Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Case of the Round Table

The builder of the new apartment building-turned-hotel in Manhattan wanted to call it the Puritan, but Frank Case knew that wouldn’t do. Case decided to name it after the people who preceded the Puritans instead.
“Installed as the manager of the new Algonquin Hotel, Case brought much of his own personality into the residence and dining rooms on 44th Street. Case couldn’t stand politicians. He had no use for athletes. He ignored businessmen. He turned up his nose at socialites. What Frank Case admired most in this world were men and women of talent.
“’Gifted people should not only be tolerated,’ he said, ‘but they should be encouraged in their strange and temperamental antics.’
“’People of unique ability are unique creatures, and it is only when they try to act like the rest of us that are artificial and out of character.’”
Case got what he was after, and then some, attracting newspaper people, authors, playwrights and actors — the sharpest wits of their day and nation, who spent the 1920s there drawing their rhetorical swords to skewer the hypocrites, the sentimentalists, the dullards and the dishonest.
Source: “Smart Aleck: The Wit, World and Life of Alexander Woollcott” by Howard Teichmann

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Democracy Is Slavery, But Slavery Is Freedom

It suddenly occurred to me that the American right wing now regards everything as slavery — income taxes, grazing fees, zoning regulations, laws forbidding them to murder unarmed people, food stamps, food and drug regulations, parking meters, etc. — except ACTUAL slavery, the whip-your-back-to-the-bone, sell-your-kids kind. They wonder if minorities wouldn't be better off with it.

The Strange Case of Dr. Strange

Marvel’s Dr. Stephen Strange got a mention in the second Captain America movie, and will be starring in his own big screen feature soon.
I have always found Dr. Strange an intriguing concept, but he’s rarely had long runs in his own title. He suffers from two defects that have limited his appeal, I think. He really has no personality to speak of, and his magical powers are so imprecise and unclear to the reader that they are dramatically frustrating. He can always pull some deus ex machina spell out of his ass. Dr. Fate and the Spectre have the same problem.
That said, the early Steve Ditko/Stan Lee stories were a lot of fun, with a wonderful sense of freedom in their fever-dream art and situations that somehow managed to be suspenseful despite what I just said.

Friday, April 25, 2014

When 'Freedom Lovers' Love Slavery

But as Ellen Brodsky notes, “With all the focus on Cliven Bundy's shocking comments ‘just wondering’ if African Americans were better off under slavery, this seems a good time to remind people that Bundy is not the first or even the second slavery apologist Hannity has found as a kindred spirit. Hannity’s pal, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson has said, ‘Thank God for slavery’ and likened slave ships to flying coach in an airplane: ‘It’s a tough ride. But you’re happy when you get to your desitination.’ Hannity also repeatedly welcomed white supremacist Hal Turner on the radio who said ‘black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa,’ were it not for slavery.’”
Self-declared “freedom lovers” who actually promote SLAVERY. Kind of weird, isn’t it? Unless the real mission of Fox News is not news, but fascist propaganda.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thought Surfing

The ego, as Alan Watts observed, is effectively just the focus of conscious attention.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On the Path with Blackwood

The itinerant early 20th century British author Algernon Blackwood became famous for writing short stories about the supernatural, but his primary interest was in finding a way for humanity to reunite with nature despite the ravages of the industrial age.
His thoughts led him to certain conclusions that are familiar to me — that the path to a more complete human being may be found in the alignment of our conscious and unconscious minds.
‘I think, honestly, the deepest interest in my life is to find any knowledge, in book or practice, that may widen the field of consciousness and waken powers which, I feel convinced, lie dormant in our greater self — the subconscious so-called,” Blackwood wrote. “I still believe we have latent powers which could bring us nearer, if only a little nearer, to Reality. This is the insatiable quest in my blood and compared with it other things, money least of all, do not count.”
“I have long since reached a stage where I feel that there can be little progress until the subconscious powers become developed and accessible,” Blackwood wrote on another occasion. “Without these we can become better, but not greater.”
Drawn to Georgei Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s ideas about ways to “bring a scientific rationale to mysticism,” Blackwood remarked, “The preliminary training in yoga convinced me that it was genuine and helpful for any serious student. The methods of changing one’s type of consciousness, rather than merely extending what was already possesses, seemed to me true and practical.”
One effective method I’ve found for doing this is Jungian Active Imagination, which I also call Hypnagogic Active Imagination — a means discovered by the psychologist Carl Jung for developing direct communication between the unconscious and conscious aspects of the human mind.
Source: “Algernon Blackwood: An Extraordinary Life” by Mike Ashley

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Both Sides," My Royal American Eyeball

Thanks to my friend Michael Jones for this meme
As my friend Paul Loop put it, explaining Politico (and CNN, the news networks, the Sunday shows, the punditocracy in general, all major corporate-owned news sources): "When you assert that 'both sides' are equally to blame, and they are obviously NOT equally to blame after a simple objective analysis, you are essentially covering for the side that deserves all the blame. In Politico's case, it's beyond obvious by now that putting lipstick on the conservative pig is an essential part of its mission. Charles Pierce pinpoints it."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Albert Einstein in the Reign of Witches

