Lynn Margulis and the Gaia Hypothesis

Lynn MargulisThe great biologist Lynn Margulis was born on this day in 1938. She did a whole bunch of stuff that I have to admit makes no sense to me. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I understand basic human biology. I know what a liver is and I know more or less what it does. That’s a big step up for me. But Margulis did work on a really basic level. For example, Wikipedia says that, “She showed that animals, plants, and fungi all originated from Protists.” What are Protists? They are a group of cells that have a nucleus and a membrane. What does that mean? I really don’t know. I kind of thought that all cells had nuclei and membranes. I though that was what made a cell a cell as opposed to a bunch of carbon molecules. But apparently what she did was very important. I suspect that if she had been a man, she would have been awarded a Nobel Prize. Just saying.

I know Margulis because of her work on the Gaia hypothesis. This is the idea that the earth itself acts as an organism. It was originally an idea of James Lovelock, which to him meant that the earth creates its own climate. There is certainly something to this. At one time, the atmosphere was mostly carbon-dioxide. As a result, plant life developed that could metabolize it and turn it into oxygen. Now we have animals that metabolize oxygen and so we have a cycle that has climatic consequences.

A misunderstanding of the Gaia hypothesis, that Lovelock in particular fell into, was thinking that because of the homeostasis of the earth’s system, that the climate couldn’t be upset. This is very clearly not the case. Just think of a human body. It is possible for it to get sick. It is possible for it to get a fever that causes brain damage or death. Just because a system does have stabilizing mechanisms, doesn’t mean that those don’t have a breaking point—especially when some external actor is pushing it in very unnatural ways.

I don’t actually know what work Margulis did regarding the Gaia hypothesis. But I suspect, that if I did, I wouldn’t understand it either.

Happy birthday Lynn Margulis!

Dancing Jesus and 666 Followers

Nice Atheist GirlAndrea’s alter-ego, Nice Atheist Girl, hasn’t been around much recently. I guess she’s been suffering from existential angst—a common problem for atheists, nice or not. And she recently watched Die Wand. As I wrote yesterday, that’s enough to depress anyone. But she came back with gusto today, posting a new atheist-themed image, Psychotic Love, on her website and tweeting out a couple of things.

But when I went over to her Twitter account, I noticed she had reached a milestone: Nice Atheist Girl has 666 followers. I figured I should note the occasion:

Nice Atheist Girl - Twitter 666

Of course, as any reasonable person knows, 666 is not the number of the Beast. It appears the actual number if 616. But regardless, just because a number is associated with “the Beast” doesn’t mean that anything with that number is “the Beast.” For example: my name is Frank but not all people named Frank are me. It’s called logic and I realize that many Christians are against it. For example: the silly high school student who refused to run in a race because she was given the number “666.”

Speaking of religious silliness, but this time intentional, Andrea brought my attention to a fun little book, Dancing with Jesus: Featuring a Host of Miraculous Moves.

Dancing Jesus

Don’t be cursed with two left feet!

Update 5 March 2014 7:24 pm

I forgot my joke about the dancing Jesus above: he clearly has no soul!

Stan Lee Sucks: the Jack Kirby Story

Jack KirbyThis is not a review, but I do want to talk about the documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story. It is, of course, about Stan Lee, the “great man” behind Marvel Comics. It isn’t a review because I wasn’t even able to finish watching the film. This isn’t because it is a bad documentary. I thought the filmmakers did a decent job of telling the story. The problem is that I can’t stand the glorification of Stan Lee. I recognize that he’s a good businessman with a knack for marketing. But he isn’t much of a creative person, and the things Marvel is known for are really due to Jack Kirby, not Stan Lee.

Interestingly, With Great Power does deal with the Jack Kirby issue. And even though the film is a total whitewash, if you are paying attention, you can tell Kirby was screwed by Lee. The basic story is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the most famous of the Marvel franchises: The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and The X-Men. Plus many others. But it is very clear that Kirby was the primary creative force. And in 1970, because of unhappiness with his contract, Kirby quit.

The X-MenAt that time, Kirby was still just a freelance artist for Marvel, making $35,000 per year. Now that was a good amount of money, but not when you consider what he had done for the company. At that time, Marvel was publishing 60 million issues of its various titles every year. And Kirby got absolutely nothing for having created so many of the Marvel titles. At that time, comic book artists were treated very much like baseball players before they unionized. Stan Lee, of course, wants to portray Kirby’s leaving as just a matter of his ego and that he wasn’t getting the attention that even Lee (now, 20 years after Kirby’s death) admits he deserves. He notes how happy he was when Kirby came back to Marvel in 1976 as though all was forgiven. That was not what happened.

