2018/06/11

Superheroes and diversity



Just because I like to occasionally riff on stuff that’s not of earth-shattering importance.

Look at superheroes. We all got very excited about the recent Black Panther film, and the first black superheroes. The film took in more than $1.3-billion worldwide, proving once again that there is a huge black market.
Some people argued that it wasn’t a big deal. There were always black superheroes. What about Blade, Hancock, Cyborg and Iron Man’s sidekick? Black people should stop being greedy, I mean, there are at least five black superheroes. How many do you they want? Well, do you know how many there are in total? Marvel lists 7,000 official characters. DC Comics claims to have more.
So five out of a possible 14-15 thousand?! Yes, black people, you should be satisfied with that. Know your place.
Yeah, back in the late 40s, early 50s, we saw superheroes like Superman, Captain America, Batman, Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, etc. In the 60s, we got another wave. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk.

There have been cool characters since, the new X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, etc.), the re-booted Swamp Thing, his occasional foil John Constantine, The Endless (Dream, Death, Desire, etc.), the new Teen Titans (Cyborg, Raven, etc.). But yeah, as most of the possible powers and character types have been used up (The Legion of Superheroes has made some appearances in DC TV shows, but characters like Shadow Lass and Triplicate Girl are kind of ridiculous and hard to find useful employment for), it’s hard to assemble diverse teams today without deciding to, say, turn Nick Fury from a white character into a black one.

Spider-Man has done a good job with diversity. The initial character Peter Parker is getting a bit aged. Marvel ages its characters about a year for every seven years that pass in the real world. Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four, was born in the mid-60s but is only in his tweens today. So even though Parker was a high-schooler back when he was invented, he’s long since graduated college and is running his own company.

So, time for a new Spider-Man, one who isn’t quite so old. Marvel decided to make the younger Spider-Man black. Hmm, how to get a female Spider-Man? Well, Gwen Stacey was Peter’s first love and she died tragically back in the 70s, so how about a Gwen from a different dimension who received spider-powers instead of Peter? Niches can be found, but it takes some imagining to fill them without just throwing all-new characters at people.
Ms. Marvel is filling another niche. Captain Marvel was a blond male. When he died, Ms. Marvel, a blond female, took over. The blond female has since taken up the Captain Marvel name while the name of Ms. Marvel went to a Muslim Pakistani teenager (She wears a very modest outfit and her comic goes into her family and background). So again, Marvel is trying to introduce new characters without just coming up with completely all-new creations.
But I agree. There aren’t enough females and not enough non-white characters. Superhero comics and their movie and TV spin-offs need to do better.

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In order to look up any of the characters I've named, go here for Marvel character and here for DC characters. 

2018/06/07

Response to an LTE


Interesting LTE in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 5th. Yes, I believe the writer meant “underlying” belief as opposed to “underlining,” but yes, I sort of halfway agree that the election of this President was a “disastrous abnormality.”

Has the election of Donald Trump been a disaster? Absolutely! The separation of children from parents at the border with Mexico puts us in a moral league with Nazis and the KKK, with the lowest of the low. The US did not sink to such a low moral level during World War II when citizens of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps. George Takei, who played “Sulu” in the “Star Trek” of the 60s, describes his experience as a child when he was in such a camp and he makes it clear that there was no separation of families at that time.

As former VP Joe Biden once said: “Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” How does the Trump budget look? As a pundit in The Hill put it:

President Trump’s budget proposal is an affront to decency, economics and, at a basic level, math. It is full of both broken and false promises. It forces those who have the least to suffer the most and those who have the most to contribute the least. It is, in a word, unconscionable.

How are Trump’s people on foreign policy? On May 21st, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a lengthy speech to a friendly audience on policy towards Iran. “Over 26 minutes, Pompeo articulated a strategy that can best be summarized as, ‘Do everything we say, or we will crush you.’" The speech did not present any rational objection to Obama’s Iran policy, despite the President having objected to it for a number of years and having criticized it in the bitterest of terms.

Was the election of Trump an “abnormality?” That’s much harder case to make. Al Jazeera said back in May that the issue of white supremacy applies from South Africa to Gaza to the Trump Administration and their supporters. “...apartheid in South Africa was just one of many expressions of a worldwide race-based system of domination and privilege that to this day feeds wealth and prosperity to the selected few whites at the top.”

The President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., clearly reads and occasionally responds to people like “Vox Day,” a pseudonym for a white supremacist and anti-gay science fiction writer. Here’s a “cute” quote from Vox:

On the education of women: “Ironically, in light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

The theory of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the campaign of 2016 was that Americans were primarily concerned about the economy. A lo of his supporters were, but it appears that racial resentment played a big role, too.  

