“THE JAMES BROWN OF COMICS”

The website HiLowbrow.com has begun running a series called “Kirb Your Enthusiasm”, in which writers take a panel of the artwork of the great Jack Kirby and delve into its mysteries, ponder its meanings, extol its magnificence, or just diddle around in awestruck wonder. The series will continue through March 7th. I’m curious to see what the writes come up with, although the best Kirby-related writing on the site so far was written by the critic David Smay: “The dense, blocky dynamism of his Fourth World art, as inked by Mike Royer. The narrative build leading to the heartbreak on Ben Grimm’s face as Reed Richards forced him to transform back into The Thing in Fantastic Four #40. Kamandi’s Jackie Kennedy-esque bouffant flip. The photo montages he used when depicting the Negative Zone. Stealing The Demon’s face from a panel in Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. The epic backgrounds in Tales of Asgard. The “Mother Delilah” story in Boy’s Ranch #3. Fin Fang Foom! These are some things I particularly love about the work of JACK KIRBY (1917-94). All of which barely hints at his genius. His achievement is so vast that inventing the genre of romance comics is just a footnote in his career. I don’t rate the King with his handful of comics peers (Tezuka, Hergé, Barks, Eisner, Crumb). Why? Because he was the James Brown of comics: insanely prolific, unbelievably vital, formally inventive, forever influential. Kirby was superbad.”

THE IGNORANT SHALL RISE AGAIN

I am sorry to see that a couple hundred dead-enders met in Montgomery, Alabama on Saturday to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. I am sorry not because I object to grown-ups playing dress-up or even to people admiring aspects of the bravura Confederate spirit, but I do hate to see bad history promulgated as the truth. As Campbell Robertson reported in the Times:

“The Sons of the Confederacy’s principal message was that the Confederacy was a just exercise in self-determination that had been maligned by “the politically correct crowd” through years of historical distortions. It is the right of secession that they emphasize, not the cause, which they often describe as a complicated mix of tariff and tax disputes and Northern attempts to politically subjugate the South. . . .[S]lavery went unmentioned. Asked about the prominent speeches and documents that described the protection of slavery as the primary cause of secession, Joe Dupree of Mobile, Ala., said the question itself was wrong. “African slavery is a 4,000-year-old African institution that affected us a couple of hundred years,” he said. “It is, historically, an error.”

“Though the swearing-in was a re-enactment down to the antique buttons, there were contemporary political overtones. More than one speaker, insisting that “the South was indeed right,” extolled the Confederacy as an example of limited government that should be followed now, and said vaguely that the Southern cause was vindicated by a glance at the headlines every day. But even the politics on Saturday were tied up in a larger sense of grievance, a feeling of being marginalized and willfully misunderstood. Expressions of this feeling led to some rather unexpected analogies, like when Kelley Barrow, a teacher from Georgia, declared that people of Confederate heritage “have been forced to go to the back of the bus.””

I am very sorry these dedicated inheritors have studied the sources of their legacy so poorly. Would they do so, they would see that while the Confederate states did indeed claim the right to secede, none claimed to be seceding for states’ rights. In point of fact, when the idea of states’ rights was argued by Northern states seeking to ignore fugitive slave laws, Southern states strenuously objected. In South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, specific mention is made of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery”; of the Northern states’ failure to “fulfill their constitutional obligations” by failing to return fugitive slaves to bondage; of New York’s forbidding “slavery transit” and New England allowing blacks to vote. Most of the other seceding states argued the slavery line as well.

It is also false that secession was caused by disagreements over tariffs and taxes. This is, I’m afraid, a crock of shit. High tariffs were at the heart of the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s, but creased to be much of an issue thereafter. In 1857, tariffs were reduced to the lowest point since 1816, and the South’s representatives in Congress voted for the measure. Although the Confederate constitution largely copied the US Constitution, its authors made certain changes, most obviously about slavery and the rights of slaveholders. They made no changes about tariffs.