Kirby only stayed with Marvel for three more years. And when he left, it was for the same reason. Marvel still treated him like a hired gun. They had a final falling out over the fact that Marvel would not make him a regular employee. Kirby wanted health insurance and other employee benefits but Marvel would not provide it. For the rest of his life, Kirby battled with Marvel over rights. And it is largely due to Kirby that comic book artists got the rightful benefits of their work.[1]

The AvengersThe issue isn’t just that Kirby created all these comic book characters. Jack Kirby revolutionized comic book art. He added unheard of dynamicism to the art form. Part of that was his use of extreme perspective. A typical example of this is where a character will be drawn running with a fist out in front and a leg way in back, almost in a crouching position. Before Kirby, you just didn’t see this kind of thing and after Kirby you saw little else.

Of course, in the film, it made out as though Stan Lee created that. Younger artists talk about how Lee would make these exaggerated poses in explaining what he wanted to see. Well, that was just Lee showing them how to draw like Kirby. But Stan Lee would rather hop around the office than just tell them to do what Kirby had been doing.

I don’t begrudge Stan Lee his hundreds of millions of dollars. But I have a big problem with people making Stan Lee out to be some creative genius when he isn’t. Now lots of movie stars have decided that Stan Lee is “it” because he “created” the comics all these films are based upon. All Stan Lee did was make a lot of money and live a long time. And that should be reward enough. As for the films, they are pretty much without exception pathetic. In 2007, The New York Times wrote, “Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.” That’s still true. The art of comic books is the art. And even if Stan Lee did everything he claims (which he didn’t), his contributions would be minor.

KamandiWhere is Jack Kirby’s biography? Where is Jack Kirby’s documentary? His is a far more interesting story. But Jack Kirby was just a great creative artist and writer. He never had a PR film to push his own myth. And that’s all that With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story is: a myth.


When I was a kid, the only current comic book I enjoyed was Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. It was a post-apocalyptic narrative that was created, drawn, and written by Kirby for DC Comics. Kirby continued to do interesting work throughout his life. The later stuff is much more interesting—much less old fashioned super hero stuff. Lee has never gotten past that stuff, but then Lee’s greatest talent is no doubt least common denominator “art.”

[1] It’s interesting that conservatives always claim that the market works out everything fairly. But the truth is that the people who are actually responsible for creative work are generally treated like garbage by the business community. And it is only someone of the stature of Jack Kirby who can even begin to push back against that. This is why we need unions and this is why conservatives hate unions.

Jon Stewart Hammers Jim DeMint

Jim DeMint: Evil Not StupidI don’t know why Jon Stewart gives Jim DeMint a platform to spout his nonsense. But I have to admit, on last night’s The Daily Show, Stewart did an excellent job of countering DeMint. What DeMint is peddling is exactly what Paul Ryan is selling this week, “The War on Poverty is a failure; welfare is trapping the poor in poverty!” It is all a load of crap.

The thing about DeMint, like pretty much the entire conservative movement, is that he is totally disingenuous. He talks about how of course he wants to take care of the poor. It’s just that he doesn’t want to do it with the big bad federal government. He wants it at the state and local level. But that’s just tactical. He knows that it is much harder to tax at the state level. So by pushing programs out of the federal government, they will immediately be cut and eventually starved of funding.

The problem that conservatives have is that the policies they favor are hugely unpopular. This is why increasingly, we hear conservatives talking about how unfair democracy is and how only people who pay federal income taxes—the only truly progressive tax in the nation—should be allowed to vote. For someone like DeMint, it must be really frustrating. Instead of being able to honestly push for the policies he wants, he has to constantly hide it.

I have to admit, I tend to mischaracterize conservatives. It’s true that they pretty much have no ideas. Everything they push is a recycled idea from long ago. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard. Whereas liberals work on new ideas, conservatives work on new ways to make their bad old ideas sound reasonable. So let me just say it in the hope that I will remember it: Jim DeMint isn’t stupid, he just uses all his brain power for evil.

This is what we see in the first “Internet Exclusive” segment. It contains everything that I’ve been talking about. But notice how DeMint constantly finesses what he’s saying. He means cutting programs for the poor but he says creating opportunity. And he totally characterizes the left. He says there are people who want everything done at the federal level. That’s not true. But that is his way of making the “let’s go local” argument sound reasonable. It is painfully clear that he simply doesn’t want to spend money on the poor. He says repeated that “we” can all agree that a safety net is important. But he’s lying. He doesn’t think that at all. He wants to force people to beg at church doors. Watch:

It is nice to see Jon Stewart so well prepared for an interview. And given that Jim DeMint is treated by the mainstream media like he is something other than an ideologue who wants to destroy the government, it is best that people see him interviewed by someone who counters him. The sad thing is that if DeMint went on CNN, he never would have been countered on his statements. A good example of this was where DeMint came out with one of our most annoying myths, “We have the best healthcare system in the world.” Stewart just gave him a look and the audience burst out laughing. I’m sure it’s true that if you are Jim DeMint, “we” have the best healthcare system in the world; otherwise, it isn’t even close. But conservatives feel comfortable spouting this kind of nonsense, because they are almost never countered on it. It’s sad that one of the few places they are countered is on a comedy show.