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 Nationalism by 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 fa├žade 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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spanish Coins on American Notes

Until 1857, silver and gold coins from Mexico, Spain, France, Brazil, and other nations were legal tender in the United States. We know commonly that that US dollar was modeled directly on the "Spanish milled dollar" or "pieces of eight." However, the influence of international trade on the new republic was very deep and broad.
The website linked at left is replete with examples of private banks from the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s that issued paper money promising American federal dollars (most often, fractions, actually) but showing Mexican or Spanish coins as graphic images. 

We still sometimes call a 25-cent quarter dollar coin "two bits."  Two hundred years ago, one bit was was one Spanish real. Eight reales made a Spanish dollar. When I was in high school in the 1960s, it was a known cheer: "Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar. All for [our side] stand up and holler." Spanish Mexican culture continued in the West, of course. You can find The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso by Mike Cox (Tom Doherty Associates, 2009). The 5-peso dollar-sized coin of the United Mexican States of 1947 was a much later version of the Spanish dollar and the Republic of Mexico "Cap and Rays" silver 8-reales (1825-1897).

Thames Bank of Laurel, Indiana, 1856, promises Two Dollars
and shows two Mexican 8-reales
The website Spanish Coins on American Notes lists two dozen examples from twelve states. Most of them were "wildcat" banks from the era of unregulated banking. State regulation was no more successful than the constraints of market competition. Even numismatists look askance at that period of rampant laissez faire. A more objective appraisal would put banking in with other businesses. In the frontier era, economies were shaky at best. People enjoyed a lot of opportunity, but few guarantees. We think of "ghost towns" as a consequence of mining in the West, but Michigan has many from the lumber industry, as well from copper mining.

It is also true that along the eastern seaboard, where trade with the United Kingdom dominated, merchants often kept their books in pounds/shllings/pence into the 1830s. The florin and crown coins of the UK were their attempt to bring their currency into some accord with the dollar. Meanwhile the 4-dollar "Stella" gold coin of the United States was our attempt to align with the 20-franc gold coins of France and other nations.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018