2016/01/25

Conspiracy theories


Had an online conversation with someone who believed that the Illuminati and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) were exerting immense influence on our politics. I ran a search on “Illuminati Front Group Council on Foreign Relations,“ and the first six pages of results got me lots of authors and publications I never heard of. Wikipedia shows up on the 3rd page, the actual CFR shows up on the 6th. Which establishes, I guess, that even if some people take the Illuminati/CFR theory seriously, they're on the fringes and not part of the usual left-right dialogue.

Snopes is a pretty good debunking site (His answer to Snopes was “Snopes is ran by a Leftist couple out of their home,” which I don't consider a particularly meaningful or relevant response) and they say that Illuminati is a general, catch-all phrase identifying a mysterious, sinister agency where, yes indeed, if you type Illuminati backwards, it does indeed get you to an NSA website. But generally, “Illuminati” is a pretty vague, mysterious reference that doesn't refer to any particular individuals.

Ron Paul is a believer in CFR conspiracies. He says some good, peacenik-supporting stuff here and there, but I generally don't regard him as much of an expert on anything.

Good thinkpiece on the whole subject. The author feels the CFR generally does wish to establish a one-world government, but if they intended to be secretive about it, they're not doing a very good job of that, as it's quite easy to see what they've been saying and doing since they were founded.

As with other conspiracy theories, the CFR theory is plagued by sloppy research. The New American purports to tell us the history of the 1948 Marshall Plan. Slight problem is that it identifies David Rockefeller's study group as the inspiration for the plan, but the Marshall Foundation published a six-page PDF that reviewed the history of how the Marshall Plan came to be. It reproduces several memos, none of which are authored by Rockefeller. In 1999, Rockefeller was awarded a second George C. Marshall Foundation Award for “his long-time commitment to positive international economic development, his humanitarian service to community based on the recognition that a healthy, vibrant society depends upon a sound economic base.“ Nothing about his study group designing the plan. Bio.com doesn't write a terribly lengthy biography of Rockefeller, but it rather notably covers the immediate postwar years by talking entirely about his tenure at the Chase Manhattan Bank. The Rockefeller Center similarly doesn't give him any credit for the Marshall Plan. Sourcewatch draws all sorts of connections between Rockefeller and NAFTA, the Bilderberg society, the Trilateral Commission, etc., but again, nothing about inventing the Marshall Plan. Not sure all this completely debunks the New American theory, but it certainly doesn't give me any confidence that New American knows what it's talking about.

A major problem I have with the idea of secret societies covertly pulling the levers of power and arranging big changes behind the scenes is that it's actually pretty hard to keep lots of things a secret. The Koch brothers are two people who are determined to shape American society to their specifications. Their ideas are truly awful. David Koch ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1980 and the party got about 1% of the vote. In 1984, he founded Americans for Prosperity and has been an outsider-manipulator ever since. The Kochs played a substantial role in creating the Tea Party, for instance.

Now, the Kochs are trying convince people that they're running an “apolitical and altruistic reform movement to enhance the quality of life—as 'a movement for well-being,'“ as opposed to being a crassly materialistic movement that wants to throw the weak and helpless over the side and to reward the already rich and powerful with still more riches and power. It's not working out that well because the higher the profile they get, the more people notice them and the more investigative reporters poke and prod at, and break down, their carefully-constructed and maintained public images.

2015/09/01

Archie

The famous (and chaste) love triangle of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge was born in Archie Comics #1 in 1942. In 1954, Archie's cultural cred was established by Mad magazine via a Will Elder/Harvey Kurtzman parody. I read a number of Archie stories in the late 60s and early 70s. 

For many decades, Archie comics have been relegated to the “kid's corner” of comics shops while the more mature super-hero titles occupy the main section (Some comics shops have a far-back section where they keep the sex comics, but that sector isn't anywhere near as big as it once was). The company that publishes Archie has been trying lately to break out of the kid's corner by first introducing a gay character and now by introducing a re-boot of the comic with much better artwork and a more complex, mature storyline.

Heh! Betty prepares to go out on the town and gets herself all glammed up over the course of nine silent panels where she struggles mightily with all sorts of beautification processes. I checked the credits and sure enough, the comic has a female artist. I got the feeling she was being a bit autobiographical by depicting Betty's struggles.

Unfortunately, Archie is presented as such a klutz who screws up so badly that he tries to work on the mansion of the Lodges, who have just arrived in Riverdale, and accidentally sends a bulldozer into the wood frame of the mansion, collapsing it entirely. Veronica catches a glimpse of Archie running off and reacts by blushing and going “Tee-hee.” Sorry, I realize that Archie is a silly romantic comedy, but that's stretching “suspension of disbelief” a bit too far. I think Archie is going to remain in the kids corner for awhile yet.  

2015/08/21

Ant-Man


Very happy that I saw Fantastic Four first and then Ant-Man, it was like going from canned tuna fish to broiled sea scallops, Ant-Man was WAY better! Not that the characters were really deep or complex, but both movies contained corporate villains that wanted to steal what the heroes had and make a profit off of it, but the Ant-Man villain was much less a routine, by-the-numbers bad guy and had at least some semblance of human-like motivations.
One of the founders of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, usually makes a small cameo appearance in Marvel films. He didn't appear in the third Fantastic Four, but did appear in Ant-Man.
Special effects in both films were completely credible. The art of doing those has progressed enormously.