Finally, the Confederacy was hardly an example of limited government. For one thing, it approved the enslavement of a third of the population. Criticism of the government was punishable y death. And left to its own devices, it would have attempted the conquest of a slave holding empire in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

It is a sad thing that people feel “marginalized and willfully misunderstood.” But the Civil War has nothing to do with that.

On the up side, most of these geezers look pretty old. The report said that only a few hundred showed up. I’m guessing that by the bicentennial, they’ll be counted in the dozens.

13 HEDGE FUND MANAGERS OR 300,000 TEACHERS?

The essential Robert Reich has nailed the current crisis brilliantly:

“The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class – pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class. By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish. . . . The strategy has three parts.

The first is being played out in the budget battle in Washington. As they raise the alarm over deficit spending and simultaneously squeeze popular middle-class programs, Republicans want the majority of the American public to view it all as a giant zero-sum game among average Americans that some will have to lose. . . .In the coming showdown over Medicare and Social Security, House budget chair Paul Ryan will push a voucher system for Medicare and a partly-privatized plan for Social Security – both designed to attract younger middle-class voters.

The second part of the Republican strategy is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises. Unions didn’t cause these budget crises — state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession — but Republicans view them as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers. . . .Bargaining rights for public employees haven’t caused state deficits to explode. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many states that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent. Republicans would rather go after teachers and other public employees than have us look at the pay of Wall Street traders, private-equity managers, and heads of hedge funds – many of whom wouldn’t have their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout, and most of whose lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Depression to begin with.

Last year, America’s top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains – at 15 percent – due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded. If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society – thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let’s make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?

The third part of the Republican strategy is being played out in the Supreme Court. It has politicized the Court more than at any time in recent memory.
Last year a majority of the justices determined that corporations have a right under the First Amendment to provide unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission is among the most patently political and legally grotesque decisions of our highest court – ranking right up there with Bush vs. Gore and Dred Scott. Among those who voted in the affirmative were Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Both have become active strategists in the Republican party.. . .

These three aspects of the Republican strategy – a federal budget battle to shrink government, focused on programs the vast middle class depends on; state efforts to undermine public employees, whom the middle class depends on; and a Supreme Court dedicated to bending the Constitution to enlarge and entrench the political power of the wealthy – fit perfectly together. They pit average working Americans against one another, distract attention from the almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the top, and conceal Republican plans to further enlarge and entrench that wealth and power.

What is the Democratic strategy to counter this and reclaim America for the rest of us?”

Excellent question, Professor!

VIRGINIA, DAY TWO

On Day Two I was immersed in Williamsburg, and I continued to have a great time. In the morning, we attended a performance by some of Williamsburg’s historic character interpreters, most of whom were playing slaves in the Colonial Era. The scenarios did an excellent job bringing to life the conflicts and pressures experienced by people of color in those terrible circumstances. The actors who play these characters do an impressive job; not only do they have “play” characters, and their words, deeds, and feelings, but they have “inhabit” the characters, a kind of performance that requires considerable study of the personalities and the era, along with the nimbleness to extemporize when spoken to by visitors. A Q&A session followed the performance, and it was striking to hear the actors speak of the particular challenges posed by having to play a slave all day.

At a luncheon in the afternoon, we heard a talk by Professor Alan Brinkley of Columbia University on the question How Do Presidents Succeed-and Fail? Brinkley focused on the differences between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I guess Brinkley picked a topic suitable for Presidents’ Day weekend, but I would have preferred to have heard an address closer to the theme of the weekend. I am happy to say, however, that I met some wonderful people at lunch, including four school teachers from Salt Lake City who are crazy about Williamsburg (three of them had visited at least three times.) They love the atmosphere and they love history (I’m with them.) I also very lucky to have as a seat mate Christy Coleman, who is president of American Civil War Museum, which is located at the historic Tredegar Foundry in Richmond. I had never heard of this place (if I had, I probably would have checked it out instead of the Museum of the Confederacy), which uses historic interpreters and exhibitions to tell the story of the Civil War from Union, Confederate and African American perspectives. I really enjoyed talking to Ms. Coleman, who began her career as a historic interpreter at WIlliamsburg; I would have liked to have heard more about her exciting work.

