Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gray Lady Once Again Blames the Victim

Today's lede unsigned editorial in the New York Times, "Endless War, Endless Suffering," blames Russia and China for not contributing enough to the United Nations to mitigate the damage caused by Syria's civil war, a war, the Times once again reminds its readers, caused by "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria [when he] used force to crush peaceful protests that began in 2011." 

Nowhere is there a condemnation of the Gulf sheikhdoms for the pipeline of jihadis creating havoc in the region. The Gray Lady acknowledges that the polio outbreak in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour is linked to jihadis from Pakistan: "Public health experts suspect that jihadists who entered Syria to join the fight against Mr. Assad may have been the carriers." But she can't find the words to condemn the nations -- the Saudis in particular -- that are funding these jihadis and actively working against peace talks in Geneva.

Those talks, Geneva II, now appear to be headed for another postponement thanks to Saudi Arabia. This is from Anne Barnard's "Foreign Support for Syrian Rebels Is Hindering Deal, Assad Says":
After a burst of optimism about convening the Geneva talks following Syria’s agreement last month to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, which averted an American military strike on Mr. Assad’s forces, diplomats have become increasingly pessimistic. Some now privately suggest the talks may be postponed. 
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who collaborated with Secretary of State John Kerry to push for the chemical weapons agreement and the peace talks, expressed some frustration on Wednesday, suggesting that Saudi Arabia in particular was posing a new obstacle over its unhappiness that the United States had dropped a threat to attack Mr. Assad’s forces. 
“The situation is somewhat more complicated because there have already been open objections to that conference initiated by Russia and the United States, objections not only from various Syrian factions but also from the capitals of some neighboring and not only neighboring states,” Mr. Lavrov told a news conference in Athens, where he was on an official visit. 
Without specifying Saudi Arabia by name, Mr. Lavrov said that “those who sought regime change and helped voluntarily or involuntarily to create an extremists’ state there are now unable to hide their emotions.”
Alan Cowell reports that all Syrian chemical weapons production sites have been decommissioned. As for the two sites that could not be accessed because they were in territory controlled by rebels, the Syrian government has declared to the OPCW that the chemical weapons had been previously removed from those sites:
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said in a statement that a joint team of its inspectors and United Nations officials had visited 21 of the 23 chemical sites Syria declared to them. While the remaining two sites were too hazardous to visit because of the country’s continuing civil war, the chemical-making equipment there had already been moved to other sites which the inspectors could visit. 
“The Joint O.P.C.W.-U.N. mission has inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by Syria, and 39 of the 41 facilities located at those sites,'’ the statement said. “The two remaining sites were not visited due to safety and security concerns. But Syria declared those sites as abandoned and that the chemical weapons program items they contained were moved to other declared sites, which were inspected.” 
“The joint mission is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” it added.
Cowell provides a little more detail as to the location of the CW production facilities not in government control:
The watchdog has not specified the precise location of the sites that inspectors were not able to visit on a mission that showed the perils of operating in a war zone where some places are under siege and, in others, battle lines shift unpredictably. 
Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the O.P.C.W., said one of the sites was in the area around Damascus and the other was in the northern Aleppo area, where news reports say government forces have bombarded the town of Safira in recent weeks to try to dislodge rebels including Islamist fighters linked to Al Qaeda. 
“Access to both sites would be extremely risky,” Mr. Luhan said.
Then there is this nugget in the second-to-last paragraph of the story:
“In addition, the Syrian authorities have reported finding two cylinders not belonging to them, which are believed to contain chemical weapons,” the report said, without elaborating, according to the news agency.
As I said before, there needs to be an official reappraisal by the United States of its position that only the Syrian government has access to chemical weapons.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mr. al-Maliki Goes to Washington

Much has been made of the recent Saudi tantrum -- renouncing a seat on the United Nations Security Council, publicly complaining about a lack of American leadership. It is the topic of today's lede unsigned editorial in the New York Times, "Allies in Revolt":
Saudi Arabia and Israel are deeply worried about the Obama administration’s decision to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran — their mortal enemy. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are sore at President Obama’s refusal to become militarily involved in ousting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, in particular his decision not to respond with military strikes to Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Mr. Obama instead chose a diplomatic deal under which Syria’s chemical weapons would be dismantled. 
The Saudis are also unhappy that Mr. Obama withdrew support for Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Egyptian president, and then worked with Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member who was elected to replace Mr. Mubarak but was later thrown out.
Another source of Saudi and Israeli ire arrives in Washington D.C. today. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is leading a large delegation in search of Apache attack helicopters and other military aircraft. Iraq still has no air force. But what it does have is a state of war with Saudi-funded Al Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, something that would seem to automatically qualify Iraq and its Prime Minister for the complete support of the United States since we have been in a declared war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates since 9/11.

But this isn't the case. Instead what one learns reading the paper today is that power brokers in the U.S. Senate are enraged at al-Maliki. Why? Because he is allowing Iranian overflights to Syria. This is from "Senators Warn Obama Before Iraq Leader’s Visit" by Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt:
Earlier on Tuesday, two of the senators spoke angrily in separate interviews about Mr. Maliki’s failure to unify the competing factions in Iraq. “He’s got a lot of work to do in terms of pulling together diverse elements of his country,” said Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee. “He’s not done a particularly good job of it.” 
Mr. Levin also criticized Mr. Maliki for acquiescing in, if not facilitating, Iran’s efforts to supply weapons to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, using flights through Iraqi airspace. “They’ve allowed overflights, Iranian planes, to supply Syria,” Mr. Levin said. 
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, which is to meet with Mr. Maliki on Wednesday, was even more critical of the Iraqi leader. “What he’s done is create a situation where the population is more accepting of what Al Qaeda is doing there because of his lack of inclusiveness,” Mr. Corker said. 
The other senators who signed the letter were John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans who have long taken a strong interest in Iraq; Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee; and James M. Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who is the ranking minority member of the Armed Services Committee.
Prime Minister al-Maliki has a sensible piece published today in the New York Times in which he explains what the civil war in Syria has wrought:
The war in Syria has become a magnet that attracts sectarian extremists and terrorists from various parts of the world and gathers them in our neighborhood, with many slipping across our all-too-porous borders. We do not want Syria or Iraq to become bases for Al Qaeda operations, and neither does the United States. 
While the world sees Syria as a humanitarian tragedy, we also see an immediate threat to the security of our own country. Al Qaeda is engaged in a renewed, concerted campaign to foment sectarian violence and drive a wedge between our people. We will not let that happen again. 
Because we do not want Syria to continue to attract violent extremists, much less cause a regional conflagration, our top priority is to end the bloodshed and achieve a negotiated settlement. The Iraqi government is serious about not allowing our own citizens to arm any side of the Syrian conflict. 
We are also committed to preventing the territory, the waterways and, yes, the airspace of our country from being used by any outside entity to fuel the conflict in Syria. But, with many better-armed neighbors and no air force or air defenses to speak of, our ability to enforce this policy is limited. This is one of many reasons we are urgently seeking to improve our air defense capabilities.
The United States Congress is Israeli and Saudi occupied territory. It is clear from the reaction to al-Maliki's visit that the Saudis and Israelis are reluctant to have Uncle Sam provide air power to the Iraqis.

