News, Issues, Culture, Justice. Sometimes Batman.

Cover of "Batman The Dark Knight Archives...
Sometimes on by blog. Always in my heart.

I know, I know.  Another comic book post.  But I refer you to the title, which is basically The Daily Cocca’s micro-bio.  Sometimes it’s my email signature, depending on recipient.

So today’s the day, right?   Justice League #1 launches the DC relaunch.  Have you read it yet?  Are you buying, selling, holding?  I just added Action Comics and Detective Comics to my pull list.

Don’t post any spoilers.  Just impressions.   Have it, fan-folk!

Will DC’s Relaunch Mean More Sales? (And He-Man Comics from the 80s).

Sadly, no, DC’s relaunch does NOT include a new line of He-Man books in the classic continuity.  DC did do a He-Man miniseries in 1983, which I now proudly own in its entirely thanks to my LCS (local comic store) and one Alexander Hamilton.

Dropped in on the LCS yesterday to ask if they were anticipating an increase in sales with the re-launch.  Was told that many regular customers are adding many of the new books to their lists. And then I did something I’ve never done in all my years of comic-book-nerdiness and narrative obsession.

I set up my own list.

JLA, Batman, Superman, Flash.  I’m hook, line, and sinkered on the idea that this is a really cool time to start collecting or, in my case, to start collecting again.  Comic sales live and die by big events (The Death of Superman is what got me collecting seriously in the first place.  It did not have the same effect on my 13-year-old love life, but whatevs.), and companies succeed when initial interest from casual fans can be sustained.  So I hope the relaunch isn’t something that gets undone in 18 months.

Did I mention that I got a DC He-Man mini-series from the 80s?  You have no idea how pumped I am about this (is what I also said to the cashier).

Will the relaunch mean more sales in the short term?  I think so.  We’ll see if that can be sustained, and let’s not forget that people adding the titles to already established lists are not casual fans crossing over into collecting.  They’re a captive audience already.  The degree to which DC gets more people like me excited remains to be seen, but I expect them to lead in sales at least through Christmas.

You want to see pictures from the He-Man books, don’t you?  I know, I know. But they’re in the car and it’s pouring.  I’ll do better next time, I promise.

Cornel West’s Revolution and Romans 12

Cornel West, keynote speaker at the Martin Lut...
Cornel West (via Wikipedia)

In the relatively short course of my 31 years, I’ve learned quite a few things from John Cusack.  Just now, via Twitter, he turned me on to a new piece by Cornel West in yesterday’s New York TimesMartin Luther King Jr. Would Want a Revolution, Not a Memorial .

About 95% of this resonated with me.  I paused here:

“In concrete terms, this means…extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.”

Is being, in West’s words, “coffin-ready,” a condition for participation in this kind of revolution? It’s true we’re talking about life and death stakes: healthcare, poverty, justice, peace — every day, people live or die in this country and abroad because of policy decisions around these issues.  People live and die because of campaign donations, kickbacks, deals.  West is calling for civil disobedience while telling us, like King before him, that even the most civil of disobedience could get free people killed right here in America.  That’s chilling, sobering, and believable, isn’t it?

West is a masterful communicator and rhetorician.  For that reason, I wish he’d been more clear about those “life and death confrontations with the powers that be” required in the “next great democratic battle.”  It’s clear to me that in West’s view, the threat of violent force in these struggles is from the side of established Power. I hope we’re all reading that the same way.

West notes:

“King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.”

The 12th chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to Roman Christians in the first century CE deals with similar themes of transformative agency.  In Pauline terms, the renewal of our minds transforms our inner lives an enables us to test and see the will of God in and for our communities.  “Do not conformed to the pattern of this world,” Paul tells the Roman community, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ”  The “pattern of the world” (also translated as “age”) in first century Rome was one of anti-Judaism at the highest imperial levels. Jewish Christians, who had established the city’s earliest Christian gatherings, had been exiled along with all other Jewish people by the Emperor Claudius, and by the time of Paul’s writing had only recently been able to return under Nero. Leadership tensions seem to have risen up between the returning Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians who’d assumed responsibility for the community during the Jewish exile.  In a larger historical context, the persecution of Jews in Alexandria as attested by Philo occurred just 20 years before the writing of this missive, and the persecution of Christians under Nero in Rome on the horizon.  Issues of justice, access, and economics are pressing.

For Paul and West, the alternative to transformative renewal is continued conformity to dominant social paradigms, and it’s no coincidence that in both cases, the call is from these destructive patterns and to new ways of being, thinking, doing.  West says “King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced.”  Paul said “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

In his own way, Paul continually challenges the Church to be “coffin-ready.”  We are to present ourselves as living sacrifices.  To live, Paul says, “is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).  “Dying to self” is one of the most revisited Christian tropes across denominations, precisely because it’s what we believe Christ modeled in his ministry and teaching.  Dr. West, like Dr. King, draws from the deep well of Christian tradition, pulling succor from a source that has been used in other hands to poison.

What enables transformation? For Paul and West, the process beings somewhere near renewal.  West calls us to re-evaluate, re-align, and re-prioritize. Paul says that the ability to so will come by the grace given to us, and that we might start on our end by reorienting ourselves towards others:  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”  The Apostle prefaces this charge with an important recognition: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” The reorientation of self vis-a-vis the Other, or what West calls “a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living,” follows grace.  As Chapter 12 progresses, Paul claims that any giftedness any of us have is afforded to us only by God’s grace.  It must also be true that the ability to be transformed by the renewing of the mind starts, itself, with grace, and it is grace that invites us to see and treat each other graciously.

