You may have read this before as I’ve done a version of this little rant ever since those hallowed days of the real First Comics three decades ago. Somehow, I even got away with it at DC Comics. I’ve done this on the air, online, and even on stage. If I am around in 2020, I’ll do it some more.
Assuming your teevee set is broken, I am informing you that next Tuesday, November 8th, is election day. We get to pick all of our Congresspeople, one-third of our senators, a petulance of governors, a shitload of local officials, and, as an added thrill, a brand-new President of the United States. You say you don’t like any of these bastards? You’re hardly alone. Perhaps you don’t like the fact that each winner will have his or her foot on our necks and his or her hands in our pockets.
But the fact is, each winner will have his or her foot on our necks and his or her hands in our pockets whether you exercise your responsibility or not.
Taking the presidential race as an example, you might think both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are liars, blowhards, and jerks. Maybe so, but one of those liars, blowhards, and jerks will be sworn in as our 45th President this coming January 20th. That is an absolute fact. First and foremost, that person will be nominating for confirmation by the Senate the next Supreme Court justice. Probably the next two. Possibly the next four. And if our next President is lucky, she or he will have either sufficient support in the Senate or will get really lucky and, for a change, be able to work with a gaggle of Senators who are actually grown-ups who understand we need to have a full bench… just as our constitution says.
The Supreme Court consists of nine men and women of sundry ethnicities, races, and political persuasions. They are the last word on all of our laws. Their decisions affect all Americans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, most Earthlings for decades to come. You may have noticed sometimes they even decide elections. The winners of next week’s election are will bring about fundamental changes in our nation’s laws and procedures.
These nine people – eight people for the past year, thanks to the pathetic childishness of our Senate – are likely to be deciding on abortion, health care, our right to privacy (actually, right now we do not have any such right), how much we pay for our Internet service and how fast or slow it may be, federal interference of state marijuana laws, the deployment of for-profit prisons, the quality of our environment… and they just might revisit the whole corporations-are-the-same-as people debacle.
election, Presidential election, for-profit prisons, Ronald Reagan, Norman Thomas, Supreme Court, marijuana legalization, down-ticket
You might not appreciate the virtues of either major party candidate. According to the polls, most Americans lack such appreciation. I can dig that, but it doesn’t matter. You can exercise your constitutional right to write-in Ronald Reagan, Norman Thomas (Google him), or if you have a highly developed sense of irony Minnie Mouse, but the absolute fact is that after next Tuesday – or whenever the Supreme Court decides – either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump will be the next President of the United States. Like it or lump it, that person will have his or her proverbial foot on your neck.
Oh, and so will all those who win the “down-ticket” elections.
So once again, I implore you: this Tuesday get off your ass and vote!
If you decline to vote, you vacate your place on the high moral ground and you lose your right to bitch.
Well, you can complain all you want, but if you don’t cast your vote, why the hell should anybody listen?
Mike Gold is ComicMix’s editor-in-chief, and this was a bone fide editorial.
The prosecution called Wonder Woman as a court-appointed expert witness on prison security. During Wonder Woman’s testimony, we got all the background exposition they don’t put into captions anymore. Last year, Debbi escaped from the psychiatric facility of Concord Federal Prison and attacked Wonder Woman in theNational Air and Space Museum. During the ensuing fight – what’s a comic book story without an ensuing fight? – one hundred thirty-eight innocent bystanders were injured. Collateral damage. Wow, that fight had more collateral than ten bank loans. Anyway, Debbi was recaptured and transferred from Concord to the more-secure Iron Heights.
According to Debbi’s lawyer, Iron Heights’s medical staff adjusted Debbi’s medication and Debbi’s behavior had stabilized. So Debbi filed a motion to be transferred to Ohlendorff where she could receive the treatment necessary to cure her of her mental illness. Wonder Woman opposed the transfer and testified Ohlendorff’s security protocols were too lax to insure that Debbi would remain incarcerated there.