Was the Trump Administration “planned by an outside source using the magic deception of the web?” Well, Chris Matthews of MSNBC thinks the Mueller investigation is driving the President absolutely crazy. Trump’s claim that he can pardon himself (It isn’t against the Constitution for a president to pardon himself, but it’s a fundamental precept of English common law that “no-one should be a judge in his own case”) and various co-defendants are facing great pressure to cooperate in the investigation, which strongly suggests that there’s lot of substance behind charges that the Russians interfered in the election of 2016.

The letter-writer goes on to list the positive accomplishments of the Trump Administration

1. “historic low unemployment.” True. CNN-Money reports that unemployment is very low., but that was in October of last year, at the end of a “85-month” expansion where unemployment steadily dropped. In the included chart, there’s no obvious change in the trend line when the Obama presidency dropped off and the Trump presidency began.

2. “destruction of ISIS.” Again, true. From the New Yorker: “Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S.-led coalition of sixty-nine nations and four partner organizations that has orchestrated the military campaign against ISIS and provided air power in both Syria and Iraq. Since 2014, its lone goal has been to end the caliphate...” What this quote makes clear is that Trump didn’t begin anything new. He just continued what was already in progress.

3. “nuclear breakthrough negotiations with North Korea.” Is the Trump Administration carrying out any sort of long-range plan to do this? Uh, no. “...the American president has refused to do substantive work ahead of the scheduled negotiations. As one senior administration official, put it, ‘He doesn’t think he needs to’ prepare.” Was there any substantive work on the President’s part prior to this? A review of the past year and a half doesn’t show anything impressive. There are certainly signs of diplomacy taking place and we certainly don’t know everything that’s going on behind the scenes, but National Security Adviser John Bolton’s statement that North Korea should follow the Libya model for denuclearizing was certainly not helpful and in fact, was cited by North Koreans as a reason to cancel the planned summit. This stumble makes me doubt that anything else behind the scenes is any more sophisticated or informed.

So, no. I’m not terribly impressed by President Trump’s performance. Out of the three items cited here, two of them were simply continuations of Obama’s policies and the third appears to be due more to factors outside Trump’s control than by anything he’s planned.

2018/05/22

Trump Administration and Iran deal

So the piece here links to a speech by Mike Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, in which he specifies the complaints that the US has with the nuclear deal that President Obama made with Iran and several other countries. In light of the extreme corruption of the Trump Administration, it's pretty laughable to read about the administration complaining of Iranian corruption.

The complaints about the deal are that it has sunset provisions far in the future, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a deceptive presentation where he failed to acknowledge that all of the problems he identified were from before the deal with Obama was made, the inspection regime is somewhat short of absolute perfection, a sum of money that properly belonged to Iran was returned to it and Iran is now engaged in a (cue the dramatic music) "march across the Middle East."

Absolutely none of this constitutes a good reason to cancel the deal. All of it is either outside the deal or can be made better only by working within the existing framework.

The sanctions policy that Pompeo proposes is all stick, no carrot. It depends on getting Russia, China and Europe to agree that the current deal is fatally flawed and that the current deal has to be thrown out and replaced. President Trump has pursued a blundering and incoherent foreign policy that can't convince anybody of anything. See especially his failure to convince anyone that his opening up a new embassy in Jerusalem was a "step towards peace."

Here's an amusing sentence from Pompeo's list of demands: "Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East." Erm, uh, okay. This brings to mind all of the "warnings" that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler who would send has panzer divisions storming across Saudi Arabia if he wasn't stopped right away.

Yeah, essentially, Pompeo's proposals sound like Iran should give up all foreign involvement and just pull everything back. As a wag said in the Maddow piece: “I’m still a bit surprised Pompeo didn’t demand that Iran agree to open a Trump-branded golf course in Teheran (sic) and pay for the wall with Mexico.”

Update: Further arguments as to how ridiculous Pompeo's arguments are. 

2018/04/05

Anger and division in America


So, after I put a comment onto Facebook, I will then, weeks or months later, take select comments and put them onto prawnworks, where they'll be permanently archived. Having been a history major back in college, I use that second draft to correct spellings, flesh out or clarify comments a bit more and sometimes do a bit of research to answer questions the comment may raise. I did that last thing with the following.

Vice President "Pence laments 'a time of too much division and too much anger in America'"

I thought "Hmm. Okay." It took me about half a minute on the search engine to locate conservatives being angry and divisive.

Here's a link to NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch claiming that "There were people rushing the stage and screaming 'burn her.'"

