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Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Wonder Years

It’s either a Tuesday or a Thursday, whichever is first in the month, 1965. If during the school year, it would be afternoon.  The place: Brooklyn, the local candy store. The occasion?  The day the comics come out.

I might arrive before they’ve been put up. If so, they’re in a stack, maybe a foot high, wrapped by wire on four sides like Christmas ribbon.  I’d ask Mr. Z, the Jewish proprietor, to pleeeez open them up. No need to look for a scissor, just unwind the wire. I can do it! Don’t delay!

And there they were!  Maybe three or four of the first batch of this month’s titles. Perhaps Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish. Perhaps a Sgt. Fury.  Hopefully at least one of the major titles: Fantastic Four, Thor, Spider-Man. Gold.

Those stunning Jack Kirby covers, jumping out at me, demanding to be lovingly picked up and oh-so carefully opened. Or a Steve Ditko Spider-Man or Strange Tales.  Beautiful also, though in a distinctly different way.

This was the ritual that dominated my youth at ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen. If I remember correctly, the comics would come out as early as the first Tuesday or Thursday in the month. It might take two weeks of Tuesdays and Thursdays for the full complement of the month’s Marvels to come out.  Then would come the unbearable two week-or-so wait for next month’s issues.

Kirby spoke about the importance of the covers. It was a business, after all, and the cover was the sizzle that sold the steak. Those covers had to leap out at you and demand ownership!  This was why Kirby drew most of the covers regardless of who drew the stories inside (except for Steve Ditko’s, the lesser giant).

My first Marvel was Thor #114. It’s not hard to see why it grabbed my attention and compelled me to part with 12 cents—which was probably a lot of money to me back then.

You could buy 2 candy bars and have enough left over to buy two Tootsie-rolls or 2 Bazooka Joes with 12 cents.

Who can remember that far back?  My weekly allowance—if I had any—might’ve been 25 cents. Possibly a buck?

Look at this image!  Imagine seeing it through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. The noble hero combating an escaped convict. Kirby is the acknowledged 'King' of the medium, and this picture illustrates why. That hammer is hitting that ball and chain! Like, really! The motion of the arm and the body twisting in concert; the surefooted stance from which derives the upper-body strength. The brutal ferocity of the “Absorbing Man,” seemingly equal in power to the noble Thunder God.

They were a revelation.  Where have you been all my life?  Within a couple of months I became a collector of every single Marvel title. I read them and re-read them, in the most delicate fashion. Fingertips only. Never—ever!—bending back. No one was allowed to touch them, let alone read them. Not even my brother. They were safely stored in a box; unfortunately, not in bags with boards.

As these moments defined my life at this time, I naturally sought companionship to share this with. I made friends with the other kid in the neighborhood who understood. He was a Puerto Rican kid from across the street.

After buying the new comics we didn’t take them home to read them—we read them immediately. Wherever we were. We’d find a stoop to squat on, or just stand on the sidewalk. First the awesome splash page, almost as good as the cover. As we looked at the panels, at the action in those panels, we were those characters! We became Captain America jiu-jitsuing Batroc the Leaper. This was the power—no, the magic!—of Jack Kirby’s art.  He had an ability to capture motion, not just fighting motion, but just normal movement of the body, in a naturalistic way that no other artist came close to approximating.

And Kirby’s figures lived within frames of exquisite composition and masterful design, often with stunning background detail.

After discovering Marvel comics, we began a daily routine. Every afternoon, as soon as we got home from school, we went on our pilgrimage to track down past issues. Some stores did a business in buying and selling used comics. I don’t recall what they sold them for—it might’ve been a dime.  There was no premium on older issues.  Perhaps the storekeepers bought them for a nickel.

Perhaps they were just taken for free off the hands of some mom who was sick of her son reading “those comic books.” An alternative to throwing them into the garbage—which was the common final resting place for most comics.

When we first discovered this trick, we of course bought every single old Marvel around. There were maybe three or four merchants in the neighborhood who sold used comics. They kept them in boxes behind the counter, so you had to ask for them. These were places that did a brisk trade in 15-cent egg-creams and nickel bags of Wise potato chips.

So our daily routine was to hit these stores and see if someone had brought in any Marvels since the last time we checked. In a way, this was almost as exciting as the thrill of seeing the brand new comics, because you never knew what might turn up.  This was before there were any reprints. We had no idea what previous issues contained. Who the FF fought in some random previous issue. Earlier costumes. We didn’t know that a few months prior “Thor” was titled “Journey into Mystery.”  A Tales of Suspense with no Captain America feature? Imagine the thrill of finding one of those!