Twelve years after 9/11 it should be clear by now who the enemies of peace are -- the Saudis and Israelis. Al Qaeda does not flourish without support from Saudi Arabia. Recently Al Qaeda was declared all but defunct. Then suddenly it burst to life out of its ashes when the Gulf monarchies decided to take out the Baathists in Syria. As for the Israelis, they profit from a region at war with itself. It distracts attention from Palestine. Informed people often ask the question, "Why doesn't Al Qaeda ever attack Israel?"

The decision the Obama administration makes on whether to provide Apache helicopters to Iraq will provide an indication how real the rift with Saudi Arabia and Israel is. For peace and a much needed shift in paradigm in the Middle East let's hope that the rift is wide and deep.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NFL Week Eight: Teams Figuring Out Russell Wilson

The Seahawks win last night in St. Louis was a gift. If Rams placekicker Greg Zuerlein is successful on his 50-yard fourth quarter field goal attempt, St. Louis wins the game. Instead of having to punch the ball in at the Seahawks goal line in the waning seconds of the game all the Rams would have needed to do was trot out Zuerlein for an automatic three points.

As it was the Seahawks defense, despite giving up two-hundred rushing yards, held strong, allowing Seattle to return home with another road win against a divisional opponent.

This marks the third game in a row -- Titans, Cardinals, Rams -- that defenses have basically shut down Russell Wilson. The only game of the three that wasn't close was the win against the Cardinals, and that was due to Marshawn Lynch's dominant running.

Teams are blitzing the Seahawks quarterback. They're loading the box and overwhelming the offensive line. Until Seattle finds a way to consistently beat that kind of pressure expect teams to continue to come with the heat. Percy Harvin's return should help, as would finding ways to connect on short passes to Lynch coming out the backfield.


Question: How much longer do you stick with Mike Vick? His bum hamstring took him out of the game against the the suddenly resurgent Giants. An Eagles loss combined with the Cowboys collapse in Detroit means the NFC East remains the Keystone Cops division.

Rebels Control Two Syrian Chemical Weapons Sites, Western Reappraisal of Ghouta Attack Called For

The Syrian government has presented a plan to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for removal and destruction of the precursor chemicals that make up its chemical weapons arsenal. The United States approves of this method of dismantling Syria's chemical weapons, but as of yet no country has stepped forward to host the mobile American destruction equipment; Norway declined last week. Syria, also to pleasure of USG officials, announced the existence of 41 chemical weapons facilities at 23 sites, putting it more in line with the U.S. assessment that 45 chemical weapons sites existed.

All of this is contained in a story this morning by Nick Cumming-Bruce and Michael Gordon, "Inspectors Visit All but 2 of Syria’s Declared Chemical Sites." Inspectors have visited all 23 sites except for two "because they are in contested areas in Syria’s civil war, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement on Monday."

Later on in the story, the second-to-last paragraph, the reporters try to obscure the obvious, that rebels have access to and control of the very chemicals that the United States alleged that only the Assad regime does:
The two sites the inspectors have not visited are in “contested areas where you need some kind of cease-fire or guarantees for the safety of the inspectors,” Michael Luhan, the agency’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview. It is not clear whether opposition groups control either of the two sites or the territory that inspectors would have to travel through to reach them.
There was no such prevarication when the New York Times reported the story, "Syrian Rebels Urged to Let Inspectors See Arms Sites," of rebel control of chemical weapon sites two weeks ago:
A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory. 
“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. “However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”
This is important point because the casus belli  for the Obama administration's aborted missile strike on Syria was based on the argument that Assad's Baathist government had to be responsible for the gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds because the rebels didn't have access to the chemicals used in that attack. This was roundly ridiculed by opponents of Western intervention; nonetheless, Secretary of State John Kerry and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated it regularly and the mainstream medium dutifully passed it along to the demos unchallenged. Thankfully, people are much more skeptical about government assurances of "conclusive proof" after Iraq.

Now that it is widely reported that the rebels in fact are in control of some CW sites, you would think that there would be some sort of reappraisal in the prestige press, something along the lines of the mea culpa after the invasion of Iraq revealed no WMD, something that said, "Well, actually, the rebels did have access to the chemicals used in the Ghouta attack."

Maybe it is forthcoming, but I doubt it will be any time soon. The concern among elites is that the American people have grown isolationist in the aftermath of two costly failed occupations. To spotlight another example of our government falsifying, or, to be charitable, tendentiously advocating, a casus belli means that the next invasion is going to be an even tougher sales job. And since it is the mainstream medium's role to pitch wars, owners, executives and editors are not going to go out of their way to make their job more difficult.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Lou Reed

A quick Hippies vs. Punks post for this Monday morning. I saw online when I woke up that Lou Reed died yesterday in New York. The cause of death was liver cancer. I read the New York Times obit by Ben Ratliff on the way into work. This quote caught my eye:
A proud New Yorker himself, Mr. Reed squared off against West Coast rock and declared his hatred for hippies. In a 1968 interview he characterized the San Francisco bands of the time, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane especially, as “tedious, a lie and untalented.”
In addition to The Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground has to be mentioned as a stalwart contemporary critic of the Hippies.

When I was at the university in the 1980s everyone I new listened to the Velvet Underground, particularly The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), but really everything the Velvets put out including White Light/White Heat (1968), Velvet Underground (1969) and Loaded (1970). I also listened to Reed's solo work, mostly Transformer (1972) but also Rock n Roll Animal (1974) which I consumed by osmosis since every time I went into Rasputin Records on Telegraph they had it playing.