That didn't sound like any protest group that I've ever been part of and I've been to quite a few liberal protests. I put another half-minute into another search and sure enough, Loesch was lying:

That's another easily provable lie, at least according to multiple videos and eyewitness testimony from Wednesday's event. The clearest video, above, shows Loesch calmly leaving the stage while the crowd chants, "Shame on you!"

After a New Times photographer put out a call on Facebook, five attendees sent footage they shot of the aftermath of the town hall. One video begins immediately after the town hall ends and shows Loesch walking off the stage surrounded by other participants and security. She then walks away and out of the arena. At no time does anyone in the audience approach her, and there's certainly no evidence that anyone ever "rushed the stage."

"She walked right in front of me and people yelled at her and chanted, 'Shame on you!' Nobody rushed the stage," says Ryan Yousefi, the New Times reporter who covered the event.

So yeah, the Vice President is correct. There's a lot of anger and division in America right now. It was obvious that he intended to have his listeners think, of course, that it was all the fault of liberals and not of his own side.

2018/03/29

Wonder Woman/Conan

From the late 1950s to the mid 1980s, DC Comics did an irregular genre of stories labeled “imaginary stories” and largely appeared in Superman comics during the 1960s. These were stories that occurred outside of the regular continuity. Marvel Comics did something similar with the What If? Series from the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This largely explored different team-ups and storylines, also outside the regular continuity.
It appeared at first that the Wonder Woman/Conan crossover comic was an effort that would be similar to the “imaginary” and “What If?” stories, but actually, the story ends up being entirely consistent with both continuities. Hmm, how to explain the confusion without giving away too much in case folks would like to read the miniseries? Suffice to say, Yanna is not Diana and Conan doesn’t sleep with either one of them.

BTW, I followed the story of American women trying to get Wonder Woman accepted as a universal symbol of feminism (She was an honorary UN Ambassador for a brief period) and notice that her outfit in this miniseries has been de-Americanized. She maintains the familiar red and blue color scheme and the “W” motif, but it’s no longer star-spangled and seems more Greek than American.

2018/03/04

Has the NRA had its day?


FILE - People hold candles during a vigil downtown for the victims of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016


Columnist J. Peder Zane in "Frightened children should not be driving national policy on a deeply divisive issue" (Mar 1) asks why we don't have good data on mass shootings. I don’t agree that it's because they're rare. Out of the 10 deadliest shootings since 1966, we’ve had five mass shootings including and since the 2012 Sandy Hook slaughter at an elementary school. No, it's because the 1997 Dickey Amendment specifically prevents federal agencies from taking positions that are favorable to the side that wants to see further restrictions on guns.

Do people who favor safety from uncontrolled guns take a "knee-jerk reaction" and accuse the NRA and their followers of having a "collective guilt" over such shootings? I suppose they do, but the NRA has had many years since the mass shooting at the Columbine High School in 1999 and at Sandy Hook in 2012 to come up with any sort of answers as to how to deal with mass shootings other than to flood the country with still more guns with ever less accountability. The NRA answer has proved to be a very poor one and the Dickey Amendment prevents us from examining the liberal answers to gun safety.

Zane finds the display of raw emotion on a CNN broadcast distasteful, but the NRA has had its day and doesn't want to surrender any control over gun policy, so I'm not sure what else we're supposed to be doing. Zane wants us to focus on homicides in general, but most mass shootings take place using semi-automatic rifles and the national conversation is currently about mass shootings.

Either/or versus both/and


"In the days following the shooting, evidence mounted that the Parkland rampage was not a failure of gun laws but law enforcement." Why can't the conversation be about both? The shooter had access to a weapon that was more suited to a battlefield than it was to any reasonable civilian purpose because the NRA supports civilians having such weapons. Yes, not responding to many calls before the shooting was inexcusable. I don't know the story on that.

Yes, it would have been nice had the law enforcement people on the spot marched bravely into a place where a likely-suicidal gunman was mowing people down as quickly as he could. A piece from NBC News says:

Peterson was the first member of the Broward County Sheriff's Office to report the gunfire, DiRuzzo said. He also gave the local SWAT team keys to the building where the shooting happened, drew diagrams of the campus for them, and helped school administrators access security videos, DiRuzzo said.

This indicates to me that the first responders realized that stopping a heavily-armed shooter with no fear of dying was an extremely dangerous and most likely suicidal move and that an armed and armored SWAT team was far more suitable for the task. Simply having had guns wasn’t sufficient to ensure the lawmen would have survived had they gone in. There are ways to motivate people to rush into certain death on the battlefield, but it’s asking too much to expect regular civilians to do that.