Why was Wonder Woman called as a court-appointed expert on prison security? I guess because her foes escape incarceration every alternate Tuesday that gave her expertise on which DCU prisons are secure. Personally, I’d question Wonder Woman’s expert status unless she said none of them are. DCU prisons have the biggest Open Door Policy since John Hay.
Unfortunately for Wonder Woman but not for the story – this was only page 4, something had to fill out the remaining pages – Judge Holzman transferred Debbi Ohlendorff. Then, short story shorter; Debbi escaped, Wonder Woman captured her, and Debbi went back to Iron Heights.
You might be wondering how Ohlendorff, a psychiatric hospital dedicated to treating metahumans with mental illness problems, could lack sufficient security to make sure its extremely dangerous patients all stayed on the grounds. I know I did. Seems a bit counterproductive. But, then, so does making a hotdog that’s bigger than the bun and it’s not like that never happens.
I wondered even more about defense counsel’s argument that neither Iron Heights nor any other metahuman prison was equipped to treat Debbi’s mental condition. The Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause requires prisons to supply inmates with adequate medical care. The US Supreme Court said so in Estelle v. Gamble. Federal courts have applied Estelle’s rule both to physical health and to mental health care. When prisons show an intentional indifference to the mental health issues of its inmates, they violate the Eighth Amendment. Among the ways prisons can show indifference are a failure to have an adequate, qualified mental health staff on-site and the failure of large prisons to have a licenced psychiatrist on staff.
We know Iron Heights, like other DCU prisons, locks its cell doors on the honor system, so it might also consider viol-Eight-ing the Amendment to be as a badge of honor. Maybe it didn’t have on-site psychiatric staff, either. In that case…
Wait. No. No. Defense counsel said that Debbi received medications in Iron Heights, that Debbi’s medication had been adjusted by Iron Heights, and that the medication had stabilized Debbi’s behavior. Someone on Iron Heights’s staff was administering those meds. More important, someone on staff was competent enough to evaluate Debbi’s medications and adjust them by prescribing a proper dosage which had stabilized Debbi. That someone had to be a doctor. Debbi was receiving some treatment in Iron Heights, treatment that seemed to be working. How was Iron Heights not equipped to handle her mental disorder?
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Debbi’s argument was valid. There is a casewhich held the failure to transfer an inmate from a prison to a hospital when the prison could not adequately treat the inmate was deliberate indifference; lending support to Judge Holzman’s ruling. But transferring Debbi to a hospital the judge knew couldn’t keep her locked up, that’s a different matter.
Mentally-ill inmates may have the right to be transferred to a hospital, but they don’t have the right to choose which hospital. Courts have ruled prisons must give inmates medical treatment, but they don’t have to give the exact treatment the inmate requests if other treatments are adequate. In addition, the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens means mentally-ill inmates should be hospitalized in an environment that is consistent both with their treatment and with public safety. If the defendants demonstrate a threat to public safety – by, say, escaping every alternate Tuesday and injuring one hundred thirty-eight innocent bystanders – courts are justified in having them hospitalized in a more restrictive hospital than the one the defendant might choose.
Judge Holzman might have granted Debbi’s motion to be transferred to a hospital. But in light of her past record, I find it doubtful that Judge Holzman would have transferred her to a hospital that a court-appointed expert on security testified wouldn’t be able to hold her. Hell, Judge Holzman didn’t even let Debbi into his courtroom; Debbi attend the motion hearing via closed-circuit television. If Holzman thought Debbi was so dangerous that he didn’t want her in his courtroom; he would not have sent her to an insecure mental health facility. He would have sent her to a hospital but one that was more secure. Like Concord or Arkham Asylum. Then Debbi could receive the treatment she required and the public would be safer, because Debbi was in a more-secure facility.
One where she might only be able to escape every third Tuesday.
