Thursday, July 06, 2006

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My Name is Captain Future

UPDATE: 7/08: Front page at Booman Tribune and E Pluribus Media.
7/09: on Rec list at European Tribune.
Great comments at all three!

When I chose the Internet ID of Captain Future, I didn’t realize that right wing bloggers often used “captain” in their names. I was paying playful homage to heroes of my childhood who often seemed to have that rank and title, like Captain Video, Captain Midnight and of course Captain Kirk (though I tended to identify more with Mr. Spock), and the captain who brought these figures and what they represented into the adult world: Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

These childhood heroes—which also included Superman, Robin Hood, Lancelot, the Cisco Kid and the Lone Ranger, as well as Saturday morning space opera commanders---championed the weak against the tyranny of the strong. They stood for social justice as well as the rule of law, and personal qualities of integrity, honesty, intelligence, courage and loyalty.

Those early TV heroes (partly in response to public pressure) kept violence to a minimum. They never killed even the worst villains--- Captain Video didn’t even used the word “kill.” They tried peaceful solutions first. They stood for tolerance and friendship across boundaries, opposing tyranny but honoring peace. (To my benefit, some socially conscious blacklisted American writers found employment writing for kids’ adventures in England, like the Robin Hood series.)

I’ve been astonished recently to see that right wingers are trying to co-opt Star Trek to support their ideology. It doesn’t, and it was in many ways the adult version of those Saturday space operas. Episodes of Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger dealt with the dangers of radiation, and these series (as well as “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet”) often promoted peaceful solutions and disarmament. After Buzz Corey, the hero of Space Patrol encountered a planet that had destroyed itself through hatred, he returned to earth determined to see that it didn’t happen there.

Space Patrol was the police arm of the otherwise peaceful federation of interstellar governments, United Planets. The others were similar. Like Star Trek, they saw human institutions evolve and correct past patterns of prejudice and conquest. Starfleet, like Space Patrol, combined military discipline and organization with peaceful and principled purposes: universal rights, respect and communication, exploration without exploitation. Having diligently erased poverty and disease, Star Trek's Earth is united. People work not for money but to “better themselves and the rest of humanity.”

"Recent science fiction must be accorded high credit for being one of the most active forces in support of equal opportunities, goodwill, and cooperation among all human beings, regardless of their racial and national origins,” said Dr. Hermann J. Muller, discoverer of the genetic effects of radiation, a few decades ago. “Its writers have been practically unanimous in their adherence to the ideal of 'one free world."

Space opera from Flash Gordon to Doctor Who is a wonderful combination of myth, adventure, philosophy and science fiction. Although I didn’t know this when I thought of using the name, the original Captain Future was a pulp magazine hero in the 1940s. An orphan raised by a disembodied brain, a robot and an android, he is a brilliant scientist and athlete, with ”a strong sense of responsibility” and desire to help others, who offers his services to the President of the Solar System. I’ve never read any of the stories, though the covers suggest it was a pulpy but imaginative amalgamation of elements familiar from the likes of Batman and Superman to Buckaroo Banzai. (Captain Future was resurrected in a Japanese anime series, apparently remembered in France and Germany for its music, and as the subject of Allen Steele’s 1996 Hugo-winning novel.)

I chose the name because the future has become a major personal and professional preoccupation. Looking back, I can see some of the connections from childhood to now: including my political coming of age in the Kennedy administration and the late 1960s rebellions and visionary quests, my 1970s interest in Buckminster Fuller and the fledgling futurist/futures studies movements, my book on the shopping mall as the embodiment of postwar America and its vision of the future, and so on.

[continued after illustration]

Buzz Corey of "Space Patrol," 1950s Saturday morning TV  Posted by Picasa
Back From the Future

But a recent personal milestone caused me to reevaluate what I’m doing here: writing and posting on the Internet for free, under a name both comic and pretentious. Just days before George W. Bush and a few weeks before Bill Clinton, along with the first of our fellow Baby Boomers, I turned 60.

A decade ago, I looked forward to my fifties as my decade of fulfillment. I’d had reasonable success in my 20s and 30s: a writer and editor for the Boston Phoenix and a similar paper in Washington; I moved up to feature pieces in national magazines, and after long struggle, I became the author of a book I am still proud of, The Malling of America.

Now famous for its title if nothing else, it has won something like lasting respect across a wide spectrum. A chapter appears in lots of college and high school anthologies, and in the paperback edition I published with Xlibris, it still sells a few score copies a year. But thanks in part to the non-interest and even hostility of my New York hardback publisher, and to my own inexperience, it got me the reputation as an author who didn’t sell. I went back to writing for magazines, and spent my 40s trying to get another book contract. I never did.

