Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pay Attention to the Fascist Behind the Curtain

Thirty-four years ago, I was behind the scenes in Springfield on election night, working on a feature profile of Jim Edgar, who was then running for Illinois Secretary of State.
Ever genial, Jim took me with him to the hotel suite where the Republican campaign operatives — clean-cut young men in dark suits and ties — were gathered, watching CBS election returns on a sofa.
Standing behind, I was surprised and unsettled to hear them hurl one acidic vulgarity after another at Dan Rather on the TV screen. Rather was simply reading election returns, nothing more. They hated him with a passion because he was a journalist.
And those young GOP operatives were the philosophical forebears of the treacherous cabal in the Bush-Cheney White House and today’s fully unhinged Republican Party.
What infuriated them about Rather, finally, was that they couldn’t control what he said. They longed to command, or at least intimidate and silence, every public voice in the country.
Then and now, what they’re really opposed to isn’t “the liberal news media.” It’s journalism itself.
How happy they’d have been, that night, to know that their party was destined to crush much of professional journalism.
The blustering radio jackass Rush Limbaugh showed the way, and then Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch set up their lying propaganda channel, Fox News, to subvert and supplant actual journalism. Greedy for ratings and/or cowering before criticism, other news outlets like CNN and NPR would follow Fox’s lead by airing unchallenged right-wing lies. And with that rocket fuel in its belly, the GOP would produce, in 2016, its ultimate presidential candidate: a constantly lying, serially bankrupt, racist, sexist “reality TV” real estate con artist who endorses violence and torture and flirts with nuclear war.
All this sprang directly from the attitude I heard expressed by those Republicans in that hotel suite in 1982.
This particular type of right winger has always believed that accurate information should be secretly hoarded so he can make piles of money off of it — usually at someone else’s expense — or wielded under the table in some illicit power grab. They’re the sort of people who — for obvious reasons — regard criminal laws against corporate theft and fraud as “excessive government regulation.”
Case in point: These are the kind of people who were behind the “flipping” of Initial Public Offerings on worthless internet company stock. After hyping the stock, they sold it within hours, once it had doubled or tripled in price, leaving the dupes who bought it holding the bag.
A little later they worked the trick again, and their derivative and credit default swap Wall Street frauds actually collapsed the world economy.
The idea of sharing accurate information with the public is laughable to them. The information they prefer that the public see is propaganda, tailored to manipulate the unwashed into serving their interests — interests so shady and antithetical to the public good that they never dare state them openly.
They hire bleached blonde bimbos with short skirts to pitch the propaganda to another tier of Republicans who are much more numerous but much less intelligent.
Uneducated and unable and/or unwilling to understand the subtle checks and balances of the traditional America system, the knuckle draggers in this group want judges who will enforce what they believe the Constitution says, even though they’ve never bothered to read it. They think suspects in custody should be tortured, just like in those steroid-soaked movies they love to watch, and that unarmed black citizens should be shot on sight by police.
They have their own reasons for hating journalism. They don’t like hearing facts that disprove their simple-minded religious dogmas, undermine their racial prejudices or challenge their bloodthirsty militarism. When they lose their jobs and their rights, they blame mouthy women, uppity blacks and what they call the liberal news media — never the corporate plutocrats who are actually ruling the country.
They are sheep that bite.
At the polar opposite of those values stand the ideals of American journalism, which is supposed to be dedicated to the publication of accurate, verified and relevant facts, without fear or favor.
Because the corporate news media rarely lives up to those values now, we’re in the mess we’re in. But to the extent that any real journalism reemerges, it must remain the mortal enemy of right-wing extremists. They always react to it with that familiar reptilian hiss, like Dracula recoiling from the touch of clear sunlight.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Napoleon Solo and the Nostalgia Affair