At the same time very few of my friends -- I didn't hang with Dead Heads -- listened to San Francisco Sound bands. My musical mentor Oliver I believe went through a Surrealistic Pillow (1967) period, and my friend Ben went through a Grateful Dead phase, but nothing to compare with the frequency -- the everyday rotation -- of Velvet Underground LPs and Lou Reed records.

I passed Lou Reed walking through Madison Square Park one afternoon. It would have been in the early 1990s when I was working at the American Kennel Club Gazette. The day was sunny. Lou Reed approached me from the Flat Iron Building entrance to the park. He was wearing an expensive suit of light fabric; it was an interesting color of green or plum, I can't remember which. He was smaller than I imagined. But he carried himself like he possessed great power. You could have mistaken him for a hip corporate executive.

In any event, the point I want to make is that Lou Reed's music was enormously influential in 1980s. You might have friends who were Punks or Garage Rockers or Dylanites or devotees of The Eagles or Bowie fanatics, it didn't matter. Everyone loved The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.

What Does a Huge Win by de Blasio Portend?

If you haven't been following New York City's mayor race all you need to know is that a progressive Democrat, Bill de Blasio, an advocate for the Sandinistas in his youth, is poised to wallop the Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, by a margin not seen since Ed Koch won his third term in 1985 by 68 percentage points. De Blasio will be the first Democrat elected mayor since David Dinkins in 1989 (when I lived in the Big Apple).

Here's a good snapshot of the race from this morning's story, "De Blasio in Position to Win Mayor’s Race by Historic Margin, Poll Shows," by David Chen and Megan Thee-Brenan:
Mr. de Blasio won the Democratic primary by running as the most liberal of the major candidates in the field; he has proposed raising taxes on high-income New Yorkers and has supported greater oversight of the Police Department. Nonetheless, one in five Republicans are supporting him for mayor, suggesting in follow-up interviews that they are looking for change after eight years with Rudolph W. Giuliani as mayor followed by 12 years with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. 
“I think de Blasio’s policies will be a change for the better from the Bloomberg era,” said Duane Dowden, a 33-year-old Brooklyn Republican who is a student in social work. Oswald Ramotar, a 51-year-old Queens Republican, agreed, saying, “I’m voting for de Blasio because I think he would bring better changes than Lhota would, like creating more jobs.” And Erick Washington, a 59-year-old Brooklyn Republican, said, “I’m not voting for Lhota because I feel that would be the same as voting for the Giuliani administration.”
Exhaustion with twenty years of Republican executive leadership is not the only issue motivating New Yorkers; the recent Tea Party contrived federal government shutdown is also a factor: "The recent federal government shutdown did not help Mr. Lhota: 47 percent of likely voters said that the shutdown made them more likely to vote for a Democrat, while only 6 percent said it prompted them to back a Republican."

To find answers as to how de Blasio's New York City strength plays nationally check out Thomas Edsall's opinion piece from last week, "Bill de Blasio and the New Urban Populism." As I've said frequently, Thomas Edsall's online column for the New York Times is one of the best sources available for divining the shifts underway in our national politics. I don't always agree with his conclusions and forecasts, but I think that his chosen areas of focus -- income inequality, the gradual diminishing of whites to minority status in the electorate, the war in the GOP between organizational elites and the Tea Party -- are on the money.

Speaking of money, the money passage in Edsall's column on the New York City mayoral election is as follows:
DEMOGRAPHICALLY, New York City is already where the nation will be sometime in the latter part of this century. Whites are 33.3 percent of the city’s population. Hispanics are close behind, at 28.6 percent, and blacks are at 22.8 percent. This demographic profile,as shown in Figure 2, is significantly different from what it was 1990, a year after the last mayoral victory by a liberal Democrat, David Dinkins. In 1990, whites were the clearly dominant plurality group at 43.2 percent, with roughly equal numbers of blacks, 25.2 percent, and Hispanics, 24.4 percent. 
More important in terms of both election outcomes and policy making, the city’s electorate – the people who actually go out and cast ballots – shifted from a 56 percent white majority in 1989 to a 46 percent minority in 2009, during the last mayoral election. If that transition continues at roughly the same rate, about 1 percentage point every two years, the 2013 electorate for the mayoral election will be 44 percent white. 
Among the reasons the electorate in New York has a higher percentage of whites and a smaller proportion of minorities than the city’s population as a whole is that a higher percentage of whites are of voting age and a higher percentage of minorities are not citizens and are thus ineligible to vote.
As whiteness evaporates nationally the country will become more progressive. Why? Because blacks and Hispanics are not as reflexively conservative and individualistic as whites:
By almost every measure, whites are more economically conservative than blacks and Hispanics. Surveys conducted over 36 years by American National Election Studies have found that blacks, by margins of 2 or 3 to 1, believe that government should “see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living,” while whites, by margins nearly as large, believe that “government should just let each person get ahead on their own.”
The A.N.E.S. surveys did not break out Hispanic responses to this question. A Pew Research Center report from April 2012, “Hispanics and Their Views of Identity,” did compare the views of Latinos to the general population. It asked the question “would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services, or bigger government providing more services?” A majority of all voters favored smaller government by a 48-41 margin, but Hispanics preferred a bigger government decisively, by 75 to 19 percent. 
There is a fundamental disagreement along racial and ethnic lines about what causes poverty. This is demonstrated in a June 2012 Pew survey that asked, “In your opinion, which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor, lack of effort on his or her own part, or circumstances beyond his or her control?” Whites were split, 41-41, but strong majorities of blacks and Hispanics answered “circumstances beyond his or her control,” 62-28 and 59-27, respectively. The premise of the de Blasio agenda is that people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control and therefore government intervention is essential. How you responded to the Pew question is likely to correlate strongly with whether you support or oppose de Blasio and how deeply felt your choice is.
The Supreme Court rulings on campaign finance -- the 2010 Citizens United decision, the upcoming decision on Buckley -- as well as its striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are attempts to keep the progressive hordes at bay. But the progressive hordes are coming. They already elected an Obama twice. And even though Obama governs as a Clinton New Democrat he campaigned and won his elections as a progressive.