But on my 50th birthday I felt wiser in the ways of the world, and at the top of my game as a writer. I was taking a risk by moving west, but I felt ready to get back in the big game, on the big stage. No one gets very far without help and I’d had some in the past. Though I had no mentor or at 50, an agent or publisher who really believed in me, I felt I could earn that attention.

My fifties, I felt, would be the fulfillment, the justification of everything in the past. They would also set the pattern for my future, for my culminating accomplishments and at last my proper place in the world, with access to the means to be creative and productive. My fifties would be my redemption.

That’s not how they turned out. I did a lot of work in a lot of forms and areas. Most of it was ignored, including what was closest to my heart. Some of it got interest here and there, agents and publishers and media, and then the interest faded. I managed to get articles assigned and essays published that I felt could have opened doors to bigger opportunities. Nothing happened. And as finances became more of an issue, even my efforts on different career paths went nowhere. Instead of being fulfilling, my fifties were humiliating.

I’m proud of what I did get published, like “The Skills of Peace,” and a feature on the commemoration of a massacre that actually had something to do with the city of Eureka, CA deeding back land to the Wiyot tribe, which may be a first. I did some good work: an article and review on Buddhism, my essay before the bombing of Iraq, on Wells and War of the Worlds, and my piece on Star Trek (behind the pay wall at the New York Times but which can be found on my blog, Soul of Star Trek. ) I wrote some good book reviews, which sometimes got at least some attention for deserving books and authors.

I even got a little buzz from time to time when something I imagined presented itself in the real world. A lot of what I advocated in 2002 to make the Climate Crisis a moral issue (including calling it that) is now happening in the wake of Al Gore’s movie. During the 2004 Democratic convention, I hit upon what I thought was the perfect slogan for John Kerry—A Fresh Start--and wrote a memo about it that my one Washington Big Player contact sent on to the campaign. I never learned if anyone read it, but I can’t tell you how weird it felt to see Kerry speaking with “A Fresh Start for America” on banners behind him that final week of the campaign.

But nothing led to anything else, and that’s what I needed to happen.

Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor Who. Posted by Picasa
Growing Character

How I approached 60 was helped specifically and principally by three sources: an article by Michael Ventura (also unfortunately behind a pay wall) and two books which I highly recommend to all Boomers: America the Wise (also called Longevity Generation in paperback) by Theodore Roszak, and The Force of Character by James Hillman.

The Ventura article was a dose of cold, cold water: Sixty is not middle age, he says, it’s the beginning of old age, and much of the work of old age is saying goodbye. It took awhile, but I accepted the truth of this. And one of the things I am saying goodbye to is career. Career is movement: forward and up being the desired directions. But the time for that is over. The world says so (as I’ve learned the hard way, nobody hires anyone over 50 if they can help it) and time says so, as in not enough of it.

But as I soon realized, this is also liberating. It’s like losing your hair or turning gray—for years it is a source of anxiety and fear. And then it happens: goodbye. The anxiety is over. Now it’s you. The same with career, and measuring success and failure. I’m this much a success, and that much a failure. But really, so what? Goodbye to the anxiety.

Goodbye to trying to make a career by exagerating one part of myself and making the rest of me look as much like everyone else as possible. Goodbye. Goodbye to looking at everything I do as needing to lead to something else. Now everything is what it is.

I have three modest gigs now which make modest demands, with modest challenges and a modest amount of fun, and they may bring in just enough money for current needs (no health insurance, of course.) I still have dreams of accomplishment, but modest expectations. We’ll see what happens.

But beyond saying goodbye, what is different about this new age of old age I’m entering? Roszak tells me to remember the dreams of my generation, the power of our numbers, and the natural impulses of getting older than can help make a better world. Hillman agrees, and adds that this Act III in the theatre of my life is itself a fulfillment, of character.

“Character traits include vices and virtues,” Hillman writes. “They do not define character. Character defines them.” Character is our uniqueness, as we express it and as it is seen in the world. “Character is presentational.”

Character is the shape of soul. Without the inflation of early ages, we are forced to accept ourselves, good and bad, with consequences pleasant and painful. We are no one’s ideal. “I walk through life oddly,” Hillman writes. “No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin.”

