The letter e is used three times and pronounced three different ways in the word Mercedes.

● In 2005, remains were found in South Dakota of an extra-large cousin of the Velociraptor popularized by the Jurassic Park films. The new cousin, Dakotaraptor, was about 18 feet long and weighed 500 or so pounds. The largest known cousin so far is Utahraptor at about 23 feet long and 600 pounds.

FYI, Velociraptors actually were about the size of a turkey. Spielberg knew that, but he really liked the name Velociraptor.

● Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael King, Jr. When he was five, his father changed both of their names to honor Martin Luther, the German theologian who started the Protestant Church in the days of Columbus.

● In 1920, the “American Professional Football Association” was established in Canton, Ohio. Five of the 16 original teams were based in Cleveland. In 1922, the group changed its name to the “National Football League.”

● Pistachio nuts are especially dry and high in fat content — so much so that when the nuts are transported, the temperature, humidity, and air pressure must be carefully controlled to prevent them from over-heating and exploding.

● The Clowns’ Gallery-Museum, a display of clown costumes, memorabilia, and reference material, was founded in 1959 in the basement of Holy Trinity Church in London. Due to the growth of the collection, the museum opened a second location in Somerset in 2007.

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Government is necessary, not because man is naturally bad, but because man is by nature more individualistic than social.

Thomas Hobbes

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Those who fear the facts will forever try to discredit the fact-finders.

Denis Diderot

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Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.

Giordano Bruno

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Bank robbery is an initiative of amateurs. True professionals establish a bank.

Bertolt Brecht

Hobbes

Brecht

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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*

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A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

David Hume

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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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