Monthly Archives: October 2016

What I liked most about superman: the disguise

Superman's costume, like Clark's, is mostly affect.

Superman’s costume, like Clark’s, is his affect.

Like many people my age, I find that the current movie versions of Superman miss the points that I most liked in the comics and movies of the 60s and 70s. The thing that most impressed me about Superman was the disguise, or the lack of one: it was mostly his affect. Though Clark Kent wore glasses and a conservative suit, this only accentuated his main disguise, that he kept his head down. This shlumpy affect was the main reason, as best I could tell was what kept people from realizing he was super strong and from a different planet. Superman, by contrast, wore a fancy outfit of bright, primary colors and stood with his chin bizarrely up. Superman was careful to keep his hands on his hips or outstretched in front when he flew. Standing and dressed this way, they didn’t recognize him as Clark Kent, and they instantly liked him; everyone except for Luthor, it seemed. It’s a fantasy: being able to blend in when you want, and being able to stand out for the good when you want. As best I could tell, this was the main (Jewish) fantasy of the series: to think that you’d be liked if you stood erect and affected confidence, and that you could pass un-noticed if you wore a suit and slumped over. The current movies get rid of all of this affect and all this fantasy. He no longer flies with his hands out, and Clark is no longer a schlump. You have to wonder why no one suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. And I have to wonder what people find attractive about the movies. Where’s the fantasy?

This didn't happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

This didn’t happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

Another fun aspect of the comics that the movies have dismissed was the love triangle of Clark, Superman, and Lois. Or, if you like, of Superman, Supergirl, and Lois. In the comic books of my era, it was clear that Lois is attracted to Superman but feels nothing but feminist revulsion for Clark. Meanwhile, in the comics, Superman clearly felt no attraction for Lois, not in his guise as Superman nor as Clark Kent. There is a sort of paternal affection, but nothing more. Humorously, this paternalism attracts Lois when it comes from Superman, and repeals her when it’s from Clark, the sexist schlump. There’s probably something Freudian there, and it makes perfect sense in context too: You, the reader, know that Lois is of a different species. Clark/ superman would just as soon fall for her as for an orangoutang or a rare potted plant. It’s funny and comforting that he cares nothing for her physically in the comics since she’s such a weaker species that, if they were to mate, the Super Sperm would probably cut Lois in half, or impregnate the entire city. It’s funny because Lois is entirely oblivious to how hopeless her case is and this causes narrative tension. All this tension is removed in the current movies and comics: Lois and Clark, as it were, are a sexual pair, and there is no super sperm disaster.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, just as normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a morality lesson here.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, while normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a moral lesson here.

Highlighting the humor of the interspecies romance, occasionally Superboy or Supergirl would show up in the comic books of my day. The comics of my day showed a chemistry between the two supers that did not appear between Lois and Clark/ Superman. Furthering the humor, it is clear that Supergirl does not share Superman’s affection for mankind. She has an alien morality and it shows. Supergirl generally can’t understand why superboy/ superman takes such care of the humans, and Supergirl finds Superman’s “Truth, Justice, etc. ” morality childish. It’s like she sees him as a grown man playing with toy soldiers or with an ant farm. Super girl makes sense here, by the way. Why would someone from a distant planet share the same morality that we have unless they shared Clark’s Kansas upbringing.

Lois, true to form, is totally oblivious to the interspecies morality difference, and is jealous of supergirl. It’s super fun, made somewhat better when super-dog shows up (he’s a dog in a cape). There is no super-dog in the movies, and no super girl or superboy, so far. Super girl is supposed to appear soon, but it’s hard to guess why.

Mr Mxyzptlk gets superman to say his name backwards. Why? It’s fun.

And then there are the villains. In the comics of my day, the villains were there to develop the humor. Except for Luther, they were aliens and thus didn’t need a real motive for their mischief. Take Mr Mxyzptlk, a favorite of mine and of may others. He meant no harm, but was an alien from the 5th dimension who just wanted to have fun (don’t we all?). Like Superman, Mxyzptlk was super powerful, and Superman had to defeat him with his wits.

Another favorite super villain was Bizzaro Superman. He was a Superman variant of another planet or dimension and , as seemed perfectly reasonable, he has a completely opposite morality from Superman. He’s happy go lucky, robs banks and does other crimes (why would you think otherwise — it’s normal on his planet.) Interestingly, Bizzaro does not keep his head up, and has none of Superman’s charisma, Bizzaro is there, I think, to emphasize the fantasy of Superman’s non-disguise and semi-human morality. And as such he was a favorite.

These musings on the morality and charisma are all left out of the current movies. There is no Bizzaro, or Mxyzptlk. Instead, Lex Luther is the universal villain and he’s crazy-evil. In the current movies, it’s hard to guess why Lex Luther doesn’t like superman as strongly as he does, or why he puts so much effort into fighting him to no effect. In the comics of my day, Lex’s job was much simpler, get kryptonite and hit superman with it, and his motivations seemed reasonably normal. I’d be put off too by a super-strong flying guy in blue tights who foils my illegal plans. As soon as Lex discovers kryptonite and realizes Superman has an Achilles heal, Lex goes about using it. It seemed normal enough to me then. Why does Luther now have to be a psychopath now.

