Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Wooden Ships

I can see by your coat, my friend, you're from the other side. There's just one thing I have to know. Can you tell me, please, who won?

Won't you have some of my purple berries? I've been eating them for six or seven weeks now; haven't gotten sick once. Probably keep us both alive.

Chimes of Freedom

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia by Brian Wood is a graphic novel that explores the lives of otherwise ordinary folk caught up in the extraordinary drama of the American Revolution. The main characters are fictional representations of real people. Historical figures pass through the narratives to add credence to the portraits of farmers, villagers, slaves, and natives. These stories span a lifetime, from the 1750s to 1800s, bringing the reader to Vermont, the Ohio frontier, the Carolinas, and the city of Boston.
Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia by Brian Wood
with Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson,
and other illustrators,
Collections of Rebels #1 through #10 inclusive
(Milwaukee: Dark Horse Comics, 2016).
 Anyone who can tell you much about the American Revolution is likely to be a political activist. Radicals, whether conservative or progressive, identify with the struggle for rights and independence, even as they find fault with it. On the left, the fact that the leaders were well-to-do merchants and lawyers explains the incomplete recognition of rights, the eventual three-fifths compromise, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and other betrayals of democracy. From the far right, libertarian science fiction author L. Neil Smith, who penned a set of Lando Calrissian stories, has an alternate universe in which Alexander Hamilton escaped to Prussia following a failed federalist coup to make George Washington king of America, leaving the republic to the true republicans.
Here, in essays apart from the graphic novel, author Brian Wood explains that he is a socialist. His passions for the commoner feed the compelling histories. The contextual events are real: Vermont’s war against New York, Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and the Cowpens. The men and women who fought and suffered and died or survived are inventions of the author. 
“Creating Seth Abbot was partly to give myself a break – a fictional character allows us to tell the story we all want to tell without being trapped by historical facts and having my hands tied narratively. I mean, the Green Mountain Boys were real, as was Ethan Allen and the “noble train of artillery,” but I wanted to be control of the personal narrative of the main character. Seth needed to be a sort of everyman. I also wanted to be able to filter some of my own stories of Vermont childhood, the history that excites me, and the locations I know personally into that narrative.” – “Interview: Brian Wood Returns to Rebels with the Next Generation,” by Jeffrey Renaud in CBR Exclusives here. 
Within the ten stories is the continuing drama of Seth Abbott and his wife Mercy Abbott. He leaves her behind as he goes off to fight. The second time, he does not know that she is pregnant. He returns five years later. 

Among Seth Abbott’s adventures is his leading the team that brought the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights. In that story, Brian Wood’s socialist preferences lead him astray. He draws Henry Knox as a soft sycophant, a bookseller with no military or other practical experience. A bookseller he was. He was also a street tough, a hoodlum who acquired the trappings of culture and sold them successfully until Boston was occupied. That remaining so, we slog through the mountain snow and valley mud with the farmers who hauled the cannons. For them, it was just more hard work. As one veteran told me about his view of Army life compared to his home life, “In other words, the Army was a lot like Tuesday.”  

Jane Franklin Mecom promises to tell the story of
rebel printer Silence Brght
“We actually have Washington in the story in issue No. 4 along with Benedict Arnold,” he revealed. “Later in the year we’ll see Jane Mecom, Ben Franklin’s sister. I think it’s a good idea to drop these people in from time to time for context, but part of the point of ‘Rebels’ is to not re-tell the same stories everyone’s heard about these famous people, but to find the untold stories, the stories behind the folktales, and tell those instead. So you can expect famous cameos, but no more than that. Those public figures of 18th century America are often referred to as “patriots” — a term that has been misused, misappropriated and/or misunderstood in recent years, he said. Exclusive preview: “‘Rebels’ writer Brian Wood explores the Revolutionary War” Hero Complex LA Times May 12, 2015 here. 
Brian Wood invented Sarah Hull and her husband, Captain Samuel Hull. She is the “Molly Pitcher” whose service to her country included hauling water for the cannons and for the men who fired them, and then loading and firing those guns with them.  The real Sarah Hull was just as interesting. 
"But if we paid you, we would have to pay all the women who served."
“Sarah Hull, the wife of Major William Hull, was one of those women who followed their husbands to the camp, resolved to partake their dangers and privations. She was with the army at Saratoga, and joined the other American ladies in kind and soothing attentions to the fair captives after the surrender. She was the daughter of Judge Fuller, of Newton, Massachusetts, and was born about 1755. At the close of the war she returned home; and when her gallant husband was appointed general of the county militia, did the honors of his Marquée, and received guests of distinction with a grace, dignity, and affability that attracted general admiration.” “Sarah Hull” at AmericanRevolution.org here. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Austin Under the Stars

