Thursday, June 28, 2012

16695--Are You Asking the Wrong Questions?

"They seek him here.  They seek him there.  Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.  Is he in Heaven or is he in Hell?  That damned elusive Pimpernel!" -- Sir Perceval Blakeney, Baronet

Humans tend toward curiosity.  If somebody's asking the question "What the Hell is that?" it's probably a human.  Combine that curiosity with the fact that most are born ignorant (allowing exceptions for the occasional wunderkind--just ask the parents, they'll be happy to show you how special their little prize is), most of us go through Life seeking answers.  The problem is that you can seek answers but you can't find them so easily if you ask the wrong questions.  You certainly won't have either handed to you if they're being obscured.  That brings us and politics.

I'm thinking about the US Supreme Court's recent ruling regarding a corporate entity's right to make monetary contributions to influence politics.  This means that we should brace ourselves for an onslaught of political campaign ads fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions.  Most of them will probably be geared toward telling us how bad the economy is.  That sort of thing happens when you put money into the hands of politicians instead of people who work for it and actually care how it gets spent.

Why do I care what happens with all these corporate funds?  Why do I care if corporations give truckloads of cash to politicians who will continue giving them tax breaks so that they can give them more money?  Don't I know by now what happens to people who ask too many questions?  I know, that brings us to law and politics.

Follow along: Who is on first, What is on...Wait, wrong routine.  This one's even sillier.  Corporations have a special status, existing as a created thing that can be treated as an individual by the law.  This has been important in business because it allows a corporation to employ individuals, own assets, be party to contracts and court proceedings, etc.  For all those magical actions a corporation might take, though, it still has a specific limitation that distinguishes between it being person or property.

Here's the thing: a corporation has no right to vote.  Absent that, it lacks the rights of a citizen, possessing only those given it.  Property can't vote.  What a novel concept.  Even a legal entity that isn't a citizen can't vote.  How about that?  If corporations haven't been granted the right to vote, then there's a history of specific intention to bar corporations from wielding political influence, so why enable them to do it financially?

Through both the record of enforcement inaction by the Federal Election Commission and the Supreme Court's decision to allow corporations to throw unlimited amounts of money at politicians, who are basically whores and money addicts, they may as well just hand the controls over to the Federal Reserve Board and head home.  Face it, politicians haven't cared about what their constituents want or need for a long time.  I think it started shortly after they realized that somebody else could get them their fix and they didn't have to be bothered with us anymore to get it.

You've been outbid and unless you've got a couple of extra billion to throw into the mix, don't expect to have any better success at getting your "elected" representative's attention anytime soon.

 "Every special interest is entitled to justice--full, fair and complete...but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench or to representation in any public office.  The Constitution guarantees protection to property and we must make that promise good.  But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation."
--Theodore Roosevelt

I know, he ended up in the pocket of foreign bankers, too, but it's still a good quote.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

16694--One Last Sunrise

"No, that's it!" she said with unmistakably certain finality.  "I've had enough!"
"You're being silly," he told her.
"No, I'm not," she said.  "I hate...existing like this.  It's gone on too long."
"Oh, come on, Monique...You can't--"
"Too many years," she said, walking over to the bedroom window.  "I hate the backwards hours."
"They come with the territory," he said as he casually lit a cigarette and began inhaling through it as though he had been unable to breathe before.
"I miss seeing the sun."
"Too much sun is bad for you."
"Gorgeous, awe-inspiring sunrises," she said passionately.  "Spectacular sunsets...the feeling of pure, brilliant sunlight warming your cold flesh."
"Speaking of which," he said, "it's almost dawn."
"I know."
"So get undressed and come back to bed," he told her.  "We should be getting to sleep."
"So we can be all rested up for tomorrow?" she asked.  "No.  It always comes back to what I hate most: blood.  Mon dieu, so much blood."
"I never knew you were so squeamish.  You hide it well."
"I didn't like seeing it at all before, when...when I was alive," she told him.  "I certainly don't like drinking it now."
"And so?" he asked impatiently.
"I'm going up to the roof," she said, closing the drapes.  "I want to see one last sunrise."
"It's going to hurt, you know," he said, extinguishing his cigarette like he was crushing the life out of a bothersome bug.  "It's not worth it."
"I think it is," she responded, moving toward the door.  "It's funny how people never realize how beautiful things are until they can't see them anymore.  I'm going to savor this like a last meal."
"Awfully expensive meal."
"You can come, too," she said, holding a hand out to him.  "I won't command it, but--"
"I'll pass, thanks."
"So be it," she said.  "You'll be free when I'm gone, but you'll be fine on your own."
"I know."
"I'll see you in Hell, then."
"I guess," he said, turning off the bedside lamp and rolling over.  "Save me a window seat."
She took a last look into the dark bedroom, fighting back the swell of emotion she felt building within her.
"Au'revoir," she said.
"So long," he replied, but she had already vanished from the doorway.