Friday was a landmark day for this country. The Supreme Court effectively said that same sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. In doing that, they reflected the views of American citizens: 63% of us have said they think same sex marriage should be legal. It’s been a majority opinion since 2010 when a CNN poll first reported it.
This would have been unthinkable just a few years before that. Part of the change is due to our own pop culture. Depictions of LGBT individuals have proliferated over the years. Think of the uproar when Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian back in 1997 with her character on her sit-com, Ellen, also coming out a short time later. The uproar that followed!
Contrast that with her talk show that started seven years later. She has also hosted the Academy Awards, the Grammys, and the Primetime Emmys. She’s been a hugely successful stand up comedienne. She was the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo. She’s beloved today.
And she changed peoples’ perceptions of LGBT. She was in peoples’ homes, in their living rooms, on the TV. TV is a member of the family in most households and, by extension, so are the people who are on it. She wasn’t alien; she was human and she made us recognize that.
In 1998, Will and Grace premiered on NBC starring Eric McCormack and Debra Messing as a gay man and his straight female friend. (McCormack, it should be noted, is not gay; that’s why they call it acting, folks.) It was hugely successful during its eight seasons. And it dealt with many LGBT issues, dramatizing them for the American audience. It made people aware of LGBT people and the fact that they were people. The sexual orientation might be different but so many other concerns and likes mirrored everyone else.
In 2003, Queer Eye (for the Straight Guy) debuted in which five gay men would do a make-over of a straight man, including where he lived, what he wore, what he ate, how he looked, and even how he acted. Some felt the Fab Five (as Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez were collectively known) were stereotypes and it’s true that the show never got into the Fab Five other than their on-air personalities. Nor did we see them with significant others.
I think that misses a big point. Queer Eye, like the other two shows, was welcomed into the general public’s living room. So many people didn’t know anyone who was gay (or didn’t know that they knew someone who was gay) suddenly knew a few. And liked them. And weren’t threatened by them.
They – as well as Ellen and Will and Grace – also gave to other LGBT, including young ones, people to admire and look up to. Someone to identify with. They were no longer alone.
There have been gay and lesbian characters in comics, though not as prevalent as other media. I worked in some gay issues and characters in both The Spectre and Suicide Squad. In the latter, a mechanic in the support team for the Squad (Mitch Sekofsky) was a gay father.
There have been LGBT characters at different companies. Marvel has had Northstar, Wildstorm/DC has Midnight and Apollo, Batwoman, Rene Montoya, and many others. Archie Comics (Archie Comics?!) famously introduced an openly gay character in Kevin Keller in his own mini-series and digests and the issue where he got married to his boyfriend sold hugely. The Buffy comic series, following up on the very popular TV series has several lesbian characters. Buffy herself experimented in a one-night stand with another woman.
There have also been any number of open LGBT creators, artists, and writers in comics. Some, like Howard Cruise, have openly explored gay themes in their work. Others simply work in comics and write all kinds of characters with all kinds of themes. Their life experience, who they are, informs their work, as my life experience informs mine. That’s called being human.
Pop culture has had a significant role in changing public perceptions of LGBT. Not perfectly. Pop culture more often reflects public perception rather than shapes it. However, it can open eyes, not by confronting but rather by showing us that LGBT people are, well, people like you and me.
This is how devoted I am to you, Constant Reader. This morning of deadline day, just before I woke up, I had a dream. In that dream, Editor and Task Master Mike Gold was saying, “That new Doctor Strange movie is just an excuse for fangirls to obsess over Benedict Cumberbatch.”
(Note: I don’t actually think this is something Mike would say. I mean, I don’t live in his head, so maybe he would. The point is, some aspect of my subconscious, disguised as Mike, said it in my dream.)
In my dream, I answered, “So what? Pocketful of Miracles was just an excuse for men to obsess over Ann Margaret’s hymen.”
And then I woke up and realized I needed an idea for this column.
