Archive for the ‘The Body Politic’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Triskaidekaphobia Edition

November 24, 2016

Welcome to the thirteenth installment in my annual outpouring of gratitude. Each Thanksgiving since 2004, I’ve devoted this space to a reflection on some of the many people, places, and things that have graced my life. Because counting my blessings can become an infinite task once I get started, I’ve developed the device of choosing 26 representative items — one for each letter of the English alphabet — to stand as testament to the overwhelming abundance that I can only begin to address.

Without further ceremony, here are the things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving 2016.

Antenna International. If you’ve ever toured a museum or other public attraction and used the audio guide, you’ve heard the work of this fine company, which specializes in the production of said audio guides. I recently had the privilege of narrating Antenna’s audio guide to Vikings: Beyond the Legend, an exhibition currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. If you’re in southwest Ohio or the vicinity, go check it out.

Beef Jerky Store. A highlight of my annual trip to Las Vegas is a pilgrimage to this downtown establishment adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience, where I load up my suitcase with tasty snacks. When I was a keiki (that’s “child” to your mainlanders) in Hawaii, we called a place like this a crack seed store — “crack seed” being the Hawaiian term for various kinds of dried fruits, nuts, and other dehydrated edibles. Visiting the Beef Jerky Store takes me back to those long-ago childhood days.

Comixology. This year, I officially transitioned my comic book reading from paper to digital. Comixology is the app for that. (It’s been an adjustment, but I’m resolute.)

DubNation. What a year we’ve had as Golden State Warriors fans! Our team set an NBA record for success with an unprecedented 73-9 record; missed repeating as world champions by an eyelash; then in the offseason added Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players in the game, to a roster that already featured three superstars in two-time MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. After decades of wallowing in mediocrity and worse, it’s a grand time to be a citizen of DubNation.

Evernote. I don’t know where I’d be without this app. Certainly dinners at our house would be far less interesting, because Evernote is where all of my recipes reside.

Family. As always, I’m grateful more than anything for those who love me most — the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, Grandma, Studio Assistant Tazz, and KJ, whose memory lives forever in heart and spirit. My extended ohana also includes numerous friends and connections, both nearby and far away.

Graboids. That’s our household nickname for reach tools. They come in handy for picking up dog toys and other items that middle-aged backs and knees hate bending for.

Hillary Clinton. The election didn’t go her way, but I’m still proud that she earned my vote.

Inkwell Awards. Founded by longtime comic book inker Bob Almond, the Inkwells annually acknowledge some of the most important — but least heralded — artists in the field.

Juice. Because who doesn’t love juice? Make mine cranberry.

Kamala Harris. California’s attorney general will make an outstanding impact as our new junior Senator. I was honored to voice several of Ms. Harris’s campaign ads this season. I don’t think she got elected because of my work, but I’m not saying I didn’t help a little. Maybe.

Luke Cage. Just when you think that Marvel Studios and Netflix couldn’t possibly outdo themselves after the stellar Jessica Jones, they follow up with a series that takes street-level superheroics up yet another notch. Terrific performances by Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, and Mike Colter as the titular Power Man made this a must-binge.

Mcusta. Two of the most attractive specimens in my folding knife collection come from this Seki City, Japan bladeworks. I could admire my Mcusta Katana and Tactility all day long. Some days, I do.

NewPark 12. The glorious IMAX theater in our new local multiplex even enthused the Pirate Queen — generally not a fan of the cinema experience — about going out to the movies. It’s the first time I ever sat in a theater seat that I wanted to take home to my living room after the film ended.

OtterBox. I dropped and shattered my iPhone this summer. (Thanks, AT&T, for the speedy and relatively hassle-free replacement.) The sturdy case on my new device will, one hopes, prevent future mishaps of a similar nature.

President Barack Obama. Thank you, Mr. President, for eight years of honorable service. I truly believe that history will be far more kind to your legacy than the obstructionist Congress of your second term has been.

Quatermass and the Pit. One of my all-time favorite weird sci-fi classics. You’ve probably seen it here in the U.S. under the title Five Million Years to Earth. Basically, we’re all the descendants of giant grasshoppers from Mars.

Ray’s Crab Shack. A local spot serving up mass quantities of delicious seafood. Don your plastic bib, glove up, and get your crustacean on.

Steely Dan. Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend, that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen got me through college, and many melancholy hours since. There are 66 songs on the Dan’s seven classic-period albums (beginning with Can’t Buy a Thrill and concluding with Gaucho), and not a single one of them sucks. I don’t know any other musical act about whom I can make that statement. 1977’s Aja ranks as one of the finest albums in the history of recorded music.

Treebeard. In my studio-office stands a gnarled walking stick that I acquired at a Renaissance Faire many, many years ago. It’s outfitted with a wrapped leather hand grip and bears the carved face of a bewhiskered wizard at its head. I call it Treebeard. I believe there may be magic in it.

