July 2013 Archives

Peter Howard interviews Jack Katz about his magnum opus The First Kingdom:

PH: Please tell our readers what The First Kingdom is about.

JK: Okay, I'll give you a list. Some people think it's an adventure story. Some people think it's a fantasy. Some people think that I've tapped into something that happened in the past. Basically, it's about the regeneration of Man after an atomic holocaust. It's a ten thousand year span, in which the thing begins very primitively and Man gets more sophisticated... [...] The actual First Kingdom starts around Book 20. Everything before that is just preparation for that. You ask me what is The Kingdom about. It's many, many different stories.

Katz specifically praises Hal Foster: "He was just so magnificent and, to this day, I still consider him the best of all of us. There's something about his work that was magical." Foster's decades-long tenure on the strip helps put Katz's achievement in context:

PH: Would it be reasonable to suggest that The First Kingdom was, perhaps, the first true American graphic novel? Was devoting 15 years of your life to this story the least bit daunting?

JK: No, because by the time I was 12 I had the whole thing packaged. I just didn't have the language, I didn't have the drawing skills... so I just kept working on it and working on it. [...] There were times when I became frustrated because I couldn't find the right avenue to direct the story, but the story had already been completed. [...] Two more books that augment The First Kingdom and actually complete the trilogy are now being published by Titan Publishing. These are Destiny and The Space Explorer's Club.

Katz laments the market forces' effects, and notes how fear of failure inhibits creativity. He reminds readers that "in every one of The First Kingdom books, I dedicate the book to some artist, writer or composer that had been passed over:"

It's just that so many people I know, they pick up Shakespeare and write a play or something and they get these tremendous egos. They become the prisoners of conceit. This is all to defray the fact that they feel like crap inside and they're scared. You can tell them to their face that they're living a lie, but they're indifferent and aloof. Why? Because they're either dead or they're part of that great majority of dormancy instead of latency.

Joel Watson discusses the joys of Comic-Con, particularly a boy who "seemed to have Down's Syndrome or some other mental challenge:"

...the dad said, "I've already got it worked out. It's taken care of. We're going to be at Comic-Con all 5 days next year."

"All five days?!" replied the son, the peculiar look on his face replaced with a smile so wide, my heart could hardly stand it.

"Yep. Just like the old days," the father reassured his son, his voice slightly cracking.

The son pounded his fist in the air and did a triumphant little jump. They walked side by side a few steps further when the son, much shorter than his father, thrust both of his arms around the man's body and buried his face into his father's chest. He hugged him so hard he nearly knocked him over. The dad put his arms around the young man and they kept on walking, holding each other like that until they were out of my sight.

"My heart was completely broken," Watson writes, "because it could not contain the love I had just witnessed between this father and son:"

This was their special time to share the things they loved with each other and with 100,000 other people who felt the same way. This was their homecoming and I'll be damned if I stand by while anyone tries to convince the world it's wrong, evil, false or anything but genuine and pure and wonderful.

Contrast that joy to the "dead-eyed" kids of the Christian anti-comics protesters:

Someone influential introduced them to hatred and fire and brimstone and righteous judgement instead of introducing them to comic books and cartoons and costumes and fun. These kids are the only victims in this situation. Rather than shame them, I wish I could invite them in. I wish I could sit them down front row center for the Marvel panel, or take them on a tour of artist alley. I wish they could dig through longboxes with me until we found all 4 variant covers of X-Men #1 (the book that got me hooked when I was 10 years old, and changed my life forever). I wish I could show them how different the expressions on our faces looked from theirs, and welcome them into a world without fear, without damnation and without shame. I wish they could have seen that young man's face and the way he hugged his father, and I hope someone, someday loves them that much.

Life is so fantastically short. The time you spend making yourself and others unhappy is wholly wasted, and you can never have it back. Put down the megaphone, drop the sign and come inside. We're having so much fun, and everyone is invited.

Wil Wheaton noted that "many of the sign holders are children between the ages of (I'd guess) 8 and 16:"

These children looked miserable. They looked sad. They looked like they'd rather be anywhere else than shouting at thousands of joyful people who are celebrating things they love. I wondered if these kids liked any of the movies or characters or popular culture that was being celebrated all around them, and if they did, how it made them feel to be put into a situation by their parents where they had to be angry at those happy people who weren't bothering anyone, and seemed to be having a pretty good time.

I feel like these kids are in a cult, and their parents are robbing them of their childhood. I feel like these people show up where large groups of us are being happy, so they can tell us that we should feel bad. [...] Maybe if they're so concerned for the future of humanity, they could take the time, money, and energy the put into yelling at people and invest it in feeding and clothing people who are struggling to do that for themselves.