After lunch, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Colin Campbell, the president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, who spoke about the organization’s efforts to bring history to life and to reveal the issues and conflicts that make studying it so exciting. “You can’t just have a guide take a group of tourists into a historic building and point out the wall paper anymore,” he said. “Those days are gone forever. We try to present stories here–stories that full of drama, and that are challenging, and that have the incomparable benefit of being real.” One can certainly appreciate the hard work and sheer intelligence that it takes to design programs that reach people of all ages and widely different interest levels, and that also take on topics that are sensitive, if not outright caustic. “Do I get mail?” Mr. Campbell chuckled. “Yes, but the content is not negotiable. We present what in our judgment is good history, not politically correct history.”

The evening concluded with a very entertaining musical performance by an impressively accomplished and very witty trio that calls themselves The Virginia Company. Their program, called “To Washington’s Health,” consisted of drinking songs, dances, reels, ballads and other tunes that would have been known to the Father of Our Country (who apparently was not only first in peace and war, but often first onto the dance floor.) Dinner took place at an excellent restaurant called The Blue Talon, where I was once again able to thank Samantha Lacher and Erin Curtis of the Missy Farren & Associates Public Relations Agency, who helped arrange my activities. I enjoyed meeting them, and am very grateful for all their congenial assistance.

VIRGINIA, DAY ONE

Somebody at Colonial Williamsburg, I’m flattered to say, likes me. Or perhaps to be more precise, like the Disunion Series, because I was extended an invitation to visit the the famous museum/educational center/resort and attend a conference entitled Storm on the Horizon: Slavery, Disunion, and the Roots of the Civil War. I had a terrific time.

Fortunate to have caught an early flight, I was able to spend a portion of spectacularly beautiful afternoon in Richmond visiting the Museum of the Confederacy and its neighbor, the Confederate White House, which was home to Jefferson Davis and his family during the war. My visit happened to coincide with a lecture on the selection and inauguration of Davis, which had taken place almost 150 years previously to the hour (we met at noon; Davis was sworn in at one PM.) The talk, which was given by Dean Knight, who is Supervisor of White House Operations, was very thorough and contained a lot of information that was new to me, which annoyed me, since I had just finished writing about the event. Anyway, I enjoyed the short visit, and then drove over to the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol, where I saw their spectacular statute of George Washington, as well as other monuments, including one commemorating the struggle for civil rights.

I arrived in Williamsburg around three PM, in time for a tour of the Civil War era Williamsburg. I knew that a pretty fierce battle had been fought in Williamsburg in May of 1862–part of General McClellan‘s poorly-conducted Peninsula campaign–but I did not know that Williamsburg remained under federal occupation from that point until late 1865.

After that, we attended a lecture by Professor Gordon Wood of Brown University, author of the splendid Empire of Liberty, who spoke on the subject of the Revolutionary War-era roots of the Civil War. This was an excellent talk, full of fresh perspectives. Wood began by observing that while he could see why the southern states wanted to secede, it wasn’t immediate obvious why the North cared. Wood made the case that the North took seriously the words of the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal, and after the failure of the French Revolution and of the revolutions of 1848, really bought into the idea that America was the world’s last, best hope of democratic principles. Although the South professed adherence to these ideas as well, and at the very end of the 18th century took some steps towards abolition, the 19th century saw a strengthening of the institution of slavery. In Wood’s estimation, the crucial factor that separated the sections was the attitude towards work: the North embraced it, honored it, and rewarded it, while the South thought it was menial and degrading. Slavery, said Wood, created two different cultures; by the time of the Missouri Crisis of 1819, Civil War was inevitable.

We ended the evening at the excellent seafood buffet at the Williamsburg Inn (special props to the crab cakes!)