Edsall sees trouble ahead for the Democrats. He thinks that while there is a fraction of wealthy progressives who will stick with a de Blasio progressive Democrat through thick and thin even when he raises their taxes substantially, soon down the road as the national Democratic Party tilts more and more to the left the wealthy will abandon the organization:
In addition to the growing leverage of minority and low-income voters in the Democratic Party, the center-left coalition includes many upscale, well-educated social liberals, who have found common ground with their less fortunate allies in shared animosity toward the Republican Party. 
The stronger the pro-government poor-to-lower-middle class wing gets, the more likely the coalition will fracture along class and economic fault lines. 
As many affluent progressive-leaning voters move to the suburbs (by 2010 New York lost 129,165 residents who had been between the ages 25 and 34 in 2000), have children, buy homes and pay significant property taxes, they are more likely to join the ranks of those who oppose a political party that seeks to increase their tax burdens. They will become legitimate targets for recruitment by a Republican Party that is reasonably conservative — if that stops being an oxymoron. 
Will de Blasio and the new urban populism alienate the party’s upscale wing? In New York and other major American cities, there are many affluent liberals who are willing to support policies redistributing their income to those struggling to make ends meet. But they don’t make up a majority of the affluent voters who are currently alienated by Republican extremism — and these voters are an essential component of the coalition Democratic strategists plan to use to map out their political future. The growing leftward tilt of the national Democratic Party reflected in political trends in New York is as likely to provoke intraparty conflict as it is to usher in an era of revived liberalism. There are risks and benefits to standing foursquare in support of the least advantaged.
I think, yes, Edsall is right. Intraparty conflict is coming down the pike, much as it is the norm now in the Republican Party. It will be on display as Hillary gears up for a run in 2016. The organizational elite will trot out corporate Democrats who are progressive on social issues like gay marriage -- look at Seattle's mayoral race -- but hew to the same old exhausted neoliberal nostrums. At best this is only a strategy that buys a bit of time. Change is coming. The current paradigm is broken; we need a shift.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Where Monsters Dwell #23: Lee-Ditko & Lee-Infantino

To finish up with Where Monsters Dwell #23 from September, 1973 here are some scanned pages and panels from, first, the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko story, "Inside the Flying Saucer!" followed by the Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino tale, "The Hooded Horror!"

"Inside the Flying Saucer!" is a reprint from the same issue in which "The Monster Waits for Me!" appeared, Strange Tales #92, January, 1962. "The Hooded Horror!" originally appeared in Mystic #12, an Atlas title from September, 1952.

Where Monsters Dwell #23: "The Monster Waits for Me!" by Lee, Kirby & Ayers, Pt. 2

Here is pt. 2 of the post on the Lee-Kirby-Ayers story of "The Monster Waits for Me!" It is the cover story of Where Monsters Dwell #23, September, 1973. Nineteen-seventy-three is ground zero in Watergate America. With a publication date of September, 1973, this meant that Where Monsters Dwell #23 started appearing in stores around the time Nixon's goose is cooked. The summer of '73 is when Alexander Butterfield reveals that all Nixon's office telephone calls and conversations have been taped since 1971; Nixon then refuses to supply the tapes to Congress and special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

The period 1970 - 1975 that coincides with the early Bronze Age of Comics fascinates me. It is a time when the old post-war paradigm of labor-management cooperation and constant upward mobility gives way to our current downsized, privatized, offshored neoliberal/neoconservative paradigm. I've been exploring the period on Fridays through the lens of "Hippies vs. Punks." By 1975 Ford is in the White House, Saigon has fallen and the Punks are coming. To make sense of how this happened I am of the opinion that one has to understand Watergate as well as the Oil Crisis Recession of November, 1973 - March, 1975. Part of that understanding is to look at the little-appreciated "disposable" media of the era, comic books.

"The Monster Waits for Me!" feature story of Where Monsters Dwell #23 is a reprint of story that appeared in Strange Tales #92, January, 1962, the same month, the end of JFK's first year in office, that Fantastic Four #2 is published. Both comic books feature shapeshifting aliens from outer space: the giant flying-squirrel-like monster in the title of "The Monster Waits for Me!" and the famous first appearance of the Skrulls in Fantastic Four #2.

The story "The Monster Waits for Me!" opens with a young, beautiful unemployed woman who needs a cheap place to live in the city. She goes to a rundown rooming house and ends up in an apartment next to an old man who supposedly never leaves his room. One night after dinner the old man knocks at the beautiful young woman's door and implores her to come back to his room and listen to a tale he has to tell, a story he has told no one else. That story is of his near-death escape from aliens he saw land a flying saucer in the woods. The aliens are large monsters capable of flight. Right when the old man finishes his story there is loud pounding at his door. He panics, thinking the alien monsters have finally found him, and his frail heart gives out. The medical examiner arrives along with the police and landlady and other lodgers (the pounding on the door was from a downstairs neighbor coming to tell the old man that he had left his water running and it was dripping into his room below). The old man's death is ruled routine heart failure. Everyone leaves. The beautiful young woman is left alone. She says to herself:
Well, it's all over! And, in a way, I'm glad . . . 
I'm glad the old man died the way he did -- of natural causes . . . 
 . . . Because it might have been dangerous . . . 
 . . . With a house full of humans . . . 
 . . . To have had to kill him . . . Myself!
And with that the beautiful young woman flies off into the night, shapeshifted back to her true alien form.

What a treat! A beautiful blend of '50s crime/horror and science fiction elegantly told by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Where Monsters Dwell #23: "The Monster Waits for Me!" by Lee, Kirby & Ayers, Pt. 1

I didn't have a copy of Where Monsters Dwell #23. So I went online to via my ComicBase 16 Professional Edition and found a copy graded "Good" for not too much more than the current market price. Since I feel like I'm starting to hit some sort of wounded stride with weekend posts devoted to Where Monsters Dwell, Marvel's early Bronze Age title devoted to Silver Age monster, sci-fi, horror reprints, I wanted to keep the run up.

The title story of Where Monsters Dwell #23 is "The Monster Waits for Me!" Though there are no credits, the work is obviously vintage Jack Kirby. You have to go to (the first link at the top of the post) to find out that Kirby's inker for "The Monster Waits for Me!" was Dick Ayers. And you have to go to MarvelWikia to learn that Stan Lee wrote the story and that it originally appeared in Strange Tales #92, published January, 1962.