Luckily, the inspiration gods were looking out for me, and Justice Elena Kagan of the Supreme Court of the United States geeked out. As part of a majority decision on a case involving patent law as it pertains to Marvel Entertainment and the guy who invented web-slinging toy technology, Kagan proved she had fangirl cred.
For those of you who haven’t read her decision (or haven’t read the coverage of it, which is all that I’ve read), you may be delighted to learn that she name-checks Steve Ditko, cites the proper issue number for Peter Parker’s debut, and quotes “With great power comes great responsibility” correctly and appropriately.
Clarence Thomas, the other noted fanboy on the court, disagreed with Kagan, but did not cite any Marvel creators in his written opinion. I like to imagine them arguing at lunch over who would win in a fight, the Hulk or Superman (maybe with President Obama and Senator Patrick Leahy, and any other elected comic-book nerds). I doubt it would help our political system function any better, but it would make it much more relatable.
I would like to tell you that, because of Kagan’s opinion, I went and did the research on patent law and came to my own conclusions about patent law, which I now understand.
I did not, and I do not.
Instead, I wondered if maybe I should create a superhero with a secret identity as a Supreme Court Justice. It could work. Supreme Court justices are only required to appear in public for a few hours a day when the court is in session, and they are not in session at all from the end of June until the first Monday in October. They probably spend a lot of time doing research and writing opinions, but with the right staff, I bet that would still leave a lot of free time. The frisson between the highest upholder of the law by day and a vigilante by night could be awesome.
But that’s too much like work, so I looked for something else to think about.
And then, I wondered whether or not Justice Kagan wore a Spider-Man t-shirt under her robes. I wondered if anyone would cosplay as her at San Diego in two weeks, because that’s a really easy costume. You could even smuggle in snacks.
Doc Savage didn’t know he was doing something wrong. Neither did I. To be fair to Doc Savage, back then things were simpler. To be fair to me, so was I.
I didn’t first learn about Doc Savage’s, shall we say, experimental, surgical procedures, in Dynamite Entertainment’s Doc Savage v1 #7. No I knew about them before, I just never thought about them. But I did know about Doc’s, shall we say, unusual surgical procedures.
Oh let’s stop beating about the bush. “The Law Is a Ass” hasn’t lasted this long by my being evasive. No, the column and I have made it through thirty plus years by my being up front with you. So I’m going to stop being coy. No more using words like “experimental” and “unusual.” I’m going to call Doc Savage’s surgical procedures what they really are; invasive.
For years after Doc Savage captured a bad guy, he shipped them off to a private medical facility in upstate New York, where they would undergo “a delicate brain surgery” that removed their criminal proclivities. Then Doc’s medical staff trained these people on how to live better lives. After this, Doc set them up with jobs and returned the now-reformed – forcibly reformed – criminals to the world, where they would lead productive lives. I don’t know how long Doc did this. His biography in the Doc Savage Wiki says that he did it in the “early episodes.” But Doc Savage v1 #7 says he was still doing it in 1988.
The same comic also had one of the surgeons who worked at Doc Savage’s upstate Serenity Convalescent Center outing Doc and his memory manipulating machinations on national television. Later in that story, we learned several people were suing Doc for violating their civil rights and robbing them of their free will. We also learned the case had gone to the Supreme Court. At one point in the story Doc actually appeared before the Supreme Court. At another point, Doc talked about what would happen in the case, “once the chief justices have heard all of the testimony.”
I don’t know what’s more wrong the fact that Doc Savage was talking about the “chief justices” of the Supreme Court of the United States hearing testimony or the fact that Doc Savage performed unauthorized, nonconsensual operations on unwilling patients. I do, however, know which one is easier to discuss. So I’ll start there.
The Supreme court doesn’t have chief justices. It has a Chief Justice. As in one. Not chief justices as in plural. Only the person appointed by the President of the United States and affirmed by the United States Senate to be the Chief Justice is called the Chief Justice. The others eight justices on the Supreme Court are called Associate Justices.
See? Wasn’t that easy?