These excursions were for us, literally treasure hunts. Any old Marvels that we found were, indeed, treasure to us. There is nothing—nothing!—we wanted more. Treasure.

We were relentless in pursuit of the older issues. We researched leads. We traded with each other. My goal in life was to get every single Fantastic Four and Thor. We wanted them all.
What actually happened is that these ‘behind the counter used comic books’ sources eventually dried up.

And then I moved. From the ghetto that was Williamsburg to a better neighborhood: Bay Ridge. I continued collecting Marvels... for a few years. My Puerto Rican friend’s family returned to Puerto Rico. We wrote a few times. I eventually made new friends who collected Marvels.

But it was Junior High now, and I was discovering new interests. Music (after all, it was the mid-sixties). Girls.  I kept collecting for awhile, but the magic incrementally disappeared.  In fact, it wasn’t just growing up—the magic really had gone!  With hindsight, it’s clear that there was a peak period for Marvel comics, roughly spanning the years 1964 through 1967. When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee fed on each other’s creativity like Lennon and McCartney.

Jack Kirby eventually left Marvel, but the decline began some years before. Some of the titles began simply reprinting older issues. That seemed like outright theft to me.

It’s hard to be completely objective, but looking back it really does appear as if latched on just in the nick of time. Very lucky, I guess.

Here’s to you, Jack Kirby, and to my Puerto Rican buddy from Williamsburg, wherever you are. Thank you. And yes, I still have my comics.

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Jack Kirby Gallery
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Profiling: The Elephant in the Room at Zimmerman Trial

Those that want to “hang” George Zimmerman rest their hopes on the prosecution’s success in showing that he profiled Trayvon Martin—singled him out for suspicion—because he was black.

If the jury can be convinced of this, they reason, then regardless of who jumped who, of who was in fear for their life during the fight, the shooting of unarmed Trayvon constitutes murder in the 2nd degree because of the racial animus implicit in the racial profiling, without which there would have been no altercation.

“Profiling” is commonly thought of as using a person’s race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background (the list continues to grow...) as a primary predictor of their likelihood to commit some egregious act.  To get an operational definition of “profiling” we need to append the clause: “when the target of the profiling belongs to an acceptable victim group.”

Profiling is inextricably linked with political correctness.

It turns out that there had been many recent break-ins at the Twin Lakes gated housing development in Sanford, FL where Zimmerman lived and Trayvon was visiting. The recession had decimated the property values of the homes in the relatively young housing development. Units that originally sold in the $250k range to owner-occupiers had since plummeted in value to the $80k range—a situation familiar to many throughout the US, and especially so to communities in Florida which was particularly hard-hit by the housing bubble collapse.

Subsequently, many of the units at Twin Lakes were rented, and a crime-wave of burglaries ensued. According to statements heard at the trial and corroborated by crime reports, all of the most recent 7 break-ins were committed by black men. Therefore, there is a likelihood that the next break-in will also be committed by a black man, or put another way, it is statistically more likely that a black male rather than a white male will commit a burglary at the housing complex.

But under the prohibition against profiling, any crime-prevention efforts must ignore the statistical likelihood that break-ins at the development are caused, perhaps exclusively, by black males. This begs the question: When does it become okay to acknowledge that the perpetrators of the break-ins are black males, and act accordingly with that knowledge in any preventive measures to address crime in the complex?  What if there were 10 break-ins, all perpetrated by black males? One hundred? 

At what point does it become not only an absurdity but also, and more importantly, does it actually undermine law enforcement efforts, when the demographic profile of the people committing the crimes is deliberately ignored?

Apparently no one questions that profiling is an evil practice, the accusation of which will cause an alleged “profiler” to twist and turn in linguistic contortions trying to explain how recognizing the racial identity of past criminal behavior in a given community is not ...  recognizing the racial identity of past criminal behavior in the given community.  Yes, it’s an impossible task, and amusing to watch in the Zimmerman trial, in a perverse sort of way.

This illogical, counterproductive obeisance to political correctness is not restricted to the disproportional prevalence of black crime. It also explains why TSA agents avoid profiling the group solely responsible for all the acts of terrorism at our airports since 9/11—middle-eastern/northern-African Islamics—by also body-searching white grandmothers in wheelchairs and 4-year-old children.

But as stated above, profiling is only profiling when the target group is a legitimate “victim group” as established by the canons of political correctness.