David Sirota cautions us against buying into the right-wing myths about Detroit, and asks:

How could Michigan officials possibly talk about cutting the average $19,000-a-year pension benefit for municipal workers while reaffirming their pledge of $283 million in taxpayer money to a professional hockey stadium?

"This is classic right-wing dogma," he writes, "the kind that employs selective storytelling to use a tragic event as a means to radical ends:"

In this case, the ends are -- big shocker! -- three of the conservative movement's larger long-term economic priorities: 1) preservation of job-killing trade policies 2) immunity for corporations and 3) justification for budget policies that continue to profligately subsidize the rich.

"It's a straightforward conservative formula," he explains, as "the right blames state and municipal budget problems exclusively on public employees' retirement benefits, often underfunding those public pensions for years:"

The money raided by those pension funds is then used to enact expensive tax cuts and corporate welfare programs. After years of robbing those pension funds to pay for such giveaways, a crisis inevitably hits, and workers' pension benefits are blamed -- and then slashed. Meanwhile, the massive tax cuts and corporate subsidies are preserved, because we are led to believe they had nothing to do with the crisis. Ultimately, the extra monies taken from retirees are then often plowed into even more tax cuts and more corporate subsidies.

He points out that "it's a good bet the $19,000-a-year pensioners are going to bear a disproportionate share of the sacrifice [because they] have the least amount of political power:"

So, as always, they probably won't be at the negotiating table. Instead, they'll almost certainly be where they usually are: on the menu, exactly where the conservative movement wants them.

It's another example of Republicans' race to the bottom, notes The Guardian:

If a city declares bankruptcy and its current and retired workforce ranging from librarians and sanitation men to police officer and fire fighters are forced to take permanent reductions to their promised monthly pension benefits, will anyone care besides the impacted employees and the unlucky retired workers dependent on that income?

BigThink also looks into this "nightmarish scenarios" for pensioners:

Detroit's 21,000 pensioners...stand to lose up to 90 percent of the pensions they were promised and have been expecting. [...] According to this data, 21 states have worrisomely underfunded pension funds while 29 are in pretty good shape.

ThinkProgress wonders, were the negotiations designed to fail?

The messages made public thusfar [sic] show Jones Day attorneys defining bankruptcy as inevitable in their own words.

"It seems that the ideal scenario would be that Snyder and Bing both agree that the best option is simply to go through an orderly Chapter 9 [bankruptcy]," one Jones Day attorney writes to Orr in the emails.

Fox's outlandish figures, though, claim that "in 2012, total state and local unfunded pension liabilities amounted to more than $4 trillion:"


Fox seems to have picked the largest number it could find -- one that is about four times larger than all other estimates. [...] Fox, of course, has used every opportunity to raise the alarm over Detroit's unfortunate economic circumstances and push myths about public pensions.

We know that the Right's supply-side dogma is wrong, and there's another solution that isn't top-down; see Eric Liu & Nick Hanauer's piece on the true origins of prosperity (a part of Democracy Journal's series on middle-out economics):

Middle-out economics argues that national prosperity does not trickle down from wealthy businesspeople or corporations; rather, it flows in a virtuous cycle that starts with a thriving middle class. Middle-out economics demands a systemic policy focus on the skills, capacities, and income of the middle class.

My Quote of the Day is the observation that "The picture you have in your head about how the world works absolutely determines what you think is possible or beneficial:"

For example, people equally committed to getting from Earth to Mars will have paralyzing differences about how to get there if one group believes the sun and Mars orbit the Earth while the other group believes that the Earth and Mars orbit the sun. People are entitled to differences of opinion. But only one cosmology gets you to Mars. And crucially, splitting the difference won't get you there either.

To bring the analogy back to politics:

It is impossible to effectively contest trickle-down economics and the tax policies it implies while simultaneously accepting its foundational premise -- that rich businesspeople are the sole job creators in a capitalist economy. This is because if they are the job creators, then trickle-down economics is necessarily true. But if middle-class consumption is what creates jobs, then trickle-down economics is necessarily false.

Now comes the tricky part--moving the idea of middle-out economics into the pubic consciousness:

Middle-out economics is not just a catchy rhythmic contrast to trickle-down; it's a strategy based on a set of facts about how the economy really works. [...] Middle-out economics isn't an attack on capitalism; it is simply a more effective form of capitalism than the faux free-market ideology we currently embrace.

