Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Deeper Than You Think

This is shallow thinking.
Let us take an example. Is 1933’s  King Kong just a story about a big ape? Or is it about a powerful black thing that is taken from its jungle in chains and brought to America where it wants to escape and grab white women?
Did the filmmakers INTEND the story to be a racist nightmare? No. Is it, nevertheless? Yes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

From the Moon to Kenshō

“It wasn’t until after we had made rendezvous with our friend Stu Roosa in the Kittyhawk command module and were hurtling earthward at several miles per second that I had time to relax in weightlessness and contemplate that blue jewel-like home planet suspended in the velvety blackness from which we had come.
“What I saw out the window was all I had ever known, all I had ever loved and hated, longed for, all that I once thought I had ever been and ever would be. It was all there suspended in the cosmos on that fragile little sphere.
“I experienced a grand epiphany accompanied by exhilaration, an event I would later refer to in terms that could not be more foreign to my upbringing in West Texas, and later, New Mexico. From that moment on, my life was irrevocably altered.
“What I experienced during that three-day trip home was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness.”
— Dr. Edgar Mitchell, The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut’s Journey Through the Material and Mystical Wolrds
A/k/a, kenshō in outer space.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trouble Nearby? Shine the Signal in the Sky

Ah, the mysterious, looming Bat-Signal. What a fascination it held for readers.
Batman’s flashy-cool accoutrements — Batmobile, Batplane, Whirly Bats, the Batcave with its massive weird trophies, the ever-so-useful utility belt and especially the Bat-Signal — formed a serious part of his long-term appeal, I think.
Introduced in Detective Comics 60 (Feb. 1942), the Bat-Signal had, of course, been inspired by the Phantom Detective pulp magazine of the 1930s in which a red beacon atop a newspaper skyscraper was used to summon the crime-fighting Phantom. Batman editors Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger had edited that magazine, and were well aware of the gimmick.
My only real disappointment with Batman’s sales-boosting “New Look” in 1964 was the addition of a telephone “Hot Line” to Commissioner Gordon. I thought that undercut the importance of my beloved Bat-Signal.
When the TV show debuted as an instant hit in January 1966, I was pleased to see the producers had been smart enough to include both the Batphone and the Bat-Signal.
Here, in Batman 135 (Oct. 1960), we have one of those rare stories in which the Bat-Signal plays a central role. Criminals summon a super-powered sky creature to battle Batman and Robin using a sorcerer’s lantern as a sort of evil Bat-Signal.
The issue includes one of my favorite sub-series, Alfred’s fictional adventures of the second Batman and Robin team. Dick Grayson has become Batman II, and Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane’s son has become an earnest, ginger-haired Robin whose inexperience drives the plot.
In the third story, gambling-ring gangster “Wheels” Foster becomes the Wheel, one of those costumed obsessives who were always being inspired by Batman’s own costumed obsessiveness concerning bats. Like the sorcerer’s lantern, this satisfied the readers’ well-established taste for mirror-image reversal themes.

Zen and the Art of Walt Whitman

I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers.
And I become the other dreamers…
Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake.
— Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was subject to kenshō, that spontaneous state described by Dumoulin as “… an insight into the identity of one’s own nature with all of reality in an eternal now, as a vision that removes all distinctions.”
“He had shared the experience of countless people, irreligious by common standards, who had flashes of illumination or ecstasy — even Caliban saw the clouds open and ‘cried to dream again,’” Justin Kaplan wrote. “These experiences have a remembered correlative or ‘trigger.’ With Whitman it was the sea, music, the grass, the green world of summer. The rhythm of these experiences is sexual and urgent — tumescence, climax, detumescence — but the ‘afterglow’ may last a lifetime, as it did with him, and he invited it an prolonged it through poetry; the poet was the shaman of modern society — a master of ‘the techniques of ecstasy.’”