As you can see from the scan below, one could quibble with the seller's grade of "Good." Grading isn't easy. But if it had been me evaluating the condition of this comic book, I would have graded it "Fair."

I was just happy to have received it in five business days. I read the issue this morning, and it's a great one.

Not only does Where Monsters Dwell #23 feature a "state-of-the-art" Silver Age Lee-Kirby collaboration, but it also has a Lee-Ditko backup story, as well as a rare Lee-Infantino crime/horror tale. Carmine Infantino is the artist credited with helping to usher in the Silver Age with his clean, crisp, suburban-based The Flash.

But what I really would like to talk about is the concise perfection of "The Monster Waits for Me!" In this post look at the beautiful first page following the splash, in particular the depiction of the rundown boarding house our gorgeous unemployed Sue-Storm-lookalike narrator finds herself in. In later posts I'll deal with the rest of the story and the Lee-Ditko and Lee-Infantino backup stories.

But for now check out the old lath and plaster walls: first, in the panel where our comely narrator talks to the battle-ax landlady as they ascend the staircase; then, in the panel where she appraises her room while unpacking her bags.


When I read "The Monster Waits for Me!" this morning and I studied the panels showing the old rooming house and its deteriorating walls I was immediately reminded of the loft I slept in with my live-in girlfriend (who would become my wife). The apartment we lived in was part of building that was older than the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which it weathered, though with its architecture altered. Originally it was two separate structures. But the earthquake shifted the foundations to such an extent that a decision was made to conjoin the two buildings where they face the Durant Avenue, creating a large horseshoe. At least this is the story my landlord liked to tell drinking a 16-ounce can of beer, his handyman coveralls open down to his pendulous belly.

In any event, my father, who is a amateur carpenter, built me and my girlfriend a sleeping loft with closet space underneath. He did this because the bedroom was not much larger than a double bed. The loft provided space for shelves.

We climbed up a wooden ladder, which my father also made, to get into bed at night. There was not much space between mattress and ceiling up there. You could prop yourself up on a pillow and read but you couldn't sit fully upright without banging your head.

One night my girlfriend and I were arguing up in the loft; I have absolutely no memory what the argument was about. Whatever it was, my girlfriend, who could be tempestuous and had no qualms about violence, became so agitated that she started kicking the ceiling. The ceiling crumbled, exposing the old lath and plaster in a good-sized hole.

In the months that followed the hole widened and dusty, rocky grains of old mortar showered down on us as we slept. We attempted half-hearted repairs with packing tape and paper bags. But invariably the tape would lose its adhesion and a pile of dust and mortar would drop down on top of us.

The hole got bigger, and the problem got worse. How long did we live that way -- sleeping beneath that gaping wound as the old Victorian-era building breathed its decay into us? Finally during one of his visits my father took pity on us and repaired the hole; I can't remember if he used a thin sheet of plywood or a piece of drywall.

Seeing the exposed lath and plaster in the Lee-Kirby-Ayers story brought it all back. I felt ashamed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" + "Flower Punk"

I'm burnt tonight. I've been battling a cold all work week. I caught it Sunday when I suffered through a 10K race. Tonight I had planned an extensive post on the point/counterpoint of the preeminent rock 'n' roll album of all time, numero uno on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the record that launched the Hippie counterculture, namely Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band (1967) versus The Mothers of Invention's acidic refutation of all things psychedelic We're Only in It for the Money (1968).

But as I said, I am toasted. So I'm including "Flower Punk" -- where Zappa tags the Hippie a Punk -- and "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" as proof that there was a contemporaneous, devastating critique of what Robert Christgau called in his review of We're Only in It for the Money the "massification" of bohemia.

After listening to these two tracks don't you find yourself wondering, as I did, "How did the Hippies manage to carry on for another seven to eight years?"

Who Needs The Peace Corps?
What's there to live for?
Who needs the peace corps?
Think I'll just DROP OUT
I'll go to Frisco
Buy a wig & sleep
On Owsley's floor 
Walked past the wig store
Danced at the Fillmore
I'm completely stoned
I'm hippy & I'm trippy
I'm a gypsy on my own
I'll stay a week & get the crabs &
Take a bus back home
I'm really just a phony
But forgive me
'Cause I'm stoned 
Every town must have a place
Where phony hippies meet
Psychedelic dungeons
Popping up on every street
How I love ya, How I love ya
How I love ya, How I love ya Frisco!
How I love ya, How I love ya
How I love ya, How I love ya
Oh, my hair is getting good in the back! 
Every town must have a place
Where phony hippies meet
Psychedelic dungeons
Popping up on every street
First I'll buy some beads
And then perhaps a leather band
To go around my head
Some feathers and bells
And a book of Indian lore
I will ask the Chamber Of Commerce
How to get to Haight Street
And smoke an awful lot of dope
I will wander around barefoot
I will have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all times
I will love everyone
I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street
I will sleep . . .
I will, I will go to a house
That's, that's what I will do
I will go to a house
Where there's a rock & roll band
'Cause the groups all live together
And I will join a rock & roll band
I will be their road manager
And I will stay there with them
And I will get the crabs
But I won't care
Because . . .