Universal Studios Hollywood. I spent a week there early this year, as an alternate contestant for a TV quiz show that ended up not requiring my services. But I got to stay in a nice hotel, tour a theme park, preview the then-unopened-to-the-public Harry Potter attraction, see a couple of movies, hang out for two days in the soundstage where The Voice is taped, and make several cool new friends — all at a TV production company’s expense. You could have a worse vacation.

Van Jones. The CNN commentator kept it real in the midst of insanity on Election Night 2016. Thanks for eloquently saying what many of us were thinking, Mr. Jones.

Waimea Canyon. As has been frequently noted in this space, I spent a goodly chunk of my childhood in Hawaii. Until this spring, however, I’d never visited the island of Kauai. If you’ve never stood on the edge of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” you owe it to yourself to get there at least once before you die. (Going after you die probably won’t have the same effect.)

Xenozoic. Mark Schultz’s sumptuous adventure comic — best known to non-aficionados as the source material for the fondly remembered animated series Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — remains a classic of the medium. The collected omnibus volume is the closest book to my desk on my office-studio bookshelf.

Yoda. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Live by these words, should you.

Zuckerberg. Thanks for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed for the past year, Mark.

I am eternally grateful to you, friend reader, for your ongoing support of these random ramblings. May your life overflow with reasons to give thanks.

Comic Art Friday: Catch me now, I’m falling

November 22, 2013

I thought long and hard — well, okay, as long and hard as I think about anything; which, given the attenuated nature of my attention span, is not all that long or hard, really — about what to post on a Comic Art Friday that falls on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Given that I was a toddler on this date in 1963, I haven’t any emotional tale to share about where I was or what I was doing when the news broke. I only kinda-sorta-vaguely recall the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and those occurred five years later. Thus, no deep personal insight here.

As a Presidential history buff, it does strike me as interesting that Kennedy’s assassination resonates with us the way that it does. Kennedy wasn’t the first President to be assassinated. That dubious honor fell to Abraham Lincoln, as has been extensively memorialized in print and on film. Two other Presidents — James Garfield and William McKinley — were bumped off within the following 40 years. By the time of Kennedy’s murder, it had been more than 60 years since a President had been killed, and Americans had largely begun to think that we had advanced beyond that sort of business.

Of course, we had not.

Captain America, pencils by comics artist Ron Adrian

Perhaps by coincidence, the Kennedy assassination would mark the start of a turbulent era in American public life. The rest of the 1960s and ’70s would see the polarizing Vietnam War, the full impact of the civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal, the resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon, and the Iranian hostage crisis. Politics in this country would never again be the same.

Ironically, it took a band of Englishmen to record one of the most provocative commentaries on this dark time in American history. In 1979, the Kinks released the album Low Budget, which featured a song entitled “Catch Me Now I’m Falling.” The lyrics read, in part:

I remember when you were down
You would always come running to me
I never denied you and I would guide you
Through all of your difficulties
Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I’m falling

That song reverberates through my synapses today as I think about the Kennedy assassination, and all that’s gone on in this country since then. We’ve fallen — and in my view, continue to fall — in many ways over this past half-century. And yet, by many other measures, we rise to levels that no other nation in the history of human civilization ever has.

Bizarre how that works.

I suppose that both our struggles and successes are to be expected, and are to some degree of a piece. We are remarkably accomplished as a people at making both good and bad, both love and hate, out of the same things; at finding unity in places that ought to divide us, while dividing ourselves over that which ought to unite us. Our greatest national strengths are often the cause of our most debilitating weaknesses… and vice versa.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. But that’s America for you.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Burn this!

August 16, 2010

I’m not a huge fan of holidays. (Well, except for International Talk Like a Pirate Day. But that goes without saying.)

Burn a Confederate Flag Day, however, sounds like a celebration I could get behind.

After all, racist whackos have been burning things — like, say, crosses — for decades. Turnabout is fair play.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should go so far as to burn racist whackos. That would be taking things a little far. Then again, if you wanted to throw a photo of your favorite racist whacko (there are so many to choose from these days — Limbaugh? Beck? Dr. Laura? Mad Mel Gibson? — you many need multiples) on the pyre as you’re toasting your rebel banner on September 12, that would be all right with me.

Just be sure to clean up the mess afterward. Don’t forget, Talk Like a Pirate Day is only a week later. You don’t want random ashes lying around on the big day.

Guam to run all night, Guahan to run all day

February 18, 2010

This just in from the South Pacific…

To mark the beginning of his final year in office, Felix Camacho, the governor of Guam, issued an executive order changing the name of Micronesia’s largest island to Guahan — the original name of the island in the language of its indigenous people, the Chamorros.

Guam — begging your pardon, Guahan — has an interesting — and in many ways, tragic — history. Ferdinand Magellan made the first European pit stop on the island in 1521, during his famous (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective) circumnavigational voyage. The Spanish colonized Guam in 1668, and held control of it until 1898, when both Guam and the Philippines were passed to U.S. hands at the end of the Spanish-American War.