When Albert Einstein took a stand against Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist witch hunt in 1953, he advised that American intellectuals should refuse to testify before McCarthy’s committee on the grounds that they were defending the free expression principles of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
Russell and Einstein
America’s newspapers, the beneficiaries of the First Amendment, promptly and stridently denounced him. Anti-Einstein screeds appeared on the editorial pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and others.
Einstein had sparked the firestorm by making public a reply he had given to a Brooklyn schoolteacher who had refused to cooperate with McCarthy’s hysterical inquisition into supposed “communist influence in high schools.”
“The problem with which the intellectuals of this country are confronted is very serious,” Einstein told him. “The reactionary politicians have managed to instill suspicion of all intellectual efforts into the public by dangling before their eyes a danger from without . . . They are now proceeding to suppress the freedom of teaching and to deprive of their positions all those who do not prove submissive…
“What ought the minority of intellectuals to do against this evil? I can only see the revolutionary way of non-co-operation, in Gandhi’s sense... based on the assertion that it is shameful for a blameless citizen to submit to such an inquisition…
“If enough people are ready to take this grave step they will be successful. If not, then the intellectuals of this country deserve nothing better than the slavery which is intended for them.”
Seeing all the vitriol hurled against the venerable, kindly Einstein, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell penned a wry reply to the New York Times.
“You seem to think one should always obey the law, however bad,” the philosopher wrote. “I am compelled to suppose that you condemn George Washington and hold that your country ought to return to allegiance to Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As a loyal Briton, I of course applaud this view, but I fear it may not win much support in your country.”
Source: “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Familiar Ring of the Bell That Tolls for Thee

Re: the Supreme Court's McCutcheon decision. Some of us have been sounding these warnings for a decade or more, feeling just like Cassandra,

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and his court are perfectly predictable. As evidence, I offer the fact that I predicted months ago that Robert's  faux-rogue vote on Obama's health care would provide cover to permit him to deliver hard-line right-wing votes like McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that will establish fascist policies in this country with breathtaking speed.
“Here's the story in a nutshell," explained David Michael Green in one of my favorite quotes. "A far-right predatory overclass has spent the last thirty years undoing the hard-fought gains of the mid-twentieth century, which had produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice in America than the country had ever known before. These regressives used every kind of deceit imaginable to persuade unsophisticated voters to choose candidates whose real agenda was to assist their plutocratic puppetmasters in fleecing the very same people who voted for them. Such candidates ran on issues like the death penalty, immigration, bogus wars, gay marriage and abortion. But what they really were about as legislators was exporting jobs to where workers are dirt cheap and politically neutered, crashing organized labor, shifting the tax burden onto the mass public, deregulating industry to allow unhindered profit-taking on the upside and socialized public responsibility for risk on the downside, and locking in a Supreme Court majority that would never blanch at even the most outrageous rulings enhancing corporate power in American society.”

The Brokeback Kid Rides Again

The collected series was released in hardcover in 2010.

Jack Kirby's Rawhide Kid, back in the day.
In 2003’s “Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather,” Marvel’s 1950s-1960s Jack Kirby/Stan Lee gunfighter hero is re-imagined as an archly funny guy with no eye for the ladies at all but a killer fashion sense. 
If you know what I mean.
“Re-imagined” may be too strong a term, since it’s remarkable how little realignment is required for writer Ron Zimmerman and artist John Severin to cast the original slight, lithe and dandyish character in this new light — a light this Rawhide Kid would insist must be flattering to his complexion.
All that’s really required is a dash of double entendre, a wink of wit and a sense that the Kid knows a great deal more about what’s going on than anybody else in the story — and isn’t talking.
Series editor Axel Alonso said, “We thought it would be interesting to play with the genre. Enigmatic cowboy rides into dusty little desert town victimized by desperadoes, saves the day, wins everyone’s heart, then rides off into the sunset, looking better than any cowboy has a right to.”
It’s the most artful introduction of gay elements into traditional comic book material that I’ve run into — accomplished not with sex, but, more effectively, with style.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Super Soldier and the Police State

Like “The Avengers,” the first “Iron Man” and the second “X-Men,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is a near-perfect superhero movie, with Hitchcockian touches building to a Götterdämmerung battle that pits Steve Rogers’ true-blue 1940s’ ideals against the 21st century surveillance state.
Hits on all cylinders — suspense, superhero battles, well-paced humor and funhouse mirror reflections of society's real problems. 
Oh, the preposterous moments are there, all right, as in all superhero films. For example,  Cap and the Black Widow decide to hide out with Cap's casual pal, a guy who just happens to have a super suit tucked away somewhere nearby. Handy, eh? But directors Anthony and Joe Russo know to use the film's pace to sweep such objections aside, and give the movie many genuinely suspenseful moments — even, more remarkably, a theme.
The film presents the interesting idea that the meta-American spy agency SHIELD and the Nazi-born secret society HYDRA evolve into bureaucracies indistinguishable from each other — that when the will to control is combined with 21st century universal surveillance technology, it finally doesn’t matter who is flipping the switches. A single chilling, dark, monolithic shadow will fall across all the ordinary people of the world. The extraordinary person, Captain America, would stand against it in the name of liberty and the Bill of Rights, but we’re left with the unsettling sense that there may be nowhere left for him to stand.