Flower Punk
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that flower in your hand?
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that flower in your hand? 
Well, I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band.
I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band. 
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that button on your shirt?
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that button on your shirt?
I'm goin' to the love-in to sit & play my bongos in the dirt.
Yes, I'm goin' to the love-in to sit & play my bongos in the dirt. 
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that hair on your head?
Hey Punk, where you goin' with that hair on your head? 
I'm goin' to the dance to get some action, then I'm goin' home to bed.
I'm goin' to the dance to get some action, then I'm goin' home to bed. 
Hey Punk, where you goin' with those beads around your neck?
Hey Punk, where you goin' with those beads around your neck? 
I'm goin' to the shrink so he can help me be a nervous wreck . . . 
Hey Punk!
Hey Punk!
Hey Punk!
(Hey Punk!)
Hey Punk!
Hey Punk!
(Hey Punk!)
(Hey Punk!)
Go man, go . . . go man, go . . .
Just a little bit softer
Golly, do I ever have a lot of soul!
Punk, I think I love you!
Come on, Roy
Questi dominga? 
Let me see that nose, it didn't . . .
I wanna know for sure!
Leave my nose alone please!
What are you trying to do?
He's gonna stand over there
Bigashi' nunga!
But this is Cheetah
FZ on the left:
It's one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me. You know, every time I think about how lucky I am to be in the rock & roll industry, it's SO exciting. You know, when I first got into the rock & roll business I could barely even play the changes to this song on my, on my guitar. But now I'm very proficient at it, I can play the guitar, I can strum it rhythmically, I can sing along with my guitar as I strum. I can strum, sing, dance, I can make merry fun all over the stage. And you know, it's so wonderful to . . . It's wonderful to feel that I'm doing something for the kids, because I know that the kids and their music are where it's at. The youth of America today is so wonderful . . . And I'm proud to be a part of this gigantic mass deception. I hope she sees me twirling, yes . . . I hope she sees me dancing and twirling, I will say: "Hello, dolly!" Is the song over? 
FZ on the right:
Boy, this is really exciting, making a rock & roll record. I can't even wait until our record comes out and the teen-agers start to buy it. We'll all be rich and famous! When my royalty check comes I think I'm going to buy a Mustang. No, I think I'll . . . I think I'll get a Corvette. No, I think I'll get a Harley Davidson. No, I don't think I'll buy any of those cars. I think what I will do is I will buy a boat. No, that wouldn't be good either. I think, ah, I'll go into real estate. I think I would like to . . . I think I would like to buy La Cienega Boulevard. No, that wouldn't do any good. Gee, I wonder if they can see me up here, twirling my tambourine and dancing . . . Maybe after the show one of the girls who sees me up here, singing and twirling my tambourine and dancing, will like me. And she will come over to me and I will walk . . . I will walk up to her and I will smile at her and I will impress her and I will say: "Hello, baby, what's a girl like you doing in a place like this? I'm from a rock & roll band, I think we should . . . " Is the song over?
Center mumbling:
Ay, ay!
There she is!
When do we get paid for this?
Ay, ay!
. . . papa . . . huevos
Rock, bop, rock & roll
Rock, bop . . .
One more time!
Un . . .
Stop sloppy rock & roll
Bop bop bop!

The Colt 45 Chronicle #41

Some housekeeping is called for this morning. Last Sunday I failed to post a letter from a collection of letters I've been working my through since January. The letters are a record of my first two years in New York City, after I had left the University of California to come to the Big Apple with my wife in order for her to attend medical school at Columbia University.

The collection ends basically at the same time as the marriage, the point at which I leave New York City to return to the West Coast for six months. I moved to Seattle and went to work for a drywall contractor who had employed me summers' past in the Bay Area. The wife kept the personal computer on which I composed the letters I am now calling "The Colt 45 Chronicle."

After subletting an apartment on 23rd and Aloha on the eastern boundary of Capitol Hill I found an inexpensive Brother manual typewriter at a secondhand store. This manual typewriter became my primary means of communication for the next five years.

Typing on a manual is a radically different experience from working on a computer keyboard. By embracing the secondhand Brother I was, as a bachelor for the first time in my life, recalibrating my thinking.

Below is a kernel of a letter composed with a word processor on an IBM-clone computer. I started the letter and intended to go back to it but never did. Its preoccupations -- a yearning for intimacy, the horror of work, professional football -- are ever present in this chronicle. My marriage only had about a half-year left.
Autumn 1989
The loss of community. You leave school and the company of friends and the first thing you're confronted with is work and loneliness and the overwhelming sense that you're doing things -- biding your time: paying rent, washing dishes, drinking -- so you can have something to do on the way to the grave. I read this article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the old Pittsburgh Steelers. Four Super Bowl rings in six years. And judging from what they said, you can tell that they really miss that feeling of community, of winning like it was their right.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Spinanes

Last night on my way home I heard this Spinanes cut, "Greeting from the Sugar Lick," off their
1998 album on Sub Pop, Arches and Aisles. I am a sucker for Rebecca Gates' breathy vocal style.

The Spinanes made their mark as a Grunge band with Noel Jonah and Me in 1994. But even though they were on a Grunge label, they were never really what you would consider Grunge.

Another 9/11 in the Works?

Who knows how time works, if there is a science to the unfolding of history -- "Progress!" -- a la Hegel's dialectic? But we currently seem to be situated in a significant moment. The continuing impact of the Snowden revelations, which began in May of this year, with the latest report of the U.S. eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, puts one in mind of another era, the Vietnam era, with the battle over publishing the Pentagon Papers and then Seymour Hersh's frontpage expose of the CIA's Family Jewels at the end of 1974.

The neoconservative/neoliberal reaction that took place in wake of the exposure of the Vietnam era abuses by the intelligence agencies does not seem to be an option this time around because the neoconservative/neoliberal reaction has been the dominant global paradigm since the late 1970s. It is an exhausted paradigm that serves no one but the elites who profit from it.

But the ruling elites are so out of touch they do not realize that a paradigm shift is in order. This passage jumped out at me from Robert Worth's article on Saudi and Israeli disappointment in the current drift of Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East:
Some Middle East experts said that the unease over American policy went beyond the details of the United States’ position on Syria or a potential nuclear deal with Iran. It is also fueled, they say, by the perception that the Obama administration’s policy is grounded in the desire to avoid diplomatic and especially military confrontations in the Middle East. 
“There is a lot of confusion and lack of clarity amongst U.S. allies in the Middle East regarding Washington’s true intentions and ultimate objectives,” said Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who was a State Department official on Middle East issues during both Democratic and Republican administrations. “There is also widespread unease throughout the Middle East, shared by many U.S. allies, that the United States’ primary objectives when it comes to Iran, Egypt or Syria are to avoid serious confrontation.”
The ruling Likudniks and scions of the House of Saud must not realize that there is no public support for another war in the Greater Middle East. Any U.S. politician or party that bangs the drum for such a war can expect to be voted out of office at the next election. Obama's attempt to win approval for missile strikes on Syria proved this point unquestionably.