Last night, Laurel and I attended a star party hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society and St. Stephen's Episcopal School. Laurel recommended it on the advice of a friend of hers from a Saturday morning kaffee klatsch for computerists. I went because I knew that there would be about 20 telescopes there, more powerful than my own, operated by people who know the sky better. Even though she is not into astronomy, we both had a good time. Laurel integrated some “Star Trek science” into her general knowledge base.

As is my routine, before the event, I referenced the current night via the US Naval Observatory site http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/mrst.php. I made notes on what I wanted to see. Unfortunately, at the event, I was not able to view Markanian’s Chain (NGC 4406). However, as so often, serendipity delivered the M3 globular cluster, which I never saw before. Most of the telescopes were aligned to Jupiter and Venus. Venus was gibbous. But other than that, it does not grab the eye as does Jupiter, which most instruments were on for most of the night. In a Dobsonsian, it was bright enough to hurt.  

Laurel’s friend has a neat little instrument. The housing is aluminum and titanium; the optics are “folded.” This kind has been used by NASA and the CIA. “You can parachute it into the field,” he said. “Mercury and Gemini astronauts used them to look at Russia.” Even though the small aperture (about 2-1/2 inches), precludes deep sky objects, Rob knows the sky. (I bought two of his astro-photographs at an artists walk last winter.) He had all four Galileans in view. And he took out his cellphone and accessed an app to identify them. 
Pretty much as it looked to me
As with all knowledge aids since the first notched stick, phone apps and computer controls come with a cost. I saw one dad using an app to line up Leo for his daughter. But Leo is one of the three constellations of the Sumerians that actually looks like what it is: The Lion, the Scorpion, and the Bull. (The Giant is probably older, but not on the ecliptic.) On the other hand, it may just be my own perspective, but looking up the relative positions of the Galileans on your phone seemed no different than looking them up in an ephemeris. Without repetition, you can only keep so much in your head.

Knowing the sky makes all the difference. I was dismayed to discover that no one could answer my questions. People with Dobsonian “light buckets” knew even less than I do. According to Space dot Com, Ceres is in Leo right now, but that echoed as arcana when I asked. Then I met Frank Mikan, the science teacher at St. Stephen’s. As far as I can tell, he knows everything. I learned a lot that will help me when I am star hopping in my backyard.  

Messier Object 3 from Wikipedia
See also
See also
See also

Finally, one of the astronomy club members had his 10-inch reflector lined up on M-3, a globular cluster near the zenith. Actually Messier’s own very first object (May 3, 1764), it is catalogued as M-3. The elder Herschel resolved it 20 years later. It contains about 500,000 stars; is 8 billion years old (or 11.4 according to the latest research); lies 31,600 LY above the galactic plane and 38.8 kLY from the center and 33.9 kLY from us. It is coming toward us at 147.7 km/sec. According to the astronomer last night, globular clusters do not show relative orbital motions: the stars are just out there together. It will give me something to chase with my 5-inch reflector, though it will probably not resolve to a cluster.

The Austin Astronomy Club provided many hands-on learning opportunities with books laid out, and stickers and paper models from NASA. They also provided little glow-in-the-dark hand rockets. With a QR-activated app, you could “walk the solar system” and listen to transduced “sounds” of the sun and planets.