Robert Buxbaum, October 20, 2016. The original super-costume was super Freudian too. It was supposed to be his baby blanket sewn by his mother in Kansas with design input from dear old dad. As a result the original costume looked soft and puffy, like a baby blanket. Nonetheless, Superman wears it with pride — in the open when saving the world and under his Clark Kent clothes at all other times. it seems he’s a momma’s boy clutching his baby blanket. It what way are the modern movie changes better than the original Freudy cat.

Most flushable wipes aren’t flushable.

I’m a chemical engineer running for Oakland county water resources commissioner, and as the main job of the office is sewage, and as I’ve already written on the chemistry, I thought I might write about an aspect of the engineering. Specifically about toilet paper. Toilet paper is a remarkable product: it’s paper, compact and low in cost; strong enough to clean you, smooth on your bum, and beyond that, it will disintegrate in turbulent water so it doesn’t clog pipes. The trick to TP’s dry strength and wet-weakness, is that the paper pulp, wood cellulose, is pounded very thin, yet cast fluffy. For extra softness, the paper is typically coated with aloe or similar. Sorry to say, the same recipe does not work for wet-wipes, paper towels or kleenex (facial tissues); all of these products must have wet-strength, and this can cause problems with sewer clogs.

Patent 117355 for perforated toilet paper claimed it as an improved wrapping paper.

Patent 117,355 for perforated toilet paper on a roll. It’s claimed as an improved wrapping paper.

Before there was toilet paper, the world was a much sadder, and smellier place. Much of the world used sticks, stones, leaves, or corn cobs, and none of these did a particularly thorough job. Besides, none of these is particularly smooth, or particularly disposable, nor did it fall apart — not that most folks had indoor plumbing. Some rich Romans had plumbing, and these cleaned themselves with a small sponge on the end of a stick. They dipped the sponge ned in water for each use. It was disgusting, but didn’t clog the pipes. I’ve seen this in use on a trip to Turkey 25 years ago — not in actual use, but next to the commode.

The first reasonably modern toilet was invented in 1775 by Alexander Cummings, and by 1852 the first public flush toilets were available. The design looked pretty much like it looks today and the cost was 1¢. You got a towel and a shoe-shine too for that penny, but there was no toilet paper as such. Presumably one used a Roman sponge or some ordinary, standard paper. A popular wipe, back int he day  was the Sears-Roebuck catalog. It came free to most homes, and included a convenient hole in the corner allowing one to hang it in and outhouse or near the commode. It was rough on the bum, and didn’t fall apart. My guess is that it clogged the pipes too, for those who used it with flush toilets. The first toilet-specific paper wasn’t invented till 1859. Joseph Gayetty, an American, patented a product from pulverized hemp, a relatively soft fiber, softened further with aloe. The paper softer than standard, and had less tendency to clog pipes.

Toilet paper has to be soft

Toilet paper is either touted to be soft or strong; Modern Charmin touts wet strength, while Cottonelle touts completeness of wipe: ‘go commando.” 

The next great innovation was to make toilet paper as a perforated product on a roll. These novelties appear as US Patent #117,355 awarded to Seth Wheeler of Albany, NY 25 July 1871 (Wheeler also invented the classic roll toilet paper dispenser). Much of the sales pitch was that a cleaner bum would prevent the spread of cholera, typhoid, and other plagues and that is a legitimate claim. As the  market expanded, advertising followed. Some early brands of paper touted their softness, others their strength. Facial tissues, e.g. Kleenex, were sold specifically as a soft TP-like product that does not fall apart when wet. Sorry to say, this tends to go along with clogged toilets; do not flush more than one kleenex down at a flush. Kleenex is made with the same short fibers and aloe as toilet paper, but it contains binders (glue) to give it wet-strength. My guess is that Charmin is made the same way and that it isn’t great on your plumbing.

Paper towels and most baby wipes are worse to flush than Kleenex. They are made with lots of binder and they really don’t fall apart in water. Paper towels should never be flushed, and neither should most baby wipes, even brands that claim to be ‘flushable.” When flushed, these items tend to soak up fat and become fat bergs – the bane of sewer workers everywhere. There is a class action law suit against flushable wipe companies, and New York City is pursuing legislation to prevent them from claiming to be flushable. Still, as with everything, there are better and worse moist-wipe options. “Cottonelle” brand by Kleenex, and Scott flushable wipes will eventually (In a day or less) dissolve in water. These products are made with binders like kleenex, but the binder glue is a type that dissolves in any significant amount of water. As a result, these brands fall apart when flushed. For now, these are the only flushable brands I’d recommend flushing, and even then I suggest you only flush one at a time. In tests by Consumer Reports, other brands, e.g. Charmin and Equate flushable wipes do not dissolve. These manufacturers either have not quite figured out how to make dissolvable binders, or they can’t get around Kleenex’s patents.

Robert Buxbaum. October 10, 2016. If you live in Oakland county, MI vote for me for water commissioner. Here’s my web-site with other useful essays. I should mention Thomas Crapper, too. He invented the push-button flush and made some innovations in the water cistern, and he manufactured high-end commodes for Parliament and the royal family, but he’s irrelevant to the story here.