There are characteristics that come with becoming an elder. We must take responsibility for the past and we feel the responsibility of the future. In the role of grandparents (actual or metaphorical), we set our sights on the future we will not see.

“Before we leave,” Hillman writes, “we need to uphold our side of the compact of mutual support between human being and the being of the planet, giving back what we have taken, securing its lasting beyond our own.”

“In later years feelings of altruism and kindness to strangers plays a larger role…Values come under more scrutiny, and qualities such as decency and gratitude become more precious than accuracy and efficiency.”

What we say goodbye to as we age also reveals some hellos: hello perhaps to some sharper memories from the distant past. Hello to insights as well as embarrassments. Hello to other worlds. "Discovery and promise do not belong solely to youth;" Hillman insists, "age is not excluded from revelation." Indeed, if the theatre is any guide, Act III is when it's more likely to happen.

Act III is not just the end, it’s the resolution. But there’s something else about it that’s important: the character has lived through Acts I and II. We carry our history and the history we’ve experienced, not only in the weight and reference of our words, but in ourselves. I am all that I am, including the heroes of my youth, and those that gave me the imagery of my middle years (like the fourth Doctor), and those that inform me now. (Captain Picard, I presume.)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard Posted by Picasa
Something else happened in the past decade that is making a difference in my life and work: the digital revolution, the Internet.

As a writer I am no longer dependent on others to get my work out of the room of its making, into the world. Digital on-demand publishing enabled me to re-publish my book after it was out of print, and will provide me the option to publish new books when I’m ready. The Internet, the blogosphere connects me to an audience and to communities. I don’t need distant experts whose judgment is wrong most of the time to give me permission to have my say. I’ve got the key. There’s probably no money beyond the door, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to anything else. It is what it is. On my time, I work to improve myself and the rest of humanity.

So in my modest life, I can express myself and offer whatever I can to younger generations as well as to my own. I can be myself and let the words fall where they may. In my modest life, I can advocate for the kind of future I envision, my synthesis from the work of wondrous others, including those who came before me. My name is Captain Future. I’m here to save the world.

Character is the shape of soul. Without the inflation of earlier ages, we are forced to accept ourselves, good and bad, with consequences pleasant and painful. We are no one’s ideal. “I walk through life oddly,” Hillman writes. “No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin.”

Reflections on the art of turning 60 at
60's Now: it's long and personal, but Boomers may want to check it out or bookmark it for their journey. Others may want to wait a bit for a different but somewhat shorter take on the subject here, which should appear quite soon. UPDATE: And there it is, just above!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

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Can't Buy Me Happiness

According to the Washington Post, social scientists are concluding that more money does not equal more happiness:

A wealth of data in recent decades has shown that once personal wealth exceeds about $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction.

The journal Science reported last week yet more evidence and another theory about why wealth does not make people happy: "The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory," one of its studies concluded. "People with above-average income . . . are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities."

While all this makes sense and is welcome news, I question the $12,000 figure, since I've seen elsewhere that an income of that size won't get you a decent place to live, just about anywhere in the US. With the current insane real estate market, it sure won't pay for a house. However, this study spells out what they mean:

"The problem is that once people get past the level of poverty, money does not play a significant role in day-to-day happiness," says Alan Krueger, the Princeton prof who authored the study. So we're talking a realistic minimum wage.

In fact, the study noted, data from the Department of Labor show that the more money people have, the less likely they are to spend time doing certain kinds of enjoyable things that make them happy. High-income individuals are often focused on goals, which can bring satisfaction. But working toward achievements is different from experiencing things that are enjoyable in themselves , such as close relationships and relaxing leisure activities.

Shocking, isn't it? Because it runs contrary to the omnipresent and omnipotent "Buy more and be happy" mantra that our entire commercial culture has brainwashed us with, led by the constantly induced anxiety nurtured by advertising. Along with the corporately defined aura of achievement, the narcotic of competition, the golden treadmill. Which is also why this is going to be a one-day story, a back of the book oddity, an anchorette chuckle at the end of the daily dismal.

It is worth pointing out as well that the report of the study says nothing about other non-work activities, such as helping others, reading or otherwise acquiring knowledge unrelated to job, or communing with the natural world (which may be re-creation, but not always recreation) and various spiritual pursuits, meditation, care of the soul---most of what those in the past advised would engender human happiness.

So save the link. And be in the moment.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sunset from Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

"This is the Fourth?" Jefferson Today

When I learned about Thomas Jefferson in grade school I was thrilled. Maybe it had something to do with the adventures of Johnny Tremain and the Sons of Liberty fighting for independence on Disneyland. But he was a tonic in my Catholic classrooms: reason and rebellion in one package that the nuns couldn't touch.