In addition, the Supreme Court doesn’t hear testimony. The Supreme Court is a court of appeals. Trials in federal cases are conducted in federal district courts. Those are the courts of original jurisdiction, which is to say the courts in which law suits originate. The circuit courts are the courts that would hear testimony, not the Supreme Court. After a trial, the case may get before the Supreme Court. But it would get to the Supreme Court as an appeal, not a trial.
Under the Constitution of the United States, the Supreme Court can be a court of original jurisdiction in cases involving ambassadors and other diplomats and in cases where a state is a party. Generally, the only cases which the Supreme Court entertains as a court of original jurisdiction are cases when one state is suing another. Those are the cases where the Supreme Court would hear testimony. In all other matters, the Supreme Court only hears oral arguments. I’d explain what oral arguments are, but they’re boring. For 28 years I made my living making oral arguments to courts of appeal. Trust me, I know. They’re boring.
Doc Savage’s case involved a group of plaintiffs who are people, not states, suing Doc Savage, another person not a state, for depriving them of their civil rights. A civil rights suit would not be a case where the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction. So the Supreme Court would not be hearing any testimony in the case.
See? Still easy.
And it should have been easy for Doc. He had legal training, after all. And even if he didn’t,one of his best friends and top aides, Ham Brooks, was a top lawyer. He really should have known better. Back in those days when I was simpler and didn’t have any legal training yet, I knew there was only one Chief Justice and that the Supreme Court didn’t hear trials. Read it in the newspapers. So I don’t know why Doc forgot. Maybe he was an early test subject in one of his own judgment jugglings jobs.
Now as to the actual lawsuit alleging Doc Savage violated the civil rights of several people with his surgeries, that’s where things get a little trickier. Doc started this procedure back in 1934. Things were a little more lax vis-a-vis civil rights back then. In 1883, the so-called Civil Rights cases reached the Supreme Court. In those cases, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment applied to governments but didn’t apply to people. So when Doc started his cranial conversions in 1934, he couldn’t violate anyone’s civil rights because he was a person not a government.
In addition, back in 1934, the use of leucotomies – or to use their more common and more pejorative name, lobotomies– were gaining acceptance among doctors treating mental illnesses. Even though they were controversial and criticized by some, lobotomies grew in both popularity and frequency well into the 1950s. So generally accepted medical practice might not have disapproved of what Doc was doing.
In 1934, even the courts didn’t disapprove of non-consensual surgeries on individuals that were deemed to be for the greater good. In a rather famous case – Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927) – the Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute which called for the compulsory sterilization of the intellectually disabled. In upholding the law, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote oh-so-sensitive explanation that, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” So I doubt that at the time Doc started gelding gray matter, the Supreme Court would have stayed his scalpel.
Things are a little different now. The courts recognize the existence of several kinds of civil rights. The civil rights which receive the highest level of protection in the courts are the so-called first-generation rights. In the United States, these are the ones specifically enumeratedin the Constitution which deal with liberty and political activity. In the past several decades, however, several unenumerated rights such as the right to privacy are finding their protectors in the courts, too.
Among the unenumerated rights which are starting finding acceptance is cognitive liberty. This is the freedom that people have to control their own mental processeses. In Sell v. United States539 U.S. 166 (2003), for example, the Supreme Court imposed limitations on when a state could forcibly administer antipsychotic drugs to a defendant who had been declared incompetent to stand trial for the sole purpose of making him competent and able to stand trial.
So the odds of the courts ruling in favor of the people who are suing Doc Savage for civil rights violations because of his nonconsensual noggin noodling are getting better. I’d like to think the courts are ruling in favor of people not being forced to undergo treatment for their allegedly aberrant behavior, because we’re a bit more enlightened now. But given the nature of some court decisions in recent years, it might just be that the judges are worried people might start using those decisions to prove the judges, themselves, are insane. Maybe the judges aren’t enlightened. Maybe they’re just protecting themselves against any future faculty fiddling.