HuffPo has a nice piece on TOR which quotes ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian's observation that "When you create a technology that allows activists to communicate anonymously, you don't get to pick which activists use it:"

"If you want a network that's safe for dissidents and journalists, you have to allow the pedophiles, too," he added. "You have to take the good with the bad."

Tor masks people's online activity by routing traffic through layers of servers, or "nodes," around the world. Its creators likened the encryption method to layers of an onion, giving the software its original name: "The Onion Router." About 500,000 people use Tor every day, according to the Tor Network, which consists of a global network of more than 3,000 volunteers who host servers and promote freedom of speech and online privacy. [...] And as more people use it, it becomes easier for Tor users to blend into the crowd and remain anonymous.

"Anonymity loves company," she [Misata, the Tor Project spokesperson] said.

Speaking of email secrecy, the NSA can't search its own email archive despite its much-vaunted technical prowess:

"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is "a little antiquated and archaic," she added. [...] "It's just baffling," says Mark Caramanica of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "This is an agency that's charged with monitoring millions of communications globally and they can't even track their own internal communications in response to a FOIA request."

update (8:51pm):
Digby discusses Senator Ron Wyden's speech about the NSA:

"The piece of technology we consider vital to the conduct of our everyday personal and professional life ... happens to be a combination phone bug, listening device, location tracker and hidden camera," he said.

"Without adequate protections built into the law there's no way that Americans can ever be sure that the government isn't going to interpret its authorities more and more broadly, year after year, until the idea of a tele-screen monitoring your every move turns from dystopia to reality," Wyden added.

"Senators like Wyden, Udall and Merkley," writes digby, "have been trying to sound the alarm for years and nobody listened:"

That's what happens when these programs are classified, the people in the know are appalled and cannot say anything about it. Wyden's speech lays out all the reasons why these programs are wrong and intimates strongly that we still don't know the full scope of what they are doing. Has he committed treason too?

Here's some more of Wyden's speech:

As time went on, from my view on the Intelligence Committee there were developments that seemed farther and farther removed from the ideals of our Founding Fathers. This started not long after 9/11, with a Pentagon program called Total Information Awareness,which was essentially an effort to develop an ultra-large-scale domestic data-mining system. Troubled by this effort, and its not exactly modest logo of an all-seeing eye on the universe, I worked with a number of senators to shut it down.

Unfortunately, this was hardly the last domestic surveillance overreach. In fact, the NSA's infamous warrantless wiretapping program was already up and running at that point, though I, and most members of the Intelligence Committee didn't learn about it until a few years later. This was part of a pattern of withholding information from Congress that persisted throughout the Bush administration - I joined the Intelligence Committee in 2001, but I learned about the warrantless wiretapping program when you read about it in the New York Times in late 2005.

It's worth remembering that "even at the height of the Cold War, when the argument for absolute secrecy was at its zenith, Congress chose to make US surveillance laws public:"

Without public laws, and public court rulings interpreting those laws, it is impossible to have informed public debate. And when the American people are in the dark, they can't make fully informed decisions about who should represent them, or protest policies that they disagree with. These are fundamentals. It's Civics 101. And secret law violates those basic principles. It has no place in America.

Salon observes that the Right sells garbage to its audience, calling the movement "an elaborate moneymaking venture by which the wealth of the rabid and gullible conservative rank and file is redistributed to already rich celebrities:"

It must also be said that this is not relegated strictly to conservatives -- talk radio breeds hucksterism. But conservatives, in addition to dominating talk radio, are left with a movement of dwindling size and increasing paranoia and disposable income. [...] At some point, maybe they [the right-wing stars] gave up a bit on advancing conservatism to focus instead on advancing themselves as they saw the writing on the wall of a movement circumscribed by demographic and societal change.

David Hart's open letter to Bitches Brew at McSweeney's is hilarious:

Your nearly 90-minute double album has been described as "one of the most remarkable creative statements of the last half-century, in any artistic form." You're also nearly unlistenable to anyone over the age of 15 without massive loads of drugs, and even then you've gotta be kidding me. [...]

But seriously, your title track is almost 27 minutes long. Couldn't lose even one note of "bleebloorfruuuh"? I thought jazz was supposed to be about the space between the notes, but you didn't leave any.

Part of the problem, he continues, is that "jazz music almost always sucks:"

I think it's time for you to go into a bag and off to Housing Works donation bin, where some other moronic teenager can enjoy you and be warped by your awful music.

Thank you, Bitches Brew. Also, fuck you, Bitches Brew. Or, to put it in terms you can understand...