In 1964, audiences watched the stylish adventures of an Ian Fleming superspy named … Napoleon Solo.
At traffic lights, on his way to a producer’s office, young actor Robert Vaughn had leafed through the script for a series called Solo. He realized immediately that it was “James Bond on television” and was sold.
With the film Dr. No and its sequel From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming’s hero had already become a successful franchise. And the biggest hits — Goldfinger and Thunderball — were yet to come.
In fact, the Solo producers had consulted with Fleming about their TV idea. With Bond movies in production, Fleming couldn’t participate much, but he did give them two character names — Napoleon Solo and April Dancer (eventually The Girl from UNCLE in a spinoff series).
One other Fleming-inspired idea was the name UNCLE. In his 9th Bond novel Thunderball, published in 1961, Fleming had winked at the mid-century bureaucratic passion for acronyms by calling Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s criminal syndicate SPECTRE (the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Revenge, Terrorism and Extortion).  The TV show’s UNCLE (the United Network Command for Law Enforcement) established the practice as a fictional superspy cliché, and KAOS, SHIELD, THUNDER and others followed. Hydra, Marvel Comics’ evil cabal, is now probably even more famous than SPECTRE.
The Man from UNCLE triggered and then surfed the massive wave of popularity for spy fiction that followed in American popular culture. Even perpetually panting teenager Archie Andrews pitched in as the Man from RIVERDALE.
The suave Solo and his stoic partner Illya Kuryakin were often pitted against Thrush, an organization described by Solo as believing “…the world should have a two-party system — the masters and the slaves.” The series started out excellently, but progressively lost focus, succumbing to “camp” claptrap. But it had made its mark.
“It was in a time of war,” McCallum recalled. “It was in a very agonizing time in the United States because of the Vietnam war, the cold war. It was a difficult time for people and ‘Man from UNCLE’ came along and was totally, as they used to say, tongue in cheek… People managed to escape for an hour with a Russian working with an American.”
America’s dark times even cast their shadow over The Man from UNCLE pilot, which suspended filming because of President Kennedy’s assassination.
On TV, anyway, evil could still be thwarted, and The Man from UNCLE attracted eager fans. Airing on NBC from 1964 to 1968, the series not only prompted a spinoff but numerous paperback novels, several movies, a latter-day pulp magazine and two comic books.
Solo and Kuryakin’s missions were always called “affairs,” and my favorite of the paperback titles was of course “The Unfair Fare Affair.”

Fly a Flag of Flapdoodle and See Who Salutes

The right keeps Americans stirred up about things that are symbolic but meaningless in real-world terms — flags, gay marriage, public religious displays, “death panels,” “wars on Xmas,“ “support the troops” magnets, standing or sitting for songs, etc.
These are all matters of semantics, flapdoodle, useful for keeping the American public distracted from the police-state erosions of its liberty and the corporate picking of its pockets. Americans who smartly saluted flags and jumped up for anthems and had the stars and stripes tattooed on their fat, smug asses also stood silently aside while Bush and Cheney blatantly lied this country into invading a country that hadn’t harmed or even threatened the United States, getting several hundred thousand innocent people there killed. So I do think much of their fucking “patriotism?” No.

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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

What I Learned from Teaching Ethics

In teaching, I’ve learned any number of life lessons. Teaching journalism ethics, for example, taught me the universal utility of developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.
Kohlberg divides human moral and ethical development broadly into three stages. Stage one is pre-conventional, the moral level of a child. A child’s moral view is that he wants whatever he wants and he doesn’t want to get punished for getting it. He’s amoral or sub-moral. That’s to be expected in a child, but adults stuck at that level are invariably trouble, often dangerous to themselves and those around them — people like Benito Mussolini and Donald J. Trump.
Stage two is the conventional level, and describes the bulk of humanity. They obey the laws, they go along to get along. Generally good people as far it goes, they are nevertheless subject to what Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil.” If they happen to look around and see that everybody else supports slavery or the murder of Jews or torture, then so will they.
Stage three is the post-conventional level, those who recognize and stand up against injustice even if that injustice is backed by authorities, and even at some risk to themselves. This is the level of our heroes from popular culture and history. They’re Marshal Will Kane and attorney Atticus Finch and Captain Kirk and Captain America. They’re Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Ida B. Wells and Edward R. Murrow.
 The Milgram experiment demonstrated that the post-conventional people are vastly outnumbered by the conventional people. But it’s always the post-conventional people who count, who move the morality of the world. “Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins,” Chris Hedges noted. “They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own.”