How Fox News Becomes THE News

As Hannah Arendt observed, “Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear."
Fox News displays its open contempt for facts because it is a right-wing authoritarian propaganda machine, and I mean that literally. Fox News does not practice journalism. It SUBVERTS journalism. It is the Fourth Estate's Fifth Column. You can always find Fox News by backtracking the trail of slain messengers who tried to tell somebody the truth. And yes, the Big Lie works.

1) Right-wing bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other conservative media outlets start promoting a fringe or false story.
2) Fox News picks up the story and gives it heavy, one-sided coverage.
3) Fox News and conservative media attack the "liberal media" for ignoring it.
4) Mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
5) Fox News receives credit for promoting the story.
6) The story is later proved to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done.
The Fox Cycle is the reason why some people believe that Planned Parenthood is in the business of selling fetal body parts, why some people still think the 2012 presidential election was rigged against Mitt Romney, why some people are convinced that voter ID laws prevent fraud and why climate denial is rampant. Even after the truth has emerged, proving the story false, there are still many people left with the impression that there’s some truth or credibility to the claims.
While Fox News is mainly to blame for picking up these fringey stories in the first place, mainstream news outlets must be careful not to echo their right-wing manufactured distortions as truths. Fact checking and debunking misinformation is especially important this campaign season.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The World, After All, Is Not of Dust

The Sun Singer, a Art Moderne bronze sculpted by Carl Milles, can be seen not far from here at Allerton Park.
People of this world wrap themselves in chains
   For the sake of profit and gain,
Then talk of the world of dust, the sea of bitterness.
They do not know that
    Clouds are white, mountains blue.
    Rivers run, rocks stand tall.
    Blossoms invite, birds laugh.
    The valley responds, the woodcutters sing.
The world, after all, is not of dust;
The sea, after all, is not bitter.
It is only that, on their own, people put dust and
    bitterness in their hearts.

— Hung Ying-ming

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The First Time I Saw the Thunder God

The first time I saw Thor, he was hurtling through the incorporeal form of a gloating Tomorrow Man on the cover of Journey Into Mystery 86 (Nov. 1962), wondering aloud how he was ever going to catch the villain.
A flying, super-strong hero in a red cape? Clearly some kind of a Superman, just the sort of character I loved. Obviously worth a 10-cent investment, despite the fact that the long, blond hair puzzled me. This was pre-Beatles, remember, and I’d never met any Vikings.
As a matter of fact, at 8, I’d heard of the Greek gods, but never the Norse ones. So I was unaware that Thor predated Superman by a couple of thousand years.
However, reading the issue, I was very aware of Jack Kirby’s fascinatingly detailed, idea-rich art.
Here were time machines, futuristic flying scooters, villainous mirrored magnetic rooms underneath trap doors and giant robots that might have been inspired by the 1940s Fleischer Superman cartoons (although I didn’t know it then).
Here too was that joyful exercise of super powers that you only see in the early issues of superhero titles. Before the story really begins in Thor’s fourth comic-book adventure, the hero chases and catches a rocket and, as a military exercise, calmly prepares to expose himself to a C-bomb blast at ground zero.
And here (although I didn’t know it then) was our first glimpse of Odin, the All-Father, as a giant helmeted face in the sky summoned by Thor through a thunderstorm. With that, the paradox of the series became evident.
The character had been introduced in Journey Into Mystery 83 as Don Blake, a lame physician who merely acquired the powers of Thor from his hammer. How then could he actually be the son of Odin, or the brother of Loki (who was introduced in the previous issue)?
Indeed, Odin seemed a little surprised that Thor had forgotten the method by which he could use his hammer to travel through time. The conflict wouldn’t be resolved by Stan Lee until 1968, when he revealed that Blake was merely a personality conjured by Odin to teach Thor humility. 
Even in issue 86, I could see how Thor might have some trouble staying humble. After all, he could fly, shrug off nuclear blasts, create thunderstorms, smash giant robots, fell trees with a slap, spin through time and even deflect the rays of a delta-electron gun with his hurricane force super-breath. To do all that, even I’d wear shoulder-length hair.