Claire Conner's admission that my parents were right-wing extremists is an excerpt from her book Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right. It's an interesting portrait of a worldview that called George Wallace "a true statesman," Nelson Rockefeller "a Commie, period," and received "views about African Americans and the civil rights movement from Robert Welch" (co-founder of the John Birch Society):

As African Americans continued to ride, sit in, and march for their civil rights, the JBS ramped up its rhetoric around the movement. Welch reminded all members that the whole idea of civil rights was conceived by the Communists to "foment racial riots in the South." [...] Thanks to Welch, my parents were terrified. So was I, but my fear was for the safety of the protesters who wanted nothing more than the same rights white Americans had.

Her memory of the 1963 March on Washington is also instructive:

I watched as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the podium. I'd heard a lot about Dr. King. I'd heard he believed in a Negro country inside the United States. I heard he encouraged violence against whites. I'd heard he hired thugs to terrorize black folks who disagreed with him. I'd heard he was as bad as they came.

But until that day, I'd never actually heard him.

From his first words, I was riveted. When he talked about the "fierce urgency of now" and "meeting physical force with soul force," about his "dream rooted in the American dream," that "sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will sit at the table of brotherhood," that children would "not be judged on the color of their skin but the content of their character," and "little black boys and little black girls will join hands with white boys and white girls as brothers and sisters," chills ran up my arms. When the throng burst into "We Shall Overcome," I stood in my basement, all alone, and sang with them: "We shall overcome some day."

I touched my face. It was damp. Until that moment, I hadn't realized I was crying.

If only ideological blinders were always that easy to discard--or if they didn't cause tears in any other way.

NYT's piece on homeownership and happiness quotes Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia:

"People still view housing as a central component of happiness and a critical aspect of the American dream," Dr. Dunn said. "But there is little research to support that."

A 2011 study of about 600 women in Ohio found that homeowners weren't any happier than renters. The study was conducted by Grace Wong Bucchianeri, then an assistant professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.[...] Indeed, homeowners spent less time on leisure activities with friends and reported that they derived some pain from homeownership.

"Buying a home," the piece continues, "is still considered an important step on the ladder to personal fulfillment:"

But Dr. Dunn isn't convinced ownership is all it's cracked up to be. "A very robust finding in psychology is people are highly motivated to justify their own choices," she said. "It's very hard to get people to admit they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a way not optimal for their happiness."

Writer/artist Jack Katz discusses the four-volume reissue of The First Kingdom, and its two sequels:

Is Titan going to publish The Space Explorers Club too?

Yes, that's going to come right after they finish with The First Kingdom. They are publishing that in four parts, The Birth of Tundran is available now with The Galaxy Hunters coming in December, Vengeance in March of 2014, Migration in June of 2014, then The Space Explorers Club in September of 2014, and Destiny in December of 2014.

Hitch wasn't a philosopher, writes Salon's Joe Winkler amidst criticisms of modern atheism in general:

Lamentably, those we've dubbed the New Atheists, while intelligent, rarely speak in clear terms and arguments. As public intellectuals, or scientists writing outside of their professional field, they rarely partake of the clarity and jargon of classical philosophical arguments. Generally, we look down upon jargon as extraneous, and dense for the sake of denseness, but jargon also gives us specific, clear terms with which to converse.

Winkler criticizes Hitchens in particular:

Hitchens' informal style, the sort of brilliant uncle talking at a party, causes trouble because it appears that he skipped generations of important philosophers and certain intellectual traditions. How do you talk about religion and truth and knowledge without bringing in explicit questions of epistemology, of what we actually say about truth? All of these questions make some of Hitchens' argument feel amateurish, like late-night dorm room philosophizing, which can be brilliant, but rarely precise.

Thom Hartmann looks at Libertarian racism, noting that Senator Rand Paul "is continuing in a great family tradition:"

Even though he denies responsibility, his father Ron published a series of racist newsletters during a1996 Congressional campaign.

However, we shouldn't really be that surprised by either of the Pauls' connection to far-right racism. That's because they're libertarians and libertarianism is the velvet glove over the iron fist of racism.

Here's how it works: when you have an entrenched racial and economic class that has ruled a continent for five centuries, they have well-established levers and levels of power and wealth. They will, generation after generation, do whatever is necessary to hang on to that wealth and power.

In essence, he writes, the conservative/Libertarian small-government mantra really means "let's lock into place white political power, white wealth, and white privilege:"

Of course, not all libertarians think of themselves as racist, and most probably don't see how their "get rid of government" policies prop up institutional bigotry, but the reality is that when you blast government as the root of all evil and neuter its power, you end weakening the one thing that can keep the ruling elite in check.

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