Lois Lane: From Victim to Victor

After 78 years of being rescued by Superman, Lois Lane is finally doing the rescuing in her own title as Superwoman.
As usual, in a year when a woman is finally running for president, the funhouse mirror of American popular culture is reflecting an exaggerated but vivid and telling image of the reality. From victim to victor. Women’s empowerment made super-powered.
Ironically, Margot Kidder, the actress who played Lois in the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies, predicted this turn of events when I interviewed her almost 20 years ago. She was unaware that the characters had become engaged and then married in the comic books, and subsequently had no secrets from each other. But she wasn’t unappreciative of the changes.
“She’ll have to get some super powers next,” Kidder said. “As women’s liberation goes on, that’s how it should be. Know more and do more. I’m all for it.” She added with a laugh, “But skip the marriage. And make sure he does the cooking.”
Actually, Lois Lane’s super-empowerment has been a stubbornly persistent theme. She has been gaining and losing super powers, in dreams or in comic-book “reality,” since the mid-1940s.
“Our society’s ideals of fair play demanded there be super heroines,” wrote Danny Fingeroth in Superman on the Couch. “But our society’s ingrained, conflicted and unconscious feelings toward powerful women made the creation of truly crowd-pleasing superhero women take decades — generations — longer to develop than their male counterparts.”
In the 1960s, Lois acquired super powers with such frequency that she sported her own recognizable green-and-yellow super costume for appearances in Action Comics and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Her romantic rival Lana Lang got a yellow-and-purple one, and the stories reflected the ambiguous attitudes of the times by trivializing women’s power as often as they celebrated it.
Instead of corralling killers or blowing out forest fires, Super-Lois and Super-Lana wiped up super-pancakes and super-pizzas in their efforts to impress Superman. So fevered were their desires to marry him that they even engaged in a flying super-catfight.
But something else was there, in the American air, beyond the condescending silliness. In fact, the cultural gravitational pull of this theme of an empowered Lois Lane has been strong enough to affect even the Superman stories outside the comic books.
In the final episode of the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman, All That Glitters, Noel Neill’s Lois gained super powers. And in the 1990s TV series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Terry Hatcher’s Lois accidentally siphoned Superman’s powers to become Ultrawoman.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Saying Hello to Hope

While sitting at my desk in the Mattoon Journal Gazette one fine fall afternoon in 1986, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, dialed the number of a Florida hotel and said hello to Bob Hope.
Bob Hope in 1986, at the age of 83. Photo by Allan Warren
Hope was on the road and due to appear at Eastern Illinois University for Parents’ Weekend. He had arranged the interview because, despite his superstar status, he simply thought that was what a professional performer was supposed to do — generate business for the show. I admired that straightforward professionalism.
We chatted for maybe 40 minutes. I was impressed with him, but he was unimpressed with himself. Here was a guy, after all, who’d actually had his own DC comic, just like Superman!
I remarked that he’d done the original version of the Ghostbusters franchise (Ghost Breakers in 1940, with Paulette Goddard), but Hope brushed aside any comparison. He pooh-poohed my question about the rumors that he was the richest guy in Hollywood, without exactly denying it.
Hope remarked that he’d been sitting on his hotel bed the night before, watching reruns of I Love Lucy and thinking how well Lucille Ball’s comedy held up. I could only wonder at the fact that I was talking to someone who, when he said the name “Lucy,” was merely pronouncing the name of an old friend.
Hope did phone interviews with college newspapers as a part of the tour, and one of the student reporters asked him what his old friend and movie co-star Bing Crosby was up to. Hope paused a moment, and then, in that unflappable voice, he replied.
“Well, not much. He’s dead,” Hope said drily.
The crooner had died nine years earlier. I always cite that anecdote to beginning journalism students to underline the advice, “Don’t embarrass yourself! Do your research!”
Hope and I talked about Hollywood, the nature of comedy, his Road pictures, his passion for golf, his military entertainment tours and any number of other things.
After I hung up the phone, I realized I really only knew one thing about Bob Hope — that he actually was still the same regular guy he’d been when he was a London-born unknown vaudevillian. Despite decades of stardom on Broadway, radio, the big and small screens and even in comic books, Hope somehow seemed to keep himself in perspective. No small feat, that.
I interviewed dozens of celebrities in my years in the journalism business, and met many lesser talents who had much larger egos. I’ve puzzled over the fact that it was the most famous of them all — Bob Hope — who had the easiest, most unassuming manner.
Hope died in 2003, at the age 0f 100. So thanks for the memories, Mr. Hope.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How the Hulk Failed His Way to the Top

