Comic Values: Create your own! Kurt Kolka launched the Cardinal.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Comic Values
The_Cardinal_by_Kurt_Kolka_-_Part_One___Anti-Bullying_Comics

Click the comic to learn more about “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.”

COMICS are supremely democratic.

Anyone can create a comic. Generations of schoolkids have known that it’s easy to create comics with paper and a few simple supplies: pencils, pens and maybe crayons. Today, kids can produce sophisticated audio and video with their hand-held digital devices—but countless kids still are inspired by their comic heroes to sketch their own tales of adventure on scraps of paper. Often, they do it during class!

Looked at another way: Comics are democratic in their values, as well. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how Little Orphan Annie embodies all 10 of Dr. Wayne Baker’s list of 10 American core values.

And from another perspective: Comics are democratic because they spring up everywhere and slip past cultural gatekeepers. That’s why the parade of American comics, across the past century, reflects the good, the bad and the ugly of American attitudes toward ourselves and the world.

Finally, proof that comics are democratic can be seen in the huge grassroots community that has formed around our collective love of comics. Just take a look at the dozens of Comic Cons indexed via Wikipedia. And Comic Con is just one form of comic gathering!

One of the comic creators who has fully embraced this democratic medium is Kurt Kolka, the creator of the Cardinal superhero and the organizer of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter project.

Did you ever sketch a comic?

What comics appeal to you? Why?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

Comic Values: Rabbi Harvey and other minority heroes

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Comic Values
RabbiHarvey (1)

Click on this comic to learn more about “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.”

COMICS looked very white—and comic heroes looked very male—for many decades. For the most part, they still do.

Yes, true comic fans can point to a handful of classic comic heroines as well as heroes of non-European ethnicity who broke into the exclusive club of superheroes many years ago. But even those pioneers, by today’s standards, carried lots of bias and baggage with them into the “funny papers.”

Of course, Asia has its own robust comic culture—but we’re exploring American comics, this week. And attempts at diversifying the American comics universe have been few and far between.

That’s why news about comic diversity made the front page of the New York Times’s Arts section on Tuesday. The highly respected journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates (he’s a correspondent for The Atlantic and a nominee for the National Book Award) has written an epic story for Marvel Comics’ African hero: Black Panther.

In 1966, Black Panther became the first black superhero in American comics and Coates, who now is 39, recalls the importance of these early pioneers in diversity. Coates told The Times that comics were “an intimate part of my childhood and, at this point, my adulthood.”

Coates is not alone among established writers in turning to this medium. Another unusual comic creator is Steve Sheinkin, who writes and draws Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West. Sheinkin’s day job for many years was writing material for history textbooks used in public schools. He grew frustrated over the limitations placed on textbooks by schoolboards. Too often, he felt, authors were barred from including “the good stuff”—quirky, controversial, funny stories about American history. That led Sheinkin to write his own wonderfully creative histories, including Which Way to the Wild West? and the Civil War-era Two Miserable Presidentsboth books with subtitles that begin: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About …

In the realm of comics, Sheinkin created a rabbi who roams the Wild West, looking a bit like Clint Eastwood’s Jewish brother, and resolving all manner of deadly situations with Jewish wisdom rather than firearms. He deliberately set Rabbi Harvey in a historical era that is central to Hollywood’s mythic depiction of our country: the Wild West.

What minority comics have you seen?

Is there a superhero you’d like to see?

Challenge your friends to dream up a superhero who they’d love to see jump into the heart of American culture, today! Get out pencils, pens, crayons and paper. Have some fun!

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

Comic Values: Beetle Bailey and America’s Greatest Generation

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Comic Values
Beetle-Bailey-1 (1)

Click on this comic to learn more about “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.”

BEETLE BAILEY wandered into American life in 1950. He wasn’t even in the Army yet; he wouldn’t enlist until 1951. In fact, he was a laid-back college student, taking life so easily that newspaper readers over the past 65 years have never seen his eyes.

(Note to Beetle Bailey fans: Yes, you’re right, there was at least one comic strip in which Mort Walker showed Beetle’s eyes, but that strip never appeared in the newspaper series—only in archival collections.)

What values does Beetle embody? In thousands of comic strips, the characters have shown us many perspectives on American values. But, let’s focus on the most obvious: He was a pioneer in the way Americans would regard what Tom Brokaw would later call the Greatest Generation—Americans who were born in the Depression and somehow served in World War II.

No, of course, Beetle wasn’t a WWII veteran. But he showed how hugely popular military humor could be in an era that soon would unleash a tidal wave of “funny” TV series and movies about military service. By 1955, Americans would be laughing at The Phil Silvers Show, aka Sgt. Bilko. Then, in the 1960s, families laughed at McHale’s Navy and Gomer Pyle USMC. By 1965, we were willing to laugh at World War II prisoners of war in Hogan’s Heroes. Of course, that was before, in the 1970s, network TV shocked Americans with full-scale coverage of the Holocaust and stories about any kind of WWII prisoners turned realistically grim.

Through it all, Beetle was—and remains—a happy-go-lucky reflection on military life.

World-War-II-Veteran-baseball-cap (1)As an online magazine, we’ve been covering issues related to American veterans, especially WWII veterans. Did you know that WWII vets are dying at a rate of close to 500 a day, which means less than 1 million of the 16 million who served in that war are left. (Care to read more about this? Here’s an earlier story.)

Are you a veteran? What do you think about how veterans are regarded today? What do you think about how military life is portrayed today?