Solutions?


Nobody I know is in favor of a total ban on all guns. We favor things like reducing magazine size to no more than six or ten bullets because, if we do a cost-benefit analysis, it's fun and amusing to have more than that, but mass shooters really like having 30 to 50 bullets that they can fire without reloading. The few seconds it take to change out magazines can be critically important for people on the other end of the barrel to either escape or to rush the shooter. The Chicago Tribune reminds us that: “The man who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 was subdued after he stopped to reload his pistol, which had a 33-round magazine.” Smaller magazine size could directly and immediately save lives by complicating the jobs of shooters.

Yes, I and many others are in favor of rewriting the Second Amendment so that it more reasonably balances the interests of the NRA and their critics. We’d like to rewrite it so that we balance the interests of the NRA, sports shooters, hunters and those who need guns for self-defense with the interests of those who would like to see an end to mass shootings.

2018/02/22

Should teachers be armed?


President Trump suggested arming school teachers as a response to school shootings.

I guess one of the problems I have with arming teachers and expecting them to take a bullet for their students is the piece that ran in a local paper about restaurant service. "Seven of 45 called waiters to show them something on their phone usually about having problems with WiFi and wasted five minutes of waiter time." If you need to request the password in order to get onto the restaurant's wifi, then the time that uses up is the fault of the restaurant. Otherwise, if I'm having difficulties with the wifi, I consider it my responsibility to stock up a few stories on my phone or tablet that I can then read if the wifi isn't working. It's not the responsibility of waiters to know all about my technical devices. Not their profession, they're not trained to know anything about that.

I believe the same principle applies to teachers. Teachers are not soldiers or bodyguards. Not their job, not their profession. For that matter, it wasn't the job or profession of soldiers to rebuild Iraq. A soldiers job is to kill bad guys. For rebuilding another country, we need a paramilitary or protected "Colonial Corps" of people who can administer cities, towns and villages. We can expect all human beings to go above and beyond the call of duty on rare and exceptional occasions, but let's not ask teachers to carry guns. Let's stick to having them stay within their chosen professions and expertise. 

A photo of Israeli schoolchildren and what appeared to be an armed teacher gave an inaccurate impression that Israeli teachers are armed. No, the "teacher" was actually a bodyguard. On the occasion that Israeli schoolchildren take a field trip to a possibly dangerous location, they're accompanied by armed guards. The piece goes on to examine Israel and how it keeps schoolchildren safe.

And no, no one goes to school to open fire at because it's in a "gun free zone." They go to the school because they want to shoot up the school. Period. Full stop. Gun free zone or not, the shooter often intend to die, so if a person pulls out a gun to stop them with, they're probably going to welcome being killed.  USA Today listed a whole series of times that a mass shooter has struck at a military base from 1994 through 2014

Teachers are under-equipped and underpaid. They often have to purchase school supplies out of their own salaries. When I was in the Navy, I paid for absolutely nothing that I needed to perform my duties with. Everything I needed was supplied by the service. Most jobs in the US work that way and have done so since the Industrial Revolution began (which was right after the Civil War). I think most teachers would object to adding being armed guards to their already-heavy load of duties.

How well-equipped are classrooms now? Remember the students who had to come to class in heavy coats? Just last December, a high school in Baltimore, due to an aging heating system breaking down, had students report with coats and blankets in order to continue their studies. As long as something like this happens anywhere in the country, then no, we don't have the resources to add firearms training to teacher schedules.


Suppose teachers are armed. Note that President Reagan was surrounded by armed people in 1981 and suffered wounds from a shooter anyway. What's the difference today? Are bodyguards or the Secret Service braver or more self-sacrificing? No, it's because when a high-value target is going to be out in the open, the Secret Service locks down the whole area. I was in a similar lock-down when I and my sister visited Ireland in the late 90s. We were strolling down the street and all of the sudden, we noticed black-uniformed, heavily-armed guards lining the street at about 10 or 15 yard intervals. I looked around and sure enough, there was an armored car delivery being made. Clearly, they still recalled the days when they had to worry about IRA attacks. 

And hey, good on Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who brings up the very good point that arming teachers means that it could be difficult for first responders to distinguish between teachers trying to defend their students and the actual shooter.

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the bullets fired by the shooter traveled 300 yards to reach their targets. Those bullets were traveling downwards and the shooter had more than one window to shoot from. Returning fire was possible, but only if one was a professional sniper with a high-powered rifle. Having people armed with pistols in the crowd would have made absolutely zero difference.