A possible course of action to maintain the spent neoconservative/neoliberal paradigm that ruling elites so cherish is one voiced by Rowan Berkeley yesterday in a comment on the Moon of Alabama blog:
In my view, much of what has happened recently has been driven by a rather desperate push by the US to restore its deniability regarding AQ [Al Qaeda]. It wouldn't be altogether surprising if the US staged another major AQ attack on itself, another 9/11, just to restore this deniability. It cannot under any circumstances allow the fact that it is reliant on AQ to wear down its (or rather, Israel's) enemies, to become obvious. It has to create a massive facade of enmity between itself and AQ, and another two or three thousand USAian civilians might not be too great a price for it to pay. Then, when everybody is once again certain that AQ is the US's most deadly enemy, it will be possible for covert cooperation with AQ against Syria, Iran, Russia and China to increase substantially without fear of the secret relationship becoming publicly perceived.
While it is easy for people to dismiss this type of thinking as paranoid, I think that it needs to be seriously engaged; looked at from the perspective of paradigm maintenance it makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

London 11 Endorse Geneva II + Gray Lady Postmortem on Obama's Syria Policy

A long postmortem on the Obama administration's policy toward Syria appears today in the New York Times. There are no new revelations in "Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed," written by Mark Mazzetti, Robert Worth and Michael Gordon, except for the detail that CIA's covert program to arm and train the rebels began in April rather than June. Samantha Power comes off as a twit; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough comes away looking good -- a persistent critic of military involvement in the civil war.

The word picture painted by Mazzetti, Worth and Gordon is of a skeptical commander-in-chief rope-a-doping a bloodthirsty foreign policy establishment, as well as Israel's Netanyahu, who was frightened that Hezbollah might acquire a portion of Syria's chemical weapons stock, and Jordan's King Abdullah, who was worried about the number of Syrian refugees he was having to harbor.

The article is skimpy when it comes to describing Obama's momentous decision to seek Congressional authorization for an attack on Syria and his quickly abandoning that route when the Russians came forward with a deal to have Syria sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. Nowhere is there a discussion of the overwhelming public and Congressional opposition to the Authorization of the Use of Military Force that stymied the warmongers and had Obama and Kerry grasping for the Lavrov-brokered deal.

The news this morning is that Geneva II appears to be a "go." This from Michael Gordon and Alan Cowell in "U.S. and 10 Other Nations Back Peace Talks, but Syrian Moderates Are Uncertain":
The communiqué issued by the London 11, as the group of nations is known, endorsed several points that are important to the Syrian opposition, but also lacked important details. 
It reiterated that a transitional government should be established as part of a political settlement, and said that when the transitional body was formed, President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates “with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.” That approach is sharply at odds with the notion floated recently by Mr. Assad, who said in an interview that he was thinking about running for re-election in 2014. 
The communiqué also called for stepping up support to the political and military wings of the moderate Syrian opposition, but did not specify what additional assistance was to be provided.
The Syrian opposition coalition will meet next week to decide if it will attend. Since its president, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, owes his position to Saudi influence I suppose there is a chance that the Syrian National Coalition will boycott Geneva II. Saudi Arabia has been making its disappointment with the current trend of international affairs known of late, first by declining to address the United Nations General Assembly and then refusing a seat that it had lobbied for on the Security Council.

But the train if not already gone is leaving the station:
On Tuesday, Martin Nesirky, a United Nations spokesman, said preparatory meetings would be held on Nov. 5 involving Russia, the United States and Lakhdar Brahimi, the special United Nations envoy for Syria, followed by a meeting that includes the other three permanent Security Council members — Britain, China and France. 
Mr. Kerry said Tuesday that he thought the moderate opposition leaders would decide to participate.
And it is unclear even if the Saudis are able to block participation in Geneva II by al-Jarba what this would mean. The Syrian National Coalition has always been something of a fiction, a creature of Turkish hotel conference rooms. If the great powers want to broker a peace deal on Syria, which now seems to be the case with the rise of Al Nusra Front and Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham, participation by the "official" Syrian opposition is not necessary. Hence the Saudi tantrums.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Politics Made in the U.S.A.: Corruption and the Appearance of Corruption

During the hubbub last week over the Tea Party engineered government shutdown and flirtation with default it was easy to miss an important opinion piece written by Thomas Edsall, "The Political-Monetary Complex."

Edsall, who, as this blog has said before, is providing one of the best, sustained critiques of our national politics from his perch within the New York Times, takes a look at the limit on individual campaign contributions upheld by the 1976 Buckley decision in the light of the Supreme Court's decision to hear McCutcheon v Federal Election CommissionAs Edsall explains,
Shaun McCutcheon, the chief executive officer of Coalmont Electrical Development, is contesting federal laws that restrict the total or “aggregate” amount an individual can donate to federal candidates and political parties, on the grounds that this restriction unconstitutionally limits his free speech rights. (There are at present no aggregate limits on the total amount that PACS and political party committees can contribute to candidates for federal office; McCutcheon does not engage this issue.)
The underlying issue in Buckley as it is in McCutcheon is corruption and the appearance of corruption:
In its landmark 1976 decision Buckley v.Valeo, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of laws aimed at “the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption spawned by the real or imagined coercive influence of large financial contributions on candidates’ positions and on their actions if elected to office.”
To this end, Edsall takes a quick peek, a snapshot, of large financial contributions in our current political system. The last few paragraphs of his commentary really jump out. After listing the tens of millions of dollars raised by Boehner, McConnell and Reid in their leadership positions in the House and Senate, Edsall identifies who it is making these large contributions. It is not the 1%, but the 0.1%:
Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at Sunlight, found that under the current system, “an elite group of 31,385 individual political donors representing one tenth of one percent of the population of the United States” accounted for 28% of the total funding the in 2012 election.” In other words, more than a quarter of the money spent on political campaigns in 2012 came from 0.1 percent of the American population. 
These elite donors, Drutman writes, “have little in common with average Americans. They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors is $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States.” 
The problem confronting campaign finance reformers is that they are seeking to democratize an inherently undemocratic system of campaign finance. Barring public financing — which is adamantly opposed by Republicans and has only lukewarm public support — the American system for financing political campaigns is essentially a tool for those with money to decisively influence policy outcomes.
Edsall concludes:
Corruption and the appearance of corruption are here to stay. The difference now is that the squalid character of the system has become institutionalized. It’s so deeply integrated into the routine of Congress that, McCutcheon notwithstanding, the American political-monetary complex provokes cynicism and apathy rather than outrage, protest or indignation. It is also kindling for fiery populists on both the left and the right.
I think Edsall is right about the "lukewarm public support" for public financing. People think, "Why do I want to contribute to a totally corrupt and broken system?" without taking the long view that without public financing there is no way to counteract the influence of large contributors like McCutcheon.

