Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Race switching in The Equalizer and an obscure Star Trek comic

News that The Equalizer was the top movie this past weekend prompted me to recall the 1980’s television series of the same name. Edward Woodward (1930-2009) was Robert McCall, a man who was available to solve any problems for a price. And sometimes for free.

This 4-page satire from Cracked #228, from 1987, pretty much gets the gist of the show. And it is drawn by John Severin, which is always a plus for me.

It doesn’t surprise me that Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall in the movie. Washington is a great actor and has a track record at the box office. The fact that he is African-American really doesn’t matter, and it seems that it happens more often. It did seem surprising to me to see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in The Avengers, but the biggest surprise to me was seeing Will Smith as James West in The Wild, Wild West. Okay! Whatever sells tickets.

But the reason I mention it is because of something else I noticed this past weekend when I picked up a 1979 Peter Pan Book and Record Set of Star Trek at a local thrift store. In the well-illustrated but uncredited comic book Uhura has suddenly gone from being African-American to a blonde white woman, and Sulu has transformed from Japanese to African-American.

Some reviews of this comic on the Internet  have called the depictions mistakes, but c'mon...the comic was done in 1979, the television series was in endless reruns, and copious photos were available of all the characters. Even without Mr. Spock to explain it logically, the reason would be is they did not have permission of the two actors to do their likenesses. George Takei and Nichelle Nichols probably decided not to sign off on being represented in the comic. Why the people who produced this comic just didn't do something as simple as change the names is a puzzle to me.

On the other hand, with satire John Severin could do a likeness of Edward Woodward because it is parody, therefore fair use.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gun laws and the Law of Unintended Consequences

I own guns. I do not have a concealed weapons permit, nor do I leave the house with a gun on my person or in my car. I think it is just asking for something bad to happen. There are just too many stupid people I would want to shoot.*

I was angry when, in the wake of Sandy Hook, innocent students and teachers gunned down by a mass killer, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre came out with his own guns blazing. Figuratively speaking, of course. His solution was not that common sense measures should be taken to prevent gun violence, but that no measures whatsoever should be taken.** He called for more guns in schools! Guards! Paid for by taxpayers!

Since the National Rifle Association is the lobbying shill for gun manufacturers, you would think they could have at least offered to pay the cost for the guards, or provided them free arms with training, but no. The NRA is only in the business of making sure their gun manufacturers make money with the least encumbrances to sales. They are saying we provide the guns and ammo for you to buy. You pay for your own protection from our products.

Immediately many states, including my home state of Utah, went to work with legislators passing laws making it possible for teachers to carry weapons in schools. In Utah by law the teacher does not have to inform anyone that they are armed. And the principal cannot tell them to leave their gun at home.

I know one thing from experience, that no matter how carefully constructed a plan is there will always be something that will come along that no one anticipated: the Law of Unintended Consequences. The impression that was given when news cameras showed teachers in gun classes was that the teachers would know what they were doing. But realization can be much different than expectation.

A 6th grade teacher in a Utah school had a gun on her person. She went to the school restroom and blew a hole in her leg when her concealed weapon fired. Oops. She also blew up the toilet bowl. Kind of the old insult to injury thing. I'm sure that the teacher did not leave home that morning after secreting the weapon on her person and think, “Today I'm not going to put the safety on; today I am going to shoot myself and make myself look like a fool to the entire nation.”

It surprised me, despite the nationwide publicity, when the school district said only five people called to complain about teachers with guns. I should not have been surprised. In polls more than 50% of Utahns think having guns in schools is perfectly fine, that having a sharpshooter like this teacher with a hole in her leg, ready to stand her ground (when she is again able to walk) to an armed intruder, is a perfectly good idea.

That must be why they played up the story of a hearing specialist who goes to several schools working with deaf children. She has a gun. A pink gun. It was on the local news and even NBC Nightly News.

Do you feel safer knowing this young woman is toting a gun to school?

Now that both of these armed teachers have been outed, will they be targets? After all, the idea of a concealed weapons permit was to have one up on a potential enemy, not to let them know you would be the first person he had to shoot. I didn’t use their names for that reason, although they are named in various news stories.

Okay, so in the case of the teacher shooting herself, she is an exception. Most teachers carrying guns in classrooms are careful, have the safety on, and are likely not to shoot themselves by accident. I think there is a possibility that the best-case dream scenario of the gun lobby could happen: an armed person could enter the school shooting and a brave teacher with a concealed weapon could use that weapon to stop the rampage.

But because of the nature of the universe, that the best-laid schemes gang aft agley,*** then there are bound to be some other events that will happen, and probably before rather than after the best-case dream scenario. I don’t need a gift of prophecy to foresee the potential of one or more of these things happening:
A teacher's gun will be stolen by a student, then used on the teacher or other students.****
A  paranoid teacher will use the gun against an innocent person on school grounds.

A jealous teacher will kill another teacher over a relationship.

A teacher’s gun will discharge by accident, killing a student. 
I wonder if when dreaming up their schemes did legislators really consider the liability incurred by a school district for having armed teachers in classrooms?

*In case it went over your head that last sentence was a joke.

**The paranoia of the “camel’s nose in the tent,” that there is a direct line to a tweaking of existing laws and confiscation of all firearms is sheer fearmongering by the NRA. It has become something of a religious belief by rabid supporters of the Second Amendment, but has no basis in reality.

***“To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns (1785).

****I’m not counting the derelict parents and foolish gun instructor who allowed a 9-year-old girl at a specialty gun range in Arizona to fire an Uzi machine gun which went quickly out of control and killed her instructor.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Photo Telephone

I found this century-old Tom Swift dust jacket on the Internet.