SPY COMES TO THE INTERNET

Thanks primarily to the efforts of Kurt Andersen, all of the back issues of SPY are becoming available on Google. About half are up now, and the rest will be rolled out soon. As Google says: Smart. Funny. Fearless.”It’s pretty safe to say that Spy was the most influential magazine of the 1980s. It might have remade New York’s cultural landscape; it definitely changed the whole tone of magazine journalism. It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark, and whose demise is so lamented” —Dave Eggers. “It’s a piece of garbage” —Donald Trump.

THE HUMILIATING CURVEBALL

Is this America’s most humiliating moment? The hubristic claque that ran our country–Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al–are revealed today to be ridiculous, ignorant goats. As revealed in The Guardian, “The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.”

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, the famously codenamed Curveball, admitted to the Guardian that “he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down Saddam Hussein. “Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said to reporters. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.” Janabi says that he regrets the deaths that occured during the resulting war. “I tell you something when I hear anybody – not just in Iraq but in any war – [is] killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution? Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”

What’s terrible, of course, is not that our leaders made good-faith decisions based on poor intelligence. It’s that they willingly allowed themselves to believe wholly fabricated stories because it fit their agenda. Period.

A RARE FORAY INTO RELATIONSHIP ADVICE

I don’t know many unmarried women–unmarried women, as opposed to single women, are out of their twenties and would like to be married–but there was a column today on Huffington Post called “Why You’re Not Married’‘ that was funny and seemed kind of useful. (I know, I feel less credible giving relationship advice to women than I would recommending a douche.) Still, this piece, by a writer named Tracy McMillan who has written for Mad Men and The United States of Tara and has published a memoir called I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway. In the post, she identifies six reasons why a woman who wants to be married is not (“because the fact is — if whatever you’re doing right now was going to get you married, you’d already have a ring on it.”) Here are her reasons:

1. You’re a Bitch. Here’s what I mean by bitch. I mean you’re angry. You probably don’t think you’re angry. You think you’re super smart, or if you’ve been to a lot of therapy, that you’re setting boundaries. But the truth is you’re pissed. At your mom. At the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin. And it’s scaring men off. The deal is: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. . . .
2. You’re Shallow. When it comes to choosing a husband, only one thing really, truly matters: character. So it stands to reason that a man’s character should be at the top of the list of things you are looking for, right? But if you’re not married, I already know it isn’t. Because if you were looking for a man of character, you would have found one by now. . . . Instead, you are looking for someone tall. Or rich. Or someone who knows what an Eames chair is. Unfortunately, this is not the thinking of a wife. This is the thinking of a teenaged girl. . . .
3. You’re a Slut. Hooking up with some guy in a hot tub on a rooftop is fine for the ladies of Jersey Shore — but they’re not trying to get married. You are. Which means, unfortunately, that if you’re having sex outside committed relationships, you will have to stop. Why? Because past a certain age, casual sex is like recreational heroin — it doesn’t stay recreational for long. . . .
4. You’re a Liar. It usually goes something like this: you meet a guy who is cute and likes you, but he’s not really available for a relationship. . . .So you just tell him how perfect this is because you only want to have sex for fun. . . .[and] hang around, having sex with him, waiting for him to figure out that he can’t live without you. I have news: he will never “figure” this out. He already knows he can live without you just fine. And so do you.
5. You’re Selfish. A good wife, even a halfway decent one, does not spend most of her day thinking about herself. She has too much shit to do, especially after having kids. This is why you see a lot of celebrity women getting husbands after they adopt. The kids put the woman on notice: Bitch, hello! It’s not all about you anymore!
6. You’re Not Good Enough. I can tell [you think that] because you’re not looking for a partner who is your equal. No, you want someone better than you are: better looking, better family, better job. Here is what you need to know: You are enough right this minute. Period.

McMillan ends with a very wise observation: The idea that marriage will make you happy is false. “Marriage is not about getting something — it’s about giving it. Strangely, men understand this more than we do. Probably because for them marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession — a free-agent penis — and for us, it’s the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland. The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when they don’t deserve it. Because most of the time, your messy, farting, macaroni-and-cheese eating man will not be doing what you want him to. But as you give him love anyway — because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and most of all, accepting of your own dear self — you will find that you will experience the very thing you wanted all along: Love.”
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