Not a veteran? How do you regard men and women who have served in the military?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

Comic Values: Little Orphan Annie and ‘United America’

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Comic Values
LittleOrphanAnnie (1)

Click on this comic to learn more about “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.”

Before she was a Broadway smash and the headliner in a series of movies, Little Orphan Annie was one of America’s most beloved and longest-running comic strips. Americans have forgotten lots of the history behind the immortal Annie.

Did you know? At one point, Daddy Warbucks actually dies and is absent from the comic strip for quite a while—but he’s such a popular character that he springs back to life later in the series! And, because Annie’s image is frozen in the Great Depression in the hit musical bearing her name, most Americans don’t realize that she was created in the Roaring ’20s.

Annie owes a huge debt to the novels of Cervantes, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger Jr.—about lovable characters cast into a cruel world to make their way.

Throughout her nearly century-long lifespan as an eternal little girl, Annie also has embodied the 10 American core values described in United AmericaShe certainly displays respect for others, symbolic patriotism, freedom, self-reliance & individualism, equal opportunity, getting ahead, pursuit of happiness and justice & fairness. That’s eight of the ten in United America. She celebrates the entire list if we add: Her World War II service with Daddy Warbucks in supporting the American war effort embodies the core value of national security. And, by living much of her life among people who have received raw deals from the American system, she also touches on critical patriotism.

In the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter collection of American comics, Annie is showcased in her most famous role: Sticking up for the underdog and relentlessly defeating bullies.

What do you know about Annie? Beyond the musical, have you read her comic strips?

Could a character like Annie emerge today? What contemporary heroes do you think embody some of Annie’s all-American qualities?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

Vaccination: Do we have a civic duty to maintain “herd Immunity”?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Vaccination
How Herd Immunization works by the NIAID

Click on this graphic to learn more from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Have you heard of “herd immunity”?

It’s relevant to the current debate about mandatory vaccinations for children. It basically means that everyone doesn’t have to be immunized to prevent an outbreak of a contagious disease—as long as a critical percentage is immunized.

Here’s how the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease defines it: “When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immuno-compromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.”

Herd immunity (a.k.a. community immunity) is achieved if the percentage of a population that is immune (due to vaccination or having had the disease) is above a certain threshold. For measles, it’s estimated to be in the 83% to 94%.

However, there’s a catch. The threshold is even higher for schools or other places where people congregate for periods of time.

Recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis (whooping cough) have been attributed to lowered herd immunity caused by increasing numbers of parents who opt out of immunizations for their kids.
Herd immunity is about probabilities. If an unimmunized child comes into close contact with the one person who has an active case of measles, it doesn’t matter what percentage of the population is immune.

Did you know about herd immunity?
Do we have a civic duty to maintain herd immunity?
Or, should parents be able to opt out even if it raises the vulnerability of the community?

Should measles vaccination be mandatory for all young children?
Where should measles vaccination rank in health priorities?

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Financial Insecurity: Do the insecure hate business?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Financial Insecurity
Occupy Wall Street 99 percenters

OCCUPY WALL STREET 2011. This is one of many photographs by David Shankbone that were uploaded that year into Wikimedia Commons for public use.

Remember “Occupy Wall Street”? This protest movement focused on record levels of economic inequality and proffered the catchphrase “We are the 99%” to highlight the huge share of wealth enjoyed by the top 1%.

We haven’t heard much about the movement lately. But financial insecurity is still with us. Are the most insecure still anti-business?

The most financially secure Americans are not uniformly pro-business. In fact, just a slim majority (51%) say that “most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit,” according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. However, 46% disagree and say that “business corporations make too much profit.”

At the other end of the scale, attitudes about business are different. Only a third (32%) say that corporations make fair profits, while two-thirds (65%) say that they make too much profit.

We see the mirror image in opinions about government inefficiency. Almost two-thirds of the most financially secure Americans say that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.” Just a third of these Americans say that “government does a better job than people give it credit for.” The most financially insecure Americans are equally divided between these two positions.

Do you think that business corporations make fair and reasonable profits?

Is government almost always wasteful and inefficient?

Your voice matters

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America 2015: If religion declines, what about the future of democracy?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series America 2015
Pew polling on influence of religion in America

Click this Pew graphic to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

Is religion losing its influence on American life? In 2014, more Americans than ever before—almost three quarters—said yes, according to Pew surveys. Only 22% said religion is increasing its influence. Do you think this trend is good, bad, or indifferent?

If you ask Clay Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, it’s definitely a bad trend. He relates an experience he had with a Marxist economist from China who was in the U.S. on a fellowship.

Christensen asked if he had learned anything surprising or unexpected.

The Chinese economist’s immediate reaction was this: “I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy.” He explained that democracy works not because the government closely monitors and controls people, but because “most people, most of the time, voluntarily choose to obey the law.”

Religion is the reason why people voluntarily choose to do so. People feel accountable to God, not just to society.

The declining influence of religion in America worried the Chinese economist, seeing that the moral bulwark of democracy might be eroding.

Christensen concluded, “If you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.”

Perhaps this is why an increasing number of Americans say that religion should play a larger role in politics, according to Pew.

The results from the Pew survey show that we are starting 2015 with the perception (perhaps the reality) that the influence of religion is waning in America.

Do you believe that religion is losing its influence?

Is faith essential for the functioning of democracy?

Want to see Clay Christensen pose this argument? Click the video below …