 Dawn was the hour of innocence, sweeping away the veil of night and leaving the world fresh with all the possibilities of a new day.  One welcomed the sunrise as no other, regarding it as the most beautiful sight in all creation.

 A tear of blood rolled down her cheek as her flesh began to blister and burn.  Emotionally overcome, her many centuries surrendered in seconds.  Monique fell to her knees, becoming blue flame and hot ash, as she died.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

16693--You Already Know This if You're a Tough Guy

Failure to see weapon potential is a failure of imagination.

 You've probably seen those handy first-aid kits available in stores that the general public can buy to keep ready in the car or at home.  Tough guys don't use those any more than they visit doctors.  Some of the more stubborn tough guys have been known to keep apples on-hand to throw at doctors, which seems to work even better for its much-touted purpose than taking the fruit internally.  That said, a tough guy's first-aid manual really doesn't need more than one page.  That page says: Walk it off

Brick Stone discovered a similarly worded single-page appendix in his copy of The Official Private Eye Handbook.  In addition to the basic instruction shown above was motivational text designed to encourage the reader to stop whining in an unmanly fashion and get on with life, but such inclusions are known to vary with the editor of the manual's differing editons.  If you're a fast-healing mutant or alien superbeing, sucking it up and walking it off are just part of the package and can easily go without saying.  Mortal men need a little reminder now and then.

Like it or not, mortal men (super spies, private eyes, maverick cops, etc.) also need some of the contents of the first-aid kit sometimes, too, but tough guys never really think that way.  Needing the stuff and using it are two entirely different things.  First-aid kits usually come equipped with some kind of pain killer.  Tough guys don't bother with those.  Tough guys grit their teeth and move on to ignoring the bandages.  Any "ouchie" small enough to be handled by the adhesive bandages in a first-aid kit is small enough to be ignored by a tough guy.

  Why are you even still looking in the kit?  Didn't you read the manual? 

Larger injuries (long and gaping gashes, protruding bones, penetrations) will be tended to by the application of an antiseptic (the more it stings the better, fueling tough guy determination).  A paper towel will do in a pinch, but cloth is better.  When you're in a tight spot, use a piece of torn clothing.  Soak whatever you've got in rubbing alcohol (which will provide the mild sting for you to feed your dogged determination), cover the wound with the soaked item and then wrap it in place with duct or electrical tape.  You've just made a mandage.

Can I get a gallon price on this?

If you're an old-school tough guy, you'll doubtlessly be a fan of the one-stop approach: of course, you have whiskey handy to pour on the wound, tie a shirt sleeve around an injured limb or fold and press it against a torso wound (some like to pack the wound with chewing tobacco first, but I recommend cayenne pepper for stopping blood) and take a couple of swigs of the whiskey to act as the pain killer.  Now, don't you feel manly?

Manly medicinal efficiency.

Friday, June 22, 2012

16689--From the Heart of Darkness Comes the Neverending Battle

Long ago, in the midst of rampant crime and economic depression, July of 1930 heard the eerie voice of The Shadow brought to life in radio broadcasts as the announcer of Street and Smith's Detective Story Hour.  That was only the beginning, though.  Once The Shadow started chilling spines, he moved from merely announcing stories to starring in his own adventures.  Inspired by his example, scores of other heroes followed on his heels to be presented to a public hungry for uplifting tales of heroic salvation.  Most of those following in the dark vigilante's wake were pale copies, lacking the appeal that would give a few the staying power that would maintain their popularity for decades to come.

But why?  Why did some persist and others fail?  Why was anyone writing stories of heroic fiction at all?  I mean, besides "for the money."

The time of ancient myths and legends was long since gone.  Humans had grown beyond the point where they tried to explain the wonders of the universe through the supernatural workings of divine beings.  For good or ill, the people of the world were fending for themselves, firmly entrenched in a grim reality of their own making.  Under the crushing weight of the Great Depression, crime, unemployment and fascism were all flourishing.  People felt unsafe in their homes or lost their homes entirely, some moving to other countries entirely to escape the impending threat of global war they felt powerless to stop.

The need had arisen not only to escape the dark truths of life but to foster hope for better times.  A void had been carved in the hearts of the common men by increasing feelings of ineffectualness in their own world and they were desperate for a way to fill it.  These needs called forth the creation of the pulp heroes with an impetus never before seen in the modern world.  Pulp heroes would grow into super-heroes, like the legends of ancient myth, all working beyond the hindrance of confining laws to banish the fears of ordinary men.  Nietzsche warned us to "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster," but we crafted our heroes specifically to become the composite avengers of society's collective soul.  Heroes overcame whatever fears were embodied by their opposition, fighting ceaselessly for truth, justice and freedom that readers felt themselves denied in their daily lives.  Defying Nietzsche, here were champions serving as inspirations to all--no matter how poor, downtrodden or oppressed--as they dared gaze into the abyss of all the world's dark places.