Laurel and I are working our way through Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are up to Season 6. In "Ship in a Bottle" the Enterprise is sent to witness the collision of two gas giants which is expected to create a proto-star. Laurel asked me what a "gas giant" is. I replied that it is like Jupiter and Saturn. That led to more questions, including the subject of hydrogen as as metal. Last night was Laurel's first view of Jupiter.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Superheroes Live in Cities

The easy narrative is that good guys protect cities because bad guys want to rule millions of people and that is hard to do by extending yourself over a thousand villages. But there is more to it. The Smallville stories underscore the fact that in order to maintain their dual identities, superheroes need the anonymity of the city. And there is more work in the city. Batman could clean up Traverse City, Michigan, or Rapid City, South Dakota, in one night. Then what? 
Austin: 6th Street facing west from the Littlefield Building
It is tautologous that the city is the center of civilization. Cities acquire populations from the surrounding countryside as much as they grow internally. The city offers opportunity. Coming from diverse local cultures, some close, many distant, the newcomers shed their folkways and adopt new amalgamated customs. The hallmarks today include pizza, burritos, stir fry, and kebap (appropriately being the German adaptation of the Turkish shish kabob).
Austin: Reflections in Frost Tower Southward
Metropolis - Superman (Clark Kent)
Gotham - Batman (Bruce Wayne)
Central City - 2nd Flash (Barry Allen)
Keystone City - 1st Flash (Jay Garrick) and 3rd Flash (Wally West)
Midway City - Hawkman (Carter Hall); 
and Hawkgirl (Shiera Sanders Hall, Kendra Saunders, others...) 
Star City - Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
Coast City - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
Austin: Frost Tower
from the Parapet of 301 South Congress
 Fantastic Four – New York City, Baxter Building
Avenger Headquarters – New York City, Stark Tower
New York City is the hometown of Captain America (Steve Rogers). 
It changed in the telling from the borough of Brooklyn to Manhattan. 
Though Captain America is often on deployment, 
Spiderman lives and works there on a daily basis.
Austin: South from the Capital Factory
enterprise incubator
atop the Austin Center
Marvel Superheroes Who Basically Only Protect New York City
"...Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
A Guide to the Fictional Cities of the DC Universe
Downtown Cleveland looking east from Lakewood
Miami from Miami Beach

Fictional Towns in Comics


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Captain America

Directed by Joe Johnston
I watched Captain America: The First Avenger expecting no more (and hopefully no less) than the other superhero movies. But I liked the character because we share the same virtues. I bought the movie on DVD. I also shopped the comic book stores and subscribed to a current series. I now have a shelf of Captain America stories; and I went through half a dozen graphic novels from the library. But I did not find the origin story that I was looking for. The origins are all the same, yet all different. From being a non-descript and anonymous teenager, he became an artist. He was reborn many times, at least once as the Red Skull. He grew old and was rejuvenated. He was replaced by Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and then by his own son (by the Black Widow), James Rogers. None was the story told in the screenplay by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely. 

Myths are not merely repetitions of traditional stories. The retelling changes as we change. The definition of fiction (from Aristotle) is that drama shows what could be. Moreover, the telling must be integrated, whereas historical events just happen, seemingly without reason (and therefore without rhyme). I believe that now, 2500 years later, we do demand and get integrated narratives from historians. That being as it may, the fact remains that enduring popular fiction changes to meet the needs of the audiences. According to Joseph Campbell that has always been true. In the retelling of myths, characters can be split off or merged. Some retellings transmogrify characters into their opposites. But always, the poet speaks to the audience of the moment.
Star Wars: The Magic of Myth
by Mary Henderson
Bantam Books, 1997
Jospeh Campbell, Carl Jung, and more.
In The Virtues of Captain America: Modern Day Lessons from a World War II Superhero, Mark D. White argues for a continuity of character in The Captain despite the many authors who penned the narratives. Of course, he represents the best aspects of the nation he personifies. He does not just beat up bad guys – though he did a lot of that, and not much more, in the Silver Age of the 1960s. Nonetheless, he went to Vietnam twice, the second time to rescue a kind of Medecins sans Frontiers doctor. The Captain is honest, courageous, persevering, and loyal. Above all, he is honorable.

On the other hand, for many people, America is not inherently good; and, therefore, as its embodiment, The Captain is also flawed and perhaps evil. 

Captain America Complex: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalismby Robert Jewett went through two editions (1973, 1984). It was reborn in 2003, co-authored with John Sheldon Lawrence, as Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism.It garnered an accolade as a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Finalist. 

The Evolution of a National Icon: Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence by J. Richard Stevens also encircles The Captain with the negative energies of our culture. 