2015/08/14

Fantastic Four

I had heard some pretty awful things about the new Fantastic Four, all of which were unfortunately true. Problem is, the characters were invented in 1961, the first movie came out in 2005 and the second one in 2007, so it's not like people didn't already know all about the premise of the show. The writers changed a few details. For instance, Sue Storm is adopted by an African-American dad, so her brother Johnny is also black. Doctor Doom in the comic is a combination scientist/sorcerer and ruler of an Eastern European country, here he's just a transformed thing that was once a person. 
An idea here is that instead of going into near outer space to gain their powers, they go to another dimension. It really bothered me that Sue worked on outfits with which the new dimension could be safely explored, but unlike with the actual Moon landings in real life, where we had a pretty good idea as to conditions up there, the characters here never send monitoring equipment on ahead, so no one had any idea of what conditions in the other dimension were like, so Sue is basically working in the dark. She has no idea what she's designing the suits to be able to guard against. 
I hate to use the word “cartoonish” to describe the villains in this, but it really fits. Very, very shallow, one-dimensional characters. Yeah, if I were writing this, I'd spend about 10 to 15 minutes on the origin and the rest on a real action thriller. They spend the entire movie just doing the origin.  

2015/07/25

Second Clinton vs Third Bush


Jesse Ventura ran a list of how Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are two peas in a pod.
My responses:

1. is interesting. I ran a search on “hillary clinton entitled” and the first two pages of results are solidly hard line right-wingers. Not surprised to see that lefties don't see her that way, but interesting to see that middle-of-the-road people don't see her that way, either.

5. False equivalence. There's no evidence Clinton is hiding anything by having used a private email account. I didn't agree with her doing so once I heard about it, but her supervisor didn't object to it. Bush has not hid anything so much as he's made selective disclosures of his email. He's been completely silent on many very important subjects, but if his brother doesn't get subpoenaed then he won't either.

9. Good to hear they both believe that climate change is a real and serious thing.

10. Clinton has kept away from loudly and forcefully criticizing the TPP, but she certainly hasn't praised it either, so I wouldn't count her as a supporter.

13. Green groups are divided on how close she is to the oil industry. “Her environmental record as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 includes launching a global initiative to reduce emissions of soot and some greenhouse gases, though not targeting carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.”


Interesting piece, but I wouldn't regard it as the final word. Yes, there's some tension between her commitment to stop global warming and her oil industry ties. Certainly worth following to see how that plays out.

Update: This is a very hopeful sign. Clinton makes a strong bid to support renewable energy. A very good thing in any event, but especially good concerning her oil industry ties.

2015/07/18

Comics and popularity



So I was scanning an old comic (Spider-Woman 37, 1981), scanning allows me to save an electronic copy while passing on the paper copy, and I see that it has circulation figures. Back in those days, the shops ordered as many comics as they thought they could sell and returned the unsold comics to be pulped. Nowadays, they order as many as they think they can sell and how they deal with the extras, well, that's their business. As there's a healthy back issue business (A customer can purchase an issue printed years ago, sometimes an issue will be sold and re-sold a few times), the issues often sell long after their usual time on the shelf has expired.

So I see that for Spider-Woman (Her title was being written by the acclaimed X-Men writer Chris Claremont and drawn by Steve Leiloha*) the average number of an issue printed was a bit over 283,000, the average number of issues actually sold was over 127,000. So I figured, hey, with all of these superhero movies out and with Spider-Woman having been revived (The first series ran from 1978 to 1983 and she started off again in a new series in 2009), the sales for today's Spider-Woman must be pretty good.

I looked at the sales figure for May of this year and was surprised to see that it was a little under 30,000. Granted, it ranked at number 75 out of all the titles and the list had almost 400 titles on it (Knights of the Dinner Table was ranked at 396 with not even 2,500 issues sold, various zombie titles, Grimm Fairy Tales and God Hates Astronauts all sold in the plus-275 rank and all had below-5,000 sales) and the really big-selling titles selling over 500,000 in the case of Secret Wars and almost 150,000 in the case of Star Wars, with issues ranked from six to 16 selling from 120,000 to 80,000. A 1981 issue of the Comics Journal (number 64) shows 109 issues on sale for that month.
As they say, the lead actor is frequently just a handsomer version of the director. Hmm, the artist is half-Hawaiian.

Has the popularity of comics declined or have they stayed about the same? I think one could make a pretty good case that comics have remained roughly the same in popularity and that buyers have just spread out to purchasing many more titles, but as I was told when I tried to sell off some old issues, TV shows, video/computer games and other electronic amusements have bit very deeply into the popularity of printed comics. So I think, overall, superheroes are much more popular, but the actual printed comics are at about the same level of popularity.

Update: It makes sense that price would have an effect. Marvel Comics went for $0.50 in 1981 and go for $3.99 today. The InflationCalculator says $0.50 in today's dollars would be $1.31 now. So Marvel makes an extra $2.68 today, over and above inflation. Is that a good deal for the consumer? Actually it is, as it means both better paper and better printing, but it also probably more than enough to push a comic out of the price range of more casual buyers and thereby lowers the number of issues sold. 

*Comics are drawn first by a penciller, who often collaborates closely with the writer, and is then inked so that the lines will show up for the printing plates. The inker can have a serious effect on the finished artwork. Leiloha had been an inker for many years before taking up the pencilling job on Spider-Woman. So although he was new to the job of pencilling, his work was well-known to comics fans

2015/07/17

Ted & Ted 2


Saw that Ted 2 was playing in the theater and regretted that I never saw Ted. Finally caught Ted on cable and just saw Ted 2 tonight. There are rules for fantasy films. The characters can exhibit fantastical, amazing abilities and characteristics, but the rules have to be applied consistently and the story has to ring emotionally true. The dialogue has to sound like what people would actually say. In this regard, the Ted films pass with flying colors.