Saturday, May 24, 2008

Civic Duty

Wednesday, May 21, 2008: DAY ONE.
I type this on day one of my (hopefully only) two days of jury duty. It’s my third time being called for Hudson County, NJ, my second for Petit Jury, and last year I was called for (but didn’t serve) Grand Jury.

I don’t really mind it. As Americans, we really are asked to do so little: Vote. Pay taxes. And every once in a while serve as a peer. I can do peer. I do all three of those things with little complaint (yes, even the second) in grateful recognition of the sacrifices of our forefathers. Or something like that.

This is not to say I ENJOY jury duty. Of course, it’s a pain. Getting up at 6:30 to crawl here amid the gray masses for $5.00 is not pleasant, and there are other things I could be doing (although bringing the laptop is a big ol’ plus… if only I’d brought the power cord [31% battery power remaining]).

But sitting here in the holding pen, I am again confronted with a mélange of everyday American self-absorption that drives me insane. People are asked to silence their cell phones. They don’t (and buddy, that rooster ringer is annoying!!!). They’re asked to respond “Here” when their names are called. They don’t. They don’t throw their garbage away. They laugh at the witty repartee blaring (and I mean BLARING) from REGIS and RACHAEL RAY and THE VIEW. But what really astounds me is that about half the people sitting here brought nothing to read. It’s like that SEINFELD episode where Puddy sits on an airplane next to Elaine with nothing to do, staring into space, driving her to (again) break up with him.

“You sure you don’t want something to read?”
“Nah, I’m good.”

I had lunch today. I don’t normally eat lunch, but with an hour and a half to kill, and not wanting to remain the corral, I figured I’d go get a nosh. And I ended up at Burger King. I don’t really do a lot of fast food, and couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a Burger King, but it was there. I had an Angus Loaded Burger, which is slightly less of a perfect disc than the regular Whopper burgers and something called “cheesy tots.” A woman near me prayed before digging into her repast. I wondered if she was praying not to get Mad Cow.

I will not be returning to Burger King for lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008: DAY TWO

I got called near the end of the day yesterday for a trial, but I didn’t pass the voir dire. It was a civil trial in which a woman was suing the owners of the two buildings that happened to both be in front of the piece of sidewalk on which she tripped in 2004, hurting her neck, back and ankle. My gut reaction was to smell Bullshit the way she may well have smelled jackpot, and whatever happened to watching where you walk? While I wasn’t about to say out loud that I’d already pre-judged the case, I did answer honestly when the judge asked if I had any opinion on tort reform. I answered (at sidebar) that I thought we were an overly litigious society that too often abdicated personal responsibility, but that I strongly agreed that the right to sue is an important one. I assured the court that I could be impartial, and I did mean it (being a bartender, I’ve learned that while books usually are defined by their covers, it’s wise to retain an open mind).

I returned to the jury box and really thought that I was going to have to spend the next week-plus getting up at 6:30 AM, but as the next juror was called for interview, I was thanked and sent on my way. Relieved, but feeling slightly guilty.

I arrived this morning a half hour early, giant coffee in hand and settled into my little cubicle near the window. After suffering through the requisite two videos about the importance of civic duty and spiel from the clerk, I cracked my book (THE PORTABLE ATHEIST, only half chosen to make people leave me alone) as the TV began again blaring the mind-warpingly annoying Regis and whoever the F.... But that bleating was nothing compared to what happened next.

At about 9:40, over an hour after reporting time, a woman walked in pushing a stroller. And holding her slightly older tot’s hand. Two kids. At jury duty. But no worry… within about ten minutes, the baby started screaming. I mean, SCREAMING. At which point Mom was excused. (Finally, I see a good reason to have kids!)

Okay, so I have some sympathy for the possibility that this woman cannot afford to hire a babysitter. But if she’s that destitute and bereft of friends or family capable of watching the kids, then why didn’t she indicate that in her questionnaire? Or call the court the night before and explain the situation? Was she perhaps that ignorant of the process that she thought she could bring her brats into the jury box with her?

Oh, well, at least I wasn’t alone in my disbelief. I turned the other way and the two enormous women sitting near me were both shaking their heads in disbelief, at which point we all bonded over the stellar parenting skills / social consciousness of this mother of the year.

Oboy, time for Rachael Ray to ring in my brain. Maybe the logic is that by blasting annoying morning television, they’ll make the jury pool BEG to be put on a trial…. Uh-oh…. Hold on…..

I lucked out. They pulled the jury for the last remaining trial, and my name did not randomly come up. The selection was completed, and I was freed, FREED, I TELL YOU, to go join Lysa for some well-earned margaritas at our favorite haunt.

I can only hope that I’m done with the legal system for a while…

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bronze Beauties #20: SHAZAM!

In 1952, after a decade of legal wrangling, National Comics (now DC) settled a lawsuit against Fawcett Publications claiming that the highly popular Captain Marvel was a copyright infringement of their own Superman. As part of the settlement, Fawcett agreed to cease publication of any comic book starring Captain Marvel and his similarly-named “Family.” The characters lay dormant for two decades until, ironically, the same company that killed the Big Red Cheese resurrected him for a new era. Well, sort of.