Despite their leftwing titles, both books are approximately objective, though selective, in teasing out the threads of a long-running story. What that story means depends on who you are.  
"We're not conquerors." 
The men in Washington are not impressed with the shield. 
They want The Captain to sponsor The Ameri-Gun.
Two scenes in the movie resonated with me. When Colonel Philips tossed out the dummy grenade, Steve Rogers threw himself on it. “Well, that’s what I’d do,” I said. “You would??” Laurel asked. It is not the sentiment of a Randian egoist. “Hand grenade comes into the foxhole, everyone’s dead anyway. You might as well do what you can to save the others.” It is not a rational decision but a heartfelt response. The other scene was the flag pole climb. I would not see the outside-of-the-box answer right away. I would have to sleep on it – which is why I am not a field commander or even a department manager-but it would be clear to me eventually that there is a better solution. 
The Captain was always man of his time 
Today, everything is complicated.
"An Allied superspy from World War II working with
a rogue Hydra cell. Now I really want to know what
went wrong on that mission."
(Man out of Time by Ed Brubaker, the longest-running writer.)

For one thing, though not 4-F, I was 1-Y in the draft. Like Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, I was never anyone’s choice to be in their squad in gym class. All I asked of my body was to carry my brain around. When I joined the Texas State Guard, my friends and family were surprised, if not shocked. I was never in favor of any of America’s military adventures. But the TXSG is not issued weapons; and we cannot be sent overseas. We are Texans serving Texas. The physical requirements are minimal but when I enlisted, November 22, 2014, having just turned 65, I found that I could do zero push-ups and zero sit-ups. Fortunately, I was always a walker. So, clearing the mile under time was the first win. Now, what I cannot do is 20 push-ups. This morning, I did 31 sit-ups. No serum. No vita-rays. Just the will to succeed and to do better the next time. That, too, is easy to find in the mythology of Captain America.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Blaming Ayn Rand for the 2010 Financial Crisis

The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis by Darryl Cunningham (Abrams, 2015) is a closely written and tightly integrated misinterpretation of Ayn Rand’s life, her works, her philosophy of Objectivism, and the causes of the market collapses of 2007-2010. This book is a graphic novel because Cunningham is a cartoonist. His drawings can be crude, but are often essentialist and representational. He does sublimely capture people, often through their coiffeur and stance. But his work is never fine, detailed, or realistic. This book is largely a running monologue that needed no illustrations. The author claims that the popularity of Ayn Rand’s ideas among American (and British) conservatives caused the mortgage meltdown and subsequent bailouts.

Cunningham latches on to all of the negatives of Rand’s life and disparages the few successes that he acknowledges. 

What I find most interesting in this and similar attacks is that no one seems to be motivated to rip apart Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan, or Richard Rorty for their foibles. We can condemn Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sarah Hemings without dismissing the Declaration of Independence as a hypocritical façade to justify the theft of lands owned by the British crown and its loyalists. Ayn Rand is different. 

Cunningham takes the time to make his case. The 231 pages begin with Ayn Rand’s life (Part One), explain the details of the financial contractions (Part Two), and then tie the first to the second (Part Three). His sources include biographies of Ayn Rand by her nominal admirers, Barbara Branden, Ann Heller, and Jennifer Burns. Ultimately, the thesis is not supported because the summary rests on omissions, flaws, and fallacies. Of necessity, the author contradicts himself. 

Cunningham does nod to the virtues of traditional conservatism, though he finds them not as powerful and promising as progressive liberalism. We need to be conservative in order to preserve the family, social order, and the freedoms we enjoy in our democracies. He presents World War II as an example of that. The error here is that Ayn Rand was not a traditional conservative. (And she was not alone in being less than sanguine about America's role in World War II.)  She called herself a “radical for capitalism” explaining that capitalism rests on a foundation of reason in acknowledgement of reality. Cunningham admits that Rand was opposed to the war in Vietnam, the draft, and laws against abortion. He fails to identify Rand as having been as “liberal” as she was “conservative.”  It would be possible to criticize Rand’s novels and her philosophy as an expression of unbridled liberalism.