Whether they fought darkness while draped in the color of night in the manner of The Shadow and Batman or sought to dispel it with the guiding light of hope for the future like Doc Savage and Superman, we have never truly lost our need for iconic heroes.  In recent years, with increasing amounts of cynicism afoot, we've seen the rise of anti-heroes and the darkening of heroic figures, perhaps finally succumbing to the weight of fighting so much evil for so long.  They say that tarnishing these icons humanizes them, making them seem more real and relatable to audiences.  In its own way, this trend toward favoring a flawed hero may be part of a collective self-awareness as to just how close to home the hero's true foe dwells.

A common lament in heroic fiction is the hero's claim that he works to create a world in which he will no longer be needed.  No matter how far we travel, how much we strive or learn, until we overcome our own darkness--the fears that lurk in the hearts of man--we'll never run short of evils to fight or the need for champions to face them.  In truth, even though our heroes seem to be caught in nothing less than neverending battles, what they truly represent is our collective desire to better ourselves and our world.  Should we as a people reach a point where we cynically banish our heroes it would mean that we have chosen to do away with our role models, ceased projecting the better and more hopeful parts of our natures and, sadly, stopped imagining a brighter world in which to live.

Monday, June 18, 2012

16685--Putting Things In Perspective

Sometimes putting things in perspective means putting things in their place.  Sometimes it means doing the same with people.

My son was watching a movie and I noted that Comcast was still battling the pixelating image problem that digital TV has had for the past ten years.  To follow that with a brighter note, I also mentioned that Voyager 1 was leaving the Solar System.  It put me in the mindset of thinking about mankind's achievements and the history of the space programs...Star Trek, of course...

"Voyager?" the boy asked from his comfortably reclined position, parked behind his iPod.

A space probe with squat cylindrical body topped by a large parabolic radio antenna dish pointing upwards, a three-element radioisotope thermoelectric generator on a boom extending left, and scientific instruments on a boom extending right. A golden disk is fixed to the body."Yes, Voyager.  Voyager 1.  It's a space probe." 

"It took ten years to get out of the Solar System?" he asked.

"No, of course not.  They launched it in '77.  It's taken thirty-five years to reach the edge," I explained.

"Lame," he proclaimed.  "I could've done it in twenty."

"You've had seventeen and barely made it off the couch," I reminded him.

Because part of being dad is making sure things are put in their places.

With nod to Ms. Rowling, mouth managed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

16683--It Ain't Easy Being Green

I'm experiencing a little bit of a sweet spot in time.  After a dry spell that seems to have lasted a few years, there are finally a few hours of cartoons worth watching on Saturday morning.  Hallelujah!

I don't know about you, but it's the well-written superhero action that gets me excited.  Ben 10 has been successfully changing themes every couple of years and maintains fairly clever writing.  Thundercats is delivering a far more interesting update than its original series ever managed.  Young Justice, like Marvel's Ultimates, very smartly focuses on DC's Earth 16 rather than the Earth 1 that most people are accustomed to seeing in the comics, thus freeing it from the constraints of comic continuity (not that they really seem to be worried about that in the comics anymore--Yeah, I went there.).  With The Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon continues tales begun in Avatar: The Last Airbender and the only bothersome thing I find in either continues to be that Nickelodeon doesn't show them more often.  That just leaves Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm's latest addition to the DCU animations (I'll talk about Disney's new toons another time).

Being a ring-slinger has always been a lot to shoulder.  The job comes with a whole committee of bosses who are not only stern but omnipotent, no pay or benefits, relentless workload and tremendous responsibility.  Oh, and travel.  Oh, boy, do they travel.  In the post-Crisis DCU and with the many subsequent, ridiculously frequent revisions it has undergone since, being a Green Lantern hasn't gotten any easier.  At least the loyal workforce of the Guardians could feel confident before that it had been provided with the most powerful weapons in the universe.  Now, they seem to have little more than watered down versions of what the mighty power rings once were.  The wearers of the rings are as tough as ever, don't get me wrong.  The intrepid corps, clad in their green and black tights, has a lot of heart.

The universe portrayed in the new GL series is suffering from the decay of the last three decades in the comics.  A single Green Lantern was once a force to be reckoned with.  Against threats that could endanger worlds or star systems, such a hero was important to have fighting for order.  Now they've been neutered, reduced from special forces soldiers charging into the fray with the best gear anyone could have to neighborhood watchmen with whistles and glowy Nerf nightsticks.  To the bad guys, Green Lanterns are pussies now and they'd better not go nosing into things without back-up.