The technology needed must have seemed impossibly fantastic when this book was published in 1914. It was science fiction. After all, television was still just a spark in somebody's brain; radio — “wireless” — wasn't being widely used (the Titanic disaster was two years before); even telephones, as shown in the illustration, were hand-cranked devices needing the intercession of a live operator.

Flash forward to the 1960s, and Bell Telephone demonstrations of telephones with visuals of the person on the other end. You all remember Dr. Heywood Floyd talking to his daughter on a television screen in the 1968 movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The idea just never took hold. The reason, as I heard it at the time, was because people liked telephones as they were, without visuals. I remember the common complaint was, “I wouldn't answer if I'd just gotten out of the bathtub,” or if makeup wasn't in place, etc. In other words, the fact that no one can see you when you answer is a positive for a telephone. It really doesn't need the additional technology attached to it.

I think the cost of setting it up was very expensive for the time, and in order for it to be universal everyone would have to have one.

But technology and people change. The time for those picturephones was evidently just not right. The picturephone is now here, just not as Bell Labs and Tom Swift, 100 years ago, envisioned it. We have web cams, camera cell phones, and we are connected via pictures. My wife talks to our grandchildren on Facetime, using their iPads.

The idea of decades past, of plugging a few coins into a payphone, talking to the wife or kids back home and being able to see them using a landline telephone, that idea is as antiquated as the scene on the jacket of Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All sexed up and nowhere to go

Recently an article in my local daily newspaper posed the age-old question, “when is it time to tell kids the facts of life?”

There's always a debate — it flares up every couple of years or so — about how to teach kids about sex. Sometimes parents just turn it over to the schools to teach maturation classes. Adults have so many problems with the subject that the kids have to learn it on their own, gathering information as they can.

I say tell kids the truth from the git-go. Don't sugarcoat it, don't try to smooth it over. Tell them that sex will mess up their heads in ways they can’t imagine right now, and that they’d all be better off taking a vow of lifelong celibacy. Since they’re like I was and won’t listen to reason, take another tack. Tell them about the mechanical act of sex, then tell them they have to satisfy their sex partner.

I was a kid in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When it came to sex I was as dumb as a brick. My father’s and mother’s sex ed lectures to me I can remember verbatim. Dad’s was: “There is a difference in boys and girls. Other boys may make jokes about it, or make fun of it, but it's not really funny.” That told me a lot…about nothing. Mom’s advice was styled more like it was brought down the mountain by Moses. Thou-shalt-not: “Some things are for marriage only!” she said.

As it turned out Mom tried something else. One day when I was 12 or 13 I opened my underwear drawer to find a 1930's book called The Adequate Male. Wow, now there’s a title to inspire a guy! Mom had left it for me to find. The book was all about marital sex; no premarital sex for an adequate male. It gave advice for the wedding night by using negative examples like the man who ravaged his bride six or seven times, then when he couldn't get it up anymore in frustration beat his dong on the bedpost. It scared the poor girl to death. The other thing I remember was the advice about asking your wife for sex. You don't say, “Wanna have a party?” An adequate male wouldn’t do that. It’s a big turn-off for gals.*

The Adequate Male was the amazing disappearing and reappearing book. After a couple of months, Mom apparently reasoned that I’d read it. It disappeared, only to reappear three years later when my brother reached the age of 13. There’s no evidence he read the book, but after a couple of months it disappeared again. When Mom went into the nursing home I hoped maybe I’d find that copy of The Adequate Male amongst her effects, but it had made its final disappearance.

The satisfaction part I mentioned in the second paragraph came about because I read a porn book that had been passed around my junior high school. In that era those books were considered obscene, but just a few years later I read mainstream novels that had more sex, more graphically described, than anything in one of those hot books. What I recall about the book was the plot, such as it was. A young teen goes on a date with a loose girl from school. They’re in the back seat of the car. My hands were getting sweaty when I read about him pulling off her sweater, taking off her bra, pushing her skirt up, pulling down her panties. YES, OH YES! My screaming mind told me, TELL ME MORE! Then the crusher: He got on, he popped, he got off. She treated him with disdain because of his quick-like-a-bunny act: “You don't know how to satisfy a girl!” she said.

Say what? Satisfy? A girl? What? My mind spun. “What does that mean, ‘satisfy a girl?’” My mind was still vague enough about the process of sex that to me the whole thing centered on me getting it in, not on getting the girl off. What a comedown (pun intended) for me. I knew then, neither the teenager in the book, nor I, knew how to satisfy a girl.

Still, I trudged on with the book. It got better. With more practice the main character turned into a real stud. He learned how to satisfy a girl, oh yes. In the meantime his former disdainful girlfriend had become a call girl and boffed a lot. Naturally, they ended up together, and believe it or not, stranded on a tropical island, where all they had to do was hump all day. And of course, he brought her more than satisfaction.

I didn’t know any call girls — well, we found out the neighbor lady was one, but that’s a whole other story — nor did I know any girls who were willing to have sex, much less for me to try satisfying. So that’s the way my sex life stood for quite a while.

Kids today see sex acts on television and movies. They turn on the Internet and the porn spills out. Most kids today see more sex before they are 12 than I saw until I was decades past puberty. Playboy gave us a look at the anatomy, even if some of it was airbrushed away. The sleazy paperbacks, which came to us from guys stealing them out of dad’s sock drawer or in the bottom of a box in the closet, were part of the sex ed process.

With the exception of Sex Bait, the cover scans of these classic sleaze paperbacks were provided by my good friend, David Miller. Click on the pictures for full-size images.

*I told a former coworker this story and he said, “When I want sex I just tell my ol' lady, ‘Hey, I wanna fuck.’” A real smooth operator!