In fourth grade I copied the entire Declaration of Independence from a textbook facsimile in Jefferson's hand. I even imitated the handwriting. In fifth grade when I ran a history class in our one and only "student teaches a class" day, I used Jefferson's "Have we found angels in the form of kings" for my punchline.

Here are a few quotes from Jefferson relevant to the moment.

"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."

"...and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."

"We are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

"Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

"This is the fourth?"
--reputed to be Jefferson's last words the day he died: July 4,1826.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Salmonpeople blanket by Susan Point
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Before one can become an artist one must first be. It is being in all facets, its many definitions, that endows the artist with an immutable sense of himself that is necessary for the accomplishment of his task."

August Wilson
Lack of Intelligence (Son of Iraq)

Sy Hersh in the New Yorker warns that the Bushites are still intent on the rockets red glaring in Iran, with signficant opposition from within the US military:

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President’s plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

According to Hersh, these commanders point to a lack of reliable intelligence on possible targets. But there is also the lack of intelligence already displayed by Bushite leaders, who not only failed to heed warnings of their disastrous course in Iraq, but apparently failed to learn anything when those disasters happened.

Hersh quotes a senior military planner: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides “really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary,” he said. Hersh adds: I was told, the current chairman [of Joint Chiefs], Marine General Peter Pace, has gone further in his advice to the White House by addressing the consequences of an attack on Iran. “Here’s the military telling the President what he can’t do politically”—raising concerns about rising oil prices, for example—the former senior intelligence official said. “The J.C.S. chairman going to the President with an economic argument—what’s going on here?”

These military sources have themselves learned something from Iraq, however. The high-ranking general added that the military’s experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. “We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq,” he said.

In essence, the generals and planners don't know enough about the targets or the military response. They see the likelihood of a wider war, with the US military already stretched thin. The economic and political repercussions they must factor in their planning include oil price rises and oil shortages, and condemnation by other nations, including current allies.

If there is any good news in this story, it's that the administration may no longer be considering using nuclear bombs in such an attack on Iran. But the situation remains dangerous on many levels. Apparently Las Vegas oddsmakers are pegging the chances of an attack on Iran this year (like for instance shortly before November elections) at fifty-fifty.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Lloyd Richards Posted by Picasa
R.I. P. Lloyd Richards

I met Lloyd Richards, and though I spent only a few hours talking with him, I observed him over the course of a couple of weeks, and learned a lot about him from others. I didn't know however that our birthdays were one day apart. I found out just now, reading his obituary in the New York Times. He died on June 29, his 87th birthday.

Richards directed the first New York production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 1957, arguably the first authentic portrayal of African American life on the American stage. It was a classic when I read it in high school in the early 60s. But in his years of directing and discovering and nurturing playwrights of all races, his most important find was August Wilson, a great American playwright, who created the richest and most sustained expression of African American life in the twentieth century.

Only hours ago I opened a box of books one of my sisters sent for my birthday--an August Wilson play, an August Wilson essay, and a book on August Wilson (all from my Amazon Wish List.) Richards was instrumental in Wilson's career, and I met them both on the same day (July 1, a day after my birthday) at the Eugene O'Neill Center summer playwrights conference, where they had begun working together. It was Richards who picked out the manuscript for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" from the thousand or so that came to the O'Neill, brought the unknown Pittsburgh playwright to Waterford to work on the play, and then mounted its first productions at Yale and in New York.

Lloyd Richards was the heart and soul of the O'Neill, so important to many American playwrights. He transformed it into a community concentrating on honing and freeing new voices in theatre. He was utterly respected by everyone, for his discipline and gentleness, his rigor and humor, his attentiveness to detail and insistence on communicating the big picture, so everyone knew and shared the same vision of the O'Neill process. It hasn't been the same since he retired from being its artistic director.

August Wilson died last year, and so the two giants of African American theatre are gone. And to think just minutes ago I was ordering the last play I haven't read (apart from the one I just got) in Wilson's titanic ten play cycle, one for each decade of the twentieth century. That cycle is a truly stunning achievement, and Richards was part of getting many of those plays to their staged versions. I was looking forward to reading them all in the order of decades. Then minutes later I happened to read this. Of course, it's not as shocking as August Wilson's death at age 61. But it is another indication of an era passing. These two men have left such an incredible legacy to America and theatre everywhere.