The Hulk is undoubtedly the only major superhero character who was initially cancelled after only six issues.
At any company but Marvel, that would have spelled the end for him. But by the time the Hulk’s last issue was published in March 1963, Stan Lee was integrating Marvel’s titles into a close-knit universe, so that the Hulk need not vanish. The misunderstood monster circulated as an antagonist in the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man before acquiring his new feature in Tales to Astonish in October 1964.
In his penultimate issue, Incredible Hulk 5 (Jan. 1963), the mercurial early Hulk is now cunning and aggressive, transforming at will with the aid of a gamma ray gun. He tackles the underground despot Tyrannus as well as the commie despot General Fang.
Tyrannus woos Betty Ross as a means of neutralizing Earth’s defenses in the person of her dad, General Thunderbolt Ross. Holding Betty and Rick Jones hostage in his weird kingdom, Tyrannus forces the Hulk to compete as a gladiator in a sequence that anticipates Planet Hulk events decades later. We get a glimpse of how Jack Kirby might have handled that storyline.
To defeat the hordes of the General Fang (we had armies, commies had hordes, you see), the Hulk decides it would be best to dress up as a Yeti for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to Rick Jones or to us. He appears to be a cute, green-faced polar bear who talks like a Brooklyn barroom bouncer.
You never knew quite what you were going to see when you opened a Jack Kirby Hulk comic, but it was always interesting.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beware the Witch of Metropolis

The battle of the sexes took on epic, even cosmic proportions in Superman comics, with his love interest Lois Lane regularly threatening to uncover the precious secret of his Clark Kent identity.
Even more unsettling to adolescent boys was the recurring suggestion that Lois might become more powerful than Superman. In the 20th century, being physically defeated by a girl was said to be a terrible fate, you know.
In fact, that was the point of the Otto Binder-Kurt Schaffenberger story in the first issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (March-April 1958). On the Curt Swan cover, Lois, flying on her broomstick with the powers of a witch, gloats to the Man of Tomorrow about her superhuman abilities.
Actually, Superman was paternalistically protecting Lois, who had been exposed to a defective youth formula that causes her to age into a crone at night. Warned by a scientist that the shock of the truth might kill her, Superman concocts a series of elaborate super-hoaxes to keep Lois distracted by making her think she’s acquired supernatural abilities. I guess it made sense to Superman, and anyway it worked.
Superman stories are often thematically concerned with strength and weakness. And as masculinity has been routinely identified with power in American culture, and femininity with weakness, it isn’t surprising that these kinds of plots would appear again and again.
Also, the idea of being somehow threatened by someone you love has an underlying psychological power that’s reflected in the image of the “femme fatale” from detective stories. After all, the people whom we love are the people for whom we are truly vulnerable. To love, as someone wise once said, is to give hostages to fortune.
General Zod’s remarks to Ursa in Superman II were telling:
General Zod: This “super-man” is nothing of the kind; I’ve discovered his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for these Earth creatures.
Ursa: Like pets?
General Zod: I suppose so.
Ursa: Sentimental idiot!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What About the Poor? Just Make Them Disappear

The poor aren't "always with us." As a matter of fact, on TV they're never with us. And soon they will BE all of us.