The Japanese captured Guam the day after after the Pearl Harbor attack and occupied it until American forces reestablished authority in July 1944. (Ironically, Guam’s primary source of income today — aside from the extensive U.S. military presence — is Japanese tourism.)

My own peregrinations as an Air Force brat took me to Guam once, albeit so briefly that it barely rates mention. On our way back to the States from our two-year tour in the Philippines, we had about a three-hour layover at Andersen Air Force Base on the island’s northern edge. Not that we saw much. As I recall, we spent the time between flights sitting in a tiny coffee shop in the air terminal, in stiflingly humid heat.

Since World War II, Guam has held a peculiar status as a United States territory. It has its own elected internal government, much like a full-fledged state of the Union, and its people are U.S. citizens. (Unlike, say, the people of American Samoa, who are U.S. nationals — meaning that they are entitled to travel with a United States passport — but not U.S. citizens.) Guamanians, however, do not vote formally in the U.S. presidential elections (Guam casts a straw poll vote for President, but has no standing in the Electoral College), and they have only token representation in Congress — a single delegate to the House of Representatives (a delegate without voting privileges) and no U.S. Senator.

Over the years, there have been a number of initiatives to elevate Guam to commonwealth status, like that of Puerto Rico, and more recently, Guam’s nearby neighbor, the Northern Mariana Islands. Thus far, none of these proposals has succeeded. Many Guamanians — with some justification — feel themselves second-class citizens, in that they have the title but lack two of the most significant benefits: a voice in the federal government, and a genuine say in the choice of President.

That status seems unlikely to change, regardless of what the island’s people call themselves.

The lion sleeps tonight

August 26, 2009

The first vote I ever cast for President in a national election, I cast for Senator Edward Kennedy.

The year was 1980. As much as it pained me — because I thought he was a decent guy who simply got in way over his head — I couldn’t bring myself to vote to reelect President Carter. You know darn well I wasn’t voting for the cowboy from Death Valley Days. As for John Anderson… you’re saying right now, “Who?” To which I can only reply, “Exactly.”

So I wrote in a vote for Ted.

It’s the only time I’ve ever exercised the write-in option in any election, for any office, ever. It might be the only time I ever exercise it. But I still believe that, in that particular election, it was the right move.

Ted Kennedy did more in service to this country during his storied tenure in the Senate than any dozen of his colleagues — of either party, or of both parties — that you’d care to name. I’m sorry that he didn’t live to see the health care reform for which he fought so hard in the waning days of his life. But I’m glad that he lived to see Barack Obama elected President.

Was Ted Kennedy a perfect man? He was not. (For the record, neither am I.) I don’t even know whether he was a good man, because I didn’t know him personally. But he was a great Senator. I remain convinced that he would have made a great President.

I’m proud that, the one time when the opportunity presented itself, I voted for him.

Thanks for everything, Senator.

The prince of darkness

August 18, 2009

Generally speaking, when I write about celebrity deaths in this space — and as regulars here know, I do that quite frequently — I attempt to find something positive to say about the decedent. Heck, I was even nice to William F. Buckley, a man with whom I would likely have disagreed about the benefits of oxygen.

Today, Robert Novak is dead.

I got nothing.

My path in life never crossed Novak’s, but I spent countless hours in his electronic presence by way of the many talk programs on which the archconservative commentator appeared. I can’t say how much of Novak’s on-camera persona was genuine and how much was an act, but by most accounts, he presented the same dour, bulldog face in everyday affairs that he showed on The McLaughlin Group or The Capital Gang. Novak seemed to be one of those jerky people who revel in their jerkiness, and in making other people feel small and uncomfortable.

I don’t find much laudable in people like that.

Although he broke numerous Washington stories over his lengthy career, Novak will be forever remembered as the journalist who, in a fit of politically motivated pique, broke the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Some considered that act tantamount to treason. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far — treason, like racism, is not an accusation to be hurled lightly — but it was without doubt a stupid and reprehensible act that lowered Novak even in the eyes of many conservatives who had previously lionized him.

For some of us, it simply proved that Novak was exactly what we’d always thought him to be. I’ll let you fill in that blank for yourself, loath as I am to speak ill of the newly departed.

Jon Friedman of MarketWatch expressed it as well as I could:

To me, [Novak] was, as a journalist, a shameful bully. He demonstrated the worst instincts of a professional pundit.

It was always an impression I had about him. I suspected that if the highly paranoid and divisive Richard Nixon had actually been a newspaperman, he would have resembled Novak.

Early in his career, a colleague hung the moniker “Prince of Darkness” on Novak, because of his aggressively pessimistic disposition. Novak enjoyed that image, and even used the nickname as the title of his 2007 autobiography.

Now it’s dark for sure.

A Memorial Day thought

May 25, 2009

As we pause in the midst of our frenzied technological whirlwind to honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to this country, we offer these words — all the more powerful today, given the current holder of the nation’s highest office, than they were when first spoken.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

— President Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 30, 1963

And, oh yeah…

Captain America and the Red Skull, pencils by Kevin Maguire, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Take that, Red Skull.