Cunningham does not perceive the contradiction in his thesis.
Liberals actually share Rand's epistemology and
much of the "psycho-epistemology" of independence.
Conservatives attempt to advocate for the
consequential material gains, but deny reason and
Her heroes are socially disruptive. In AnthemThe Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, the bad guys are the people in power who fear change. In the last two, the wealthy and powerful are mediocrities. The heroes also achieve wealth, but do not pursue power. (In The Fountainhead, the pursuit of power destroyed Gail Wynand who “was not born to be a second-hander.”) Her heroes famously stand on their own, especially in confronting adversity, a virtue that Cunningham identifies with children who grow up to be self-identified political liberals. 
In truth only six of the eight needed the bailout.
Moreover, all were forced to take it.
And all were forbidden to discuss it publicly
under threat of government retaliation.
Cunningham never grasps the fact that Objectivism is a personal philosophy. Rand’s heroes live sparsely; her villains are ostentatious. Ayn Rand’s heroes are more concerned with their own place in the physical world than in the society around them. Personally, I find that the conservatives who discovered Ayn Rand's works only through the Atlas Shrugged movies think that this is all about politics. Hank Rearden had a mansion to house his family, not himself. And it was his family that oppressed and exploited him. The government’s interference was just a footnote in his life. He cut the chains of government regulation only after he was able to get himself an apartment in the city. 
Cunningham is wrong.
The accepted story is that Ayn Rand was on the phone with
Isabel Paterson. Paterson insisted that Rand "owed it to her readers"
to follow The Fountainhead with another novel.
"What if I refused?" Rand asked.
The Strike was about the cause of such demands.
Ayn Rand did not consider the government
to be metaphysically important.
The central failure of Cunningham’s thesis is that the personal morality of Objectivism would never suggest, support, justify, or excuse the acts committed by the people who caused and profited from the financial crisis of 2007-2010. Those men were portrayed in The Fountainhead as Homer Slottern the successful businessman who was terrified by religion and in Atlas Shrugged as Mayor Bascom of Rome, Wisconsin, who turned a quick profit buying and dumping the remains of 20thCentury Motors. The Fountainhead also has looter architects, among them the hooligan Gus Webb, just as Atlas Shrugged’s villains include Mr. Mowen and Orren Boyle among the businessmen with Washington connections. 

Cunningham’s story contains a kernel of truth. However, deeper than the mechanics of shady deals was the lack of integrity of the dealers. “Do you think integrity is the monopoly of the artist? And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor’s pocket? No, it's not as easy as that. If that were all, I'd say ninety-five percent of humanity were honest, upright men. Only, as you can see, they aren't. Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn't borrow or pawn.” Kent Lansing to Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (Chapter X, p. 333; via Wikiquote) “Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud...”– Galt’ Speech.  


Monday, May 14, 2018

Physically Fit is Mentally Fit

"The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around." Widely attributed in several forms to Thomas Edison, I am not sure that he actually said it, though it does reflect his thinking. Regardless, I had always pretty much held the same attitude. Joining the Texas State Guard set some minimums for me, but they were not challenging. What did it for me was a reply from a friend: "How long will your body carry your brain around if you don't exercise?"

Recommended by the health and safety manager at my current job.
Not a push-up, you hold it for 30 seconds and rest for 15 seconds.
The number of repetitions is up to you.
When I was employed directly by the Texas Military Department's Domestic Operations task force, I worked with young junior officers. They were inspiring. Since then, I have slacked off. I try to do five mornings out of seven. I still write the numbers on my calendar. I note the measured degradation when I go too many days without push-ups, sit-ups, and aerobics with weights. It takes about half an hour all in all. I do it while brewing coffee and feeding the cat.

Texas State Guard Standards
I can beat 21 sit-ups any morning, usually going to 30. I was up to the high 40s, but lost interest. Push-ups are harder. I did 18 this morning. The USMC minimum for a man age 50 is 20 push-ups. I have done that, the last time in competition with an Air Component guy my age doing them one-handed. (For the two-minute test for the fitness ribbon, we can rest in a set position, but I do not do that. I just crank them out until I cannot do the next one.) My last timed mile was 11:03 and I was getting yelled at for walking between sprints. They don't ask much of us. Fortunately, we can still carry our brains around.

World War II Sweetheart Dance
AFK: Hurricane Harvey
Base 7
Mapping it out: Contemporary Cartographics