Reaching Peak Kleptocapitalism

As Max Ibanez says, “This is the final result of unfettered capitalism. It’s the fascist state at its ideal. Unlimited labor willing to kill each other for the opportunity to mow lawns and scrub barnacles off yachts. How do you get unlimited labor? Get the priests and conservatives to resist contraceptives. Be careful you unwashed masses … if you start waking up, they’ll start wars for you to die in. Or they may just say fuck it and start bombing you right at home.”

Benito Trump as Night Falls in America

From the first moment he began to peddle outrageous and obvious lies about the president’s birth, the American corporate media has winked at Donald “Benito” Trump, joked with Trump, spotlighted Trump and promoted Trump.
What it has not done is the only thing it should have done, which is to expose Trump as the unhinged fascist fraud he is.
And if Trump becomes the banana republic dictator of the United States, we’ll have the American corporate news media to thank for it. I have never been more disgusted with these amoral prostitutes who pose as “professionals.”
Trump is a narcissistic sociopath utterly without empathy, a man who sees nothing else in the world but mirrors. He understands how people feel when he hurts them about as well as he understands ancient Greek.
Anyone who ever entertained the idea that Donald J. Trump was even minimally acceptable as a presidential candidate is so profoundly stupid that I’m a little surprised their autonomic nervous system is actually smart enough to permit them to breathe. And the funny thing is, the other Republican presidential candidates were all just about as bad.
Trump supporters are now nothing but a mob screaming “n*gger” and “beaner!” to promote a fascist dictatorship. Whether or not they’re smart enough to realize it, they’ve become evil.
But these hideous people didn’t spring from nowhere, nor did they arrive without cause.
“I’m saying that the landscape I just saw in west central Florida, whose inhabitants crawl mollusk-like from fast-food outlets to convenience stores to healthcare providers to office parks, in their SUVs and pickup trucks with tinted windows, is a landscape of cognitive dissonance and collective delusion,” Andrew O’Hehir wrote. “It’s the landscape of madness in general, and the flavor of madness provided by Donald Trump in particular.”
Trump is tapping displaced, scapegoated anger, and anger always springs from fear — in this case, the deep economic anxiety of the dying American middle class. The Democrats have got to start addressing that problem openly and directly.
Because it’s not morning in America anymore. It’s twilight.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Angel of Iron Man's Better Nature

For his first nine appearances, Iron Man sported powerful-looking but bulky, robot-like armor. In Tales of Suspense 48 (Dec. 1963), he got an upgrade to a lighter, more flexible red-and-gold armor.
The superheroic-looking armor was impressive, but the issue’s voodoo-ish villain, “Mister Doll,” not so much. The next issue, however, would be one of my favorites.
In Tales of Suspense 49 (Jan. 1964), Iron Man would use his new armor to withstand a nuclear explosion and rescue a member of the X-Men, the new team fighting the Blob in their third issue that same month.
“Oh, it makes perfect sense that Stan (Lee) would want to showcase his new title in another book and market them a bit more,” comics historian Don Alsafi noted. “But ... the Angel? I know the X-Men has only been around for a couple of issues so far, and hasn't had much of a chance to really develop the characters — and yet, the Angel isn’t the team member I would have thought to be most appealing or interesting. Really, in a setting as weird and wondrous as the Marvel world has rapidly become, the ability to fly is as unremarkable of a power as ... well, the ability to shrink. (Note that characters such as the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Iron Man all possess the power of flight, and in ways that are completely secondary to their main abilities.)”
Deranged by that all-purpose plot device radiation, the Angel embarks on a rampage that Iron Man halts with a particularly heroic strategy. Deliberately letting his boot jets flame out, Iron Man falls back toward earth into a fatal dive, reasoning that his plight will snap the Angel back to his normally heroic personality.
As when Daredevil fought the Sub-Mariner, this was another innovative example of a Marvel hero achieving a victory by “losing.” Tony Stark risked his life for someone who was essentially a stranger in a gamble that paid off.
I’m not sure 21st century audiences, long since jaded by the Lord of the Flies ethics of “reality TV,” would buy a superhero that altruistic. But it impressed the hell out of me when I was 9.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Let's Give the Republicans Another Shot