Transformation and renewal, of our minds and of our bodies politic, start and end with the kind of good will we can’t earn.  We must lean into already-present grace, and it’s only by grace that we begin to see past the end of our own lives and to locate grace in others. Grace, as Paul would have it, follows grace.  “Twas grace,” the great American spiritual says, “that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears reliev’d.”  It is grace in us that sees grace in others.  It is goodness in us that finds goodness in others.  It is God in us who recognizes God in others, who makes us care about the lives and fates of others, who never stops trying to wash the word “others” from our renewal-needing, imperfectly transformed minds and points of view.

If grace is, like Paul suggests, the starting point for personal and communal transformation, how are we to live graciously in the midst of revolution, should it come?  Paul offers a provisional ethic of life within the hostile empire of his day, to the very people in its center:

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s a fairly civil, and maybe even holy, disobedience.  It turns out that grace isn’t just the author and perfecter of our transformations, but is also the essential Christian ethic in crisis and upheaval.  How fitting, then, that Romans 12 came up as a lectionary reading for millions of Christians across the world last Sunday and that in the days before and since, Christians from all perspectives and experiences have wrestled with it.  I can’t know for sure that Romans 12 was part of Dr. West’s Christian practice Sunday past, but I’m glad John Cusack got me thinking about it.

Deconstructing Biden

Vice President Joe Biden L'68
"I thought the OCP referred to the maximum number of children allowed per sweatshop/workcamp. My bad!"

“The fact that one can no longer discern when reforming entitlements was easy and when it was difficult and whether or not the super committee is more likely to make things better or worse is a measure of just how awesomely dysfunctional our system has become. Fortunately, we have an easier-to-grapple-with “Biden gaffe” to distract us!”  (Jason Linkins today on Huffington).

The gaffe in question is, on one level, Biden’s “understanding” and “not second-guessing” China’s forced one-child per family law (also known as the exact opposite of freedom). But as Linkins points out, the whole thing goes far deeper and is much sadder.

More Thoughts on the American Spring, Maxine Waters, and Reform-Based Populism

I get it.

Some people think Obama was supposed to be the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party is the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party should go straight to hell.  Some Congresspeople go and say it.

Al Gore says we need an American Spring to counteract the Tea Party.

With all due respect to the former Vice President, it blows my mind that he thinks true change and true progressive populism will somehow come from the Left.  It won’t come from the Right, either.  It will have to come from all quarters and cannot be about hating our ousting the Other.  It has to be about reforming the entire process of government, about locating power back in the hands of the people and away from the military-corporate-special interest-political complex.

You’d think Al Gore would know this.  But the heartstrings of  Establishment politics are strong. He might as well suggest that the American Spring will come prepackaged as a plank in his party’s platform, that it will leap, full-grown and ready to fight, from the DNC.  That’s what political parties need you to think, after all, that they are, to borrow a phrase from church studies, reformed and reforming.

But I’m not sure what Al Gore really gets from this.  I’m not sure why he doesn’t run against Obama, or why the Clintons don’t. They all know they’re each bigger than their party, more progressive, in certain ways, than their party’s been for quite some time.  But they are also American elites, and Gore’s a cradle case.  As global figures, the Clintons are so far removed now from their people-power roots.

Any populism orchestrated from the top is demagoguery meant to serve a party line.  In the case of the Tea Party, Republican elites are having to conform or align themselves to a movement they did not create and probably despise.  They don’t hate  it for the reasons Maxine Waters claims to, though.  They hate it because it’s not theirs and they can’t control it.  They’d tell it to go to hell, too, if they could.  But they offer nothing better.  No one does.

Obama’s old populist strength was framed as a charge from the outside, he was the Anti-Clinton and Anti-Bush who united people around promises of change and Rorschach memes like hope and “yes we can.”  And yes he did, by God, and what he achieved in his mere election is something to be celebrated then and now.  His presidency has been a mixed bag like all are, but gone forever is any semblance of Obama as Outsider, Populist, or Agent of Sweeping and Systemic Change.

Sweeping and systemic change will not come from the people we empower unless truly new political leadership emerges, post-partisan and pro-reform.  Our system is so broken, so corrupt, even the good things our leaders do can’t outweigh the need for consensus tickets willing to address the fundamental issues of decency and common good long-buried beneath the few things the parties manage to get right.

Yes, the Democrats are right about some things.  And so are the Republicans.  And the Green Party and the Libertarians.  There’s no seamless party garment (try being progressive, pro-life, and anti-death penalty if you don’t believe me.  Or trying being fiscally conservative and gay).  But before we even get to social questions, a fundamental shift in how our leaders pledge to lead us is essential.  Free people are not meant to be ruled. We are to be led, and we are to lead.

The United Countries of Baseball (via Nike and MLB)

Alright, this was way cooler when I didn’t know Nike made it, but it’s still worth sharing, especially since a lot of you get to this little old blog of mine by searching for the “Every Baseball Hat Since 1950” infographic.  “The United Countries of Baseball” shows fan allegiance by region.  Because it uses 2007 numbers, the huge pockets of Phillies fans around the country are not accurately relfected,  There should also be a Yankee presence in New Jersey and Florida among other corrections.  What would you change? (Click to embiggen and see full map).