But where Edsall sounds suspicious of the "fiery populists on both the left and right" I see them as an opportunity to democratically and dialectically resolve some of the contradictions in our political life.

The government shutdown is a good example; it illustrates that the fire-eating Tea Party Republicans are a minority with no hope of governing. They are now facing a war of extermination against the very deep-pocketed donors who helped bring them to life in the first place.

Monday, October 21, 2013

NFL Week Seven: Luck Beats Broncos

I wanted to get to bed early last night. By early, I mean 8:30 PM. I was unable to because the Sunday night game -- which was promoted as if it were a Biblical event: "Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis!" -- turned out to be excellent. Andrew Luck and his young Colts knocked off Manning's unbeaten Broncos. Indianapolis did it playing straight-up football -- rushing Manning with Robert Mathis and playing man-to-man coverage with a secondary that flies under the radar (Demaryius Thomas was shut down and Wes Welker was held in check until late in the fourth quarter).

But the game ball should go to the young QB from Stanford. Luck played pretty much a flawless game. He missed on a few throws -- in particular one to Reggie Wayne in the fourth that would have put the game on ice (Wayne ended up leaving the game on that play with a knee strain when he tried to suddenly change direction to compensate for Luck's underthrow) -- but those were minor details in an otherwise commanding performance. Luck ran well, passed with strength and accuracy, and showed a lot of poise and grace. The guy is the real deal. The question about the Colts is whether they can win consistently on the road against lesser opponents.

As for Peyton Manning and the Broncos, I was glad to see them go down. Manning has always seemed to me to be a repository of white privilege, a media icon in praise of McMansions and lily-white suburbs and SUVs and profligate consumption. (If you haven't noticed, that paradigm is a bust.) Colts owner Jim Irsay set off a firestorm in the media last week by stating the obvious, that Peyton Manning was no Tom Brady and he had no regrets in letting him go.

Nonetheless I was surprised to see how ineffective Knowshawn Moreno was rushing the ball; he has been a monster of late. Also, I was a little taken aback that both Welker and Demaryius Thomas could be reduced to non-factors for most of the game.

The result is a good win for the Colts. Now there is only one unbeaten team in the National Football League -- the Chiefs of Kansas City. I finally got to see the team in action. CBS broadcast the game against the Texans. I was impressed, even though the Chiefs beat a collapsing Houston club by a single point.

Kansas City seems to have it all: a fast, canny quarterback in Alex Smith; a superb running back in Jamaal Charles; and, last but not least, a dominant defense led by the great Tamba Hali; plus, the Chiefs have an awesome ballpark, Arrowhead Stadium, recently named home of the loudest crowd roar.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #10

My favorite comic book of late has been Uncanny X-Men, written by Brian Michael Bendis with incredible art by Frazer Irving. Irving is an artist to watch.

The story of the latest iteration of Uncanny X-Men has Cyclops and his group of renegade X-Men scooping up new, youthful mutants as they pop up around the globe, all while trying to evade the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.

In Uncanny X-Men #10 an Occupy-type gathering on a university campus demands justice for the renegade X-Men. Cyclops decides to make a surprise appearance with his cohort of mutants. Note the similarities of Frazer Irving's work with the Flemish Primitives (I blew up the inset panels of the Occupy crowd) in the scans below:

Where Monsters Dwell #22: Elektro

I had a plan for this past Friday night. I would post my installment of Hippies vs. Punks in the morning rather than the evening and then, with the evening freed up, I would take a bus from downtown on my way home from work and go out to Green Lake and pick up my race bib and timing chip for this morning's running of the Husky Dawg Dash. By picking up my packet Friday night it saved me two to three hours on Saturday morning.

The plan was after getting my packet at Super Jock 'N Jill's I would get on the #48 bus and then get off on the east side of Capitol Hill and walk due west over to 15th Avenue East. I would order some Thai take-out and while I waited I would inspect the new local music offerings at Sonic Boom Records.

It was a good plan but it got off to a rocky start. There was a fundraiser at the local for "Yes! for Seatac," the living wage initiative campaign on the ballot next month that received a write-up in the New York Times last Monday, and I ended up working the door. I got out of work a half hour later than anticipated. So the bus schedule I had printed out was no longer accurate.

Fortunately a couple of old union friends who had been Green Party activists back in the day and who were at the fundraiser saw me waiting at the bus stop, pulled over and offered me a ride into the city.

By the time they dropped me off downtown and I made my way to the University Street Station I was back on schedule.

Once I got settled on the northbound  #76 bus I took a look around. The bus was filled with students, young office workers and a few older folks like myself. Two things jumped out at me, which I would guess broadly apply to public transit in most large U.S. cities today: 1) there are just as many if not more Asians, Latinos and blacks as there are whites, and 2) everyone -- and if not everyone, let's say, at least 80% -- has his or her face buried in a smartphone or a handheld video gaming device.

Pretty much the same held true on the bus ride from Green Lake to Capitol Hill after I picked up my race packet. The only difference was the racial composition was more heavily weighted to Caucasian. There were a lot of college students heading out on Friday night to get laid, and they were all texting and staring at their phones. The vibe this creates is definitely a new phenomenon -- a public sphere filled with digitally mesmerized people.

I got off the bus and trudged over the hill to 15th; found the Thai restaurant I had gone to with my last girlfriend; ordered some Pad See Ew; went out the door and down the street to where Sonic Boom Records was located, and lo and behold! It was gone. A bar was there instead.

Add the local record store along with the neighborhood book shop and video store to the Internet's list of victims. A couple weeks back I noticed that the Capitol Hill Half Price Books is gone.

I was surprised. Amazon is just wiping out stuff left and right. But the more I think about it, I suppose I am as guilty as anyone. I stopped going regularly to Sonic Boom and Half Price Books years ago. It's much easier to purchase music via MP3 download and to find an inexpensive used copy of a book you want online. But what is being lost by destroying these neighborhood repositories of culture? What is being lost by being forever transfixed by the screen? Technology seems to be demanding more of our attention than ever before.

Apropos this sentiment, here is a cautionary tale from Where Monsters Dwell #22 about man-made machine intelligence that gains sentience and seeks domination of humanity. Like "Fin Fang Foom!" from Where Monsters Dwell #21, the lesser-known "Elektro!" is an elegant story, but it is more economically told. We shouldn't ignore its conclusion:
For to create a machine that can out-think man, is to create the instrument of our own destruction!