The Guardians of the Universe now cower when Oa comes under attack.  Excuse me?  These are the Guardians of the Universe?  They must be actors hired to pose as immortal titans.  Oa should be the last place anyone should even think about assaulting.  Likewise, if you're a bad guy, I shouldn't have to tell you to locate in some city other than Gotham, Metropolis or New York.  If you're a bad guy who just has to operate in one of those towns, I have to conclude it's because you have some pathological drive to take on one of the heroes living there and won't be convinced to leave until one of you is dead.  But attack Oa?  Have the Guardians been neutered, too?  They may want to look at next year's budget and see if they can follow the model of Earth's locale, Sector 2814: bolster it up with multiple Green Lanterns.    It certainly can't be because we have a shortage of superheroes around.  I passed three the last time I leapt a tall building.

It also seems they need to work on the rings a bit because they seem to have difficulty remaining charged for any consistent length of time.  The GLs may want to start carrying the lanterns with them so they can recharge at will or use them to bash bad guys with in a pinch.  They may want to keep power ring tech support on their speed dialers while they're at it.  I've had this problem with cell phones before, but I never put up with it for long (hint hint).

As mentioned earlier, the GLs may want to start working in groups.  As ineffective and unreliable as the power rings are being portrayed, it's becoming increasingly difficult to accept that any of them make it through any of their adventures solo.  How do they even manage the trips back to the home office?  Turning light years into a simple commute takes a lot of power.  And remember, the omnipotent bosses are immortal, but not patient.  They don't want to have to wait when they send out a summons, which means GLs have to be able to move PDQ.

I get it.  I really do.  Superman used to be able to move worlds and fly through stars.  A Green Lantern used to hold power enough to snuff stars if needed.  No more of that.  Omnipotent heroes are hard to challenge which makes them harder to write for, so they've made things easier...for the writers.  The heroes have to work harder for their triumphs.  That's fine.  It earns them more respect and makes their stories more interesting.  Don't try to sell me, though, on them forgetting to charge their rings or even thinking about standing up to a score of Red Lanterns when they can barely handle two.  Those sorts of behaviors just end up coming off as foolish.

Again, don't get me wrong.  Green Lantern: The Animated Series is not a bad show at all.  The dialogue is witty and the CGI, while new for DCU, reminds me of The Incredibles (a fantastic movie in its own right).  The show could be improved with more consistency and power rings worthy of the name, though.  I think it'd make a stronger challenge for the writers and better protagonists for the show to have the mortals a little brighter and the immortals a bit more patient than arrogant.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

16680--Looking Back at "Looking Backward"

Some sort of synchronicity could be blamed, I suppose, for the fact that I was refreshing myself on an old bit of reading material at the same time that the evening TV news ran a story about one of the subjects in the book I was checking out.

To be more specific, the news story was about people living longer and the resultant possibility of raising the retirement age to ease the amount of government payouts. The book was Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a utopian sci-fi novel by Edward Bellamy, focusing on an American protagonist who went to sleep in 1887 and awoke in 2000 to a socialist paradise. Granted, Bellamy shied away from the word “socialism”, preferring “nationalism” instead, but it’s the same either way. In Bellamy’s 2000, the retirement age was 45, people worked less instead of more, the nation’s wealth and productive output was owned by the government and shared equally among the populace. His ethical socialism presented a non-capitalist America, unburdened from debt by a population mobilized into a workforce that was considered an industrial army.

Such plans typically fall apart in practice when people decide they want to keep what they’ve worked for and want the power to decide what happens to it.  That sort of "selfish" attitude might be especially true if you're someone who also produces genuinely special output instead of performing unskilled labor that virtually anyone could do.  Likewise, you might start to feel disinclined to work a fifty-hour week if the determination was made that you were only entitled to thirty hours of credit.  Like it or not, Bellamy’s book was wildly popular in its time, spawning socio-political movements and communes of 19th century hippies (there's an image).  More and more, it seems we’re heading that way.  By that, I mean, it seems we’re a society steering toward socializing.

How close do you think we are to writing off capitalism?  Can we get everyone working who’s capable? Will providing our needs be enough? How will we take care of our wants? Would everyone having what they need be enough to eradicate most crime? You’ll never be rich or live in luxury, but you won’t be homeless or starving. And you’d have to give up some rights, but you can still…have whatever rights you’re told you can have. Should we keep heading that way or fight to hold on to the fading dream we had?  By definition, though, it's got to be insane to think we could even get close to let alone maintain a utopia, right?