February of 1973 saw the publication of SHAZAM! #1, with a Nick Cardy Superman welcoming Cap to DC on the cover (proving I guess that there were no hard feelings). Since Marvel Comics had laid claim to both a hero and a comic book called CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1960s, DC was forced to name their book after the magic word spoken by Billy Batson to transform into the World’s Mightiest Mortal. In time, due largely to the 1974-77 Saturday morning TV show of the same name, generations of kids would mistakenly call Cap by the name of the old wizard who granted him his powers (a confusion no doubt exacerbated by the TV show’s replacement of Shazam with a “council of elders”).

Original artist C.C. Beck was coaxed out of retirement to draw the new stories, but the notoriously crotchety oldster was unhappy with the series from the get-go and left with much grousing after ten issues. Happily, his replacements included masters of the form Kurt Schaffenberger and Bob Oksner (one of my all-time favorite artists).

SHAZAM! #2 (April 1973) sports a photo-art montage cover using (I think) an old drawing of Cap by C.C. Beck flying out of an extremely oversized comic book while three kids gawk in awe. The overall design of the cover is a bit awkward, with a lot of empty space, and the small Cap figure almost competing with the masthead figure, but It has a real Golden Age comics feel to it, crappy photo reproduction and all.

Bob Oksner drew the New Year’s cover to #11 (March 1974), which was based on a 1945 CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. cover. DC did a lot of these iconic posing covers in the ‘70s, the static nature of which turned off most Kirby-bred Marvelites, but I always loved how they lent themselves to poster-like design motifs. I again probably would’ve removed the masthead Cap and rearranged the blurb and the spots of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel (you read that correctly), but Oksner’s super-clean cartooning still is some of the most appealing of all to me.

Still, bringing Captain Marvel into the ‘70s was slightly problematic. This pure-hearted man-child character’s tales and look were so light and whimsical that Cap made “blue boy scout” Superman look as dark as that guy in Gotham City. Towards the end of SHAZAM!’s 35-issue run, a more serious, modern take on the character was attempted, but comics fans remained unmoved.

In the decades since SHAZAM!’s cancellation, the character’s been bounced around the DC Universe and reinterpreted many times, with varied success (if he seemed anachronistic in the ‘70s, imagine Cap fitting into the nihilistic post-DARK KNIGHT ‘80s!!). To many fans of the character, the Fawcett Captain Marvel is the only true Cap. But for those of us who read the DC comics and thrilled to (okay, maybe that’s a stretch… how about enjoyed) his Filmation exploits, the simple, fun comics of the Bronze era will always hold a soft spot in our geeky hearts.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Beware the Duggars!

So, I caught a story on CNN the other day about an Oklahoma family named the Duggars that’s expecting their 18th child. Eighteenth. Nine times two. Oh, and over the course of 11 years. So the woman is pretty much constantly pregnant. Like a cockroach. Naturally, most of the kids were dressed alike and they’re all home schooled, and the family plans to keep on squirting out progeny “as long as God wills it.”

Now, this story wasn’t presented in the manner I would have (were I a CNN producer, an unlikely career shift), with an apocalyptic tenor akin to reporting on a plague of rats and ignorance putting an end to all mankind, but as a breezy Mother’s Day human interest story. “Oh, my can you imagine how many Mother’s Day cards she gets? Tee Hee, the world keeps spinnin’! Gee, gas is expensive!”

To my further horror, with a little research, I found out that the Duggar family (helmed by, I shit you not, Jim Bob and Michelle) are mini-celebrities, the glib subjects of a TV show and a Discovery Health sub-website featuring such jovial sections as “Fun Facts” and “Name That Duggar!” Where’s the subsect on guessing how cavernous Michelle’s vagina has become? Do the babies just whoosh right out at this point, ala the Catholic Mom at the beginning of MONTY PYTHON’S MEANING OF LIFE? Just as disturbing to ponder, how, uh, difficult is it to, um, inseminate a vessel so large?

Brr. Anyway. If there were any example of proof that the so-called “liberal media” doesn’t exist, this story is it. Where’s the voice offering the possibility that this sanctimonious, narcissistic Divine overpopulation is a BAD thing not only for the Duggar clan (I was tempted to use a K there) but for the world at large? (My pal Bob did point out that in 2005, San Francisco Gate columnist Mark Morford wrote a blisteringly brilliant response, when the Duggars had a paltry brood of 16). Family values, my ass.

Not that I was shocked by the tone of the coverage. Despite the fact that I watch it A LOT, I really have a ton of disdain for CNN (and all the US cable news networks, MSNBC's brilliant and correct Keith Olbermann aside). The mewling prattle of the smiling anchors, usually unable to hide their own personal biases (I’m glaring at you, Tony Harris) is all morning-show friendly, regardless of the airtime. They happily propagate political non-issues, keeping stories like a dearth of flag pins and Reverend Wright in the public eye. The war is questioned while the military is paradoxically celebrated as infallible. Non-news stories about car crashes and house fires and liquor store robberies get coverage because, and ONLY because they have video (which should be an easy rule of thumb for television journalism: Would it be a worthwhile story if there were no pretty pictures to look at? No? Then it’s not news.).

Again, I’m not shocked. As with almost everything I see on the “news,” the clueless, happy tale of the Duggars just reinforces the ever-deepening rumbling in my gut that repeats a prophecy in a painful, gastric loop, sounding something like… “We’re fucked.”