One political party impeached the president who put the U.S. into surplus, then used its Supreme Court to install a president who tortured people, started two failed wars, ran up unprecedented debt and crashed the world economy through his refusal to impose financial regulation, then fought tooth and nail against the president who tried to clean up their unholy mess, then ruined the U.S. credit rating by threatening to default on the national debt it ran up. Oh, and they let New Orleans drown. Now they're offering as president a racist reality show doofus who wonders why we can't just start launching nuclear attacks around the world.
What the hell. Let's give 'em another shot! Whaddya say?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Out of the Shadow of the Superhero

Comic books, like television, are a generally conservative entertainment medium, reflecting social change only after it’s taken hold in the culture at large. That makes it interesting to track the course of women’s rights in comics from the 1940s into the second decade of the 21st century.
Mary Marvel, Bulletgirl, Miss America, Namora, Golden Girl, Doll Girl, Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Superwoman, Aquagirl, Miss Arrowette, Fly Girl, Hawkgirl, Power Girl, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, even She-Hulk … the female knock-off version of the dominant male superhero was a venerable tradition, one that paradoxically paralleled American society’s growing recognition of female power even as it kind of condescended to the idea.
Take Fly Girl, for example. Introduced in Adventures of the Fly 13 (July 1961) as a traditional damsel in distress, actress Kim Brand didn’t play that role for long. In Adventures of the Fly 14 (September 1961), she was granted a magic ring by extradimensional emissary Turan that enabled her to duplicate the powers of attorney Thomas Troy, the Fly. She co-starred with him thereafter while appearing in solo stories in the Archie comics Laugh and Pep.
The trend even continued outside comics, with Six Million Dollar Men spawning Bionic Women.
Those female copies sometimes served as guinea pigs, trial balloons for plot developments that would later be visited on the more established male hero. Supergirl was “killed” before Superman, and Batgirl was physically disabled before Batman.
The 1979 movie Alien featured a female lead besting a space predator after her male crewmates had failed. And Joss Whedon’s innovative 1997 TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer marked a shift in the culture, featuring a no-nonsense superheroine in the lead who had copied no one, and whose adventures balanced the traditionally male mission of monster hunting with traditional female concerns about high school relationships.
And the permanent cultural shift that has taken place is even more apparent now. Hawkgirl, for example, has effectively supplanted her former mentor Hawkman, and Thor’s original love interest, Jane Foster, gained the powers, the hammer and the status of the thunder god.

How One Handles Bullies

“Cowards need someone to pick on,” Robert Reich wrote. “I know that from personal experience. When I was a boy, I was smaller than the rest of the kids — and many times I was teased and taunted.
Michael Schwerner
“I remember summers in a small town in upstate New York, and I remember a boy who was a few years older than me, a boy named Mickey, who protected me from bullying and gave me some very precious advice. He told me that the bullies could not really hurt me if I was stronger inside than they were inside. He told me that brutish anger is no match for calm determination. And although he perished a decade later, his determination did, in the end, triumph. His full name was Michael Schwerner. He was murdered by a cowardly group of racists in June 1964 as he and James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, also murdered, tried to register voters in Mississippi.”
Those murderers’ moral heirs are still around, now supporting Trump so they can “take their country back” from all the people they don’t want voting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Shark Hunters of the GOP

If I had to describe the 21st century Republican Party in one word, it would be “predatory.”
The GOP politicians like to throw beaten, bloodied-up minorities into the water like chum, hoping to lure in their stupid Great White Prey, whom they will then hang from hooks and butcher for their Social Security, Medicare and any other little thing of value they might have left.