One particularly virulent strain of profiling occurs each and every day throughout the nation, but it is never acknowledged as such and hence it’s never in the news and never the subject of a “study” by well-meaning, progressive social science academics. Nor is it fodder for a Hollywood drama starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, screaming out for social justice and warmly rewarded with an Oscar on that night when Hollywood celebrities revel in their circle-jerk of self-righteousness.

The most pernicious, pervasive, unjust —and apparently completely invisible!—form of profiling is visited upon men accused of “gender crimes,” mired in everyday courtroom dramas that never make it to cable TV.  Accusations of domestic abuse/violence that coincidentally occur when a divorce is filed and custody of children is an issue. Men accused of sexual assault or rape in so-called “date-rape” cases after the “victim” has second thoughts the following morning. Men who seek custody of their children, even when there are no allegations of abuse made by the mother.

In the abstract, profiling is akin to the process of using discrimination (in the textbook, i.e., good sense of the word) to make decisions. That is, the process whereby we employ observation, logic, perhaps supported by some probability and statistics analysis, all in concert to make strategic decisions about a future action.  To optimize a choice. An example might be in industry whereby decisions are made in Quality Control on how to test a production line of widgets in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
“Profiling” in the common, legal usage, i.e., circumscribed by the parameters of identity politics, transmogrifies this process into something evil.

Somehow, when it comes to matters of crime prevention and air-traffic safety, to use two of the more familiar examples, we have all been brainwashed to pretend that recognizing a profile of the criminal perpetrators is somehow wrong and must be condemned and prohibited. George Zimmerman should be found guilty of 2nd –degree murder because he profiled Trayvon Martin, regardless of the facts of the actual altercation that are emerging in the trial.

If you lived in the Twin Lakes gated community and were aware of the history of break-ins, would you be more suspicious of a strange black man in a hoodie than you would of a white man you didn’t recognize? If no, then you deserve the politically correct seal of approval for your bias-free powers of observation; however you fail miserably in life skills and common sense, and if it were your job to safeguard the security of the residents you would be woefully derelict in your duties and should be fired.

Consider these crime statistics: 
  • Blacks commit 42% of all burglaries, a rate exceeding 3 times their proportion (13%) in the general population.[i]
  • Blacks commit 55% of all robberies, 4 times their proportion in the general population.[ii]
  • Blacks are 7 times as likely as whites to commit murder.[iii]
  • The single biggest predictor of violent crime levels in an area is the percentage of the population that is black and Hispanic.[iv]
  • 28% of people arrested for burglary are black.[v]
Look closely at the last stat. How do we account for the fact that though 42% of all burglaries were committed by blacks, only 28% of those arrested were black?

This is not an aberration. It turns out that, contrary to what we are led to believe, blacks are not arrested “en masse” on suspicion of criminality. In fact they are arrested at rates less than the actual rates at which they statistically commit the crimes. With respect to arrest rates, blacks are in fact, “reverse-profiled.” The explanation for this is that in response to political pressure, police departments have adjusted policies to afford especial leniency to blacks and minorities.

An example of this can actually be found in the Zimmerman trial. Trayvon Martin had a criminal history—though the jury has been protected from this knowledge. Trayvon benefitted from a policy of the Miami-Dade Sanford Police Department geared to minimize school arrests of black males. Trayvon had been apprehended with a burglary tool and also with pilfered jewelry. These offenses should’ve been arrestable, but political pressure to show improvements in juvenile delinquency in the school district fudged the reports, including one for pot possession, such that Trayvon’s punishment was limited to two school suspensions.

Unfortunately I suffer from an acute case of rationalism, so to me it seems a no-brainer that rather than looking for ways to hide these politically incorrect inconvenient truths by attacking “profiling” and “stop-and-frisk” policies, we should be using any and all legal means at our disposal to actually deal with these crimes, including profiling.

And if you’re really interested in the ‘why’ of the appallingly high rates of black crime, refer to the paragraph above regarding the “invisible” profiling. The strategic correlation to be made is with children raised without their fathers...  but that leads to a 3rd rail even hotter than racial profiling.

[i] NCVS incident-level data for the years 2001 to 2003 were extracted from US, Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

[ii] ibid
[iii] Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011, Nov. 16, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/htus8008pr.cfm
[iv] The Color of Crime: Race, Crime, and Justice in America, 2005, New Century Foundation
[v] US, Dept. of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Crime in the United States, 2002 [This is the official title of document that is based on the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR).]